Why Thailand is perfect for first time TEFL travellers

If you want to teach English as a foreign country in a safe, entertaining, and exotic country, meet TEFL teachers from all over the world, and live like a king, then Thailand is an excellent choice. Thailand was probably my most memorable TEFL experience; for good and bad reasons. I taught in Bangkok for seven months. I can’t say I loved every minute, but I learnt loads and my time there changed my life. This post is as seen on the i-to-i TEFL blog.
Koh Samui
A bit of background
To fully understand the madness of my situation I have to tell you about my arrival. I found the job on the internet while I was teaching English in Australia. I read up about the school and everything seemed fine, but Thailand is full of surprises. I was expecting to meet a man at the airport; the name was Siriluck, which sounded manly to me. When a tiny Thai woman came up and asked if I was Barry I was a bit shocked, but even more so when she introduced me to my new boss; Sister Leonora. The following day the 5ft nun, who had seemed so pleasant and welcoming, interrogated me about reasons for coming to Thailand and told me to get my hair cut, watch my drinking, and stay away from Thai women. (Photo by mcbarnicle)
My Favourite Class
Life in the classroom
Once over the initial shock of working in a catholic school, and the fact that most of the farang – foreign – teachers hated the Sister, I enjoyed my time working for Our Lady of Perpetual Health (thinking about it now, I should have sussed out something about the school from the name).
As opposed to the standard TEFL role of teaching grammar and vocabulary by following an English text book, my job had a CLIL approach; teaching English through maths, science, art, dance club, and swimming. The day was long; I had to be there to get my class in line for assembly and prayers at 7.30am, and rarely got away before 5pm. During the day I had a couple of hours free to plan, and lunch was provided.
It took me a while to cope with 23 hyperactive Thai 8-year olds, but they turned into my favourite class ever. They were great fun and enthusiastic about everything. My Thai assistant was brilliant and they all loved her. The Thai kids were so respectful compared to the sprogs I teach in Spain. Each morning they lined up outside the class and bowed as they went past. When I entered they all stood up and said “Good Morning Mr Barry.”
Everyone was scared of the Sister and a few farang teachers walked out, some in tears. There was tension between the Thai and farang teachers too. This was hard to comprehend at first because I found Thai people so gentle and friendly. When I discovered it was because the Thai teachers were paid almost three times less, I could understand their frustration.
The best parts were the shows we did for the parents. The Sister was obsessed with putting on performances so the Mums and Dads could see their little angels singing in English while dressed up in funny costumes. The teachers did most of the hard work and the Thai teachers even made the costumes. The shows were fun; seeing my class jump about to dance routines I’d taught them was a laugh.

