Welcome to the next interview in our ESL Around the World Series! It’s a series meant to inspire people who are considering teaching English abroad. This post is all about teaching English in Vietnam!
From the healthiest Asian cuisine to the culturally rich cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam is exotic and intensely chaotic all at once. It’s a country with a tumultuous past but they’re looking towards the future.
As the country becomes more developed, more opportunities are opening up and the need to speak English is greater than ever. So without further adieu, let’s take a closer look at what it’s like teaching English in Vietnam.
Hey, I am Ross The Explorer. A travel, nature, and war history enthusiast who has been on the road for the last 3 years.
My ‘warm-up trips’ were a month in India in 2009 and a month traveling around Europe in 2013.
In 2015 after quitting my mind-numbing job I moved to Australia for a year. I camped in the Great Australian Bight, got lost and perhaps nearly died in Northern Territory, worked for a crime boss, and found a decent pub job in a small mining town.
After Australia, I was making my way up to Beijing to find work and celebrate the Chinese New Year. Plans changed. I ended up coming to Vietnam, failed at a few jobs, got blacklisted from the country, paid a bribe to get back in, and have now been teaching English in Vietnam for over a year.
Now that you’ve gotten a bit of Ross’s backstory, let’s jump into the interview!
Teaching English in Vietnam
Where do you teach and what is your position?
I teach in Vinh, a city of 490,000 people located in central Vietnam. I work at a language center, we operate on weekends and in the evenings.
What are the hours and pay like?
Last year I lived in Vinh Yen. When I factor in yearly bonuses, housing allowance, tax, and rent my hourly wage came to around $22.60.
With Vinh being a more popular city to live in the yearly bonus is less. Here I probably make around $21.80 an hour.
*Vinh Yen is a town 50 km north of Hanoi. Vinh is a coastal town in Central Vietnam.
What is a typical day like teaching English in Vietnam?
I work at a language center so we work in the evenings and on weekends. Evening classes run from 5:30 – 8:45, weekend classes start at 8 am and run through till 8:45 pm (teachers will work a mix of morning, afternoon, and evening sessions).
Classes have a maximum of 16 students in them, meaning you can engage with them as individuals and not just a collective. The syllabus is delivered via an interactive smart board, with my younger students (5-9-year-olds) I incorporate games and flashcards into the lessons. With my older students (10-14-year-olds) I like to use YouTube videos. The Red Bull sports videos often get a positive reaction.
What are the pros and cons of teaching English in Vietnam?
PROS – We get Christmas and TET (the Vietnamese equivalent of Chinese New Year) off and six other flexible days. If you work in the Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh branches it is not difficult to find cover if you need more holiday.
CONS – One frustration is dealing with students who are completely disengaged and are only attending lessons because of their parents’ desires. You have to put in twice the effort for half the reward with these kids. Ultimately some of these students will not respond to the carrot or stick approach.
What do you need to teach English in Vietnam?
In Vietnam, it is not uncommon to find people working cash in hand, under the radar. The practice is illegal and I would discourage it but teachers, schools, police, and the government all know it happens.
To work legally in the country you need a degree, a TEFL certificate (an online one is sufficient), and both a health and police check (which you can obtain in Vietnam).
Unless you are applying for prestigious international schools and managerial positions then previous teaching experience is not commonly required. Schools put much more emphasis on your ability to teach than any certificates you may have.
Most schools will happily get rid of you with little notice if students and parents are not happy with your performance.
What’s the best way to find a teaching job in Vietnam?
I cannot comment on the elite positions but for all other jobs, Facebook is king.
Why did you choose to live and teach English in Vietnam? What do you like and dislike about it?
After living and traveling around Australia for a year I was planning on working my way towards China, finding a teaching job, and celebrating Chinese New Year in Beijing or Shanghai. A chance encounter with an experienced English teacher in Cambodia made me come to Vietnam instead. He said employees and not employers had the greater power in Vietnam.
I get the impression not too long ago almost all teachers just worked on tourist visas which could be extended easily and cheaply every three months. Teachers could leave jobs on a whim if the company over the road was prepared to offer them more money.
The visa rules are more restrictive now and most teachers wanting to renew tourist visas will have to travel to one of the neighboring countries for a few days.
My favorite aspects of Vietnam are Phong Nha National Park, bike trips, the beautiful Ha Long Bay, and meeting some youngsters who have ridiculous amounts of passion and determination for learning English. While waiting for my train to Da Nang a young local teenager chatted with me for half an hour. I could never be that bold. I have learned French, German, and Vietnamese in the classroom but never had the courage to actually talk to locals and practice the languages.
What is the cost of living like compared to your earnings? Are you able to save money?
