Where to Teach English in Asia? Advice for you!
There are an outrageous amount of choices when it comes to choosing a country to teach English and they all have their advantages and disadvantages. Take my advice for what’s it worth, since I’ve only ever taught in Korea BUT I have traveled to all of the above countries for as least a few days and I follow ESL industry news quite closely.
Teaching English in South Korea
Things I like:
Free airfare– In general, if you work at a hagwon or public school. If you work at a university, you will usually not get this benefit, but the otherwise stellar conditions more than make up for this (for advice on getting a job with 5 months vacation, this is the book you need: How to Get a University Job in South Korea: The English Teaching Job of your Dreams).
Free housing– This is the case for almost all jobs. Or, you’ll get a housing allowance of 300,000-500,000 Won.
Money saving potential– Tax and health care expenses are very low. You can save 80% of your salary here if you’re thrifty and always eat at home. Starting salaries are not so shabby as well and the minimum is around $2000 USD per month. If you like to eat, drink and travel around, it’s cheap and you can do that every night and every weekend and still save 50% of your salary.
Ease of getting a job – For a hagwon, just a phone interview will usually suffice. Of course, you have to jump through all the hoops for immigration, including criminal background checks and interviews and stuff. Public school and university jobs in Korea are more difficult to get though.
Things I don’t like
Korea is a bit…odd– I kind of like it that way, but not everyone does. Korean culture is way, way, way, way different from anything in the West and some foreigners just can’t adapt to it. I can and have, which is maybe why I’ve been here for such a long time years. It seems that those who can adapt reap the rewards with jobs (such as mine!) that are amazingly sweet and better than 99% of jobs in the entire ESL teaching world.
Difficulty in making Korean friends I’ve only had a few sincere, good friends here in my almost 10 years. It probably has a lot to do with me, but to be fair, this often seems to be the case with foreigners. I think Koreans have a very hard time thinking outside of their own Confucian circle of family/coworkers/classmates and the foreigner will almost always be on the very outermost circle of those prior relationships.
You’re basically like an indentured servant The school basically owns you for the one year duration of your visa and it’s extremely difficult to change jobs. In my case, I have a 2 year visa but feel totally okay with it since my university is so fabulous and above board.
However, if you work at a sketchy hagwon, you will get ripped off at some point. And the government has a kind of toothless labor board to “help you.” I can tell you from experience that’s basically worthless. They once ruled in my favor, but told me just to leave Korea because I’d have to hire a lawyer and go through months of litigation to get my money. Buyer (or foreign worker) beware.
Where else to teach English in Asia, besides Korea?
Japan: you own your visa, which means you can switch jobs easily. The negative is how expensive it is, and how much you have to watch your money. Also, it’s not so easy to get a job there because the Japanese aren’t so obsessed with the English like the Koreans.
Taiwan: is a very chilled out place. No stares or weirdness in dealing with foreigners. The bad: no free rent or airfare and the hourly pay rate is only okay at about $20 USD per hour.
Hong Kong: I loved it. Hong Kong is for sure the most Westernized place in all of Northeast Asia. But it’s not so easy to get a job there for this very reason. If I was a certified teacher though, I’d be all over their NET program which pays extremely well.
China: more of the wacky, “There’s a foreigner” kind of thing and the pay for now is not comparable to the other places listed. The air: it’s really is polluted, as least in Beijing and I like to breath! But hey, if you want culture, it’s all there, in abundance. In addition, learning Chinese actually has the potential to be a valuable life and career skill for you.
For more of my thoughts on the best places to teach ESL in the world (not just Asia), financially speaking, check out: The Wealthy English Teacher: Teach, Travel, and Secure Your Financial Future