Ajarn Street

Talkin' bout my situation 2012

More worried teachers and their complex situations

A section of the ajarn website for those teachers looking to embark on a teaching career in Thailand and have so many questions and no real answers. It's also a section for those that can't be arsed to look through the 'your questions answered' and 'newbie guide' parts of the website - or any of the other thousand ajarn web pages lovingly put together over the last decade or so. E-mail us with your situation if you don't know which way to turn and all your friends (at least those staying back in your hometown) think you are absolutely nuts.

Jay from England

First off, your site has been really helpful, however I am still left muddled and confused over certain things and if anything I am seeking your advice. I'm planning on heading to Thailand at the end of December this year. A couple of my friends are heading out in October and have asked me to go join them after a couple of months. How can I refuse?? I hate my job, my flat and this bloody country at the moment (England) so I have decided to go.

I'm planning on going for about 4-6 months, and after buying my plane ticket I'll probably have about £2,000 (sterling) saved up to take with me. Do you think as a little back-packer living life on the cheap this could suffice for around four months or would I need to work?

I'm interested in teaching (I have a bachelors degree) and my friends tell me this woud be enough for me to approach a school and get work. We are however planning on travelling around so I don't know which area of Thailand we would be in at this point. We don't have an iron clad itinerary. (is this bad?)

What visa would you recommend? And would I need to sort a work permit before I jet off or can I sort that there if and when I need one? Any help/answers/advice woud be greatly appreciated. Sorry for waffling.

Ajarn.com says

Jay, you're woefully underfunded. 2,000 pounds is just 100,000 baht at the current exchange rate. You say that your objective is to stay in Thailand for 4-6 months. Even at four months, you're only averaging 25,000 baht a month. That's just over 800 baht a day! Don't even think about travelling around Thailand looking for week on such a meagre daily allowance. Forget what it says in dog-eared Lonely Planet guides from several years ago, Thailand has definitely become more expensive of late and that includes accommodation and transportation across the country. If the 100 baht a night fan bungalow ever existed, you'll have a hell of a job tracking them down now. And those aren't going to be areas to look for teaching work anyway.

My advice - save at least three to four thousand quid if you can. The only answer to the question "how much should I bring?" is "bring as much as possible". When you're travelling around Asia on the bones of your arse, all you need is one accident or one disagreement with a nasty local to financially wipe you out. And that can happen to the best of us.

December is also the worst month of the year in Thailand to look for teaching jobs and it's closely followed by January. Get the picture? If you're coming over with two thousand quid, I think you've enough money to tide you over for a month or two and then you are going to have to look for work. Remember that if you are going to settle down here for a while and teach, you're going to have to stump up deposits for apartments, etc. You might have to wait a month until you get your first paycheck. All that has to be done with your 2,000 pound nest egg. Screw a sense of adventure. I wouldn't do it.

I would hold off until early March and then come over. Early March is when the job market picks up so at least you have the security of knowing that you'll find teaching work easier if thise funds start dwindling faster than expected.

I'm not worried about you finding a job. You've got a degree. You're qualified enough. You'll find work no problem. But I am concerned about your financial numbers. Don't let the fact that you hate everything about life in England cloud your judgement. Always stay focused.

I would get a tourist visa (60 days) but try for a non-immigrant B visa (unlikely without a firm job offer)

Tam from Scotland

I'm a 30 year old male from the UK. My highest qualification is a Higher National Diploma: Communication with Media. I spent two years (2009-2011) as a TEFL teacher in provincial Thailand at various establishments and teaching all age groups. The second job I landed was at a university where I was assured that my four years at college were equivalent to an Associates Degree, which was equivalent to a Bachelors Degree. The president of the university wrote a letter claiming I had a BA, with which the university obtained a work permit and non-B visa for me.

I left Thailand in 2011 because the school I worked for at that time could not provide adequate documentation for me to get a non-B visa, and the embassy kept demanding a letter from the Thai Ministry of Education, which the school did not obtain on my behalf. (I believe this was because the MoE wanted to see a copy of the degree certificate, but I heard that as long as the school vouch for the teacher then everything should go ahead without a hitch).

I am currently in the UK working and saving to return to Thailand within a couple of months. I am studying a TEFL certificate online and considering various life degrees (I know several teachers who have had no problem finding work with life degrees from the University of Dublin, but have been informed that Almeda University are better 'accredited'...). I am also considering taking a CELTA or TESOL course at some point, or studying for an official BA with the Open University, although these are both expensive and time consuming.

