What Teaching in Vietnam is Really Like
Table of Contents
A Crazy Idea?
Teaching English in Vietnam may sound like a crazy idea. However, over the last decade, the demand for native-speaking English Teachers has grown considerably. Due to significant economic growth, there is a need for a generation of English speaking Viets thus the teaching communities in Vietnam’s major cities have multiplied in size.
At Rent A Bike, many of our long-term customers are English Teachers in Vietnam. In addition to this, even the owner of Rent A Bike Danny started his life in Vietnam 20 years ago as a teacher! Using his free time to explore this new and exciting country by motorbike and later calling it his home.
So many of our new customers arrive in Vietnam as fresh-faced English Teachers. and we want to share some of our long-term customer experiences, with an aim to help new teachers arriving in Vietnam.
Honest Advice on Teaching in Vietnam
Two years ago, Ellie came to our shop in Hanoi having just arrived in Vietnam to start teaching English. Slightly overwhelmed by it all, Ellie knew very little about the country and like most, had never ridden a motorbike! Despite all that, she accepted a 30km commute to a neighboring city, Bac Ninh.
Over the last two years, we’ve gotten to know Ellie pretty well. And we’re pleased to say that with our support, she’s survived that extreme commute!
In this blog post, Ellie will share her personal thoughts on what teaching in Vietnam is really like. Including how she has dealt with culture shock, homesickness and the terrifying prospect of riding two wheels on Hanoi’s chaotic streets!
Teaching in Vietnam: Ellie's Experience
I will begin this post by telling you exactly how my first moments in Vietnam felt. And the first impressions that will be heavily imprinted in my memory for the rest of my life. I will follow by discussing all of the things I worried about before arriving to teach English in Vietnam. Including my advice to anyone looking at doing the same.
One of the first things to hit me when I stepped off the plane and out of the airport in Hanoi, was the 30-degree heat that loomed in the air at 06:00 AM. And not only the heat but the sheer humidity that accompanied it. Causing my body to sweat. Even my eyeballs were sweating.
The next thing to slap me in the face was the number of motorbikes on the road. Creating this overwhelming sense of chaos. I simply sat in the safety of my taxi observing Viets going about their day to day lives in the most alien way. Wondering how it was even possible to fit 3 people, a dog, and 3 chickens onto one small motorbike!
It didn’t take me long to realize that this is in fact common practice in Vietnam and very possible indeed.
When I finally reached my destination in Hanoi’s famous Old Quarter, I couldn’t help but notice the faint smell of fumes lingering in the air (air pollution is a growing problem in Vietnam and something worth protecting yourself from). This was from the somewhat thousand bikes that surrounded me in the street. Stood with my luggage in an alien country being almost knocked down by people on two wheels was odd, to say the least.
At first, this sensory overload (which is exactly how I would describe arriving in Vietnam for the first time) comes as quite a culture shock. Little did I know then, these would later be some of the things I love most about this mysterious and wonderful country. In fact, on returning to a much quieter European country you can feel the emptiness and yearn for the hustle and bustle. Reverse culture shock is a weird animal.
The distant sound of motorbike horns. The delicious smell of Pho cooking in the street. The sight of children far too young to be in control of a vehicle grinning on a motorbike and a farmer tending to his water buffalo in the middle of the road. The feeling of a Vietnamese coffee rushing through your body. The taste of a fresh egg Banh Mi and the freshness of Hanoi on a clear autumnal morning.
These are just some of the most unique and incredible sensations I will never experience anywhere else in the world. They have resulted in memories that will last a lifetime.
Accommodation in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City
Finding accommodation in Hanoi or HCMC is actually far easier than you might think. At first, I assumed this would be a challenge. Due to the fact I couldn’t find many websites that had been effectively translated or were able to navigate. However, after having spoken to other teachers in Vietnam, I found the best way to locate accommodation was via Facebook.
First Weeks: Hanoi and HCMC
For those arriving in the country for the first time, I advise renting an Airbnb for the first couple of weeks to get a feel for the city of your choice. Use this time to explore and get to know the area that you’re living in. This is a very affordable way to decide if you like an area before signing a tenancy agreement. Airbnb’s are inexpensive and are available across all major cities.
If you’re undecided on what area you’d like to live in, consider what experience you’re hoping to get out of teaching in Vietnam. Most expats in Hanoi live in Tay Ho, an area located on West Lake. Here, it’s possible to live a very comfortable western life. With access to more or less any food and drink, you could possibly dream of! In Ho Chi Minh City, the district of Thao Dien is very much the same in terms of the lifestyle it offers westerners.
