A small but growing regional power has taken the Southeast Asian ESL game by storm in the last decade as thousand of teachers flock to teach English in Vietnam.
Let’s dive into the ESL scene in Vietnam, the work-life experience for teachers, and how to land your dream job in a major city like Hanoi or a rural rice-growing village, whichever environment you prefer. See for yourself why it made ousr list of the 7 best Asian countries to teach English.
About teaching English in Vietnam
In a bid to attract more qualified teachers, Vietnamese schools tend to pay much higher salaries than those in neighboring Southeastern countries like Cambodia or Thailand (See more on the salary to teach in Thailand).
Vietnam is home to bustling mega-cities with all the modern amenities and stunning, verdant rural landscapes alike – so it’s got something for everyone.
What are the requirements to teach English in Vietnam?
Here are the general requirements to teach English in Vietnam:
- 4-year college degree. You’re likely going to need a 4-year university degree as it’s essentially a ubiquitous, baseline qualification for any job.
- Clean background check. Some schools have creative visa workarounds to get teachers’ paperwork done without submitting a background check, but, in most cases, you should be prepared to show proof of a clean criminal history,
- Native speaking status (sometimes but not always). Some hiring managers prefer native speakers, but others are open to any nationality as long as the candidate speaks solid English. I taught alongside Ukrainians, Nigerians, and Egyptians, just to name a few of the non-native nationalities who successfully find work in Vietnam.
- TEFL certification. More and more schools require a TEFL certification, along with a university degree, as a standard credential.
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Caveat: Many of these requirements are flexible and differ from school to school. If you find a posted job ad that you’re really interested in, go ahead and submit your application anyway. You might be surprised to find how willing schools are to accommodate an enthusiastic candidate who impresses them.
Don’t have a degree? See how to teach English in Thailand without a degree.
Teaching in Vietnam: salary and cost of living
Let’s get down to brass tacks: salary and cost of living in Vietnam.
How much do teachers make in Vietnam?
We have to get this out of the way upfront: you have no chance of getting rich teaching English in Vietnam (unless you open and run a successful school).
The best you can hope for finance-wise is to make more than enough to live comfortably while you’re there and squirrel away a nice chunk of change to eventually return home with.
That said, Vietnamese schools tend to pay more than those in neighboring lands. For instance, many Thai schools pay a baseline salary to Western ESL teachers of $1,000/month. Same thing in Cambodia and Laos.
In Vietnam, working the standard 40 hours/week with about 20 of those hours actually in the classroom, you won’t take home less than $1,500/month in most schools. In the big cities, where the cost of living is higher, it’s common to exceed $2,000/month. You might make less in rural areas, but with the benefit of a lower cost of living.
Living in a larger city like Hanoi will cost more than rural Vietnamese villages
Benefits for teachers in Vietnam
Aside from the pay, Vietnamese schools offer numerous auxiliary benefits that can significantly reduce your monthly expenses. Examples include:
- A free apartment (usually within or right next to the school complex)
- Free lunch (if you work at a conventional school)
- Free use of a motorbike
- Health insurance (although the cost of medical care in Vietnam is already exceptionally low and affordable for most expats)
What’s the cost to live in Vietnam?
Even in Ho Chi Minh City, one of the most expensive places in Vietnam, according to Numbeo, the cost of living is extremely low compared to advanced Western economies:
- A full-course restaurant meal will cost you $2.12
- A dozen eggs from a supermarket will cost $1.55 (even less if you buy from a streetside vendor)
- A bus ride costs 30 cents
Skyline view of the metropolis of Ho Chi Minh
The bottom line: if you’re making $1,500/month in Vietnam – which, again, is on the lower end of the typical pay scale – it’s entirely possible to save half of that or more. If your school provides an apartment and/or motorbike, that monthly living cost drops even lower.
Types of English teaching jobs in Vietnam
Let’s get into the major types of English teaching jobs available in Vietnam.
Language centers are everywhere in Vietnam. I taught in a city called Lao Cai, located in the extreme northern mountains on the border with China. The population of the city wasn’t more than 100,000 – yet there were at least 15 language schools that I knew of. They were always – and by that I mean literally constantly — recruiting teachers.
