Thailand is a stunningly unique country. Thai Buddhist culture dates back several millennia, uninterrupted by foreign conquest, resulting in a social environment that cannot be found anywhere else. Even its direct neighbors like Burma and Malaysia, while worthwhile to visit on their own merits, do not offer the same elements as Thailand that make it such an attractive destination.
The Thai people are exceedingly warm and welcoming (Thailand is known as the “Land of Smiles”). The landscape is diverse, from jungles in the South to the rice farming region of the East to the mountains of the North. The climate is warm throughout the year, starkly divided by a hotter, wetter “rainy season” from spring to fall, and a cooler, drier season known as “dry season.”
Teaching ESL (English as a second language) is a popular profession among the Western expats whom Thailand attracts. Here is everything that you need to know about teaching English in the Land of Smiles.
“As an English teacher in Thailand, the work was challenging and the pay was low but the friendships and great memories that came from the experience are invaluable.”
-Johnny from Digital Nomad Teacher
Requirements to Teach English in Thailand
Thailand is known for a frequent disparity between its regulations, laws, and job requirements “on paper” and those concepts in practice.
Some institutions are more willing than others to bend the rules or skirt them entirely to hire teachers. Some employers are more diligent than others about inspecting for and verifying proper credentials. In Thailand, many job requirements are up for negotiation.
Let’s start with the legal requirements set forth by the government to teach English in Thailand, each of which is needed to obtain a work permit:
- Certified degree and transcript from a 4-year college.
- A TOEIC score of 600+ or IELTS score of 5+ if you’re from a non-native speaking country (sometimes).
- Non-immigrant business visa (AKA “non b visa”).
- Supporting documentation.
Degree and Transcript
As far as ESL job requirements to legally work in Thailand go, the most non-negotiable item is a 4-year college degree. In nearly all cases, at the very least, you will be asked to produce photocopies of your degree, which in some cases may be enough to satisfy the Thai bureaucrat processing your work permit. In others, you might be asked for the original diploma.
The type of degree, except in higher education environments, is irrelevant. Indeed, many schools at the high school level and below are not themselves concerned with the degree requirement and view it more as an annoying impediment to hiring foreign teachers than as a legitimate requirement for an ESL job in their school.
Most institutions process all the necessary documents for the work visa on the foreign teacher’s behalf, including necessary translations to Thai. If you want to do it ahead of time, though, you can use an online translation service like Tomedes.
Native English Speaker (NES) Status or Fluency in English
The Thai government recognizes “native speakers” as those who hold passports from the USA, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.
If you hold a passport from any other country, you may need to prove your fluency in English. If you are at least a B1 level speaker (as per CEF guidelines) you can legally teach in Thailand. As such, a valid TOEIC score of 600+ or an IELTS score of 5.5+ may be required by employers and/or officials.
To legally work, a non-immigrant b visa is a requirement to teach in Thailand. The “B” stands for “business.”
While working as a foreign English teacher on a tourist visa has been done in the Land of Smiles, doing so is strictly illegal with hefty penalties if caught and prosecuted. Furthermore, working on any other visa than a non-B eliminates workplace protections and legal recourse if the relationship goes south with your employer.
Again, Thailand’s immigration system is a bureaucratic maze that operates primarily on the whim of whatever particular official is handling an issue at any given time.
So, depending on the officer, you may have to supply other documents such as:
- Criminal background checks.
- Medical certificates.
- University transcripts.
What about a TEFL Certificate?
Legally speaking, TEFL certification is not required to land an ESL job in Thailand. That being said, many Thai schools in Thailand require one, especially in the absence of an education degree or experience teaching English as a foreign language.
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An engaging, high-quality TEFL course can really help you get comfortable in the classroom and give you a head start in the job search. According to Chris & Angela from Tieland to Thailand:
“To teach in Thailand, all teachers must have at least an undergraduate college degree. To help you stand out from the crowd and prepare you for the classroom, a TEFL or TESOL is highly recommended. “
The Bottom Line on Teaching Requirements in Thailand
A college diploma, a valid non-b visa, and native speaking status or proof of English proficiency are the essential requirements to teach English in Thailand.
How Do I Get the Necessary Non-Immigrant B Visa to Teach English in Thailand?
As mentioned above, a “non-immigrant B visa” (often abbreviated as simply a “non b visa”), is required for foreign English teachers or any other foreign national conducting business in the Kingdom.
To get a non-b visa, you need the following documents:
- Passport valid for at least 6 months.
- Multiple passport photos (get as many as possible at once; you’ll need them all at some point).
