Whether you’re an English teacher, backpacker, or somewhere in between, Vietnam should definitely be near the top of your travel bucket list. Between some of the best beaches in Southeast Asia, a unique and tantalizing local culinary tradition (Pho anyone?), and the exploding International hub of Ho Chi Minh City, there is enough to see and do in Vietnam to keep you occupied for years!
While Vietnam may still be defined by war in the eyes of many, there is no better way to broaden your understanding of this important historical region than to visit it yourself. And while there is so much more to Vietnam than a war with the United States, for those looking for a clearer understanding of the complexities of that disturbing, but ultimately important era, an extended visit to the region is well worthwhile. You may very well come searching for answers, but it’s virtually guaranteed that you’ll leave having found inspiration.
While there are countless reasons to visit Vietnam, the strong job market and low cost of the region make it an even more appealing destination for English teachers. With fairly rigorous standards for work permits (compared to some countries), there is plenty of work to go around, and those with teaching experience and/or graduate level education can do particularly well. If you live reasonably, you can expect so save a good portion of your paycheck, and Vietnam is a great location to travel and explore on the weekends. With a fairly reliable bus system, weekend trips to the beach are easily doable, and Cambodia, Thailand and Laos are a day’s journey away too.
TEFL + Teach:
TEFL and Teach Programs are most common for those looking to teach English in Vietnam. LanguageCorps offers a four week, 140 hour TEFL programs that includes two weeks of training in Phnom Penh, Cambodia followed by two weeks of training and job placement assistance, with a focus on Ho Chi Minh City. ViaLingua offers a similar program, and you can expect to pay around $1600, with additional support such as insurance and guaranteed job placement available at higher prices.
120-Hour TEFL Courses:
Companies such as TEFL360 and ITT TEFL offer 120 hour courses on location in Vietnam as well. For around $1500, you can earn your TEFL Certificate in Can Tho, a city of about 1.5 million (less than half the size of Ho Chi Minh), noted for its floating rice markets. Practice teaching and job support are included, with housing and other options available for an additional fee.
Volunteer Programs are a common way for those without a college degree to teach in Vietnam. Also ideal for those with tighter time constraints, you can easily earn your TEFL certificate and spend several weeks teaching in Vietnam during a single summer, so long as you are okay with an unpaid teaching assignment. Most volunteer programs that include a TEFL Certification course will still charge a fee, and you can expect to be paying around $2000 (including housing) for such options.
When and Where to Look:
Ho Chi Minh, the largest city in Vietnam, provides the most opportunity to find work, and most TEFL courses will take place there as well. Southern Vietnam is generally going to be more fruitful than Northern Vietnam, with a little persistence, opportunity for paid teaching jobs can be found throughout Vietnam. Because most jobs are with private language institutes, hiring stays fairly even in Vietnam throughout the year, so you can most likely find a TEFL Certification course that suites your schedule.
A four-year college degree is required to obtain a work permit in Vietnam, so most certification programs will require one as well. If your program does not require a bachelors, you should still be aware that you probably won’t be able to find paid work in Vietnam without a degree, though Vietnam is still a great place to go for your certification. Those interested in working in Vietnam without a degree might want to consider volunteer programs, or becoming certified in Vietnam and then teaching in Cambodia. It can also be difficult for people over the age of 50 to obtain a work permit in Vietnam, so you will want to check on that with your program if age is a factor for you.
The job market in Vietnam is consistently strong, and teachers are working all over the country with great success. Ho Chi Minh is the most popular location for teachers, but if you’re adventurous and willing to do some legwork, opportunity abounds in more rural locations as well.
You might need a hard copy of your college diploma on hand to obtain a work permit, and a background check may be required as well. Those can be difficult to obtain from abroad, so it’s a good idea to get that done well in advance of your start date.
An average workweek is usually 25-30 hours, including class time and preparation. Most language centers have weekday classes in the evening, while classes typically run all day on the weekends. A typical teaching day consists of two or three lessons and then planning time.
Typical wages for teachers range from US$1000-$1500/month. Benefits vary greatly from school to school (salaries are always paid in dong and are usually paid at the end of the month.) Quite often, if a teacher stays for a year or more, the school will pay for the airfare to another destination or provide a completion bonus.
Most Teachers take jobs at private language centers, although some public schools can now afford to compete with private centers. Local living expenses are low: about US$500-700/month. Teachers in Vietnam can fortunately expect to comfortably cover their monthly expenses, with a significant chunk of cash leftover for savings, travel, etc.
Cost of Living:
The low cost of living in Vietnam makes it very appealing as an alternative to more expensive regions like Western Europe. One can rent a nice apartment for 3-400 per month, with other expenses probably adding another $200 or so. An inexpensive meal can be easily found for a dollar or two, with a nice meal out running about $7. A standard beer or coffee would be $1-2. Wifi is readily available throughout the region, and your total utility bill will probably be around $50 per month.