TEFL Vietnam: Real Teacher Experiences

Vietnam has a great demand for English teachers and there are jobs in cities all around the country, teaching English in public schools and language schools like Apax, Vietnam, ILA and Apollo. Salaries are good for TEFL in Vietnam compared to the cost of living, the culture is interesting and the people are friendly. Compared to China, the visa process is relatively straightforward and it’s not difficult to turn up and find a job.

We wrote a very detailed post about teaching English in Vietnam, based on our own experiences. In this post, we asked several TEFL teachers in Vietnam to talk about their jobs, where they lived and what they like and don’t like about it. You can read stories of teaching English in Phu Ly and Vinh, as well as the major conurbations of Saigon and Hanoi.

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Katie and Jake teach in public schools in Vietnam

We are Katie and Jake, a travel-obsessed couple living and working in Vietnam. We left our life in the UK back in April 2016 for the expat life in Vietnam, right after finishing our studies at university. I (Katie) studied Child & Youth studies and was working part-time in schools with children with SEN, whilst Jake was training to be in the police, but after a month-long trip to Vietnam in 2015, the travel bug kicked in and we just knew that a life abroad was calling. That is where our ESL journey began! You can follow our journey through our blog or through our Facebook page.

Where we teach & how we found our jobs

It was our trip to Vietnam that made us choose Vietnam as our place to start teaching abroad. Right after finishing university, we packed our bags and headed on a trip around Southeast Asia, before settling in Saigon. We knew beforehand that at the end of our trip we would aim to find work as English teachers.

We found our first job by searching on Google. We came across a few sites advertising jobs in Vietnam and applied to a few. Within a few days, we had several emails back offering us Skype interviews.

We took our first job offer as it included accommodation and 1 month later we flew into Saigon to begin our first ESL jobs. However, since living and working in Vietnam, we have found many Facebook pages that are geared towards finding teaching jobs in Vietnam. We find these to be a great source of finding jobs and quickly finding out essential information rather than waiting for emails back and forth.

Advantages of TEFL in Vietnam

There are so many advantages to TEFL in Vietnam! Here are just a few:

  • It is easy to assimilate to life here – You really can have any experience you aim for! If you want to really immerse yourself in the local life, you can easily find accommodation among the locals. Or, if you want familiarities of home, there are certain districts where many foreigners gather. Here you will find plenty of western food, bars and shops.
  • Close proximity to other countries – Another major benefit to living in Vietnam is how easy it is to explore nearby countries. Cambodia is just a short bus journey away from Saigon and flights to places like Thailand and Indonesia are super cheap too!
  • Food – In my opinion, Vietnam has some of the best food in the world – and that is said by one of the fussiest eaters ever! The flavours of the cuisine are incredible, and you can find plenty of cheap street food right on your doorstep. A shameful secret about to be revealed – We have never cooked a meal since arriving in Vietnam.
Woman in a traditional Vietnamese hat making street food in Vietnam for TEFL teachers to eat!

Read more: Food in Vietnam and where in Saigon to eat it

Disadvantages of teaching in Vietnam

We love living and working in Vietnam and even consider Vietnam our home now. So, it is hard to find disadvantages, but pollution is one. Unfortunately, Vietnam is one of the highest-ranking countries for pollution. Some days the skies are just filled with misty darkness and the pollution can play havoc with your health if you are not careful. It is essential to wear a face mask when out and about to prevent you from inhaling all the dirt.

The only other disadvantages that springs to mind is the distance from family in the UK. As Vietnam is a 12-hour plane journey away, it is easy to feel home-sick now and then; especially around the festive periods. Unlike teaching in places in Europe, flights back and forth to the UK can be quite expensive so we must choose our trips back wisely.

Typical street scene in Saigon of three storey shop houses behind a street full of motorbikes

Advantages of teaching English at public schools in Vietnam

We both work for a language center in Vietnam that offers private classes in the evenings to small groups of students and also send out their teachers to public schools in the day times. We chose to only teach English at the public schools.
The best part of teaching English at public schools is that we are always free in the evening for film nights and to go on foodie adventures and free on the weekends to leave the city and explore Vietnam.

As we only work in public schools, we only work from September to May, meaning we have 3 – 4 months each year to travel!

