How long did you teach English in Vietnam?
I taught English there for 1 year – all in and around Ho Chi Minh City. I held a couple of different teaching jobs – one in an English Language School and one private job at a factory teaching business English.
Have you taught English in other countries?
Sort of. I did volunteer work teaching English in Delhi, India and in a small village in Nepal. This was before I had any ‘formal’ training on how to teach English – so it was a rather haphazard. I didn’t really know what I was doing and like most volunteering gigs it didn’t have many resources to work with. You had to be really creative!
How did you find your first teaching job?
Six months before I arrived, I secured the job with ILA Vietnam, one of the large English Language Schools in Vietnam, After I finished my CELTA certification in the US, I wasn’t ready to leave the US right away. However I subscribed to daily email newsletters such as TEFL.com joblink daily. It lists vacancies which range from immediate to 6 months out by country. There was an opening at ILA Vietnam and it had various start dates in the future, so I contacted them and sent my resume. They sent me some pre-interview work which basically asked me to prepare a lesson plan. I sent them back the lesson plan I prepared and then had an interview on skype and was offered a position. They didn’t mind that I couldn’t start for 6 months – so it worked out perfectly.
How easy is it to find English teaching positions?
I’ve only done the job search once and I have to admit it seemed rather easy because I wanted to work in Asia. There are lots of teaching opportunities in Asia. Plus – when I received my CELTA certification I did really well and passed with an above average mark; therefore schools seemed to be very eager to speak with me. I am also older than your average ESL teacher. I’m 39 and had been working in corporate business for most of my career, so I think that was appealing to potential employers too. I interviewed with a couple of schools – one in Vietnam and one in Prague and had job offers from both of them.
Is it necessary to have teaching certificates or training to find employment?
In my opinion – it really, really helps. Most of the big schools in Vietnam require a CELTA or TEFL certificate. However – you can find some more ‘local’ type schools that will simply hire you if you are a native speaker. The problem is that it’s hard to learn about the more ‘local’ schools prior to arriving there. If you arrive in Vietnam and give yourself a month or so to find a job – then you can probably find some places that don’t require a certificate, you just need time to make some contacts and get to know the city.
How did you get your first work visa?
Well, I technically never had a work visa in Vietnam. Vietnam is a country where you can work pretty easily on a tourist visa and simply have it renewed from time to time. I know people that have been there for over 3 years working on a tourist visa! However – if you get a job with a bigger school such as ILA, then they will take care of the visa for you. You will initially come over on a tourist visa with their assistance, and then they will apply for a work permit on your behalf. It took about 6 months for me to actually get my work permit – so it’s not too strict!
Is it possible for teachers to arrive without a work visa and look for a job?
Yes – absolutely. You can come in on a 3 or 6 month tourist visa and then find a job that fits you once you are there and make some contacts. If you are the type of person that can live with uncertainty – then I totally recommend that. You make a much more informed decision once you’ve lived in the city for a few weeks or a month!
What is the cost of living in Vietnam?
You can live quite nicely with a monthly salary of $1200 to $1500. You will most likely live with a roommate – but you can also live alone if you want for a bit more. With a roommate, a furnished apartment will cost about $300 to $500. Food can vary depending on if you shop at a local outdoor market or an expat grocery store. If you like fresh produce then go to the local markets and you can buy seafood and produce for a complete dinner for less than $10. However, if you don’t like to take the time to cook for yourself – then there are many great cheap restaurant options that will also run you about $10 for dinner and a beer! Beer is normally $1. If you want to be brave and rent a motorbike (which I totally recommend!) it will cost about $50 to $70 a month for your own motorbike. Medical costs are also much cheaper then in the western world and insurance is easy and cheap to get. I basically lived quite comfortably on a small salary which is why so many people stay in Vietnam for much longer than a year!
How much money can the average teacher expect to save?
One great thing about working in Vietnam was that you could actually save money. This was one of the reasons why I chose Vietnam over Prague. Plus – it’s really easy and fun to travel around the area for very little money. Thanks to some additional freelance work that I did and house-sitting when other expats went home for the summer – I was able to save about $3000. This was after I made trips to Mongolia, Taiwan, Singapore, Cambodia, Philippines, and places within Vietnam. Other teachers I knew also saved a similar amount and also did a great deal of travel around the area.
Do you recommend Vietnam for other English teachers?
Yes, I would recommend it to other teachers. However, you do have to be comfortable with living in a developing country and you have to be pretty independent. So – if you know that you like developing/challenging environments – then it can be a really rewarding experience.
The good: low cost of living, amazing food choices, great travel around the area, beach is a short 2 hr trip away, very strong culture to explore, fun expat community and lots of good live music. The bad: pollution, traffic, rainy season can be challenging, no pedestrian rights, difficult to walk anywhere in the city, no good public transportation (only taxis), no art scene and few museums.
The students are pretty good to teach, yet the teenagers seem a bit immature, but that seems pretty typical in most Asian countries. I usually taught adults. My biggest complaint about the students is that they were frequently late and they seldom did homework assignments on time.
What do you love and hate about Vietnam?
I really loved the food – there was such a variety of food and everything was great! I also loved driving a motorbike there in the heart of the city. At first it was terrifying – but once you got the hang of it, it was so much fun – even in the rain! Overall, I loved the freedom that you had – there are very few rules in Vietnam and if there are rules, they are seldom followed! Hate is a strong word – but Vietnam certainly had many challenges. I was a single woman in my upper 30’s – one of the worst demographics to be in Vietnam. It was a real challenge to live there solo at times. I hated the fact that you were unable to really relax when you were walking on the sidewalk – there were always motorbikes driving on the sidewalks or parked on the sidewalks – you could never take your guard down. The pollution was also really tough. I’m an athletic person and tried to run outside for the first few months – however I quickly found that it was about impossible thanks to the lack of room on the sidewalks and the lack of public park space.
What advice would you offer for others thinking of teaching English Abroad?
I think you really have to examine why you want to live abroad. Do you want to make money, do you want to explore a culture, do you want to strengthen your CV? Teaching English is really fun and can be really rewarding; it’s a super way to delve into a country and a culture. However – I personally feel like you have to be a really strong, independent, and an adventuresome person – especially if you choose a developing country to work in. I was looking for a challenge – and I found it in Vietnam. However with most challenges – if you can overcome them and make it successful – it is super rewarding.
OttsWorld Read about Sherry’s teaching and living in Vietnam at her blog
Pictures of Ho Chi Minh City at her photography site
Photography of Vietnam Motorbike Culture
BriefcaseToBackpack Sherry’s Travel and Career Break site
Follow Sherry Ott on Twitter
More Information on Teaching English in Vietnam
English Teaching Jobs in Vietnam