I remember when I told my family a year and a half ago that I was going to teach English in Vietnam, they wanted to know why I would move to a war-torn country. For my grandparents especially, Vietnam still evokes images of war and not much else.
Despite its history, Vietnam is a fast-developing country today, rich in fascinating culture, natural beauty, and bustling cities. With such rapid development comes a high demand for English teachers; the business here is now thriving so much that native speakers will likely be overwhelmed with choice when applying for jobs.
Vietnam is a very popular place to start an English teaching career or to continue one if you have previous experience teaching elsewhere. However, getting established in Vietnam initially can be quite a daunting task. After spending over a year in this country, I have some helpful tips to get you started on your Vietnam teaching adventure!
1. You’ve Got Options for Teaching Jobs
From public schools to international schools, there are many kinds of institutions to choose from and each one requires a different set of credentials to land a job there. The type of job you want will also dictate your application process: for example, many public school jobs are found on Facebook or Craigslist while language centers can be applied to online.
If you want to teach in the Vietnamese public school system, you’ll encounter the least amount of credentials necessary to get a job. They will require you to have a teaching certificate (TEFL, CELTA, etc.), but many don’t require you to have an undergraduate degree. Search for these jobs on Craigslist or in Facebook groups. They are taught during daytime hours, from Monday to Friday.
These schools are quite a popular and well-paying option, especially for new teachers. An undergraduate degree and teaching certificate are required. You can apply to these companies on their websites: some well-known companies include ILA, VUS, and Apex. These hours are available in evenings and on weekends.
International Schools & Universities
These are extremely well-paying jobs, reserved for qualified, degree-holding teachers with many years of experience. Research options in the city you want to live in if you are qualified! Hours vary.
2. Where to Go? Teaching in Cities versus Rural Settings
While a large percentage of expats opt for the comforts of teaching in Vietnam's cities, which are filled with expat social circles and modern comforts, teaching in more rural communities is also an option which often includes many perks (housing allowance, higher salary, etc).
For example, when my company in Ho Chi Minh City opened a new center in a nearby province, they offered teachers a pay raise to go there. Personally, I enjoy the comforts available in Vietnamese cities, but if a slow-paced life interests you, teaching rurally could be a rewarding and well-paid experience!
3. You’ll Need a Visa -- Even If You Don’t Have a Job Yet
A visa is required to enter Vietnam for both tourists and teachers alike. Almost everyone will enter Vietnam on a three-month tourist visa, and then acquire their work visa once they have an employer. Usually your employer will assist you with this process, and sometimes they will pay for it.
In Vietnam, visa applications are very picky with their paperwork, so I would advise bringing original copies of all your certifications (university degree, TEFL, etc).
4. Plan to Have Enough Start-Up Costs
While Vietnam is a very cheap country, there are start-up costs to living here. I suggest bringing at least $1,500 to $2,000 in savings for these costs. For example:
- Apartments often require a one to two month's rent deposit up front
- You may have to pay for your work visa
- Even if you get a job and start working right away, you likely won't be paid until the end of that month
I wish I had considered these costs before arriving in Vietnam! Since the country has such a reputation for its low costs, I only brought about $1,000 in savings and therefore I went into some debt when I first arrived.
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5. Facebook Groups are Incredibly Helpful
For cities like Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, and Da Nang, there are active Facebook groups where expats can ask and answer questions, buy and sell things, meet people, find apartments, and hear about events.
For me, these groups have been a serious lifesaver. I would recommend joining some of these groups even before arriving in Vietnam; you can ask questions while preparing for your big move and local expats will more than likely help you out!
- Ho Chi Minh City: “Expats in Ho Chi Minh City” or “Female Expats in Ho Chi Minh City (for females only)”
- Hanoi: “Hanoi Massive” or “Hanoi Beautiful (for females only)”
- Da Nang: “Da Nang / Hoi An Expats Support Forum”
6. You’ll Learn the Art of Vietnamese Transportation
Vietnam lacks good public transportation; the main method of transport throughout the country is by motorbike. Wherever it is you chose to live and teach, it's likely that you'll want to learn to ride one. Traffic in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi is pretty insane, but driving in it is doable. If you’re nervous about the traffic, you can learn to drive a motorbike in a parking lot or even in the countryside if possible before venturing out into the craziness. If you don’t want to drive a motorbike, you can opt for the cheap option of the Grab app (similar to Uber), which offers motorbike and car taxis.
Perhaps surprisingly, there are unique “rules” of the road despite the chaotic look of it. For example, in Vietnam drivers honk their horns to let nearby drivers know they’re about to pass them on the road. I learned the ways of the roads in Ho Chi Minh by taking Grab motorbike taxis for my first month of living here and observing the traffic first hand without the pressure of actually driving in it.
7. You Don’t Need to Learn Vietnamese -- but a Few Phrases Will Help
It's not essential to learn this difficult language, but if you want to arrive prepared I'd suggest learning two main things: 1. Numbers (this will help you with ordering things, handling money, talking about prices, etc), and 2. Food items (most menus at non-expat restaurants aren't in English, so you should get familiar with basic Vietnamese cuisine). I wish I'd known these basics when I first arrived!
Vietnam is a fascinating country and I would recommend it to anyone looking for an adventure! It has teaching jobs available for every experience level, offers high pay with low living costs, and there are many cheap travel opportunities available. Once you get set up in Vietnam, you’ll love the easy-going lifestyle and energetic students.
I hope these tips were helpful for those interested in teaching in Vietnam! Although the process can be overwhelming, knowing insider tips like these will prepare you and hopefully make the transition itself easier. While it has been a challenge at times, relocating to Vietnam to teach has been one of the best decisions of my life!