Teaching English in Vietnam: Everything You Need To know
Vietnam is two countries in one with the north and south being vastly different from one another – not only in terms of climate, but also in terms of attitude and lifestyle. Hanoi is a beautiful, slower paced capital city that is quite small and charming. With French style building, cafes and narrow walking streets.
Ho Chi Minh City (referred to as Saigon by anyone who lives there) to the south is the economic capital. Bigger buildings, more robust shopping and nightlife options. More foreigners and work options. The people are also friendlier too and more akin to Thai people.
Vietnam is filled with some gorgeous landscapes, great food and a low cost of living. Mix all this with a deep culture, a history of invasion and fascinating landmarks. Vietnam is a profitable, fun and interesting ESL destination.
About Teaching English in Vietnam
Vietnam is an under-rated, often overlooked destination for teaching English. With it’s good pay and low living costs, Vietnam has a lot to offer prospective teachers. The beautiful country, amazing food, good coffee and friendly locals make for an amazing teaching experience.
The ESL job market is quite strong here too. With teaching jobs readily available both in the northern capital of Hanoi or in the south in Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll have no problem being placed in a good location of your choice.
There’s also an ever increasing demand for teachers in smaller cities and towns. Perfect for those looking for a lifestyle outside of the city where you can really take advantage of the low cost of living.
Where Will You Work?
Most jobs in Vietnam are at private language centers. While it is possible to be placed in a public school in Vietnam, it’s not the norm like it is in most other ESL countries. Instead, Vietnam follows a model similar to a Korean Hagwon in that you’ll mostly be working at private language centers where students attend after school.
So expect to be working nights and weekends at these private language centers. It is possible to obtain a position at a public school in Vietnam. To do so however requires you have TEFL certificate, bachelors degree and pass a background check.
Get Your Visa For Vietnam
If you’re American in particular there is NO visa on arrival for Vietnam. It’s best to obtain a visa before entering the country. You can get your visa at Vietnam-Visa.com. A trusted service most foreigners use when entering Vietnam.
The way it works is that you pay for an invitation letter. This letter will be emailed to you, you print it out and show it at the airport to be allowed on the plane to Vietnam. Once at immigration hand over this letter, your passport and then sit and wait for your visa to be processed. For me, it took about 1 hour of waiting at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City.
Get your Vietnam Visa here.
Here are the Legal and Educational Requirements to work as a teacher in Vietnam:
Here are the legal requirements to live and work in Vietnam:
- A 4 year degree
- Health Check
- Police Check from the last 180 days
- Valid Passport
These are the documents in your control needed to obtain a work permit and a business visa for Vietnam. Yes, you can be a teacher in Vietnam without needing to be a native English speaker.
4 Year Degree
This is a legal requirement to obtain a work permit. You need to demonstrate that you have some sort of expertise. This is done by submitting a 4 year degree. No transcripts are needed. However, your degree must be notarized. This can be done at your embassy in Vietnam but it’s best to take care of this before you come to Vietnam.
You must pass a health check in order to obtain a work permit. The health check is done at a local hospital and consists of a physical. The health check must not be older than 6 months in order to apply for a work permit.
You will need a police check from your state or province. This is best done in your home country as this a few weeks to get sorted. You do not need a national police check like you do for South Korea (which involves contacting the FBI and takes months to complete).
If you have been living in Vietnam for more than 6 months for whatever reason, you’ll also need a Vietnamese police check.
You will need a completed resume or CV to submit as part of your application for a work permit. Part of the regulations dictate that you prove work experience. This is done via a resume.
Like immigration at most countries, you’ll need a passport with at least 6 months of validity left on it as well as numerous passport photos.
Native English Speaker
Being a native English speaker is preferable, but not a legal requirement like it is in South Korea. Vietnam like Thailand is a country that is open to teachers that are non-native. As long as you meet all the other legal requirements, you can obtain a work permit and a position as an English teacher.
Is finding a job hard as a non-native English speaker?
If you’re white, no. I’ve meet many Russians, Swedes and Germans working as English teachers in Vietnam. It comes down to the misbegotten notion that only white skinned people speak English. If you’re non-white like Indian or Asian you’ll have a tougher time unfortunately, but it’s not impossible.
A TEFL or TESOL helps you in negotiating a higher hourly rate as well as securing a position in a public school, but as far as being a legal requirement it is not. It’s a good idea to obtain a certificate though because it helps you be a better teacher in the classroom and it sets you apart from less qualified candidates.
Here is what you should expect to make as a teacher in Vietnam
Working as an English teacher in Vietnam is totally different than other countries in that you’re paid per hour instead of being paid a salary. No exceptions.
The hourly rate varies depending upon how qualified of an English teacher you are. With the pay rate ranging anywhere from $15 an hour to $25 an hour. The upper range is for native English speakers with teaching experience, a bachelors degree, a TEFL certificate and who can also pass a background check. If that is you, I would not accept anything less than $20 an hour.
