Teach English in Thailand – A Complete Beginners Guide
The Kingdom of Thailand is the best country in the South East Asia in terms of quality of life, fun, entertainment and value for your money. Not only is the country centrally located to all other South East Asian countries by way of cheap flights, it’s also quite a diverse country itself.
Thailand offers a unique mix of gorgeous mountain regions to the north with Chaing Mai as the central hub ( a popular destination for digital nomads) and famous tropical beaches to the south with the city of Bangkok located in the center of the country.
About Teaching English in Thailand
The ESL market is quite strong in Thailand and offers native English speakers a unique opportunity to live and work in Thailand. In recent years the Thai government has cracked down on non degree holding individuals working as ESL teachers in Thailand.
You need to have a bachelors degree in order to become a teacher in Thailand. The reason being is that a degree is now one of the legal requirements for immigration to process your non-immigrant visa. Without a degree, you can not get the proper visa to live and work in Thailand.
Where will you work?
Thailand has three main options:
- Government Schools
- International Schools
Government Schools – The most common option
Most teachers in Thailand start their ESL career at a government school. 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 is not uncommon.
Government school jobs are the easiest to get and are always an option for anyone looking to teach English in Thailand. All you need to have to meet the legal requirements for employment which is being from a native English speaking country and having a degree. If you’re not from a native speaking country then you’ll have to pass a TOEIC examination.
A step up from a government school is an “EP program.” The EP stands for English Program so technically it’s an English program, program.
These are dedicated programs run at government schools where the children have all their classes in English, except for their Thai language class. These programs have the same requirements as a regular government school and tend to pay about the same.
The advantages however of an EP program are numerous. First, the classes will be smaller. You will have no more than 18 to 22 students per class.The students will be of a higher caliber and the school will generally take you more seriously as a teacher.
Next, nn an EP program you will have the opportunity to teach a variety of interesting subjects, not just English. You could be the dedicated PE teacher, the computer teacher or the science teacher. This alone makes seeking out an EP program worth it because it provides a unique growth opportunity for you as a teacher.
Universities – The most fun and free position
Universities are a strange thing in Thailand. The legal requirements are lower, the pay is the same as a government school but you only teach 12 hours a week on average. If you’re looking for a comfy, laid back position where you don’t work a lot but are also not paid a lot, consider looking for a position at a university in Thailand.
With Universities, you will need to have at least a masters degree if not more. You will also be expected to be a subject matter expert. Universities are ideal for teachers who are qualified teachers in their home country or those who have paid their dues at government school.
The advantages of working at a University are that you teach 3 days a week for about 12 hours. The rest of the time you’re free to do what you want. You also get 4 months paid vacation a year.
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 a high school or an elementary school. So you do need to be an experience teachers capable of putting together a 3 hour long lesson for multiple classes week over week.
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 who are more serious about learning than a 10 year old kid.
International Schools – The professional option
The last group of schools on the list are your international schools. Located primarily in Bangkok. These are position designed for qualified teachers. The pay is good but expectations are high.
These are the sort of positions that will pay 90,000 Baht or more per month, give you various housing allowances and bonus pay. But you’re expected to be a professional teacher.
If you’re a qualified teacher in America or the UK, I would strongly suggest going for a position with an international school. They are the right mix of high pay, being located in Bangkok so you can actually enjoy yourself and these positions will build your resume.
Legal and Educational Requirements to work as a Teacher in Thailand:
Thailand has a few requirements that you need to fulfill to legally work in Thailand as a teacher.
- Certified degree and transcript from a 4 year University
- Background check
- Health Check
- Non B visa
- Work Permit
4 year degree
In order to be issued a non-b visa and a work permit you must have a 4 year degree. It’s a legal requirement. If you don’t possess one, immigration is unable to legally give you a non-b visa with the intention of getting a work permit. Of course you can be issued a non-b visa for any number of reasons but immigration will need documentation as to the reason why.
If it’s a school supplying the documentation, they will need your degree in addition to numerous other things legally.
Schools require a background check. This is not a legal requirement, but most school will ask for this. A background check from your state or city is sufficient.