Tsunami
Unfortunately I was in Bangkok the year of the Tsunami. I had actually planned to visit my uncle in Phuket for Christmas but the Sister cancelled our holiday at the last minute. “God has saved you,” she said the day after the Tsunami. Being in Thailand when the disaster struck was emotional and made me realise how short life is. The sister actually volunteered to help down in the south and gained a lot of respect. In the end I could see that she wasn’t as bad as everyone made out, she just wanted to make a difference in the world. 
A word of warning
Do research, find a decent school, and beware of dodgy agencies. A few of my friends were made to work in tiny, dull villages where they had to teach several groups of fifty students. I’ve heard a lot of horror st
ories about teachers in Thailand getting stitched up, so it’s worth planning ahead. The visas are a bit of a nightmare too, you have to get a Non-Immigrant B working visa, but you need official papers from the school before you can get this.
Life in the real world
You can live extremely well in Thailand. Eating out, renting, travelling, and shopping is amazingly cheap. My basic wage was 35,000 baht, (about £700), which may not sound like much but rent would have only been 3,000 baht a month (the school paid for mine), a decent meal in a local restaurant 50 baht, and a large beer in a bar in Bangkok for 70 baht.
If you are a first time TEFL teacher with no experience then you might not start on a high wage, but it’s enough to live on in a wonderful country. An experienced teacher could earn between 50,000 and 80,000 baht a month, working in an international school or for a university.
The most popular destinations for TEFL teachers are Bangkok, Chang Mai, and Phuket.
Bangkok is not everyone’s idea of paradise, but most of the work is there. If you can put up with the heat, traffic, and stinky canals, then you’ll be rewarded with great nightlife, tasty cuisine, and plenty of things to see and do.
Songkran down Khao San
My favourite parts of Bangkok were visiting the Wats and museums, seeing Thai Boxing, shopping in Chatuchak, the world’s largest outdoor market, and just getting lost walking about. There’s so much to see and each day out is a different adventure. Bangkok is a great hub to travel. If you have a few days off you can get to the islands in the Gulf like Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, full moon party, over to Phuket, and also up to Chang Mai. You can also bus it or fly to the surrounding countries such as Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, or Singapore.
Don’t miss the Thai New Year, Songkran, from 13th to 15th of April. The country turns into a giant water festival. Best place to see it is in Bangkok down Khao San Road. Absolute madness! There is a massive expat community in Thailand. At the start I tried to mingle with Thais, but I missed the British banter. However, by the end of the time there I’d had enough of the farangs too. (Photo by robbie_shade)
Thailand is a great choice to teach English as a foreign language if you do plenty of research. You can have some real fun and the Thai students are top. Are you thinking of going to Thailand? Any questions? Let  me know. 

19 thoughts on “Why Thailand is perfect for first time TEFL travellers

  1. Hi my name is Nick, I'm from western Canada. I want to teach in Thailand but I don't have a teaching background. I've worked construction for 14 years and I need a change. I've travelled Thailand twice and fell in love with it. Now I want to live and work there.. Teaching English is from what I hear is easy, do you agree? I have a friend who works as a teaching asst. In Hang Dong Chiang Mail and she said that telf teachers get 25000B/month. I'm kinda concerned about the wage as I don't want to go starving.

  2. Hi Nick from Western Canada,

    Thanks for leaving a comment. Teaching English is easy, hmm, I'd say that depends how much effort you want to put in. If you're just up for an easy life and want to have a bit of fun while teaching students a few useful expressions and some grammar then sure it's easy. However, if you want to be a good teacher, get respect from your students so that they learn and really make a difference then I'd say it is hard work.

    Saying that, it's hard to start with while you learn more about English and find your style. When you're more confident and comfortable with the language then it does get easier. I'm at a stage where I want to challenge myself though and am doing the DELTA.

    I earned 35,000 baht a month and lived well, but that was rent free. With 25,000 you won't go hungry (with 5,000 baht you won't go hungry), but that depends how you want to live. To get a high standard of living you need to get qualified to find the best jobs, paying between 50,000 and 80,000 a month, and you'll live like a king.

    What are your plans? Are you thinking of doing a TEFL?

    Any more q's then let me know.

    Cheers

  3. Dear Jennifer,

    Great surname. I wanted to go home and see family and mates, plus I knew I could never properly settle in Thailand. You can find out more when my book comes out next month. Why do you ask?

    Barry

  4. Dear Barry,

    It is quite unusual to see the same surname outside of Ireland. I ask because you seemed to enjoy Thailand very much. I will be moving over next month. I have been on hold but obviously living will be different. Thank you for the blog and really useful links.I have found out quite a bit of info from them so much appreciated.

    Now just have to decide on which TEFL course to take.

  5. Hi Barry,

    Firstly, I am finding your blog really really useful, so thanks!

    I am due to a TEFL course in London in the next few weeks as like you, need to get out of the rat race and have always wanted to teach. Ideally I want to teach in chang mai or indonesia, possibly Lombok. When you say 'research properly' what do you mean? How will I know if a school is legit etc? At the moment they all look professional. There are also lots of sites/schools – it's all a bit confusing to be honest and I'm not sure where to start. I also want to be able to land a job before I get there, maibnly due to my impatience to get started and financial reasons – how likely is this?