Most teachers can easily find work at any one of the numerous language centers in the country. The language centers operate after school and on weekends. These centers will want you to sign a contract and will give you a set minimum amount of teaching hours per week as well as a set schedule. The hours can be anywhere from 10 hours to 25 hours a week depending on if you’re full time or part time.
You’ll want about 20 hours a week in order to make a good livable salary. The cost of living in Vietnam is around $800-$1000 USD.
Lastly, everything is up for negotiation and don’t be afraid to walk away from an offer you don’t like. I had worked with an American teacher who had a great schedule of two days at a language center in the evening and two days at a high school during the day for a total of 20 hours a week, 3 days off and a monthly income of roughly $2000 USD. He was paid $22 an hour.
When I sought employment, I was originally offered a position at a high school only to have a bait and switch pulled on me. Changing the position to a language center in the evenings 5 days a week with Tuesday and Thursday off and the bulk of the hours on the weekend. I said no.
What does the average English Teacher make?
The average teacher in Vietnam makes about $2,000 USD per month.
Teachers are also paid in dollars and not the local currency (some teachers are paid a combination with dollars being deposited and Dong being given to you directly). You’ll have to setup a foreign bank account when in Vietnam and your school or language center will deposit your payment into your bank account.
The amount you make depends entirely on your hourly rate and the number of teaching hours your able to secure. Your hourly rate will be anywhere from $15-25 USD an hour and your working hours will be 15-25 hours. It really depends. The more qualified you are, the better hourly rate you will be paid, though school will try to pay you as little as they can. It’s fine to negotiate.
Types of Schools to Work at
There are three places you will work at in Vietnam:
- Language Centers
- Public Schools
- International Schools
In Vietnam you’ll need to decide if you want to work at a language center, public school or “international” school. You can also work full time or part time. Again, Vietnam is not like other countries.
International is in quotes because most private schools call themselves international. In other countries, international schools mean a high quality, competitive, good place to work – In Vietnam you should think Kindergarden or preschool when you hear “international” school.
It’s also impossible to work directly with a public school. You’ll always have to go through an agency (that sometimes also operates a language center) to be placed in such a position.
Language Centers: $15-25 USD per Hour
Language centers are the most common place to work at in Vietnam. Popular centers are Language Link, Apollo, and ILA. You can expect a language center to pay for your work permit and give you paid holidays. Some centers will even provide you a bonus upon contract completion or will pay for a flight.
It depends on your contract. Most centers will give you between 20-25 hours per week. The bulk of your hours will be on the weekend. Expect to teach 6-7 hours worth of class on Saturday and Sunday and 3-4 hours in the evening during the work week. On the weekend centers open at 7 am and stay open until about 8 pm at night so you can be expected to work as early as 7 to as late as 8.
You will NOT be given consecutive days off. Expect an odd schedule like Monday and Wedseday off. The benefits of language centers are that they are developed, professional, well funded and take care of all the legal aspects of working in Vietnam. They also provide small classes of 15 or so students with a teaching assistant. The disadvantages are the long weekend hours and the lack of consecutive days off.
Public Schools: $15-25 USD per hour
For public schools you have the option to work either full time or part time. To work at a public school you must go through an agency. The agency will place you in different schools during the week, so don’t expect to be going to the same school everyday. You are also only paid by the hour and class time is for a full hour.
Full Time Public School Teacher
If you choose to be full time, expect to teach 25 hours per week, paid holidays and some small amount of vacation time. If you teach over 25 hours you will be paid overtime. 25 hours is a lot of in class teaching time and most teachers get burned out at this amount of work as it equate to giving a 5 hour high energy speech 5 days a week.
The overall advantage of a public school is normal working hours and guaranteed payment. So if your contract is for 80 hours per month (20 hours a week), you’ll be paid for that 80 hours even if you don’t actually teach 80 hours.
Part-Time Public School Teacher
As a part time teacher you’ll be paid a flat rate depending on your experience and ability to negotiate. With this route you will be required to get and pay for your own work permit yourself and all the costs that come along with it. The part time route gives a lot of flexibility for teachers and is an ideal option for those who teach online and are looking to pick up 10-15 hours during the week. Online teachers work evenings, so being able to have a gig during the morning hours is ideal and can be done by working as a part time teacher.
International schools: Western Salary at a legitimate school
International schools in Vietnam come in two forms. Legitimate international schools like the British International School, and the Australian International School, or school that simply throw the word “international” into their name to seem more professional.
Proper international schools pay well (a western salary of $2,900-4,000 a month is reasonable), have normal working hours, give paid vacation and holidays and take care of the work permit. To land a job here you’ll need teacher certification and experience.
Set Your Own Schedule: $2,000-3,000 USD
In Vietnam it is totally possible to set your own schedule with working as a part time teacher at a few different places or combining a part time position at a public school with online teaching.
Vietnam is refreshing choice in this regard because you’re much more in charge of your income, time and work week. But this option is for those already established in the country. Just know that it’s possible and a common setup is to work 10-12 hours a week at a public school during the day and then teach online for 16-20 hours.