- Certified criminal background check. Depending on the immigration officer, he or she may ask for a background check. These can be obtained quickly at a local police office – no need to bring expensive FBI checks from home.
- Original diploma and copies.
- Additional Thai-language documents from your employer regarding details about the school.
The Thai Work Permit
After obtaining a non-b visa, foreign teachers need another document to legally work in Thailand: the work permit.
This document is about the size of a passport. You will rarely actually use this work permit in your daily life. Nonetheless, you must maintain possession of it to remain on the right side of Thai law.
Work permits are also useful for opening a bank account and qualifying for certain government resources that are available for residents but not for tourists.
What you’ll need to get a work permit:
- Your passport with the valid non-b visa discussed previously.
- 3 passport photos.
- The original copy of one’s bachelor’s degree award.
- A valid medical certificate issued from a Thai doctor (involving a quick physical and, oddly enough, a mandatory syphilis test for all).
Your employer should apply for the work permit on your behalf.
Additional Documents for the Visa or Work Permit
The list of documents needed for a visa and work permit change often with no notice. Furthermore, the updates are published and communicated in the media in Thai, so unless you speak Thai, you will not be able to keep up.
Fortunately, in most cases you can hopefully enlist the aid of your school’s staff to help compile the proper paperwork and “hold your hand” through the process – an invaluable asset.
The Bottom Line on the Visa Process in Thailand
If you don’t have help, then navigating Thai bureaucracy in pursuit of a visa and work permit can be a nightmare – all the more so if you don’t speak Thai. It’s important to remember that reputable employers will process all the necessary documents and even send staff to the Ministry of Labor or immigration offices on your behalf. Insist on this in your interview.
After supplying your documents, either the school staff or someone they pay should be able to take care of the application process for you.
How Much Can I Make Teaching in Thailand?
“Teaching in Thailand is great if you want to have a nice lifestyle and live in an exotic country, but don’t expect to make a fortune. “
–Joanna from The Blond Travels
The shortest summary of the pay situation for ESL teachers in Thailand is that if you are coming here to strike gold, then you are sure to be disappointed. Truly lucrative teaching salaries are hard to come by in the Land of Smiles compared to nearby Asian countries.
That said, there are some high-paying ESL jobs available in Thailand. Also, the cost of living in Thailand is a considerably lighter financial burden compared to neighboring countries or those in the West, so you won’t spend as much on day-to-day expenses in Bangkok as you might in New York.
Here are the average ESL salaries in Thailand, broken down by school type.
Thai Government Schools: 30,000-40,000 TBH/month ($1,000-$,1300/month)
As is the case in many countries, the public education system in Thailand is the lowest rung of pay for teachers. Don’t expect to make more than 40k baht/per month (about $1,200) at one of these schools with few exceptions.
The job advertised above is from Craigslist, which is generally considered the bottom of the ESL jobs barrel in Thailand. Nonetheless, most of the postings are legitimate. The ad above offering ESL employment in Ubon Ratchathani, part of a poor rice-growing region in the East called Isaan, starts at 34,000 THB/month ($1,100/month).
The upside to seeking employment in a government school is that they are plentiful. It’s possible for inexperienced candidates with the necessary qualifications to land a job at a government school virtually anywhere in the country.
You might be asked, as in this example below, to teach a subject like science or math to Thai students in a public school.
I myself, who has no science background whatsoever, taught chemistry to a group of 13-year-olds in the southern province of Songkhla for a short period. The lessons were immensely challenging. but if you are interested in integrating another subject into your English teaching, this could be a great opportunity to develop your skills.
Private Language Schools: 35,000-50,000 TBH/month ($1,100-$1,600)
The second tier of pay in Thailand is the private language school circuit. These are private businesses. Some are “language schools” or “English training centers” that operate in shopping malls and above coffee shops throughout the country.
Other private schools, such as the one below in mountainous Chiang Mai, function closer to the public-school model with traditional roles for teachers.
The pay rate for private schools is slightly higher than for government schools: 35,000-40,000 TBH/month ($1,100-$1,619).
Universities in Thailand: 30,000-90,000 THB/month ($1,000-$2,900/month)
Universities abound in Thailand – Bangkok alone is home to dozens of higher education institutes such as the private Siam University, the public Mahidol University specializing in producing doctors, and Thammasat University producing legal professionals and civic leaders.
The pay and requirements for ESL jobs at Thai universities can vary widely. Often, as in the example above, universities and colleges are more open to negotiation than other types of schools.
Public universities pay higher than private universities, generally speaking.
At a public university, which requires at least a master’s degree, standard pay can reach as high as 90,000 THB/month. In private universities, which have more lenient standards depending on the school, sometimes pay the same rate as the lowest-paying government primary schools (30,000 THB/month).
