Cambodia is one of the easiest countries in which to find a teaching job abroad, and it’s also one of the best places to do so. Teaching salaries more than allow you to explore the many attractions of Phnom Penh, travel to the ancient temples at Angkor Wat, or enjoy a relaxing weekend at a seaside escape such as Sihanoukville or Kep.
Public schools rarely hire foreign teachers, so the majority of ESL teachers are employed at the abundant private schools around Phnom Penh. There is a range of ages to teach, starting at the pre-school level (three and four-year-olds) all the way up to adults in university (18 to elderly.) Depending on when you want to teach, there are many scheduling options.
Positions for teaching adults generally meet during night classes starting around 5:30 to 7:30 pm, when people finish their workday, while primary and secondary schools meet from 8 to 11 am, and then again from 2 to 5 pm with the typical lunch break in the middle.
Along with modern-day human trafficking issues, Cambodia is home to many victims from the Khmer Rouge genocide decades ago. There are many organizations in Cambodia’s towns that teach English to these victims, but it’s sometimes difficult for a traveling foreigner to volunteer with them.
Like business tutoring, you have more of a chance to find volunteer work if you’re already in Cambodia. Organizations such as Friends International are also becoming stricter in terms of volunteering opportunities at orphanages because of the damaging effects short-term volunteering has on the psyche of the orphans. However, there are emerging NGO organizations that seem to be doing good work and are in need of volunteers.
Unless you have already been hired by a company to tutor employees, do not use this as your teaching job. There are few opportunities for private tutoring of any kind in Cambodia, because it is expensive and many businesses can’t afford it.
If this is the type of teaching you are interested in, once you’re in Cambodia and are established as a private school teacher, you can network to find one of these few tutoring positions. However, the pay is not generally equivalent to that of a schoolteacher, and most people can’t sustain themselves on a tutoring salary alone.
When and Where to Look for Jobs:
South East Asia is known for its love of holiday celebrations. Many months of the year have entire weeks off for this, so it’s difficult to plan the best time to start teaching or looking for jobs. Luckily, schools are in session all year and vary their term dates, with most starting around September with contracts that go to the following August. However, there are long and frequent breaks during the winter holidays, December until February, and again in May, so be aware of this.
For this reason, the capital city of Phnom Penh is one of the only places in Cambodia to find a reliable job. Once the rainy season hits, there is little-to-no work in the provinces unless you volunteer, and Siem Reap and Sihanoukville don’t offer much availability for new teachers.
Due to their overwhelming need for teachers, the qualifications for teaching positions are few. Many schools will accept high school graduate level employees, however university positions generally require at least a bachelor’s degree. Unlike many neighboring countries, you do not need a hard copy of any diploma, nor is it necessary to be TEFL/TESOL/CELTA certified. However, as in any job market, the better your resume, the better your odds at finding more jobs, so having these qualifications can only help you get higher salaries and preferred hours.
You currently you do not need a criminal background check prior to applying for jobs, but many schools advise that you get one before leaving your country of origin. (In case this policies changes, because it is difficult to obtain one while abroad.)
Working Visas in Cambodia
When you arrive in Cambodia, you can apply and receive a a tourist visa for $20 USD, which will allow you to stay in the country for 30 days. If you want to teach, you will need to also obtain a business visa for $25 USD, which you will be able to renew from within the country. (With a tourist visa, you must leave and re-enter the country in order to renew it.)
To avoid confusion, know that the business visa is also your working visa. After 30 days, you can apply for working visas for one month ($25 USD, single entry), three months ($90 USD), six months ($155 USD), or one year ($270 USD). Also note that this is a developing country and people skim off the top, so to speak, so these are average prices but will definitely vary depending on how generous you are looking that day.
Salary & Cost of Living:
A foreign English teacher in Cambodia lives well. Since there are two prices for everything—Western and Khmer—there is also a higher salary for Westerners. The Khmer prices are not generally printed, but they are known to the locals, and are about a quarter of the Western prices.
Most Western teachers make $1,000 to $1,200 USD a month. If you work hourly, day wages are usually $10 USD an hour and night wages are $12 USD an hour. A full time position is about 25 to 30 hours a week.
Rents range from $US 150 USD, which can afford you a decent apartment, while $500 USD can get you a lavish, Western-style apartment. Utility costs come in at about $50 USD, meaning your cost of living will be range from $500 to $1000 USD/month in Cambodia.
The average meal in Cambodia is $2-4 USD so you can easily eat well, enjoy activities around town, travel—a week long vacation in Kep costs less than $200 USD—and still save money each month.
Classroom & Work Culture:
- Always dress professionally: Asian culture is very sensitive to appearance and students will complain if you are not wearing business attire.
- Students segregate themselves: Boys are very touchy with other boys as are girls with other girls. This is very common in their culture, but is just their way of being friendly.
- Many people pick their nose in public, your students will too.
- Do not step over anything: Asian culture believes that your feet are the dirtiest part of your body and it is extremely rude to lift them over someone’s bag or chair.
- Cheating: is accepted in public schools, but not usually in private schools, so know the school’s policies.