For teachers who want the experience of living in Vietnam with the added bonus of their home comforts, these areas are ideal. However, you can expect to pay more for accommodation due to the amenities and lifestyle offered. Many teachers opt to live in in Tay Ho and surrounded by other English teachers to keep some comfort when trying to adapt to a new life in Vietnam. There is nothing wrong with that at all. You will still be able to enjoy Vietnamese culture in between with daily experiences in the area. Just take note: If you want to live with western commodities, you will pay more for these.
For those who want a more authentic experience, consider living in less western communities. Personally, I have chosen to live outside of these communities in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in order to get a feel for real life in Vietnam. In Hanoi, I thoroughly enjoyed living in Long Bien and found living costs to be cheaper. I also had access to delicious Vietnamese foods and had the opportunity to build relationships with friendly locals.
In Ho Chi Minh City, I live in District 2 on a very traditional Vietnamese street. I love living in this district as I have walking access to District 1 and pretty much any food I can dream of.
Finding a Permanent Residence
As previously mentioned, there are various different Facebook groups to join for both major cities. Here you simply post your request (the type of accommodation, location, budget, when) on the groups wall and wait for others to contact you. Often, you’ll be contacted by estate agents who have various different properties to show you.
Others might be expats who are trying to find someone to take over their tenancies. Shared houses looking for someone to take up a room in their house. Or landlords looking for someone to live in their property without having an agent. There are quite literally hundreds of different options and you’ll find something that suits you in no time.
If you’re planning on living outside of one of the major cities, your best option is to contact the school you will be teaching in. The Vietnamese staff and your fellow teachers will be able to help you find suitable accommodation.
Accommodation costs when teaching in Vietnam very much depends on location and type of location. It is possible to rent a place for as little as $250 a month, but you may have to sacrifice personal space to do so. Knowing how much you should be paying is a challenge. This is down to the fact you’re in a new country, there’s a language barrier and westerners famously pay more than locals.
Below are some rough guidelines around what you should expect to pay for different types of accommodation in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City:
- A room in a shared house = $200-400 pcm
- A private studio apartment = $350-700 pcm
- A one-bedroom apartment = $400-700 pcm
- A two-bedroom apartment = $500-900 pcm
Much like anywhere else in the world, rent varies greatly depending on location, amenities, and quality. However, you should consider the fact that you will get more for your money here in Vietnam. When paying the higher end of these guidelines, you can expect to have access to a pool and gym!
Whilst in Hanoi, I lived in the quiet area of Long Bien, 20 minutes from the centre and paid $550 for a two-bedroom flat. In Ho Chi Minh City, I lived in a much smaller 1 bedroom flat in District 3 for $650. Between my husband and I, these prices are very affordable.
It is worth noting that the cost of accommodation is slightly higher in HCMC.
Once settled in Vietnam, teachers will often choose to live together to be able to afford the top end of these guidelines. As a result, living in a high-quality high rise with a pool on the roof is perfectly achievable!
Finding a Teaching Job In Vietnam
Before I left for Vietnam, I had no idea how easy it would be to secure a position teaching in the country. The hard part was actually legalizing my documents for use in the country. Below I will explain what you will need to teach English in Vietnam and where you can apply for a position.
As previously mentioned, the demand for native-speaking English teachers across Vietnam is high. There is a countrywide shortage and your chance of employment is high. However, you must be qualified to a certain level in order to obtain a work permit and get a position teaching with a school.
You will hear about teachers working without qualifications through the grapevine but that is very illegal and there will be consequences when you get caught.
All teachers who wish to teach in Vietnam for a long period will need to be legible for a work permit. In order to do so, they must have the following documents:
- Criminal background check
- TESOL, TEFL or CELTA
- BA Degree in any subject
Before arriving in Vietnam, it is important to note that ALL documents must be legalized for work permit use by both your home countries and Vietnam. Sadly, this can be a long and expensive process depending on the country your documents are from.
Legalizing Documents For Teaching in Vietnam
You have a few different options for legalizing documents to teach in Vietnam. First, you must check with your countries government to find out what the process for legalizing documents is. For example, UK citizens and South Africans, they must legalize their documents in their own country. This is due to the British Embassy and the South African Embassy in Vietnam are no longer offering this service. Whereas, American citizens are fortunate enough to be able to legalize their documents at the American Embassy in Vietnam.
Secondly, you must ensure your degree is notarized by a Notary Public before it can be legalized. Following this, it must be legalized by your home government to authenticate the document. Both your criminal background check and teaching qualification must also be legalized by your home government.
