Thailand vs China?

Which country comes out on top for a TEFLer?

I taught English in China for 9 years. Every day I remember something bad that happened to me on a regular basis in China that never happens to me in Thailand. Here is my opinion of the two countries if you put them up against each other - from the point of view of an English teacher of course.

The visa process

Thailand: The visa process in Thailand is much easier and the cost is zero. With an American passport, you can enter Thailand free. You can change your tourist visa to a 'work visa' without leaving the country. There are reports from reputable sources that you cannot change an arrival visa to a 'work visa', that you have to go to a Thai consulate and get a travelers visa, which is a bit expensive. I did not find this to be the case.

I transferred an arrival visa to a 'work visa' in 20 minutes with no complications. Your 'work visa' is good for 3 months and getting a work permit takes only 2 months, so you have plenty of time, meanwhile you're working in Thailand legally. The key is to find a school with administrators familiar with the process. (But even that's no guarantee. Our school has a sharp FAO, but someone further up in the Ministry of Education didn't dot some i's or cross some tee's, so 2 out of 4 foreign teachers who made the trip to Bangkok had to return the following week because Immigration caught the undotted eyes and uncrossed tees - and our otherwise sharp FAO didn't.)

OK, so then you have 3 months to get a teaching certificate, which involves taking a course and an exam. If you don't get the teaching certificate within 3 months, your school has to apply for an exemption. You keep applying for an exemption until you get the certificate. Also every 90 days is a trip to local immigration to show your face and announce that you're still working in Thailand. And of course, you have to register your residence with the police. Somewhere in this process is a health check. But the school pays for everything. BTW: I was told that you have to have a 'work visa' to get a bank account, but I didn't and did.

China: Compare this to China. Plan A: Get the paperwork from your school, travel to the nearest consulate, which except for people in large urban areas isn't near at all, travel back to your hometown, wait for the visa, then travel to the consulate again, then travel home again. (Last I checked, Chinese consulates don't process work visas by mail.)

Plan B: Get a tourist visa in Hong Kong, visit the school, hope the FAO can get the paperwork within 30 days or get an extension to your tourist visa, go back to Hong Kong to get the work visa, then go back to your school. Before you go to Hong Kong, you have to get a health check. After you return from Hong Kong, you have to get a foreign expert certificate, then take the health certificate, foreign expert certificate, and work visa to the PSB to get a resident permit.

Some of this the school pays for, a lot of it they don't. Generally, they won't pay for any expenses incurred outside the city where the school is located. And before any of this starts, you have to get a recommendation letter from your previous school and they have to cancel your foreign expert certificate. Oh and the school name on the recommendation letter has to be the same as the school name on the foreign expert certificate and the health certificate.

The students

The students are much more disciplined and much more receptive than Chinese students. In Thailand, the students' attitude is "OK, we're just going to have this lesson and learn some English and everything will be fine." In China, it was more like, "But will this help me pass the exam?" "But I disagree with your teaching method." "But I don't like your personality."

At my last school in China, I wrote less than 10 common vegetables on the board and told them to write the vocabulary in their notebook. I got a memo from the principal that this was too much vocabulary for one lesson. Here in Thailand, I taught a somewhat sophisticated lesson on using the post office. Vocabulary included air, sea, postage, rate, delivery time, scale, weigh, weight, pack, ship, insure, certify, register, confirm, track, and return address. The students absorbed it all without a hint of difficulty or protest.

The Thai and Chinese students were the same age. The Thai students view English skills as something they need and something they can master. Part of this is that the ASEAN Economic Community, with is just around the corner, will use English as its official language. Contrast this with Chinese students being told they need English because of China's entrance into the WTO. There was a lot of crazy English books, a lot of packed English corners, and a lot of students requesting practice time with their foreign teacher, not to mention hordes of university English majors. But the passive aggressive resistance remains.

The country itself. Thailand

Facebook, Youtube, etc, nuff said.

7-11 on every block.

Cold drinks everywhere.

No cold weather.

Beaches, etc.

Awesome food.

Friendly locals.

Clean bathrooms and clean classrooms.

Good transportation system.