Naturally, I would like to take the easiest path with the least amount of hassle which enables all processes to happen above board. I have contacted the relevant qualifications authority to see if I am eligible for BA accreditation or suchlike, but am curious as to what other options would best suit me otherwise?

I really enjoyed teaching Pratom classes at the Tessaban schools, but also enjoyed university and adult classes as well so I'm open to pretty much anything and am aware that there are different requirements for different types of teaching.

Ajarn.com says

Hi Tam. You spent two years teaching in Thailand very recently, and at various schools and universities by the sound of it. You obviously know how things work here - or you certainly should by now. To be honest, I'm a little surprised that you're asking these questions given your experience. Perhaps you're looking for some kind of reassurance? Let me say one thing right from the start - things haven't got any easier for teachers without degrees in the short time you've been away.

You've experienced both sides of the coin here. You've worked for the university with 'connections in the right places' or simply an instititute that knows what it's doing - and they managed to get your paperwork and work permit all sorted without any hassle. And you've also worked for a language school that failed with the same task. That's still the case here and always will be - some schools can and some schools can't.

One thing I wouldn't do is go down the 'life degree' route. I don't doubt for a moment that you know or have heard of teachers beating the system in this way but we all know that life degrees are a scam. Cassandra James, an experienced Thailand teacher, wrote about the perils of using life degrees in Thailand back in late 2009. Nothing's changed. If you come up against a foreign or Thai interviewer who knows his or her job well enough, all they have to do is tap the name of the university into Google and you could find yourself in serious trouble. OK, you might find a rural school desperate for teachers, who is willing to play along with the whole life degree thing, but that's your call.

And even your TEFL certificate sounds like an online one without any observed teaching practice I assume? Tam, go for an interview for a decent job with a life degree and an on-line TEFL certificate and you're going to find yourself right at the bottom of the pile I'm afraid. That's if you even get as far as the interview stage. But you already know that.

I admire your desire and passion to get back out here, but is it for the right reasons and not just because you can't stand being back home? You need a plan. OK, you mention studying for a proper degree with the open university and getting a CELTA, but you also mention them as being 'time consuming and expensive' so I'm guessing that you're not flush with cash right now. So is coming to Thailand really the answer? How much money are you going to put away towards future degree and TEFL certificate study on a 30K salary (possibly the best you can hope for) and with Thailand's rising cost of living? It's something to think about.

Perhaps some other teachers might like to leave their comments, particularly if they think there are other options open to you.

More reading

Have a read of some more 'teacher situations' from 2012 and 2011. Erika in England wonders if she will be able to survive on a salary of 50,000 baht a month, That's the salary package that she's been offered. Will Freddy from Nicaragua find enough work in Thailand as a Spanish teacher or is it going to be a case of "no way Jose!" Joanelle wants to experience the fresh air, peace and harmony of a Thai rural village. Is this a possibility or just some tree-hugger's fantasy? And of course, the teachers who want to know if it's possible to find work without a degree.


I know of one agency on here who tells his teachers to get one of these " life degrees" and it is the above from Almeda. Now forgive me but I am not allowed to say the name of the agency as they advertise on this site but this just proves you don't need a degree. All you need is an agency to bend the rules and away you go.

There are other options and one of them is just be honest because although you won't get the cream of the jobs you will get work. I have many friends who have never pretended to be something, they get work at around the 35k a month which is the market they are in. And anyone who thinks for one minute that salaries will go up when all these non degree types go home are living in cloud cuckoo land. There is a place for every type of teacher in Thailand but overall if you can do a degree whilst you're here then do so, even for your own sense of pride just do it.

By Ben Dee Wire, Bangkok (21st March 2013)

Hi James,
Was really interested reading your response to Tam.

Am seriously considering going down the Freelance route when the time comes for me to be able to move to Thailand, and I was wondering how you worded/styled your fliers, and how you managed to convince prospective students when you have no degree ( which I also do not have, but am planning to do my TEFL in Thailand ) ?

I have Thai support to help me out, and am excited at the prospect of freelancing if the opportunities are genuinely available.

I would plan to stay in the Pathumthani area, and see how it works from there, and I think your marketing plan would be a goer for me in that area.

Regards, Paul.

