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Why Teaching English in Asia Might Be a Good Idea, and How You Can Do It

Yes, for now I have decided to move on from teaching English and pursue self-employment instead. But I want to make it clear that the four years I spent teaching English weren’t all bad, not at all. In fact, I’m extremely grateful for the experiences I had as an English teacher, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. I might even recommend that people do what I did and get jobs teaching English in Asia. It’s not for everyone, but it could be for you.

Here’s the thing: I believe in taking advantage of opportunities. When I see a great opportunity that excites me, I drop any other plans I may have had and go after that opportunity with everything I have. That’s the method to my madness, and so far it has never led me wrong. So if the opportunity I’m about to describe in this article sounds exciting to you, maybe you should go for it (or at least consider it).

I wanted to make this post really comprehensive and informative, and as a result it is very long. But I’ve done my best to break it up with headlines to make it easier to find the information you’re looking for. And of course, you can always bookmark this post and come back to it later if you don’t have time to read it all now.

Please note that I’m only covering Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China specifically. Although there are certainly opportunities to teach English in other countries in Asia (and all around the world for that matter!), they are beyond the scope of this already extensive article.

It’s impossible to cover every aspect of this topic even in such a long post though, so if you have any further questions please feel free to ask (either in the comments or by contacting me directly) and I’ll be happy to help the best I can.

Now here goes!

First, about the requirements to get a job.

If you’re a native English speaker with a university degree of any kind, the fact is that you have an amazing opportunity to live in another country while basically getting paid to play with kids and talk to people. (Yes, of course it’s more complicated than that and I’ll get there in a moment. But much of working in ESL really is just playing with kids and talking to people! Sometimes I could hardly believe I was actually getting paid for what I was doing.)

At a school Halloween party in Japan

The only real requirements to get a job as an English teacher in Japan, Korea, Taiwan or China are that you be a native English speaker with a bachelor’s degree in any subject. You don’t need to have studied Education, English, or the local language, though of course your application will be looked on more favorably if you have. Some employers do also ask for some sort of certification for teaching English to foreigners. There are several of these including TESOL, TEFL, TESL and CELTA. There are slight differences between these certificates (this article does a good job of explaining), but they are all more or less the same thing, and there are several institutions offering certification courses in locations around the world that can be completed in just one month. (Just search Google for something like “TEFL abroad” and you’ll find a bunch of them.) Many of these courses come with job placement services as well, so they could definitely be a good investment especially if you’re serious about teaching English and think you might want to do it for longer than a year.

The truth is, though, that I personally don’t have any kind of certification even though I taught English in Taiwan and Japan for a total of four years. I simply never needed it. I got my first job teaching in Taiwan by filling out a simple application form online, then doing an interview over the phone. And just like that, I was hired. It really was that easy! I had just graduated from college, and although I had previously spent two months teaching English in Japan on a summer internship, I’m sure I could have gotten the job even without any experience at all. I know many people who have done so.

Now about the benefits and conditions: the good and the bad.

During the year I lived in Taiwan and the subsequent three years I lived in Japan, I earned enough to live comfortably, make payments on my student loans, travel, and even save quite a bit. For anyone who wants specific numbers, when I left Japan in 2011 I was earning about $2800 US per month. So I’m not saying teaching made me rich, but as a single person who’s not a big spender I did very well on that salary.

With students and a co-teacher in Taiwan

Of course, it has to be said that such decent pay with such minimal requirements does attract a lot of people fresh out of college who couldn’t care less about teaching or even getting to know another culture, and just want to spend a year or two partying somewhere “exotic.” Generally speaking, the easiest jobs to get are at so-called “cram schools,” where both children and adults (but mostly children) go after school or work to study English. Although some cram schools are better than others, many of them are really just businesses whose owners care more about profits than actual teaching. The unfortunate truth is that many of these businesses just want teachers with the right look (young, attractive and caucasian) to draw in more students. And so they happily hire the fresh college graduates who couldn’t care less. These circumstances lead to a lot of flakiness and even deception from both the schools and the teachers. There are indeed horror stories about schools not following through on their contracts and fed-up teachers pulling disappearing acts.

The other problem that has to be acknowledged is that many of the students, especially the children, care even less about learning English than their teachers care about teaching it. Many Asian children are over-worked academically, and if you teach at a cram school, your English class will be just one of the many extra classes they go to after their regular school day. If you teach at a public or private school, you may find that your students have never been taught to see English as anything more than a dull academic subject they have to learn in order to pass exams to get into good high schools and universities. So a lot of the children just want to goof around in English class, and a lot of the foreign teachers oblige— because let’s face it, they don’t really know how to teach anyway.

With one of my favorite Japanese students

With one of my favorite Japanese students

I’m not saying all this to scare you, but to give you a balanced view of the realities of the Asian ESL industry. Like it or not, these negative aspects exist, and I think it’s good to be aware of them because they will affect you to at least some degree if you spend any amount of time in this industry. However, it is also a very large industry, and so of course there’s a lot of variation within it. There are actually good schools whose owners and/or administrators do care about teaching. There are honest schools that follow through on their contracts and take good care of their teachers. There are schools that hire teachers who don’t fit the “young, attractive and caucasian” profile. And there are some wonderful students, students who love to learn, who will make you want to stay up all night planning their lessons, who will make you wonder if maybe you really were meant to be a teacher, who will write you letters and give you cards that will make you cry.

And of course, you’ll be living in a foreign country, and you’ll have some unforgettable experiences. You’ll eat things you never knew were edible (or at least get the chance to try them!), see sights that take your breath away, meet all kinds of interesting people, and have the opportunity to practice the local language every day. [1] You’ll even be able to visit neighboring countries. And you’ll be able to do these things without ever having to worry about money.

In my opinion though, the most rewarding thing about teaching English in Asia is how the experience can help you grow as a person. When you’re immersed in another culture and getting to know people who live and think so differently from people in your own country, everything you once took for granted is thrown into perspective and you find yourself forced to question it.  My experience living in Asia helped me let go of some limiting beliefs that weren’t working for me. For example, growing up in the US I’d come to see myself as shy and socially inadept, and to feel like my introverted personality made me inferior to people who were more outgoing. But three years living in Japan taught me that in some cultures, introverted personalities are actually the more socially accepted standard. This made me realize that no one personality type is actually superior, and it’s all a matter of perspective. This is just one example of the many things I learned while living abroad, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have the confidence I have today if it weren’t for that experience.

And now that I’ve given you an idea of what to expect, I’ll address some more practical matters.

First of all, which country should you go to?

If you already have a particular attachment to a certain country (because you really want to learn its language or are fascinated with some aspect of its culture, for instance), then of course your choice will be obvious. In case it’s up in the air for you though, here are my “down and dirty” guidelines to choosing amongst these four countries:

