Work Abroad: How to Start Teaching English in Vietnam
Updated on February 25th, 2021
Teaching English in Vietnam is a fantastic way to get paid to work abroad, experience life as a local, eat delicious Vietnamese food, meet wonderful people and have the opportunity to explore Southeast Asia.
Over the past 10 years, I have been looking for the perfect job overseas, I have worked in a ski resort where I taught skiing in Lake Tahoe and Australia. I spent two years getting paid to travel the world on a superyacht and have even worked in paradise on one of Australia’s most beautiful islands. While I’m yet to work as an English teacher I have recently completed my TEFL certification and have been doing in-depth research into where and how to next do this.
If you have ever considered teaching English in a foreign country, teaching English in Vietnam might be for you. As there are so many programs and so many schools, it can be quite overwhelming trying to figure everything out on your own.
Kat left her home in the U.S 6.5 years ago to travel and work her way around the world. In that time she’s worked in 4 continents in a wide range of jobs. Motivated by the experiences, she founded A Way Abroad, a community devoted to helping women around the world get out of their comfort zone and find jobs abroad. You may run into her in Vietnam where she has just signed another year lease on the beach.
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Hi Kat, tell everyone about yourself.
Hi guys! I’m originally from the U.S. (Atlanta area) but have been living and working abroad for the last 6.5 years. After taking some trips before and during university, I knew the moment I graduated I wanted to continue to explore. I started my journey as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador and now fast-forward, I’m teaching around the world in Vietnam.
How did you first hear about teaching English abroad?
My first teaching job was with the Peace Corps in Ecuador but honesty, I thought it was something I could only do through a larger organization. I had no idea until I was actually out in the world that it was something I could set up on my own in countries around the world. A friend of mine in the Peace Corps had previously taught in Korea and another in China so they opened my eyes to all of the opportunities out there.
What was life before teaching English in Vietnam; what made you want to do this?
Well, to be honest, after Ecuador, I wanted a break from teaching. I loved it but was itching to try something new. I volunteered a few times through Workaway, worked a season on a yacht and blew a lot of my savings backpacking through Eastern Europe with my now-husband. The decision to teach again really came down to money. I hadn’t worked in a few months and wasn’t eager to do something online so I started looking for jobs to teach in Korea. I taught there a year before moving to Vietnam.
What are the main cultural differences to home in the USA?
There are SO many differences but that’s really why I love it. I’ve always been fascinated by countries that are so unique and different than what I grew up in. It’s actually a little mind-boggling but there are a lot of similarities between Vietnam and South America. Even my Colombian husband gets confused at times because so many parts of Ho Chi Minh remind him of Bogota. Those stepping stones living in other countries really helped me to adjust to life here.
To name a few differences though: traffic (crazy amounts of motorbikes, seemingly non-existent traffic rules), slower pace of life (I don’t feel so rushed to do things or get to places as I do when I’m visiting home), waste control (this one is common in a lot of 3rd world countries but still breaks my heart to see the lack of waste management and education, aka there is a lot of trash on the street).
What qualifications or skills do you need?
Requirements for teaching English in Vietnam is not as strict as in many other countries. To get a steady job with a sponsored work visa, schools prefer that you are a native English speaker, have a Bachelor’s degree and some teaching experience and/or a TEFL, TESOL or similar certification.
That being said, it’s still very possible to find a job if English isn’t your first language and/or you do not have a Bachelor’s degree. If you fall into the 2nd category, most likely you’ll be responsible for getting your own visa which really isn’t super difficult. If interested, I go into more detail about finding a job in Vietnam on my website.
Experience Tip: There are many volunteer programs looking for Engligh teachers.
Did you have a school lined up before arriving?
I did but it’s definitely not necessary. My husband and I visited Vietnam after I finished my contract in Korea. We were traveling for a few months looking for our next spot to settle. We both loved Vietnam so I went ahead and started passing out my CV in person to reputable schools, even though I knew we weren’t going to move there officially until a few months later. This actually worked out really well in my favor. I had a few interviews and got a job quickly. This gave me some peace of mind and I was able to get all the necessary documents on my short visit home instead of having to deal with it from abroad.
Do schools help with obtaining visas?
