Teach English in Brunei

Map of Brunei
Flag of Brunei

Brunei is in Southest Asia on the Northeast coast of the magical island of Borneo about 500 km north of the Equator. Brunei is divided into two separate sections and is surrounded by the Malaysian state of Sarawak. The country has a lush, green, leafy feel to it that many people find addictive. Every bush that one passes is alive with the sounds of hundreds of creatures and the amount of flora and fauna. Most people tend to live on or near the coast and the rest of the country is mostly lush, green rainforest.

Despite the enormous amount of development which has taken place over the last ten years, there are still very large areas of untouched jungle. The population remains small and towns are not at all crowded. Overall, much of the country is in pristine condition. I have been here for thirteen years and it is not uncommon to meet fellow teachers who have been here for five, ten or even twenty years! Students are great, workload is reasonable, teachers are treated with respect and the country has a great standard of living ... What's not to like!

Brunei students are friendly and pleasant to teach.
Brunei students are friendly and pleasant to teach.
  • Average Monthly Salary: $3300 - 5200 USD, depending on qualifications and experience.
  • Average Cost of Living: $1000 - 3000 USD (very reasonable; no taxes, cheap petrol, and subsidies on basic goods)
  • Save or Break Even? After the initial expenses, teachers can definitely save money.
  • Work Visa: Ministry of Education sponsors all teachers for work visas.
Government Sponsored Programs:

The Ministry of Education recruits mainly English teachers, although some occasionally teach other related subjects such as literature or drama. Local teachers, or expatriates from countries such as Malaysia or Singapore, teach other subjects and are directly employed by the government.

A normal teaching load at the secondary level is typically about 12-16 contact hours a week or 24 to 32 teaching periods. Teachers in general teach up to a maximum of 3 hours (6 periods) in any single day. Additionally, secondary school teachers have to be in school for an additional 4.5 hours per week. This time is set-aside for clubs, extra classes and meetings. Periodically, throughout the year all teachers will be expected to attend school functions on Fridays or Sundays. These events can include sports days, teacher parent interviews and other whole school events.

Brunei's unique bilingual education programme begins in the first year of school.
Brunei's unique bilingual education programme begins in the first year of school.

At the primary level teachers can expect a classroom timetable of around 15 contact hours. There has been a recent change in government policy and all primary teachers are required to stay back in school up to twice a week for extension activities and clubs. Each of these sessions lasts 3 hours.

Teachers might also be involved in sports, English quizzes, jungle walks, drama productions, school publications etc. You will be expected to participate in extra-curricular (or co-curricular) activities in your school on a regular basis as part of your normal school duties.

International Schools:

There are also two international schools International School Brunei and Jerudong International School, which generally recruit teachers through standard international school channels.

When and Where to Look for Jobs:

Teachers can be placed anywhere in the country although Brunei is small and anywhere that a teacher would be placed is no further than a one hour drive or boat trip from the capital city. Brunei's four districts consist of the area around the main city Bandar Seri Begawan, Tutong district (about a 30 minute drive away), the second city, Kuala Belait (about one hour from BSB) and the forested district of Temburong which is a 45 minute boat ride from BSB. Each district has its particular charms.

To find out more about Brunei visit the Brunei Tourism website.

Some lucky teachers work in Brunei's famous water village and commute by boat.
Some lucky teachers work in Brunei's famous water village and commute by boat.
Qualifications:

Note that the qualifications are set by the Ministry of Education and are not able to be negotiated. Teachers must meet the following requirements:

  • A degree (preferably in English/Linguistics/Humanities) from a university in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa or, the UK (and to have completed your basic and tertiary education in one of these countries).
  • Qualified teaching status or certifications.
  • A minimum of three years relevant classroom-teaching experience. This should include students aged 4-10 years for primary teachers and 11-18 years for secondary teachers. Relevant subjects are English/Literacy or a combination of these plus Humanities. Secondary teachers also need to have one year's EFL/ESL experience.
  • For Primary School Teachers: must be under 52 years of age at start of contract (Bruneian government regulation)
  • For Secondary School Teachers: must be under 55 years of age at start of contract (Bruneian government regulation)
Salary & Cost of Living:

