How to Teach English in Thailand: A Guide to Getting Hired
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Updated in September 2018 with help from TEFL Campus – thanks!.
If you have ever dreamt about traveling, living, partying, or relaxing in the land of smiles, teaching English in Thailand might be for you. From the beaches of Phuket to the mountains of Pai, the ESL marketing Thailand shows no signs of slowing down as more and more locals work at improving their English.
Compared to other TEFL locations in Asia, teaching abroad in Thailand is a unique opportunity – teachers have access to some of the most incredible landscapes in the world while earning a wage that allows most to live comfortably while still being able to save. The best part of the experience, however, might be the warmth of the Thai people, no matter if you’re a long-term teacher or just passing through, your almost certain to feel welcome.
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
As with a few other countries in Asia (cough China cough) the requirements to teach English vary depending on who you ask. Even in 2018, there is a discrepancy between what an employer will ask of you and what is actually required for you to work legally.
Let’s start with the 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
- Non-Immigrant ‘B’ Visa
- Supporting documentation
Degree and Transcript
You will eventually need the original copy of your degree and copies will not suffice. This must be at the bachelor’s level or higher, so associate’s degrees and trade diplomas do not meet the requirement. When it comes non-university positions, it really doesn’t matter what you studied as long as you graduated from a recognized school. This means that any discipline from art to political science will qualify.
If your degree isn’t written in English, it’ll need to be translated into English but you may be able to do that within Thailand (depending on the original language). If you want to do it ahead of time you can use an online translation service like Tomedes.
Native English Speaker (NES) Status or Fluency in English
The Thai government recognizes those who hold passports from The USA, Canada, The UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand as being a native speaker. If you hold a passport from any other nation you need to prove your fluency in English. It’s commonly assumed that 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.
This is discussed in greater length on our Thailand visa page (that page leads back to the same page rather than a new one), but it’s worth mentioning here that a Non-Immigrant B or O visa is a requirement to teach in Thailand. To acquire these visas, you will either need to apply at a consulate or embassy prior to traveling to Thailand and more information on this process can be found later in this article. Both of these options require sponsorship by your employers and cannot be completed otherwise.
During the process of becoming a legal teacher in Thailand, you’ll need to supply documents such as criminal background checks, medical certificates, university transcripts and perhaps more, dependent on the official reviewing your applications.
What about a TEFL Certificate?
Legally speaking, TEFL certification is not required. That being said, nearly every school in Thailand requires one in the absence of a degree in education or experience teaching English as a foreign language. Plus, it can really help you get comfortable in the classroom 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. “
Looking for a TEFL? We recommend International TEFL Academy – take $50 off your course with this link!
That’s it – despite what schools, employers, and recruiters are telling you that is all you need to work legally in Thailand. However, it is rarely that easy as many employers have raised the bar with what they require of their English teachers.
What Does the Average Teacher in Thailand Make?
“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
While not the most lucrative teaching position in Asia, the salary for teachers in Thailand coupled with the low cost of living mean most people can live pretty comfortably. Even more encouraging is that there is a wide range of salaries in Thailand and it’s quite possible to live like a king if you have the qualifications and drive.
The average salary for a native English speaker with little to no experience is around 35,000 Thai baht (TBH) per month. Depending on who you ask, this is either enough to get by on or enough to live comfortably – but it’s not enough to live a life of luxury. In order to do that you will need to either work a second job or land one of the coveted international or corporate training positions.
Types of Schools in Thailand and What They Pay
Public and Private Schools: 30,000-40,000 TBH/mo
Overseen by the Thai Government, these schools are similar to the mainstream schools we have in the west and are some of the most stable jobs you can get. Requirements typically include a bachelor’s degree, TESOL/TEFL certificate and native-English speaker status. It is not uncommon to find positions teaching math, science and other core subjects within what are called English Programs at these schools.
International Schools: 60,000-115,000 TBH/mo
International schools typically have many more requirements for teachers and almost always require some sort of teaching qualification such as a license to teach in one’s home country or QTS (qualified teacher status).
Language Centers and Private Tutoring: 300-500 TBH/hr
Unless you find a full-time position at one of the larger outfits, training centers usually pay by the hour. You can also try to do freelance private tutoring and both are great ways to pad your income. Language centers have also become the new recruiters and will often offer positions within government and private mainstream education schools.
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.
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%.
Nearly every school, if not all, offers 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
One of the best things about working in Thailand is that it’s quite easy to live on very little. The following numbers are from Bangkok so keep in mind that other cities will be around 25% cheaper.
Source: Thailand Starter Kit // Prices as of September 2018
How Much Can You Save as a Teacher in Thailand?
This question clearly depends on the teacher and their lifestyle, but most teachers manage to save 5-10% of their salary. This will obviously change if you have student loans or other debt you are paying off back home, but it is possible to save money from your teacher’s salary in Thailand.
