A Comprehensive Guide To Teaching English in Asia

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Do you want to go abroad and make a living teaching English while exploring new places? Asia has a booming industry for ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers. With diverse cities, cultures, and nightlife, you’re sure to have a great time in the region. 

First of all, I’ll tell you some factors to keep in mind — tips I gained from my experience teaching English in Asia.

1. Cultural Understanding and Adaptation 

I definitely experienced culture shock when I first visited Asia. If you don’t do your homework, so will you. Culture is a major part of any foreign trip so if you want to teach English in Asia and have a good time, here’s what you need to do: 

Research the Destination

First, do some research on the destination you’re interested in. In fact, Asia is the region with the highest demand in English teachers — yay! Countries like China, Korea, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam are always looking for teachers.

China, for example, is a confluence of ancient traditions, different faiths, and schools of philosophy, so you’ll need to ensure you don’t accidentally offend anyone. 

If hospitable communities are a major factor for you, Sri Lanka and Nepal are your best bets. These areas have deeply ingrained Buddhist traditions. While they have diverse religious beliefs, the majority of the people are friendly.

Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal
in Hoi An, Vietnam

Open-mindedness and Flexibility

At least 40% of travelers indulge in cultural tourism. It allows them to view the world from different perspectives and gain fresh insights, which adds so much value to your life while sharpening skills like empathy.

If you teach English in Asia, you can avail of all that life experience, make money, and bring positive change to the world. However, you’ll need to approach the culture with open-mindedness and flexibility. Without them, you won’t be able to adapt to change which can make your presence in the host country feel unnatural.

2. Language Proficiency and Teaching Qualifications

The qualification requirements for teaching English in Asia are pretty straightforward for native English speakers who have a 4-year university degree. 

Non-native English speakers can also get teaching jobs. 

If you show off your English language proficiency and teaching skills like the ability to make concepts easier, you could have a second-to-none experience in Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Mongolia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, and Uzbekistan.

However, you’ll need a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certificate.

Generally, you do not need to speak the language of the country you are going to teach in. You’re the English teacher and expected to speak English with your students. However, knowing some basics of your host country’s language will benefit you greatly. You’ll find it easier to navigate your daily life and you’ll be able to make friends and build rapport with your native coworkers.

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Teaching Credentials, TEFL/TESOL Courses 

To become an English teacher in Asia, TESOL or TEFL certifications are extremely useful. Taking these courses beforehand will give you the skills you need to speak English well, provide you with job search manuals, and help you get a job. 

You can still teach in some places without these certifications as long as you plan on getting TEFL/TESOL courses in the near future. 

I took my TEFL/TESOL certificate from International TEFL and TESOL Training (ITTT) when I began my teaching in Asia journey. Their courses are internationally accredited and accepted worldwide. You can get a 20% discount off of their TEFL course if you sign up via my link.

3. Visa and Legal Requirements

Teaching in Asia is fun, but you need to know the latest rules and regulations surrounding visas. 

Visa Types

Requirements for visas vary based on the country, so look up embassy information and resources to familiarize yourself with the process and requirements.

Depending on the country, there are many visa types you can avail of such as work visas, spousal/marriage visas, and student visas. You can even teach English in Asia with a tourist visa, but this is discouraged for two reasons: 1) it is illegal, and 2) it makes you vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous agencies. 

So, it’s best if you learn how to avoid teaching job scams. Better yet, reach out to employers who can sponsor your permit. This will help ensure the legitimacy of your employment.

Legal Requirements

The legal requirements for teaching English in Asia vary by country. 

For example, if you want to teach ESL in Korea, you must qualify for the E-2 (Long-term Visa to teach a Foreign Language) visa. To be eligible, you’ll need:

  • To be a native English speaker. This means that you’re a citizen of an English-speaking country like Australia, Canada, England, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, or the U.S.A.
  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institute
  • A clean bill of health
  • To pass a criminal background check

These criteria apply to China’s Z Visa (work permit) and Japan’s Highly Skilled Professional Visa, but they come with additional requirements.

In Japan, for instance, you’ll need a TEFL certificate. Previous teaching experience will also be helpful. To teach in China, you must notarize your TEFL certification, be between 18 and 60 years old, and have at least two years of work experience in a relevant field.

