People often think of teach abroad opportunities as short stints for young, 20-somethings to experience in their gap years, or to broaden their horizons and learn who they are. It is a great way to do all of that and more, but it doesn’t mean those in their later years should rule it out. It can be a life-changing experience at any age.
If you’re a retiree looking to spend a few years doing something meaningful while seeing the world, teaching abroad might be for you. Though it’s a bit more difficult to find work at retirement age, it’s not impossible. In fact, you can start your job search in Thailand with a click of a mouse!
It can be a life-changing experience at any age. If you're a retiree looking to spend a few years doing something meaningful while seeing the world, teaching abroad might be for you.
In Thailand, many agencies and schools will say they prefer teachers under the age of 55, but this age requirement is far less strict than in some countries, such as South Korea at 60 and China at 59, where the governments make it difficult for schools to obtain visas for anyone surpassing retirement. Don’t let this discourage you. Rules are often not rigid, and there are other options.
In Thailand, the discretion is largely left up to the hiring body, which means if you can prove you’re worth the job, it will likely be yours. If you’re of a certain age, here are some things to keep in mind for your job search in Thailand.
If you’re a retired teacher in your home country, you’re likely already a good candidate with a few decades of experience, and most schools will be happy to work with you. Look into international schools where it’s necessary to have your qualifications in order to apply, which strongly diminishes the competition of the young and bubbly. Also, these institutions usually pay higher rates than government schools.
First Timer Old Timers:
If you don’t have teaching experience, take a look at our beginner's guide to teaching abroad. I highly recommend getting a TEFL certificate. Though not required, it will give you some insight as to what to expect in the classroom, and it will prove to the hiring agencies/schools that you are serious about finding work. The thought of teaching for the first time abroad can be overwhelming, but keep in mind that many who teach abroad are new teachers, which makes your job easier since there are tons of resources out there, such as these on Go Overseas:
- Teaching English Abroad: Tips for the Interview
- Tips for Negotiating Teaching Abroad Salaries
- How to Avoid a Teach Abroad Horror Story
- Tips for Creating ESL/EFL Lesson Plans
- Teaching English Abroad to Children vs. Adults
- Teach Internationally Without Leaving Home
Be Flexible and Wear Many Hats
Age requirements are in place for visa reasons, which means that you might be able to find work, but not with the legality of a work permit. If this is an issue for you, you can always look into part-time positions (maybe work at two different schools in the same town), substitute teaching, English camps and tutoring. These opportunities provide a varied work schedule, flexibility, part-time hours and the freedom to combine any or all into enough work to make a living. Plus, they lack a requirement to have a government issued work permit, which means the main reason for hiring younger is mute.
Be Location Independent
Remain open to teaching in the lesser-populated areas of Thailand, including those in the Northeast (Isaan) and the far-outlying areas of Bangkok, in Central Thailand. The majority of teachers want to work in the big cities, Chiang Mai included, and the chances are much higher of a fresh-faced, 20-something getting a job over the more qualified you. Even though it might not be what’s best for the students, it’s a reality that most schools tend to uphold in Thailand.
Other reasons behind the age discrimination range from the superficial ‘celebrity’ of a young foreigner in school, to a belief that an over-60 teacher might not have the stamina to keep up with rambunctious children. Whatever the truth, it’s best to stay away from the competition and immerse yourself in a school that will be happy to have you.
Try to Learn Thai
Even though you’ll be hired as an English teacher and speaking the local language is not a requirement, learning a few words will go a long way with your students and your coworkers. Even just hello (sawasdee), how are you (sabaidee mai) and thank you (kap kun) will show your peers that you take an interest in their language and culture, and likely earn you a lot more respect as a member of the community.
Do Your Job Well
To many, this goes without saying, but you’ll encounter workers in any field all over Thailand who do less than average at their job. If you take your work seriously (but not too much, it should be fun!) by showing up on time, engaging your students in conversation and participating in school functions, you’ll create a more meaningful experience for everyone involved, ensuring your job will be yours as long as you want it. Take note of these teach abroad mistakes.
It's also important to make sure that in your to do your job well, you need to be part of a company and program that allows you to do your work well. Choosing a company that offers a lot of support for their teachers and sets them up for success in the classroom, can drastically change the impact you can make in the classroom, as well as providing less stress for you. People often underestimate how much outside help can benefit not only their students but teachers as well.
Keep a Smile on Your Face and an Open Mind
Thailand is often called the Land of Smiles - and for good reason. A smile goes a long way and can be the difference between school staff liking you or not. After you earn a job (or several), stay friendly with your coworkers, greet them with the traditional wai (palms together with fingertips near your chin, and a slight bow) and a smile, and participate in events when you’re invited.
Though I qualify as young and bubbly, I taught in the Northeast (Isaan) and found my time there to be much more meaningful than my counterparts in Bangkok. I was able to immerse myself in the culture, learn a decent amount of the language and become a part of the local community as a highly respected teacher, and I left feeling a strong connection to it. As one might imagine, this is more difficult to achieve in Bangkok or Chiang Mai (though not impossible), and as an older person seeking a teach abroad experience, you’ll probably be happy to get away from the things (nightlife, shopping, etc.) that attract youth to the city anyway.
Thailand is often called the Land of Smiles - and for good reason. A smile goes a long way and can be the difference between school staff liking you or not.
A Quick Note About Visas
A quick look into visa requirements in Thailand will show you that the country actually provides a retirement visa for those who can prove they’re retired in their home country. However, it’s illegal to work on this visa, so the appropriate route is to obtain a Non-B and then a work permit, which your school/agency will help you with, if needed.Photo Credits: iambuggo, Alaskan Dude, Thant Zin Myint, SEE TEFL Teaching Training, and oldandsolo.