Thailand is a popular destination for travellers of all ages, and it's easy to see why. With a fascinating culture, incredible scenery, and friendly people, the country is an attractive choice. And perhaps the most popular way of funding Thai adventures is through teaching English. There's a lot to take in when preparing to go to Thailand to teach, and despite there being a ton of information dedicated to the topic on the internet, it can be difficult to know where to start. Luckily for you, this is an assembled guide of what you need to know and do before you go, so that you can concentrate on getting excited.
Part of the thrill of teaching abroad is discovering a new culture – and Thailand is about as different from the West as a country can be. Researching the Thai culture thoroughly before you go is a great idea for lots of reasons.
For instance, learning at least some of the language is important. Though schools generally want TEFL teachers to speak only in English during lessons, and many Thai people speak English well, that doesn't mean that you should discard the idea of learning the Thai language.
Speaking another language is rewarding in its own right. But being able to at least speak a little Thai will help you to immerse yourself that much more in the culture – and even make friends.
You'll have a much more rewarding time if you are able to converse at least a little in Thai – and you might find that people warm to you more. Another vital part of your research should be into Thai etiquette. Here are a few dos and don'ts to get you started:
Smile a lot. Thai people tend to smile more than westerners, and in situations that we might not. Follow what the locals are doing if you're unsure.
Remember to take your shoes off before you enter someone's home – and especially before you enter any temples.
Avoid public displays of affection – they're frowned upon – Thai culture is much more conservative than Western culture, particularly due to the dominance of Buddhism.
Show the soles of your feet to anyone. In Thailand, the feet are considered the lowest and dirtiest part of a person, so showing someone the sole of your foot is very offensive.
Raise your voice in public – you'll appear as though you've been badly brought up. Again, Thai people are generally quiet and conservative, appearance and respect are important.
Joke about the king of Thailand. Ever. Disrespect of the king or the royal family is actually punishable by law and the majority of Thai people hold the King in high regard.
Obviously while you are working you will have to stay put, but you will almost certainly have spare time at weekends and during holidays, which you can use to explore the country. Public transport in Thailand is cheap enough that you can take a trip every weekend if you want to.
The best part of your research will surely be planning where you will go during your free time. Though you may well deviate a little – or completely – from your plan when you finally get out there, it's wise to have a rough idea of where you'd like to go.
That way, you can think carefully about what you want to get out of the trip, and prioritise your activities or excursions accordingly. Plus, you'll be aware of anything you need to know or prepare in advance.
How to Prepare. First up, save up. Though Thailand is famous for its low cost of living, you'll probably have to at least fund your flights there and back, and perhaps your accommodation – though this is often included as part of your teaching benefits. Plus, if you're planning on travelling after your teaching stint it's a good idea to have a little cash stashed away for excursions and any extra special souvenirs.
Of course, it's also reassuring to know that you can book an emergency flight home if you need to, and that you have money available for any medical treatment – even if you have health insurance, some hospitals will require payment up front. You can probably reclaim the expenses from your insurance company later, but you don't want to get caught short (Side Note:
Another reason to save up is that you may decide to fly out there before you have a job secured, more on that later though!)
So, before you go, it's a fantastic idea to tighten your belt and preferably find a job where you earn tips and can therefore speed up the savings process. Also, consider asking family members for a contribution to your travel fund for birthdays, Christmases, and any other holidays you might celebrate with gifts. Every little bit helps!
Get Qualified. In years gone by, being able to speak English used to be the only skill you needed to walk into a teaching job in developing countries such as Thailand, but thanks to the increasing influx of travellers from English speaking countries, many Thai schools are now more choosy. So, if you want to secure work it's important to get a teaching qualification – and your best bet, by far, is a TEFL certificate.
But how should you get started? Here are your options:
The time spent in face to face sessions with an experienced, qualified TEFL teacher can be invaluable, especially if you're nervous about getting up in front of a class. These sessions are often group based, too, so you can practise the techniques you have learned on one another. Another benefit is that you can make friends who will go through the TEFL journey with you and share your trials and triumphs.
However, if you're currently committed to a job, finding the time to complete a face-to-face TEFL course isn't always practical. In this case, an online course may be the best option.
A fantastic way to complete your TEFL is “on the job” through an internship. These are offered by course providers, and alongside learning the modules of your course in a stunning environment, you'll usually get other benefits such as accommodation, an acclimatisation course, and mentoring from experienced teachers in your area.
Also, you'll be able to instantly join a network of other student teachers in the country who are doing the same internship. This can be a good option if you haven't travelled before as a built in support network is always helpful.
Whichever route that you choose, make sure that your TEFL is legitimate. Though there is no official accreditation body, the following course authorities are known to be especially trustworthy in the industry;
British Accreditation Council
Scottish Qualifications Authority
Qualifications and Curriculum Authority
Open and Distance Learning Quality Council
Accreditation Council for TESOL Distance Education Courses
Get some teaching experience. No matter how many textbooks you read, blog posts you devour, or courses you complete, there's no better way to prepare yourself for life in the classroom than to get in the classroom.
Volunteering at a school in the UK or USA (or wherever you currently live) might not help you with Thai culture, but it will teach you techniques for dealing with various issues, such as crowd control and behaviour issues, as well as keeping children engaged by making learning fun.
