Hot Seat

Crvenazvezda

A rare breed indeed - a farang who does a great deal on the administration side of a large Thai school.

Q

Crven, welcome to the hot seat. What about the general opinion that Thailand is a 'bureaucratic nightmare' for teachers wanting to work legally in Thailand? How does it compare to other countries in SE Asia?

A

Well I've never really dealt with other places in the region but I think any country would be hard pressed to come up with a system as convoluted as Thailand's. If the school admin people don't really know their stuff, AND keep the teacher fully informed, there's all manner of ways of inadvertently getting spanners in the works, and leaving teachers with no option but to leave the country on the dreaded visa run, and start all the paperwork again at square one.

Q

Any particular traps you have in mind?

A

I think the easiest mistake to make is to leave the country when you've already got the correct visa, and forget to get a re-entry permit before you do so. When you come back to Thailand your original visa is no longer valid. Back to square one.

Now you might think you wouldn't fall for that one - but what if you have a multiple entry non-immigrant visa, and your work permit application has been submitted? You'd also need a re-entry permit, because although you could come back in to Thailand and get a new 90 day stamp on your non-imm visa, you've just invalidated your WP application and in effect cancelled everything. Back to square one.

Then there's the simple matter of constantly following up the progress of paperwork submitted to Government Departments. All too often, if you submit papers which are not exactly in order, and don't put in the phone cal to see how things are going, you'll simply not hear anything for weeks. Then the visa has expired by the time you finally get in touch and are told that all work has stopped because one of the 24 photographs of the applicant has gone missing.

Q

So how come you, as a farang, handle the school's administration for this kind of thing?

A

Quite simply, it's hard enough for me, as a native speaker, to explain the rules to a foreign teacher. Imagine how it would be for a Thai faced with the prospect of making sure the foreign staff kept on the right side of the law.

And I think it's easier for the foreigner to have confidence that he has nothing to worry about if a fellow farang is handling his paperwork - if I look worried, he should be worried. If I look relaxed, he can relax. If a Thai administrator looks relaxed it could well be he's forgotten all about you and you're one slip-up short of the Immigration Detention Centre...... Of course, we have a very good Thai gentleman in the office too whose job it is to assist me. Or mine to assist him. Bit of a horse and jockey situation really.

Q

There's been an enormous price hike recently in the costs of work permits and visas. Are most schools going to absorb these costs or sneakily pass them onto the teacher?

A

At an educated guess, schools that previously didn't pay certainly still won't, and a few that did use to pay may have second thoughts. We do still cover the whole cost for our teachers but the directors weren't best pleased with the increases.

The costs now stand at 2000 baht for a non-imm B visa (varies from embassy to embassy) plus 1900 for an extension which takes you from the initial 90 days up to one year. Then if you time it right, there's a work permit fee of 3000 baht for a permit lasting between six months and one year.

I say if you time it right because if you got a work permit as soon as you arrived, it would initially be valid only up to the end of your first 90 day stamp, and it would cost 750 baht. Then you'd have to get it extended (requiring tax papers) for the next nine months in line with your visa extension. And that would be another 3000 baht. So if you can squeeze everything through at the last minute, ideally on the day your visa expires, you can save yourself some money and hassle.

Q

Supposedly you need a letter of 'intent to employ' from a language institute before a teacher can get a non-immigrant visa. In reality does this piece of paper get the job done?

A

It might well do, but in general I feel you should take along copies of the business registration papers and also director's and principal's licenses to be on the safe side. It has also been suggested that at Vientiane, if your school is not on their list, you won't get a visa. It hapened to me a few years back but things change...... It also seems that consulates and embassies in the west are not quite so strict on the exact requirements, compared to embassies in neighboring countries.

Q

For the teacher looking to apply for a non-immigrant visa in a neighboring country, which are currently the best and worst places to head for?

A

We use one that nobody else seems to have heard of. Savannakhet, Laos. Overnight bus from Bangkok to Mukdahan (10 hours) then a boat across the Mekong. Laos visa available on the border for 500 baht. Put in your application the same morning, pick it up the following afternoon. Back on the bus to Bangkok. One of our guys did it last week - left BKK at 8pm Wednesday night, back home by 7am Saturday morning, total cost under 5,500 baht (hotel, taxis, visa fees, the lot).

