There are many reasons why people in their early 20s choose to travel. As kids, we usually have the first 20 or so years of our lives roughly planned out. First, you go to primary school until you’re around 12, then secondary/high school until you’re 17-19, and then, if you want, you go to college for another 3-4 years.
After that, we’re just left teetering on the edge of adulthood, with little more than an arts degree, a rough idea of how to fry an egg, and an assurance that you’re well prepared to face the big, bad, post-education world. For many, post-college life is the first time they have been left to their own devices. Those of us that don’t fall directly into a career are faced with a lot of uncertainty in terms of what to do next.
You could move home with your parents and save money that way, which is a waking nightmare for those of us who have only just tasted independence for the first time. Or, if you have the funds, mental fortitude, and a masochistic streak in you, you could stay in education and work towards a master’s or Ph.D.
For those of us who don’t fancy that, emigration is a tempting option. Finding work abroad is tough, however, and most jobs nowadays (that pay actual money) exclusively hire 22-year-olds with 23 years of experience.
That’s where teaching English comes in. The demand for English teachers around the world is always growing and you can go almost anywhere in the world with the right qualification. Many people choose to go to the Middle East to teach because of the high pay, but it is not ideal for many due to some social issues, particularly the treatment of women. European countries are great, but they have a higher cost of living and usually require a more expensive teaching qualification. Africa and South America are options as well but are not as easy to come by and don’t usually pay very well.
Asia, particularly southeast Asia, is the most popular region for English-speaking expats and Vietnam is the one that has the best conditions for teachers.
Despite what preconceptions your parents and older work colleagues may have about Vietnam, it’s not 1963 anymore and Vietnam is one of the safest countries you could have the pleasure of living in in 2021. Don’t be deterred by questions like “why would you want to go to that place?” and “isn’t that a little too close to North Korea?” Here are some advantages of teaching in Vietnam.
Low cost of living
Vietnam has a very low cost of living compared to wages offered to foreign teachers. To give you an example, street food in Hanoi could cost you around 35,000 VND, which is roughly €1.30. It’s actually cheaper to eat out every day rather than cook. Also (and far more importantly) the Bia Hoi’s scattered all over the country serve beers that cost as low as 5,000 VND. That is literally the equivalent of €0.18.
The cost of rent will vary from city to city, but, if you know where to look and are patient, you can get a place for between €70 and €150 if you don’t mind sharing with several other expats. If you want a studio or two-bed apartment, you could pay between €200 and €600 (although 600 is very high-end). There are great Facebook pages like Hanoi Massive Housing that make it much easier to find a good place.
If you’re very lucky, the school or English centre you teach at will provide you with accommodation for free (although you kind of have to take what you get).
Perhaps the biggest attraction of teaching in Vietnam is the pay. Depending on what type of job you get, you will be earning more than enough to live and eat comfortably, have a great social life, and even be able to save some money. I know that being able to have all of this at once may seem like sci-fi, but it is a reality!
Friendly and welcoming people
Former and current expats in Vietnam say this so much it does actually start to get annoying, but that doesn’t make it any less true. You could travel all over the world and still struggle to find people more welcoming than the Vietnamese.
It may seem aggressive at times and people who are from less friendly nations may even become a little suspicious, but I promise you it’s genuine. If you want to see for yourself, just go to a Bia Hoi outside an expat area and see how long it takes a group of Vietnamese guys to insist you join them for several shots of rice wine.
However, keep in mind that they are still humans, so you will likely come across the odd creep or scumbag, but, generally, the people will make your time there so easy.
There’s a lot more to Vietnam than the daily grind. You will most likely be working in one of the big cities like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, which are both surrounded by several stunning tourist destinations. If you’re in Hanoi, for example, Ha Long Bay, Ninh Binh, and Ba Vi National Park are all within a three-hour drive of you. There are buses and trains that travel to these locations regularly, but, if you feel like travelling on your own schedule, you can drive yourself. Just be careful.
As mentioned above, eating in Vietnam is absurdly cheap, but cheapness in price does not equate to cheapness in quality. The wealth of different foods available is incredible, with every region in Vietnam having its own unique dishes. No matter where you are, you’re bound to eat well.
Getting a visa
It’s well and good wanting to start teaching in Vietnam, but actually getting there is not as easy as some of us (particularly us privileged EU citizens) are accustomed to. The bad news is that you do have to go through a visa application process, the good news is that it really isn’t that difficult.
How to apply
All visa applications can be done online through sites like Vietnamvisa.pro or vietnam-visa.com. On these sites, you will fill out an application form and pay for an invitation letter. This letter will be emailed to you. You then get it stamped on arrival at the airport in Vietnam and pay a further fee for processing (usually only about $20). They expect payment in either USD or VND so try to have those currencies on hand. If you don’t, don’t worry, there’s usually an ATM near the desk.
The processing of your passport can take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour depending on how busy it is. So, get comfortable and listen out for your name.
Length of stay
Using these websites, you can apply for a 30 or 90 day, single or multiple entry tourist visa. This will cost from €11 to €42, depending on the type of visa.
Up until relatively recently, you could get away with teaching in Vietnam with just a tourist visa, doing visa runs to Thailand, Laos, or Cambodia every three months. An excuse for a weekend of partying in Bangkok every three months was fantastic, but, unfortunately, the government has begun to crack down on this, so you will likely have to do a single visa run and re-enter on a work permit sponsored by your employer.