By Paul, England (19th September 2012)

'attain a life degree': By this you mean give your credit card details to a bloke to provide you with a piece of paper that says the word 'degree' on it. I'll tell you what, send me £100 and i'll send you one myself!

'I am not talking about Khao San Road dodgy diplomas': There is nothing wrong with purchasing a 'life degree' in itself because how you spend you money is up to you. However, to pass it to a potential employer in order to hoodwink them in to believing that you are an academic graduate is the height of deception. It's a fraud, exactly the same as Khao San Road degrees/diplomas. Luckily, most decent employers in Thailand are wise to these nowadays.

'accredited' life experience degrees': There is no government/School in the world that accredits/endorses/values 'life degrees'. Schools/immigration just need to do one google check to discover that it is a fake.

'are in no way illegal to utilise in seeking employment': It is illegal to try to use a fake degree (ie 'life degree') to obtain a working visa. If you are found out, you will be refused entry or kicked out of the country and designated a persona non grata, in other words: don't bother to trying to come back!

If you ever did manage to hoodwink a potential employer, the clock will be ticking down towards the day that you are rumbled. And believe me, it won't be a pretty sight.

''people that use life degrees as being some kind of lower class scum who should all be fired immediately'': Anyone who pretends to be something that they are not is exactly that...'scum'.

I feel that you are very confused right now and devoid of any common sense. I'm not sure if this is a character flaw or just something temporary. but I wish you luck in executing your plan and look forward to hearing how it all goes..

By Paul Gormley, UK (5th August 2012)

Thanks to everyone for your comments, they are all appreciated. I've given everything that was written consideration and found it to be good food for thought.

Current plan of action - complete my online TEFL course (which did also include a 20 hour weekend course which I finished already), begin a Trinity TESOL course, attain a life degree then return to Thailand where I have some part time work lined up already. I will apply for other full time jobs once I commence then pass my TESOL course and had considered freelance work in the past, so I may well go down that road as well.

To the critics - Yes, I am aware that a life degree is not the answer to everyone's problems regarding the minimum requirement of a BA to teach in Thailand. However, I am not talking about Khao San Road dodgy diplomas here, but accredited life experience degrees that do what they say on the tin, about which I would make no bones and which are in no way illegal to utilise in seeking employment. It is simply a means to an end as a temporary fix - I never once had the intention that a life degree under my belt would ensure a trouble-free teaching career, yet it seems that the more cynical amongst the Thailand TEFL community look down upon people that use life degrees as being some kind of lower class scum who should all be fired immediately. Yes, there are people out there who will use fake degrees to help them get teaching jobs they don't care about so that they can abuse the system and take their salary for doing next to nothing, and I firmly agree that this sort should be weeded out and dealt with.

However, it is hardly fair to tar everybody who mentions getting a life degree to help them secure employment with the same brush. While I don't have the mind to take any of that stuff personally, I do think it wouldn't hurt for these people to be a touch more open-minded in how they choose to make their assumptions. I taught English for two years in Thailand to students of all age groups and levels and I thoroughly loved my work 95% of the time I was employed as a teacher. It is something I tackle with dedication, perseverance, adaptability, motivation, passion - hardly the idle, free-loading slacker type that some would assume.

I will start an Open University degree in a couple of months and based on my available credit transfer may only have to complete 120 credits to finish the degree. In which case I should be qualified and completely above board to continue teaching not before time.

Thanks for all the words of encouragement (and even a little discourage). Good show chaps!

By Tam, Scotland (4th August 2012)

Hi Tam,
In response to Anthony.
Of course teaching Freelance is a risk but so is moving to Thailand and working for yourself. To be a succesful Freelance teacher very good sales skills are essential along with the ability to teach. I was a corporate Sales trainer for a Bluechip in the UK.

As far as a work permit goes they are easy to obtain from a Law firm and i have one. As far as Tax dodging goes any Teacher who has any Private lesson is technically tax dodging and even Anthony says ''it is good to do on the side'' well if you do it on the side you are still tax dodging.

I know many teachers in Bangkok and often they live in small 1 room apartments teach in a govenment school with up to 40 children earn 30k a month work on the weekends to top up their income to a max of 45k a month and moan how rubbish it is. Well I love what i do I teach individuals or small groups and at businesses including one of Thailands largest Mobile Phone companies. I have Job offers that i have to turn down as I do not want to over commit myself. I also have a good work life balance which is what i did not have in the uk and why i left.