Private Tutoring in Thailand: 500-800 TBH/hour ($16-$25/hour)
The freelance route is the go-to option for many ESL teachers because of the flexibility that it offers. Some hold down “regular” ESL jobs and tutor on the side while others generate their entire income from tutoring.
If you work your way into the higher echelons of Thai society, such as the monied upper-middle class of Bangkok, you can make 800 TBH/hour or more.
The only major downsides to the tutoring option are the inconsistent nature of the work and that teachers often have difficulty getting a long-term visa in Thailand such as a non b.
International Schools: 60,000-150,000 TBH/month ($2,000-$5,000/month)
International schools are by far the highest-paying educational institutions in Thailand. The staff, by law, are at least 70% foreign. All the instruction is in English.
The job above at Australian International School starts at 60,000 THB/month ($2,000/month).
Most of the teachers who get hired at these schools are experienced professionals who have degrees in education.
However, with the right skillset and the right charm, inexperienced teachers have been known to land jobs at international schools in Thailand.
How Can I Find a Teaching Job in Thailand?
First of all, how you will find a teaching job will depend heavily on whether you are already in Thailand (highly preferable) or outside of Thailand but planning to relocate.
Tips for Landing an ESL Job From Inside the Country
Job searching while physically present in the Land of Smiles has huge advantages over competitors who are looking in from the outside.
Many schools exclusively hire teachers that already reside in Thailand. This is both because teachers currently inside Thailand are seen as more committed to the job and because of the logistical challenges of arranging employment with an offshore teacher.
In addition to looking for ESL positions on the web (which we will discuss in the next section for teachers currently beyond Thai borders), consider the following step-by-step procedure for landing a job in-person:
- Identify a list of potential schools within proximity of one another (for example, schools in the Pathum Wan district of Bangkok). Google maps and internet ESL forums can help greatly with this task.
- Put on your Sunday best, comb your hair, etc. (Thais place a high premium on personal appearance).
- Print out dozens of copies of your resume, pack your diploma, passport, and police check (the more documentation that accompanies your school visits, the better).
- Pound the pavement, knocking out multiple schools in a single area at a time.
- Politely ask to speak to the principal or other high-ranking, English-speaking school official.
- Introduce yourself, offer your resume to anyone who will take it, and make a great overall impression.
Thailand has far more ESL jobs than ESL teachers available to fill them. If you have the basic teaching credentials described earlier and stick to these steps, you are virtually guaranteed to score multiple job offers within a matter of weeks with relatively little effort.
Tips for Landing an ESL Job from Outside the Country
Obviously, not everyone is in a position to look for ESL jobs in Thailand “on the ground.” Fortunately, you have a lot of options for locating an ESL job while outside the country.
Consider the following strategies to find ESL employment from abroad:
- Update your resume and make photocopies of the front page of your passport, your diploma, and/or TEFL certificate (we even have a list of the best TEFL courses for Thailand). Having professional headshots on hand helps as well, since many schools ask web applicants to supply them.
- Check out sites like eslcafe.com, ajarn.com, and TEFL.com. These sites routinely feature Thai ESL jobs with positions throughout the country.
- Let the emails flow from your outbox. Set a goal of applying to “X” number of Thai schools per day and stick to it.
- Join forums like this one from ThaiVisa where you can connect with other ESL teachers in Thailand to share tips, stay up to date on recent developments in the industry, etc.
- Take advantage of any personal connections that you have either within Thailand or with foreign ESL teachers with experience in Thailand. Word of mouth is an excellent tool for landing an ESL job in Thailand that might not be advertised.
A Note on Thai ESL Agents
The ESL industry is a multi-billion-dollar moneymaker, with East Asia as the epicenter. Newcomers to the ESL game in Asia are often confronted with the choice of finding their own ESL job or relying on the aid of an agent.
The pros of working with an agent in Thailand are:
- They find the jobs for you.
- They act as a liaison between you and the school (important when none of the staff speaks fluent English).
- The good ones help you arrange accommodation or manage other logistics.
The cons of hiring an agent in Thailand are:
- Agents take (sometimes exorbitant) cuts out of your pay from the school.
- Thai ESL agents have a well-earned reputation for deception and manipulation of their clients (you).
- You have less personal, direct negotiating power with the school.
Ultimately, the choice to use an agent or go it alone depends on how confident you are in managing your own employment (and the cultural issues that inevitably arise).
Other Benefits for Teachers in Thailand
In addition to a teaching salary, educators in Thailand often receive other benefits depending on their job and city.
