In 1989 Laos opened its borders to tourism and its economy has been steadily growing ever since. This influx over the past few decades has created a demand for educators, making it a promising destination for teaching English abroad. As the only landlocked country in the region, Laos lacks the pristine beaches of Thailand or Vietnam, but it compensates with the meandering waters of the mighty Mekong, second only to the Amazon in biodiversity. Those who choose to teach English in Laos will be able to enjoy a relaxed and refined culture, largely influenced by French Colonialism, as evidenced in the striking architecture and five-star French and fusion cuisines.
It is challenging to find teaching positions in Laos located in rural areas. Most opportunities to teach English are offered in the more populated regions of Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Pakse.
Vientiane – Situated on the Mekong and Thai border, this capital city is the economic center of Laos, with an urban population around 800,000. The highest number of teaching jobs in Laos are found here, in private, public, or international schools. There are no shortages of museums, markets, or monuments, and many come to see the famous Buddhist temples and statues that occupy the city’s streets. The National University of Laos is located here, along with vocational schools where you can learn traditional dyeing and weaving techniques in your free time. You can enjoy a day at the spa, and then relax by the river and sample the nation’s world class cuisine.
Luang Prabang – This north central region lies at the convergence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is an old world kind of beauty to this region, encircled by mountains, littered with royal palaces and colonial style buildings, and enveloped in a particularly Buddhist atmosphere. If you like a little adventure, teaching in Luang Prabang could be for you. Any given weekend you can hike to a waterfall, explore caves, ride elephants, motorbike, or mountain bike your way around. Though smaller than the capital, there are still plenty of teaching jobs available in this enchanting city.
Pakse – This third largest city and capital of the Champasack province is located in the southeast part of the country, where the Mekong and Se Don rivers meet. The population of the entire province is just over 650,000, and includes people of Chinese and Vietnamese descent as well. Life here is more laid back and the European influence is less noticeable. The area is known for abundant animal life and the production of high quality Arabica coffee. There won’t be quite as many teaching jobs in Pakse, due to decreased population, so it will simply take more time to secure a placement here.
Teaching Jobs in Laos
The most common teaching jobs in Laos will be in English language instruction, whether it’s at an international, public, or private school, language institution, TEFL/TESOL program, or on a volunteer basis. Many cities have a large number of foreign English teachers, and you do not have to know the local language to teach English in Laos, although learning some of the local dialect is always encouraged.
Classroom conditions vary with location and school. Private or religious schools generally have a higher income and can afford technology assistance and higher quality materials. Other schools may have to get by with only a chalkboard and limited amount of resources. Larger class sizes will often result in the help of a local teaching assistant, but this is not always the case.
The course load can include a variety of courses depending on the position, including general, elementary, and business English. The typical school year is August to June, and individuals who are teaching in Laos full-time can expect to have around five 45 to 50 minute lessons a day.
The majority of the population practices Theravada Buddhism, and religious holidays and festivals can provide up to five days of vacation for teachers, and even more importantly, opportunities for cultural immersion.
Salaries & Costs
Since Laos is still developing in many areas, the number of paid teaching jobs in Laos are limited to larger cities, with volunteer opportunities available in the more rural areas. The average monthly salary for a full-time paid teaching position is around $850 to $1200, or about $10 per hour - enough to live quite comfortably while teaching abroad in Laos. Those with TEFL/TESOL certification are likely to receive higher paying teaching jobs, but those without can still find openings due to the high demand for native English speakers.
The cost of living in Laos is fairly cheap compared to Western standards. An inexpensive meal can be as low as $2, monthly transportation passes are around $15, and you can find clothes and shoes for next to nothing at the local markets (but be prepared to find a lot more smaller sizes than large ones!). Average rent for a one bedroom apartment in the city is $360, and that price drops to less than $200 outside the city.
Accommodation & Visas
Several of TEFL/TESOL and volunteer programs in Laos include accommodation and meals in the teaching placement package. Some teaching jobs in Laos will offer guest housing or other shared room settings, while others will have the option to stay with host families in the villages where you will teach. If housing is not included in your teaching contract, you may need to find an apartment or house on your own. To do this, you can visit expat websites and advice forums, talk to the staff at the school, and connect with other English teachers in the area, to network and find available housing.
A lot of teachers choose to teach English in Laos for the relaxed lifestyle and the ease of obtaining a visa. Many people teach abroad in Laos on a tourist visa and after arrival secure the appropriate visa for their teaching job. However, in order to get paid for your teaching in Laos, you will eventually need a business visa. The application process is fairly straightforward and you will need to provide proof of employment. Some employers will take care of this process for you and sometimes even pay for the visa, which is around $280 per year.
Benefits & Challenges
High Demand: Due to the growing tourism sector, demand for native proficiency English speakers in Laos is high, and most people seeking to teach in Laos will find plenty of opportunities, even without a college degree, TEFL/TESOL certificate, or other teaching certification.
Limited Paid Positions: Although opportunities to teach abroad in Laos are common, full-time paid positions, especially outside the city centers, are less available. Another option is to save up and enroll in a volunteer program in Laos, where accommodation and meals are often included in the program fee.
Student Culture: While Western culture places a lot of importance on individualism, Laotian students are culturally not encouraged to “break out” personality-wise. They are generally taught to be submissive to authority figures and not to look them in the eyes. This may lead you to believe they are shy at first, but the more comfortable they become with you as a teacher, the more students will warm up and participate.
Exotic Adventure: With such a central location and cost of food and transportation so low, Laos is a great home base from which to visit the surrounding nations of Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and many other nearby destinations. You can spend the weekend at the famous Angkor Wat, get a tan on the beaches outside Hanoi, or fly off to Manila to explore.