Before you book your flight and sign up for a program teaching English in Thailand, it’s important to be familiar with the Ministry of Education regulations and visas for English teachers in Thailand -- not everyone can just arrive and start working there. In this article, local expert Andrew Bond, runs through the 2016 stipulations to work legally as a teacher in Thailand.
Thailand is a popular country to start out teaching, it’s laid-back, cheap and ideal for undertaking the necessary training. Some 10,000 people already teach English in the country, but not all are welcome. The Ministry of Education has a fairly strict licensing procedure before you can be let loose in the classroom.
That said, there is presently a shortage and many people land jobs ‘unofficially’. If you wish to do it properly and avoid a nasty expulsion or visa hassles, then its worth knowing the ins and outs of work permits and visas for teachers in Thailand before arriving.
Getting Your Teacher's License to Teach Legally in Thailand
Most TEFL teachers in Thailand are employed on a temporary teacher’s license, which is good for two years and may be renewed once more.
After that, you are expected to get properly qualified with a teaching diploma. A rookie teacher being offered a job will have the application made on their behalf through the school, and then use this to apply for the work permit and visa extension.
In order to apply for the license, you'll need:
- A graduate of a recognized university, with a full degree (undergrads, higher diplomas, and associate degrees are not recognized)
- A police clearance certificate from your country
- A TOEIC score of 600+ or IELTS score of 5+ if you are from a non-native speaking country (which includes South Africa)
When you apply to the Teacher’s Council of Thailand they usually ask to see the original of your college transcripts and may even wish to retain them, so bring extra copies. A verified copy of your passport from the local embassy is also required.
So, unfortunately, without a degree you're unable to work formally in Thailand. However, due to demand, many language schools / non-formal schools employ teachers without going down the teacher license route and make an alternative arrangement for work permits instead.
Some teachers never get a work permit and work illegally, staying in Thailand on another visa type. Mostly they get away with it and the penalty if discovered is a fine to the employer and possible deportation. Since May 2014, the authorities have clamped down on this practice, but it persists.
Once You Have a License, Apply for a Work Permit
With a teacher license in hand, you can finally apply for a work permit.
This involves a paper-chase at the Manpower department (yes, that's the actual name), followed by an equally wonderful red-tape wrap at immigration, testing the patience of many an expat. But, it’s still easier than getting a green card!
A good employer will have this process perfected and do most of it on your behalf -- though you may have to leave the country to apply for the correct visa at a Thai embassy in a nearby Southeast Asian country. After about 6 weeks of processing, you are given permission to remain for a year.
Given the possibility of travel and time without pay, make sure you have enough startup costs to cover yourself during this time.
What Visa Should You Get Before Arriving in Thailand to Teach?
This is one of the important and somewhat frustrating parts of an otherwise pleasant stay, which every foreigner has to go through. If you are offered a job in advance and the paperwork is correctly processed in advance of your arrival, you can apply for the Non-immigrant B visa suitable to secure a work permit.
In reality, most new teachers arrive on a tourist visa and then do a ‘visa run’ to Laos, Cambodia, or Malaysia to get the non-immigration visa once a job has been secured.
While 30-day visa waivers are given to all European, North American, Australian, New Zealand, and South African nationals upon arrival (with the option to extend by 30 more days locally), it’s probably not enough time to undertake a TEFL training course (if you're taking one) and land a job.
It’s better to apply for a 60-day tourist visa (also extendable by 30 more days), at any Thai embassy or consulate before arrival. To be really safe, you can even apply for a 6-month multiple entry visa (costing $150) inside your home country -- but the criteria for this one are quite complicated.
Do You Need a TEFL Certificate to Legally Teach in Thailand?
No, the Ministry of Education does not require you to have any TEFL qualification to get your teacher's license and work permit. However, most recruiters will expect to see at least some sort of training (to make sure you can do the job well, not for legal reasons). That said, online TEFL certificates are not advisable as they aren’t highly regarded and will only land you the second-rate jobs.
If you aren't already TEFL certified, there are some 20 different TEFL courses available locally in Thailand and they have the advantage of conducting teacher practicums in local schools (a critical element that should be on your checklist when choosing a TEFL course). They also include a module on local culture and customs, and you might even be able to use your school as a resource for getting in touch with schools that are hiring once you finish
Contrary to what some of these courses may claim, the Ministry of Education does not endorse any TEFL courses or specifically license TEFL training schools (only education schools). Go Overseas has a number of TEFL course choices and the best advice we can offer is to pick one that suits your goals.
If you're simply looking to teach on a gap year (and not make a career out of it), then a complete placement program with training is perhaps best. If you wish to be correctly certified for jobs elsewhere later, look for one that has credible accreditation and operates globally. If you are doing it on the cheap and not fussy about the job and pay, then an online course will be fine.
What to Bring With You for Teaching in Thailand
To make sure you don't run into any hurdles while teaching in Thailand, make sure you bring the following items with you:
- An open mind and patient attitude (it’s an imperfect place operating on a different pace)
- Casual summer clothes, planning to buy inexpensive and suitable teaching uniforms locally
- Money: About $1,500 if you plan on taking a TEFL course and at least $1,000 to survive during training and job hunting
- A passport with more than six months validity and several free pages in it
- A few cool things from your country to use in the classroom
- Easily removable footwear (mostly you'll be barefoot indoors)
- A tidy appearance; tattoos hidden, hair neat
- A professional approach (remember, you will be paid double a qualified local teacher!)
- No specific vaccinations in advance, but unusual prescription medicine you may need
- Proof of an onward ticket (tip: get a fully refundable one).
As for other essentials, limit what you pack. Everything else is available locally and are usually cheaper than your home country.
Thailand is a Wonderful Option for Teachers
In conclusion, Thailand is very welcoming to foreigners and some 200,000 live in the country permanently so there is a well-worn path trodden before you. It also attracts quite a few dodgy characters so immigration tend to be bureaucratic towards its expats. It’s inexpensive to get your paperwork in order and jobs are plentiful. While they may not be strict about law enforcement, authorities have been getting tougher on regulations.
The present military caretaker government has very little impact on the lives of tourists and expats, if anything it’s more secure and safe than ever. Once you arrive, with the help of job sites and forums, you’ll find it relatively easy to get hired and settle in.
Those without confidence in a strange country should sign up to the complete recruitment TEFL packages beforehand, such as the Training and Placement (TAP) program from Go TEFL Thailand which hires teachers and pays for their training.