Andy Goes To Asia

So You Wanna Be An ESL Teacher?

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The most common questions I get asked concern teaching abroad in Vietnam. It’s a pipe-dream that many of you seem to share. ESL teaching is indeed a captivating prospect – a means to earn a living, interact with locals and assimilate into life in a foreign country. In many countries, if you’ve got a University degree and a TEFL/TESOL Qualification or higher, then you’re well on your way.

However, if you’ve got your heart set on the misty hills and buzzing roads of Vietnam, then it gets a little more complicated. And by a little I mean a lot.

Allow me to help clarify what for many can be a confusing fog of loopholes and beauracracy in the land of the roaring Mekong.


First things first. Before anything else, make sure you prepare the following:

  • A certified TEFL/TESOL Certificate. At least 140hours + with a practical teaching component. Preferably not an online course (bigger schools are more picky). If you’ve got a CELTA or higher then why are you reading this?! Go work for the British Council and leave us simpletons be.
  • An authenticated copy of your University Degree. Some universities will make a copy for you if you ask them nicely. If not, find a big ass scanner and make one. Get it stamped for legitimacy. Be sure to copy both the front and back! If you don’t have a degree that may be okay, but don’t expect to work for any of the bigger schools. DO NOT give your school your real degree. Things have a habit of ‘going missing’.
  • An authenticated Criminal Background Check from your home country. Make sure it is recent.
  • Your Passport with Vietnamese Tourist/Business Visa. Contact the Vietnamese Embassy in your country. A business visa is better than a tourist one but may be harder to obtain. If you can only get a tourist visa, you need not worry too much. Most schools will help you obtain a work permit as part of your contract – just make sure you have a job in time! Tourist visas can last up to three months, so use your time wisely. Otherwise you’ll find yourself hopping on a bus to the Cambodian border to renew it.

*** What do I mean by an AUTHENTICATED copy? I mean take your document along with the original to a solicitor’s office and get them to stamp it. This will verify the document’s authenticity. Vietnam is a stickler for official –looking stamps and the such.

*** After getting your documents authenticated they will need to be further authorised by the Foreign Office in your country. In the UK this is the FCO. It costs a fair bit but is the most official seal of approval you’re going to get. Send them away and wait for them to come back ready.

And breathe. A lot isn’t it?


Once you’ve got everything stamped and sealed you can hop on that flight to fair Saigon. With that visa you’ve pre-prepared you won’t have to wait at immigration for half a day to get in the country. Yay! Airport control officers are notorious bark-bigger-than-bite types in Vietnam, so just smile and nod if they interrogate you like you’re a fugitive.

Choosing your TEFL Course.

You may choose to pre-arrange a TEFL course with a school in Ho Chi Minh City. Companies such as LanguageCorps, ILA and Appollo offer teacher training courses with good links to reputable language centres in the city. This way you can arrive in HCMC with prearranged accommodation, a support network and fellow teachers to be to get pally with.

I personally went with LanguageCorps Asia. For 4 weeks the course cost me £1000 including accommodation. It was a little expensive, but I got a lot out of it. Trips to Angkor Wat, Sihanoukville, a bus ride across the border to Vietnam from Cambodia. Good teachers, a lot of practical teaching experience with real Vietnamese university students (they would choose whose classes to attend). I also got to meet some people from all over the world who became my housemates and lifelong friends.

On-site courses like mine are good because it helps to know someone in Saigon. That network is an invaluable source of information, and will help you in your day to day life.

However, i know many folks who studied their TEFL online and fit right in to the Saigon swing of things. It just depends on what you think would work best for you.


Finding Work

Stats of a typical Saigon teaching job:

Hours: 16-30 per week

Salary: 17-25 USD per hour (dependant on experience)

Many job postings can be found online. A reputable source for these is Dave’s ESL Cafe, where openings are listed daily with position details including location, hours and salary.

There are two typical types of school for the budding ESL Teacher. Public schools and Private language centres. Both types can offer comprehensive support with visas, a decent salary and negotiable hours. Be sure you know what you’re getting yourself into before you sign that dotted line. Don’t sell yourself short, and don’t feel pressured into doing anything you don’t want to. Do your research about the school, ask around and know your shit.

Now, about the schools.

Public schools often pay higher, but see teachers darting all over Ho Chi Minh City teaching classes of up to 40 screaming Vietnamese schoolkids with little TA support. If you can handle the commutes and rowdiness then give it a try (and good luck).

Here are a list of some companies that work with Public Schools:

  • Compass Education
  • BP (a branch of Appollo)

Language Centres are the more popular option within the expat teacher community. Classes are usually held in the evening lasting 2-3 hours, leaving the rest of the day for whatever you wish. Expect to get one day off per week, and sometimes more or less depending on the teaching season. Nice, air-conditioned classrooms, support staff, a good selection of resources and comprehensive pay make these jobs very desirable. Be warned – weekends at language centres are mad rushes, with classrooms filled with the kids of ambitious parents. It can be like running a teaching gauntlet, having class after class, sometimes demanding you to work up to 9-11 hours per day. Think of the money and that well-earned Sunday evening beer.


Note that language centres can have very different organisational styles and company structures, so don’t expect every job to be the same.

Here’s some notable Language Centres for you to mull over:

  • VUS – arguably the biggest in Saigon.
  • ILA
  • Appollo
  • Wall Street English
  • EQuest
  • VAS


Ahh the CV. Or Resume as some weirdos call it. This piece of paper will help you a lot in your job hunting quest. Here’s my CV that you can refer to as an example. Note that it may be a little different from ones you’re used to:
Resume Andrew Headspeath1

As you may have noticed you’ll need to include a photo (smart as possible), your marital status (why?) and an address. If you don’t have one don’t worry – your TEFL training centre or the address of a friend will do.


Whenever you go for an interview in Vietnam, dress to the nines. It’s all about appearance in this country. If you come into the office with your shirt hanging out or muddy shoes, you may lose some serious face. A handsome teacher is a successful teacher.

Guys should wear an ironed shirt with smart trousers and dress shoes. No jeans. Ties/bowties are a bonus. Glasses make you look smarter. This is a good thing. Make sure you’re groomed and don’t smell.

Girls should wear a nice dress or shirt and trousers combo. Nothing above the knee. Groom yourself, shower and present yourself with a smile.

Now you’re looking fly here’s some interview tips.

  • Know something about the school. Why do you want to work there?
  • Even if you have no previous teaching experience, be prepared to list some of your attributes and answer some theoretical questions.
  • Smile and be charming.
  • How would you control a rowdy class?
  • How would you correct a student’s error?
  • How would you make a class interesting? – hint, activities combined with textbook work.
  • Be prepared to answer some weird questions.
  • Remember you are worth nothing less than $17 per hour. Ask for $19. Settle on $18.
  • Do you want to be full time or part time? If the latter, why?


Good luck with your journey to becoming a fully fledged ESL Teacher! It’s a long ride getting there, but the professional and personal experiences you will gain more than make up for the beauracracy. And there’s something really special about doing it in Vietnam. Once you’re in that classroom you’ll see what I mean.

For more information detailing my experiences as an ESL Teacher, I suggest reading my post Teacher Teacher. Cam On!

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  1. Derik and I are so blessed to have been given the opportunity to come out and teach. I would highly recommend ESL teaching to anyone especially newlyweds! It gives you the opportunity to really get to know your spouse, as well as rely on them in a way you wouldn t if you lived back home where you re comfortable.

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