Teaching is one of the most abundant sources of work for foreigners in Thailand. If you have the qualifications, then it should not be overly difficult for you to find work in this field.
In this article, I will explain some of the things you can expect – both good and bad – and you can hopefully decide from that if this is the right career choice for you to make.
Thailand is a beautiful country with quite a good standard of living compared to many neighboring countries, plus a relatively low cost of living.
When you are not working, Thailand offers many wonderful opportunities for touring around and exploring. There are miles of magnificent beaches, lush tropical forests, and stunningly beautiful waterfalls. You can choose from a huge number of activities from rafting to elephant riding.
In general, most people are friendly and the majority will not resent you coming to work in Thailand. Some will even respect you!
Thailand has an extensive and efficient public transport network, more Internet service providers than any other Southeast Asian destination, and there is also a comparatively good standard of healthcare.
In short, Thailand is a modern country with friendly people and plenty of things to see and do. For those who meet all the requirements to work here, Thailand can truly be a paradise.
Why not Thailand?
It’s important not to make the common mistake of seeing Thailand only through rose-colored glasses. There are some harsh realities that are good to be aware of.
- Most Thai people discriminate, even against other Thais.
- Teachers in Thailand earn notoriously low salaries in comparison with most other Asian destinations, and salary deductions can be severe.
- The standard of education is ridiculous, and as a teacher you will face enormous frustrations under policies that forbid you to discipline the students and that forbid you to allow them to fail.
- The country is politically unstable. There have been frequent (but necessary) military coups and when an elected government is in power there tends to be terrible corruption that makes governing well a very difficult task.
- Corruption is so endemic, nobody thinks it is unusual.
- Thailand’s roads arenotoriously unsafe.
- The cost of living is low, but it’s notthat Unless you are willing and able to live like a local, you could find it impossible to save up money.
- If you work in Thailand for more than 24 months, this can create major tax problems for you, depending on what country you originally are from.
- The government keeps constantly changing the rules so that foreign teachers never really know where they stand legally. The rules are applied arbitrarily on a case-by-case basis at the whim of the individual official you are dealing with. Decisions are usually final, even if they are provably wrong.
- Many schools, especially private ones, try to get out of paying you what they are supposed to pay you, or they may even try to reduce your entitlements in other ways such as only giving you a 10-month contract instead of a 12-month one.
It’s not all bad news, however, and some of these things will affect some people more than others. For most who come to work here, the benefits outweigh the problems.
Usual minimum requirements
You must have a degree. Any school offering to hire you without one is almost certainly not intending to hire you legally and almost certainly has no intention of treating you well.
If you are going to be teaching English, then you will need to either have a degree in Education or something with the word "English" in the title or you will need to have a TEFL certificate.
If you are teaching math or science, then you usually will need to have a degree in those subjects, or a degree in Education.
Unlike many other Asian teaching destinations, Thailand does not normally provide foreign teachers with accommodation, although some schools will pay a small allowance to help towards the cost of renting an apartment.
The quality of apartments varies widely, and it can depend on where in the country you are living. Cost is also a factor, as apartments in Bangkok and touristy locations will tend to cost more. On the other hand, there will be a better selection and a generally higher quality than what is on offer elsewhere.
Generally speaking, a good apartment (by Western standards) will cost at least 8,000 baht (or about US $240) per month, plus utilities and services. An apartment at this price level will usually have large rooms, modern furnishings, and sometimes even a microwave. If you can afford 12,000 baht (about US $355) or more, you could even get a kitchen.
You can do a lot better. My current place is fully furnished, has free WiFi and a kitchen, and the rent is only 4,000 baht (US $120) per month. Needless to say, it is almost impossible for a newcomer to find a deal like this. You have to get the connections first.
If you work for a government school, your working day will usually start at 8am and finish sometime between 4pm and 5pm. You will rarely be expected to work outside of those hours, and if you do, you will usually be compensated for your time.
If you work for a private school, it can be very different. These schools will often pile as much work on you as they can, and it is not unusual to be given 40 or more teaching hours per week, almost double the amount you would get in a government school. Often, you will be expected to take extra classes on Saturday mornings as well.
Regardless of what kind of school you work at, unless you are mainly teaching adults, you will be in for a culture shock.
To start with, you are not allowed to discipline the kids in any way. You will also almost certainly witness Thai teachers using draconian punishments but intervening will usually cost you your job unless the matter is life-threatening.
Secondly, you must not ever fail a student, no matter how poor their performance is. Your job is to lower the standard until the student can pass. Essays are supposed to be marked according to how nicely they are presented, not the quality of their content.
Your working day is divided into teaching hours and non-teaching hours. At government schools, the split will be approximately equal. You should not use meetings as an opportunity to complain about anything the way you could do in a Western school.
Perks in government schools include usually one free (or very inexpensive) meal per day and plenty of vacation time. Private schools will usually require you to work for more time and there are no free lunches.
Frankly, it is comparatively low, but there can be exceptions. The average is around 30,000 baht (US $888) per month and anything better than that is acceptable. Teachers themselves have created this problem by accepting salaries that are too low. Just a few years ago, the average salary was 20,000 baht (US $592) higher and the cost of living was almost half what it is today.
To get the best pay and the best treatment, never apply for a job through a recruiter. Always approach the schools directly. Also, never accept a salary below 30,000 baht and aim for 40,000 baht (US $1,84) or more, especially if you live in Bangkok because 30,000 just won’t be enough.
The bottom line
Teaching in Thailand is very different from being on vacation in Thailand. You will normally have to put in long hours every day, and it will often be worse if you work in a private school. Unless you are teaching to adults, the students will often have little motivation and frequently would rather not try than risk making a mistake.
There will be times that you are frustrated, and times when you find it very challenging to keep your mouth shut about something that bothers you. You will never feel like you have job security, and the bureaucracy you have to deal with will drive you crazy.
If you can learn to cope with all that, however, you will find that "Amazing Thailand" really does live up to the slogan. It is a fascinating country where you never stop learning, and there is always something new and interesting to find.
See also: How to Get a Work Permit in Thailand
The cost of living is still within reasonable limits. The small amount of money you can earn from working will stretch a long way and the quality of what you can buy with your money is typically better than in many other teaching destinations.
The important thing is to plan carefully, do your research, and make sure you don’t get ripped off. Then your Thai dream will not turn into a nightmare, and you’ll be doing a lot better than the vast majority of new arrivals.