Myanmar is an enchanting and mysterious country that has a tumultuous background. Formally known as Burma, Myanmar has been isolated from the rest of the world for the last twenty years due to inner political turmoil.
Recently Myanmar has opened it’s borders and joined ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). They are a nation on the rise, with both domestic and foreign investors building a bigger economy.
With the rapid flood of investment and opportunity, and the fact that English is poised to be the official business language of ASEAN, the demand for English language education is extremely high in Myanmar. It’s no wonder then that Myanmar is becoming a hot new destination in the ESL teaching world.
In this article, I’ll cover just about everything you need to know about teaching in Myanmar. So let’s start with the types of jobs available.
Type of Teaching Jobs Available in Myanmar
Unlike Thailand and other neighboring countries, government schools in Myanmar don’t hire foreign English teachers. Prohibiting the option of working at a public school severely limits the opportunities available to teachers, but there are still plenty of good teaching jobs out there.
1) Language Centers
Language centers are gaining popularity in Myanmar. Most of them are concentrated in Yangon, but there are other opportunities in cities such as Tachileik, Napyidaw, and Mandalay. If you’re familiar with the language center scene, you’ll know that the class sizes are generally small, and the teaching environment is usually centered around an individualized tutoring style of instruction.
The various language centers that operate throughout Yangon cater to different ages and usages of the language.
NELC-Xplore is a great language center to work for. They have an excellent reputation in Yangon because of their focus in community welfare. Their teachers often visit nunneries, orphanages, and local community spots. They also go on occasional cultural outings.
Wall-Street English is another extremely reputable language center in Yangon. They focus on business-English, and have a very corporate environment. They cater to adults and working professionals, and have other language centers all over the world.
I personally know people who have worked at both above schools, and they were happy with their jobs.
Language centers will usually want you to have a reputable TESOL certificate, and at least a bachelor’s degree. Some of them may only require a TESOL. Since most people attend language schools outside of normal work hours, it’s likely that if you work for a language center, your schedule will not follow your typical Monday-Friday 8-4.
2) International Schools
International schools will require much higher credentials. They usually want to see a bachelor’s in education, a TESOL, a couple years of experience, and a background check. International schools will typically offer higher pay, and a normal schedule.
Unfortunately, I’m unable to personally recommend an international school in Myanmar, but there is a lot of information about international schools in Myanmar online.
So those are your most common, legal teaching situations in Myanmar. There may be some loopholes available to find different types of opportunities, but language centers and international schools are the places most likely to have legitimate teaching positions available.
The Work Visa…
…There isn’t one!
At this point in time, there is no work visa that allows you to stay in Myanmar for any extended length of time. A business can sponsor you for a 70-day business visa. The cost for the visa is $50 USD. If you come to the airport with the correct paperwork, you can pay for the visa on arrival. The visa office is very strict on paperwork, and the condition of the money you use to pay for the visa with. If you get the business visa on arrival, you should pay for the visa in crisp USD. Be sure to doublecheck your documents, and that the money you use to buy the visa is untarnished.
Since there is currently no work visa for Myanmar, and the maximum amount of time you can spend in the country is 70 days, if you’re planning to teach for any considerable length of time in Myanmar, then you need to know that visa trips are going to be a frequent reality. Luckily cheap flights to Thailand, Malaysia, and other neighbouring countries are available pretty much all the time.
It’s important to understand that you need to leave the country every 70 days to renew your visa, as it is going to have a huge effect on your lifestyle. If you’re a jet-setter who doesn’t mind jumping over the border for a weekend getaway every couple of months, then these trips will be no problem; however, if commuting by plane or train every two months for a border-bounce sounds like a nightmare, then Myanmar might not be the best teaching destination for you.
Another important thing to mention about the frequent visa trip situation is that it’s a good idea to make sure your employer either agrees to pay for your visa trips, or provides a stipend for your trips. Ensuring that housing is included in your contract will save you a lot of money.
Speaking of money, let’s talk about banking.
Only Myanmar natives can open a bank account in Myanmar. This means that your employers will always be paying you in cash. This also means that if you want to deposit money in your home bank account, you will have to use a service like Western-Union or Money-Gram to transfer the money to a person in your home-country, who can then deposit the funds in your bank. It’s not difficult to use these services, but may be an annoyance if you are planning to make frequent currency transfers back home, and an important thing to know before you move there to start teaching!
Less Immigration Hassle
While visa trips in and out of the country may seem like somewhat of a hassle, it is nice to not have to constantly submit documents to the government, and wait in lines at immigration for check-ins. Also, the current system seems to cut out a lot of the long waits for personal documents to be reviewed, since your employer is likely the only party who will review your documents (degree, TESOL, background check).
