Whether you have tired of the 9 to 5 office life, or you’ve just graduated from college and have no idea what to do with your English degree, something has drawn you to the possibility of moving abroad to teach English in Thailand.
After all, who wouldn’t want to move to a place nicknamed the Land of Smiles? But what is it really like to live and teach in Thailand, and how will you know if Thailand is the right overseas teaching destination for you?
With the Asian demand for foreign English teachers so high right now, there are plentiful teaching jobs in other countries all throughout the continent. In this article, we will take a look into the life of a teacher in Thailand, and explore the reasons why Thailand may or may not be the right teaching destination for you.
First, let’s take a look at the degree situation. Will you need a degree to teach in Thailand? Does your degree have to be in education?
A Bachelor’s degree or better-
The truth is that you don’t need a degree to teach in Thailand, but having one will make your life a lot easier.
The reality here is that the demand for teachers is so high, schools are willing to hire teachers who do not have a degree. Teachers who do not have a degree however, will not be able to get a work permit, and due to visa restrictions, will most likely have to leave the country every 30 days to extend their stay.
Having a work permit allows you to stay in the country for six months to up to two years a time, and will help you save a lot of money and hassle, by keeping you from having to make frequent trips to neighboring countries.
Teaching in Thailand without a degree isn’t impossible, but you will have to bounce over the border quite often.
But what about the type of degree you have?
If you have a degree that’s unrelated to education, it won’t make too much of a difference, and in fact, I’ve now taught with two other foreign teachers who came to Thailand with degrees in theatre.
That being said, the first agency I worked with gave me pay raises every quarter just based on the fact that I had a bachelor’s of English, so you may find that a degree in education or English will boost your earning potential.
Speaking of earning potential, let’s take a look at the salary you can expect to earn while teaching abroad in Thailand.
Teaching Abroad: The Salary Range for Foreign English Teachers in Thailand
Would you rather have time or money?
Thailand is not the ideal teaching destination for people trying to earn big bucks, or put a dent in student loan debt.
The general salary range of teachers in Thailand is between $800-2000 USD a month, with some outlier international schools offering higher wages. Most schools in Bangkok tend to pay higher wages due to the higher cost of living in the city, but the average wage throughout the country for teachers sits right around $1,000 a month. Click here for a more thorough breakdown of the types of schools and salaries available in Thailand.
Although the salary range could look small to western standards, comparable to the cost of living, foreign teachers can live a very comfortable lifestyle in Thailand, assuming they have no outside debts. The low exchange rate and modest salary make Thailand a difficult place to survive for anyone who has monthly student loan bills, credit card debts, or any other outstanding financial obligations.
If you are worried about making ends meet, or looking to stash away some savings, you might want to consider teaching in other countries like China, Japan, or South Korea. That’s not to say it’s completely impossible to save money while teaching in Thailand, but you may have to find tutoring jobs or additional work.
Click here for more information on saving money while teaching abroad in Thailand!
Teaching Abroad: Time for Travel
What Thailand lacks in teacher wages however, the Kingdom makes up for in opportunities to travel.
Thailand is primarily Buddhist, and the school calendar is packed full of religious holidays and three day weekends. Aside from the seemingly infinite random vacation days, classes are always being cancelled for random sporting events, teacher ceremonies, singing competitions, and all kinds of other cultural festivities.
Government schools offer some of the lowest paying salaries in Thailand, but often have more than 30 vacation days off each year. Sometimes these breaks are paid, and sometimes not. Be sure to talk about this with your school or agent, as it will ultimately depend on the contract you sign.
Private and international schools throughout Thailand are more likely to have breaks over western holidays, like Christmas, but usually have less vacation time over all.
So where do your priorities lie? Would you rather make money, or have time to travel? If your answer is time to travel, then Thailand may just be the best fit for you. However, if you are more interested in making money, I recommend considering alternate destinations.
Now let’s take a look at the actual teaching environment in Thailand.
Teaching Abroad: Would you rather have a fun or serious teaching environment?
One of the first questions I was asked when I arrived at the school I used to work at was “Do you like to sing and dance?” a seemingly innocent question that I wouldn’t learn the implications of until much later.
As a teacher in Thailand you are expected to be as much of an entertainer to the students as you are an educator. My school preferred to hire foreign teachers who were in their mid-twenties because they really wanted their teachers to be full of energy, and willing to play lots of games with the students. In many Thai public schools, western teachers are usually seen as the fun teacher, and often times the students and other teachers will expect you to live up to the title.
The Thai school system has a no-fail policy, meaning that the students will advance to the next grade no matter what kind of grades they may have gotten previously. What this means as a teacher, is that many of your students may not be motivated by grades. Since many of your students know they will pass their classes no matter what, some of your students may not even show up if they don’t enjoy your class.
The students will expect you to play games, sing songs, and do competitive classroom activities with them, and in order to earn their trust and cooperation, you will most likely have to play along. Whereas students in Japan, South Korea, and China are much more likely to be motivated by external pressures put upon them by the high expectations of their rigid societies, Thai students are generally under less external pressure, and are mostly motivated by fun.
I play guitar, love to dance, sing songs, and know plenty of classroom games, so focusing on fun in the classroom was never an issue for me. However, I have heard a couple fellow teachers refer to teaching in Thailand as being a “dancing monkey.”