The Average Monthly Salary is $3300 - 5200 USD depending on qualifications and experience with an additional one sixth of salary (i.e. four months) paid on completion of the two year contract. The benefit package is extensive. Government-employed teachers enjoy the following:

  • Free or heavily subsidized spacious furnished accommodation
  • Return airfare and baggage allowance
  • For couples, heavily subsidized private education in Brunei at schools (ages 5-18) for up to 2 or 3 children
  • Allowances for accompanying spouse and up to two children until they start primary school
  • Thorough pre-departure "Briefing and Orientation Course" in Brunei before taking up teaching duties
  • In-service Cambridge ICELT course
  • Malay language and ICT training
  • Education centres with libraries, teaching resources with computer/internet facilities
  • Professional, administrative, housing and welfare support
  • Interest-free car loan
  • Subsidised private group health insurance plan
  • "Settling-in" allowance of between $400 - 1,300 USD
A goofy picture of a Brunei classroom.
A goofy picture of a Brunei classroom.

It is highly advised that teachers get a driving licence. However, some teachers are driven to work by their spouses or employ a maid who can drive them to and from work (the purchase of a car is essential for both options, and an interest free loan is given for this). Public transportation is NOT an option. Additionally, there is a very large second hand car market with a wide range of mostly Japanese and other Asian models available. Teachers receive an interest free B$10,000 (USD$8000) car loan upon arrival (paid off over 10 or 20 months) and this enables the purchase of most good quality models. It is still very much a buyer's market, with haggling over price expected.

In general teachers find that the cost of living in Brunei is much less than what they have been used to at home. Remember that there is no income tax. Your quoted salary is what you will receive at the end of the month. In addition you will receive two months' salary per year of service when you complete each contract, housing and certain allowances depending on your family situation. The amount of savings you can make depends very much on your lifestyle. If you are frugal, and don't go on expensive holidays then it is quite possible to save about half of what you earn. However, teachers with non-working dependent spouse and children may find it difficult to make any substantial savings in their first contract.

Classroom & Work Culture:

The education system in Brunei, like that of many countries, is in a state of development as the government endeavors to establish a curriculum that best fits the needs of its citizens in a rapidly changing world.

The students in Brunei's schools are generally polite and well behaved and used to being firmly and clearly directed. They are familiar with being taught by non-Bruneian teachers, especially in secondary schools, and are very tolerant. Naturally, however, it is greatly appreciated when teachers take steps to learn about Brunei's culture. The students have a heavy academic load, which many do not find easy to cope with. Like children anywhere, they respond positively to teachers who demonstrate a concern for their welfare and a determination to help them as much as possible. As with any school in any country, discipline and motivation problems can and do occur. However, there is usually a refreshing lack of the antagonistic stance that students often adopt towards teachers in some other countries.

Schools, and government offices, are closed on Fridays and Sundays, with Saturday being a working day. Brunei operates on a four-term year, each of 10/11 weeks, with a 10-day or 2-week holiday between each term and then 4 or 5 weeks in December. The school year comprises a total of about 200 days. There is also 'Hari Raya', a holiday to celebrate the completion of the Muslim fasting month. This falls 10 days earlier each year. There are also generous amount of public holidays. Teachers are free to take leave during school holidays with the approval of the Ministry of Education.

Greg and his students celebrating in colorful clothing.
Greg and his students celebrating in colorful clothing.

Contributed by Greg Keaney

Greg is the Country Manager for CfBT Education Services in Brunei, one of the world's largest and longest running international ELT projects. Greg combines a PhD in International Education Management with a background in Applied Linguistics and over 25 years of experience in the management, administration and teaching of English language. Greg taught in a government-run secondary school in Brunei for ten years before returning to an educational management role. He has lived in Brunei for thirteen years and remains as enthusiastic as ever about its many attractions for international teachers of English.

Do you think there is something missing in our guide to teaching in Brunei? Contact us and let us know! We want to make sure our information is relevant and up to date.

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