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Thailand is a central Asian country enjoying a tropical climate with 3 distinct seasons - summer from March through May, rainy with plenty of sunshine from June to September and cool from October through February. The average annual temperature is 28 C (83 F), ranging, in Bangkok, for example, from 30 C in April to 25 C in December. The exchange rate for the Thai baht is around 30 to the US dollar.
The night life, friendly people and the air of tropical paradise all make Thailand very popular amongst ‘traveller teachers’ and, hence, wages are quite low at around B25,000 to B40,000 for schools, but up to B60,000 working for private companies. Nevertheless, living expenses are extremely low, and it is important to recognize that as a teacher you will be going native and not paying ‘farang’ (foreigner) prices for everything. Most people find that salaries are more than enough to support a very comfortable lifestyle, and that teaching in Thailand is a very positive life experience.
Despite being popular with ‘traveller teachers’ it is important to remember that teachers are respected members of society, and expected to dress as such. It is, therefore, advisable that dress, when teaching or looking for a job, includes either long trousers or skirts below the knee, accompanied by long-sleeved shirts. Cut-off shorts and vests will neither win friends nor influence people. It does get very hot, so light or very dark colored clothing tends to show the sweating teacher up less, and light-weight clothing is advisable.
As with many Asian countries the face-saving is extremely important. Apropos of this, it is, as a teacher, advisable to maintain some distance between teacher and students. A certain aloofness will help maintain discipline, which can be difficult given that Thais are fun-loving people, who love playing games and getting involved. They are often so much fun to teach that one can get carried away, but it is important to remember that you will be expected to maintain your dignity.
Your whole approach to working in Thailand will be dictated by your anticipated length of stay, and this will be reflected in your approach to visas. You can, for example, go in for sixty days on a tourist visa, and these need to be obtained outside the country and can be renewed inside Thailand at a cost of B500 for every additional month. However, a person looking at a longer stay will want to consider applying for a Non-Immigrant ‘B’ visa, which must be applied for outside the country. This requires a letter offering employment, and grants a 90 day or one-year renewable visa, depending on where the application is made.
Once a teacher arrives with a Non-B visa, the sponsor school can apply for a teacher’s licence for you. In order to get this you must have an original degree certificate. The licence takes about a month and will give you a one-year work permit. There are other TESOL employers, such as hotels and businesses, where the teacher’s licence (and therefore degree requirement) isn’t necessary for a work permit. Once you have a work permit you can expect to pay tax at 2%, and will be covered by national insurance.
It should be noted that many people have worked in Thailand on tourist visas, and a blind eye has long been turned to this by the authorities. Once you have a letter of employment a visa is no problem, though this may require a cross-border trip.
Major cities for ESL work include Bangkok, Chang Mai, and Phuket. Bangkok offers great nightlife, but at the cost of congestion, pollution and expense. Mountainous Chang Mai is proving popular with those fleeing the hustle and bustle of the big city, and the island of Phuket is developing rapidly, but still has a healthy hint of tropical paradise about it.
For those seeking jobs in advance, and taking that visa route, companies such as Anglo-Pacific Consultancy (UK 0208 452 7836), Bell Associated Schools and EF English First , which has several centres in Thailand, are all worth checking out.
It is perfectly possible to get jobs on the spot in these major cities. It is simply a matter of checking out the local English language press, trying to make a few contacts, and making the rounds of the universities, schools and English language colleges. You will need a copy of your EFL, CELTA or TESOL certificate, and increasingly in Thailand, a university degree is a requisite, so you will need a copy of that certificate.
As with any EFL job it is important to look before you leap. You should be enquiring about class sizes, teaching materials, preparation time, time for staff meetings, and expected length of contract. With some placements in Bangkok, for example, you can expect a retention to be kept by your employer to ensure that you stay a minimum period. In some cases you will be making up the whole curriculum, and in others working within a very rigid framework.
Most people find being in Thailand a joy, and teaching Thais a great pleasure. A king’s ransom is not to be earned, but a very pleasant time can be had. The key to Thailand is visas, and that requires thinking about how long you really want to stay.
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