How To Teach English in Thailand (and Why it Will Change Your Life)

I read blog posts on the subject from time to time and like to leave comments based on my experience. My comment however on this blog post was deleted.

Kind of lame.

Maybe it was a mistake or maybe they only allow generic “great post, you guys rock” comments.

People don’t like criticism for obvious reasons and I was a bit critical as you’ll see in my advice for teaching English in Thailand in the content below. People take a front to any comments that don’t ego stroke how great and amazing they are, but my goal was to only help ensure people have a wonderful experience.

But it had a lot of good content and I have much more experience teaching than Chris or Angela so I’ll write about some essentials here so you don’t put yourself in the situation they were in:

Over worked and underpaid in a foreign country.

I realize I’ve never written in depth of my time and experience of teaching English in Thailand.  I’ve taught every level of education from grade 1 all the way up to university over the course of a few years.

The reason being is that the only way an American (me) can live in Thailand is to work, get married, pay to go to school, or pay for a VIP visa (obviously quite expensive). You can’t stay in Thailand long term on a tourist visa. You get 3 months and then you have to leave.

Which if fine if you’re someone who want’s to travel frequently and use Thailand as a “hub” which I highly recommend as it’s the best country in the region in terms of convenience, cost of living, lifestyle and proximity to some pretty amazing places.

But I wanted to live in Thailand, not leave every month or two and go on some protracted trip. I’m not Johnny Ward who’s spending his days visiting every country in the world. It’s hard to work when you’re not in a routine.

So I choose to teach English.

I have no regrets. I honed a plethora of useful personal skills and meet a lot of nice people both Thai and young travelers. The most useful skill of all being public speaking and presentation performance. Helpful if I ever find myself on a TED talk stage or at some popular conference.

Why Thailand?

Now, I originally ended up in Thailand years ago by total accident.  I had no intention of living there for as long as I did. If you had asked me a few years ago to point to where Thailand was on a map (or any other south east asian country for that matter), I would have been utterly lost.

I came here because I was dating a Thai girl who was studying abroad in the USA.

Her mom died and I came to Thailand with her because I take my relationships seriously. I honestly thought I would visit, check out some other countries and then return to the USA with her or whatever we planned to go to next.

Where I originally ended up was Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is a northernmost city that has exploded in popularity in the last decade. If you would have visited 30 years ago it was just a quite little town of 60,000 residents.

Not anymore. It’s Thailand major northern city.

It’s filled with expats and not just the fat sexpats walking around with some skinny, dark skinned girl from the farm. You’ll meet teachers, digital nomads, Europeans on their gap year, the odd American on a spiritual journey.

Then there was me. With my own back story. A tragic tale that compelled me into the lands of a distant foreign land.

Dramatic I know.

What was appealing about staying in Thailand longer term was the low cost of living I experienced once i got set up there with my girlfriend at the moment.

I could actually live off my online income in Thailand and not need to work a job like I had to do in the USA at the time. In Thailand I could get a teaching job that would not be that demanding on my time, and still have enough time to actually grow my online income to a level where I could live and work anywhere.

Not just South East Asia.

So that’s what I set out to do inadvertently. Use teaching English in Thailand as a tool, an edge to win at life.

What happened to my relationship? After her mom died she had enough of feeling sorry for herself. I encouraged her to start working again. Which she did. She landed a job as a flight attendant for a Quatar airlines and moved to Doha. We broke up because no way could we have a serious relationship if she was unable to be in once place for any extended period of time.

Back to teaching English in Thailand. Here are my answers to some of the most common questions people have.

Where will you teach English in Thailand?

Government Schools

Most teachers in Thailand work at government run schools. These schools typically don’t have air con in the rooms, they don’t have much in the way of resources for the teachers and your classes will be huge. 40-50 students. They also don’t appreciate foreign teachers very much. They employ teachers because English is a required subject for Thais.

These are obviously the easiest jobs to get. Do you have a BA/BS from an accredited university  and are a native English speaker? Great, you’re hired. Even if you don’t have a degree and don’t speak English as a first language many schools are more than happy to hire you illegally if you’re white.

EP Program

A step up from a government school is an “ep program”. Basically, an English program program. Yes I know, it’s redundant.