Average Salary and Living Costs
The average salary for a teacher in Myanmar is around 800-1,500 USD a month. A lot of jobs will also include accommodations.
Myanmar can be a very cheap country to live in, especially if you live like the locals. This means that you must eat like the locals. There is a lot of foreign investment coming into Myanmar right now, and while things are generally cheap, there are plenty of options to splash out lots of dough.
Foreign food can cost almost as much as it does in a lot of Western countries, and there are a lot of restaurants and cafés that cater to the uber-wealthy. Beer is extremely cheap, but a lot of the hip places to go out in Yangon are rooftop bars, and their prices tend to be high.
For those of you who have been to Thailand, I personally found the cost of living cheaper there than in Myanmar. Then again, I didn’t enjoy Burmese food as much, and I ate foreign food several times a week. If you are conservative with your money, and you eat locally, I’d say it’s possible to save around $200-300 USD a month.
Rent in Yangon
Rent in Yangon is atrociously expensive. There is a high population density, and a limited amount of housing, high demand and low supply. Even slum-style apartments start at around $500 USD, and the price only goes up from there.
One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give to someone moving to Myanmar to teach English, is to make sure that your employer provides accommodation or gives you a stipend. It’s a good idea to kindly inquire about the conditions of the living space. Accommodations in Yangon (and the rest of Myanmar) can be rugged. If it’s a concern, you should ask about a western-style toilet, hot water, and AC.
A Beautiful and Rugged Environment
While Myanmar is a whirlwind of culture and beauty, it’s isolation from the rest of the world, internal conflict, struggle for independence, and immense poverty contribute to a pretty-rugged environment.
The power goes out frequently when it gets too hot, sometimes for long periods of time, your sink may or may not spit out black soot for a couple seconds before streaming clear water, and you may get sick from the food. I’ve travelled to a lot of places, and Myanmar is without a doubt the most rugged place I’ve ever been. You’re likely to see children working long hours in tea shops and restaurants, skinny dogs in the streets, and if you go outside of the city, you’ll see groups of people who need basic things like food and access to clean water.
I know I’m painting a bleak picture, but despite the problems that have plagued Myanmar in the past, it’s a country on the rise and things are rapidly changing. With the borders flung open, there’s an exciting buzz of change in the air. There’s honestly no better time to be in Myanmar right now, as it blossoms into this monumental period of its history.
Another good reason to come to Myanmar is that there are a million ways that you can help contribute to the welfare of the country, and countless opportunities to volunteer and make a difference.
Despite the rugged living, I honestly can’t wait to get back to Myanmar someday soon. It’s an amazing place bursting at the seams with energy and culture.
Lovely, Inviting People
Everywhere I went in Yangon I met people who invited me to all sorts of events and hangouts. Locals led me to Buddhist celebrations, dinners, language lessons, and hidden parks in the middle of the city. In some of the other countries I’ve visited, it can sometimes feel like there’s an invisible barrier between you and the locals, but this is just simply not the case in Yangon. I absolutely loved the people I met there.
While I had met some wonderful people in Bagan and Inle Lake, I found both of those places to have an aggressive focus on tourism, which ended up tarnishing some of the personal interactions I had. Yangon was nothing but feel-good friends all around.
What are Myanmar’s Students Like?
The students in Myanmar are very motivated to learn English, and are extremely respectful as well. During my time in Myanmar I taught schoolkids, child-monks and nuns, adults, and I even did a one-day event at an international school; I’ve run a pretty wide gamut of teaching situations in the country, and almost every experience I’ve had has been overwhelming positive. The students are great.
Which city should you teach in?
The three main cities in Myanmar with teaching positions available are Yangon, NayPyiDaw, and Tachileik.
Yangon is a very stimulating city that is on the rise. There is a good-sized expat community, and a lot to see and experience. It’s also an easy hub for getting to other areas of the country. This city has the most amount of teaching jobs available in the country. Yangon is one of the most expensive places to live in the country, but there is access to a lot more home comforts, and you are less likely to deal with things like frequent water and power outages, bug infestations, and black soot shooting out of your faucet (although I think I dealt with all of those in Yangon as well!). Yangon is also the only city with a real nightlife scene, so if you like to hit the town, Yangon will probably be your best choice.
Another thing to note about Yangon is that there are no motorbikes. Motorbikes are illegal in Yangon, and it’s rare if you see one lurking about the city. So if you’re a moto-fiend, this may not be the city for you. Taxis are pretty much your only option for inner-city travel, which is another thing that makes this city more expensive.