Since I have all the necessary requirements, my school was more than happy to sponsor (pay) for my visa. They sent me a list of documents that I would need to finalize things once I was in the country but went ahead and arranged an entrance visa (3-months) just to get me in the country hassle-free. In all honesty, though, there were quite a few miscommunications and language barriers resulting in me not getting all the documents I needed from home. Luckily, I was able to obtain them from the embassy in Vietnam.
Is the work part-time, full-time or seasonal?
For me, I got a full-time job. Full-time jobs are the ones that are most likely going to give you visas and I wanted to save up some money. I am actually only with the students about 20 hours a week but was at work about 40. You could absolutely come to Vietnam and find a part-time or seasonal job, especially if you have all the ideal requirements checked.
What are your favourite parts?
The students! They’re always my favorite, no matter where I am. I teach at a preschool so my students are 16 months to 5 years old. This age group isn’t for everyone but for me, it’s ideal.
Are there negatives?
I mentioned above that at my particular school, there is a lot of downtime. This is meant to be planning time but it’s hard to need so much time each day for planning. I can usually get this done with time to spare. Regardless, we have to stay in the office.
I don’t enjoy feeling like I’m am “wasting” so much time, especially since the office is quite small and we don’t have our own space. I usually end up having to sit on the steps or feel like I’m in someone else’s way. This was something I never took into consideration with the job but something I wish I had.
What do you love most about Vietnam?
Now that’s a big question! This is really an endless list but I’ll do my best! I love how international the cities here are. Most people would never realize this but there are expats from around the world living in this beautiful country. It’s really fun to be surrounded by such a diverse group of people. On top of that, the locals have been extremely welcoming and kind, making me feel at home here. Oh, and the coffee! There is an endless amount of coffee shops to frequent and a wide range of coffee drinks to try. I swear they’ll mix coffee with anything and make it taste delicious! And last, but certainly not least, it’s a gorgeous country. Between mountains, beaches, rice fields and rivers, there is so much to embrace here.
How much time off do you get?
Since I teach at a private preschool, we are only given national holidays off. In June and July, we run summer courses. The management is really kind and willing to give teachers anywhere between a week to the full 2 months off if you ask in advance though.
My school has also been very willing to give vacation time when there is nothing special planned at school. They’re happy to give you a long weekend from time to time to explore a new place. Unlike holidays, this is not paid time off. If you work at a public school you’d have a similar schedule as a teacher in the U.S. with longer holidays built-in.
How can someone start teaching English in Vietnam?
First, I’d suggest visiting Vietnam if possible or moving there before you get a job. This way you can explore the country and pick which city you feel more at home. I say the city only because there are more job options. If you’d prefer to be in a smaller town or more rural area, I’d suggest job hunting through organizations or English centers (like APAX).
People here are more willing to hire someone they can meet in person. This also gives you the chance to see the school in person and make sure it’s a good fit. If you can’t go this route, I’d suggest job hunting on Dave’s ESL Cafe or via Facebook groups. Facebook groups are really powerful in Asia. There is a great Fexpat (female expat) group for Ho Chi Minh that you could job search through.
What do you wish you knew before starting?
I wish I would have realized just how many job opportunities there are in Ho Chi Minh. I felt a bit rushed to say yes to the first school I clicked with, but hindsight I wish I would have visited more options. The school I chose is still a great place but as I mentioned, I think I would prefer somewhere I can use my time more wisely.
What advice and tips do you have?
I’d definitely suggest having an open mind. You’re moving abroad. You’re leaving your comfort zone, your culture and your language. Things will NOT work the same in your new country as they do in your home country. Remember that as a good thing. You left for something different and unfortunately that’s not something you can easily pick and choose.
Roll with the workflow and adapt to your surroundings instead of trying to get your coworkers or boss to adapt to you. At the same time, know that if it’s all too much or negatively impacting you, it is not permanent. For those of us who willingly move abroad, we can move back home, try a new job or pick a better-suited country for our personal needs and wants.
Would you recommend this job for someone who loves travelling?
I absolutely would! Vietnam is centrally located in SE Asia which means quick, cheap flights to many surrounding countries. A long weekend off when teaching English in Vietnam can be spent in Hong Kong, Thailand, Cambodia or Singapore, just to name a few. There are also amazing places to visit within the country. Transportation is usually very affordable and if you chose to fly, very quick as well.