These are dedicated programs run at government schools where the children have all their classes in English, except for Thai language (obviously). These programs have the same requirements as a regular government school. Native speaker, BA/BS from an accredited university .

The classes will be smaller, the students will be of a higher caliber and the school will generally take you more seriously as a teacher. In an EP program you will have the opportunity to teach a variety of interesting subjects, not just English. Be it physical education to being the computer teacher. EP programs are worth searching out instead of doing the government school thing with a massive class and no support from the school.

The pay will be the same amount as a government school teacher.

Private Schools

The next step above this are private schools, located in major cities. These schools have a lot of resources, air con in all the rooms and smaller class sizes. However, they are a bit more strict about who they hire. You will normally have to actually have an education degree, not just a degree in anything OR relevant experience (like say you worked at a government school previously). They also expect more from you and will fire you if you don’t cut it.

Universities

Beyond this are Universities. By far the best jobs for teaching English in Thailand. While the pay will not be particularly high, usually on par with government schools or private schools at 33,000 baht at lower tier universities (and much higher at top tier universities). Your work load will be less, way less. 12-18 hours of classes each week. You also get 4 full months of paid vacation.

YES, you read that correctly. 4 months. It’s awesome.

At the university level classes are broken into 3 hour long periods, not 50 minute periods like high school or elementary. So be ready to plan out your lesson well.

Universities are great because you will actually have the time and resources to plan out your lesson, assign homework and grade work. You also get to teach 18-22 year old students which is a lot of fun.

Language Centers

Lastly, are language centers. Language centers come in all shapes and sizes. From big centers like Wall Street English that give their teachers work permits and visas, to smaller centers that teachers use as a way to make extra money. This is an option to get away from teaching children if that’s not your thing.

Just know that in Thailand, whatever school issues your work permit, you’re only legally allowed to work there, and to work anywhere else is technically illegal. Though a large portion of teachers do extra classes at language centers.

Question: Do I really need a degree? I see a lot of jobs that don’t require a degree?

You can get a job without a degree but you won’t be working legally and won’t be able to get the work permit and visa you need. You’ll be on a tourist visa, a visa that does not permit employment. As such, you’ll have to go on “visa runs” every 3 months. Which means you have to travel outside the country every 3 months.

I see this all the time. Schools willing to hire non educated, non native English speakers.

Look, if you do this you’re working illegally and YOU’RE AN IDIOT to work at a school illegally.

Why?

Because you’re taking all the risk.

You could get fined $1,000 dollars and deported or jailed, and for what?

A small salary?

The hassle of having to do costly visa runs because you can’t get a work permit? Resentment from your Thai teachers because you’re paid a “big” salary despite your pay being chipped away by all these expenses Thais don’t have to pay for?

From a legal perspective you need to be a native English speaker with a BA/BS from an accredited university  degree in anything in order to work legally as an English teacher. Working legally means you have a work permit and a visa to be able to actually live and work in Thailand.

How much will you be paid and how many hours do you need to work?

Salaries have been stagnant for the last 10 years. I’m not kidding. It’s becoming a problem as the cost of living has gone up.

Schools are issued money by the Thai government to pay for teachers, but instead of paying the full allotted money out to the teachers, they pocket the money and keep the salaries as low as they can get away with.

Who is “they”? Usually the principal and other high level teachers in the administration.

Again, i’m not making this up. Supply and demand I guess, and corruption. Why pay 42,000 baht when you can pay a teacher 31,000 baht and pocket the rest? Thailand is corrupt on every level like this.

Most government schools and EP programs will pay 30,000-35,000 baht a month. With work permit and visa costs included. As well as paid holidays and a few weeks in October off as well as the month of April off, paid.

Salaries at private schools in Bangkok go from 45,000 – 90,000 baht depending on the school and depending on your qualifications. If you’re a “real” teacher from America, you can get a very nice job in Thailand if you’re will to take the time to search.

Extra classes

A lot of teachers do extra classes as a way to make more money. The price you should charge is 500 baht per hour minimum. That’s roughly $15 dollars.

Be creative with this. I’ve done 3 students, and each student pays 200 baht. Which nets me 600 baht an hour.

I’ve done 30,000 baht down payment for 3 months of tutoring.