  • If your main goal is to save money or pay off loans, go to Korea. It’s standard practice for Korean schools to provide their foreign teachers with roundtrip airfare to and from their home countries and fully-furnished apartments. Ranging from US $2000-2500 per month, the pay for teaching English in Korea is similar to what you’d get in Japan or Taiwan, but you can save a lot more in Korea because living expenses are much lower— and of course not having to pay rent is a huge help! Many teachers in Korea end up saving a good chunk of cash without even trying. And for those of you who like to go out often, there’s a lot of fun to be had especially in Seoul. From what I understand though, a lot of foreigners find Korean culture difficult to deal with. The Koreans are a very proud people, and their attitude can sometimes come across as abrasive or even rude. I’ve also heard a lot of horror stories about teachers being mistreated by their employers. That’s not to say people don’t have good experiences in Korea, but since both your visa and your housing are tied to the school you work at and you can’t just switch schools if you have a bad experience, I would say it’s especially important to be careful and do your research on the school before accepting any job in Korea. (This is all based on what I’ve heard and read from others, since I’ve never actually taught English in Korea myself. So it would be great to hear from anyone with first-hand experience in the comments!)
  • If you really value your free time and want a lot of flexibility, go to Taiwan. Taiwanese culture is a little more friendly and relaxed compared to other East Asian countries, so it’s a good place to go if you really just want to make friends and chill out. (The friendliest people are in the east, west and south far away from Taipei, though of course Taipei is more convenient and has more things to do.) It’s something that’s difficult to describe, but this little island pulsates with a sort of quirky, raw energy that’s really unique and charming. Pay for English teachers tends to be a little lower than in Japan, and although Taiwan’s lower cost of living could make up for this in theory, the reality is that teachers in Taiwan often don’t get many hours. But this could be a positive thing for you if you care more about having free time (to study Chinese, travel, etc.) than saving money. In any case, you definitely shouldn’t have a problem earning enough to cover all your living expenses. It’s also possible to take on private students or even a second job if you do want to earn more money, so I think Taiwan offers the most flexibility in terms of the kind of lifestyle you want to live. Teachers in Taiwan are usually paid by the hour and make 600 NT (about US $20) per hour at the lowest. (If you’d like to read more about my experiences in Taiwan, see these posts: Things I Love About Taiwan; Attitude is Everything)
  •  If cleanliness and security are really important to you, go to Japan. Japan is the cleanest, safest, and most modern of all these countries, and the jobs in Japan are the most secure. The great thing about teaching in Japan is that the school you work for does not own your visa, so even if you have problems with the school, you can keep your visa and get another job. Japan also has a lot of things to do and a fascinating culture you can really get lost in, in a good way. Japanese people are generally very polite and kind to foreigners, but it can be difficult to develop close friendships with them because they also tend to be quite reserved. The general level of English ability in Japan is also lower than in the other countries, so this can be challenging for teachers. The other drawback of living in Japan is of course that it’s expensive, so it can be difficult to save money even though the pay is decent. Pay ranges from US $2000-3000 per month, but even as a new teacher I wouldn’t recommend accepting any jobs paying less than $2500 (or ¥250,000) per month, especially if you’re living in a big city. With all the cool gadgets to buy and fun things to do, Japan really has a way of draining your money away! (For more on my experiences in Japan, see these posts: (Real) Japanese Schoolgirls; Why I Love Japan; The Negative Side of Japan)
  • If you just want to immerse yourself in an ancient culture, go to China. You won’t make quite as much money teaching in China as in the other countries, although salaries are still decent at an average of US $2,000 per month in larger cities like Beijing and Shanghai. You will make a little less if you live in a rural area, but lower costs of living will make up for the difference and you will be able to live quite comfortably. However, China is not really the place to go if you want to get rich. This is the place to go if… well, if you want to live in China! Although I’ve never taught English in China, I did spend a semester in Beijing as a student. So I can tell you from experience that Chinese people are very friendly to foreigners, and in fact they’re sometimes a little too friendly. People will call out to you in the street, usually hoping either to practice their English or to sell you something. I would say the mainland Chinese are as friendly as the Taiwanese, only less polite! Their culture is very “in your face.” Chinese people are not afraid to say exactly what they think and ask for anything they want. On the other hand, they are also very open, generous and quick to call you a friend. Of course the government censors everything, but the people themselves are not all blind to this, and they love to discuss things. China is an incredibly vast country with a lot of amazing sights to see, and once you’re within Chinese borders it’s quite cheap to get around. The food is also absolutely delicious, plentiful, and incredibly cheap as well!

The next thing you’ll have to decide is what type of school you want to teach at.

There are basically two choices here: a cram school, or a traditional public/private school. (I’m leaving out university positions, since they are generally not an option unless you have a master’s degree in ESL or education.)

Cram schools are also called eikaiwa or juku in Japan, hagwon in Korea, and buxiban in Taiwan and China. Since students come to learn English after work or their regular school classes, cram school schedules generally start in the afternoon and go until the evening. However, some schools will want you to teach some classes in the mornings as well, resulting in a split shift that can be very taxing. There are plenty of schools that don’t require split shifts though, so there is really no obligation to work one if you don’t want to. (I worked a split shift once, and I would not recommend it.) Many cram schools also have classes on Saturdays, though some of them will give you a weekday off to compensate for this. 

Another thing you should know about cram schools is that there’s quite a difference between the big chain schools (which have branches all over their respective countries) and small, privately owned schools. The big chain schools generally have very established curriculums and fool-proof lesson plans that are all laid out for you, and many of them also provide fairly extensive training. They also tend to be very reliable when it comes to payment and taking care of your visa, insurance, etc., and since most of these schools are happy to hire first-timers, they can be a good choice for people just starting out. If you’re the sort of person who really cares about teaching and wants to have flexibility in planning your lessons, however, working at a school like this could be demoralizing for you.

When it comes to the small cram schools though, they’re like a box of chocolates— you never know what you’re gonna get! Some of them provide established curriculums and training, others will simply throw you in a classroom and expect you to come up with something on your own, and most of them are probably somewhere in between those two extremes. The most rewarding teaching job I had was at a school like this. I put a lot of work into designing materials and planning lessons, because the school owners gave me next to no guidance at all. It was worth it to see the progress of my students though, and I found I much preferred this to the cookie-cutter system of the chain school I’d taught at previously.

Although there are a few cram schools catering specifically to adult students, the majority of students at the majority of schools are children. So it is possible to get a job teaching only adults if that’s really what you want, but you will have a lot less options.

If you decide to get a job at a cram school, I would recommend knowing exactly what kind of situation you’re looking for, asking a lot of questions and researching the schools you apply to very thoroughly.

A class at the small Japanese eikaiwa school where I taught for two years

A class at the small Japanese eikaiwa school where I taught for two years

Most foreign teachers who teach at public or private schools are what’s called ALTs, or Assistant Language Teachers. This means they don’t teach classes on their own, but act as assistants to local English teachers. Usually ALTs work with their co-teachers to develop lesson plans based on the school curriculum, and their main role in class is to demonstrate correct pronunciation and interact with students in English while the local teacher explains things in their native language.

Besides teaching, ALTs are also often expected to help students outside class with things like English proficiency exams and speech contests. They may be asked to participate in staff meetings, field trips, assemblies, and other school activities.

ALTs usually enjoy long summer, winter and spring vacations and regular 9-5 schedules.

During the year I spent teaching at a private girls’ high school in Japan, I was not an ALT but a full member of the teaching staff expected to teach classes on my own and take on other responsibilities not normally given to ALTs. So such opportunities are available if you really want to immerse yourself in local school life, but they usually require some knowledge of the local language.

I was the "vice homeroom teacher" for this class of Japanese high school girls

I was the “vice homeroom teacher” for this class of Japanese high school girls

So when should you apply? And should you get a job before you leave, or just show up?

If you want to go to Japan, you should be aware that the Japanese academic and fiscal year starts in April instead of September. Many schools (especially the good ones!) start recruiting teachers several months in advance, so it’s a good idea to start looking in late fall or early winter. There are always some openings year-round, but since an opening at an odd time of year often means that another teacher bailed on the school, the jobs that start in April tend to be the best ones.

It is definitely possible to just show up in Japan and find a job, and in fact you would have more options this way since some schools will only hire people they can interview in person. It’s very common for people to arrive on a tourist visa and later get it changed to a work visa, and it’s not necessary to leave the country to do this. If you’re going to go jobless, the best time to arrive would probably be sometime in February. Of course, since you might not be able to find a job right away, you’ll need to have some money saved up if you’re going to take this approach.  I would recommend having enough to last you at least two months to be safe.

If you want to go to Korea, it’s probably best not to show up there without a job. It’s very easy to find a job from outside the country, and once you’re accepted, the school will take care of your visa for you and pay for your plane ticket to Korea (though they will probably have you pay for it up front and reimburse you after you arrive). From what I understand, the Korean school year starts in March, but many schools also hire teachers to start in September. It’s best to apply as soon in advance as possible, especially if you want to teach at a public or private school instead of a cram school. (Once again, I’m just basing this off what I’ve heard and read because I’ve never actually taught in Korea myself, so please let me know in the comments if I’m mistaken or missing something important.)

If you want to go to Taiwan, you really can just show up in the country at any time of the year and find a job. Taiwanese cram schools (a.k.a. buxiban) are always looking for new teachers, and it’s quite feasible to simply show up in Taipei or Kaohsiung, take a walk around and find several schools to drop into with your resume. Seriously, they’re everywhere!