Disadvantages of working in public schools

The main disadvantages of working in public schools are the class size and length. Sometimes you can have more than 60 students in a class and only have 45 minutes per lesson, per week to teach your students. This does not allow for the teacher to build a good relationship with the student and get to know them on an individual basis – i.e. their strengths and weaknesses to help them improve their English.

Read about Filipino Angela’s experience in Vietnam in her New Teacher Tales blog

Carly and Ethan work at a language school in Vietnam

We work at VUS, an English language school in Vietnam. This is an academy-style school meaning that kids attend regular school during the day and take English classes with us on nights and weekends.

The best things about teaching English in Saigon

The best part of teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is the opportunity to work lots of hours. With almost 8.5 million people, Saigon is the most populous city in Vietnam. It’s also a very young city. There are tons of young families who want to be sure their kids know English.

As with most TEFL jobs in Vietnam, we are paid by the hour and are not full-time employees. Because our center has really high enrollment, we have the opportunity to work at least 20 hours each week. This works out to about $1,500 USD each every month, after taxes.  Of course, we could ask to work fewer hours if we wanted, but we choose to make enough to save a good portion.

The cost of living in HCMC is slightly more expensive than in other Vietnamese cities, but this is matched by higher pay. We have met other teachers who started teaching in Northern Vietnam but were only able to get 10 hours per week, max.

The rate of pay here is good. We each only have to work 24 hours per month (6 hours per week each) to cover our base expenses: rent, utilities, and transportation costs including parking. The rest is money we can use to eat out, travel to nearby cities, or wire back home.

Our favorite aspect of our school is its many academic resources. They have a full package of digital and book curriculum, which greatly reduces our lesson planning time. We have a lot of free time—a major change from our previous 9-to-5 desk jobs.

Ethan's kids he works with as an English teacher in Ho Chi Minh City
Ethan’s students studying hard

The biggest thing teachers new to TEFL in Vietnam need to consider is whether Ho Chi Minh  City itself is the right place for them. Lonely Planet says that Ho Chi Minh City is “Vietnam at its most dizzying.” I totally agree. What makes it dizzying? Above all, it’s the traffic. The streets are a constant sea of motorbikes. We bought a motorbike to avoid spending $8 USD or more per day on Grab taxis. Thankfully, because we work in the evenings and on weekends, we usually avoid peak traffic.

Before signing on with a school here, you should definitely visit HCMC to make sure you can cope with a little chaos.

But there are also major perks to living in a huge metropolis. For teachers, the expat community here really helps. You will always be able to find people to vent to after a particularly frustrating day. And when it comes to restaurants, you have your pick. You’ll always be able to find a taste of home. From bagels to hamburgers to Starbucks to PBR on tap, you can find almost anything in the vast city. Just join one of the expat Facebook groups and search for it!

Read more of Carly’s stories of teaching around the world on her blog Carly Matthew.

Ross is an English teacher at Apax, Vietnam

I work for Apax, Vietnam and I have recently moved to Hanoi after spending 20 months in two smaller tier 2 cities, teaching English in Vinh Phuc and Vinh.

Advantages and disadvantages of teaching in smaller cities in Vietnam

In the smaller cities, it is easier to learn to drive, there is less traffic, journey times are shorter and you do not have to wear face masks to protect against pollution (like you do in Hanoi and HCMC).

The significant disadvantage of teaching English in smaller cities in Vietnam is day to day entertainment can be very limited, whereas in Hanoi you have comedy nights, gigs, nightclubs, foreign restaurants, trampolining, football clubs etc.

Although with less to do and lower living costs, saving money in the smaller cities is easier. And you avoid the temptation of partying 5 nights a week. If you are planning on working in a smaller city then it is worth researching the distance to the country’s major cities (Hanoi, HCMC and Da Nang) and the transport situation.

Vinh Phuc was 60km away from Ha Noi but the city itself had no train stations making weekend trips to cities such as Ninh Binh hard. And even if you want to be that super cultured teacher who learns the language and makes lots of Vietnamese friends, it is still worth researching the expat community in the city.

Vinh Phuc had no Facebook expat page and before Apax arrived in the city there were only 2-3 foreign teachers working there. A big bonus of tier 2 cities like Hai Phong and Lao Cai are the cities proximity to some of the countries best natural landscapes.