Unbelievably, a charming smile and piercing blue eyes aren’t actually enough to land a job, and you do need to bring a few things with you.
On top of your visa, there are some other things you need if you want to work legally in Vietnam:
- A bachelor’s degree – some schools may even ask for your original certificate
- TEFL certificate or equivalent
- A health check
- A police background check dated no more than 180 days before arrival
- A valid passport (obviously)
Finding a job teaching in Vietnam
Finding a job is a lot easier than you might think, and there are so many schools, centres, daycares, and even private tutoring companies who are crying out for western expats to come and teach with them.
However, the amount of money you earn and the general enjoyment you will have during your time in Vietnam depends heavily on the job you get. So, what are your options?
Types of jobs and how much they pay
English centres: €14 – €30 an hour
English centres are the most popular job for western expats. Well-known schools include APAX, Apollo, VUS, and ILA. They usually involve evening and weekend classes attended by students of all ages, so your classes tend to be varied. This has positives and negatives. You can be teaching a class of genuinely engaged and enthusiastic students, then be with a class of screaming, vomiting toddlers immediately afterwards. Swings and roundabouts.
The amount of pay you get may also depend on your education and experience. If you have an actual teaching degree, for example, you could potentially earn a monthly salary of more than €2000.
The downside to teaching at an English centre, however, is that you are very unlikely to have consecutive days off and will probably only have one day off a week. This isn’t all bad since the average teaching hours are around 17-20 a week.
Public schools:€14 – €30 an hour
The school you will likely be teaching at if you land a public school job is Vinschool. Which is like an education franchise found all over Vietnam. Although there are many other schools that you could teach at.
Here you get paid the same hourly rate, have more consistent hours, and get more days off than those at an English centre, but you pay for it by dealing with much larger class sizes and having a much less active social life.
International schools:€3,000 – €4000 per month
This is the big one. A high-paying job where you usually teach the children of wealthy expats from all over the world. International school jobs are a bit of a golden goose for expats and are not as easy to come by. To get a job here, you need a more advanced teaching degree (TEFL probably won’t cut it) and real experience. Essentially, you need to be an actual teacher.
If teaching English doesn’t appeal to you, you can teach other subjects here too.
Private tutoring:€15+ per hour
Tutoring jobs are usually landed through the parents of the kids you teach at an English centre. They involve visiting the family homes and teaching 1-5 students in a more personal setting. You can charge what you want here (within reason) as parents who ask for extra tutoring can usually afford quite a bit.
There are many other types of jobs you can get by searching through social media posts or by using some good old-fashioned entrepreneurial spirit and offering extra services to your students (proofreading etc).
You can get shifts at creches or preschools, or offer your services as a sports coach. There are always opportunities out there.
Where to look
Even though there are plenty of employment opportunities available for those teaching in Vietnam, it can be hard to know where to start.
Here are some places to look for work.
Apply through your TEFL school
If you’ve completed your TEFL certificate online or in-person with one of the many schools out there, you’ll be able to apply for centres and schools in your city of choice through the TEFL website. This eases the pressure of arriving and having to start looking while you’re also finding your feet. For those of you that have never been to a Vietnamese city before, chaotic is not the word.
Also, if you completed your TEFL certificate online, your school will likely lead directly to a job.
Register with an agency
This is ideal if you’re looking for work in public schools. There are recruitment agencies in all of the major cities. The job you are offered may vary, however, and you could get a contract position, or end up working as a supply teacher and end up working in different schools every day to cover teachers who are on vacation or help certain schools during particularly busy periods.
Make sure you have an updated CV and cover letter. They’re gonna ask for it anyway and it’s difficult to write about your unparalleled professionalism while getting hammered at a party hostel.
You may rightly see Facebook as an increasingly unbearable moral den of iniquity, but it is an invaluable resource for those teaching in Vietnam. Communities like Hanoi Massive Community and Expats in Saigon are full of job postings that you can follow up on. Again, these can be dodgy at times, so be careful.
Show up and wing it
This one is the most fun and it’s perfect for expats who are allergic to forward-planning.
It can be risky to show up with no real plan, but there are so many opportunities for anyone teaching in Vietnam that you’re guaranteed to find something. Look up schools and centres in the city, and email them directly. Or you can show up in person with a crisp CV and a can-do attitude. Just try not to smell like booze – Hanoi old quarter is probably too much fun.
Preparing for Vietnam
Aside from your visa and relevant travel documents, there are some other things you need to have before showing up to start teaching in Vietnam.
Depending on the strength of your stomach and how well-travelled you are, you may not need to worry as much about bringing medicine to Vietnam, but you’d be wise to come prepared. Due to the vastly different diet, water quality, and pollution in some Vietnamese cities, the majority of expats spend a couple of days or nights in their first weeks in Vietnam either hunched over or glued to a toilet seat. You may not need nausea pills, but it’s better to have them, just in case.
If you’re teaching in Vietnam, it’s next to impossible to avoid getting on a motorbike at some stage and accidents do happen. Make sure you have some basic first aid supplies like plasters and disinfectant to get you through a few scrapes.
We’ve all heard enough about vaccines over these two years to know the benefits of a few jabs. Even before COVID-19, it was important to get your shots before boarding a plane to anywhere in Asia. Here are some vaccines you need:
- Hepatitis A & B
Everyone’s experience teaching in Vietnam is different. You might find a job immediately or you might need to wait a little while. But it’s a great experience. Do your research, keep your head, don’t be a dick, and you’ll be fine.