After rent and taxes, I make close to $400 a week. Food and utilities set me back around $85 a week. You can buy bikes for $300 and I spend $3 on petrol each week commuting to work.
Have you taught in another city or country before?
I worked in Vinh Yen (50km north of Hanoi) in my first year being in Vietnam. I would often drink a lot after work and sleep in, it was not particularly healthy or productive.
In Vinh, I am filling up my free time with Vietnamese lessons, English Club, swimming, and online teaching. English club gives locals an opportunity to practice their English and allows me to learn more about my temporary home.
What advice do you have for people thinking about teaching English abroad?
The first thing that is worth noting is you may not enjoy teaching English in Vietnam (or anywhere in the world for that matter). Instagram and other social media can create this false narrative about doing TEFL Jobs (Camp America and Working Holidays).
Be Aware of the Negatives and Be Prepared Financially
Before working for my current employer in Vietnam, I managed to get blacklisted from the country. In Australia, before finding the great pub job, I worked for an employer who could genuinely be described as a criminal.
Over the last three years of living and working abroad, I have nearly died in the Outback, got assaulted, come off bikes, needed stitches, and had to borrow money from a relative.
If you want to come to Vietnam then bring at least $1,200 as a buffer before you get your first paycheck. You just make life hard for yourself if you do not have money to fall back on. Naturally, if you want to relocate to the more expensive countries then you will need to take more cash with you.
Get travel insurance, freak accidents occur and illnesses can just pop up. Everyone rides bikes in Vietnam, most travel insurance policies will only cover you against bike crashes (which happen to everyone) if you have a bike license in your native country. Travel insurance companies ignore Vietnamese licenses because they are easy to obtain and have zero meaning.
When you live in developing countries you have to deal with the smell of burning rubbish, scamming taxi drivers, questionable food hygiene, broken pavements, and pollution. A major complaint about Hanoi is the dangerous levels of pollution. The problem is much worse than in New York, London, or Paris.
Vietnam is an Explorer’s Paradise
The flipside to all this negativity and cynicism is that teaching English in Vietnam makes it easy to explore Southeast Asia. Vietnam offers amazing experiences such as boat trips in Ha Long Bay, safaris in Borneo, scuba diving in the Philippines, war tourism in multiple cities, cheap street food, and some amazing beaches.
Come with thick skin, a contingency fund, an open mind, and teaching English in Vietnam (or working abroad anywhere) can be a life-altering event.
If the first city you live in is boring, move to a new one. If your first employer is a grotty human being then change companies. I know from experience that two branches in the same city, belonging to the same company, can provide a completely different work atmosphere.
On that note, I will wish you good luck.
A big thanks to Ross for that very honest advice about living abroad. It’s not all unicorns and rainbows. Sometimes it’s just hard being in a foreign country.
That being said, living abroad has been one of my most rewarding life experiences. It has made me a better person and I wouldn’t change anything about it, not even the really tough days.
Ross pointed out that teaching English in Vietnam allows you to easily explore more of Southeast Asia. It’s an incredible part of the world with so many adventurous activities to offer travelers. Our first big gap year was primarily spent backpacking around Southeast Asia. We started our overland journey in Vietnam, crossing the border from China.
It really is a fantastic country. We spent 30 days traveling from North to South Vietnam without taking a single flight. There were lots of buses, an overnight train, and even a 4-day motorbike trip across the Central Highlands. It was an incredible journey that took us on incredible adventures such as trekking in Sapa, boating in Ninh Binh, a cycling food tour in Hoi An, and visiting a floating market in the Mekong Delta. They were amongst the first posts we ever published!
Get a TEFL Certificate Online and Start Applying for Teaching Jobs!
As Ross mentioned, getting a TEFL certificate is a great way to improve your skills and improve your chances of landing a job.
Teaching English in Vietnam legally requires you to have a teaching certificate in order to apply for a proper working visa. You’ll learn essential skills such as classroom management, how to teach complicated grammar and phonics, plus how to be engaging while teaching.
You can easily get your teaching certificate online. Getting your certificate online allows you to go at your own pace and fit it into your busy schedule. We got our TEFL certificates online with BridgeTEFL and would highly recommend them. They provide a stellar course that feels more personable than other online courses as they pair you with a tutor to grade your assignments and offer assistance as you progress.
Another great online TEFL course is myTEFL. They have been highly reviewed on multiple websites and a portion of the payment of all courses is donated to a charity.
We’ve partnered with them to provide a 35% discount for our readers on all their courses! Just enter the code gypsies35 at checkout.
Click the button to learn more about myTEFL.
Thank you so much for reading this interview! If you have any other questions about teaching English abroad don’t hesitate to contact us.
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