Public or private school jobs in Taiwan are actually more difficult to come by, and unlike Japanese and Korean schools, most of them seem to require you to be certified as a teacher in your home country. If you come across a public or private school job in Taiwan that doesn’t require teaching certification, it may not be exactly legal, so be careful! That said though, laws in Taiwan are generally seen more as guidelines than rules. It’s also technically illegal for foreigners to teach at kindergartens, but there are tons of kindergarten jobs available. (I actually taught at a kindergarten for my first six months in Taiwan. Shh!) This issue is too complicated to cover thoroughly here, but feel free to ask any questions in the comments section at the end of this article.

If you want to go to China, it seems to be safest to apply for and secure a job (and a work visa) before arriving in the country. Jobs seem to be available year-round. Since I’ve only been to China as a student, I honestly don’t know much about the technicalities of teaching English there, but here are some useful links I’ve found on the subject: How to Approach Your Job SearchZ Visas and Residence Permits; Teaching English in China (summary from the US embassy). Also, here’s a quick summary left by ESLInsider in the comments (thank you!): You can get a job “in China”. I’d say most schools will prefer you come on an “L” visa (tourist) too. You can expect to pay for a visa run or two and if you are American that’s a chunk of money for a new visa.

Finally, here are some specific places you can go to apply for jobs.

In Japan:

  • The JET Program: This government-sponsored program places young people in ALT positions with excellent benefits. It’s quite competitive and has a long application process, but many participants say it’s worth it.
  • Ohayo Sensei: I found both of my jobs in Japan through this bi-monthly online newsletter, which advertises a wide variety of positions all over the country.

In Korea:

  • The EPIK Program: This is basically the Korean equivalent of the above-mentioned JET Program. 

In Taiwan:

  • Tealit: Here you can find not only job openings, but also ads for housing, Chinese tutors, and just about anything else you might need in Taiwan.

In all countries:

  • Dave’s ESL Cafe: This monstrous website has classified ads for teaching jobs all over the world, as well as forums full of ESL teachers and hopefuls asking for advice. Besides looking for jobs to apply to, Dave’s is also a good place to go to check up on any specific schools you might be interested in. I have to warn you, though, that there is a lot of negativity in these forums. Please be aware that the perspective you’ll find here is unbalanced, because the people having positive experiences teaching in Asia tend to be out enjoying themselves instead of spending their time complaining on forums!

If anyone knows of any other (preferably unbiased) websites where people can find teaching jobs in Japan, Korea, Taiwan or China, please let me know in the comments and I will add them to this list.

Additional Resources

Since I published this article, some people have contacted me asking me to share links to their own websites containing further information. If you know of another resource that may be helpful to readers of this article, send it to me and I’ll look it over. If I feel it’s worth sharing, I’ll add it to the list below.

Closing thoughts

The ESL chapter of my life is one I’ve chosen to close for now, mostly because I want to prove to myself that I can find other ways to make a living on my own. Working as an English teacher was difficult and frustrating at times, but overall it was a positive experience for me and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to do it. I have said that I don’t want to do it again, but who knows? I should probably never say never.

Update (January 2015): I guess it’s a good thing I never said never, because I’m back to teaching in Japan again! (Kindergarten this time, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that I absolutely love it. Who’d have known?)

With kindergarten students in Taiwan

With kindergarten students in Taiwan

Thanks to anyone who’s taken the time to read this whole gigantic post, and I hope it’s been helpful to you! Please feel free to leave any questions or comments below. 🙂

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[1] Yes, you can master the local language even while working as an English teacher. I know, because I did it with Japanese. It’s all a matter of taking the initiative to speak the language as much as possible! For more on this, see my guest post on Luca Lampariello’s blog. (Back to the article)

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • George on the Go

    This is great and very insightful and I thank you for that. As someone who has been teaching languages for 6 years (TEFL for 3) I find that I never stop learning. Your points on Taiwan were particularly good for me. I just started new at an elementary school in Japan after teaching JHS my whole teaching life and was shocked to see how much I prefer it. goes to show you never stop learning!

    • Thank you very much! Teaching at an elementary school is one thing I’ve never done. But yeah, you never really know if you like something until you try it. 🙂

      This is kind of off-topic, but I’m curious: What language(s?) were you teaching before you got into ESL?

      • George on the Go

        I was teaching German mainly in British High Schools part time as an assistant, but also tutoring etc. I did a little bit of Spanish tutoring but really my Spanish is very poor. If I went back now hopefully I could offer my Japanese skills too, but I’m not a fully fledged polyglot like you just yet.

        • Interesting! I wonder if there are opportunities to do things like that in the states.

          And I’m not really sure what a “fully fledged polyglot” is, but it sounds like something impressive… I don’t think I am one either. xD

  • Nana

    Hi! I wonder how about not native speakers… Do you have, by chance, any information how it is in such case? Great post, cheers!

    • Hi Nana,

      It’s not unheard of for non-native speakers to get jobs as English teachers in Asia, but it is very uncommon. You might have a chance if you speak English very well and have a university degree from an English-speaking country… But even then I think it would be very difficult if not impossible to get a job from outside the country you want to teach in. Your best bet would be to actually go there and start applying for jobs. Some schools who really need teachers might be willing to hire you, especially if they meet you in person and see how good your English is.

      Then again, if your native language is a fairly popular one such as French or German, there may be opportunities for you to teach your native language in Asia. They aren’t as common as English teaching jobs, but they’re definitely out there, so if that interests you I’d suggest doing some digging around. It could be worth checking the classified ad websites I linked to in the article, since they do occasionally have ads asking for teachers of non-English languages.

      Where are you from and what’s your native language, if you don’t mind my asking?

  • Yuri Zhdanov

    Hi Jana!

    Thank you for such a detailed and thorough post. It was nice to have a peek over you shoulder.

  • Anastasia N

    Thank you for the detailed post! I’ve been debating becoming an English teacher overseas so this post has been very informative.

  • Andrew

    Hello Jana, I wonder, have you ever considered getting a credential and becoming a teacher here in the U.S? Working anywhere in Asia seems like rough start to me. As it is an accepted fact that people there work more hours for less pay than in many other parts of the world, I should know as I am Chinese.

    • I have thought about becoming a teacher in the US, but only in a fleeting sort of way. People in Asia do work long hours, but it seems to me the US is only marginally better in that respect! The Europeans are the ones who have the whole work-life balance thing figured out in my opinion.

  • markduval

    Thanks for writing this. I’m Australian and I have a degree (majored in English and
    French). I’m going to go back to study later this year to do a teaching
    certificate focusing on ESL. I was thinking after that of teaching overseas in
    Asia for awhile, probably in Japan. I don’t know much Japanese but I can always
    start now. I like the idea of being a trilingual and I’ve always had an
    affinity for Japan.
    Anyway, this post will be useful to return to when I’m ready to go there to teach then 🙂

    • With a teaching certificate, you’ll have some great jobs open to you! And I would definitely recommend learning Japanese if you can, because knowing the language actually opens more doors in Japan than it does in the other Asian countries.

      • markduval

        Ah thanks. That’s good to know 🙂

  • Mylene P

    Very detailed and interesting article ! It’s usually difficult to find informations about ESL in China or Taiwan, good job !

  • Antonio Libertino

    Although I am quite sure I won’t ever go to Asia to teach (Italian is what I teach), I found this article very informative and had the feeling it was coming from your heart! So thank you very much for writing it! Antonio

    • There may actually be opportunities to teach Italian in Asia, so I think it’s worth looking into if that interests you. Thank you very much for the compliments though!

  • Ibrahem

    WOW !!! native english speakers must pay you a lot money for this article and all these information 🙂 ..

    • No one paid me any money to write this. ^^;;

      • ibrahem

        they must :P, they find all the details in one place 🙂

  • Patricio Silva

    I’m not interested in going to Asia, not now and probably not in the rest of my life, but I do think that your article is pretty helpful, insightful and for some reason, intimate. You show us (through your article) a whole new world of possibilities. Thanks!