Language center job pros:
- The pay is more competitive. In most instances, $16/hour is the minimum a native teacher can fetch. $20/hour is common.
- Dress requirements are often laxer in language centers. I taught in t-shirts, even covered in tattoos as I am.
- If you’re into teaching adults, many language centers cater exclusively to adults, especially ones interested in Business English to further their careers.
Language center job cons:
- Because private language schools often have contracts with public schools to conduct English lessons, you might have to do a bit of traveling within the area where you live.
However, it’s incumbent on the school to provide transportation or cover the cost. That said, they probably won’t compensate you for travel time.
- You’ll be expected to work nights and weekends. Of course, this could be a pro or a con depending on your schedule preferences.
Public schools, perhaps aside from language centers, are the most prevalent institutions hosting foreign ESL teachers in Vietnam.
Public school pros:
- If you’re truly interested in teaching to make a difference in the lives of students who need the most help, consider a public school. You’ll be teaching some of the more economically and socially disadvantaged students in the country, and still making decent money doing it.
- Less stringent expectations. This isn’t to say that you won’t have any oversight or performance expectations, but because of the management structure and the reality of the less resource-rich environment and relative less, schools will realistically expect less in the way of documented progress.
Private schools – often under heavy pressure from parents – are more demanding in terms of results in the form of improved test scores, etc. for students.
- Public schools are located literally everywhere in Vietnam, even in rural areas, so if your heart is set on a hut next to a rice field to get a taste of the jungle life, there’s a public school nearby down some dirt road that likely needs a foreign English teacher.
Public school cons:
- You’ll statistically make less than in private schools.
- You’ll likely be teaching 30+ students at a time, in all probability in a classroom with no AC and, if you’re lucky, a series of ceiling fans as the only means of ventilation.
- You will have minimal support from administrative staff. If you’re fortunate, they’ll give you a Vietnamese teaching assistant (TA) to help control the large class sizes, but in more impoverished regions, you won’t even have that. Your teaching materials will likely consist of a blackboard and, perhaps, a projector to hook a laptop up to for digital materials.
If you’re interested in adding a serious credential to your resume and racking up big money at the same time, consider a type of private institution known as an “international school.”
“International schools” are found worldwide, usually serving elite and highly educated native families as well as the families of well-monied international residents like highly skilled foreign workers, diplomats, etc.
International school pros:
- The money, Lebowski. You’re going to make a lot of it. At least $3,000/month, sometimes more depending on your experience and qualifications.
- Work experience at an international school is a major notch on your belt. If you’re serious about climbing the ESL career ladder, working at an international school is a solid move.
- You’ll have an enormous and well-resourced support team of administrators, counselors, etc. behind you to enhance your teaching work and provide more opportunities for professional development.
International school cons:
- International schools are highly competitive. Whereas the other school types we’ve discussed here are plentiful (you can literally find a job within a few days), international schools are much more selective about whom they hire.
- You’ll probably end up in a major urban center like Ho Chi Minh City in the south or Hanoi in the north. If you’re trying to get out into the “real” Vietnam for some fresh air, you won’t find international schools there because the clientele doesn’t live there.
Kindergartens are separate institutions from primary schools, and often include preschool age groups as well.
- Lesson planning is super easy. There’s no complicated material to teach – just a lot of fun songs and interactive activities to teach the most basic vocabulary and grammar.
- Less teaching hours required than positions teaching older students (usually just a few per day).
- Many people, such as my wife, find Asian children overwhelmingly cute.
- Kindergarten teachers are expected to be highly energetic – teaching is more of a performance than an academic exercise. Lots of dancing, singing, etc.
- Large class sizes (20+ in public kindergartens)
- Many kindergartens have a strong preference for female teachers based on the belief that women make better caretakers of young children.
Where to teach English in Vietnam
The preponderance of ESL jobs are located in the three largest cities:
- Ho Chi Minh
- Da Nang
Of course, jobs are available throughout Vietnam, but they’re less plentiful and more difficult to find.
The picturesque Da Nang Sea
How to find English teaching jobs in Vietnam
Let’s briefly outline a solid strategy to find jobs to teach English in Vietnam.
