The ESL industry and wage ratios

English teachers in Thailand actually don't do that badly

I recently drove through my old neighbourhood and saw that two of the large English language schools which had previously been there for years had closed down. Although I did see a new but smaller school had popped up down the road a bit.

This got me thinking about the nature of the ESL industry. Many comments on ajarn.com seem to assume owning a language school is the same as having a license to print money and vast riches are acquired by exploiting the English teachers.

Closed down

Many of the larger language school chains that dominated the industry when I first came to Thailand have either gone out of business or have scaled back considerably. It appears the business side of the industry is extremely competitive due to the low start-up costs and overall low barriers of entry into the industry. The churn seen in the industry would seem to indicate it is a tough racket to make a buck in; after all if you are raking in the dough, there is no reason to close down.

While a look through the job ads on ajarn.com shows the need for ESL teachers in Thailand has not dried up, it also does not appear ESL to be a growth industry in the 21st century in Thailand. While I believe English will remain the world's lingua franca for the foreseeable fortune providing tens of thousands of English teaching jobs globally, there are reasons to believe there are many factors which will put downward pressure on wages and earnings here in Thailand for ESL teachers and school owners for the foreseeable future.

For example, stagnant economic growth, declining levels of foreign investment into the country, a shift in tourist arrivals from the West to more coming from Asia and the demographic trends with Thai families having so many fewer children, and most of the demand for teaching English comes from children and younger people.

Although we can find a few exceptions, obviously salaries are higher in rich countries than in poor countries. The vast majority of migration for employment is in the form of people from poor countries going to rich countries to have a chance to earn higher salaries. While there are some exceptions (such as NGO workers) most people going from rich countries to work in poor countries can expect lower salaries.

Reality check

Are ESL teachers in Thailand actually underpaid and underappreciated? I think in every occupation and job I have ever had (and there have been a higher number of both) in many countries around the world, the majority of workers thought they should be paid more and should be given a higher level of respect than they are currently getting. So there is nothing completely unique about ESL teachers in Thailand complaining about low salaries and being underappreciated (except maybe the quantity and intensity of the whinging). So I decided to do a quick check on the topic.

I decided to look at the most recently job ads (no cherry picking) for a few locations and compare the salaries and also compare the ratio of the salary compared to the countries GNI as measured by the World Bank in 2015

Because GNI statistics are listed in US dollars I converted all figures to US dollars using the latest currency convertor. I used actual figures and not purchasing power parity numbers as the ratio should take the cost of living into account.

The GNI per capita index attempts to identify the total income produced in a company per people; every man, woman and child. It is hardly the perfect measure but it does give a somewhat reliable indication of how wealthy a country is on average and gives a basis for calculating ratios of how a salary in a country compares to average income of the rest of the population.

I am not trying to claim this is any type of scientific research with a high level of reliability or validity, just a quick check to get a basic idea about whether or not ESL teachers in Thailand are underpaid and exploited.

All of the following salaries as listed in the job ads seemed aimed at pretty new teachers without high level of experiences, I realize there are jobs with higher wages in all the locations, but for comparison's sake I tried to find the latest job ad on either ajarn.com or Dave's ESL Café for entry level positions.

Here is what I found

Saudi Arabia
Yearly ESL salary: 997,500 Baht ($28,769)
http://www.ajarn.com/recruitment/browse_jobs/Thailand/118256.html?popup=1
GNI per capita: 22, 500 (I was surprised, I though Saudi Arabia was quite a bit richer than this)
Yearly ESL Salary/GNI per capita ratio: 1.28

Korea
Yearly ESL salary: (Assuming a 12 month contact) 21,701
http://www.eslcafe.com/jobs/korea/index.cgi?read=69081
GNI per capita: 27,440
Yearly ESL Salary/GNI per capita ratio: 0.79

France
Yearly ESL salary: 23,445
http://www.eslcafe.com/joblist/index.cgi?read=40362
GNI per capita: 40,580
Yearly ESL Salary/GNI per capita ratio: 0.58

Thailand
Yearly ESL salary: 12,115 (The ad said between 35 and 45,000, but I went with the lowest number)
http://www.ajarn.com/recruitment/browse_jobs/Thailand/118358.html?popup=1
GNI per capita: 5, 620
Yearly ESL Salary/GNI per capita ratio: 2.16

These results indicate, when comparing ratio of salaries of ESL compared to the average income of the population, ESL teachers in Thailand do quite well, in fact much better than in the other locations (although maybe behind what is found in China or Vietnam which I did not check on, maybe next time).

