Never teach English in Vietnam like this

Teacake Travels

Should you teach English in Vietnam?  As I said for Korea and Thailand, the answer is yes(!) but first check out my overall guide to teaching English abroad to fund your travels.  There are lots of tips and advice in there which will really help you. Vietnam is awesome for teaching but I personally did everything wrong when I worked here and I learnt the hard way.  Read on to avoid the same mistakes. 

Teach English in Vietnam

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What’s special about Vietnam?

  • The history! The Vietnam War! Need I say more?
  • The motorbike journeys – ride for your life on those school holidays!
  • The buzzing feeling you get walking down the city streets: colours, sounds, smells, smiles
  • Pho: the best noodle soup known to man
  • The freshly brewed street beer…and it’s cheap!

Why should I teach in Vietnam?

  • Excellent for newbie teachers looking to gain experience
  • The abundance of ESL jobs available
  • Option to choose a year contract or work part-time in different schools: lots of flexibility!
  • Did I mention the pho and freshly brewed beer?

What do I need?

  • A University degree and at least 100 hours in a TEFL Qualification
  • A bike: teachers moped around to get to their classes, particularly if they’re teaching part time in different schools.  Riding a moped is easy (if you’re calm and not an idiot) and if there was ever a ‘learn to ride a moped crash course 101’, Vietnam is it

How much money will I earn?

  • Wages are very good in Vietnam at the moment! Expect around $20 an hour minimum and more with good qualifications and experience
  • Tutoring privately can earn you a lot more money too

Who should I work for?

There are the big players like ILA and VUS but with any big company like this, there are reviews of them being poorly organised, not treating you very well and teachers being stressed out with lots of observations.  On the other hand, these companies offer the CELTA course every 5 weeks, 9-12 month contracts and they could be a very good first foot in the door.  Nonetheless, Teacake recommends talking to teachers already in Vietnam through friends and the net.  Research will get you far!

Where should I look for work?

The most popular website I found and the one I have used personally is TNH Vietnam. So many jobs and very reliable, apart from the job I found on there (see below)! As always, being in a country and actually looking for and talking to locals yourself is going to get you a much better job then applying hundreds of miles away.  Knock on doors, land a job through word of mouth.  That’s the best.  

Where did Teacake go wrong?

There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to publish this, because I feel like an idiot. You’ll probably read this and be like, ‘Teacake! You blonde bimbo!’  You live, you learn. That’s all I can say about this one because I really lost out here.  When you’re travelling, you always like to think that you know what you’re doing and are getting things right but even after 5 years of travelling, I still make mistakes.  There was that one time that I fell for the baby milk scam in Cambodia for example.  I was a sucker for that.  You can find out about that here.

When I was looking for work in Vietnam, I settled upon a job in Uong Bi, a small town between Hanoi and Halong Bay.  That was my first big mistake.  

1) Choose where you teach carefully: every place has its character and you may not suit it! I tried to convince myself that I was happy there but sleeping, eating and living where I was working was a nightmare to me.  No personal space, your boss always being there and not one other foreigner in town.  It’s just not teacake’s style.  I found the job online and it said not to worry about a working visa.  Fine, I thought, as I wanted to work quickly and start making money but this under the table business can get tricky.

2) Teaching on a working visa is understandably more legit than teaching on a tourist visa.  Many teachers do it across the world, working just on their tourist visa but it can be stressful at times, you might be found out and kicked out of the country and there’s little stability.  If you’re hoping to work in a country for a while, try and get a work visa.  You won’t have to keep leaving the country to renew, unsure if you’ll be let back in and you won’t have to worry about the police coming round uninvited to see if you’re working there illegally. My boss just kept handing over money to them to keep me there.  Not very comfortable at all and it was costing me to keep extending my visa.

3) Know what your working hours are and demand pay for overtime.  Stick to your guns at all times.  What was originally agreed for my schedule changed throughout the weeks.  Suddenly I was teaching an adult in the evening, a very rich business man, which my employer was very eager to please.  My boss assured me I would be paid overtime, so I agreed.  I kept teaching but then I got sick…

4) Make sure it is clear what cover you have: what are your holidays, do you have health insurance?  Unbelievably, the contraceptive implant in my arm broke.  I had to go to Hanoi to try and get it taken out and working in the situation I’d put myself in, I wasn’t going to get paid for any of those days off.  After a lot of digging in my arm, doctors couldn’t find it and take it out.  With 3 years worth of hormones breaking out in my body, I made the tough decision to go back home to England to sort it out.  At this point, my wages for my teaching job were already 2 weeks late…

5) Make sure you get paid.  If payment is late, that’s raising a serious red flag.  I told my boss I had to go.  This wasn’t really unexpected.  I had told him I had wanted to work for just 2 months from the start.  He said he didn’t have the money to pay me now but instead gave me one of his debit cards.  He told me to take it with me, that he would put the money on it and I could take out my wages in England.  ‘No problem’ I thought. I trusted him. Big mistake.  