    • Thank you for the nice comment, Patricio! 🙂

  • Joanna

    Hi Jana! I’ve been interested in teaching English in Japan or Korea for a long time, but the one thing that has always deterred me is the fact that people say it’s difficult to make close friends there. I know you have to put yourself out there and go out of your way to make friends, so I’m prepared to do that. However, I definitely need at least a few friends I can be myself around and who I can share my opinions and innermost feelings with. Is it close to impossible to find that kind of friend in Japan or Korea? Or do you maybe have some insight into how to make closer friends?
    Thanks for the great article! 🙂

    • Hi Joanna,

      That’s a really good question. First I’m going to answer it about Japan specifically, since Japan is the country I know most about. It’s certainly not impossible to make close friends of Japanese people, but it does generally take longer than it does with westerners. What makes it difficult is that most Japanese people’s lives are centered around their work (or school if they’re students), and generally speaking it’s not normal for them to socialize with people they’re not in some sort of established “group” with. Japanese people won’t usually ask for the number of someone they just met at a party, for instance. This is the Japanese concept of “soto” (outside) and “uchi” (inside) coming into play. Anyone who’s not in their “uchi” is considered an outsider to be politely left alone. So if you really want to befriend Japanese people, the best thing to do is to join some sort of group that meets on a regular basis— i.e. take a class or join a club. I personally got pretty close to a couple of my Japanese coworkers at the small school I taught at for two years. This was because I saw them almost every day and there was a lot of downtime at the school when there was pretty much nothing to do but sit and chat!

      As for Korea, I really can’t say as much about it because I’ve never lived there myself. However, I have known quite a few Koreans and heard things about Korea from people who have lived there. The impression I get is that Koreans tend to be more outgoing and direct than Japanese people, and to me they seem to be a little easier to befriend, especially if you can find something you have in common with them. But they are still similar to the Japanese in many ways and don’t tend to associate with people outside established groups. This is just my impression though, and I would really recommend getting the input of someone who’s actually lived in Korea.

      Of course, in either of these countries you would probably be able to befriend other westerners, especially if you live in a fairly large city. It can be good to have a few western friends, but I would definitely recommend trying to befriend locals as well! It might take longer to get to know them, but they are worth it. 🙂

  • Andrew Starks

    Hi Jana,

    Your article is very detailed and concise which is great compared to a lot of the negative things other people post on various forums.

    I can see why many people have trouble finding good information which makes the prospect of finding English teaching jobs overseas very daunting! Your blog is very refreshing, and I look forward to reading my way through more!

    In my case, my wife and I will be travelling around Asia and the Himalaya for a few months from Oct 2013 and plan to arrive in Japan in Feb 2014, with the hope to both work as ALTs for 12 months starting around April.

    I have been learning Japanese on and off for many years (consider myself basic to intermediate) and been there with my wife once on holidays a couple of years ago. We loved it and want to spend more time enriched in daily life and culture for the experience.

    We don’t plan on both being ALTs at the same school (as I have read this is near impossible anyway), but want to live together in the same apartment, and go separately to nearby schools etc.

    We both have Bachelor Degrees (mine in civil engineering, my wife’s in science) but have no teaching experience.
    We are worried that we won’t be able to secure our jobs soon before travelling in October, and worry about our chances if we rock up in Feb 2014 and cannot find anything.

    Although you mention Feb is a good time to start looking, we can travel around in the meantime before April commencement.

    I suppose its worrying about ‘taking the plunge!’

    Do you have any thoughts on a good course of action?

    Thanks again,

    Andrew

    • Hi Andrew,

      I’m glad you liked the article!

      I would recommend you subscribe to Ohayo Sensei, the newsletter I mentioned in the article. They usually have a few ALT positions listed. Get your resumes and all other application materials together before you start traveling and have them saved and backed up. (You’ll need a resume, a copy of your university diploma, and a recent photo. If you can get anything else like recommendation letters, etc., that’s a bonus.) Then look through the job listings in Ohayo Sensei every time it’s updated and apply to every job that looks promising to you. Make sure you tell them your schedule and that you’ll be in Japan in February. This way it’s very likely that you and your wife will be able to secure jobs before you arrive.

      Let me know if you have any more questions. The best of luck to you!

  • wannabe polyglot

    Just came across this article now, thanks so much for posting it and being honest about the pros and cons. Very interesting read. I would love to do something like that, but unfortunately I’m not a native speaker.

    • You’re welcome! I don’t know what your native language is, but if it’s a commonly learned language like French or German, there may be opportunities for you to teach your native language in Asia. So if that interests you, I’d suggest looking into it!

      • wannabe polyglot

        German is my native language, but I am Swiss, so my German is accented and these days I’m probably more fluent in English than High German and sadly I don’t think anyone would want to learn Swiss German.

        • You may be right, but it seems to me like it wouldn’t hurt to look into it anyway if you’re interested in teaching German. I know they accept people from all English-speaking countries as English teachers, and some of these people have very different accents!

          • wannabe polyglot

            That is true and you are very right. Never hurts to actually look into it before giving up. Thanks!

          • No problem. 🙂

  • Mark

    Hey, great article!

    Just thought I should add a piece of information. Obviously, it depends where you live and teach in China, but I’m earning about $2000USD per month doing a 24 hour week in Shanghai in a cram school. This is a pretty average salary, but even second-tier cities pay between 10,000-12,000RMB/month these days.

    • Thank you so much for sharing this! I’ve just updated the article. 🙂

  • “Furious” George Rockwell

    If you want to do this, make sure that you’re not Black. Bonus points for being blonde/blue; you won’t even need credentials.

    • vflo

      can i ask why you say that???????

      • “Furious” George Rockwell

        Black people find it nearly impossible to find jobs in Asia, and of course, we aren’t going to have the same good times that the non-Blacks have. Asians worship white people and despise Black people. Life in Asia is a living hell for the heterosexual Black man.

        • Unfortunately, from my experience I have to say that I think there’s some truth to George’s comment. Obviously I’m not black and am therefore limited in what I can say on this subject, but I’ve been shocked at some of the remarks I’ve heard from Japanese people regarding black people. It is simply a fact that this kind of discrimination exists. However, it is also true that there are many black people living in Asia and working as English teachers, and not all Asians are racist. If anyone is interested in learning about the personal experiences of a black man in Japan, I would recommend checking out Loco in Yokohama (http://www.locoinyokohama.com/). Honestly his writing gets a bit too verbose for me at times, but he has some very poignant things to say.

          • “Furious” George Rockwell

            Yup, and the thing is, Japan is probably the nicest country in Asia when it comes to Black men too. You can forget about Taiwan, China, and Korea…

  • tommy

    Hi Jana, this article was inspiring and has taught me a lot whether if i want to teach abroad or not, I would love to take the oppurtunity and experience the culture in partiulcar China, however upon countless times of searching whether if teaching English is plausible in my case as being a Chinese British has its limitations.
    What kind of Advice can you give?

    Kind Regards.

    • As long as you speak English on a native level and received a university education in an English speaking country, it shouldn’t be a problem. I’ve met more than one native English speaker of Asian heritage teaching English in Asia.

    • jason

      Hi,
      Do you need a degree of any sort for visa requirements in Japan?

  • PetuniaTim

    I have a question, Jana, if you could help me: currently I am working at a cram school in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and been here about 3.5 months. My boss is actually close friends with my best friends mother, which is how we were initially introduced. However, even after all the research I did, questions I asked, and even meeting in person, about halfway in teaching (so almost 2 months) things really became complicated. Prior to coming I also told her I had no experience as of yet, and she said she was okay with that.

    Anyways, the younger students in 2 of my classes were unaware that their old foreign teacher wasn’t going to be returning (they thought I was only temporary I suppose), and my boss teaches too, and has stepped in to help keep the students and parents from complaining and transferring to another school. Right when this started, my boss became even twice as hard on me, telling me that I’m a horrible teacher lacking in using efficient games (normally I only am able to get one game in per lesson, which are 1.5 hours), that I’m too slow, not creative enough in anything, and many other unkind words. Such as how she expected me to have had earned the acceptance of all my students by now, but for some reason, though I am patient, kind, and they appear to enjoy class with me at least 3/4 of the time, she continues to insult and cut down on me consistently. Sometimes the younger students don’t always respect me, either.

