Many people backpack around Thailand, fall in love with the country (or in some cases an individual!) and desperately want to find a way to stay and earn some money! Becoming an English Teacher in Thailand is the easiest and most popular travel job for foreigners to make a living. But how easy is it to find a job? And how well does it pay? We spoke to Traveller turned English Teacher turned TEFL School Owner, Kathryn Webb, originally from the US, who told us all about the English Teaching Scene in Thailand!Kathryn currently runs Samui TEFL on the island of Koh Samui in Thailand.
English Teacher Thailand: All Your Questions Answered
How popular is TEFL in Thailand in 2021? And why?
Teaching English in Thailand is very popular and has been for many years. The demand to learn English is still very high amongst Thai natives, as well as locals of other Southeast Asian countries and so English Teachers are still very sought after. Plus, with the rising middle classes in Asian countries, people have more disposable income to spend on English classes.
The industry is changing, however, and teaching English is no longer thought of as ‘backpacker work’. Schools do not want teachers who are there just for a month or two and then move on.
Most schools would want teachers to sign up for a year contract, or at least a 5-month semester, which is understandable. There are still plenty of opportunities to travel in the school holidays, and you get a chance to really immerse yourself into the local community when you are there for a while.
How would you get along teaching these little nippers?
Video filmed by South East Asia Backpacker of the final assessment teacher practicums at Samui TEFL.
Teaching English in Thailand Requirements
Depending on where you apply for jobs as an English Teacher, each school will have slightly different requirements. To teach English in Thailand you will need:
A TEFL Certificate from a registered TEFL School
A University Degree
A High Level of Speaking/Reading/Writing English
Do you really need a University Degree to teach in Thailand?
A degree is not required to do a TEFL course. However, it is legally required to get a work permit as a teacher in Thailand. Without this, you would be teaching illegally on a tourist or another type of visa, such as a retirement or marriage visa.
Some people who complete TEFL Courses in Thailand that do not have degrees plan to teach in Cambodia or Laos after the course where a degree is not required. Or they plan to teach online in a role that does not require a degree, which is becoming more and more popular.
Some non-degree holders take TEFL courses just for the experience, or do volunteer work after the course, or to see if they are interested in becoming a teacher before committing to a full teaching degree.
Do you have to be a native speaker to take a TEFL Course / get a job?
You don’t need to be a native speaker to take a TEFL course, but you do need to have a high level of English. To get a work permit as a teacher, if you are not a native English speaker, you may need to also have a TOEIC or IELTS certificate too, showing your level of English. Some schools will only hire native English speakers, others will hire non-native speakers with a neutral accent. Despite your level of English, please be aware that native speakers are often preferenced over non-native speakers, sadly, this is regardless of whether or not this is fair.
Is it best to take a TEFL Course in Thailand or in Your Home Country?
It is possible to take a TEFL course anywhere in the world and many people choose to get certified in their home country before they travel. They want to leave home qualified and feeling assured that wherever they go, they have a certification under their belt which allows them to earn money from teaching English wherever they are.
However, many people prefer to take a TEFL course whilst they are actually in the country that they wish to teach, so for example, when they arrive in Thailand. This approach has many advantages.
First of all, you will get experience teaching students of the nationality that you will be teaching.
Secondly, during your TEFL course, you are likely to make many contacts with people who will be able to help you to find a job after the course. Some TEFL schools will have good contacts in the industry and help their graduates to find a job as part of the TEFL course.
Thirdly, who wouldn’t want to take their TEFL course in the beautiful tropical surroundings of Thailand rather than being cooped up in a classroom in London for example!
Finally, TEFL Courses in Thailand can be cheaper than in your home country. Do your research before choosing.
Do you need to take a 4-week TEFL Course or can you do an Online Course?
Online courses have their place – but most schools prefer an in-class course with face-to-face learning and including observed teacher practicals. Until you have real students in front of you, you can’t really practice the methods and techniques taught on the course. An online course can offer you a taster to see if it’s something you are interested in, but there’s much more value in an in-class course and employers recognise that.