Teaching English in most rich countries (including in the home lands of native English speakers) would almost always put a person in the lower 50% income bracket, while in Thailand, right off the boat one is well into the upper 50% bracket.

In US dollar or Euros, the wages paid to teach English in Thailand seem low compared to average wages back home, but compared to local salaries, they are quite high. If ESL teachers in Thailand are expecting salaries to rise considerably in the near future or expect to get any sympathy from local workers, I suspect they will be disappointed.

Wages are determined by supply and demand, and it is likely demand will stay soft and supply is not decreasing. I doubt we will see any major increase in average wages in the near future.

Determining whether the wages paid to ESL teachers is "fair" or not requires a subjective judgement, but after looking at the ratio of wages paid compared to the level of economic development of the economy, my subjective opinion is English teachers in Thailand don't do all that bad.

Jack


Comments

Here are some "subjective" opinions. The average ESL salary in Thailand is higher than the average Thai salary. The average Thai works for minimum wage (or less). The average Thai on such a salary has, in general, a much less extensive education than the average ESL teacher in Thailand (if we are talking officially, ESL teachers all must have at least a degree to get a work permit; yes, I know x amount of them don't, though the vast majority of those I have met do). The average Thai with an educational background of that of the average ESL teacher earns more than the average Thai salary (often a lot more with experience, though it is true that starting salaries are pathetically low, as they tend to be in Thailand).

Comparing the average salary in a developing country, where exploitation is the name of the game anyway, to that of a job which, at least on the face of it, requires education and various academic, professional and interpersonal skills, is a little ridiculous. Yes, if you do possess these attributes, you are probably worth more than what you are being paid (as is anyone who possesses them).

I would agree that if you aren't getting paid sufficiently for these attributes, find a place where you do...

By John, bkk (1 year ago)

Average ESL wages in Thailand are lower than average wages in rich developed countries (e.g. Australia, UK, USA).

Average ESL wages in Thailand are higher than the average wage in Thailand.

Average ESL wages in poor developing countries (e.g. Cambodia, China, Vietnam, Thailand) are lower in absolute terms than average ESL wages in wealthier countries (e.g. Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Qatar).

Average ESL wages in poor developing countries are higher relative to average wages in poor developing countries than in wealthier countries.

These are all objective “facts.”

Are ESL wages in Thailand “fair” or enough to “live on” for a native English speaker from a wealthy country in a job that doesn't require any specialized skill beyond having a good knowledge of one’s mother tongue?

The answers will be subjective opinion.

By Jack, In my Chair (1 year ago)

If you know that your salary is low, and just accept that you will continue to work in Thailand earning a low salary, then I hope that the "I do it because I love the lifestyle" argument has much substance to it, because it sure seems that the reasons people stay here are silly and often selfish reasons.

Foreigners working in Thailand, mostly as teachers, will often say that the low salary is okay for them because they love the lifestyle and love living in Thailand. It is an old, recycled argument that true believers will continuously fall back on. I hear things like "My salary might be low, but it's enough to support my lifestyle and still save a little." Great. Good for you. I'm proud you believe that.

I would love to see a list of 10 or so things about this "lifestyle" that people keep referring too. Sadly, when I ask, people are taken aback and quickly scramble for a greatest hits generic list that often starts like this: "Well, the people are nice, the food and transport is cheap, travel is cheap, the beaches are amazing, and culture is fascinating , etc." Ughhh....

To which I reply: "How many countries have you been to?? There are load of places with "nice" people, cheap, food and transport, fascinating culture, etc. There are literally thousands of nice beaches in the world. You know you have been in Thailand too long when you keep revisiting the same cities, the same islands, and the same "hotspots"

It seems that a bunch of the "stuck-in-the-mud-with-no-options-and-nowhere-to-go" types here (and there are lots of them) have just given up. Being away from family and friends and meaningful relationships so you can pretend you are younger than you are and go to Full Moon Parties, Khao San Rd or Cheap Charlies on weekends (before it closed - oh, the the hundred of comments I read about it closing and how people were absolutely gutted...lol) or sit in an air-conditioned cafe in Chiang Mai with wifi for hours on end updating your Facebook status with selfies and check-ins to share with everyone (often people they haven't seen or talked to in years) about their "amazing" travels. Yes, it is an amazing journey from the air-conditioned guesthouse to the air-conditioned cafe.

To circle the conversation back to salaries - Yes, some people don't mind working hard in a dead-end job for extremely low pay. Those are the teachers that stay. God bless them for their die-hard convictions. If they wanna whine and complain about it, that's fine. It won't change anything. It is just a reflection of themselves. One minute it will be complaining about their low salary and what an injustice the system is, and the next minute the very same person will defend their salary and "lifestyle" You can't have it both ways....