If you are the type of person who wants to have a lot of fun in the classroom, and can handle an unstructured teaching environment, Thailand is a great choice. As long as your lessons are fun and you come to school prepared, you will have a lot of freedom with how to get to conduct your classes (dependent on the school). If the thought of preparing lots of games and songs scares you, you would rather take on a lecturer role, or you would prefer a highly structured and serious classroom atmosphere, Thailand may not be the best fit for you.
Thailand: Can you adjust to the laid-back Thai lifestyle?
Mai bpen lai, Sabai Sabai, Jai Yen Yen—these are all Thai phrases that carry roughly the same idea– relax, no worries, chill out.
Thailand is a very relaxed place. Thai hospitality is world renowned and broaching conflict and showing aggression are highly looked down upon in Thai society. Everyone is always smiling, and no one seems to be in a rush. But although this may sound like a paradisiac outlook, adjusting to the extremely laid-back Thai lifestyle can be a difficult and long process for some, especially when the hakuna matada perspective carries into the workforce.
Many Thais will avoid confrontation at all costs, which can ultimately hinder communication between you and the staff at your school. Things like class cancellations, important test dates, grade submission deadlines, random holidays, etc… are often not communicated to the western staff until the last minute, or not at all. It’s not that the other teachers are trying to be rude or withholding, but usually, they fear that you could have planned something during these important events, or that the information is already too late, and they would rather ignore acknowledgement of the situation all together, than to potentially make any waves. I have known many western teachers who have gotten fed up, frustrated, and even lost their cool because valuable information that could have been communicated never was.
The laid-back Thai perspective also greatly effects punctuality and scheduling. The first two-day English camp I ever did with my old school, I was told not to worry about preparing a schedule of events because the school had hired another company to orchestrate the outdoor activities. As we drove nearer to the camp location, and I watched the time slip well past when we were scheduled to arrive, I worried our tardiness would throw the agenda off, and affect this other company’s opinion of us. What I should have known, is that the company they hired would be extremely late, and wouldn’t even show up until the second day. Ultimately, the plan changed to me creating a schedule of events for the entire two-day camp, in a matter of minutes after we arrived.
I can tell you that the infamous Thai-time is very much a real thing, and that no schedule in Thailand is ever 100% accurate.
The sweet slow paced lifestyle of Thailand is really conducive to people who have a go with the flow attitude, or who are not intimidated by an extremely dynamic and sometimes chaotic school environment. If you think you may get easily frustrated with constantly changing schedules, spur of the moment call to actions, or last minute details, Thailand will be a difficult place to adjust. Although Thailand may be a difficult place to adjust for some, there are tons of things to love about it. If you like the list below appeals to you, there’s a good chance you will enjoy teaching in Thailand.
Characteristics of Thailand
Hot weather: Thailand is a tropical country with an average temperature of 30 degrees Celsius. Thailand is the place to be if you like hot weather. The dress code for men at many schools is long pants, and a long-sleeve shirt and tie. If wearing the aforementioned outfit in hot weather seems like an impossible feat, you may want to consider a country with colder weather.
Spicy Food: The majority of Thai people love spicy food! My girlfriend had a really hard time when we first got to Thailand because every restaurant we ate at served spicy food, no matter how many ways she tried to order it without the heat. Thailand is a great spot for pepper-heads.
Smiling: This may seem like a funny addition to the list, but smiling is a big deal in Thailand. There was a teacher who came to work at my school, and although he was a really nice guy, he suffered from R.B.F—resting bitch face. All of the other Thai teachers and students used to ask me why the new teacher was so angry, or mean. Even though he was a pretty nice guy, the Thais were scared to approach him just because of his sour expression. At the end of the semester the school asked him not to renew his contract.
Now no one is going to fire you for frowning on a tough day, but smiling and going out of your way to be friendly is a big part of Thai culture. The positive side of this is that generally, people are pretty happy and friendly in Thailand.
Going out to eat: If there is one thing that Thailand has no shortage of, it’s cheap delicious restaurants. In every town and city are local street stands, and shanty restaurants offering tasty dishes for $1-2 USD.
While there are plentiful food options all around the cities and towns, most accommodations are pretty lackluster when it comes to cooking facilities. Ovens are extremely rare, and it’s pretty common for most apartments and small houses to not have stoves. If you are like me, and you do not like to cook, there is no better place to live. However, if you enjoy making a home-cooked meal, and the thought of eating-out every day sounds unappealing, you may want to consider another destination.
Conclusion: Is Thailand the right teaching destination for you?
Teaching English abroad in Thailand can be an amazing experience. Personally, the last two years teaching in Thailand have been an experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything else in the world. But with so many other international teaching destinations available, I know that Thailand isn’t going to be the best country for everyone.
Thailand is the perfect teaching destination for someone who values time to live and travel over earning a high salary, has a relaxed go with the flow attitude, and can see themselves adapting to a somewhat chaotic and exciting education system. If you are looking for a more stable serious classroom environment, or you are focused on earning a high salary, you may want to consider some of the other international teaching destinations.
Happy travels, and good luck on whichever adventure you choose!
For more information on the cost of moving abroad to teach English in Thailand, click here!