4. Living and Working Conditions

In Asia, living and working conditions vary across countries, states, and regions. Researching the following factors gives you a pretty solid idea of what to expect. 

Cost of Living

Asia is quite diverse in this regard. Utilities, groceries, and transportation in Asia are cheap in some areas — to the point that you can live like a king on a quarter of your salary in the U.S. In other areas, you’ll be spending just as much as your home country. 

For example, the goods and services you get for $1 in the U.S. would cost $0.90 in Japan, but the average cost of living in Japan ($1,200) can be 46% less expensive than in the U.S. ($2,213). You’ll see a similar phenomenon across countries. In Myanmar, where each unit of their currency is roughly equivalent to $0.22, you can get by on $880 compared to $2,213 in the U.S. That means it can be 60% less expensive to live there. 

To give you an idea of what to expect, here is a complete guide for teaching in South Korea, complete with salary, budget, visa, and vacant jobs.

Accommodation Options

If you have a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate, you can get free housing or housing subsidies in China, Japan, and South Korea. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan also provide free housing, but only to select professionals. 

If you don’t have one, that’s fine too!

For me, housing is one of the biggest expenses when living abroad. I was able to get a decent one-bedroom apartment for $300 to $600 a month in China, but there are other Asian destinations that offer cheaper rent. This includes Thailand ($100-$300 a month), Taiwan ($150-$350 a month), and Vietnam ($300-$450 a month0. 

Most homes don’t come furnished or equipped with appliances so you may have to purchase them out of pocket and possibly pay for utilities.

Working Environment

Asia has a very — and I mean VERY — different work culture. Unlike the West, which tends to be straightforward and blunt in terms of communication, Asians prize politeness. They also have a hierarchical system, so you’ll need to pay attention to the seniority of your co-workers.

But as long as you arrive on time, pay attention to the dress code, learn the nuances of communication, and avoid discourse on politics and religion, you should have a smooth experience.

Teaching English in South Korea
me teaching English in Korea in 2015

5. Choosing the Right Destination and Placement Agency

Fraud happens, even in Asia. If you want to teach English in Asia, you’ll need to do some due diligence to ensure the legitimacy of your placement agency.

Here’s how:

First, Research the Destinations

No two destinations are the same. Some will be better aligned with your ideal lifestyle than others. Here are some popular countries to consider:

  • Japan: From teaching in public schools to teaching the language in multinational companies like Mitsubishi, opportunities abound. It has a rich and diverse cultural heritage that will make your stay worthwhile.
  • South Korea: No matter where you teach on this stunning island, you’ll be rewarded with bonuses, tickets to and from your home, and free housing!
  • Thailand: From the city life of Bangkok to the cool mountain town of Chiang Mai, Thailand’s chaotic charm and TEFL jobs will never disappoint.

You can also live comfortably in China. In fact, you can teach online with these teaching platforms to get the best gigs before you even visit the country!

For more information on different destinations in Asia, check out the destination section on my blog.

Placement Agencies

Once you’ve selected the country you want to visit, work with a reputable placement agency, especially since the opportunities for teaching English in Asia are many and diverse. An agency can help you find the best positions and housing. 

Some agencies you may want to consider are:

  • 3-Step Foreign Work Services
  • Footprints Recruiting
  • Gold Star TEFL Recruitment
  • On the Mark TEFL
  • Reach To Teach

These agencies are a tremendous help for foreigners who may not know that much about the country they’re moving to. There is a cost for their services so remember to factor any fees into your budget.

Validating Agency Credibility

Here are some questions you can ask to validate their credibility:

  • How long have you been in the business? 
  • What’s your track record? 
  • Have you placed any candidates with your client? 
  • What is the growth potential of this role? 
  • What are the perks and benefits of teaching at this institute?

You can also ask for references and credentials. If the agency can’t provide them, feel free to explore other options. 

Are you ready to teach English in Asia?

Teaching English in Asia can be overwhelming but it can also be a uniquely enriching experience. For a smooth stay and zero to minimal unpleasant surprises, heed these tips. And don’t forget to invest in travel insurance! If you have any questions, you can reach out to me here.

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Linda has been living in Asia since 2012 and loves sharing her travel and life experiences on her website. She currently works remotely in Online Marketing and also teaches various English classes in South Korea.

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