Why did you decide to work and teach abroad?
Our decision to pursue a career in teaching English abroad came from an initial desire to travel and experience cultures much different to our own. After doing the budgeting and math, we realised it would be many, many years before we were able to financially do any long term travel.
Therefore, being able to work in a job that is in itself a travel experience, was exactly what we wanted. We were also at crossroads as far as what types of career we wanted to have and, having been curious about teaching for awhile, it seemed like a perfect excuse to try!
After a brief whirlwind tour of Thailand, our first taste of Asia back in 2014, we knew that we wanted to spend more time exploring the region and learning about the ins and outs of everyday life. So when it came to moving abroad, we were pretty set on heading to SE Asia.
The final choice of Vietnam boiled town to two main reasons. One, the high salaries and low cost of living means we can save money pretty fast, and two, our friends who had travelled all over SE Asia raved about how Vietnam was their favourite. Considering how much we loved Thailand, we knew we would surely enjoy Vietnam. And lone behold we LOVE it here!
How easy was it to find work teaching abroad?
We found our positions via an advert in a Facebook group. It was as easy as sending our CVs and doing a few Skype interviews in order to secure our positions with the well known and reputable American-run company we work for now.
What qualifications do you need to teach in Vietnam?
To teach English in Vietnam (legally) there are some qualifications you will need to have, mostly to enable you to apply for the work permit. You must have a 4 year degree, a TEFL certification (or a degree in teaching) and must have a clean criminal background check. Most jobs adverts will also say they want only native speakers from a set list of countries, but this is mostly said as a safeguard to avoid hiring teachers with poor English skills. I work with a number of non-native speakers and they are able to successfully obtain both well paid and legal work.
How easy was it to get a visa to work in Vietnam?
We found it pretty easy to get our work permits and residency in Vietnam, which means we don’t need any visa and can stay and work in the country for two years. The whole process has to be sponsored by your company and they file all of the paperwork for you. To apply, you must have notarized copies of your degree and TEFL certification, and a signed affidavit of your police clearance. The residency card can be done at the same time as the work permit, making the process pretty painless.
Can you describe a typical day teaching?
We are both head-teachers at our language centres so we incur some additional responsibilities above what a regular teacher does. A typical weekday at work involves teaching in the evening, between 17:30 and 21:00, doing some quick prep (all of our materials are provided so it’s simply familiarising ourselves with content) and then inputting grades into the computer system afterwards.
During the day we will audit other teachers classes and deal with new classes opening and scheduling, but this rarely takes up more than 2 or 3 hours of our afternoon. Our weekends are the busiest, where we teach classes the throughout the day from 8:00 until 21:00, so we tend to avoid doing additional admin during the weekend.
What is the hardest thing about working abroad?
The hardest things is probably being so far away from friends and family, especially when there is either an important occasion or moments where you wish you could just give someone a comforting hug. We have had quite a few bits of sad and scary news during our year and a half living here, and these are the times when you feel the separation from “home” the most.
What are your best memories and experiences of working abroad?
We’ve had so many highlights of our year abroad, from both working and travelling. Some of our highlights from working abroad in Vietnam are that we work far less hours for the same income than we were earning back home, allowing us a much healthier work-life balance, and how sweet our students are.
We have to deal with very little attitude from teenagers, which is unfortunately quite normal back home. They kids we teach also really value their education and want to improve, which makes teaching so much more fun than we think it would be back home for us.
Has your work been able to fund your travels?
Working as a teacher in Vietnam has allowed us to not only fund lots of trips both domestically and to nearby countries, but we have also been able to grow our savings rapidly. Within the past year and a half we have been lucky to travel regularly while also saving one of our complete salaries each month. All of our savings will be going towards some long term travel next year where we will tick off some of our bucket-list destinations.
Have you been able to save much whilst teaching in Asia?
As mentioned above, we have been able to live a comfortable lifestyle and also save one of our salaries a month, which is insane. I should add that the expenses associated to moving (accommodation deposit and rent up front, plus the fees for visas etc.) hindered our savings for the first few months, but once they were out of the way we find ourselves easily able to live off £1000 per month (between two) giving us some left over money to enjoy local travels and a whole salary to save.
Where in Vietnam, would you recommend travellers to visit?
Vietnam has such a diverse array of landscapes, cuisine and cultures that it can be tricky picking exactly where to visit during your trip. We recommend seeing somewhere in each of the three main regions, Southern, Northern and Central Vietnam.
The North has the stunning scenery of Halong Bay, Ninh Binh, the highlands of Sapa and the Northern loop towards China, which we are keen to experience next year.
Our favourite little town, Hoi An, is found in Central Vietnam and is a great place to soak up a traditional trading town, albeit heavily influenced by the European colonialism. There are so many things to do in Hoi An, you must visit when you are in the country. When visiting central Vietnam visit both Hue and Da Nang too!
For empty beaches jump on a motorbike and explore the Southern Coast. But don’t skip Ho Chi Minh City (where we live) completely on your trip to Vietnam. There is a lot to love about the Saigon once you get past the initial culture shock and the traffic.
What has been your favourite country to visit?
In all honesty, Vietnam has been one of our favourite countries we’ve been to since leaving home! This is potentially due to our intimate understanding of life here but it’s also just an amazing country with rich culture, diverse nature and incredible food. But if I had to pick my favourite country to visit then I would have to go with Cambodia. We spent last Christmas in Cambodia and while we had a loose expectation, it was so much better than we could have imagined. We definitely want to go back and see more of it!
What must pack items would you recommend?
I think a lot of people have a skewed view of Vietnam as still very underdeveloped and therefore pack extensively, thinking they won’t be able to find everything they need here. But this isn’t the case at all if you are in a big city.
I personally have never had issues finding things, from favourite foods, to clothes and toiletries. We have even been able to find irn bru, the holy grail of pop in Scotland! I would suggest bringing underwear if you are an unusual size, particularly bras if you have a large cup size and a small back size (even finding 32 C/D can be tricky).
And toiletry-wise I would stock up on some dry-shampoo and tampons as they can be much more expensive are harder to come-by if you don’t know where to look. The only other thing I wish I had considered was any paperback English books – there are many shops in Ho Chi Minh City that you can buy popular releases in but if you have a niche taste in books and don’t do e-book, then stocking up would be a good idea.
What advice would you give those who want to travel and teach in Vietnam?
Living in Vietnam was such an amazing decision. We have been able to remodel our work-life balance, have a job we love and feel passionate about, travel regularly and save quickly!
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