Schools in most countries are usually only too happy to be offered a helping hand for free, so get in touch with your local primary or secondary, depending on which age range you plan on teaching. If you're unsure as to whether you'd prefer to teach young children or teenagers, consider alternating your volunteering between the two so that you can get a feel for each age range.
Any real teaching experience that you have prior to applying for jobs will help a lot and while it’s not essential it may mean that you get a better job with better pay or a nicer location.
If you are already teaching you may be able to do a TEFL course with teaching experience, which has the added benefit of giving you a slightly more in depth qualification to set you apart when applying for TEFL jobs. If you complete a TEFL course, it's very likely that your provider will be able to help secure you a job as part of their service, or at the very least offer some useful pointers too.
Get to Know the Country. The country is massive and the culture and atmosphere varies from north to south (and east to west to a lesser extent). Choosing the right location to look for jobs will impact your enjoyment.
Bangkok is a popular option and of course there are plenty of schools there, but if you don’t like massive cities then you might want to seek a calmer pace of life.
Chiang Mai, in the north, is a smaller city with a more historic charm and less of a party vibe, although in the north you will be that much further from the sea, which makes quick beach breaks less practical.
You could try a southern city like Surat Thani or even look for jobs in the Krabi area, which is just a stones throw from the coast. Although your job options may be more limited here and your wages may be lower too.
Basically, decide what you want and then look for the right place – list your priorities and try to find a good compromise. Living in Bangkok may not be ideal, but at least transport options are good.
Choosing a Placement. You may be surprised at how much you can do from the abroad when searching for a job overseas. There's a great online network when it comes to looking for teaching jobs in Thailand, and many schools will conduct interviews over webcam or telephone so that you can have your position secured before you fly over. And of course there are plenty of options on GoAbroad.com.
Before you start your job search, consider which type of school you'd like to work at.
Public schools. Education is compulsory in Thailand for children between the ages of six and 15, and there are free public schools where children learn English, amongst other subjects. Classes are large and resources often limited. Pay is around 25,000 baht per month. A TEFL qualification is often, but not always, necessary (although always recommended).
Private or international schools. These schools understandably have better facilities and smaller classes, and often cater for preschool children and higher education, as well as children at compulsory school age. Pay is around 100,000 baht per month. You're likely to need a degree and a TEFL qualification.
Language schools. These are attended by children on evenings and weekends as a supplement to their education. Pay is roughly 400 to 700 baht per hour, and the work can be inconsistent. However, it leaves you with more time to explore!
Alongside these schools, also consider:
Private tutoring. This is flexible, which is great if you want to do lots of exploring. You can choose to tutor children, adults for both business and general language learning.
Volunteering. Of course, you won't get paid, but if you have a little money saved up to tide you over, then volunteering is a great way to get some useful experience – or maybe even a foot in the door at a school that could take you on down the line. Consider volunteering at a school for a couple of days a week, and spending the rest of the time tutoring to pay the bills.
Travel & Plan. Employers often favour people who are in the country already because they know that you are committed and that you are much less likely to change your mind and dropout (which does happen). So you may want to consider traveling to Thailand first, which also gives you a chance to get to know Thailand and even to explore different areas and different cities before you make a decision regarding where you will be working. You might decide you don’t like Bangkok and that you would rather find a smaller school near Phuket or Krabi.
Here are some tips in case you want to take this route:
Work on your CV before you leave and print out several copies to take with you, along with cover letters. Keep them safe in a flat folder.
Research locations, try to decide where you think you might want to work, have a short list and once you arrive make it your mission to sample each area.
Make a shortlist of schools in each area, you can always find schools later, but if you know in advance, a handful of places to apply, that will help.
Save hard; you may well be able to secure a job very quickly, particularly if you have a good CV and experience, but what if it takes three months to get something? Have enough savings in case the worst happens.
Interviews. Don't be fooled into a false sense of security just because it's conducted over the phone or via webcam; treat this as you would any other interview. Dress smartly, prepare questions for the interviewer, and do your research on the school. If conducting the interview via webcam, consider carefully where you will sit and make sure it is tidy and clean.
Before you go. Remember to arrange these things well in advance of your flight:
Passport. It seems obvious, but it's worth remembering! Is yours up to date? Will it be when you are on your way back?
Visa and work permit. You'll need a nonimmigrant visa in order to obtain a work permit, and you'll need a work permit to be able to work as a teacher – or face a fine, or in extreme cases imprisonment. Visit www.thaiembassy.com/thailand/work-permit-rules.php for further details.
Have contact details for your school, address for your accommodation, and arrangements for when you will start work sorted out. Will someone be meeting you at the airport, or will you go straight to your accommodation? If you're aware of all of these things in advance, you're likely to feel more excited and less stressed on your arrival.
If possible, try to set up some times and dates when you will be able to speak to your folks back home. It's natural to feel homesick, especially in your first week, but if you have a webcam call or instant messaging session planned in you'll be able to deal with that a lot better.
Try to find out if there are any other teachers starting at around the same time as you at your school, or in your area, and if you can, email to say hi. You'll settle in more easily if you know a friendly face.
Once you’re there. Be flexible and confident. There's only so much that you can plan in advance, and at some point you're probably going to have to wing it; for instance, if the form of transport that you planned on taking to your accommodation isn't running. Remember to stay calm, think logically about what to do next, and remember that what seems like a nightmare now will become a hilarious story in a few short weeks.
One of the most exciting aspects of living and working in another country is that you just don't always know what's going to happen. Embrace it, and have fun!