What happened?

Of course, the money never came.  I never got paid a penny.  There was one more teacher who had started working at the school a couple of weeks before I left.  We kept in touch.  He eventually left too and yep, you guessed it, he never got paid either.  I believe in seeing the best in people but sometimes, people are just poo.

Moral of the story?

Work legally.  Research schools.  Try and talk to current and past employees there. Get a contract.  Read it carefully.  Stick to your guns and if you sense any fishy business, carefully consider how long you want to stay there until enough is enough.  Lesson well and truly learnt.

Have you not always done the best thing when working and travelling? If you want to discuss the bad stuff of teaching abroad, contact me personally for a good old natter <3

©Teacaketravels: Please do not copy and paste Teacake’s words and images into your own posts. If you like an image or want to take an excerpt of writing, please link it back. Thank you!

25 replies
  1. Christine Wickham
    Christine Wickham says:

    Hi Alice

    Great Blog , good insight into Do’s & Don’ts on your experience in Vietnam.

    I have NO experience in teaching , I’m willing to do a Teaching Certificate course in Queensland this year, what would you recommend.??

    I’m still working FT CSR administration roles, I’m over 60 years old, considering retiring in Vietnam & Bali maybe in year . I’m willing to do further training to upskill my knowledge base so I can support my living costs , also get to know the locals. I feel I have a great deal of working experience to share with people overseas.

    Look forward to hearing from you

    Warm Regards
    Christine

    Reply
    • Alice teacake
      Alice teacake says:

      Hi Christine. I definitely recommend doing a teaching course! A TEFL is an excellent start but if you want to go the whole hog for a month, there is the option of a CELTA too. Personally, as you have no experience teaching, I’d start with the TEFL first as it is a) cheaper and b) easier. Then, once you really know that you love teaching, go for the CELTA to fine tune your skills! I totally agree that you have a lot to share and teaching English to live and work abroad is going to be an amazing experience for you 😀 Good luck Christine and feel free to ask more questions if you need to!

      Reply
  2. Renee
    Renee says:

    Thank you for the article. I am considering using Ninja Teacher tefl program to teach in Vietnam but it is kinda pricey and I don’t want to be scammed by them. Especially since I will be going to the country to do the program and I have to do a deposit of I think $420. If you know anything about them that would be really helpful.

    Reply
  3. Johan van Iperen
    Johan van Iperen says:

    I am travelling to South East Asia the 5th of March and i would like to stay and work over
    there teaching English.I am a non native speaker and i do not have a tefl certificate.However
    i think my English is good enough to teach english to start with.And ofcourse iam willing to
    get this required certificate along the way,but when i arrive in SEA i want to start somewhere.
    Could somebody give me some tips.I would like to hear that.
    I am Johan 53 years old and i am Dutch.

    Kind Regards JP

    Reply
    • Alice teacake
      Alice teacake says:

      Hi Johan. I do recommend getting a TEFL certificate. Even if your English is great, even native speakers can not be the best teachers if they don’t know HOW to teach. There are so many techniques and skills you can learn by studying ESL, that will make your job easier and your students’ learning sky rocket! Regardless, there are plenty of opportunities to teach English in Southeast Asia and I know that if you go there, you’ll easily be able to find an opportunity. Once you land, ask around and you’ll be connected within no time.

      Reply
  4. Chelsey Holmes
    Chelsey Holmes says:

    Hey, so I’ve been looking for ways to travel long term in SE asia, and was definitely thinking of teaching english as probably the best option to support myself, I have yet to do more in depth research but I did read your comment that a university degree is required. I only have my associates degree, do you think they are flexible on this requirement?

    Reply
    • Alice teacake
      Alice teacake says:

      Hello Chelsey 🙂 Don’t you worry, there are jobs out there for you. The pay may be a little less and you might have to hunt a little harder but where there’s a will there’s a way and teaching in Asia….well, the rules can be bent. At the end of the day, if you’re a determined and excellent caring teacher, that is the most important thing <3 Good luck!