Reliable postal system.

Nobody cutting in line.

Nobody hoiking and spitting.

Nobody smacking their food.

Nobody talking in a loud voice.

Nobody bumping into each other and grabbing each other.

Nobody setting off fireworks every 5 minutes.

Nobody allowing their children to relieve themselves in public.

Nobody saying, "Watch your bag"

The contrast in public behavior is striking. There's a food court outside my Thai school. I explored that food court from one end to the other without anyone touching me. And this was in a place packed with energetic elementary students. In China, I would have been bruised from head to toe and my shoes would have been thoroughly scuffed. And of course at least half a dozen people would have cut in front of me while I tried to get my food.


Dress code.

Office hours.

No airfare.

Heat and humidity

Written by Carl Slaughter


I totally agree with Thomas Husted's post. I taught in both countries and found Thai students to have behavioral and discipline issues (not as bad as us Americans though) and would never want to teach in a Thai high school again. Especially after seeing how lazy the Thai teachers were overall and how much they envied us farangs. China has been soulless and bland in many ways, but good in others. Teaching in China has been good, but it's not as fun outside the classroom as Thailand.

By Ted , China (1 month ago)

Please forgive me for saying this, but your opening statement is not true and I feel it somewhat unfair for you to misguide any people that are looking for accurate information.

To follow is factual information:

1. A 30 day entry arrival is free when visiting Thailand but certain countries are still exempt from this ruling. Please note... This entry stamp does not enable you to change or be able to obtain a visa in the Kingdom of Thailand.

2. Tourist Visas for Thailand are not free, they have to be obtained from a Royal Thai Consulate outside of Thailand. The tourist visa is available for a maximum of 3 entries. Each entry is valid for 60 days and then you are required to leave the country (usually goung to Cambodia) and re-enter using another entry stamp. The cost of the Tourist visa varies in different countries but averages on around £25 GBP per entry. Link for UK Visa information

3. Changing the tourist visa to a Non-B visa is not a simple process. This can only be done in Bangkok-Chang Wattana Immigration. There is a fee for changing the tourist visa to a Non-B, the fee is 2000 thai baht. The process of changing the visa is not a simple one and requires a number of original documents from the school (letters of acceptance etc.) This process can take hours not 20 minutes!

Finally, I would like to give you my thoughts of living and working in China and Thailand.

Thailand is a beautiful country and is geared up for accommodating westerners, this is mainly because, for nearly 100 years, Thailand has had a lot of western influence, especially from the U.S.A.
China has only recently opened its doors to the west and, although developing at a vast rate, is still fairly novice in terms of western cultures.

Thailand used to be a relatively cheap place to to live. Food and drink prices are increasing and salaries have remained stagnant for over 15 years. So in terms of wanting to earn and save money as a teacher in Thailand-Forget it!

In China, the cost of living is far lower than in Europe or the USA. The salaries in China are fairly modest and it is possible to earn and save a decent amount of money every month and still live a comfortable lifestyle.

I can only give my input on living in the south of China as I haven't ventured to the northern provinces yet. But I can safely say that I am more at home here in China than I was in Thailand.

In a nut shell... Thailand has a honeymoon period, where everything is magical and sometimes surreal. But after living there for a while, your eyes start to see the other side and the rose-tinted glasses you once wore will start to fade.

Happy ventures to all those embarking on a career in South East Asia, I wish you luck.


By Stephen Roxburgh, Guangzhou (1 month ago)

I don't recall the work visa being free for Thailand, nor stress free. I vividly remember a painful trip to Laos, at a sizeable cost - as do all others I work with.

By Matthew, Rayong (1 year ago)

I was confused as to what he meant by people are always grabbing and bumping him and he gave the school example about being bruised up. Is it that the Chinese don't have concepts of personal space and bump into you without saying excuse me and that?