You must obtain a certificate verifying your health. You do this at any local hospital in Thailand. This is a legal requirement and it must be completed at a hospital in Thailand.
Non B Visa
The non-b visa is issued to foreign national who are required to be in the kingdom for any number of reasons. You can obtain this by providing documentation from your school to immigration to begin the process.
To obtain a work permit you must first obtain a non-b visa. The work permit actually allows you to work in Thailand where a non-b visa simply lets you live in the country.
TOEIC Exam for Non Native Countries
Are you South African, Eastern European or Filipino? You can still work as an ESL teacher in Thailand, even if you’re a non-native English speaker. You simply have one additional requirement compared to native English speakers.
You must get at least 600 on the TOEIC. This now includes South Africans. Even if you’re in the minority that speaks English as a native language you must still complete the TOEIC exam.
Do I need a TEFL Certificate to Teach in Thailand?
A TEFL certificate is not a legal requirement for employment but it’s something you should strive to get as it will help you get better positions as an ESL teacher and it’s now a requirement if you want to teach English online which is much more lucrative for many people.
A TEFL certificate also gives you a strong understanding over the needs of language learners and the difficulties they face acquiring a new language.
Frequently Asked Questions
Next, let’s answers some frequently asked questions regarding teaching English in Thailand.
I only have a 2 year degree. Is this adequate?
No. You must have a 4 year degree in order to begin the process of obtaining a non-b visa and a work permit. If you have a 2 year degree or no degree you are unable to obtain a non-b visa and work permit.
Is it true that I will have a hard time getting a job if I am not white?
Wrong. Black Americans and Asian Americans have no issue getting employment in Thailand. While you’re not preferred, Americans are still highly valued. Asian Americans actually have the hardest time because it’s still an odd thing for Thais that someone can be Asian but a native English speaker.
The only group in Thailand that faces active discrimination are Africans from Africa however, even with a TOEIC.
Can I teach English in Bangkok Without a Degree
You’ll find school that will “hire” you without a degree but you’re working illegally. You can’t get the proper visa, you’ll have to do visa runs and are putting yourself at risk of deportation if you get caught.
In the past, maybe before 2010, it was actually possible to teach without a degree but not anymore.
Thailand English Teacher Salary
Thailand, while offering the highest quality of living in South East Asia, typically pays the least. This coupled with the moderate cost of living and most school not paying for your visa or work permit (or at the very least, paying half) makes Thailand a challenging place to live and work without going into debt or having to work long hours doing extra classes.
While it is easy to find work in Thailand and schools are all too willing to hire non-degree holders illegally or non-native English speakers, the average salary in Thailand has been stagnant for the last 10 years at around 30,000-35,000 baht. 30,000 baht is simply not enough for a foreign national to live in Thailand given the out of pocket costs of rent, food, gym, utilities, visa, work permit and a plane ticket to leave the country when your contract is finished.
Not to mention double pricing, and trips to explore the country. 35,000 baht while obviously better, is enough to cover living expenses per month but nothing more.
What does the average English teacher make?
Your average teacher at a government school is paid between 30,000 to 35,000 baht with no benefits. If you’re a qualified teacher in your country of origin you can obtain a position at an international school where your salary could be upwards of 90,000 baht per month with benefits. Training and after school tutorial centers typically pay 500-700 baht per hour and teachers who take on personal students charge 500 baht per hour minimum.
Government Schools: 35,000-40,000 baht
The most common and easiest to get job in Thailand. Government schools provide low salaries, huge classes, no benefits, no air conditioning and no support for your work permit or visa. The only benefit is that the work load tends to be light at 16 hours per week. For 30,000 baht I would not accept a work load greater than 16 hours.
EP Programs at Government Schools: 35,000-40,000 baht
In Thailand, it’s common for government schools to offer English Programs Programs. Yes, the P stands for program. These programs are private programs run by a government school where students families pay a yearly tuition. You would expect that this tuition would go to providing a higher salary to attract teachers, but that is not the Thai way.
