A Non-Native Guide to Teaching English in Thailand

Everywhere on the Internet you read about native speakers’ experiences over how they found a teaching job in Asia, and very rarely do you get a breakdown by non-natives. Having lived in Thailand for a year as a non-native speaker, I can attest that there are as many non-natives in the Land of Smiles as there are native speakers doing teaching jobs, and I wish to outline my experience to hopefully help out or inspire others to do the same (while also shedding a bit of light on the mountain non-natives must surmount for opportunities abroad).

I will go over the challenges a person may undertake from looking for a job, to getting the necessary visa, followed by landing in Thailand and dealing with immigration, and finish off with additional information you can find online to learn more.

Table of Content

Background Information

The Job Hunt

The Visa Run

Landing in Thailand and Immigration

Further Information on Teaching Abroad

To start, the information I wish to provide can be utilized by both natives and non-natives, it’s geared towards those with any college degree, and you do not require any teaching qualifications. Native speakers and/or those with qualifications (TEFL, TESOL or CELTA) will naturally have an easier time job hunting and will be better positioned for the higher-paying jobs.

The academic calendar in Thailand starts in May and finishes in the following year of March. I would recommend early mid-September to November, and mid-February to April as the two hot spots to look and apply for jobs because those are when schools are closed for the first semester (October), or the academic year (March) and are actively seeking teachers.

Foreign teachers either sign on for a single semester or a year so there will always be schools looking for replacements. The best advice I can give is to try and secure a job in a remote area. Ironically enough, for non-natives, they tend to pay better than areas like Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Pattaya and to my best guess they pay better because they’re not as competitive as the urban or tourist spots and so they must do more to attract foreign teachers. On top of which, the cost of living in remote areas is not as steep as the urban and touristic counterparts.

However, if you’re adamant on being in one of the competitive areas your best approach is to secure a job in a less competitive space (the remote areas) and afterward you can try to look for another school once inside the country – because by then it’ll be a lot easier than doing it from the outside.

I identify three methods available to implement here. The first method is getting recommended to a school, the second is applying under an agency, and the third is independently seeking out a job.

  • The recommendation route: in a perfect world, this would be your way in, but to have such an option available would mean that you know someone who is currently working in Thailand or previously worked there. Getting recommended offers the least amount of hassles and typically only requires a current (or former) employee speaking on your behalf and you handing in your resume. I was recommended and I know two others who were as well (they were American and Brazilian respectively).

    Getting recommended for the job meant I had far fewer hurdles to navigate through and till today I’m still grateful to my friend for the recommendation; he is a South African native speaker and without him I probably wouldn’t have gotten hired. The only pitfall with recommendations is that you’re stuck with a school you might’ve not necessarily selected had it been otherwise.

  • The agency route: if you do not know where to begin or how to go about things, this can be a godsend. Agencies are a treasure trove of information about immigration procedures and work opportunities. Each one of them differ on what services they offer so try to stick to ones that: 1) will only get their commission from the salary you’ll receive once working, 2) they will do all the job hunting and update you with opportunities they’ve found for you, and 3) they will help you process your visa.

    The only shortcoming to using agencies is the commission fee you must pay for their services. Agencies make their money from getting a cut from your salary and as a non-native you will most likely be making around 20,000-35,000 baht (626-1096 US dollars). Some agencies have been known to take out up to ฿10,000 ($313) therefore this route might not be as gratifying to a lot of people.

    However, keep in mind that agencies do the grunt work of trying to find you opportunities and organizing interviews, and once you have a job, you are free to search for another one independently. My South African friend started with an agency and parted ways with them at the end of his contract.

  • The independent route: doing things independently means you can seek out the best opportunities at your own pace and style. The best avenues to find jobs is to either join Facebook groups where job hunters come together and exchange information (I recommend “Teachers in Thailand” and “Teaching Jobs in Thailand”), checkout job posting sites (the authoritative go-to site is ajarn.com), or go to Thailand and seek out jobs in person.

    The last method of physically going to Thailand is an option only available to those who are eligible for visas on arrival, and so it’s typically used with varying successes by native speakers and non-natives living close enough to Thailand. I know of those who found jobs having arrived with nothing, and I know, too, of those who left having been promised a lot but found nothing.

    The only matter to be aware of with being independent is that you will be dealing with schools personally so you must pay attention to what things they are willing, or able, to assist you with.

After securing a job this is the next challenge. Coming from a non-native nation means that the chances of your country having a Thai embassy are pretty low, and if this is your reality (as it was mine) don’t worry, you can still do the visa run. It just means that there is a designated embassy in another country that is meant to represent your region.

I come from Southern Africa and the countries there are represented by South Africa, the only country within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region to have an embassy. I had a coworker from Cameroon who had to get her work visa processed in Nigeria.

The visa run is like any other visa application for a foreign country: you download the information list from the embassy website (thaiembassy.org) and you ensure that you have the listed documents. For this step, there will be several things you will have to take care of on your own, and a few things your employer will have to provide you with for when you’re finally ready to hand in everything to the designated embassy.

Once you’re ready to hand in your documents you will have to either travel to the required country to submit in person, hand in your documents through a representative who resides within the country, or send your parcel directly to the embassy (due to time and security concerns try to use a reputable courier like FedEx or DHL as opposed to snail mail). I had a contact in South Africa and your contact doesn’t need to be related to you, mine was a university friend.

Big congratulations on having made it this far, and now for the final steps. The visa stamp in your passport only indicates that you can legally work in the country for the length of time it’s valid; once you land in the country the visa will be stamped with a “USED” marker across it and the date you arrived in Thailand. Now you have to be processed through immigration and issued a work permit.

Getting processed will be your school’s concern therefore they will guide you through that step. All you need to be aware of is that from now on every 90 days you have to go back to the same immigration office that processed you and report in.

Whenever you “check-in” you are given a stamp in your passport of the date you checked in and the next date you’re supposed to return for the next check-in. If you’re late, you will get a fine for every day you’re tardy. Be aware, however, that when checking in you don’t have to stick to the designated date; you can report in on any business day within seven days prior to the date.

And with that, that is the most integral information you require to know about teaching in Thailand. I hope all this information will be of use to aspirants seeking to teach while being an eye-opener for others. Good luck for the future!

Below are blog sites and YouTube channels that can be useful in helping you learn more about teaching abroad.

YouTube

AgiesESLdiary: a Filipino teacher who talks about living and teaching in Thailand from a Filipino point of view. Her advice is targeted towards her fellow countrymen but applicants from Southeast Asia can also pick-up tips.

Carli Mitch: an American that gives tips on landing teaching jobs abroad and online, but also gives attention to non-natives of color.

Ian Leahy: an American who offers hard truths about teaching in Asia and navigating through it.

Teach Abroad Network: a page that gives all sorts of resources and advice on teaching abroad from an individual with experience being a hiring manager for English teachers in Asia.

Blogs

Hammock Stories: the experiences of Thailand from a Finnish non-native.

See TEFL: a language school in Thailand that gives basic information on teaching in Thailand for non-natives.