We taught English in Haiphong for a year back in 2008-2009. You can read our observations on our original blog: Rat on the Road

Small flat bottomed boats with Vietnamese people in them in a river in Vietnam, near Vinh Phuc, where you can teach English

Pros and cons of working for Apax, Vietnam

I really like working for Apax, Vietnam; Having westerners in head office positions definitely helps. The company is more transparent than some of the other companies I did brief trials with. Your schedule is fairly consistent, detailed lesson plans are provided, you get 5 days training before you start and pay is very competitive (and you get a yearly bonus and housing allowance).

The disadvantages are some of the lesson material is extremely monotonous. Teaching teenagers about acid rain, constellations and the history of 0 for 85 minutes can be extremely hard. And sometimes the instructions from head office can be too mechanical. You may get criticised for replacing one of the default components with your own activity even if your own activity gets the kids enthusiastic and talking

How to get a job with Apax, Vietnam

I got the job at Apax, Vietnam by replying to a Facebook post. You can contact recruiting here – [email protected] They recruit year round. Mention my name when you apply for a job, the recruitment team knows me well.

In line with government requirements, Apax, Vietnam requires you to have a university degree and TEFL certificate, but no previous teaching experience is required. Whereas I tend not to recommend online TEFL courses, as Apax provides its own training, they are sufficient in this instance.

Read more about online TEFL courses and see if they are for you.

Racism is, unfortunately, alive and kicking in the Vietnam TEFL industry, thankfully Apax, Vietnam does not blatantly discriminate like some of the schools here.

Find out about Ciaran’s experiences in TEFL in Vietnam and now Taiwan in his New Teacher Tales interview.

Chris also works in TEFL in Vietnam as a teacher for Apax, Vietnam

A view over Phu Ly, Vietnam where they teach, green plants in the foreground and temples in the background

Having taught for 2 years in South Korea I was looking for a change of scene and APAX English in Vietnam came up as a suitable option. What attracted me to APAX, and to EPIK in Korea, was that it is an established system that has been around for a long time so you can be fairly certain that it’s a legitimate organisation.

The positives of teaching English for Apax Vietnam

Before arriving in Vietnam there is a lot of support, your visa letters are organised, you receive your training material, and you have an easy line of contact. The actual teaching is also rather straightforward. There is a very clear structure to your lessons, the textbooks are well laid out and match the online material, and there is a large support community if you are having any problems.

For a regular teacher the teaching hours are 18 per week with the opportunity to take paid overtime. This translates to 12 one and a half hour teaching blocks per week, with 2 days off every week. Teaching is done at night and over weekends so you have quite a lot of free time during the week.

Having taught in the regular schooling system this is a great help if you need to do anything like go to a bank! Lastly, there are opportunities to grow within the company, slowly moving up through the ranks from teacher to manager.

The drawbacks of working for Apax

As with any system, it’s not all positives though. During your initial training housing is not supplied, you have to find your own. Using something like Airbnb is great to find cheap accommodation but it may still be a struggle if you’re tight on cash.

Get money off your first booking on Airbnb with our code.

You also don’t really have a choice in where you get placed first. As you stay with the company there will be opportunities to move but you may have to wait a while. And the structure of the lessons can get restrictive if you’ve been teaching before and you’re used to developing your own material, there is not much room to adapt any of the lessons.

Our time teaching English in Phu Ly, Vietnam

Sunset over the river junction in Phu Ly, Vietnam

When my wife an I arrived to start teaching we were shipped off to a little industrial town called Phu Ly. The advantage of teaching English in Phu Ly is that it is 1 hour away from Hanoi and Ninh Binh in the opposite direction, and there is a train station that can get you anywhere around Vietnam.

There are a number of good coffee shops and restaurants. Phu Ly is famous for its particular style of rice noodle that it uses in the dish Bun Cha, one of my favourite Vietnamese meals. There is also a cheap and delicious vegetarian restaurant that is worth a visit if you’re in the area.

We often ask for rural placements because we don’t love big cities but a downside of teaching English in Phu Ly is that it is not really rural, it is very industrial but without the access to resources that a bigger city would have. It is a fine place to find your feet in Vietnam but it is not somewhere we want to stay long-term.

Have you taught in Vietnam? Comment and let us know your experiences.

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