    Well, due to how we initially met, I keep in pretty close contact with her while I’m here. However, even when I bring up issues, ask for advice, or just ask questions in general to help improve my classes and my teaching (she told me she doesn’t like my teaching style, which is more playful and ‘kiddish’). Yet I ask her what I can do differently, trying to make sure I keep her expectations, she changes those all the time, and then gets angry at me and acts like I should already know it by now and be ‘experienced’. I do everything that I can think of – research online, tabs on notes, focusing on certain aspects of English and choosing a game that helps the kids while being fun at the same time, etc – but I’m still learning. She acts like it has been 6 months, and her words are becoming very discouraging for me so much at times I’ve started to consider leaving our contract at some point before the one year mark and finding another job elsewhere, as it has been my dream to go to teach in Japan. (She’s also claimed that the Japanese are twice as hard on their workers, telling me that if I can’t handle working under her, then I can’t handle Japan – Is that even true?).

    Coming out here, I learned how much I love kids and teaching them, and she has told me a few compliments on my teaching before and that I’ve made progress, but I just wanted to know your take (and possibly advice) on it all. Talking to her hasn’t worked very well, either. Did you experience a lot of this while teaching? Or I just landed a particularly strict boss and need to get over it? But I just feel like her harsh words are uncalled for many times and unnecessary. She told me the other day “Just because you know English doesn’t mean you can teach it well.”

    • It sounds to me like you’ve just gotten yourself into an unfortunate situation with a bad boss. What you describe is not typical. It sounds like you have a genuine desire to teach and are making a lot of effort to improve. It’s not fair of your boss to treat you this way, especially since you’re just starting out. It sounds like her criticisms are just plain rude, and not constructive.

      You say talking to her about it hasn’t worked. Is there anyone else you can talk to who might be able to do something about the situation? Like a boss of your boss? If so, I would go to that person first. Then if that doesn’t work, you have two choices: Either stick with this job and try to make the best of it, or quit. If there are some aspects of the job you like and you feel it’s a good learning experience for you, it may be worth it for you to stay. If it’s making you really unhappy and there seems to be no way to make it better, it may be best to quit. Only you can decide what the right choice is, but if you do decide to quit, I can assure you that there are lots of teaching jobs out there and it shouldn’t be too hard to find another one.

      Oh, and it’s not true what your boss says about Japan.

      I hope my response has been helpful. Let me know how things go!

      • PetuniaTim

        Actually it HAS been helpful, thank you so much! *hugs* ^_^

        But would this tarnish my reputation as a teacher if I leave this contract early…? I’m going to do it in a professional manner of course, as our contract states that if I wish to leave early, I need to give at least 30 days notice or risk not receiving my pay for that month. However, if I say for future teaching jobs, such as Japan since I’m going to apply there next, that I did work for this Taiwanese cram school for about 6 months (I’d like to at least be here that long so I can save a little extra for working in Japan hopefully shortly following), would they not hire me based on my old boss’s words? I’m afraid she might be spiteful and speak lies to keep me from getting another job. And I don’t want my hopeful future employers abroad to think less of my desire and ability to uphold a full contract with them because I left this one early. This isn’t something I plan to make a habit of. I don’t want my chances lowered of getting another teaching job by leaving this one! *worried*

        I believe I have learned a lot of positives and negatives from being here, but I still want to teach abroad. I don’t agree that I am incapable of teaching English, as she was initially shocked at the countless lesson plans I have created for conversation, but the main thing she was disappointed about: my implementations of using games in the classroom.
        And thank you for answering that about Japan! She seems to be rather prejudice towards Japan many times…something I don’t look upon favorably. I don’t like to judge a culture based on a few people we’ve met or just in general – there is ALWAYS A positive and negative to every culture. I know there is to everything, and learned a lot about that while being here.

        Oh if I could explain my passion for Japan effectively here…God has been calling me to their country for a few years now. Even when I tried to ignore it, he’s always pulled me back. Their language, to me, is the most beautiful in the world. My BA degree is in History, and I focused on American, Japanese, and Chinese history. I always hungered for more Japanese history, to learn more and more, I just can’t get enough of it. Sure I like anime and stuff, but their culture, history, and language is SO intoxicating for me… I want to become fluent in their language too. AS for why I came to Taiwan first, I prayed about it and believed that perhaps, due to the nature of the opportunity (pretty much everything is payed for EXCEPT for my ticket there and back, and I’ve earned enough to get back home plus some and get TO Japan), I should take it. Well, she’s good as a friend, but as a boss just…well, not well. I don’t want to offend her especially after how long she’s paid me, but I don’t see any other way around her behavior at this point. My folks and friends view her behavior as quite abusive, and I would have to agree: bully, even. Not that I don’t defend myself and try to explain matters, but it’s almost as if she isn’t having any of that.

        I’m not just talking myself up either. I don’t like to exaggerate or ‘butter things up’ if that’s how I should put it. I will take responsibility for my actions, even if it makes me cringe from embarrassment because I wish I hadn’t made the mistake.

        I want what’s best for the kids, but gosh I do NOT want to leave them! Even a couple handful of little one’s that don’t like me (but are cheerful and talkative towards me), telling me that they want their old teacher back before, I still love them. I know that some of the matters that my boss addresses I can certainly work on, but the way in which she addresses me and informs me of those mistakes, though I’m rarely making the same mistake twice, she’s so degrading….and honestly, it makes me very unhappy. I know bosses aren’t perfect, and I’ve had my fair share, but never have I had a job that I loved like this but be torn between that and having a less favorable boss.

        I feel I do have a strong desire to teach. And I would like to wait until she can get a teacher to replace me before I step out, because I don’t want to make things harder on anyone than necessary.

        Unfortunately, she IS the highest level of bosses there at that school, since she founded it originally. So it’s been around for at least 10 years if I recall, but her focus is more on my gaming ability in the classroom not much else. Something I wasn’t asked or informed about before coming, though I asked what her expectations and qualifications were prior to.

      • PetuniaTim

        Sorry about that second lengthy response, Jana! The last question I had was simply if you knew if quitting a contract early made it near impossible to attain another English teaching job abroad? Be it in the same country or another. Simply put, it probably doesn’t look the best, but do you know if they contact your previous employers, or just how long you were there and similar? A tarnished teaching history is NOT something I want, since I’d really like to teach overseas for a while.^^

        Currently I’m thinking I’m going to try and stick through my current job, but we shall see how things look after 6 months. I’m going to try and take your advice on “Attitude is Everything,” too.

        You seem to have a lot of experience on your shoulders compared to some, which is why I am asking you. Haha~ Your articles are quite interesting AND very helpful! Thank you so much for posting them places for everyone to see! And I think I might have some extra sites you can add to your list to help others search for jobs; got some from a professor of mine.
        Thanks and God bless!

        • It’s true that quitting a contract early wouldn’t look good on a resume, but I certainly don’t think it would make it impossible to get another job. Some schools may contact your previous employers, but I don’t think they will unless they specifically ask you for references. If possible, see if you can get the contact information of someone else at your current job (anyone in a senior position over you besides your boss?) who you know would give you a good reference. If there’s no such person, don’t worry too much about it, and get references from university professors or something if you need them. And if a prospective employer does ask why you quit your last job, just be honest and say you quit because you were treated unfairly. People generally appreciate honesty. It may be more difficult to find a job than it would if you’d finished your contract, but there’s so much out there and you should definitely be able to find something. Just do whatever you feel is right.

          By the way, do you have TEFL certification? You might want to consider that if you’re really serious about teaching English for a while. It would boost your resume and improve your prospects for sure.

          I’m really glad you’ve found my posts helpful, and it would be great to have more job search sites to add to my list. 🙂

  • tk

    I don’t usually comment on blogs, but, I have to on this one! You are amazing, thank you for all the information!

  • CS

    Out of all the blogs I have read about teaching English in Asia I have enjoyed this one the most. Thank you Jana (p.s. that photo of you with the Kindergarten kids is inspiring – so cute!)

  • June

    awesome article! thanks for sharing 🙂 if you don’t mind, can you tell me which company you worked for in Japan? I’m researching teaching in japan right now and I’m hoping to learn about the real experiences of people working for these companies. thank you!