By James, A CPU (1 year ago)

Are the downsides he mentioned "normal" in China? I used to live in CGN/HCMC Vietnam and that used to annoy me to no end, such as cutting in line, blatantly picking your nose, trying to overcharge foreigners, childish behavior, and so on. I've heard mixed things about China, some people say the Chinese are friendly outside the huge cities, others say they have no manners and are shysters. I know not all Chinese would be bad, but I would get annoyed being exposed to that. Here in Thailand there's all the provincial "farang" stuff to deal with and a 1/2 arsed approach to teaching, but overall I like the people and outside the tourist infiltrated parts, it's a decent place to live. But, good job to the author, what he wrote seemed accurate and was helpful! :-)

By Ted Ciccone, Thailand (1 year ago)

Actually, in Carl's situation in China, one of the places he worked at was exceptionally nasty, even for China. Once his honeymoon period is over, and I agree that that's what it is, he will, in my opinion, still prefer Thailand. I do agree mostly with what Lisa said, but it's good to know that Thailand isn't completely saturated with teachers.

By WK, Internet (1 year ago)

Lisa I think part of the reason there is a surplus of Teachers in Thailand is they allow just about anyone to teach who is from a native english speaking country and you can get away with teaching here in on a tourist visa which happens all the time. In Taiwan for the most part you have to have a 4 year University degree and your not going to get away with teaching on a tourist visa either. So China and Taiwan are strict about both these things while Thailand they are not even though they may pretend to be it's a joke.

By Thomas, Taiwan (1 year ago)

Phil, if you are talking about English teachers who are willing to work for 15,000 baht a month full-time, then yes you can say there is a teacher shortage. But if you are talking about jobs with average salaries around 40,000 baht per month, employers are telling me they get over 50 CVs for each and every opening. There is a teacher surplus in Thailand, not a shortage and it's driving the wages down. The opposite is the case in China.

By Lisa, (1 year ago)

I have worked and lived in both, and find generalizations about entire countries (especially China with it vast diversity between regions and 1.3 billion citizens) are not very useful.

I made a lot more money in China, but have always preferred to live in Thailand, but as I am not an ESL teacher I am not sure how much my experiences would apply to most Ajarn readers.

Comparing “Thailand” to “China” might make for an interesting read and provoke a string of comments, but is not very useful. Some jobs in China might be better for some individuals than some jobs in Thailand, and the opposite is also true.

Ok, go ahead and get back to disagreements over wild and inaccurate generalizations

By Jack, In a nice chair (1 year ago)

Lisa, are you saying that Thailand isn't hurting for teachers? I would disagree with you 100% - Phil /

By philip, (1 year ago)

Sounds like the author is still in the honeymoon phase of being in Thailand. Stay a while and see if you are still the same. Chances are, you'll get sick of the exploitation, low salaries, fake respect, corruption and rudeness all the way around, same as China. But the main difference in Thailand is that you can be replace by 50 other applicants tomorrow, so if you don't like it, their attitude is 'too bad, then leave.' In China, they are hurting for teachers so you're aren't so easy to replace.

By Lisa, Thailand (1 year ago)

In reply to Andy UK; I did meet a couple of rather odd characters whilst in Hong Kong last year. Once was redneck from some mid-western ‘ville and the other a Hungarian. Both had diplomas, but no degree and both got the ‘Z’. Having said that, their salaries were terrible and reflected their lack of a formal education.

I don’t think you can compare Chinese student capabilities with the Thai’s. Communism means that from an early age students are taught to follow and not to lead, or think independently, hence the reciting parrot fashion. What you can compare is the effort put in and unless you’re at the high end in International schools, ALL teachers in Thailand have problems with student laziness and copying. I’ve heard of ones who didn’t, but never met one in real life who I worked with.

Thailand is over rated and best left to Charles to cope with, on a 10 month contract with pocket money? Isn't working somewhere for 9 years an awful long time to hate being somewhere?

By James, China (1 year ago)

I worked in Thailand for a year and China for a couple years.

It sounds like the author has a wonderful job in Thailand, and didn't get the best one in China. For me it was the exact opposite. I had a fantastic job in China, teaching dedicated students, and an iffy job teaching less-motivated (but polite) Thai students.

In my personal experience, I've found Chinese students work 10 times harder than Thai students. On the other hand, they seem to have a harder time with creativity -- and that's a big deal. In one year in Thailand I saw many different creative performances during a "Dating show" activity, but in China the classes seem to parrot eachother.

