ESL teacher with students in classroom in Vietnam

How to become an ESL Teacher in Vietnam and what it’s like

Hi, I’m Mark. In this guest post How to become an ESL Teacher in Vietnam and what it’s like I’ll give you some practical advice and things you will need for this career choice. Also I’ll provide useful tips to stay safe and settle nicely into this south-east Asian country. I will give you a taste of what it’s like to live here, recalling my own experiences. 

I first went here in 2017, spending around 4 years in lively port city Haiphong in northern Vietnam, as well as six months in Vung Tau, in the south. It was the best decision of my life to take the plunge and leave my home in the UK and venture into the unknown! I absolutely loved every minute of it.

Think of spectacular mountain passes, brightly adorned temples, dramatic rice terraces, bustling street scenes, world-beating beaches, lush, tropical fruits, unbelievable hospitality and friendliness. It’s all here and much more. Combine all of this with a very low cost of living and an attractive, fat salary at the end of the month and it’s hard to find a more inviting country in the world to work as an ESL teacher.

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Things you need to be an ESL Teacher in Vietnam

To begin with let’s look at some things you will require to become an ESL teacher in Vietnam. Although the barrier to entry isn’t set so high, there are certain criteria to bear in mind.

Firstly, you need to have an open mind and be interested in other cultures, a sense of fun and a dash of professionalism. Not to mention a desire to help young people. Okay, I guess you figured you can meet these basic requirements, that’s why you’re here! 

Importantly, you’ll also need the following:

  • An accredited TEFL certificate of at least 120 hours, preferably with an in-class element to the course. 
  • You need a Bachelor’s Degree in any field, however if you’re a non-native speaker, companies increasingly ask for your field of study to be related to English.
  • You will also need a clean criminal record background check, such as a DBS certificate from your home country.
  • All documents will then need to be notarized and legalized in your home country. Doing all of this will allow the language centre to smoothly process your work permit. Then they can apply for a TRC (Temporary Residency Card).

How to get work

Secondly, now you have prepared what you need, you must obviously secure some work. In Vietnam you will usually work in a mix of public schools and language centres. Your daytime schedule can be filled by teaching in public schools and evening work in the centre, that would usually be sponsoring your working visa. You may find work within an international school too. 

It’s best to secure work while you are in your home country and then go to Vietnam on a business visa. Of course, there are thousands of language centres here, but there are very few that are reliable for getting you set up in this country.  Many centres are unlicensed and not capable of sponsoring you. 

Check these companies out:

Approach these companies through their websites by completing an application. Also join facebook groups where companies advertise jobs, such as ‘English Teaching Jobs in Vietnam‘. Here you can respond to posts, usually by email.  Often then a skype interview is arranged and don’t worry too much, as these are usually quite relaxed affairs. The main things you want to show is you speak clearly, you’re friendly and why you feel you’re the right person for the job. Just do your research on the company and the country. 

Fruit and vegetable market in Haiphong

Lifestyle for an ESL Teacher in Vietnam

Moving on, let me tell you about the kind of lifestyle you can enjoy in this exciting country. For starters, you can say goodbye or good riddance to being stuck in the 9 to 5 grind and start striking more of a balance between work and play. Yes, you can do more of things YOU wanna do. Like chill under the AC of a coffee shop, off the side of a hot road. Go for a run around a city lake in the early evening. Go for a motorbike adventure in the countryside and enjoy a picnic. Eat out at welcoming restaurants or BBQ buffets whenever suits. Read a book on the smooth sands of My Khe beach, Da Nang. There are many options. You can fit them all around your teaching.

When I lived in Vietnam my average working week was between 18 – 25 hours of teaching time. So, often about 3 hours work per day. I knew people who did double this. But just based on the hours I worked, I could live very comfortably indeed. 

During 2020 and the first Covid lockdown I was living in Vung Tau. I had a full apartment of my own in the hills, overlooking the ocean and Back Beach. I could actually see and hear the ocean from my bed! All of this for around 5 Million VND per month ($210). For the ultimate guide to this beautiful part of Vietnam please go to: Vung Tau – Why you should visit this perfect seaside getaway

A day in the life

On a typical day I would wake early, as I loved mornings in this seaside peninsular and I’d go and sit on my large outside terrace. There I’d have breakfast, maybe some fresh dragon fruit, blueberries and yoghurt. I’d look out at the sparkling sea, maybe meditating on a colourful container ship slowly slinking by or watch locals having a morning dip in the inviting waters. I’d then go for a run or cruise around on my scooter, stopping at some cafe, to spend a slow hour in the company of coffee beans and a friend. Later in the afternoon, do some lesson planning and then begin to teach for a few hours. At that time I was teaching online. Then out to meet friends for dinner and drinks!

Do you like the sound of this kind of lifestyle? It beats the hell out of cold, early morning starts, at a job you don’t really find rewarding, back in the gloomy UK, that’s for sure.

