Teaching in Thailand: Essentials You Need To Know

by Andrew Bond

Take the famous Thai smile, multiple by fifty, add a dose of exuberance, a touch of chilli in your school lunch, and you have yourselves an unforgettable classroom experience. Teaching in Thailand is a popular work abroad option that draws thousands to the tropical weather and oriental charm of Southeast Asia.

Teaching in a rural school outside of Chiang Rai.
Teaching in a rural school outside of Chiang Rai. Photo by Tom Gore

The world of teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) begins in Bangkok for many, but before you pack your Thai phrasebook, be aware there are increasingly strict criteria for getting a job in the proverbial ‘Land of Smiles’. If you have the right qualifications, entry into the ESL profession is relatively easy and there’s demand for teachers, even those without experience. It’s relatively easy to settle in, the locals are friendly and welcoming, and you’ll have plenty of other foreigners to keep you company.

It is a logical first stop for those planning to travel the world as teachers, since the regional travel is cheap and rewarding and the infrastructure comfortable. Plus, it’s a fun place! But before you set out on your freshman year as an ESL teacher, get your exercise books out and take some important notes on how to make the most of teaching abroad in Thailand.

Getting TEFL Qualified

Training. You don’t need a TEFL certification to gain a teacher’s licence in Thailand, but you’ll be cheating on your students if you didn’t take the trouble to get properly trained. Besides, recruiters will spot your lack of skills in a teaching interview. Taking a decent TEFL course is imperative to your long-term prospects in the ESL teaching worldwide.

How to choose a course. Thailand has more than two-dozen outfits offering the standard 120-hour, one-month course. Many do a decent job, some are half-baked. It’s important to shop around, and research what a good TEFL certificate entails. You’ll may be surprised to learn that there is no central authority in the TEFL/TESOL world, several rival accreditation organizations exist while many training facilities are "self-accredited." Those that have a well-established track record, qualified trainers, and some moderated accreditation from a credible international agency are most likely to be respected. Another important consideration is whether they provide you with real experience in a class full of students. It’s also always a good idea to read reviews of TEFL program providers before applying.

What Qualifications Are Needed?

This is quite important. Although most TEFL course programs will sign up anyone, promising to find them a job, there are some minimum requirements laid down by the local Thai education department.

To secure a temporary teacher’s licence (and work permit) you need:

  • A Bachelors degree in ANY field
  • Police clearance from your home country (in the case of a few nationalities)
  • A TOEIC score of 600+ if you are not a national of one of the following countries: U.S.A., U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, or Canada (South Africans not included bizarrely).
  • A passport valid for at least six months

Eventually (after four years) you will also need to show either a teaching diploma (one-year course) or take the TCT Professional Knowledge test in order to upgrade to a permanent teaching licence.

Once a job offer is made by an official school, paperwork is processed to get the teaching licence which enables you to apply for a work permit and extend your visa for 12 months. Be warned, it’s a bit of a paper chase, including a ‘visa run’ to a nearby consulate or embassy.

Pad Thai, Thailand

Can Anyone Get a Teaching Job in Thailand?

This is the tricky bit. Thailand can be simultaneously easy and difficult when it comes to the rubber stamp. There is increasing demand for teachers, and not enough meet the stipulated criteria so many end up employed "under the radar." It’s not recommended, but the reality is many language schools or rural jobs are filled with teachers short on qualifications; somehow they seem to get by on the infamous "visa runs".

Harsh Reality. Here’s the wicked truth of 21st Century Asia; the middle class moms and pops who are driving demand for private English Programs have a rather 19th Century attitude to ‘profiling’. Every school ideally wants a blonde, blue-eyed female with a soft accent (it’s best for business you understand). This is terribly ‘un-PC’, but if you have an accent (South African, Dutch, etc.) it can be more difficult to find a job.

What is the Pay Like?

Ah, yes, the critical detail, after all you will need to save money for all the traveling you hope to do during school holidays! Thailand is a fun gig, it doesn’t pay brilliantly, but it is a cheap and cheerful place to live. Typically, entry level full time teaching jobs in Bangkok start from $1,000 a month. Out in the provinces it might be $800 or less, but living costs are considerably less. You won’t save more than 25 percent of that each month. Many teachers supplement their income babysitting rich kids on Saturday mornings with fun "English practice". Others juggle several gigs at language schools, freelancing, but the hours can be erratic.

Like all career moves, some experience goes a long way. The most coveted teaching jobs in Thailand are in the private schools teaching English Programs. You will need to have spent several years in the classroom before landing these, but they can pay up-to $1,500 or more. With a proper degree in education or diploma in teaching, you can apply to the International schools where salaries top $3,000 a month.

When is the Best Time to Teach in Thailand?

In most Southeast Asian countries, Thailand in particular, it starts in May. Recruiting takes place in April and again during a window of mid-term breaks in October. Not surprisingly, the TEFL courses of April and September are packed, so it’s advisable to come a little earlier and pick up some volunteer work to get a head start. In fact, jobs for rookies are going throughout the year, since you are likely to start in a language school.

The best time of the year to travel, weather-wise, is November to March, so think about saving up your pennies, flying out just as it gets cold at home, and doing a TEFL course, some travel, and volunteer work ahead of the new school year. March to May are the hottest months, and it rains from then on until October which is often a pleasant, and cheaper, time to backpack through Southeast Asia.

How do I Find a Teaching Job in Thailand?

Check out GoAbroad's Teach Abroad Directory or Education Jobs Directory.

What To Bring and How to Budget?

A small suitcase, a big wallet, and an open mind. Thailand is cheap, it’s better to arrive with some cash and buy suitable clothing (light, smart appearance to impress the image-conscious Thais). Bringing your dreadlocks and backpacker ‘suit’ to an interview will land you a ‘Grade F’ among recruiters. While job hunting, you can survive on $500 a month but realistically will need to budget a $1,000 to get on your feet with a nice pad. TEFL courses typically cost $1,500 and may include accommodation.

With a proper job, you will qualify for national health plans, and Thai hospital care is noted for being good, affordable, and easily available. Arrive with some travel insurance, since Thailand is full of hazards, particularly on the roads.

Boats on a beach in Thailand

Cavorting with the Locals

Thai people are part of the attraction; they are fun-loving, easy-going, friendly, and mostly decent within the educational field. Learn some Thai and you’ll be their ‘teacher’s pet’. If you’re the deeply intellectual type you’ll be lonely without foreigners around for company. If you’re a single guy, chances are you’ll be finding romance without much trouble.

But, take the rose tinted glasses off and you’ll realize that Thailand has it’s flaws like everywhere else: the politics are a continual soap opera; there’s a fatalistic carelessness towards safety; and that famous smile can often deceive you. Learn to adapt to the local way of doing things and you’ll fit into your new school with ease. As with all moves to a new country, you should ‘swot up’ and expect some days when you’ll want to skip school.

Next Steps?

Overall, Thailand is one of the most popular places to start teaching abroad. Many move on to Korea and the Middle East when they need to start saving, but return regularly for the beaches, and affordable fun. Many end up settling there. Southeast Asia is a dynamic region, with diverse and rewarding travel options. There’s a growing demand for English language skills. Above all, the day-to-day routine of dusty-chalk fingers and sing-along English games is a memorable and comfortable experience – part charm, part adventure.

Editor's Note: The team at GoAbroad.com would like to inform our readers that the author of this wonderful piece has tragically passed away. We send our thoughts to his friends and family and know that he touched many lives while in Thailand and beyond. He will always be an inspiration!