I prefer teaching in China, but let me be honest, we're comparing relatively similar students. In my first year I taught in Ukraine... oh wow... now THAT is a contrast. I still have the figurative (and literal) scars.

By Zappa, China (1 year ago)

Your mileage doesn't match my own. One anecdotal saying is that in Thailand, 1 plus 1 can equal 3, as long as there are flowery stickers on the border of the paper.

Your experience with Chinese students being less ambitious than Thais certainly doesn't match up with my own. On the other hand, the Thai visa is much easier, the lifestyle is more pleasant/laidback, or at least far cleaner. I now understand why the Chinese spit so much, as there is constant solidification of phlegm due to pollutants in the air.

Andy from UK, the official law as of 1 July is the Chinese government is tightening up on illegal working (on tourist or business visas), and you do need the diploma for the properly legal Z visa. But TIC (this is China) and the enforcement is done by provincial governments. In the coastal cities there's too much competition from properly qualified people, but in cities to the west, further inland, the demand for NES is much higher. There's also other work such as acting, modelling, posing as a "foreign CEO" signing multi-million yuan contracts, etc.

By Sam, near Shanghai (1 year ago)

This article reads like bizarro world. Which Thailand is this guy working in?

I've never worked in China, so can't and won't comment too much on the author's experiences there. However, I will say his Chinese students sound far more ambitious than most Thai students I've encountered; that is a good thing in my book.

With 9 years of teaching experience, and presumably a degree, the author likely landed a good gig in Thailand; it certainly sounds like it. And for what it's worth I'm happy for the guy.

Nonetheless, the tone of this article is all wrong. Seems he believes his anecdotal experiences represent reality for the majority of teachers here. Frankly, they don't.

By Thomas, Uthai Thani (1 year ago)


Bad points: You can also buy a degree in Bangkok. Hide your alcoholism for a while. Get burned out quickly. Low salary with long hours. 10 month contracts. Corruption at low level. If a Thai school or agency can find a way to screw you, it the majority will do so with pleasure.

Good points: Most of the above mentioned.


Bad points: The secretive nature and ‘closed society’.

Good points: Paperwork checked for authenticity which helps keep the losers at bay. Most schools provide free accommodation and all utilities. A much higher salary and a lot less hours.

Students have a much stronger self discipline in China. Although behavior can be disruptive everywhere, the Chinese know they’re going nowhere without a command of English. Teachers in China are desperately needed and teachers in Thailand are tolerated and used. Even the Thai government itself acknowledges that the level of English in Thailand is abysmal and entering ASEAN, Thailand will be somewhere near the bottom in education. I’m seeing more and more salaries in Thailand for NES at 15K and 20K and in Bangkok at 30K. (Pocket money for the backpackers, sunshine included)!

By James, China (1 year ago)

Have you heard of anyone getting a work permit with no degree? I have CELTA.

By Andy, UK (1 year ago)

I have also worked as a teacher in both Thailand and China but as far as teaching I would pick China over Thailand any day. As far as personal or social life I would pick Thailand over China any day. As far as the visa process in Thailand everyone I know including myself had to leave the country to go from a tourist visa to a non-B visa so I really do not know how you did it without leaving the country and the process was not very easy at all as most of the times the schools do not know what they are doing. Also as far as students I found Thai students to be very undisciplined and having to constantly deal with behavior issues, I had none of those issues with Chines students, I would rarely even have to raise my voice but when I did that was it then no more problems. But of course China is a huge country so it depends where you are teaching but after my experience in China I would never teach again in Thailand but China as a culture was too bland for me liking so I am no longer teaching there. My next stop is teaching in Taiwan probably the most under rated country in Asia but has a lot going for it in many ways. Plus I find them to be the most helpful, friendliest people in Asia.

By Thomas Husted, China (1 year ago)

Once again, I must point out that there is no such thing as a 'work visa' in Thailand. You are given a one-year extension of your existing non-B visa by Thai immigration once you get all your shit together as regards work permit and teacher's licence.

By philip, (1 year ago)

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