      Reply
  5. yussef
    yussef says:

    The title of your post, and it being high on my google search, drew me to this write-up. I don’t want to be a party pooper because each person has their own story and experiences, and it’s cool that you clearly put in a lot of effort to share with strangers.
    Buuut, I was really expecting some kind of crazy story about why not to teach in Vietnam. But the way I read it was actually teaching in Vietnam is no different than anywhere else in the world, you just had some specific circumstances that didn’t roll your way, and you were forced to to make choices in less than ideal circumstances.
    The good news is, the way I read it, you don’t have anything to really feel stupid about. Most people wind up with something much worse than this (and ironically don’t seem to be much upset about it). Where I might have a thin fishbone to pick with you is the title of the article (ok, get the reader in, fair play); but also your conclusion based upon your experience. I do think it’s unfair, based on your very specific set of circumstances, to go about telling others not to teach in Vietnam.

    Full disclosure: I’ve been teaching in East Asia for a few years; never been to Vietnam.

    Reply
    • Alice teacake
      Alice teacake says:

      I wholeheartedly believe people should teach in Vietnam. If you read the article again, you’ll see that I tell people not to teach in Vietnam like I did (i.e. no contract, not researching the place I was working in well enough) which are all very valuable lessons I would hate someone to have to learn themselves.

      Reply
  6. Hong Tang
    Hong Tang says:

    That’s really worse experience (a comment from a Vietnamese who supporting a Network of English centers 🙂

    So let’s join our volunteering program, visit our schools, understand more about Vietnamese and how crazy it people is 🙂 then sign the contract with the school you like the most!

    Reply
  7. Thomas
    Thomas says:

    Hi There,

    Great post!

    I am currently thinking of jetting of to Vietnam in the next few weeks to find a job. I have a degree and 4 years teaching experience in South Korea but I don’t have any kind of TEFL. Will this cause much of a problem? Is a TEFL essential? Will I not be able to get sponsored for a work visa without one? Thanks for any advice!!

    Reply
    • Alice teacake
      Alice teacake says:

      Hi Thomas! Thanks for your question. With this much experience behind you and it being Vietnam, I can’t believe this is going to cause you trouble. A TEFL is not essential but it certainly helps you score better jobs and a higher salary. You’ll be fine. Wishing you all the best with your new teaching adventure! Vietnam rocks <3

      Reply
  8. Peter Bergin
    Peter Bergin says:

    Is it possible to teach in Vietnam with a 20 year old drugs conviction which resulted in a fine? It info online contradicts itself.

    Reply
    • Alice teacake
      Alice teacake says:

      Asia is always looking for teachers and will not ask many questions to be honest! Vietnam is certainly more relaxed compared to other countries and I’m certain you will be able to find work easily. Good luck with your job search and venturing on an exciting, rewarding and highly enjoyable time as a teacher 🙂

      Reply
  9. Frances
    Frances says:

    Any advice for a 55 year old with HND., wishing to teach in Vietnam. I notice from research most jobs are targeted for the younger

    Reply
    • Alice teacake
      Alice teacake says:

      Hello Frances. Yes, there’s no denying that some companies will want to recruit a specific age range. Nonetheless, I know many ladies your age teaching English. It certainly is possible. My advice to you is to head straight to Vietnam and job hunt on the ground! You’ll be meeting employers face to face and they’ll see you shine 🙂

      Reply
  10. Sasha
    Sasha says:

    I definitely found it out the hard way myself! Thank you for sharing. I agree with you next time, we won’t make those mistakes huh? I lived in the big HCMC and it was crazy, hectic and parts of me loved it, parts of me hated it! Great first experience teaching though, the kids can really make your day sometime!

    Reply
  11. Karen
    Karen says:

    As someone who spent her first six months in Vietnam teaching (having been certified with a CELTA) I can say that figuring out the do’s and don’ts of teaching here is rough – but you did a great job rounding it all up! It sucks you had such a crappy experience there, but it’s not the first time I’ve heard of it. It turns out that beyond TNH Vietnam, VietnamWorks.com is fast becoming a great way to find teaching gigs (and all of the other gigs, too). Hanoi Massive on Facebook is also a great resource.

    But yes, research is key! And asking expats (just not the ones who have been there for five plus years and have never gotten a promotion… that’s a red flag that they’re sort of helpless/useless).

    Reply

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