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    ESL TEFL TESOL Southeast Asia Southeast Asia
    Teaching English in Southeast Asia

    Teaching English Abroad in Southeast Asia

    The Practical Information You Need to Get Work

    by Michael G. Hines

    The number of international schools and centers teaching English as a second language in Southeast Asia is increasing as is in the need for qualified teachers. The economic boom in the region has encouraged an influx of expatriates with their families and children. Schools that offer the British Curriculum and International Baccalaureate Curriculum have grown in numbers, especially in cities, to accommodate the education of these children. The deliberate use of English in business and commerce has also prompted more people to learn the language.

    Visa Requirements

    Many Southeast Asian countries allow foreigners to stay in the country for as long as 90 days without a visa. However, it is better to accept teaching assignments that supply complete working documents from the onset to avoid problems later.


    Teachers planning to work in Indonesia must first locate educational institutions that are willing to serve as their sponsor and assist with the necessary paperwork for their work and stay (VITAS) permits. This is because an employment visa can be issued with a maximum validity of 90 days but the work and stay permits are needed to be able to work longer in the country. Aside from this, the VITAS is only valid for one year and can only be obtained or extended if the applicant has a sponsor. The required documents for application are as follows: duly accomplished visa application forms; passport with 18 months validity upon entry; written approval issued by the Indonesian Immigration Office; applicant?s resume; letters of recommendation from sponsor and proofs that the applicant has sufficient funds to sustain his/her stay in the country or a guarantee of financial support from a third party (Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in London ? United Kingdom, n.d.).


    The teacher?s license, the working permit and a one year visa are all needed for a teacher to be considered legal in Thailand. All these documents are closely linked to each other because a teacher must first obtain a teacher?s license before a working permit can be issued and the one year visa will not be issued without a working permit. The latest policy on teachers stipulates that foreign teachers can only apply for a license if: (1) they have a Bachelor?s Degree in Education and have completed a Thai cultural awareness course within their teaching contract year; or (2) they have a Bachelor?s Degree in any field and have either passed a Thai education exam or has completed the prescribed education courses from a Thai University. Since there is an insufficient number of education degree holders and the prescribed courses usually take one year to complete, a teacher can only start applying for a license after 12 months, and the work permit even longer (Footprints Recruiting, 2009; AJARN, n.d.).

    Fortunately, a special category for foreign teachers planning to work below the university level is identified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which does not require the work permit for visa application. Only the following documents are needed under this category: passport with six months validity, resume, duly completed visa application form, letter of acceptance from employing school, letter of approval from designated government agencies, proof of educational qualifications, the employing school?s license, and a police certificate attesting that the applicant does not have a criminal record (Ministry of Foreign Affairs ? Kingdom of Thailand, 2007).


    Teaching in Vietnam may sound exotic but finding good positions with equally good salaries and benefits is not easy though the demand for native English speaking teachers is quite high. The general requirement for teachers is a college degree in any field but a TEFL certificate is helpful in landing better-paying jobs. The documents needed to apply for a business/ working visa are: passport with at least one month validity; duly accomplished application form; proof of sponsorship from an organization in Vietnam and a Working Visa Approval obtained by the sponsor from the Immigration Department on the applicant?s behalf (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2009).

    Working and Living Conditions

    The recent economic growth in the region has allowed western lifestyles to penetrate Southeast Asian societies. The net effect is a vast difference in the socio-economic status of much of the population such that some areas have very high costs of living while it is quite affordable to live in others. An applicant may find some teaching positions that offer highly competitive salaries with tax-free packages, paid return flights, free or subsidized food, lodging and medical benefits (Hays Education, 2008). In the less developed regions, however, teaching positions are hard to find and teachers receive relatively low pay.

    Most Southeast Asian people have high regard for teachers and they give high importance to the value of education. Because of this, class sizes are usually larger, although due to the innate respect that Asians have for teachers, class management is rarely a problem. Westerners accepting jobs in Southeast Asia should be prepared to adapt to its culture and appreciate the experience of working in this region.

    Article Courtesy of Transitions Abroad - Work Study Travel Living (© Transitions Abroad)
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