What should I look for in a TEFL School?
Unfortunately, there is no one governing body that accredits TEFL schools, so you need to do your research carefully before choosing a TEFL school. Here are some tips on choosing a TEFL school:
Make sure that the course offers at least 120 hours of classroom time.
Make sure that the course offers ‘in-class’ experience with observed teacher practicals. (This is very important as employers will prefer a candidate with practical experience in the classroom.)
Make sure that at the end of the course you will receive an internationally recognised TEFL certificate, not just one that is valid for the country in which you’ve taken your course.
Some schools offer a detailed report of classroom experience and teacher practical observations – this is a bonus.
Looking for a good TEFL School in Thailand? South East Asia Backpacker highly recommends this one which has 4-week courses running all year round.
What type of people take TEFL Courses?
There’s no mould that English teachers fit in to. Some people take TEFL courses straight from University, others choose to take a ‘golden gap year’ completely transforming their lives during their retirement. These sorts of people find themselves not quite ready to retire and in search of adventure and a new challenge!
People from all walks of life and many different nationalities take TEFL courses… But no matter who they are or where they are from, one thing they have in common is the thought of making new friends in a beautiful country, while doing something worthwhile!
Is there a high demand for English teachers at the moment in Thailand?
Yes, there is, particularly in the peak hiring seasons: of March to May for the start of the new school year, and again in September/October for a November start.
How easy is it to get a job in Thailand after you graduate?
If you are a native English speaker from the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and South Africa, and if you have a bachelor’s degree, then it is very easy – particularly if you do your course through a reputable TEFL, centre where the staff will assist you with finding a job.
Where are the best places to start looking for a teaching job in Thailand?
Few schools will hire if you are not already in Thailand. That is the advantage of doing your course in Thailand, as not only will you have practice with real Thai students, but also you will get assistance with placement. Alternatively, the following websites are useful for Thailand:
Job Finding Websites:
Where are some of the most popular places to teach in Thailand?
Many people only want to be in Bangkok, others can’t stand the thought of the big city, so it is very much a personal choice.
The best thing is to be flexible and not to be stuck on an idea of one place – Thailand has many beautiful and interesting areas, many that are way off the beaten tourist track. Perhaps you’ve not heard of these places before, but these could be the places where you’ll have the most rewarding experience. Even some of the smaller towns will have a small expat scene, so you won’t need to worry about being lonely or making friends.
Of course, beach locations are very popular, but the countryside is beautiful and often only an hour or so away from the beach via bus or train on the weekends. Island will be more expensive, so often it’s better to live in the countryside or smaller cities and travel to the beach destinations for the weekends.
To list some of the most popular places: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, Phuket, Chiang Rai.
How much do you get paid as a TEFL teacher in Thailand?
An average salary for a degree holder from a native English speaking country would be between 30,000 Thai Baht and 42,000 Thai Baht. The salary can often be higher for specialized teaching (teaching maths or science for example). Those with B.Ed or PGCE qualifications can teach in international schools where the salary will be double that.
When considering the relatively low cost of living in Thailand (depending on where you live and your lifestyle) an English teachers wage offers a very good quality of lifestyle for those working here.
Is food/accommodation/leisure cheap in comparison to wages?
Yes, on average a teacher would rent an apartment or small bungalow for around 3,500 to 5,000 baht a month (except on the islands). In a city, a nicer place with facilities such as a gym or pool would be perhaps 8,000 to 12,000 baht a month, for those happy to splash out a bit, so it depends on how much you want to spend and how much you want to save. Food is cheap if you eat like a local, 30-50 Thai baht per meal ($1-2 USD). Western food can be more expensive.
