The Teaching Environment and Job Market in Asia

Many English teachers are fascinated with the supposed mystery of Asia. There are millions of adventures to be had, places to explore, and experience to gain, but it is advisable to first understand the current job market and teaching environment before kicking off your journey.

As with many things in Asia, China is a great place to start. Whilst the ESL markets in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea have slowly cooled, China is still full-speed ahead. Shortly before the 2008 Beijing Olympics China had already become the world’s biggest ESL market, and by 2013 the number of English-language students was roughly equivalent to the entire US population and nearly a third of the entire populace of mainland Chinese residents. The entire English language industry is valued at roughly $5 billion USD and many conservative estimates still see the market growing by at least 10% for the foreseeable future.

In short, the market is hot, the market is huge, and the demand for English still outweighs the supply of teachers. It is estimated that the Chinese market is still short up to 100,000 teachers. What does this mean for you? It means increases in salary, more benefits and decreased regulation in order to attract the best talent and to poach educators working in South Korea and Japan. Hence, you can choose from the traditional powerhouse cities, or explore lesser known cities such as Chengdu or Chongqing. You also have the luxury of going with a huge international firm such as Wall Street English, or signing on with a boutique shop, a university, or even an old school mom and pop operation.

In addition, while the Chinese government is increasing its demands for companies hiring foreign teachers, schools are also improving their packages and offering more security to their teachers. Most companies are now offering free flights, visa coverage, housing, and bonuses to qualified teachers. There is one other noteworthy change in the market. For years, qualified black or Asian teachers often faced discriminatory hiring practices. These policies are slowly changing to include a more diversified workforce.

Whilst China has overtaken Korea as the top spot to teach in Asia, cities like Seoul, Busan, Jeju, and Daegu still offer remarkable opportunities in the Land of the Morning Calm. If you are a native English speaker with a university degree and a TEFL certificate, and hold a working passport from the USA, the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, or Australia, then you are all set to enter the Korean market. Benefits of teaching in Korea include a very competitive salary and housing is usually included.

Your salary will usually run between 2 and 3 million won per month, but expect to have a full teaching load of up to 30 to 40 hours per week. Luckily you shall also get vacations, health insurance, and contract bonuses. Your general living situation and quality of life will be high by most any standard. The big question is whether or not you wish to teach children, and whether or not you can land a gig at a university. If you have an MA and land such a job, you may be in luck. Many of these positions offer a high salary, a small amount of hours, and plenty of vacation time which can allow you to travel in South East Asia or other locales.

Japan is yet another popular destination in Asia, but positions can be more difficult to obtain and the competition is stiffer. Also, there may be a lot of regulations and paperwork to get a job as everything is done by the book in Japan. Most teachers will either find a position at a public or a private school. Many teachers find work as an assistant language teacher or ALT.

While many teachers enjoy the culture of Japan many find the overall cost of living very expensive (especially for traveling in country), and the hours can be very long including many nights and even weekends. It may also take some time for many teachers to get used to being expected to attend after-work events such as karaoke.

Taiwan is still another popular teaching destination in Asia. Usually many teachers can find work in Taipei, Taichung, or smaller cities on the West Coast. Most employers look for teachers with a full university degree, and to have a 100-hour TEFL certificate. There are positions available to teach adults, but most jobs in Taiwan involve teaching children. Another thing to bear in mind is that many teachers who work in Taiwan are there in order to enhance their Mandarin skills. It is also a place many teachers go to save money to bring back home.

Thailand is yet another wonderful option for those wishing to experience Asia, but it is probably not the best place to save any cash. You will probably earn 30,000 Thai Baht per month (or about $1,000 USD) which should afford you a nice life, but not much savings. Government schools will keep your hours during the day, but private schools will offer longer hours and more pay. It’s also very advisable to do some research on Thai etiquette as many rules of polite society may be less than obvious to many Westerners.

Teaching in Vietnam is usually centered in reputable language centers, standard language centers and private tutoring. Pay is usually hourly and many teachers are surprised to find that classes run as long as two hours. As with Thailand, most people working in Southeast Asia are more interested in the experience rather than for the money to be found in Korea or China.

Lastly, we have Indonesia. Many teachers find that they can find a 1-year contract, paid holiday, reimbursed flights, medical cover and accommodation in some cases. There are plenty of job opportunities for native English speakers with degrees and a TESOL certificate. It must also be noted that the internet is loaded with alleged horror stories about sketchy employers who try to trap teachers in country, so please do a lot of research and only sign up with reputable firms and check out the foreign office website before traveling.

We sincerely hope that this guide to teaching in Asia has given you a good stepping stone to researching all the wonderful opportunities that Asia can afford a qualified English teacher. Thank you.