The advantage of an EP program is that you get a chance to teach non-English subjects in English like health, PE, computer technology and science. EP programs typically have their own building as well with air conditioning. Hours are 16-20 per week.
International Schools: 50,000- 120,000 baht
International schools are for qualified teachers only. If you’re a native English speaker with a bachelors and masters in education who is also certified, you can get a high paying job with good benefits. The only disadvantage is that your working hours will be quite long.
Universities: 30,000-60,000 baht
While not the highest paying position, Universities offer the lightest work load and the most vacation time. At a university you typically sign in once a week and only have to be on campus when you have a scheduled class, where a government school expects you to be there all day from 8 am to 4 pm (M-F) despite paying you a small salary.
Universities also have the longest break, with the months of December, May, June and July being free. Depending on the school, you’ll either have to do some sort of extra work during this time or the university will allow you to simply sign in once a week and have the rest of the week off.
Tutoring Privately – 500 baht an hour minimum
Working after school at a language center or as a one on one tutor is quite normal for government school English teachers. They pay is so low at government schools you have to do extra class just to make enough to live comfortably.
As a native speaker you should charge 500 Baht an hour minimum if not more.
English Teacher Benefits
Teaching English abroad in Thailand does not offer much in the way of benefits. The main benefit is that you get to live and work in Thailand. A wonderful country where you get a first world quality of life for cheap.
Government school provide NO housing allowance usually. Some school do however have on campus housing for teachers, but it is not a normal or expected thing. Also, these homes or apartments tend to be quite dated and you’ll probably want to find something else.
Universities and international schools do provide a housing allowance that subsidised with your salary, helps you afford an acceptable western style flat.
Paid Vacation time
Elementary and High Schools have their break during October, then Mid-March and April. As a teacher you can expect to have this time off to travel or work, fully paid. Make sure you check your contract though. Many schools try to pull, “they only pay when you work” line but then expect you to be at school all day. Double check your contract and be clear on if you’re paid 12 months. Don’t accept a contract if they don’t state that you are paid 12 months.
For universities you will have May, June and July off as well as December. Yes 4 months! This is why Universities, despite the low pay are still a good option.
Government schools offer no bonus. EP programs sometimes pay a bonus. Universities sometimes pay a bonus. International schools pay a bonus. The bonus is usually one months salary.
Schools in Thailand will not pay for a plan ticket home. If you’re paid a good salary this is a non-issue. It’s only a problem at government schools where you’ll end up going into debt to leave the country.
Schools tend to provide a free lunch. The lunch is always chicken or pork with rice and vegetables of some sort. If you’re a vegan you may have to pack your own food.
Schools provide basic health insurance for when you get injured or sick and need to seek medical help.
Cost of living in Thailand
Thailand is cheap, but it’s not as cheap as it used to be. The cost of living has crept up a bit. Here is what you can expect to spend in different parts of the country.
If you’re intention is to live and work in Bangkok you’ll need a monthly salary of 50,000 baht to live comfortably. Outside of Bangkok you will need 35,000 minimum.
Apartments can range anywhere from a $250 flat (5,000 baht roughly) to a $100,000 baht penthouse. Food costs 50 baht a plate, foreign food and beer is upwards of $10-15 per beer and per plate (200-500 baht). Bangkok is an international city with all the offerings of any other major capital. While you may think you’ll live like a “local” you’ll quickly find that educated locals make upwards of 50,000 baht themselves.
The notion of Thailand being 3rd world is a thing of the past. Yes you can live like a cheap unskilled, uneducated local but you’re not going to because you did not come to Thailand to be poor. You’re an educated westerner and expect a lifestyle that comes with that status.
Outside of Bangkok
Outside of Bangkok you can support yourself on 35,000 baht though you won’t have much savings and you’ll have to go into debt to pay for a plane ticket. Though 35,000 baht is enough to live month to month.
Ideal Amount of Money
In Bangkok you would want to be making 90,000 baht. Outside of Bangkok, 50,000 would be fine. At this level you’re able to save money month to month, have money to travel during breaks and have money to pay for a plane ticket if you choose not to continue your contract. You can reach this amount as a teacher if you also teach online.