    • I worked at a place called Frank English and French School, and then I worked for a dispatch company called Cosmo Co. Frank English and French School no longer exists unfortunately, but Cosmo is still around. I found them a great company to work for and would recommend them if you’re interested in teaching at a public or private school. 🙂 Here’s their website: http://www.cosmo-web-net.co.jp/index_e.html

  • Ben

    Could you help out a newbie? I’m looking to go to Taiwan because of the reasons you pointed out above (flexible free time, more laid back etc.), but I’d prefer to have a job lined up before I get there. Do you know if any of the big chains which hire abroad are seen as a particularly safe pair of hands when it comes to delivering what they promise?

    • Hi Ben,

      You will be safe going with Hess. A lot of people don’t like them because of their rather cheesy cookie cutter curriculum, so they may not be the best choice for someone who’s really serious about teaching as a career. But they are a well established company that can be relied on to get you your visa and health insurance, always pay on time, etc. It’s also very easy to get a job lined up with them from abroad. All you have to do is fill out an online application and do a phone interview. As long as you’re a native English speaker with a bachelor’s degree, I’ll be very surprised if you don’t get hired. You will see a lot of people online complaining about Hess, but in my opinion they are a good company for first-time teachers just starting out in Taiwan. They are reliable, they offer plenty of support, they organize events and training for all their teachers, and you will easily meet lots of other foreign teachers through them.

      One word of caution: I strongly advise you to go with the 20-hour Hess Language School contract. The other contracts involve split shifts, which are absolute insanity. The “Young Learners” classes also tend to be more difficult to teach. (You’ll have to teach them without a co-teacher, and you’ll probably find yourself spending most of your energy trying to discipline the unruly kids.) In my year working for Hess, I started out with a 25-hour contract and thought I was going to die. Fortunately I was able to drop my morning kindergarten classes after six months and just teach the language school classes in the afternoons. Things were MUCH better after that.

      Good luck, and let me know if you have any other questions!

      • Ben

        I know Hess are the big go-to people for newbies like me, but I guess I’m just somewhat apprehensive because of all the bad press I’ve seen about them (this dude: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DgN7ofiRLM seems pretty virulent, for example). It seems as though Hess is a six-day slog of zero free time and thankless commitment. Then again, I’ve got no idea whether the naysayers are blowing it out of proportion, not having experienced it myself. Is the 20-hour contract really just twenty hours teaching a week, or do you get blindsided with tons of paperwork and other commitments? Thanks for the long and detailed response, by the way, I really appreciate it.

        • Hi Ben, so sorry for the late reply. There is some grading involved outside the actual teaching hours, but it can be done pretty quickly. My personal experience was that the work was easy and I had quite a bit of free time on the 20 hour contract. You have to take these horror stories with a grain of salt, because there are a lot of people on the Internet who just like to complain. Most of the people who have good experiences don’t bother going online to write about it.

  • Matt

    Great article! I enjoyed it and it was very informative.

    However, I have a question about work hours, in China and Japan specifically. You said in the article that in Japan, most jobs were 9-5. Is this Monday – Friday? I read on other websites that most teachers worked 20-25 hours per week. In your experience, how many hours did you generally work per week?

    Also, about how much did you save/month teaching in Japan? Would it be possible to save $600-800/month working 20-25 hours/week?

    Thank you!

    • Thank you for the comment, and I apologize for the very late response!

      Most jobs are Monday-Friday, though some schools may require you to work on Saturdays as well. They may or may not give you a weekday off to make up for this. My advice would be to decide the hours/days you are willing to work and find a school that meets those conditions, because there are different options out there.

      And yes, I think it would definitely be possible to save $600-800 a month teaching in Japan. You may or may not have to make a conscious effort to save money depending on how much you’re making, whether you live in the city of the country, what your lifestyle is like, etc. In Japan, pay is generally by the month rather than by the hour, so the number of hours you work doesn’t really affect your salary.

      • Matt

        Thanks!

  • fennifertravel.wordpress.com

    Brilliant article which I came across when looking up fellow foreign teachers’ experiences, particularly in China. I’m currently in my second month of teaching in Baoji city near Xian in mainland China and I absolutely love the culture and the job itself. Our salary equates to around £600 a month which may not seem a lot for a full-time English teacher, but as the cost of living is so cheap, we are able to live comfortably, splash out a bit, as well as save money at the end of each month.
    My problem at the moment however is that I teach 21 classes a week in four kindergartens around the city, each class twice a week for 25 minutes, which equals teaching each class for one hour per week maximum! The school leaders recently reviewed my classes and some teachers have come under fire as their classes are not progressing enough. As me and my friend spend so little time with each class per week, we cannot be held fully accountable for the overall progress of our classes, but Chinese teachers seem to think we are at fault for this! There seems to be a lot of miscommunication and it makes me wonder whether I am a bad teacher, despite many of my classes achieving great results after review. I wondered if anybody else is having/has had a similar experience, and how to deal with this?
    Great blog, thanks for sharing!

    • Wow, that sounds like a mess. I’m sorry you’re going through this bad experience and I hope things will improve for you somehow. (Or perhaps they have since you left this comment?)

  • BreatheEatLive.com

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write all of this out for us aspiring teachers. I am looking to teach English in East Asia, I know you haven’t taught there….but would you or anyone have any references or advice on good reputable programs TEOSL and places to apply once I’ve gotten certification? Any help is greatly appreciated! Also, I am Cambodian/American, so obviously I am not a young attractive Caucasian – lol, will this affect my chances of getting a better opportunity when applying to East Asia schools where everyone else looks like me?

    • You’re welcome, and please forgive me for the late response. As you say, I haven’t taught in East Asia, and I don’t have a TESOL either, so I’m afraid I’m not the best person to ask for advice on this. As for you being Cambodian-American, I think it may be a bit more difficult for you to get a job than it would if you were caucasian, but as long as you are a native English speaker with a degree from an English-speaking country, you should definitely be able to find a job no matter what you look like. A “foreign” appearance is an advantage, but not a requirement. Good luck!

  • cherry92

    Hello!
    thanks for this post, it really helps!
    I have a question…
    I’m interested in teaching in Korea, but I’m Polish, so English isn’t my native language.
    I’ll go to UK to study English (probably on Oxford)
    Is there any chance for me to get job as English teacher?

    • It wouldn’t hurt to look into it, but I’m sorry to say I think your chances are quite low. If any school does offer you a job, I would suspect it may not be exactly legal, so you should be careful. Generally you are required to be a citizen of an English-speaking country.

  • Jon @ Jonistravelling.com

    You worked for Hess! I had a mixed experience working for them, it was probably perfect for a first teaching job though because I learnt a lot. I’m working in Singapore at the moment and the opportunity to save money and travel here is probably the best in Asia! I’m saving around $2400 (US) a month.

    • Oh wow! I didn’t know you could make such good money in Singapore. Is it typical for people to save that much there?

      • Jon @ Jonistravelling.com

        Yeah, no one really knows about it, I found the job by accident while looking online for another job in Taiwan. It’s pretty easy to save that amount, but not if you want to live in a nice condo and go out drinking every night! It’s a pretty cool job too, class sizes are 8 maximum and the kids speak fluent English so you just teach them easy stuff, a lot different to Hess!!

    • Adrienne

      What school are you at in Singapore?

      • Jon @ Jonistravelling.com

        I work at My English School, there are a few good schools where you can save that kind of money…

    • Kim Veronica Daugherty

      Thanks for sharing this information, Jon! I had not even thought about looking in Singapore, but I will check out My English School. Saving money is important to me.

  • Annie Meow Meow

    Thank you so much for all that information. I’m thinking of teaching in Taiwan. Have you heard about the company Reach to Teach? I’m not sure which site to use for my first time. And what site do you think is a good and affordable site for a TEFL certificate? I don’t have experience teaching nor am I have a liberal arts degree.

    • Hi Annie,

      I have heard of Reach to Teach. I’ve never gone through them myself, but they do seem to have a good reputation. If you haven’t already checked out the forums on Dave’s ESL Cafe, I would go and see what people there have to say about the company. (Just take it with a grain of salt as many posters on these forums tend to be quite negative.)