By Jeff K., Bangkok (1 year ago)

Sorry ,but this article makes no sense. It sounds like it's written by someone who wants to justify paying low salaries.

The only people who can legitimately say the salaries are low are the people who are actually working in the industry. If you're not working in the industry living on the low salaries, you really don't know.

Someone earlier made a good point about not watching Fox News. They do the same thing. They bitch and moan about people who want to raise the minimum wage. Rich news anchors telling people on minimum wage "Stop whining. You make enough!". People in most industries complain they don't make enough. Well, guess what? That's probably because they don't!

I work here and my salary is low. I love living here and do my job as best I can. I'm the exception. A lot of teachers come here and equate the low salaries with not having to do much work. This may well be wrong, but it doesn't change how people behave. You simply can't expect most people to put in a shift for pennies. It's not how the world works.

I make 48k a month base salary. I get no pension scheme, no savings scheme, no support financial or otherwise. I do my own work permit and pay for it. I also pay out of my own pocket for some supplies because the owners are too greedy to pay for most stuff. I love my job and my life here.

I work very hard, but please don't tell me I'm not doing too bad. If I wanna have a moan, I will. I've earned it!



By Hayden, South of Thaliand (Deep south) (1 year ago)

Ray

It is ok to disagree, but please don’t misrepresent the conclusion and opinions presented in the article.

First off I stated this analysis was not based on a reliable or valid research methodology (in fact I make my living these days primarily dealing with research) but just a quick “back of the envelope” type of calculation. If you want to do a more detailed and sophisticated analysis, it would be interesting to see what your results would be.

Also the ratios provided would, in a simplistic manner, take into account cost of living as in general the cost of living in related to income level (although a more sophisticated approach could have captured this more fully).

Also I did not claim the industry was drying up, in fact I stated “the need for ESL teachers in Thailand has not dried up” but times have changed since the growth spurt of the industry in the 1990s when there were new language schools popping up everywhere and the Government’s decision to start teaching English in all schools in the country.

Since that time (on average) nominal wages for ESL teachers have stagnated and real wages (inflation adjusted) have declined.

Yet despite that fact, I wrote, “my subjective opinion is English teachers in Thailand don't do all that bad.”

You wrote, “Thais are paying teachers (like me) so well”

Not doing all that bad and being paid so well would seem to be indicating more or less the same thing.

Even though it does not appear you actually read the article, we did seem to have come to a similar conclusion.

By Jack, In front of my computer (1 year ago)

The analysis is totally flawed. GNI stats make no allowance for the overall standard of living. In fact, it is quite possible to earn more here - as a private tutor - than in the UK, for example.

The article also mentions that the teaching business in Thailand will soon 'dry up' because of the stagnant economy and lack of foreign investment....

Wrong again, I'm afraid. That, is precisely the reason why young, educated Thais are paying teachers ( like me ) so well to get their IELTS band 7 etc etc and bugger off to some overseas university!

By Ray, Bangkok (1 year ago)

Supply and demand. Thai school owners want white faces. The younger/prettier the better. A native-speaker is much preferred. Qualifications are not so important to many schools (particularly private ones).

Losers (I used to be one, which makes me a hypocrite of course, but I eventually went to get a degree in Education as I enjoyed teaching and wanted to do things properly) come over and get treated well despite having no qualifications. They then play at being a teacher until their luck/good looks run out. There are thousands upon thousands of these types and they will work for 25-30k per month. Some are lucky and pull in a bit more. Some even care about their kids and aren't bad teachers. Indeed, one teacher I worked with in Thailand without a degree, would wipe the floor with many I saw during my placement in a highly-rated UK primary school.

However, that is not a typical scenario. Experience taught me that many only taught in schools as a way to stay in Thailand. If teachers here want higher wages, just look towards all those teachers who refuse to/cannot do a degree and you'll be looking at reason for the low salaries in Thailand. People will work for peanuts in order to stay, and the Thais know it.

And most owners of private schools in Thailand only care about their profit margins. Style over content, I'm afraid.

By Same Old, UK (1 year ago)

I've worked in Thailand before and I once worked for a school that had a female Chief Exec who liked the 'young hamsum boys'. She took on anything that had blonde hair, blue eyes and had boy band looks. Qualifications? Experience? Pfffft.. "Ohhhhh. You have such beautiful eye. I think everybody like you so much!"