Finally, all legalized documents must then be processed by the Vietnamese Embassy in your home country. Once this process has been completed, your documents will be ready for use in Vietnam. In total, this process cost me around £200 as a UK citizen.
This is indeed a lengthy, stressful and expensive process. However, do not let this put you off. Yes, it is irritating, but I can promise you, the experience of teaching in Vietnam is well worth it.
Applying for Teaching Jobs in Vietnam
There are a few different options for English Teachers in Vietnam. Teaching positions can be found in public schools, language centres, and private tuition. All of which are very different in working hours and teaching demands. It is possible to apply for most positions online and through social media groups.
Public school working times are during the day and can vary from 7am – 5pm. The language centers are mostly in the evenings and full time on the weekends.
Much like accommodation, teaching jobs are often listed on social media pages. Often teachers will simply post their CV on a group and will shortly after be contacted by a school or a recruiter. Alternatively, jobs at private language centers and public schools can be found by directly enquiring with the school.
Most language centres have a strong online presence and will have a way to apply for jobs directly. Top language centres to apply to can be found by simply searching online. Most schools will ask for a CV, copy of your legalized documents and Skype interview before offering you a position.
This is due to the fact that most teachers will be applying from their home countries. Which means you can secure a position before you even leave for Vietnam! In addition to this, many schools will even offer financial support for teachers planning to head to Vietnam once a position has been secured.
Language Centre or Public/International School
When I first began considering different teaching positions in Vietnam, I couldn’t decide whether I would prefer working in a public school or a language centre. I had read online that hours and salary varied greatly between the two. However, I couldn’t find much information regarding the work demands of either job.
As a result, I took a chance and it paid off for me. I decided to work in a Private Language Centre and ended up loving it! Below I will explain the main differences between the two positions.
Language centers in Vietnam are commonplace. This is due to the number of parents willing to pay an additional fee to give their children an opportunity to learn English from a native speaker. Each centre generally opens outside of public school hours, which allows for students to attend after school or on a weekend.
At a language centre, teachers can expect the following from a position:
- 21-25 teaching hours per week
- Working hours between 17:00-21:00 Mon-Fri and 08:00-20:00 Sat-Sun
- Average salary of $20 per hour or $1000-1400 per month
- Classroom sizes of up to 20 children
Teachers should also take lesson planning and preparation into consideration. Some centres will provide lesson materials, whilst others will still expect each teacher to build their own lessons.
For those who are thinking ‘WEEKENDS? I don’t want to work weekends!’, do not fear. It is not as bad as you might think. Weekends aren’t really a thing here for many teachers as a result of language centre demands. You won’t be missing out on events because many of them happen during the week!
In addition to this, it’s really great to not live for the weekend and I don’t miss them at all. Plus I don’t leave for work until 4PM during the week, so I have the whole day to myself. Not bad at all.
Public and International Schools
Public schools and international schools function very much like those we’re used to. Offering teaching hours similar to those back home. The only big difference is nap time. The Vietnamese are very much supporters of a midday nap, which is understandable when it’s 30+ degrees outside.
Most schools close at lunchtime for a few hours, giving students a chance to go home for lunch and sleep it off. A fantastic routine if you ask me. Most teachers in these schools will use this time to complete lesson planning and marking. Others will just embrace the culture and grab an hour of sleep.
In a Public or International School, teachers can expect the following from a position:
- 25-40 teaching hours per week
- Working hours between 07:00-16:00 Mon-Fri
- Average salary of $1400-2000pcm
- Classroom sizes of 30-60 children
Generally, teachers in public or international schools will earn a higher salary. However, this is due to additional lesson planning, higher working hours and additional lesson preparation.
The teaching element itself very much depends on the individual. Personally, I love it and find it extremely rewarding. However, I know other teachers who don’t like it at all and count down every second until their class has finished. Again, this can very much depend on various different elements. Such as the school they work in, colleagues they work with and location.
Despite this, the majority of the teachers I know love the teaching element of their time in Vietnam. And often, it can be the thing they like the most!
One of the greatest things about teaching in Vietnam is the freedom you have to choose your schedule. If you don’t want to commit to 45 hours a week, get a job in a language centre. And if you work in a language center, it’s easy enough to pick up additional classes or private tutoring. You really can work as much or as little as you like.
Is Teaching English in Vietnam Easy?
The short answer is no. Although teaching in Vietnam has by far been the best experience of my life, it hasn’t come without its challenges. As a whole, the experience has been eye-opening, fulfilling and enjoyable on a daily basis. However, it has bought me to tears more than once and left me feeling defeated.