      As far as the TEFL certificate, I’m afraid I can’t help you much there since I don’t have a TEFL myself. I would recommend doing an in-person course rather than an online one if at all possible, but if you must go with an online course, do a lot of research to make sure it’s credible and will be recognized where you want to teach.

      When you say you don’t have a liberal arts degree, do you mean you haven’t graduated from university? Keep in mind that you will need a bachelor’s degree to teach in most places, or at the very least an associate’s plus a TEFL certificate.

      • Alien1982

        Jana you have some good insights. Just a word of thought. Many posters on esl cafe also speak from personal experience. I also found that people who air grievences on esl cafe also get insulted by other posters. My two posts on here. I’m only talking from my own personal experiences.

        There are positive things about china. But there are also negative things people need to be fairly warned about too.

  • Bridgette

    Thank you for all this great information i really learned alot and also had alot of my questions about teaching english answered. I’m really interested in this career but you said most places look for caucasians but im half caucasian and half filipino, i’m wondering if that matters or not? Also what about age would 24-25 be considered old, would they prefer someone younger?

    • Hi Bridgette,

      Although there is somewhat of a bias toward caucasians, that doesn’t mean non-caucasians don’t get hired. They most certainly do, and as long as you’re a native English speaker you shouldn’t have a problem. And your age isn’t an issue at all.

      • Bridgette

        ok thanks alot for replying 🙂 & sorry about asking so many questions but would a half filipino/caucian fit in in korea or japan? Iv researched alot and iv read that they dont really like filipinos and you might not fit in if you look a certain way is any of that true?

        • It’s difficult for me to answer this question since I’m not Filipina and have no idea what it’s like to live as someone of that ethnicity… But one thing I can say based on my experiences traveling and living in various countries is that generally speaking, places and the people living in them are not actually as hostile as bad rumors would have you believe. There may be some truth to the negativity, so I’m not saying you should discount it completely. But you really do have to take it with a grain of salt and try to avoid letting it soil your perception of a place before you’ve actually experienced it for yourself. I say this as a white woman who moved to Hawaii despite rumors that Hawaiian locals dislike white people, for instance. Unless there’s a real danger of being a victim of violence because of your race or something like that (which there is certainly not in the case of Japan), I don’t think you should let fear of discrimination keep you from experiencing something you really want to experience. Personally I would expect you to have mostly positive experiences in Japan, especially if you come here with a positive attitude. There are some things that irk me about living as a white person in Japan as well, but I choose not to focus on them.

          • Bridgette

            Well thanks so much for helping me out and giving me advice i appreciate it.

          • Sure, no problem. I hope everything goes well for you, and feel free to ask me if there’s anything else I can help you with!

          • Bridgette

            Will do thanks. 🙂

  • Louis

    Which cities are best to live in Taiwan? Also, on the HESS application they say that all contracts require split shifts and 6 day work weeks and asks if that is acceptable. I have the option of marking yes or no.

    • I would mark “no” lol. I personally don’t like big chains like Hess. I think the best buxibans to work at are the small family owned ones. Go there and see for yourself.

  • Tomas Hall

    A nice summary of the industry in Asia. I do wonder though if the ‘teach and travel’ thing will last, or if eventually they will start requiring that you actually be a teacher before you get on the plane.

  • Alien1982

    I can tell you one thing. In china, things are changing. And china is becoming less friendly towards foreigners. Not only do you need a degree, but you also need two years teaching experience. And it all must come with documented proof that you taught those two years somewhere outside china. Not every province enforces the 2 year rule. But more are staring to.

    The other truth about china is this. And this is one of the most overlooked thing imagineable. Their nationalist superiority complex. Although many chinese may be friendly towards us. Most people you will meet will disappear out of your life just a few days after you become friends with someone.

    Also. If you ever get into a physical confrontation with a local. Other chinese bystanders will jump in and assault you as well. Normally if it’s two chinese fighting. People mind their own business. But if it’s a Foreigner vs. chinese. Many chinese people will assume it’s the foreigners fault. They are conditioned to think “when a chinese is against a foreigner, the chinese is always right”. No matter how teivial the circumstances are. Or who threw the first punch. Other locals will always blame the foreigner and attack him. You fight one. You fight them all. One wants a fight with you. They all want a fight with you.

    I have heard too many stories. Happened to a couple friends of mine. One person went back home in a wheelchair for defending himself against a wallet thief.

  • Alien1982

    Truth is, I never realized just how racist china was. But I will share my own stories of discrimination. I remember teaching for a short time in Deyang, Sichuan province. And I remember walking around the public square close to mc donalds. I met two girls. Seemed nice. They took me out to dinner. Then as we’re talking and joking, or whatever. Two guys come up. One starts talking to the two girls, the other to me. They were friendly like many chinese are. I didn’t think anything of it. I only remember the guy as “Jason”. Later we left and they asked us to come with. We went back to the sports clothing store where the two guys worked. And then we agreed to go to KTV later that week. When that friday night came, I tried calling the two girls. They told me they were busy. I called Jason. He didn’t answer. Following Monday, I walked by the clothing store, talked to Jason. He tells me they went to the KTV that night with the two girls I met. And I asked why they never contacted me. He said he forgot his phone. Later on I tell him I dislike living here. He asks me “Is that because you don’t have many friends?”. Then I lied to him and I said in a text message “the girls told me everything you said”. And he started sending me threatening text messages. I was leaving Deyang anyway so I didn’t care.

    Another story. Same city. I met a girl who seemed nice. And she came over to my place first. Then she invites me to her place. She lived with her mom. She takes me in. And while we sit down on the couch, her brother was nice at first. Knew good English. And after 20 minutes. He tells me I need to go. And he has his arm around me. He leads me down stairs outside the building. And he tells me “Let me explain the ways of china. If you are with a girl. You are not married. And you do sex. The police will come and put you in jail. You must be married. This is the law of china. If you want to do sex with my sister. First you must date her. Maybe after 2 or 3 years. You marry. Then you can do sex. Okay?”. Well I never did hear from the brother or the girl since. I hate being a foreigner.

    • Kim Veronica Daugherty

      I’ve never been to China, but these stories don’t seem to describe racism. They describe cultural differences. Apparently Chinese people have different norms involving gender roles, and differences in communication expectations between men and women. I’m not sure where you detected racism. The brother didn’t kick you out of his house for being non-Chinese, he kicked you out for violating cultural guidelines about how to properly and respectfully date his sister.

    • Some say racism and some xenophobia. Either way there is discrimination that you will encounter and it’s not only in China, but also the other countries mentioned here in Eastern Asia.

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  • Lorna

    If you was to leave your eikawa job in Japan (which sponsored your visa) several months into it, for a public school would they give you a bad reference?

    • Hi, sorry for the late reply! I can’t really give you a straight answer to this question because I think it simply depends on the school. But I think if you gave notice well in advance and gave the eikaiwa a more flattering reason for quitting them (i.e. don’t tell them you’re leaving for a job you consider better), you would have a good chance of getting a positive reference. Japanese people are generally pretty honest, so as long as you’ve done your job well you should be fine.

  • What a fantastic & extremely informative post! I have just signed up to do a TEFL online course to cover the basics and am looking to start teaching English abroad next summer. My gut is telling me to go to Taiwan, as I would like to learn Mandarin & am attracted by the relatively high salaries. But Korea is looking like a great option as well. Have you found travelling around Asia easy while based in Taiwan?

    • Hi, sorry for the late reply! I hope it’s not too late to be helpful. Yes, it is very easy to travel around Asia from Taiwan. Especially if you’re interested in visiting Southeast Asia, it’s probably the most convenient of the more developed Asian countries to be based in.

  • You can get a job “in China”. I’d say most schools will prefer you come on an “L” visa (tourist) too. You can expect to pay for a visa run or two and if you are American that’s a chunk of money for a new visa.

    She’s right Korea is usually the best for saving money, but I don’t recommend going anywhere or doing anything just for the money. You won’t be happy and it’s a long ways away.
    http://eslinsider.com/where-should-i-teach-china-korea-japan-or-taiwan

    • Thank you for this!