It’s important to remember that it’s up to you to ask about these benefits; many schools may be willing to accommodate requests for them if you negotiate.
Apartment or Housing Allowance
Some schools will offer a private apartment or housing allowance in addition to your teaching salary. Provided apartments are almost always basic (single rooms) and allowances might need to be subsidized a bit, but it is a nice benefit.
The most common form of bonus is an end-of-contract bonus which is used as an incentive to get teachers to complete their contracts. Teachers who sign on for additional contracts will typically receive a pay rise.
More of a legal right than a benefit, all full-time employment in Thailand results in government subsidized, basic health insurance (which is called “social security”). The employer pays in 3% of your income, while the teacher pays in another 3%.
Higher-paying international schools and other private institutes may offer their own private health insurance packages.
Most primary and secondary schools, including nearly all public ones, offer a free cafeteria lunch. It’s not for everyone and teachers are allowed to leave campus during lunch breaks.
Cost of Living for Teachers in Thailand
Compared to Western countries, Thailand is exceptionally affordable. Tasty dinners can be purchased from any of a sea of street vendors for little more than a dollar. Except in ritzy areas of Bangkok’s Central Business District, apartment rental rarely exceeds $200. Motorbikes can be purchased for $500 or less. Getting your teeth cleaned costs $30 in expensive clinics. Riding the bus costs a quarter. It’s fantastic.
The bottom line: you can easily live on less than $800/month anywhere in Thailand if you are financially responsible.
How Much Can You Save as a Teacher in Thailand?
Obviously, the answer to this question depends on individual choices.
However, if you are making $1,200/month (a typical ESL salary in Thailand) and don’t spend every night at the bar, you can likely save $400/month or more.
FAQs about Teaching in Thailand:
Can I teach with an associate’s degree or professional diploma?
Yes, you can — but it won’t be legal. Degrees below the bachelor’s level do not qualify for the visa or work permit required for teaching in Thailand.
As mentioned previously, almost everything is up for negotiation in Thailand. Some non-degreed teachers have worked for years with no issues.
If you don’t have a 4-year degree but are considering taking your chances attempting to work in Thailand anyway, consider the risks involved (including fines, deportation, and permanent banning) and plan accordingly.
Can I teach without a degree of any kind?
Yes, you can absolutely teach without a degree, but again, it will not be legal and you will not be afforded the work permit or visa.
Literally hundreds, if not thousands, of ESL teachers in Thailand are likely illegally working this very moment; some will get by with no problems and others will be fined heavily and end up in a news story about an immigration raid on unsanctioned teachers.
Essentially, it’s a roll of the dice.
Can I work on a tourist (TR) or education (ED) visa in Thailand?
Again, it’s possible to work on a tourist or education visa, but it’s illegal. A non b visa is the only visa type that allows a visiting national without permanent residency to conduct business in the country.
Can I teach as a non-native speaker?
Yes, but only if your English is good enough. You need to be fluent or near-fluent in English. A valid/qualifying score on a test of English, such as the IELTS or TOEIC, will suffice in most cases.
I once worked in a Thai school alongside a former radio DJ from Latvia with a degree in mechanical engineering and a thick Eastern European accent. He had no problems because the school administrators and students liked him.
Is it true that schools prefer white teachers?
Yes, unfortunately, racial discrimination is still very real in Thailand —as well as most of Asia. However, schools have begun to see the light and are much more open to hiring teachers of African, Hispanic and Asian descent.
Despite its deserved reputation for racism in the Thai hiring process, many teachers of color from the West enjoy rewarding ESL positions in the country.
Can I teach without a CELTA or TEFL/TESOL certificate?
Yes, you can. There is no legal requirement for a TEFL or TESOL training certificate. However, nearly all top-paying employers require one in the absence of teaching experience. Additionally, it’s common that schools will require training that includes onsite, observed teaching practice. This means online programs don’t always qualify.
Do I need a criminal background check to teach in Thailand?
Yes, you’ll likely need an official criminal background check to successfully apply for your visa. However, the background check can be performed locally at any police office.
Except in the cases of some international schools, which often have very different standards than other Thai schools, you don’t need to bring your own background check from your home country when you travel.
Resources for Teaching in Thailand
- Ajarn: An incredible site that focuses solely on teaching in Thailand.
- ESLcafe.com: A time-tested leader in ESL job ads from around the world. Dozens of Thai ESL jobs are regularly posted on its “International Job Board” page.
- Thailand Starter Kit: A thoroughly researched selection of articles about living in Thailand.
- Thaivisa.com: An expat haven with all of the latest updates on life in the Land of Smiles and the issues that affect Westerners.