    Sorry. lots of questions. Hope you can help.

    Also, one site is offering a language school index – are these usueful to purchase in your opinion or is it better to go online?

    Thanks, Chelsie

  6. Hey Chelsie,

    How you doing? Never seen Chelsie spelt like that before, where are you from?

    Thanks for the comment. Glad you like the blog. I liked Chang Mai, seemed like a cool place to live for a while. When I say research just have a check on forums, or put in the name or the school in google and write 'horror stories' 'bad experience' 'don't work for this school.' Most schools are sound, but it's worth checking out. Then again what is sound for one person is a nightmare for another. If you don't have any experience then I reckon you'll find it tricky to get a job before, unless you go through an agency or find a school willing to take you on before you go. I know how you feel though, but if you're heading out to Asia then just find out when term starts in the country you want – May or October for Thailand – and just go.

    Not sure what you mean by language school index? I wouldn't pay for anything like that anyway cos there's loads of stuff on the web.

    Any more q's then let me know.

    Good luck.

    Barry

  7. Hi Barry,
    I am due to start my TEFL course in 2weeks time and then I start my teaching placement in a kindergarten in the Huaykwang district of Bangkok. I am starting to get nervous about going there, as I am the only tefl teacher in the school, and I don't know how large the expat community is in this area? Do you have any advice? nerves are kicking in! Thanks, Keavy

  8. Hey Keavs,

    Thanks for writing. Wow, that sounds exciting, I'd love to go back to Bangkok for a while…

    I just checked out Huaykwang in Bangkok, not far from where I lived in Bangkapi…I think it's better to be out of the centre, as long as you can get in easily. Try and find a klong canal taxi to get into the centre, they are much quicker and pretty cheap. There is a mall in Bangkapi where you might bump into a few farang too.

    There might not be a massive expat crowd in that area, but there are loads in Bangkok. Have a look to see if there are any other schools in the area. Have a look at some farang forums, also ajarn.com is a very good website. Most of my friends in Bangkok where from all over the place.

    Other advice, just enjoy it, the students will be great fun and respectful. I taught a bunch of 6 year olds, but not sure how kindergarten would be, am sure you'll be fine.

    Bangkok can be a hard place to live at times, lots of traffic, funny smells, noisy etc, but I loved it and the people really make it special. There's loads to see and do and you'll live pretty well.

    Check out my book as there are a a few chapters on Thailand too.

    Have a good one, any more q's then let me know.

    Barry

  9. Hey there!

    What are the main ways you made and found friends in Thailand? I know this sounds sad! But I do want an active social life and the opportunity to meet other ESL teachers. I'm moving to Chiang Mai soon and heading out on my own. Any advice?

    Thanks

    Jenna

  10. Hey Jenna,

    Thanks for writing. It took me a while top find some mates in Thailand. At first I just wanted to meet Thais and learn Thai, but I soon missed the British banter. In the end I started hanging around with more teachers, who knew other teachers, and hung about in expat bars. I think there is a decent expat community in Chiang Mai too…just a case of chatting to a few strangers I guess.

    Good luck.

    Barry

  11. Hey Barry! I would really love to teach in Thailand but from what I've read in the previous comments, finding a job before going there can be difficult with no experience. You also mentioned that I have to get the non immigrant b visa with papers signed from the school first. So if I can't get a job before I go there, how can I go there without the visa? I'm guessing your Answer might be to get a tourist visa first in which case, would I be able to switch over to the non immigrant b visa after I've found a job? How do you recommend going about the search process for finding a good school? I'd appreciate any advice you could send my way as I'm feeling very blind going into this whole thing! Thanks in advance 🙂

  12. Hey JayR,

    Go for it man. I did mine with St Giles in London, Russel Square, I didn't get a job straight away, it was hard to find work in Mexico, but then I did in Ecuador. Have a look at my book on kindle and it talks about how I got jobs in various places around the world. Where do you want to go? Good luck.

