Vietnam is opening up to the rest of the world and fast becoming a major tourist destination. Demand for EFL teachers is high in Vietnam and this provides an excellent opportunity to explore an incredibly beautiful and culturally rich country, along with opportunities to gain the type of work experience that you might struggle to access elsewhere.
From the bustling metropolises of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, to lush green terraced rice fields, to the luxurious golden beach of Nha Trang, Vietnam has a lot of variety within its borders. Your senses will be overcome and the only thing you can do is give in to the beauty and activity. But it won’t be long until you see why Vietnam is one of the most popular countries in Southeast Asia.
Read on to discover more about why TEFL life in Vietnam is so desirable.
Lifestyle and culture
If you have never visited Vietnam, first impressions can be quite overwhelming: the heat and humidity can be suffocating; you will experience new tastes, sights and smells, the likes of which you have never imagined; and the traffic is like a living organism. This can be equal parts enticing, scary and frustrating to expats living and working in Vietnam, but you would be surprised at how quickly you adapt (I even trained myself, as a kind of coping mechanism, to believe that cockroaches were a handsome shade of mahogany…).
Despite massive cultural and economic developments in recent years, Vietnam is still a very traditional country, with a great deal of poverty among the local population. Thankfully, the vast majority of young people living in cities now have access to a proper education up to the end of secondary school at least. Although most young Vietnamese city-dwellers speak some English, your day-to-day interactions may still prove difficult, and Vietnamese is not an easy language to master.
Despite being one country under communism since 1976, there is still an apparent divide between the communist north, with the capital Hanoi, and the more westernised south, in which Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is the major city. A similar north-south divide is apparent in the climate, with the north enjoying four seasons and the south only two (dry and rainy).
EFL teachers in Vietnam can enjoy the high life – whether it’s lazing by the pool at a 5-star hotel, enjoying cocktails on a roof terrace, or eating in fancy restaurants. However, this is far removed from the ‘real’ experience – singing karaoke, eating inexpensive seafood and drinking beer with massive chunks of ice in a small side alley – and the truth is that both aspects of Vietnamese life are great.
Teaching in Vietnam is just about as good as teaching gets. Students are generally keen, diligent and extremely appreciative of your time and attention, and teachers are highly respected in Vietnamese society. Many of the major language academies are massive enterprises, comprised of numerous centres in tall buildings looking out over the city. This may sound daunting, but it means that making friends in the workplace is incredibly easy, which is important in a country in which the culture and language can make it very difficult to feel at home or build relationships with locals.
Unless you get a job in one of the main universities, teaching young learners is pretty much a given. Most mid-week lessons take place in the evening and the vast majority of teachers will work all day Saturday and Sunday. This can be quite a shock to some, but you will soon get used to having a Monday/Tuesday or Thursday/Friday weekend, and you may even begin to see some advantages to this. I would recommend that you try to make sure you have two consecutive days off, as life and work in a Vietnamese city can be quite overwhelming, and you need some proper time to relax.
Vietnam is very much a place of opportunity, and is therefore a great place for an enthusiastic, responsible and professional teacher wishing to move up the ranks. Even new teachers, with the right attitude, can find themselves taking on the kinds of responsibilities that it may take teachers in other countries many years to achieve. There are plenty of opportunities for professional development, as many of the bigger language centres provide young learner extension courses, such as the CETYL, and DipTESOL or DELTA, and the financial stability enjoyed by TEFL teachers in Vietnam makes it an excellent time to undertake such training.
Salaries and healthcare
Salaries in Vietnam may not seem high compared to some other Asian countries, but they enable EFL teachers to enjoy one of the highest standards of living of any country in the world. In theory, an EFL teacher could save a significant amount each month, however, with the aforementioned rooftop cocktail bars and 5-star hotels it really depends on your level of self-restraint. That said, the average person treating themselves very well will still be able to put away a couple of hundred dollars a month.
Language schools and universities will offer private healthcare as part of the basic package, and this is essential – you do not want to end up sick or injured in Vietnam without access to healthcare. The healthcare packages offered can differ quite dramatically depending on the school, to the point where it is not uncommon for teachers to change jobs just to get better healthcare, so it is worth investigating what is provided before signing any contracts.
There is a serious amount of paperwork that needs to be done to enable a foreign teacher to work legally in Vietnam. This is expensive and time consuming, but luckily is the responsibility of your employer. This does mean that they hold your work permit though, and it may not be transferable to another school should you wish to change, so again, do your research before signing on the dotted line!
Travel within Vietnam is always an adventure, and is perhaps one of the greatest dangers of living there. Buses are inexpensive and run between major towns and cities. They drive through the night, but if you hope to save on accommodation you should be aware that you are unlikely to get any sleep – the ‘beds’ will only fit travellers under 5ft and the drivers seem to have a death wish. The roads a small and overflowing with traffic, and it is rare to cover any real distance without coming across an accident or fatality along the way.
In towns and cities there is limited public transport (there are plenty of buses, but routes are difficult to work out). The Ho Chi Minh underground has been under construction for a number of years yet, with constant political and economic issues, there is no realistic date for its completion. The most common ways to get about are by taxi, motorbike, or motorbike taxi (‘Xe om’, literally ‘bike hug’ as you hold on to the driver for dear life!). Taxis are inexpensive and Vinasun and Mai Linh, both state owned, are the most trustworthy.
Vietnam is a great location for travel to other parts of Asia. From Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City there are inexpensive direct flights to numerous locations, and if those airports don’t serve your needs, Singapore is close by and certainly will.
Vietnam is a vibrant and lesser explored country with plenty to offer the intrepid traveller. Salaries are excellent and there are plenty of opportunities for professional development. The lifestyle of an EFL teacher is perhaps unmatched anywhere in the world, and you will likely come home with money in the bank – if you come home at all!