      I agree that you shouldn’t do anything just for the money. But most people will probably want to consider money as a factor, and it may be the deciding factor for someone who’s ambivalent about which country they’d most like to go to.

  • Gus Gebel

    Awesome article! Im glad I found this on the interwebs. Im thinking about teaching abroad and this really helped me.

  • Cat Smith

    Hi do you have any knowledge of the gaba programme in Japan? It sounds much better than the JET programme. Perhaps a bit too good almost?

    • I have heard of GABA, but as far as I know it’s a company, not a government program like JET. I don’t know a lot about it, but basically it seems to be a chain of English conversation schools that specializes in private lessons for adult learners. If you’ve looked over the GABA website and think it sounds like a good fit for you, I would suggest looking around in some forums and such (Dave’s ESL cafe is a place to start– just be warned posts there tend to be on the negative side, so take them with a grain of salt) to try to get in touch with people who have experience working there, if you haven’t already. Once you’ve gathered all the information you can that way, I would email the company and ask them any questions you can think of. The more you know, the better!

  • Teaching Travel

    A lot of good advice in regards to each separate place to teach in Asia.

    I think people really need to understand the differences between each country and the benefits that each have, as well as the negatives!

  • Rik

    Great article. Thank you.

  • Bernard

    Hi,
    I’m a Singaporean who have no difficulty in communicating in english. In addition, I had taught elementary school students english before. However, I’m not from a country of native english speaker. So, is it possible to apply to be english teacher in Korea?

    Thank you

    • Hi Bernard,

      It will probably be difficult, but it could be possible. I’m not sure what the situation is like for non-native English speakers in Korea, but the kindergarten I currently work at in Japan employs a few non-native teachers. If you’ve received a lot of your education in English and can prove this, you may have a good chance. But then again, I hear it’s getting more difficult to find teaching jobs in Korea these days.

      Perhaps someone with experience in Korea could comment on this?

      At any rate though, I think it’s definitely worth looking into. Maybe email a few recruitment companies and see what they have to say?

    • You need to have a passport from a native English speaking country to get an E 2 visa to legally teach in Korea. That’s what most foreign teachers in Korea have and that is what you need to get a job from outside Korea. If you are married to a Korean or have a heritage visa then you might be able to get a job in Korea, but you’ll have to be in Korea with an appropriate visa.

  • Kristin

    Great post! Very informative! This is all new to me so I have a few questions: can you teach English for short term like 1-2 months at a time or less? I want to “worldschool” my 13 yr old son starting this fall and I want to slow travel around Asia with him while finding little jobs like ESL teaching and perhaps cafes (not sure if that’s in demand or even legal). Is this possible? Do you have any resources or advice? P.S. I have an MBA with marketing concentration so no teaching degree. Thx and keep up the great work!

    • Most schools prefer teachers to sign year long contracts. You can try to find substitute jobs as you travel around or maybe part time work, but I think schools will want you to stick around for a while. There are often summer English camps during the winter and summer breaks where students study more English. These sorts of things could provide you employment for a month or so.

      • Kristin

        Thanks!

  • m

    Love your post. It’s very informative. I want to teach English in Japan or Korea since I want to experience their cultures the most, but I have some concerns. One, I’m rather shy and not very good with speaking, so I’m afraid I might look unfavorable because I’m not an outgoing and enthusiastic person, and two, because I’ve never done tutoring before, I don’t know how I would be able to teach or come up with lesson plans. How did you come up with lesson plans for your classes? Did you have any difficulties with them at first? How do you keep your lesson plans organized and streamlined so that your students can easily understand and follow them?

    • I’m not an outgoing person either, so I had similar concerns to yours when I first started. It did feel awkward standing in front of a class at first, but before long you get used to it. I think the most important thing is to have a genuine interest in teaching and doing the best job you can. If you have this, I think you’ll do fine. 🙂 There are also some good points to having a more reserved personality, such as being more likely to encourage students to talk more!

      As far as lesson plans and all that, it’s very unlikely that you’ll simply be thrown into a classroom and expected to know what to do. Any decent school will provide you with some sort of training and help you come up with lesson plans. Some schools, especially the big chain schools, may even have lessons all planned out for you already. I don’t know if you’ve already started talking with schools or doing interviews yet, but when you do, make sure you ask what sort of training they provide and to what degree you will have to plan your own lessons. That way you’ll know what to expect.

      I hope that helps! Good luck!

  • Tausif

    Teaching is a noble profession. One should take it as his hobby and responsibility. The main job is to teach the students the valuable thing for their future life. So, a teacher should be prepared and be efficient in his respective field. A English teacher should be efficient in speaking and using English in a precise way. For this he should know about the usage and rules of English. I can suggest a site where one can get much information as I got. The site is: http://www.talkenglish.com/ . Thanks Jana for providing such Information.

  • Gediminas Kvedaris

    For those who are considering teaching job in Asia and could say that it is a really great experience. I was English Teacher in China and I was able to earn really good money, even though I am not native speaker or professional teacher. Also, it is really great way to learn about the new culture and travel in the same time. I would like to suggest the company which helped me with the placement http://www.go2globe.org/#!teach-english/ctxe

  • Ginger Armando De Ridder

    For those who are considering teaching job in Asia and could say that it is a really great experience. I was English Teacher in China and I was able to earn really good money, even though I am not native speaker or professional teacher. Also, it is really great way to learn about the new culture and travel in the same time. I would like to suggest the company which helped me with the placement http://www.teachingnomad.com/

  • Jyunkai

    Must be nice to be a white westerner.

  • Agness

    Teaching in China (where I spent 3 years) was one of the best experiences I had in my life!! x Agness of http://etramping.com/jobs/.

  • Roy Yang

    I would like to apologize for the bad reputation that some
    of the recruiters have branded themselves with. Most of the “horrible
    recruiters” are probably independent recruiters working for themselves, thus
    scamming teachers and schools for a higher profit.

    But please do not categorize all recruiters to be dishonest
    and a scam.

    My name is Roy, I am a recruiter from Dewey International,
    a multinational company, and the largest and most professional of our field in
    Taiwan.

    We offer contract transparency and most importantly, safety to all the teachers
    who wish to come to Taiwan to teach.

    We cooperate with public schools, private schools and cram schools all over
    Taiwan.

    Accommodation and Air fees (single or with spouse), airport pickup, insurance,
    work permits and ARC’s are provided by us and we will personally assist you in
    any problems you will encounter while living in Taiwan. For example, finding a
    suitable apartment near your school, driving you to interviews, getting a
    scooter/bike/car, showing you the best places to visit or shop, helping with
    certificates and documents, and the occasional visit to your school to see how you are doing(with you
    permission of course).

    Of course we are still “recruiter”, we all have to make a
    living, BUT we do not charge anything from the teachers. WE CHARGE ONLY THE
    SCHOOLS FOR OUR SERVICES. Rest assured you will not have to pay a single dollar
    to us.

    We also filter, select and match-make the most suitable
    teachers and schools to ensure the best quality for schools and Teachers alike.

    We are strictly professional and would like to overturn the
    awful reputations of recruiters.

    If you could give me a chance and allow me to assist, I
    would be ever-grateful!

    Please contact me if you have any questions or are
    interested in what I have to offer!

    Email: roy@dewey.com.tw

    Facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/esldewey/?fref=ts

    Official Website: http://www.esldewey.com.tw/

  • Joel Overfelt

    Hello! I am currently a student at the University of Kansas. My major is East Asian Languages and Cultures with a focus in Chinese Language & Literature. I am hoping to move to either China or Taiwan after I graduate (I am a junior), and I would be moving with my spouse and dog. Getting a teaching position in Taiwan sounds like it has a greater chance to be more enjoyable and less risky than mainland China, but I learn simplified characters in Chinese, and I’m not sure how thick the Taiwanese accents are compared to the standard Mandarin that I am being taught. Have you heard from any Chinese learners teaching there whether it is hard to learn standard mandarin and simplified characters in Taiwan? Also, are many positions in Taiwan ALT positions? That sounds like a great job to me, because being the sole teacher in a room when I’ve never taught seems daunting. If you could let me know what you think, I would be greatly appreciative. Thank you!