As long as these hansum faces could pull in the punters (it was a private school) then who cares? I did ok there (despite not being so young or hansum), but there was definite favouritism (one got caught stealing money from a kids' collection and kept his job cos he opened his big blue eyes and said sorry). If that had been anyone but one of the boyband crew, their feet wouldn't have touched the ground.

Another got promoted after a week (with a 10k pay rise pcm) despite not even having a GCSE to his name. He did have nice hair, though, it has to be said, so there was that. One got offered a job aged 17 (!) (over on holiday to see his older brother who was teaching at the school). He took it too (and lasted about a week before his angry parents demanded he return to school in the USA).

I could go on. This is why I got myself a degree in Education in the end. I wanted to be taken seriously as a teacher, not as a performing monkey with second rate status, due to being over 30 and just looking like an average Joe. Instead, I needed to look like a member of Take That in their heyday (not the fat one though). Or, I could get qualified. Hmmmm.

If you want to be treated seriously in Thailand, get seriously qualified. It's the only way out of the madness and frustration regarding teaching in Thailand.

By Same old, UK (1 year ago)

Mark

There are a lot of problems with the comparisons I made and in no way was it intended to indicate the path to riches is to come to Thailand to teach English.

Every person has vastly different motivations and opportunities. If you have the skills and opportunity to work as a university professor at an Ivy league school, coming to teach English in Thailand might not be very attractive. Although if you are a recent graduate looking at entry level jobs, coming to Thailand to teach while delaying the start of your career for a year or two might be far more appealing.

And I would agree with if you put in a little time and a little effort in securing one of the better English teaching jobs in the country one can live a pretty comfortable and low stress life (Most of the time a person does not get a high salary in the corporate world because the job is easy and stress-free).

Although this was not the path I took, I can see the attraction in making this choice. Sounds like making this choice is working out pretty good for you.

Thailand is a "developing" country (more like a stagnating poor one if we look at the recent economic statistics). Many of the ESL moaners seem to miss the obvious fact that average wages in poor countries are lower than in rich countries and teaching English does not require specialized skills or training which limits the need to pay high wages. The data I provided only showed (very superficially, I would be interested in seeming someone do a more detailed study) the comparison to local wages, ESL wages in Thailand are "higher" than in richer countries in relative terms, although obviously lower in nominal terms.

To expect significantly higher wages seems unrealistic, although I am sure this is hoped and wished for by every ESL teacher in Thailand.

But if hopes and wishes were .....

What you, I or anyone else posting here thinks is a "fair" wage in reality is unimportant, the only opinion that matters is the opinion of the market as determined by supply and demand.

As stated before, being a native English speaker with a basic education gives a person the option to teach English in Thailand, but it a choice, no one is forced into making this choice. It seems silly to blame evil Thai school officials or some abstract "them" for not making the choice one makes more attractive. Native English teachers have the option to teach English but their are no entitlements which come from having this option.

While every person has their own individual definition of success, one thing found in study after study is "successful" people take charge of their own lives as opposed to "wishing" the world changes to meet their own individual needs.

Over the years, I have seen so many enthusiastic, bright people come to Thailand, get jobs teaching English but as time goes by these people seem to get stuck in the industry as they make no effort to increase skills or qualifications and then get pulled down by the negativity found in the teachers' rooms and online forums.

It is hoped to provide a different perspective to the constant stream of negativity and negative stereotypes which seem to dominate both online teaching forums and teachers' room moaning sessions. I doubt any argument I make will convince any teachers already well down the path towards bitterness but it is hoped to give other individuals some food for thought before choosing the well-worn path towards bitterness and negativity.

There is a better way forward.

By Jack, In a chair at home (1 year ago)

You can't compare countries the way they have been in this article.

I'm here in Thailand because even though the wages are low, the job is easy. Frankly; working in Thailand is like being retired. :)

I couldn't live with the stress of doing a real job in Japan or Korea and I couldn't live in a dump like Vietnam or Cambodia.

I'm a fat little piggy in the middle!

By Mark Newman, Thailand (1 year ago)

Steve: Great for the short term, impossible to sustain in the long-run,

Jack: Well we found something to agree on, this was my opinion about teaching English in Thailand as it applied for me, but of course people are different and this approach might not apply to other people. Teaching English didn't pay at the level that would have sustained the lifestyle I wanted (raising children and help pay for their university education, visiting home every so often, living in a real home, having a car, and knowing where my next meal is coming from).

Therefore I gained new qualifications, skills and experiences and moved into other types of work in both Thailand and around the region.