I’ve seen teachers run their own personal after hours schools. Have students pay 150 baht an hour, take on 10 students, do it for 2 hours 4 days a week. You’re making close to an extra $500 a week.

Money is to be made despite the small salaries. The problem is that in Thailand you can be lazy or you can be unlucky and land a crappy job where you’re over worked and under paid.

How much money do I need per month to live in Thailand?

If you’re single, have no children and no significant debt I would use the following as a guideline:

Bangkok: 50,000 baht a month minimum. I would not want to live and work in Bangkok on a salary smaller than that. Everything is more expensive in Bangkok. You have to pay for public transportation, you’re not Thai and will have difficulty using the bus system since it’s all in Thai, rents are higher and you will be cheated out of money as a foreigner on a constant basis.

When I say cheated, I mean Thais will always try to charge you a bit more for rent, electricity, at markets, buying food, taxis and so forth. Now if you’re asian (like asian America for example) you may not have this issue. I’ve gone numerous times to markets with my American friend who’s asian and he get’s charged constantly less for products and services than me, your token white guy.

50,000 baht minimum? Really? All I see for jobs are 33,000 baht in Bangkok.

I really have no idea why foreigners accept such low paying English teaching jobs at government schools in Bangkok. At 35,000 baht in Bangkok you will be broke for sure. Unable to even just live without worrying about money. You’re putting yourself in the situation where if anything goes wrong, you’re in trouble.

Your motorbike breaks?

Your computer breaks?

Need money for the dentist?

Want to take a girl out?

Want to travel somewhere on your break?

You’ll have no cash for any of these things.

Outside of Bangkok: In any other province, you can get by just fine on 35,000 baht. I know, it’s funny I say that after my previous tirade, but it’s true.

Outside of Bangkok, a 35,000 baht salary is acceptable. You will have enough money to not worry about money, and have some money to enjoy taking trips to random places. You may want to consider doing a few extra classes a week to make extra money and get your monthly income up to 40,000 baht.

I would normally only spend 16,000-20,000 baht per month when I was living outside Bangkok. This includes weekend out with friends and what not.

How do you know what a good job or a bad job is?

A good job?

That’s easy.

Teaching hours should be no more than 18 hours a week if you’re the “full” teacher. That is, you’re in charge of grades, assignments, homework and tests. If you’re job is to simply teach and that’s it, 22 hours is fine.

The school should pay for your work permit and visa. Non negotiable in my opinion unless the school is willing to pay a higher salary.

The school should pay you minimum 50,000 baht if the school is in Bangkok or 35,000 baht if it’s in a random Thai province. Bangkok is the only real city in Thailand. Everywhere else is small towns and country side 🙂

Those are my requirements for a happy and productive teaching experience.

So when you see a job in Bangkok for 22 hours a week, 32,000 baht salary THAT IS A TERRIBLE PLACE TO WORK.

You will be tired, over-worked, unhappy and worst of all, broke.

Teaching English in Thailand has changed a lot in the past decade according to my teacher friends and even from my own experience.

The hours have gone up, the legal barriers have gotten more strict and the expectations are higher. But the salary? It’s still the same.

Most jobs are of low quality. So take your time and find a place that will treat you with respect.

18 hours, work permit and visa paid for. October and April off. 35,000 baht salary if you’re outside of Bangkok, 50,000 if you’re in the city.

What about working with an agency?

Agencies are simply a way for Thais cheat foreigners out of money. The way their supposed to work is that the school can get a steady supply of teachers and not have to worry about anything.

ANYTHING.

The agency should take care of the visa and work permit and they should provide the teachers with material for class and so forth.

In practice however, most agencies just take a large portion of your salary and don’t provide any support. They just act as a middle man.

If you want to go the agency route it’s usually a bad idea. I’m not saying all agencies are bad, just the majority of them are.

What are the legal and academic requirements? VISAS, work permits and so forth.

You need to be a native speaker with an accredited university degree in anything to teach in Thailand. By for year degree I simply mean a BA/BSc from an accredited university.

If you meet these basic requirements you can get a visa, a work permit and a temporary teachers license.

Temporary?

Yes temporary.

