Teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City

It has probably taken months of pain-staking research on your part, but I’m genuinely delighted that Hanoi, one of my personal top-three teaching destinations in Southeast Asia, has made your list of ‘definite possibilities’. Teaching English in Hanoi is special.  In this blog post, we’ll take a quick look at what Hanoi has to offer a new English as a Second Language (ESL) Teacher in the context of salary and conditions. We’ll also shine a light on a few ‘teaching English in Hanoi 101’ considerations that might avert common ‘rookie-type’ errors.

Salary and conditions

Teaching opportunities in Hanoi largely come in six forms (in order of job volume): 

  1. English Language Centres (privately owned); 
  2. Government schools; 
  3. International schools; 
  4. Company classes; 
  5. Tertiary institutions; and 
  6. Private tutoring.

Anecdotally, around 90% of foreigners who are new to teaching English in Hanoi find their first job at a privately-owned English Language Centre or at a Government school, with the former accounting for around 60% (of the 90%) of placements. While the net income and the number of hours on offer in Language Centres and Government schools are similar (around US $1,700.00 +/- a month x 100 hours +/-), the work conditions can differ markedly. Here’s some feedback from AVSE-TESOL alumni:

  • Teaching hours in a Language Centre are mostly in the evening and over the weekend, whereas hours in a Government school are exclusively during the day, Monday to Friday.
  • Class sizes tend to be substantially smaller at a Language Centre (15 +/-) compared to a Government school, with 50+ students being commonplace.
  • Language Centres offer a team environment (in most cases) where people take a genuine interest in how each other is doing. In contrast, teaching in a Government school typically involves doing your hours and going home with minimal interaction with other foreign teachers and local staff.
  • While problematic student behaviour rears its head on occasions in both Language Centres and Government schools, it seems to be less prevalent in Language Centres.
  • Employment conditions in a Language Centre seem to be less stringent than in a Government school. There is a ‘flipside’. Language Centres are notorious for expecting foreign teachers to do unpaid extracurricular work of one type or another.
  • Support services and teaching resources are more readily available in a Language Centre compared to a Government school.

English teaching jobs at international schools, tertiary institutions and companies in Hanoi tend to be the domain of folks who are skilled at networking and have been ‘in the loop’ for an extended period. Teaching jobs like those are mostly filled by ‘word of mouth’. There’s no harm in putting yourself out there, while remembering that age-old story about the ‘tortoise and the hare’ that has been passed down through the generations for a good reason. If it happens that you do secure a teaching job at an international school, a tertiary institution or with a company in Hanoi, you’ll be in the ‘premier league’. You can expect a higher hourly rate and in most cases, substantially better work conditions.

Private tutoring opportunities in Hanoi are readily available, but almost certainly you’ll need to see two, three or more students at the same time to make it worth your while. Personally, I’ve never gravitated towards private tutoring. Why? Finding private students can be hard work, cancellations at the last minute (without payment) are not uncommon and the buzz for me just isn’t the same. You may have a different view of the world. It’s certainly worth trying your hand.  

Okay, so far, we’ve turned our mind to the different types of teaching jobs in Hanoi and issues pertaining to salary and conditions. Now, let’s assume that you’ve decided that teaching English in Hanoi is the right choice for you – and set the scene for further discussion.

Transitioning to an expat life

You’re heading off on an adventure, ‘uncharted waters’, teaching English in Hanoi, Vietnam. You’ve decided to start your teaching journey in Hanoi with the Australian Government accredited TESOL course at AVSE-TESOL. You’ve read more than 200 online reviews about AVSE-TESOL, with the vast majority being top notch. Given that your background, as solid as it is, bears no resemblance to teaching English in Hanoi, you figure that investing in some quality vocational training – teacher training – is a wise move. I think you’re right. Not only will the TESOL programme at AVSE-TESOL provide you with the knowledge, skills and quality certification that you need to land that all-important first teaching job, it gives you four weeks to find your feet in a new country, surrounded by like-minded people who ooze ‘positive vibes’. 

Your plane landed safely in Hanoi. You took a taxi from the airport to your pre-arranged TESOL accommodation. You took a shower and had a snooze. New city! New country! What next? Here are some ‘old-timer’ tips that will make your transition to an expat lifestyle, initially as a TESOL student, followed by teaching English in Hanoi, more straight-forward than it might otherwise be.  

Tip 1: Fix your phone

Walking around outside without a cellphone that’s immediately accessible and useable, for many people, is akin to being ‘butt naked’ in the street. Rightly or wrongly, these days cellphones are an integral part of everyday life, especially when you’re located in unfamiliar surroundings. Google maps (via your cellphone) may well end up being your best friend, at least for a few days until you know the backstreets and alleys that characterise Hanoi. Moreover, once you’ve fixed your phone, you’ll be able to reach out to family, friends and staff at AVSE-TESOL. They’ll all be eager to hear that you have arrived safely.

Getting your phone up and running might be a simple case of inserting a new (local) SIM card. Conversely, it might be a nightmare. If you’re a cellphone guru, you’ll know what to do. If this doesn’t sound like you, making your way to a cellphone shop close to your accommodation should be a priority. The good news is cellphone shops in Hanoi are seemingly on every street corner. The receptionist in your hotel or guest house will surely point you in the right direction.

In the unlikely event you’ve travelled abroad without a cellphone, you will need to get one. Job offers for teaching English in Hanoi are typically made by phone. If the employer can’t reach you by cellphone, he (or she) will simply move onto the next candidate.