Where to start
Job Boards are a great place to start, especially if you’re not physically in Vietnam but want to nail down a position before you leave home. Solid Vietnamese ESL job boards include:
- Vietnam Teaching Jobs
- Craigslist (yes, really. I found my position on Craiglist.)
Facebook Groups like BeLi are also great resources. In addition to connecting teachers with employers, they also facilitate interaction between teachers to exchange tips, avoid scams, etc.
To find higher-end work, particularly at international schools, create a profile on LinkedIn.
How to get hired
Here’s the basic process to get hired:
- Get your documents in order. That includes: a passport valid for a minimum of six months from your anticipated start date, your college diploma, your TEFL certificate (and digital photocopies of all three), a clean-cut headshot, and, in most cases, a criminal background check.
- Scour the job boards above. Commit to sending out a minimum of two applications per day (most of which are simply emails with no need for lengthy forms). Always include all the digital copies of the above documents in your applications.
- Follow up with any recruiters who don’t respond within a week.
- Wait for the job offers to roll in. You’ll be surprised how many of your applications garner interest from schools, which are often desperate for teachers.
- Be patient. Weigh your options and talk to at least a few schools before committing to one. Don’t jump at the first opportunity you get; many, many more will follow.
- Ask to speak to a current or, better yet, a former teacher to get an idea of what the job is like and how reliable the school is about visa support, payment, etc.
What visa do you need to teach English in Vietnam?
You’ll need a business visa and a work permit to legally teach English in Vietnam.
Here’s my wife’s visa, whom I met while teaching English in Vietnam:
True to its bureaucratic communist roots, the Vietnamese government absolutely loves paperwork – volumes and volumes of it. Get your pen ready, because you’ll be filling out more forms for your visa than the cumulative sum total of documents you’ve signed up until this point in your life.
Note that some teachers have been known to teach without any significant issues on a tourist visa. Some employers might tell you that your tourist visa is okay to use to teach.
This is risky for two reasons:
- If caught, you face hefty fines and possible banishment from the country
- If a dispute ever arises with your employer, which often happens – for example, they won’t pay you – then you have no legal recourse to force them to pay up.
What’s it like being an English teacher in Vietnam?
I have never encountered a population more dedicated to improving their English skills than the Vietnamese. The country has an intense academic culture. Students study seemingly all day and are very well-disciplined.
When I took off to teach in Northern Vietnam, which was the heart of the Viet Cong that fought the imperial French and then American forces in the Vietnam War, I was a little apprehensive because I believed there might be some remnant anti-American sentiment.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Vietnamese are extremely warm towards Americans (and other foreigners). Their economy has boomed in recent years and they are very forward-looking in their orientation.
Life is very different in Vietnam than in the West. The country only relatively recently opened its arms to foreign influence, and so retains a uniqueness that many expats in search of the “exotic” life find attractive.
You’ll be impressed, for instance, by what the resourceful Vietnamese can get done on a motorbike and, more specifically, what they can carry. Road rules mean much less there.
Here’s a bike on a bike – very metaphysical:
Get ready for some culture shock. This includes certain regions of Vietnam that have an appetite for, among other unusual cuisine, dogs. Here’s a picture I snapped at a local market in Lao Cai:
Every aspect of their way of life might not be for you – but, remember, as long as you’re in their country, you’ve got to accept it.
For a few handy tips on navigating worklife in Vietnam, check out the interview below:
FAQs About Teaching English in Vietnam
Let’s run down a few frequently asked questions (FAQs) about teaching English in Vietnam.
Is teaching English in Vietnam worth it?
Yes. The relatively high pay (compared to regional alternatives) and the low cost of living make for a wise financial decision to teach English in Vietnam.
Can I teach English in Vietnam without a bachelor’s degree?
Not in most instances. There are some creative workarounds, but it’s a baseline requirement for most schools as well as for a visa.
Can non-native speakers teach English in Vietnam?
Many schools have preferences for native-speaking teachers, but there are also positions open to non-native speakers.
Are English teachers in demand in Vietnam?
English teachers are in extremely high demand in Vietnam. It’s a seller’s market.