Here are some average costs of living in Chiang Mai for example:
Apartment: 10,000 THB / month for clean, spacious one bedroom apartment in the city
Utility bills: Water & Electricity 500 THB / month (depending on how much you use air-con)
Local Thai meal: 30-50 THB
Pizza: 200-300 THB
Small bottle of beer: 40 THB (shop). 50-80 THB (bar)
Gym membership: 1,000 THB
Flight to the islands: 1,000- 2000 THB
Do wages depend on which location in Thailand that you teach?
Yes, but remember that the cost of living changes too. Wages will be lower in the countryside, in Isaan (Northeastern Thailand) for example, however, the cost of living here is very low. Beach locations are expensive to live in, but the salaries don’t match the cost of living, as they know everyone wants to live on an island!
How long are the teaching contracts?
Most schools would like you to sign a year contract, others will be okay with one semester of 5 months. Few will take shorter than this as it’s a lot of work processing the paperwork for a work permit, which is essential to teach English in Thailand or get any employment of any kind.
What are the hours like? Do you get paid holidays?
In most schools, hours would be from about 7,30am to 4:30 pm.
Some schools pay in the holidays, some don’t. It really depends on the school or language institution.
Ideally, you should negotiate a 12-month contract so that you do get paid in the holidays. If you work in a language school, hours would be more afternoons and evenings (say 3-9pm), as well as weekends, with days off during the week instead.
Usually, this is then an hourly rate but paid monthly depending on hours taught.
What is the daily life like for someone teaching English in Thailand?
This will depend a lot on the teacher themselves, what they like to do with their free time and mainly, how good their time management skills are etc. If you are at work from 7:30 to 4:30, of those, only 5 on average would be actual teaching or ‘contact’ hours, the rest would be for planning lessons, marking etc. If you use that time well, you shouldn’t need to do too much after hours – perhaps not in the beginning when you are a new teacher and it takes a bit longer to plan your lessons.
After hours, teachers tend to hang out together and often live in the same apartment blocks, so it can be a very social way of life. Seldom are you the only Western teacher at a school (be sure to find this out at the interview stage). Teachers often travel together too on the weekends or during school holidays.
You’ll also have a fantastic opportunity to make local Thai friends, and we’d highly recommend that you take some Thai lessons while you’re here to help you to integrate. Of course, it’s up to you how much you choose to immerse yourself into the local community, but those who do find their experience all the more rewarding!
You could also join a Muay Thai, a yoga class or even the local gym if you want to meet people outside of the school.
What are some of the challenges English Teachers face in the classroom?
Children will be children no matter where they are in the world. In saying that, generally Asian children are more respectful than Western children. Classroom management is always a challenge for a new teacher, but a good TEFL course will equip you with many tips on handling a big class or a disruptive one. A language barrier can also be a challenge, but usually, you will have a Thai teaching assistant.
Can you earn a living giving adult classes in a Language School?
Definitely. Some teachers prefer the hours of a language school, especially those who are not morning people! Some teachers also prefer to teach adults, young adults or business students, instead of having to deal with children.
In a language school, ours tend to be 3-9 pm and weekends. Some language schools offer a fixed monthly salary and fixed hours, others pay an hourly rate but will usually still guarantee you a minimum number of hours.
What about teaching online?
This is a great way to travel and teach, which is of course, not only confined to teaching in Thailand. Many backpackers take their TEFL course which gives them a way of working remotely from anywhere in the world. You do need a strong internet connection wherever you are, and a quiet room and a laptop (not a tablet or smartphone). Check out this interview with teacher Jessie for the lowdown on teaching English online.
What are the best things about Teaching English in Thailand?
It’s a life-changing experience, as is any experience that takes you outside of your comfort zone. Learning about a new culture not from a book, but by actually experiencing it is very rewarding. You’ll make friends for life, both fellow teachers and locals alike. You’ll find it so gratifying seeing your students’ level of English grow under your guidance. Plus, you get to travel and explore this amazing and beautiful country!
Read more about TEFL Courses in Southeast Asia here.