Note, fixing your cellphone at the airport in Hanoi, will cost substantially more than visiting a ‘mum and dad’ phone shop downtown.

Tip 2: Know the local neighbourhood

Now that your cellphone is in working condition and you can tap your best mate ‘Google Maps’ on the shoulder, there is less chance you’ll get lost in Hanoi when you venture out. So, venture out. It’s time to get to know the neighbourhood where you’re staying, even if your current accommodation is only a short-term thing. Before venturing into the unknown, even though you have ‘Mr Google Maps’ in your pocket, take a business card from the place where you’re staying or write the address on a bit of paper and put it in your wallet as a back-up strategy to avoid getting lost. Worst case scenario, let’s assume you do get lost.  For sure, you will find the way back to your accommodation sooner or later, if only because downtown Hanoi isn’t that big. Anyway, it could be argued that getting lost in Hanoi is all part of the adventure.

Where is the grocery store, the pharmacy, the bus station, a great coffee shop, an area for passive recreation and most importantly for visitors to Hanoi who have done their research, the local ‘Bia Hoi’? What’s a Bia Hoi? Do a quick Google search and then make a point of visiting one when you’re in Hanoi.

Familiarising yourself with the neighbourhood extends to working out how to get to the address where your TESOL course will take place. Again, Google Maps will come in handy, but something as simple as a ‘Mud Map’ with landmarks might be enough. Doing a ‘dry run’ from your accommodation to the training venue would be time well-spent.

Tip 3: Always remember that you’re a visitor

I have been living and working in Vietnam for more than 14 years. Back in 2007, my old dad visited me in Vietnam. During this trip, he mentioned in passing ‘always remember you’re a visitor’ – and to this day, I’d like to think that I’ve heeded his astute advice.

Vietnamese people have every reason to be peeved with foreigners. For more than 3,000 years, foreigners have felt the need to turn up without an invitation and tell local people how to run their lives. Despite what’s happened throughout history, you will almost certainly form the view that Hanoians and other Vietnamese folks are right up there with the loveliest the world has to offer. Those who felt the need to trespass have long since been forgiven. These days, foreigners who are teaching English in Hanoi, are revered. Personally, I’d like to keep it that way.

You and I – and hundreds of thousands like us – are now welcome in Vietnam, but as my old dad said, ‘always remember you’re a visitor’. Be polite. Go about your work teaching English in Hanoi in a professional manner. Respect local customs and traditions. Don’t get involved in discussions about politics and religion. If there are language problems, be mindful that in Vietnam, people speak Vietnamese and if you’re having issues with understanding something or getting your point across – they’re your issues. To drive home the importance of ‘always remembering you’re a visitor’, here’s a succinct analogy: when visiting a friend or neighbour’s house, would you take it upon yourself to rearrange their furniture? I don’t think so.

Tip 4: Take safety precautions

Statistics show that Hanoi is markedly safer than the capital cities of most developed countries. The Vietnamese Government and local people are pretty happy about this and you should be too. While Hanoi is certainly safer than a lot of other cities, crime, especially petty crime, does occur and as a foreigner you’re a ‘stand-out’ target. If targeting does occur, more than anything else it’s down to the perception that foreign tourists have valuable possessions that can subsequently be exchanged for cash. I come from ‘sleepy’ Melbourne (Australia) and for what it’s worth, I genuinely feel safer walking around Hanoi and other parts of Vietnam.

While Hanoi (and elsewhere in Vietnam) has a well-deserved reputation for being safe, it’s always smart to take precautions including, but not limited to: store your money, passport and other valuables in a place that’s secure; know how to get into your accommodation after hours; be accompanied by friends when walking in the street at night; don’t use your cell-phone when standing or walking in the street; if you have to carry a bag in the street, make sure it has a long strap so you can place it across your body; and know who to call in case of an emergency. It’s common for folks who are teaching English in Hanoi to have evening classes that go to 8.30pm and even later. Travelling home (alone) after a late class requires extra vigilance. All of these precautions equally apply to any other city in the world.  

Tip 5: Bond with your classmates, TESOL trainers and staff:

While doing the TESOL course at AVSE-TESOL, you’ll be mixing with classmates, professional Vocational Trainers, TESOL support staff and others who are on the very same journey as you or are leading the way. You’ll be with like-minded souls. It’s within this kind of environment where life-long personal and professional relationships are formed.

When you’re in a foreign country, friends are more important than ever. Almost certainly you’ll need to reach out at some stage for guidance on visa matters, travelling around Vietnam, where to get a job teaching English in Hanoi, where not to work, employment or lease contracts and the list goes on. It makes sense to have a pool of decent people you can call on when they’re needed. Human nature dictates that people are usually happy to give a helping hand to someone they consider to be a friend. As always, people will be more likely to consider you as a friend, if you’re respectful and nice to them.

In summary, I’ve touched on teacher salary and conditions in Hanoi and provided 5 tips that should make it easier for you to transition from your former life to your new life as an ESL educator. Fix your phone, know what’s available close to where you’re staying, be respectful towards locals, take sensible steps to enhance your safety and make it your business to get along with folks. You’ve been brave enough to embark on this ‘once in a lifetime’ adventure, so it makes sense to grab the opportunity with both hands.  

About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director (and owner) of AVSE-TESOL in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. AVSE-TESOL has been training aspiring educators for jobs teaching English in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other parts of Vietnam for more than a decade. Feel free to contact Peter via email: peter@avse.edu.vn

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1300 Quang Trung Street
Go Vap District (Ward 14)
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

+84 901 324 439