But because teaching English in Thailand was not the perfect long-term career for me, it does not mean it is bad, in fact without the availability of jobs in this industry I probably would not have been able to start my international career and life.

But that was me, other people may really love teaching English (I liked it, but did not feel it was my life's work) and are satisfied with the wages paid. For these people, teaching English (In Thailand or in multiple countries) might be a sustainable career.

The ESL industry in Thailand is what it is (and I don't see indications that wages will rise substantially anytime in the near future) , whether it is "good" or "bad" is a subjective opinion based on what one's other options are.

If the industry supplies what one is looking for, whether for a year or a career, go ahead and do it. But it is a waste of time and effort to try to change the industry (or the economic development or culture of Thailand) to meet individual needs or wants.

Yes, it is good to wear rose colored glasses (better than wearing the crap colored glasses too many old bitter teachers in Thailand, whom I try to avoid so as not to be dragged down, seem to wear), but of course everything is relative. Most of us go through a life cycle, what is good for us at one point in our life might not be what we want to do forever.

It was nice to be a native English speaker who had (and still have) the option to teach English in Thailand without extensive training or education, but having an option does not require us to take the option and then moan and complain that the option who chose isn't perfect.

By Jack, In front of my computer (1 year ago)

"after looking at the ratio of wages paid compared to the level of economic development of the economy, my subjective opinion is English teachers in Thailand don't do all that bad."

....huh??!? That makes no sense.

This article was tough to read. Nearly every sentence written is something that most people will probably argue or debate. Judging from the follow-up comments already received, it is clear that the author might be in the minority camp there.

This article looks like an attempt at research by copy/pasting stats for ESL wages in various countries and then make sweeping conclusions.

Craig - I think you nailed it in your response to the author. The schools are following a broken business model because of high turnover, failure to identify individuals with good teaching qualities and staying power, and often higher levels of apathy at the school/management level, not the teachers.

Jack in front of computer's comments:
"If you think the wages are too low, you have two choices. You can take charge of your career (move location, change industries, improve qualifications to be able to qualify for the high end positions teaching English in Thailand) or continue on and play the victim and blame some abstract version of "them" or "they" for all of your troubles.

You have control over your own skill set and choice of career path, but do not have control over how an entire global industry operates."

Couldn't agree more. I have little sympathy for people that just go through the motions, know that the job they are getting into or currently in is underpaid, little/no benefits, and no advancement opportunities. So why do teachers do it? Do they think they will suddenly get a big bump in salary? If I had trouble making ends meet, I certainly wouldn't stay. If I could make ends meet, but it meant sacrificing a lot, it wouldn't be worth it. There are a lot of educated teachers in Thailand - I've worked with teachers who have finance, accounting, and engineering degrees. It is too embarrassing to ask them how they ended up as an ESL teacher in Thailand after attending a 4-year university, often paying in excess of $100,000. So sad.

Brian: You also hit the nail on the head. It is simply a matter of economics. Supply and demand. Trade-offs.

"Add this into the lax atmosphere of the education system here and the armies of horny dudes who will work for peanuts to stay with their Thai girlfriends, the spinny young backpackers who want to take selfies for a year, so they can add to their mundane lives and improve their mating market value, and there we have the wage. This isn't a moral issue here folks. The market will pay what the market demands. And add further the agency culture and corruption that comes from third party business transactions even furthers the wage freeze."

Pay, promotion, and benefits, is obviously different in Western countries. Everyone knows that. I was an ESL teacher for 3 years. Received a 3k baht a month increase year-over-year. It might sound good, but on an hourly basis, its less than $1 an hour increase. In America, I received 2 raises in my 8 months, have full benefits and paid holiday time off, and other perks. Two completely different working environments - it is wrong for a teacher in Thailand to believe they will feel they add value to their profession and be properly compensated/rewarded for their efforts. While a serious ESL teacher can have profound positive impact on the students, and a lot of teachers do put in a lot of effort, on a professional level, it is often not recognized.

To conclude: I don't think wages for ESL teachers should change in Thailand. Yes, they are low - lower than most nearby countries. But they are low for a reason, and a lot of the feedback already received from this article highlights it. If anything, it might be interesting to see if wages could go lower....I think it would "weed out" some of the deadbeat, no-business-being a-teacher types, but my bet would be that if wages were suddenly 25k instead of 35k, there would be a market to support it.

By Nicky, Naperville (1 year ago)


It's hard to believe that university educated people are looking at pay scales in Thailand through a moral lens. It is simple economics. People want to live in Thailand. The government has allowed Filipinos, Indians and Africans into the market, and so now we have our current wage.

