I used to think that Asia was as foreign as you could get; it defined ‘the other side of the world’ for me. But these days, Asia is much more accessible, and the starkly contrasting countries mean that there is something out there for everyone. Teaching English can be a means for travel, a gap year from school or ‘real life,’ or a lifelong career. Asia is a premier destination for English teachers because of the ease of travel between countries, salaries, benefits (free flights! free housing!) and plethora of available jobs.
Do your research carefully, because things are always changing. Typically, a bachelor’s degree is necessary, but some countries may also require a TEFL or TESOL certificate, an education-specific degree, or experience teaching English. A criminal record can bar you from certain countries, and there is often a huge amount of paperwork to complete as part of the application process.
Some countries will pay off financially, while some countries will pay off in experience. To prioritize your search, decide which is more important to you. If you have taught English before, you’ll usually be eligible for a bigger paycheck. Some jobs automatically raise your pay if you sign on for a second contract, some don’t. Think about the cost of living and weigh it against how much you’re hoping to save before making your final call.
Every English teacher will walk away with a different story to tell; it’s impossible to predict which location will appeal to which teacher. Based on quality of life, ease of finding employment, and culture, here are five Asian countries that consistently attract foreign English teachers.
Teachers in Vietnam usually aren’t there for the money. Salaries are lower than teaching powerhouses Japan and Korea, although the cost of living is lower. If it’s experience you’re after, Vietnam is worth considering. From north to south, Vietnam is a vastly different country. In the north Hanoi, has spectacular sites like the rice terraces of Sapa or the craggy rocks of Halong Bay. In the tropical south, Ho Chi Minh City is near Cambodia, the Mekong Delta, and beaches like Mui Ne.
Teaching schedules tend to be flexible, particularly at private schools. This allows teachers to get out and explore their surroundings, practice the challenging Vietnamese language, and bury themselves in the culinary delights of this southeast Asian country.
It’s a small island, but Taiwan is chock full of attractions for the teacher or traveler. You can find gorgeous waterfalls and beaches, clean and efficient cities, and enticing food; in other words, a great quality of life. Because of Taiwan’s size, booming economy, and increasing popularity, jobs may not be as easy to come by as they once were, so plan ahead and apply early.
Teaching positions are available in kindergartens, public schools, private schools, and with adults or children. If you’re interested in learning Mandarin Chinese, this could be a good option for you. Salary is high relative to the cost of living, so saving is possible. Additionally, foreign teachers receive health coverage, so that’s one less thing to worry about.
Popular destinations include the capital of Taipei and Hualien, the ‘city by the sea.’ Taiwan has a solid expat community, so if you’re feeling lonely, there are people to turn to for support.
First things first: China is massive. This means lots of variety for the English teacher, but lots of research as well. Do you want to teach in bustling Bejing? Glitzy Shanghai? Or would you prefer to go a bit more rural in the mountains of Hunan Province? The choice is yours.
Another factor to consider is language. If you want to learn Chinese, your location may be dictated by whether you’re studying Mandarin or Cantonese. Teaching jobs are available in both regions.
China holds further appeal because it is one of the cheapest places in Asia to live and work. Teachers will earn more by teaching private lessons, but finding them might require some work. Due to a high demand for teaching positions, many schools require a TEFL certificate or previous experience teaching English.
2. South Korea
Over the years, South Korea has exploded onto the English teaching scene in Asia. Between the EPIK program and private academies (called hagwons), there are jobs available all over the country. The pay is highly competitive and increases with experience, plus public school teachers have great benefits – sometimes up to seven weeks’ vacation a year. Health coverage is included and schools usually provide your accommodation.
Seoul is an extremely competitive place for English teachers, as is Jeju Island, the “Hawaii of Korea.” Seaside port Busan is one of the first places people consider, as well as the smaller city of Gangneung. South Korea is starting to shift its focus away from foreign English teachers, with the intention of increasing English ability in Korean teachers. This has led to cuts in the EPIK program, but there are still many jobs available at private institutions. However, the competition is stiff, so experience, an education degree, and/or a TEFL certificate will give you a leg up.
Japan consistently tops the list of best countries for teaching in Asia. The government JET program is one of the oldest and most well respected in Asia, and the country holds everlasting appeal to travelers. Skiing in summer, beaches in winter, friendly people and exotic food keep the applications pouring in. The pay for English teachers is high compared to other Asian countries, and you don’t need to speak Japanese to apply.
If you don’t have any luck applying to the highly-competitive JET program, consider private chain schools or private lessons in business English. Both will allow you to get your foot in the door and increase your chances of being accepted to the JET program.
Japan is very foreigner-friendly, with signs in English and expats tucked into every corner of the islands. A serious benefit of teaching in Japan is that once you have your work visa, you can teach wherever you want, unlike in Korea where you are committed to one employer.
Asia is a fascinating place with plenty of opportunities to teach English. No matter how long you decide to stay (for some people, it turns into forever), you will find yourself immersed in a culture that you can’t get anywhere else in the world.Photo Credits: f_mafra, Alexyo, Benny Han, Megan Lee, and Lauren Fitzpatrick.