Thailand vs China?

Which country comes out on top for a TEFLer?

posted on 3rd July 2013

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 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.

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?


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!  grin

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.

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.

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About was started as a small hobby website in 1999 by Ian McNamara. It was a simple way for one Bangkok teacher to share his Thailand experiences and pass on advice. The website developed a loyal and enthusiastic following. In 2004, Ian handed over the reins to Phil Williams and 'Bangkok Phil' has run the ajarn website ever since. has grown enormously and is now the most popular TEFL site in Thailand - possibly even South East Asia. Although best-known for its vibrant jobs page, Ajarn has a wealth of articles, blogs, features and help and advice. But one principle has always remained at Ajarn's core - to tell things like they are and to do it with a sense of humor. Thailand can be Heaven or Hell for an English teacher. It's always been's duty to present both sides of the equation. Thanks for stopping by.