Add this into the lax atmosphere of the education system here and the armies of horny dudes who will work for peanuts to stay with their Thai girlfriends, the spinny young backpackers who want to take selfies for a year, so they can add to their mundane lives and improve their mating market value, and there we have the wage. This isn't a moral issue here folks. The market will pay what the market demands. And add further the agency culture and corruption that comes from third party business transactions even furthers the wage freeze.

Relative to the region, Thailand pays horribly. In the world, for a standard BA?BSC plus TEFL certificate, Thailand actually pays quite well. Try making a go as an English teacher in France or Spain and try to save money. If you want to make money teaching English go to a country that pays a wage premium, because either A. It sucks to live there, or B. the economy depends on educating its citizens to be real global traders, producers and suppliers. Thailand is none of the above, but a developing country that makes its money from tourism, sexual Services, rice exports, fruit exports, massage, kick boxing, health care, shipping and fishing. They are not the Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Germans, English or the Swiss - nor will they ever be - this is why we want to live here in the first place.

By Brian, Vietnam (1 year ago)

There is so much very wrong with this article. You simply can't look at the base salary and compare it with a local's base salary. There are too many factors involved.

Let's start with the perks for your average 35k a month TEFL teacher......there are none. That was pretty easy.

Let's have a look at the average 35k job and see what it does offer:

35k a month. Been like this for over 10 years. Bkk, 'and' Thailand are definitely becoming way more expensive.

Sick pay - if you're lucky. I've met plenty of teachers who don't get even this.

12 month contract - if you're lucky. A lot of schools will offer newbies 10/11 month contracts and sell it as "Go on holiday for a month!" (Yea, with what money, you jackass?) Then you'll get the bottom of the barrel schools who offer no contract at all.

Health insurance - if you're lucky. If you do get HI, it will barely cover you a plaster. You'll have to pay for your own.

Now, let's work out an average teacher's outgoings. I'll be frugal in the outgoings because there's not a not to play with off 35k.

Room - let's say 5k for rent a month (You'll probably lose a big chunk of deposit from being drunk and punching through drywall out of pure despair)

Electricity and water - 1.5k a month (Most of these apartments charge 7 baht a unit for lekky, but what the hell. Fan it like a local.

Food - 5k a month (I actually know a guy who buys two portions of food every time as he's not a child and is taller and weighs more than a 'local')

Leisure and entertainment - Well, this is a tricky one. I've not met many newbies here who like staying home and reading a book. Let's be frugal again and say 8k a month. This includes paying for cool stuff like cinemas with uncomfortable wooden seats that show Woody Allen movies.

Transport - 2k a month. That's for everyday of the week.

Fitness - seems to be a big thing now. 1k a month. (Can't lie around your shoe box apartment in your wank chariot all evening eating Mama noodles. Need a sense of purpose.

Phone and internet - 1k a month

Clothes - 1k a month. (Nothing says "I'm a pro" more than wearing socks at a job interview)

Savings for your temple and bar crawl in the holidays - 2k a month

Day to Day shit - 1k a month

Total = 27.5k?

So, you're left with 7.5k a month left over. You're young. You don't have tendencies to burn left over cash. You're a person of the world. After having no life for 10-11 months you have maybe 70k - 80k left over. Buy yourself a plane ticket home, get some wooden hand crafted elephants and tin can tuk-tuks for your friends and family, and go home with about 20k sitting pretty.

When your friends and family ask you what your life was like in Thailand, you can say "I lived like a c*** for nearly a year" You'll be the talk of the town and can show people your generic beach pics of you jumping with locals at the same time.

"My subjective opinion is English teachers in Thailand don't do all that bad" Turn off Fox News, my friend.






By Ash Green, Bangkok (1 year ago)

In any country, employers will pay what they need to pay and no more. Nobody would go to Saudi Arabia without a high salary. Everyone goes there for the money - there really is no other reason to go. Thailand, meanwhile, has more to offer in terms of lifestyle. So teachers will work for a wage that offers the chance to have some fun and save enough for a flight home at the end of the year. 35K will just about do this - just. Plenty of teachers are willing to accept this so employers don't need to pay any more. The comparison is daft because Thailand has a lower average income than the other countries. If they paid any less, teachers would have no choice but to go elsewhere. As it is, some do and some don't. I suggest you have a look at the "iron law of wages."