English Teacher Benefits
Only proper international school provide some sort of housing allowance. For all other position you’ll be required to find your own apartment or rent a room in a house with other teachers. In Hanoi, prices are affordable so you can get your own place if you want. Ho Chi Minh city apartments are a bit more expensive. It’s a good idea to find a roommate if possible.
Paid vacation and paid holidays are standard practice if you’re a full time teacher at a language center or public school in Vietnam.
Bonus / Return Ticket
Some language centers give you a bonus after a 1 year contract or they will help pay for a flight to return to your country. This is case by case and not standard practice as it is in South Korea.
Cost of Living in Vietnam
Vietnam is very cheap, cheaper than Thailand actually in all aspects except for rent and a gym membership. You can live a comfortable life as a debt free, single person on $1100 a month. This amount is all you will need in order to pay for your living costs.
If you wish to travel and explore Vietnam, you’ll want to get your income up to around $1,400 USD. With an average salary of $2,000 USD if you’re working 22-25 hours per week, you can easily save $1,000 USD per month.
The Vietnam Business Visa For English Teachers
To legally work in Vietnam you need to obtain a business visa and a work permit. You obtain the work permit FIRST and then convert your tourist visa into a business visa. You’ll need to obtain a work permit to legally work at a school or language center in Vietnam.
To work without a work permit means you’re working illegally and are putting yourself at risk of fines and deportation so don’t work without a work permit. If you’re working less than 3 month in Vietnam you do not need a work permit. This rule is in place to allow foreign nationals time to get situated first.
In Vietnam you will be required to obtain a work permit which you can then use to convert your tourist visa into a business visa. On a tourist visa you’ll have to do visa runs so it is important your school gets you the documentation needed to begin the work permit process as quickly as possible as it can take up to 40 days to process. Ideally this should happen within the first 3 months so you don’t have to leave and re-enter the country.
For Americans you follow the same process but you can get either a 1 year tourist visa or a 1 year business visa before entering the country. The 1 year tourist visa requires you to leave the country every three months. The business visa allows you to live in Vietnam without having to leave. Get the tourist visa and then get a work permit, then convert your tourist visa to a business visa.
Step 1: Get The Work Permit
The work permit costs a few hundred dollars so please plan accordingly. It’s valid for 3 years. You will need the following to get a work permit in Vietnam:
- A 4 year degree
- Health Check
- Police Check from the last 180 days
- Passport Photos
- Committee approval document + Business certification
A 4 year degree
You must be able to demonstrate you have some sort of professional skill. This is accomplished by having a 4-year degree. You have two options. You can either bring a notarized copy of your degree that has also been apostille by your Secretary of State or you can bring your original copy with you to Vietnam and have it certified by your embassy in Vietnam. I suggest the latter as it’s faster, easier and less costly. Check however with your school as rules change.
You’ll have to undergo a physical at a official hospital in Vietnam. This document can not be older than 6 months when applying for the work permit. Otherwise you’ll have to undergo another physical. The physical involves standard work like blood work, blood pressure and a consultation with a physician.
Recent Police Check
You will need a police check from your home country no older than 180 days. This police check can be from your state or province. It does not need to be a national police check. If you have been living in Vietnam for more than 6 months, you’ll also need to get a Vietnamese police check as well. It’s best to obtain this document before arriving in Vietnam.
Passport Photos and Passport
Nothing surprising here. You’ll need numerous passport sized photos of yourself as well as a passport with 6 months or more validity still on it. You will also need COPIES of your passport too.
Yes, you will need to submit your resume. They want to confirm your work experience from former employers as a way to help show you have professional skill.
Committee approval document + Business certification
These are documents you will obtain from your language school or agency (if you’re working at a public school).
Step 2: Get The Business Visa
You have a work permit, you can now legally work in Vietnam. The next step is to get a business visa so you can live in Vietnam for the next year without having to do visa runs. To get a business visa you simply need:
- Application form
- Letter of entry clearance
- Visa Fee
The key item here is the letter of entry clearance. You’ll get this from whatever business (Language centers and agencies are private businesses) you’re working with in Vietnam. You’ll simply need to provide them with your visa and any other details they ask for.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I teach part time without a work permit?
If you teach online for example and wish to obtain a part time position, you will still need to obtain a work permit to work legally. While it is common for teachers to work part time at numerous places, it’s technically illegal as your work permit is tied to one employer. Expect to bear the costs for a work permit if you go the part time route.
Can I change my employer easily?
Yes you can, your work permit is valid for 3 years and is linked to an employer. It’s a simple process of changing the employer on your work permit. All you do is get a few documents signed from your current employer and a few documents from your new employer.
Teach English in Vietnam – Conclusion
Vietnam is a rapidly growing and changing country. It’s quite under rated as a place to teach English but that’s a good thing. You can find a good paying position and live in a major city for cheap. If you’ve been looking for a place with a good work life balance, a place where you can explore a new culture and be surrounded by interesting expats. Check out Vietnam for teaching English abroad.