Never teach English in Vietnam like this

By Alice Teacake

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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

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 to teach English in Vietnam?

A University degree (ideally!) and at least 100 hours in a TEFL Qualification.

Get your TEFL certificate

Get 35% off your TEFL course here with code TEA35

No degree? No problem!

If you do not have a degree, it can be much harder than it used to be to teach English in Vietnam. The rules now are generally that you need to have a TEFL certification and 3 years’ teaching experience.

Find out what you must do if you have no degree

No TEFL and little experience? Do an internship!

If you want to get a TEFL certificate and teaching experience at the same time, why not excel in your English teaching and take part in an internship?

Doing an internship (some with a full paid salary) will give you everything you need to get your dream job straight away!

Click to learn more about doing an internship here

You’ll need a moped too

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 aware) and if there was ever a time to throw yourself in at the deep end and  learn to ride a moped, Vietnam will keep you very busy indeed!

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 I 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.

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.

Teaching on a working visa is 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.

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…

Know what entitlements you have

What are your holidays, do you have health insurance? Unbelievably, the contraceptive implant in my arm broke whilst I was in Vietnam. 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 later…

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.

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, 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.

Comment Below

Have you taught English in Vietnam? What are your recommendations?

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30 things to know before going to Vietnam


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About Alice Teacake

I'm a feminist British kickass solo female traveller who believes in women facing their fears, pushing their boundaries and reaching their full potential through solo adventure travel! I have been featured in Nat Geo Traveller UK, Lonely Planet, the Daily Mail and Buzzfeed and spoken about solo female travel safety on BBC One, whilst working with a bunch of awesome brands. Follow me for travel advice and inspiration, so you can go forth and challenge yourself to reach your own personal goals!

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Never teach English in Vietnam like this

  • 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?

    1. 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!

  • 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.

    1. 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.

  • What do you know about Ninja teacher’s Vietnam or Cambodia programs and success stories? Legitimate?

    Thanks! Jeff

    1. Hey Jeff,

      I am also wondering the same thing! Do you know if it is a scam? Let me know if you found anything out please

  • 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!

  • 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!!

    1. 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