Teaching ESL has given a lot of English-speakers a ticket to travel the world.
Whether teaching online from a laptop or moving overseas to work in developing countries, English teaching has opened the world up to teachers.
Vietnam is a country that has become almost synonymous with English teaching.
Vietnam's combination of high teacher demand, availability of work, alluring attractions, and affordable cost of living amalgamated into the world's best ESL destination.
Why is English teaching so popular in Vietnam?
About a decade ago, the Vietnamese government introduced new education reforms where English proficiency levels were ambitiously prioritized.
This led to a boom in English teaching jobs available in both public and private schools and learning centers.
The huge demand for western English teachers has also meant that not all schools can filter for the most qualified teachers, which has left the door open to new teachers - and sometimes unqualified teachers - to gain work in Vietnam.
Combine this with Vietnam's extremely affordable cost of living and the country's alluring tourism sector, it's easy to see why so many people are choosing to teach English in Vietnam.
How I became an English teacher in Vietnam
I fell into ESL teaching after a year of traveling the world.
My savings were finally running low and my choices were simple: head home to Australia and get another "real" job, or find work overseas.
With a degree in Communications, professional experience in journalism, and a background working with kids - teaching English seemed like a natural fit.
After some research, I stumbled upon teaching English in Vietnam.
About teaching English in Vietnam
Teaching English in Vietnam can be a rewarding and lifechanging experience.
Vietnam is a wonderful country with heart-warming people.
Teaching English offers a more immersive experience to interact with locals and give back to a unique culture.
However, it's important to have realistic expectations when moving to Vietnam.
Things work very differently from the west. While bribes and scams are considered shocking to westerners, it's generally accepted as a norm in Vietnam.
This means teachers should be diligent when accepting job placements to ensure they're making the right decision.
When I was job-hunting I joined a few Teaching in Vietnam Facebook groups. A guy had posted about needing a replacement for his job he was leaving soon in the city of Vinh Yen.
He sent me an email contact and I forwarded my CV and cover letter. The process snowballed from there and I felt like the school was so desperate for a replacement I was a shoo-in.
I didn't have a TEFL certificate at this point, but I'd started an online TEFL course and explained in my email I would have the certificate completed before starting, should I be hired.
The hiring process:
- Sent casual email application containing CV, cover letter, an overview of my experience
- The company requested a short introduction video
- Sent passport details and invitation letter for working visa sent to the closest Vietnamese embassy
- Obtained a working visa at the Vietnamese embassy
- Booked flights to Hanoi
- Met with the school and conducted demo lessons with Vietnamese students
- Official job offer
The hiring process was fast and a little strange. My only communication with the school was by email and very casual. I was told I "80% had the job", but needed to conduct a demo lesson to fully secure the position.
This made me a little apprehensive as I was spending a lot of money booking flights to Vietnam for this position.
Teaching in Vinh Yen, Vietnam
The job I accepted was in the northern city of Vinh Yen located a couple of hours north of Hanoi.
While I'd visited Vietnam before, moving to Vinh Yen was a completely new cultural experience for me.
The small city was not accustomed to seeing foreigners, so daily stares of curiosity were the norm.
Despite the younger generation learning English, adults in Vinh Yen knew very little. This made my time there challenging, exciting, and sometimes extremely confusing.
While I would recommend teaching in Vinh Yen for s short-term contract, I would suggest more exciting destinations for longer-term plans.
However, I feel the Vinh Yen schools can pay more as they find it harder to find teachers.
Do you need a degree to teach in Vietnam?
The simple answer is no. You do not need a degree to teach English in Vietnam. However, without a degree, in most cases, you'll need a TEFL certificate. I highly recommend Premier TEFL for affordable online TEFL courses.
I know people who have worked as English teachers without any qualifications, but these are generally lower paid and low-quality schools - the kind of schools you'll likely want to avoid.
By holding a degree and/or TEFL certificate you're able to negotiate better pay with better schools.
To get an advantage over other teachers, it's also a great idea to take a short IELTS course online, which looks great on your ESL resume.
How much do English teachers make in Vietnam?
On average, English teachers in Vietnam make between $1000-$2000 per month.
I was offered $1700 per month for my role, however, as previously mentioned, the center tried to pay me $1400 (then $1600) once I'd arrived and started teaching.
Teachers who hold degrees and TEFL certificates have more opportunities to make more money.
There are two main work schedules you're likely to find teaching English in Vietnam.
The first is through the regular school system. Of course, this means you'll be teaching on the school's schedule.
The other work schedule is night work.
There is a lot of night work available for ESL teachers in Vietnam. This is because a lot of English learning centers operate after school hours.
I worked both and would teach children as late at 10 pm.
5 quick tips for teaching English in Vietnam
1. Keep digital copies of your qualifications
Schools will often require copies of your qualifications.
2. Research the locations of jobs before accepting them
Vietnam is so diverse. Make sure you're moving somewhere you want to be.
3. Bring props and games to your classes
Vietnamese kids are very polite, but they are kids and they will get bored. Turn your classes into games - Vietnamese children love competition. I used these sticky balls in my classes, where children would have to throw the ball at the correct answers on the whiteboard; the kids loved it.
4. Have fun
At the end of the day, if the kids are happy, the school and parents are happy too. Keep it fun!
5. Accept Vietnam works differently
While some things may feel frustrating, remember why you first came to Vietnam. Not everything aligns with the western mentality, but that's all part of the fun.
Is teaching in Vietnam for you?
Teaching English in Vietnam is a once in a lifetime experience for many people.
The combination of unique culture, affordability, friendly locals, and beautiful landscapes makes Vietnam one of the best countries in the world to work.
Here are some things to help you decide whether teaching in Vietnam is for you:
- You have great English speaking, pronunciation and grammar skills
- You enjoy working with kids
- You love adventure and are yearning for new things
- You're comfortable on a motorbike in Vietnam traffic
And that's basically it. I highly recommend giving English teaching in Vietnam a try, even if it doesn't work out, you'll learn a whole lot about yourself.
What about teaching English online
After teaching English in-person in Vietnam, I moved into online ESL teaching.
I found online teaching was more suited to my lifestyle and allowed a lot more freedom.
I truly believe some people thrive more in-person while others online. However, there's absolutely no reason you can't do both.
Read these articles about online ESL if you're interested in online teaching:
Teaching English in Vietnam Resources
Teaching scams in Vietnam
Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for some schools to take advantage of foreign teachers.
I experienced this myself, which ultimately led to me leaving the job after just a few months.
After teaching for a month in Vietnam, the school I was working for didn't pay me for 6-weeks. At which time, they started to backtrack on the negotiated monthly price.
My first month's pay was a few hundred dollars less than agreed. I confronted them, and they came back with multiple excuses, assuring me my next payment would be more.
They were backtracking on everything we'd agreed upon and I told them I was leaving.
Once they realized I was serious they changed their minds and offered me the agreed-upon amount. But I was disenchanted and out of principle declined.
No one likes to think about it, but traveling in Vietnam can have risks. By covering yourself with the right travel insurance, you can enjoy the world without worries.
I recommend World Nomads as my favorite travel insurance provider.