It’s rare to not see Asia as #1 on a list of destinations for teachers choosing where to move abroad. Northeast Asian locations, such as Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, have always been popular options amongst teachers, as many choose to teach English overseas through established government-sponsored programs. In Southeast Asia, the economically-thriving countries of Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia hope to increase the number of English speakers on domestic soil.
In South and Central Asia, while there isn’t a huge market for foreign educators yet, demand is growing at a fast pace. All across the continent, English is on its way to becoming a universal language, connecting students, business folk, and tourists alike, to challenge existing ideas and open up cultural exchanges.
There is no shortage of people looking to learn English in a country of 1.3 billion people. With dozens of major cities, and a crazy number of local townships, there is a teaching job for any English speaker in this enormous country.
Chinese schools have started to teach English starting in primary school, with students as young as kindergarteners learning basic language skills. It is important for Chinese students to have strong literacy as many high school entrance exams include an English comprehension portion. Thus, as schools adapt to the growing impact of requiring an English curriculum, there is an increasing need for English teachers all across the country. Travel, teach, and learn – all while getting a taste of daily life and culture in China.
Many have found Taiwan to be a great location for new ESL teachers, with its friendly people and comfortable living conditions. This small, but mighty, island is the ideal destination for a teacher looking to start a career in teaching, and enjoy the perks of modern, Asian city life. Though if you prefer a quieter lifestyle, closer to nature, Taiwan has that too!
Each year, countless teachers flock to South Korea as this country has so much to offer to foreigners. You may find a job at a public school, an international school, or hagwon (after-school program). Whichever route you take, South Korea is a great mix of the old and the new. You may learn quite a bit while unraveling traditions and history, while finding pleasant surprises in the city of Seoul or in the quiet mountains.
If you are a professional teacher, or looking to start a profession in education, Japan is the ideal Asian destination for you. Work in one of the three largest cities of Tokyo, Osaka, or Nagoya. Or discover lesser-known destinations on the islands of Hokkaido and Honshu. Not only will you fall in love with Japan’s idyllic scenery, but you will also see the charm in its unique culture and cuisine.
For ESL teachers, Thailand is the new kid on the block, next to the other countries in this Top 5 list. With fewer established programs, there are still many, many schools and programs that hire English teachers on a regular basis.
Growing increasingly popular with tourists and ESL teachers alike, Thailand offers something for every world traveler. If you like tropical beaches or vibrant nightlife or mountain treks, there’s a place for you here. Schools all throughout Thailand hire international educators to bring something new to the curriculum, as well as teach the basics of English.
In some countries, the national Ministry of Education oversees teaching programs for citizens of English-speaking countries, such as the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Though the application process is quite competitive, teachers will typically enjoy the benefits of a higher salary, set work hours, and paid vacation days. These programs look for TEFL/TESOL certified, native English speakers to improve the quality of English language education in both public and private schools. These programs in Asia are well known internationally and considered as top positions by many in the education sector.
As more schools and companies turn to English as the primary language of communication, language schools and academies have grown more and more popular all across the Asian continent. In almost every major city in Asia, there are numerous companies offering afterschool, evening, and weekend courses for learning English as a Second Language (ESL). These ESL courses range in subject matter, from Conversational to Business to Refresher English. Although pay is relatively low compared to salaries in full-time schools, language school teachers enjoy flexible schedules, as well as the occasion to meet local people of all ages and different walks of life. Thus, language schools are great options for inexperienced teachers looking for short-stay contracts.
Many of Asia’s major metropolises are earning the label as a ‘global city’ due to the growing interconnectivity of worldwide commerce. With this, many expats now call Asia home, bringing their families with them. As instruction is primarily in English, international schools do not hire teachers for ESL, but in the subjects of mathematics, sciences, art, physical education, etc. Following either an American, British, Australian, or International Baccalaureate (I.B.) curriculum, international schools often hire experienced teachers, who hold at least a master’s degree, and can commit to a long-term contract. Due to this fact, competition is high, just like the salaries and benefits that come with the job.
Many parents hire private tutors to enhance their children’s English language training outside of school hours. A large number language school or part-time teachers in Asia choose to tutor a few students a week, to supplement their salary. While it takes a bit of individual effort, posting advertisements in local cafes or online, most teachers are very happy with their tutoring experiences. Besides pocketing a bit of extra cash, tutoring is a great way to meet local families and learn about everyday life in the community.
In many ‘developing’ Asian countries, English language education is reserved for those who can afford it. Public schools, in both urban and rural locations, often lack the resources or funds to purchase textbooks or hire qualified English teachers. Volunteer teachers are in high demand in orphanages, girl’s schools or women’s community centers. While these positions are unpaid, Asian NGOs are always looking out for volunteers to increase the long-term opportunities for those who know little to no English.
Cost of Living in Asia:
Generally speaking, the cost of living in Asia is pretty low. If you are moving to a major city, such as Tokyo, Singapore or Shanghai, you may find that rent and food are quite pricey. It is known that the countries of Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia have higher costs of living. However in most Asian locations, urban or rural, you will be able to save a good portion of your salary! If you are aiming to save money, try teaching in Cambodia or Indonesia.
Make sure to try family-owned, small restaurants or cafes, instead of splurging at a Western chain restaurant. Avoid shopping or dining in the expat or tourist areas as prices in those neighborhoods will be much higher. Test out local modes of transportation - while it may be scary to zoom through town on a scooter or pedicab, you will save cab fare and even make some new friends!
In most countries, the minimum requirement is a TEFL/TESOL certification and a bachelor’s degree. Since most schools hope to provide their students with proper language training, it is becoming more and more necessary that teachers are either native English speakers or have other training and experience in teaching ESL. Citizens of the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand will be highly considered.
Depending on your work, you will either need a temporary or permanent visa. For short-term work, a temporary visa will last up to 6 months. Permanent visas will last up to a year. Most schools will need to provide employment confirmation or sponsorship in order for you to apply for a work visa. Make sure to account for processing time - some consulates can take up to a month to process an application.
Classroom and Work Culture:
Asian work culture is all about saving “face”, which means preserving your reputation or dignity and generally acting cool and calm in the workplace. Primarily an Asian concept, saving “face” will ensure that you (a) gain the respect of others and (b) avoid any unwanted confrontations with co-workers or employers. In addition, make sure to dress professionally or business casual while in the classroom.
Since Asia is a broad region, be aware that classroom and work culture, as well as etiquette, varies from place to place. While India is considered part of Asia, its culture is vastly different than China's or Japan's for example. Try to keep an open mind and do a bit of early research on culture in your new home!
Questions to Ask:
- How many hours per week will I be teaching?
- Does the school/program provide teaching materials?
- What is the dress code in the classroom?
- Are flight reimbursements and housing included in my contract?
- Does the employer offer support in obtaining a work visa?