  13. If you can get an Internship then that's a great way to get some experience, then maybe get a paid job after. Thailand is a great place, miss those students, such a cool place to live. It was worth the money yes, re finding a job see above.

  14. Wow so you taught in Spain first? I'm doing the reverse, spent two years in Thailand (one teaching) and am now moving to Spain. Sounds like our experiences were pretty similar in Thailand. Glad to read that you enjoyed it!

  15. Hi Barry,

    My name Is Declan I live in Scotland and have always had a passion for travelling. At the moment I have a good job which allows me to travel but due to only getting so many days off a year it is never long enough. I have been looking for ways to travel and sustain myself abroad that's how I found TEFL. I have no teaching experience although part of me always wanted to teach history. I have good communication skills and very enthusiastic when I put my mind to something. I'm 22 and don't have a degree, I'm college educated and have various qualifications in engineering and experience in that environment. Which TEFL course would you recommend to finding an English teaching job overseas? I saw one recently for Spain which required no degree and only 20 hours TEFL training but after what you said about the Spanish kids im not so sure. Also is it possible to do maybe a month or 2 contract just to get a taster for it that way I can keep my current job whilst I try it out. Sorry for the paragraph of questions lol.

    P.S I'm not sure if I will get a notification for this blog when you reply so here is my E-mail address if you want to reach me. Declanjones92@hotmail.com

    Thanks

    Declan

  16. Hi Declan,

    Thanks for writing. Yeah TEFL is a great way to travel the world and live, although the more you settle the less travel is involved! Don't get put off about Spanish kids, I think all kids are the same, but does depend on the class really. If you can do a course while you work that's probably the best option at this stage before you throw yourself in. TEFL is not for everyone. I watched a few classes before I signed up for a course, but I knew quite quickly that I'd enjoy it. Is there anywhere else you are thinking about going?

    Good luck with everything.

    Barry

  17. Hello Barry!

    So i wrote this message before but it disappeared so i'll write a new one.

    I'm sorry to disturb you on your blog that's three years old!

    I am currently an university student finishing my degree in a month and i have been looking forward to being able to apply for a teaching job in Thailand for close to two years. I have done my research and read a lot of blogs and watched videos. I have also been in contact with a few organisation that seem legit to apply to. Sadly, i still have a few questions i would like to discuss with someone who knows what it's all about and won't be swayed by a paycheck trying to recruit me. I am sorry for the few mistakes in this message, I have been going to school in french for the last four years and i have lost a bit of my English (try speaking only one language for four year)

    My first question is, How much money should i have before leaving for Thailand? I have done my research on average teaching salaries over in Thailand and how much it cost to live but in your opinion, to have a good life without having to worry about money once over there, will i need a decent amount saved up? or is the salary from teaching gonna cover most of my expenses? I don't mean going out every night but once in a while. This is just to tell me how much i should save in the next year.

    Second question is, I have Tourette syndrome. It makes me do weird noises once in a while. Do you believe this is gonna cause me any problems in Thailand? I can always get cards with explanation about what is tourette syndrome written in Thai but i have heard Thai people are really friendly? I am looking for your honest opinion about this, no need to beat around the bush.

    Third question is, Is this a possible career choice? I have read that you have done this for quite a while but do you know a lot of people who have been doing it for a long time? I currently have no idea what to do with my degree, should i continue my construction gig or use my degree, and since i am coming out of university debt free, i feel like this is my perfect time to go and do something wild (i'd be the first person in my immediate family to leave Canada, go figure).

    Fourth question, i have read a lot of information that have me confused about the work hours over in Thailand. On the internet it says that you should expect to work between 16 and 37 hours but most of the place i have read says that people work full days at school. I am not sure to understand this part.

    Thank you in advance for taking the time to read and respond to my questions

    Olivier G

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