Long time Japan expat, English teacher, school owner and entrepreneur, John Bardos shares some of his experiences teaching English in Japan.
How long have you been teaching English in Japan?
I have been teaching here for over 12 years now. The first 2.5 were working for other companies and the last 10 years have been in my own English school.
How did you find your first teaching job?
I came to Japan without a visa or a job. When I arrived I started looking in the English language publications and found a couple of jobs within the first few weeks. I didn’t have a work visa to start so I worked illegally in a bar and at a small English school. At the same time I also was hired in another English school but I had to wait approximately two months for my visa application to be processed to start working legally.
How easy is it to find teaching jobs?
I found it very easy to find jobs, teaching and otherwise. There are always dozens of positions advertised online and in print publications so I don’t think there is ever a shortage of opportunities. However, to legally teach in Japan, you must have a university degree, be here on a work-holiday visa or be married to a Japanese national. Illegal jobs are available but they are not as plentiful as legitimate work and the quality of positions and employers tend to be much lower. One caveat to this, is that Asian looking teachers tend to have a more difficult time finding employment because of stereotypes of what an English teacher should look like. I would also say that blue-eyed, blonde, female teachers are also at an advantage.
Is it necessary to have teaching certificates or training to find employment?
As I said, a university degree is required unless you have a work-holiday visa, but other English training is not necessary. I think it helps. Anything that makes you stand out from other candidates is beneficial, but it is not required. In hindsight, I would recommend a reputable training program because you will gain a much better understanding of how to teach, but you don’t really need it to find a job.
How did you get your first work visa?
When I came to Japan, I looked for an English school to hire me and sponsor my work visa. It took about two months to process the visa and I had to leave the country, I went to Korea, to get it validated. When I returned I was legally allowed to teach English.
Is it possible for teachers to arrive without a work visa and look for a job?
As I mentioned earlier, I first arrived in Japan without a visa and found employment so it is definitely possible. I don’t know if I would advise it though. It would have been nice to have a company take care of my accommodations and help me get settled. It would have also saved me the trip outside of the country to validate my passport.
What is the cost of living in Japan?
Prices vary a lot depending on where you live. Tokyo, of course, is the most expensive. Smaller cities like Nagasaki will be much cheaper.
Here is a price range to expect.
Rent (1 room apartment) US$500 to US$1300. Cheaper prices will require a larger up front payment to the landlord, usually equivalent to about 3 to 6 months rent.
Shared room in an apartment US$400 to US$800.
Food (Groceries) US$200 to US$400 per month depending on your tastes.
Transportation US$100 to US$200. Companies typically pay for commuting costs, but personal travel can definitely add up.
Party Money US$100 to US$600. This really depends on how you like to spend your money. It is not hard to spend US$100 per night out, but you can save a lot if you stay at home or visit friends.
How much money can the average teacher expect to earn and save?
You can expect your base salary to be around US$2500 for most jobs. There has been some downward wage pressure in recent years, but it still is difficult to find good English teachers so US$2500 is a good figure to base your calculations. How much you save really depends on how much you like to spend. I have known many teachers that can only save $200 to $300 per month, than quickly blow it on a vacation or new electronics. Other teachers, who have private lessons outside of their regular job and don’t drink excessively can easily save more than $1000 per month. I have known some teachers saving close to $2000 per month without too much difficulty.
What is the typical number of teaching hours per week?
Some teachers in public schools and universities only teach 2 or 3 classes per day. However, most teachers can expect 25 to 30 classes per week. Each class is typically 50 to 60 minutes. Some schools have shorter classes and expect teachers to teach more classes per day.
How many weeks of holidays per year can teachers expect?
There are about 10 national holidays per year that most schools honor, plus an extra two weeks is normal. Better schools have longer vacation times, but it will typically be less than 6 weeks of vacations a year.
Did your employer provide you with medical Insurance? If not, was it expensive?
English schools typically do not provide medical insurance. Japanese health care can be pricey and limited anyway. Most new teachers in Japan go for international health care plans that can cost less than Japanese health care and offer better coverage. You can probably expect to pay between $60 and $100.
Do you recommend Japan for other English teachers?
Japan is a fantastic country to teach English. Salaries are great. The food is amazing and healthy. There is a rich culture and it is an incredible safe and clean country.
What advice would you offer for others thinking of teaching English Abroad?
Do it! Teaching abroad opens up a whole new world and set of opportunities. It is a great way to see that world and save money at the same time. Once you decide to come, the best advice I can offer is to thoroughly research potential employers. There is a big difference in quality of schools so make sure you choose a good school. After a year or so of teaching Experience, consider opening your own English school. You can double or triple your income, take many more holidays and have fewer teaching hours. Many teachers are afraid to commit to starting a school because they think they will be leaving soon. More often than not, those teachers become long-term expats just because the quality of life is so good here.