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4 Considerations for Finding a TESOL Job in Hanoi

School children in Hanoi, Vietnam. Caitlin Childs via Flickr.com CC BY 2.0

Vietnam is no longer the "Wild West" of teaching abroad. Here's what you need to know.

Of course we all want to get paid well, but there are a few other key considerations for the perfect taking job. If you’re thinking of going to Vietnam to teach, here four things to consider when choosing the best job for you.

1. It’s all about the money, money, money

There’s money to be made in Vietnam, in a country where pay is high and the cost-of-living very low. Not all jobs pay equally though, with typical figures of $17 to $25 per hour. How then to ensure you get the best pay?

A key characteristic to work in Vietnam is the complex web of third-parties that can easily leave you in a tangle. Well-paid private work is available, but it’s harder to find. Agencies are everywhere putting teachers in touch with potential students, particularly if you work for a public school where recruiting is not done directly.

Education is a big business in Vietnam, and everyone's keen to get a piece of the pie.

However, while agencies do provide some benefits—at their best providing support on a range of issues—not all of them are reliable, so do your homework first. 

The main problem with working through a third-party business (and I’m including working at a language centre in this definition) is they will take a cut. Education is a big business in Vietnam, and everyone's keen to get a piece of the pie. The amount you'll end up with varies greatly. In Vietnam, the price is negotiable on a lot of things and hourly teaching rates are no different.

From my own experience, I found that agencies would offer me one price, but were quick to increase it when queried. When in Vietnam, it pays to do as the Vietnamese do.

2. Location, location, location

Hanoi, along with Ho Chi Minh in the south, is one of the most populated cities in the world. The labour market is incredibly fertile, with jobs available across the city, but choosing to work outside of some particular areas could cause issues. Hanoi has a thriving expat scene, but it almost exclusively centred on the Tay Ho area. With a few enclaves around the city centre aside, the rest of the city is markedly different. English is hardly spoken, and with very few foreigners choosing to reside in these other places, you’ll certainly get an authentic experience, but it might not be for everyone.

Of course, you could choose to live outside the city and commute, as many people do. Agencies are acutely aware of the location issue, and many offer a travel allowance to incentivize jobs further from the city’s hub. Motorbikes are cheap to rent, and using the Uber and Grab apps to get a motorbike taxi ensures you don’t get ripped-off. (A word of warning though, driving in Vietnam is an intense experience. Think vehicles criss-crossing through intersections, skipping red lights or mounting the pavement in scenes of roadside anarchy. Needless to say traffic accidents are common. Drive with caution.)

3. Working nine-to-five is not the only way to make a living

Hanoi is by no means a 24-hour city with an actively enforced midnight police curfew throughout swathes of the city. But for virtually every hour the city is awake there are opportunities for work. A public school teacher could be working Monday to Friday daytime, whereas a language school teacher could work evening and weekends. Come with a friend and you may never see each other!

Each of these two options has points to consider. For me keeping my weekends and evenings free is important, so the school route was the way to go. You can easily pick-up additional work after school to supplement your income.

Aside from the stresses of rush hour driving, one issue is that public schools also mean early starts. You'll finish in the late afternoon, but be prepared to wait around between classes for several hours. Thankfully you don’t have to remain at school, but it can seem a long day for few hours.

To avoid this you could work evenings and weekends at a language centre. You'll often work a solid block of hours. Organized fun might take a knock, but waking up later will appeal to many. You’ll end doing similar hours as in a public school.

In fact, the real beauty of the Hanoi is you can basically be a freelance teacher, working a mix of schools, language centres and private classes. The demand for teachers is quite incredible, with the numerous Facebook sites for Hanoi teachers forever being updated, and a separate website with tons of useful info including job listings. This flexibility, in Hanoi and elsewhere, is one of the greatest assets the county has to offer teachers.

4. Working out a work permit

A final consideration is something less obvious, but essentially more important. It concerns your legal status to work in the country. The visa/work permit situation is messy. At its heart is a quandary: On the one hand, authorities say you need a work permit, which in turn requires a degree to be a teacher. Yet on the other, Vietnam is popularly touted as a top choice for unqualified (degree-less) so long as you (look) native. How is this so?

The simple truth is a lot of people work here on a quasi-legal or illegal basis. Hanoi, at least, seems to attract a transient crowd, as the popular tourist destination picks up a lot of travellers looking for casual work. Despite being illegal, it’s common to the point where Vietnamese employers actually advertise for backpacker teachers online. Many others—with degrees or not—find it easier to get work without a work permit, due to the complexities in getting one.

If you determined to do it by the book, there’s a fairly rigorous process to follow.  You’ll need to find an employer willing to sponsor your visa. Your degree, TEFL certificate, police check and housing contract must be officially notarized. This bureaucracy (and cost) is a little sickening, given the raft of illegal teachers working here without documentation and for equal pay.

The pay-off is obviously legal status, and with it the opportunity to open a bank account and get health insurance. Again I can't stress enough the importance of researching agencies first. The better ones offer good packages, even reimbursing flight and visa costs, whereas others won't help, leaving you in legal limbo.

Vietnam is no longer the "Wild West," according to one senior agency manager, but there’s still plenty of bandits and bad guys about.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Sam Paterson

Sam Paterson is an English teacher working in Vietnam. He previously spent three years teaching in Thailand, exploring its lesser-known areas in his free time. He has an eye for cultural differences and the awkward situations that can arise if they’re not understood.

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