By John, Bangkok (1 year ago)

Well Jack, I'm glad you see the world through rose-tinted glasses. Maybe they were great times, all those years back, when you used to teach English. I for one, love teaching and plan to continue. However, as you article suggests, you're likely out of touch with the day-to-day life of a modern ELS teacher trying to get by in Thailand on the same salary that you were earning all those years back. Great for the short term, impossible to sustain in the long-run, which reflects the mentality of Thailand, towards a range of things.

By Steve, Bangkok (1 year ago)

Steve: Thai school directors are greedy and corrupt.

Jack: Wow, quite a broad and negative stereotype! Maybe I have lived a sheltered life but I have never found all people of any nationality or occupation to be exactly alike in a negative manner.

The opinion Thailand is "bad" is purely subjective and if this attitude helps you get through your days here, then I guess you should continue to hold this attitude. But I suspect this negative attitude in most people would cause more problems than it would solve. My subjective opinion is different than yours and I have mostly enjoyed my years here, although if I was asked to make a list of the things that bother me about the country and culture I could spend the entire day completing that type of list.

I enjoyed my time as an English teacher here but I realized it was not the profession I wanted to spend my life in, but I took the industry as it was and used it to achieve my own personal goals. My favorite boss of all time was Thai, but I have had a few Thais bosses and co-workers I could have done without as well, as each person was an individual, and not a stereotype, this is to be expected.

My message was simple, teaching English in Thailand is not really hell on earth, I can understand why some people might disagree, but I am not sure why this positive message should arouse such passion :).

By Jack, In front of my computer (1 year ago)

Interesting article but what it doesn't take into account is that as foreign teachers we often don't have access to the same prices as Thais. I don't have a Thai partner or family so I have to pay rent, buy furniture and household goods etc. These aren't given to me or "found" by my wider family network. Most of the Thais I know live in places part owned by their family and find that if they need something auntie or grandma often gives them it at a discount or for nothing (exchange economy).

We are also routinely overcharged for goods in markets and for transport. It might just be 10 THB here and there, but it all adds up. We can't access finance easily so buying a big ticket item like a car is totally out of the question as we have to find the money all in one go.

Finally, Thai teachers with equal experience get enhanced annual leave, higher salaries in some cases, pension rights and so on. We get none of these benefits and don't have any job security.

None of these things are taken into account when simply looking at the published figures.

Yes we earn more the average but unless you live on noodle soup from a street stall, cycle or walk everywhere, never want a holiday and live in a grotty 1 room studio flat, the average teacher's salary doesn't stretch far! Certainly the Thai teachers are better dressed than me, all own at least 1 car and a motorbike and seem to enjoy countless weekend breaks to Bangkok for shopping or to other provinces all at a cheaper rate than I seem to be able to!

By Anji, Isaan (1 year ago)

Jack: If you think the wages are too low, you have two choices. You can take charge of your career (move location, change industries, improve qualifications to be able to qualify for the high end positions teaching English in Thailand) or continue on and play the victim and blame some abstract version of "them" or "they" for all of your troubles.

Steve: You're missing the point! I am already doing the things that you suggested above. This doesn't do anything to change the unscrupulous nature of Thai school owners or the egocentric snakes that exist amongst some of the management staff. We have all had to deal with the obligatory matriarch who can never be questioned or contradicted in any way, for fear she loses "Face".

Your article is missing the point, Thai school directors are greedy and corrupt. They ask the world and offer very little in return. They don't care about education, only money. I know longer work at a Thai school, for the reasons that I have mentioned in my posts. I have friends that have also been here for 20 years, they tell me that they were earning the same money with more benefits, and fewer requirements back in the 90's! Some jobs don't even offer a completion bonus, instead they place a contract bond on your salary, so if you don't like beeing treated in an abusive manner, you have to pay for the right to leave. That's even if they bother to pay you at all! Think I'm exaggerating, think again!
I am here only to do a degree, I know exactly where the airport is, and when I have finished, I'll be using it.

By Steve, Bangkok (1 year ago)

Korea pays more than 21,000 a year if you factor in severance pay (one month's salary after completion of one year) and housing. Teachers often make more than that with experience and such.

By DHK, Seoul, Korea (1 year ago)

I think it would be more interesting and appropriate to compare Thailand to some other Asian countries like Vietnam, China, Lao and so on. As I think the pay rate in recent years for NES teachers in some of these other Asian countries have increased more then in Thailand but maybe there GNI per capita has also gone up more to, which I am sure is the case in China.

By Thomas, Thailand (1 year ago)

Your argument rests on comparing ESL wages to local wages. But I think this is a poor criterion for evaluating how competitive a wage is.