Interested in teaching is another warm location? Read about teaching in an international school in Kuwait.

Mark in Haiphong

More useful advice and info

Remember this and don’t worry: to become an ESL teacher in Vietnam you certainly do not need to have teaching experience prior to coming here. Obviously that would be great and hold you in good stead. But the emphasis for a student is on communication English with a foreigner like you. Which means if English is your native language or you have a high level of competency in speaking the language, then coupled with a few qualifications mentioned earlier, it’s enough! The job isn’t particularly taxing, generally speaking. Unless you wish to find a specialized niche such as Business English or IELTS preparation, in which case there’s a little more to it. You will find much of the grammar and technical aspects of teaching English are left to the Vietnamese teachers and you will usually have a teacher assistant to help with any classroom issues. 

Look out for these scams

  • Make sure you check the labor contract with a fine toothcomb before signing it.
  • Do your research on a company first, look for reviews on them. If you smell a rat then avoid.
  • Establish the hourly/monthly rate and don’t agree to work a bunch of classes on ‘a promise’ you will get paid at such and such a time. So often foreign teachers are led down the garden path in this way and end up working for months without ever getting payment, as the business just folds up over night. They got the students to sign up to their courses, thanks to having a foreigner fronting their brand and made a tidy profit, while the foreigner in question didn’t get a penny.
  • Do research on the current tax regulations, before agreeing to any tax reductions on your salary. Find out what tax rate you should be paying as a new foreigner in the country, it was a flat rate of 20% if you’d been in the country less than six months, the last time I checked, but this may of changed. Maybe seek the advice of a trusted accountant, if in doubt.
  • Join expat groups on facebook for the city you are going to or talk to other foreign teachers who have lived in that city a while for landlord contacts. DO NOT let a language centre find accommodation for you, as you will often end up paying double the rental price, so that the centre can get a monthly kickback from the landlord and the green-behind-the-ears foreigner is oblivious to it.
Beach in Da Nang

My own experience teaching here

I had briefly ran my own workshops teaching linocutting and running art and craft classes in local libraries in the north of England. This had gave me the initial confidence to go and teach English abroad. Although it was very much a step into the unknown, a leap of faith. To learn more about my art practice check this out. 

During my time in Vietnam I taught everyone from crawling toddlers, who could barely speak their mother tongue yet, to doctors and nurses in the local cardiology department. Any nerves I had were quickly washed away by the overriding friendliness and charm of the people here. For sure you will make good friends both in work and life while in Vietnam and there will be rarely a dull moment! I feel like I spend a lot of time clock watching when I’m in my home country. On the other hand, hours, days, weeks go by, crammed full of so much fun. 

Read about another teacher’s experience teaching in Canada, Kenya and Colombia.

Dos and Don’ts

  • Don’t get a motorbike or scooter immediately after moving to the country. Give it time to get a feel for the roads here, as they can be dangerous. Although it’s one of my favourite things, don’t be in a rush to ride!
  • Don’t work as a volunteer teacher here, as you are basically making a very profitable business more money, as in language centres and students benefit and you don’t. You will gain all the experience you need actually just doing paid work from the start. 
  • Do learn as much as you can about what things should cost, so you know what to expect.
  • Do try to learn some Vietnamese, perhaps book some lessons once you get there. The locals will warm to you even more if you can speak a bit of the lingo.
  • Don’t just think popular cities like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City are your best options for ESL teaching jobs here. There’s so many more cool places, aside from these areas. Some of the most rewarding and memorable classes I’ve had were in some random backwater, tucked between rice paddie fields!
Streets decorated during Tet

A Final Thought

Okay, have you started packing your suitcase or backpack yet? I hope so. You’re going to have the time of your life working as an ESL Teacher in Vietnam and like me, I hope this is a decision you will be forever thankful you made. Yes, you need to be brave to take the initial steps of getting on that plane and going to a far flung land. But, mark my word, it is a land full of beautiful moments, treasured memories in the making and long-lasting friendships. 

If you have found this guide useful and you would like to learn more about Vietnam or ways to travel for longer, check out my ebook, available in all major Amazon territories: Travel For As Long As You Wish: The Blueprint For Budget Travel, Backpacking And Escaping The Rat Race


Mark James Murphy is a writer, artist and adventurer. He was born in Sunderland, North-East England in the early 1980s.

He has solo travelled extensively throughout the world and in 2017 decided to leave behind his job and apartment in the UK to teach English in Vietnam, South East Asia, for almost five years, describing it as the best moments of his life so far.

There he also continued developing his practice as an artist and printmaker, documenting his travels through the medium of linocut.

In 2019 he fulfilled a childhood dream when he backpacked for two months throughout the whole of India, ending up in a remote village in the Himalayan foothills.

He has played football with local kids in the Sahara desert, lived with Hmong people high in the mountains of North Vietnam and worked as a farmhand in Southern Spain. Mark is currently based just outside of London.

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