Teaching English in Asia: An Overview
Related post: Teaching English in Europe
It’s not that hard to become an English teacher overseas, especially in Asia. No place pays better or has a wider availability of work. In Asia, large populations, mandatory English requirements, and an innate desire to learn the language of business, means that those looking for work in Asia will find a buyer’s market. No matter what country you land in, as long as you keep your options open, you will find a job.
What are the options?
Jobs in Asia fall into five categories:
Government schools, which typically pay the worst. However, they are reliable. You know the place isn’t going to close, you will get your pay check each week, you’ll have some sort of support, and they aren’t going to suddenly terminate you. Depending on the country and the school, kids will either pay a lot of attention or pay none.
No matter where you end up, you’ll be back to save some money, learn about a new culture, explore new lands, and make friends from all around the world.
Language schools where the pay is better and you’ll have more flexibility with your schedule and curriculum. However, many parents also use these schools as a form of babysitting so the kids have little real motivation to learn and, because schools are motivated by money, rarely discipline the students for fear they will stop coming.
Private schools, which are simply a rich version of government schools. They offer better pay and a slightly better student body. They’re better than government schools but lack the flexibility of language schools.
International schools, which are the best schools to work in. The kids here are children of international expats, diplomats, or very rich locals. The curriculum is the same as your country of origin. It’s just like teaching at home. All the kids speak English and they are usually very motivated and involved. As an added bonus, you make a lot of money. Competition for these jobs is very, very stiff and typically applicants have a lot of experience.
Another option is to do corporate training. Corporate training jobs typically pay very high, the schedules are flexible, the students are adults who want to learn, and the work can last a few months. These jobs are usually before or after business hours so can be very early or very late in the day. Moreover, these jobs, like the language school jobs, are typically hard to get and require experience.
What qualifications do I need?
Most countries in Asia require a minimum level of qualifications. All countries require you to be a native speaker. In other words, you have to be from the UK, US, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand. You will also need a 4-year bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. It doesn’t matter what your degree is in. Whether you have a degree in biochemistry, English, or yoga, it doesn’t matter – so long as you have a university degree.
If you have no experience and no teaching degree, it is worth getting your TEFL
A four year degree is a must in the higher end countries like Korea and Japan. In countries that have looser restrictions, many of the schools will turn a blind eye and hire you without a degree. This usually occurs in more rural areas where attracting Western teachers can be tough. I met a few teachers in Thailand without any college experience.
If you have a valid teaching degree or a TEFL certificate, your chances of getting hired also dramatically increase. Having a teaching degree from a Western University will pretty much guarantee you a job, even without experience, at the majority of government, private, or language schools. As a rule though, if you have no experience and no teaching degree, it is worth getting your TEFL. This will help give you credibility when applying for jobs.
How much can I earn?
Salary varies greatly from country to country and job to job. You can earn as little as $500 a month to upwards of over $3,200 a month.
ESL jobs in Korea pay over $2,400 USD (or more) a month and come with a free round trip air ticket, free housing, 50% medical, and a one month bonus at the end of the contract. With a little experience or a little luck, you might also land a job paying closer to $3,000 USD a month.
Salaries in Japan tend to be pretty uniform throughout the country. Typically, most people earn about 280,000 Yen a month (about $2,800 USD). Sometimes one can find a job for 300,000 yen per month if you luck out. Though that may sound good, living expenses are not usually covered and the high cost of living in Japan, especially in Tokyo, can eat up 50% of your monthly salary.
Taiwan is a great place to earn quick money. The pay is pretty good and the jobs in high demand. The average salary is roughly a little under $2,000 dollars per month but those who want to work can make over $3,000 per month. You get some of the perks of Korea but for the most part you are on your own. Typically, perks extend to an apartment and completion bonus.
Salaries in China tend to be very low. However, if you live in one of the big cities and work hard you can earn a lot and, given the low cost of living, you can save quite a bit. The going rate for a teacher is 150 Yuan a hour in Beijing ($21 USD). That’s not too bad. If you can fill your work week, you can earn and save a lot. However, once you leave the big cities, salaries and working conditions drop drastically. However, cost of living in China is really low so if you stick to a local lifestyle, you will walk away with a good amount of money saved.
Teaching in Asia is a fun and rewarding opportunity. The crowd that comes here tends to be young and looking for a little adventure. You can find people to meet whatever lifestyle you want and the locals are usually always happy to make a Western friend. No matter where you end up, you’ll be back to save some money, learn about a new culture, explore new lands, and make friends from all around the world.
For more about this topic, see Matt’s guide on his site: Teaching English Overseas