On the downside, he said he'd met a Buddhist monk who'd come down to Mukdahan from Chiang Rai on a temple visit. The monk reckoned Mukdahan was an awful place with nothing to do. Take a couple of good books.

Q

Once a teacher has the right visa stamp in his passport, how long does it really take to get that work permit through?

A

Errrr, well, are we assuming that the teacher co-operates? First of all we need to get a teacher's license. If he's had one before, we still need to submit all the same papers, but with some extra ones from the teacher's last job.

Personally I'd rather start from scratch. This means I need a resume from the teacher covering key points such as father's religion and dates of high school attendance. All this info goes into several documents, some in English, some in Thai. Then I need his degree certificate. The original would be nice because the Ministry of Education can ask to see it. A copy may suffice however, but don't leave it to chance because if they DO want to see an original and you haven't got it to hand, you could find your visa expires before the license is granted.

I then need to get a certified translation. I also need copies of the passport and a Thai health certificate (50 baht from any clinic). I also need lots of photographs of different sizes. Things like the teacher's schedule and contract can be done without the teacher's help, as can all the documents about the school itself. If I get everything from the teacher promptly I can probably get the papers submitted in a couple of days.

Then it can take anything from a couple of days (if you know the lady who does the papers and the situation is demonstrably urgent) to a month.

Once you have the teacher's license though, the problems are pretty much over. You can then submit an application for a work permit, (needs another health certificate) and the recipt for that application is enough to get you a further nine month visa extension. It could then be another three weeks before the little blue book is actually in your hands.

Q

And you were saying something about teachers who've had licenses before.......you must be a really good laugh at parties Crven.

A

I am. Undoubtedly. Basically if a teacher has had a license before then when his new employer applies (more or less for permission to employ him as a teacher) he must supply various documents obtainable from the last employer upon leaving. These are, a Sor Chor 11, a Sor Chor 19, a Ror 12, a teacher's book and a Tor Tor 10. Oh, and a Ngor something or other 91 about tax, demanded by immigration if they remember. So when you leave a job in Thailand, try to get hold of these things, and then try not to lose them because they ARE important and they mean a lot to the people down at the Min of Ed, Labour and Immigration.

Q

I ask this question to everyone, so for a bit of light relief, where do you stand on the native speaker vs non-native speaker debate?

A

Ideally you want a qualified competent native speaker. If you can't have that though, because there aren't any around, or you're not paying enough to get one, then a non-native can do the job in many cases, especially at lower levels. And as for all that nonsense about students picking up a French accent - none of mine have ever developed anything other than a strong Thai accent, so I don't think there's much to worry about.

Q

Fake degree certificates? Now you must have a funny fake degree story that you tell on special occasions?

A

I don't think this is a matter for frivolity, Philip. But I do think that if you really must use a fake degree it's a good idea to spell "certificate" correctly on your certificate. Some fakes look very very good and as yet there doesn't seem to be a concerted effort to crack down on them.

I think in the end it would have to come down to the schools themselves to be pressured not to submit a fake document, using the threat of heavy fines. That would place the onus on schools to check credentials more carefully. It can certainly be done, but at the moment few schools bother.

Q

What's your stance on these life degrees? Is it feasible that four years working as a shop assistant in a golf shop carries as much weight as three years of wild parties, unprotected sex, and propping up the student union bar?

A

If I was recruiting I don't think I'd be impressed. I mean life is something we've all attended and very few of us feel the need to get a certificate to prove it. I suppose for admin purposes though the question would be whether or not the Min of Ed would accept one and grant a teacher's license on the strength of it. Logically I would doubt it, but then again it honestly wouldn't surprise me to see one slip through the net.

Q

How do you see the Thailand TEFL industry five years from now? Do you envisage a big change or will schools still be paying 300 baht an hour for weekend work and will Bruce and James be bosom buddies?

A

Thais will still want to learn English. Bruce and James will still be at it. Beyond that, who knows? We may see fewer people willing or able to work here if rules are tightened. That could push pay and standards up.

The Thai economy may go from strength to strength attracting hundreds of new teachers all eager to get their hands on sky-rocketing wages. I do think that those who have at least a degree and a teaching certificate will still be able to enjoy life in Thailand in five years' time, and while things seem to be changing, I doubt that things will be unrecognisable a few years down the track.

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