How Much Can You Save?
On a salary of 30,000-35,000 baht you will save nothing. You may even have to go into debt or pick up evening classes. Particularly if you’re going to leave Thailand after a year. All your savings (and then some) will be eaten up by the cost of a plane ticket back to America or Canada alone.
If you’re able to make 60,000 baht you’ll be able to save around 20,000 baht per month.
Visa Requirements For Teachers in Thailand
To live and work in Thailand, you will need to obtain the proper visa. Here are the various requirements for English teachers in Thailand.
The Non B Thai Visa For Teachers
Obtaining a visa to legally work in Thailand is a long, expensive, protracted process that can take up to a month to finish. The reason why it takes time is because you have to wait for bureaucracies to give you the paperwork you need to submit to immigration.
Namely, the completed contract signed by your school director and documents from the Thai Teachers Council so you can obtain a temporary teachers license (or full license if you have a bachelors in education). With these two documents in hand, you’re then required to obtain a health certificate from a local hospital, a background check from your home country and copies of your passport pages.
Once you have all the required documents you’re able to obtain a non-b visa which will enable you to apply for a work permit (this is where you hand over your teachers council paperwork as well as your passport again).
Required Documents For a Thai Visa
- A temporary or permanent teachers license (depends on your education background)
- A work permit (looks similar to a US passport)
- A non-b visa valid for 1 year
- Background check from your country of origin
- Health check
- Certified degree and transcript proving obtainment of a 4 year degree
The only position that is NOT required to obtain a teachers license is if you work at a University. There you’re considered a guest lecturer and NOT a teacher by Thai law. For all other school you’ll need to obtain a license from the Thai Teachers Council. It’s valid for 2 years IF you receive a temporary license. If your education is in anything BUT education you’re only able to obtain a temporary license. If you have a bachelors or masters in education you can obtain a full license. In other words:
Bachelors in accounting, masters in Education = full license
Bachelors in education = full license
Bachelors in accounting only = temporary license
You can obtain a temporary license for up to 3 years max. After this you will no longer be able to work at a school. The only solution is to obtain a bachelors or masters in education.
Countries require foreign nationals to obtain some sort of work permit to be allowed to work in their countries. Thailand is no different. You must by law obtain a work permit otherwise you’re working illegally.
The non-b visa is a non immigrant visa that is good for one year. It is NOT a work visa. It’s simply a visa issued to foreign nationals who are required to be in the country for a variety of reasons.
This is a new development with ESL teaching. Schools across South East Asia now require a background check. The easiest way is to obtain this in your county before heading out to Thailand.
You will be required to get a health check at a local hospital. They will take blood, check blood pressure and you’ll have a consultation with a doctor.
There is crack down on foreigners with “fake” degrees. Because it’s such a problem in Thailand, you’re required to get your degree certified by your embassy.
Now, lets cover some frequently asked questions as they pertain to getting a visa in Thailand.
How long is the visa valid for?
1 year. ALL visas, except for the Elite VIP visa are valid for 1 year. That means every year you need to reapply to obtain your visa and work permit.
What is the process like?
It takes a long time because you’re waiting for documents that you have no control over. Getting the contract finished and signed by the director takes time. Waiting for the Teachers Council takes time. Then you’ll have to do multiple trips to immigration and your local work permit office. Going back and forth with documents you need from each place.
How much does this all cost?
Apart from waiting, it will take you about a week to finish once you have all the documents. With all the costs added up, it ends up being about 10,000 baht for your visa, work permit, health cert, background check and transportation costs.
Can I work on a tourist visa?
Legally NO, BUT most new teachers do for a few months simply because Thais are very slow about providing the required documents.
Conclusion – Teach English in Thailand
So there you have it. A broad overview of what to expect in Thailand. The overwhelming majority of teachers love living and working in Thailand.
The main issue however is the low pay and costly visa process. If you’re willing to tolerate this, Thailand is a wonderful first country to live and work abroad in for a year or two.