** Updated July 2018 **
The late 1990s was the Golden era of English teaching in Asia. South Korea led the way, offering North American graduates round trip airfare, free housing, $2,000 a month in salary and an extra month’s bonus pay upon end of contract. Japan was a close second, offering the same money, less benefits, and a free-wheeling culture at the top of the global economy.
Soon after the Japanese economy tanked, the English teaching industry collapsed as well.
Offline English teaching in Asia: 2018 update
The Asia teaching market is saturated: too many teachers, stagnant salaries, and higher expectations. In China, licensed North American teachers are in high demand. Outside of that, options are limited, and you’ll be battling with many willing to work for less than you will (Nigerians, Filipinos, Eastern Europeans, Indians).
What has really narrowed the field is the new demand for fresh graduates from Ivy league colleges – many who come from wealthy families will work for intern wages at places like this.
In Bangkok, international school wages (around USD$2500 monthly) have been stagnant for years. In Cambodia aspiring teachers join a crowded job market with Filipinos, Nigerians etc. If you are looking for a teaching job without a degree, expect between $6-$8 per hour. While it is possible to survive on such tight wages, it will grind you down.
This 48-year-old Englishman came to Cambodia and tried to walk the tightrope: living skint off shaky teaching work in a third-world country. He hit some early success that got him glowing and crowing:
Unfortunately the reality is that white skin will get you only so far these days. One month after the FB posts, this happened:
In summary, backpacker teaching is still possible in Asia, but much harder than before. Wages are low, jobs are unstable and you will barely be able to scrape by. In addition you will find yourself on the same level as third-world migrants from the Philippines, India and the Middle East (with real degrees and experience) willing to work less than what a white face needs to earn.
Teaching English Online: 2018 update
Fortunately we have a modern-day workaround: teaching English online to Chinese students. Doing so from Asia allows you cheap relaxed living with high speed internet in a similar time zone to your Chinese students. Before we go into details, you need to be a university graduate, or else have a legit TEFL certification.
Chances of getting online teaching jobs
If you have a clean North American accent, teaching experience, charisma on camera and are good with kids, you have a great chance of finding work no matter your gender, race or appearance. Aspiring Youtubers and webcasters, for example should find the ‘performing on camera’ part quite easy.
On the other hand, if you come across as awkward, poorly spoken spoken or nervous, the following generalizations will matter a great deal:
- Attractive young female: 98 per cent chance of success
- Ugly young female: 90 per cent chance of success
- Ugly young male: 40 per cent chance of success
- Fat male: 15 per cent chance of success
- Fat female: 88 per cent chance of success
- Old man: 35 per cent chance of success
- Old lady: 2 per cent chance of success
- Attractive black: 40 per cent
- Fat black: 30 per cent
Where to apply for online English teaching jobs
This following batch should get you started on an online English teaching job hunt. All cater to young Chinese students (3-12 years old). Expect none of them to offer full-time hours. Most online teachers secure spots with a few operations and then try to build up a following.
In general the best time to get hours is weekends – 10 hours per day is possible. Chinese holidays and school break periods are also good for 5-6 hours per day. During weekendays, most hours are in the evening, between 6pm-10pm Chinese time.
All companies pay referral fees, so most links to jobs contain affiliate links. Ours don’t – these are clean links straight to the employers:
- VIPKID: up to USD $22 per hour. Bubbly white females get priority.
- DaDaABC: similar to VIPKID.
- Qkids: similar to VIPKID, lower pay.
- TutorABC: similar teaching conditions; less pay and hours.
- SayABC: startup-like conditions; less pay and hours.
- Landi English: less pay and hours; pay is docked for tardiness
- Landi English: rigid cash-penalty conditions (pay is docked for various infractions); less pay and hours.
- Talk915: $6.50 per hour; easy to get hired; plenty of students.
Regarding a high-water mark, Planet Asia knows one full-timer working for VIPKID. He makes USD$2,200 monthly on a fixed deal, for 25 hours of teaching per week (even if classes cancel). In general, you can expect around 10 hours per week for any of the jobs listed below. The key is to build a following among the students you teach. If you’re good, you can fill out your schedule to a solid 40 hours of teaching per week within a few months.
If you want to dig deeper and get feedback from real people teaching English online, the Facebook group Online ESL Reviews has what you need.
What is online teaching like?
This guy taught at talk915.com (one of the lower-end mills that hire) in 2015:
“Aside from housing (a quiet controlled space), laptop and wired internet, you need a headset, video cam and clean background. Skype over wifi is very shaky for cross-country video conferencing, unusable for video conferencing.
I made enough to survive, but just barely. But you will risk your mental health. Classes were 25 minutes long. Most of the students are Chinese kids between 3-6 years old, with a few surly teenagers mixed in. Moms often sit in on lessons and flirt with you. It’s a lot of pressure. You get a 5 minute break between classes and then do it again.
It’s really hard.”
Best places to live in Asia for online English teachers
Southeast Asia is ideal for living a digital nomad life as an online English teacher. First, you need to stay in regions where to cost of living is conducive with the tight budget of an online English teacher. Second, you need places with stable high-speed internet. Third, you need to arrange visas that allow you to stay for a longer period of time (moving weekly will grind you down and leave you unsettled).
Four countries in SE Asia fit the bill. These places are chilled out, expat-friendly, have plenty of accommodation options and great internet infrastructures. In any of these places, budget in USD $300 for a monthly room, $50 for gym and pool, $100 for co-working Space (private Skype box):
- Vietnam: arrange a 1-year multiple-entry business visa for around $500
- Cambodia: arrange a 1-year multiple-entry business visa for around $500
- Thailand: arrange a 3-month extendable tourist visa from the Thai consulate in your country
- Malaysia: 3-month tourist visas available on arrival
Using 3-month tourist visas, you could also add Japan and South Korea into the mix. Both options make a welcome change from the heat and chaos of SE Asia. In Seoul it’s a bit harder to find monthly rentals, but Japan has plenty, such as this one in Osaka and this one in Tokyo.
Fixed lifestyle or fluid?
Once you have a few jobs and are able to count on internet English teaching for a living, one option is to get a yearly visa and stay in one fixed location.
Basing yourself in a fixed location be cheaper and much more relaxing. The other option is to stay mobile, getting around on 3-month visas.
The advantage of a fluid setup is you will get to see the best a country has to offer, and then move on before you start to discover the worst parts.
Imagine spending a spring in Japan to watch the cherry blossoms:
When the muggy Japanese summer sets in, pop over to Penang for a few months of breezing by the beach:
Three months later take a 2-hour flight up to Chiang Mai to hang out with the thousands of digital nomad hipsters who live there.
This kind of fluid travel has the potential to be very exciting. You will meet tons of people and enjoy plenty of social opportunities. On the other hand it’s a life on the run, living out of cheap hotels, placing trust in strangers and and never having a place of your own to let your guard down.