The great thing about Thailand is that it’s entirely possible to live like a local if you’re disciplined – public transportation, local food, and ingredients are abundant and being conservative for most of the week will afford you a good budget with which to socialize on the weekend.
The Visa Process for Teachers in Thailand
If you think there is some magical “teaching English in Thailand visa” that allows you to start working legally then you’re in a for a surprise – the visa is only the first step towards legal employment. Thankfully, it’s likely that your school has done it before so be sure to lean on them when the time come because navigating the visa process yourself can be confusing at best.
What You Need for a Teacher’s Visa in Thailand
- A Non-Immigrant B or O visa
- A Work Permit
- A Teacher’s License or Teaching Permit
- Visa Application
Contrary to popular belief, in order to get a full-fledged teacher’s license in Thailand, you actually need a degree in education. Luckily for those who didn’t major in education, Thailand offers a temporary teaching permit which is essentially your permission to teach in Thailand for two years—which can be renewed twice, for a total of six years. This is the last step in the process towards fully legal employment.
What you’ll need:
- your passport with valid Non-Imm visa
- passport photos
- your valid work permit
- the original copy of one’s bachelor’s degree award
- university transcripts
- a certified criminal background check
This is the document that actually allows foreigners to work. Legally, foreigners cannot work until they have it in their possession, but this almost never happens and new hires routinely work for months without one. Regardless of what an employer says, this book is property of the employee and they should keep it in their possession at all times.
What you’ll need:
- your passport with the valid Non-Imm visa
- 3 passport photos
- the original copy of one’s bachelor’s degree award
- a valid medical certificate issued from a Thai doctor
- evidence of previous teaching experience (if you have it)
First and foremost, there is no “work visa” in Thailand. There are two main visas that can will allow you to eventually get a work permit. Almost everyone applies for a Non-Immigrant B visa, while those who are married to a Thai national can apply for the Non-Immigrant O visa. Once hired, your employer must supply you with multiple documents which are needed for your visa application. From there, you either exit Thailand and apply in a neighboring country or switch over within Thailand if you have at least 15 days left on your current permission to stay.
What will you need:
- the original passport with at least 6 months’ validity and two blank pages, copies of various pages of the passport,
- a passport photo
- the original copy of one’s bachelor’s degree award
- certified criminal background check
- various documents from your employer
- visa application fee
You should check for variations of these requirements with the embassy to which you’re applying. You can find locations here.
Certified Degree & Transcripts
While it’s not always needed, it may be a good idea for you to have all your academic records certified by your home country’s embassy or consulate. The reason for this is that it adds another layer of protection against forgery and takes the responsibility of identifying fake documents away from the Thai government. Unfortunately, there isn’t a standard way to get everything certified if you’re applying for a visa to teach in Thailand. You should check with your university for more information on this process.
How to Get a Job Teaching in Thailand
The easiest way to get a teaching job in Thailand is planning ahead and utilizing job boards, Facebook groups, or word of mouth. Most teachers will start applying before they arrive in the country and we recommend the following steps:
- Check out ESL job boards
- Browse Facebook groups where jobs are posted regularly (but be prepared to cut through some noise)
- Tap into your network – if you’re a current teacher then you will almost certainly know someone who knows someone that can recommend quality jobs or schools in Thailand. Use this to your advantage to find quality jobs that might not be advertised.
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. These do not qualify for the visa, work permit nor teaching license required for teaching in Thailand. As well, the days of obtaining fake degrees from famous sources such as Khao San Road (in Bangkok) are over. It’s best to be honest with your potential employer and some schools still blatantly hire foreign teachers who don’t have degrees.
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 that makes living in Thailand so easy. Even with the supposed crackdowns on illegal teachers, there are still thousands of people working on tourist visas, doing visa runs, and generally just trying to get by.
Can I work on a tourist (TR) or education (ED) visa in Thailand?
No, make no mistake about it, working on these visas is illegal…yet it’s commonplace and the real answer to this depends on how risk-averse you are. While the authorities do make it a point to arrest illegal teachers from time to time, they routinely turn a blind eye to it. This is not to say there’s no risk; there is and the penalties can be severe (including fines and deportation). If you choose to go this route our advice is to tread lightly – in our opinion, it’s not worth getting in banned from such an amazing country.
Can I teach as a non-native speaker?
Yes, but only if you’re English is good enough. You need to be fluent or near-fluent in English and a valid/qualifying score on a test of English, such as the IELTS or TOEIC, will suffice in most cases.
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.
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 included onsite, observed teaching practice. This means online programs don’t always qualify.
Related: The Best TEFL Courses in Thailand
Do I need a criminal background check to teach in Thailand?
Yes, you’ll need an official criminal background check to apply for your visa. In some cases (Americans), this can be as simple as going down to your local police station and getting a local background check. For others (Brits), only a nationwide check is possible. Check with your local authorities for specific information.