After all, foreign ESL teachers are not locals. They don't choose to relocate across the world based on comparing their salaries to what locals make - they decide to relocate to country X if country X provides more opportunities than their home country (or country Y). When I first taught ESL in Cambodia, the average local's wage was around $50/month, but that figure played no role at all in my decision to relocate there. What mattered was that I could make more money in Cambodia than in Thailand - and that I was interested in living there to boot.

So say a recent American college grad is deciding what to do. He can stay in America and find a job locally. Or he can move overseas and teach ESL - and if so, he can choose between a number of countries: Korea, Thailand, China, Vietnam, and so on. In order for Thailand to attract the best teachers, the country has to convince them to choose Thailand over all the other possible alternative.

Viewed from this perspective, Thailand ranks near the bottom. China, Korea and Vietnam offer significantly higher wages (and savings potential). So then why would anyone choose Thailand? In the past, the main attraction for many ESL teachers was the sex industry. Nowadays that's not really affordable on a ESL salary, so there are really two groups of people left to teach ESL in Bangkok: young backpackers who want to travel & experience a foreign culture for a year or so, and people who basically are so incompetent they wouldn't hack it anywhere else.

And neither group are likely to be particularly effective teachers.

By Danny, Bangkok (1 year ago)

Steve: There's so much wrong with this article that I can only assume bias on behalf of the low paid jobs that Ajarn.com advertises.

Jack: You assume incorrectly. I am not currently connected with the ESL industry, although I am a former ESL teacher. I enjoyed my time teaching English and the experience and skills gained have helped me prepare to work in other areas.

But I have been around ESL teachers and the industry in Thailand for around 20 years and have heard and read a seemingly endless steam of complaints about working conditions, yet these 20 years of moaning and whinging have not prevented nominal wages for ESL teachers to stagnate and real wages to drop. I have my doubts the next 20 years and moaning and bellyaching about the low wages ESL teachers get in Thailand will have any better effect on wages than was seen in the last 20 years.

If you think the wages are too low, you have two choices. You can take charge of your career (move location, change industries, improve qualifications to be able to qualify for the high end positions teaching English in Thailand) or continue on and play the victim and blame some abstract version of "them" or "they" for all of your troubles.

You have control over your own skill set and choice of career path, but do not have control over how an entire global industry operates.

In my experience, individuals who take the first option often end up fairly happy and more professionally successful, the people who choose option two often end up bitter and doing the same job at 60 as they were doing at 25.

Your choice.



By Jack, In front of my computer (1 year ago)

My former Thai agency boss used to think our salaries were too high. He'd make 20k profit a teacher, and he pretty much did nothing. Often we'd tell him we needed ink for the printer and he'd say "Ink is cheap. Come on! Go and buy some". Classy guy.

35k for a new teacher starting off is about right. Most are useless and can't manage a class. They're young and relatively good looking so it makes good business sense. They do a year and leave, and schools and agencies are ready for the next shower of happy clappers.

The issue is not if the average salary is too low or too high. It's about individuals being paid accordingly. It's a horrible business model of just paying teachers what every other school does or having all teachers start on the same salary regardless of experience and skill. Identify the individuals.

Get rid of the deadwood, bring in relatively decent teachers, and then pay them more than the average rate. Most people have a strong sense of loyalty if you treat them well. Not all! But most. Most people are decent, but sometimes, you as a boss, have to enable them. Motivate them.

The TEFL industry for the most part is a very shady business where shysters excel. It's an industry that's getting a worse reputation, and rightly so. I'm glad to be out and working for myself outside of teaching.

As a school or agency owner, I'd hate to have to be lying to and deceiving people day in and day out to make a quick buck. Self-love is good, but self-awareness is far more important.

By Craig, Chiang Mai (1 year ago)

There's so much wrong with this article that I can only assume bias on behalf of the low paid jobs that Ajarn.com advertises.
Firstly, Thailand often only pays 9-10 month contracts, making survival on such salaries very difficult.
Secondly, job benefits are now very rare in your average TEFL job. Those that sometimes are provided, such as health insurance, are usually woefully inadequate.
Thirdly, Thailand now has some of the strictest criteria in Asia, when it comes to obtaining a visa, legally. Those who don't meet the lofty standards of having a college degree with their TEFL/TESOL/ CELTA , have, instead, to pay a fortune for other visa and travel costs.
The 30-40k a month (over 10 months) salaries, isn't going to cover some people's student loan payments.
Need I mention the way that some schools, agencies, and management treat their foreign staff or the fact that salaries and incentives have been falling in Bangkok over the last couple of years?



By Steve, Bangkok (1 year ago)

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