Standing in front of a class of 16-60 Vietnamese children for the first time with only your online teaching qualification to protect you is nothing short of nerve-racking. It is terrifying for even the most confident person. All you can do is go with the flow and let the chaos unfold before your eyes.
The best thing to do is persevere and let time do its thing. Over time you will find yourself growing as a teacher and finding your feet. As you become familiar with your students and they become used to you, things really start to improve. You’ll soon find yourself building a rapport with your students and it is the most rewarding element of the job.
Day to Day Life as an English Teacher in Vietnam
Day to day routines differs greatly depending on the teacher and their job. For example, language center teachers have loads of free time during the week and are extremely busy on weekends. Whereas public and international school teachers have more of a 9-5 routine with free time in the evenings and at the weekend.
For me, I have always worked in language centers. As a result, my day to day routine has changed considerably from the 9-5 routine I was used to. At first, I was unsure of how I would adapt to working evenings and weekends. However, I have to admit, I actually prefer it!
Language Centre Routine
During the week, I don’t leave for work until 4pm, which leaves me plenty of time to enjoy being in such an interesting city. In addition to this, I also have two weekdays off! It really does feel like I work a part-time job, and with 25 teaching hours a week, I basically do!
Most teachers fill their days with some form of hobby, exercise or another job. Vietnam is a country where activities that are normally unaffordable are far less costly. For example, activities such as yoga, rock climbing, boxing, and cross-fit are a fraction of the price they are back home. If you’re wanting to pick up a new skill, this is your perfect opportunity.
Lavish lunches are also a popular activity for teachers. Eating out in Vietnam is extremely affordable. Even eating at the fanciest brunch spots can be reasonably priced! The expat teaching communities in all 3 major cities, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Da Nang are thriving. There is always something to do and someone to see.
Coffee houses are also in abundance in Vietnam. I spend a lot of my time sipping Vietnamese coffee while writing and reading. Vietnamese coffee is some of the best in the world and heavily addictive!
I often spend my days off getting out of the city on my motorbike and exploring some of Vietnam’s most stunning countryside. Over the last few years, I’m lucky enough to say that I have visited some of Vietnam’s finest destinations with my husband. Which brings me onto my last and favorite aspect of life in Vietnam. Travel.
Travel Prospects Whilst Teaching in Vietnam
I have to admit, travel was the number one reason I moved to Vietnam to teach English. After researching every possible avenue for earning money while seeing the world, I concluded that this would be my best option. And I was not wrong.
With a generous teaching salary and low cost of living, I have been able to visit over 8 new countries in Asia in only two years. Getting teaching cover is easier than you’d think and most languages centers support contract pauses. And for those working in public and international schools, you have the school holidays to explore.
Leaving the country aside, I have had the fantastic opportunity to travel Vietnam itself top to bottom by motorbike. With mountains, beaches, islands, and jungles, there really is very little reason to leave the country. Vietnam truly has it all!
Traveling Vietnam by Motorbike
When my husband and I first rented our semi-automatic Honda Future from Rent A Bike Hanoi, we had no idea how much it would change our life in Vietnam for the better. Nervous about the impending 30km commute we were about to embrace, Rent A Bike owner Danny took the time to give us a crash course in staying alive on Vietnamese roads.
And as they say, the rest is history. Over the following year, we rode that bike all over northern Vietnam and added thousands of kilometers to the clock. We have stood on the border of China, slept in a stilt house in the jungle with a Viet family, swam in waterfalls, waded through rice paddies and so much more.
With the support of Danny and the team, we successfully did all of this with only a few punctures and zero breakdowns. An experience like no other that we owe entirely to a motorbike!
To read more about exploring Vietnam by motorbike, read our Top 9 Places to Visit in Northern Vietnam post.
Is Teaching in Vietnam Really Worth It?
The simple answer is YES. Before I made the huge decision to move to Vietnam to teach English, both Eddie and I worked very normal 9-5 jobs in the UK. We lived very normal and comfortable lives, but neither of us had checked the travel box. However, in our late twenties, we didn’t really fancy the standard gap year that would take every penny we owned. Instead, we looked for options that meant we could travel, immerse ourselves in a different culture and earn some cash at the same time.
Teaching in Vietnam was the perfect option for us. Life here is good, really good for an English teacher.
We have made friends from around the globe, traveled SE Asia, learned to ride motorbikes, gained experience teaching and lived in one of the most stunningly beautiful countries in the world. Vietnam has become our second home and we are content with every element of our lives right now.
If you’re reading this post because you’re looking to make a significant change, I can assure you that moving to Vietnam to teach English is probably for you. And if you’ve never taught before, you’re in for an experience of a lifetime. A fulfilling and rewarding experience like no other.