Yangon used to be the capital city of Myanmar, until the government suddenly moved the capital to Naypyidaw with very little explanation.
The rumor is that one of Myanmar’s core politicians had a dream that the city would be attacked. Overnight he declared Naypyidaw the new capital of Myanmar. Others have speculated it was a bureaucratic move to establish a more aesthetic capital city that’s more centrally located.
Either way, Than Shwe, Myanmar’s leader at the time, set-up a sprawling capital in Naypyidaw, and constructed new government buildings there. The city is massive.
Despite the allure of the new city, the local people of Yangon, having built their lives and businesses in the old capital, were not enthused with the idea of moving to Naypyidaw. The new capital has acquired the nickname The Ghost City because of its massive size, and small population density.
Since Naypyidaw is where all the government buildings are concentrated, the work you’re likely to find up there will most likely be centered around teaching adult diplomats. The architecture is gorgeous throughout the city.
Tachileik is on the northern border of Thailand, just five hours north of Chiang Mai. Of the three cities I’ve written about here, Tachileik is where you’re likely to have the most rugged experience. There are much less home comforts available, and it’s position as a border bounce town, and a historic opium smuggling hub at the tip of the golden triangle have given it a rough around the edges feel.
My friends who have lived there had no problems making friends with the locals, and have often told me about their deep immersive cultural experiences there. Being close to the border is also nice for the 70-day hop-over.
Food in Myanmar
If I’m being 100% honest, the cuisine of Myanmar is my least favorite of the region. I love Thai food, Malaysian food, Cambodian food, and Vietnamese food, but I just like Myanmar food. It could be that I got pretty tummy-sick from a batch of bad street food the first day I arrived, but who knows.
The food is a strange mix of curries, breads, soup-noodles, and fermented salads. Many of the street restaurants I ate at offered curries with mutton, chicken, pork, or prawns. Shan noodles is a very popular soup dish.
There is one dish that reigns supreme in all of Myanmar though, and that is the breakfast soup called Mohinga. Mohinga is a fish-broth soup flavored with thin noodles and crunchy soy topping. Each region of Myanmar has their own special way of preparing this morning staple.
Mohinga is one dish from Myanmar that I absolutely love. Mohinga is more than a food in Myanmar, it is a way of life. Start your day the Myanmar way with a fresh hot bowl of mohinga, tea, and a Nambya (flatbread naan style bread) or Jagoiu (Burmese fritter-style doughnut).
Feel Myanmar Food is a hugely popular restaurant in Yangon known for their high-quality authentic local food. It’s a delicious place with a great atmosphere. A great place to take guests.
777 was one of my favorite restaurants in Yangon. Their food is rich and delicious, and their menu is huge. 777 is also on a street that has a bunch of other good restaurants.
Anthony Bourdain has also done a segment on Yangon, and it’s worth watching because the restaurants he mentions are great.
Where to Live in Yangon
There’s basically two places that expats live in Yangon: Downtown, and the Dammayone district.
Downtown is more expensive, but the architecture and temples in that area are stunning. I really like Downtown. There are beautiful parks and lots of cafés and restaurants. Downtown is the more expensive living option.
Dammayone is where I stayed when I lived in Myanmar. It’s a little more rugged than Downtown, but there is a cool gastro-pub scene emerging. This is where most of the teachers I know live. Dammayone is cheaper than Downtown. One of the big expat hangouts in Dammayone is the restaurant Pizza Factory. They have awesome pizza, and they also serve mixed drinks. Go there on a Friday or Saturday night and you’re bound to meet some of the local expats.
The Rohingya Conflict
I’ve been asked about the Rohingya conflict a lot when talking about Myanmar. The Rohingya are a group of people that claim they are indigenous to western Myanmar. They are primarily Muslim, and the government of Myanmar doesn’t recognize them as Myanmar nationals, but as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Bangladesh also refuses to accept them as citizens.
Both Myanmar and Bangladesh are accused of terrible mistreatment towards the Rohingya. The conflict is actively happening in Myanmar now. While it is a true tragedy, and I sincerely hope for things to get better, there is no danger to expat teachers if you stay away from out of the areas of the Rakhine State that are occupied by the Rohingya.
Myanmar’s deep and tumultuous history, curious and loving people, unique cuisine, and archeological wonders, make it one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. Despite the challenging living standards, it’s a place I can’t wait to go back to.
If you love history and culture, then there’s no doubt that you should consider teaching abroad in Myanmar. There are over 137 different ethnic groups in the country each with their own story and culture. Not only is it an incredible place, but right now is an incredible time to be there.
If you have any questions for Justin or would like to add some additional advice for prospective teachers please leave your reply in the comments section at the bottom of the page.