You can only teach in Thailand now for a few year then you must get certified. To get certified you need to have a bachelors degree in education or a masters degree in education. If you don’t have a bachelors/masters in education you will need to attend school in Thailand for about 6 months in order to complete a certificate program. Your school will not pay for this. It costs a couple thousand dollars. You will have to do this after being a teacher for 2 years or you won’t be able to get your temporary license renewed.

If you’re serious about becoming a teacher, enroll in a masters program instead of this silly certificate program if you don’t have a bachelors in education. While more expensive, it will open up university jobs to you as well as higher quality jobs in other countries.

Again, you can come and teach in Thailand if you have a bachelors degree in anything, you just can’t be a teacher long term anymore because you will be unable to get a work permit because you can’t get a teachers license. If your goal is to come out for 1-3 years you have nothing to worry about.

Now this only applies for elementary and high school.

University

You are not considered a teacher at a university. You’re actually a guest lecturer. As such, you don’t need to worry about a teachers license. You just need a masters degree. I know, it’s weird. Why is it less strict at the university level? I have no idea.

TEFL, CELTA?

These are not required by most jobs in Thailand. They care about you being a native speaker and having a BA/BS from an accredited university .

Regardless though, it’s worth getting this certification because it will help you be a better teacher and it will enable you to go after higher quality jobs in countries outside of Thailand.

The overall advantages of teaching English in Thailand

1 – If you’re someone who want’s to make a career our of education it’s a great place to gain valuable experience.

Do a few years, travel, enjoy yourself, then return to your country of origin with a a lot of valuable work experience.

2 – If you want to build an online business with a blog or a YouTube channel there is no better country than Thailand.

The low cost of living allows you to hit that freedom level of money much more quickly. Once you’re making $2,000 dollars a month from what you do online, you don’t need a job in Thailand, or any other south east asian country.

I wanted to teach because I had a university job where I taught 14 hours a week. The work is not too demanding and it gave me enough time to work on what I want, exercise, and be on top of of my classes. Once you have that level of online income, it’s up to you how to proceed.

3 – You want to travel. Being an ESL teacher is a great way to visit this part of the world.

You can teach in Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and China if you meet the basic requirements.

4 – You will develop a lot of helpful skill with regards to public speaking, confidence in managing a room and being the center of attention.

This will serve you well regardless of where life takes you.

5 – You will meet some great people along the way.

Some very weird people as well, but for sure you’ll make life long friends. People who travel are more open to hanging out and meeting new people than they would be in their home country.

The overall disadvantages of teaching English in Thailand

1 – Too many quality teachers accept poor quality jobs like Chris and Angela.

You’re a highly educated chemical engineer, don’t accept 28,000 baht a month and a class load of 22 hours. You’re being taken advantage of.

“BUT I’m making twice the amount of the average Thai!”

Bullshit.

Yea, you make a lot more than your average, uneducated, unskilled Thai who sells fruit on the street. But you really think that all Thais are poor? You really think your average Thai man with a University education is making 18,000 baht a month?

NO WAY.

All my male Thai friends are decent guys who work normal jobs. All make at least 40,000 baht a month.

2 – Too many foreigners come here and get stuck.

I’ve meet guys who have been teachers for the last 10 years here. Doing the same thing year after year, living hand to mouth with no assets to their name. It’s cool to come here to become a teacher or to travel or to build some online thing. But to be doing the same thing year after year is terrifying as all of a sudden you’re going to wake up and be in your late 30’s and what will you have to show for it?

3 – It’s becoming harder and harder to find a decent job in Thailand.

While there are a lot of job openings, they all want to pay you a low salary and work you hard. Some places don’t even want cover the costs of the work permit and the visa.

At least in a place like Korea or China, they work you hard but your pay you well enough to save money and give you a bonus at the end of the contract.

The whole appeal of Thailand was the lighter work load, the lifestyle of living in Thailand, the opportunity to see some beautiful places and the flexibility of your time to work on what you want to work on.

That’s changing.

It’s becoming a raw deal as time marches on unless you’re a “real” teacher. By real I mean you have a bachelors or masters in education.

If this is you, YOU ARE IN HIGH DEMAND in Thailand.

Know that and don’t undervalue yourself.

I’ll end it there, thanks for reading everyone.

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