Many teachers are against Freelancing because they need to feel secure with having a guaranteed income and just are not very good at getting the business.

You could alwaays study for a degree here,Freelancing would give you the spare time to do this.

The reality is you are still young and would it be the end of the World if you tried and failed. Probably not you just go back home and go down the Degree route.

I think if you make Freelancing succesful you will enjoy life much more than being a wage Slave. Risk v Reward.

Good luck with whatever you choose Tam

By James, Bangkok (26th July 2012)

Tam, I agree with Mr. Gormley 100%. You're still an early stage when you can get yourself sorted long-term. It'll be well worth it, and will also leave the door open for you to pick up some additional qualifications a few years down the road so you can make yourself stand out from the crowd.

Teaching with dodgy degrees--or no degree--is only good in the short term. Following Mr. James' advice and teaching freelance can be useful to do on the side, but making a full time gig of it can also be risky because James probably has no work permit and is dodging taxes on his 60k a month. All of these options are dishonest and very risky.

Too many people teaching in thailand are gaming the system because they think it doesn't matter; trust me, those days won't be around much longer.

Tam, you're in a good spot right now to set yourself up for the long haul. Best wishes and good luck!

By Anthony, Nonthaburi (24th July 2012)

Hi Tam,
I came to Thailand a few Months ago I have no Degree and I am teaching Freelance which i think would be your best option. I am now earning over 60k a month and have lots of free time.

I first sent out fliers on my Local estate. There are 350 houses and I got 6 students from this. I made sure I had a Thai person to take the enquiries and book them an appointment. I created different course lengths and hourly rate. 550 bht per hour or 16000 for a 40 hour course. From these students I got referrals and was able to get corporate work at 2 of their companies which I charge 1000 bht per hour.

I do spend 16000 a month on rent and live in a nice 3 bedroom House on a Private Estate but to get Students it is much easier to live somewhere nice as they will be happier to go there. I have created a proper study area. It will take you about 4 months before you are earning enough so you must make sure you bring enough money to survive for this time. There are many Legal firms who will sort out your Visa before you come here, just google them. There is lots of advice out there on how to become Freelance on the net. You must put yourself out there be Confident and always dress the part. If you are good you will keep getting more work if mine starts to dry up i will leaflet a few more Private Estates.

By James, Bangkok (23rd July 2012)

If it's any consolation Tam, i'm 41 years old and I enrolled at The Open University last year and am now well in to my studies. So don't feel you must do everything the 'quick way' as you have plenty of time on your side.

I've decided to go to the OU because I want to do things properly and above board so when I eventually do find a teaching job, I wouldn't have to worry about immigration officials coming and knocking on my door one day. I would be a bag of nerves; Its no way to live you life.

Furthermore, having a real degree will give me the opportunity to country-hop if I want to move on. The world will become my lobster, as they say.

Of course, lets be clear. Obtaining a real degree is a great achievement that will not only boost your confidence but it will actually educate you... you will learn things... and who doesn't want to learn things?!

So far as I am concerned right now, I am investing the next 3-4 years of my life getting my degree. I'm also saving money too. So when i'm about 44 years old, I can go to thailand (or wherever..) and relax, safe in the knowledge that the future is bright!

By Paul Gormley, UK (23rd July 2012)

'Life Degrees' are a joke. Do you have a pulse? Ok, here's your life degree. If you want to get jobs which require a degree, the simplest advice is: GET ONE. People cannot impart the value of education to students if they themselves don't have one. Lying about one's credentials (aka fake degree) doesnt do much towards setting that kind of an example either.

By Joe, BKK (21st July 2012)

Tam, you said that you enjoy teaching at Tessaban schools, so you shouldn't have a problem finding work in the provinces. In my town for example the municipality has 3 foreign teachers, 2 from Belgium, and 1 fom Ghana - none of them have degrees, but have been employed there for more than 3 years.

They are also quite well paid at 500 Baht per hour, however there is a downside. They only get paid for the actual hours they work, so no paid holidays, and also no pay when there are public holidays, sports days etc. They also don't have visas or work permits, so are required to go on visa runs every 3 months.

Still, it's probably a better option than working for a dodgy agency without the correct paperwork, and certainly better than faking degree certificates. My advice would be to take a job like that, work as many hours as they can give you and save for a TEFL course during the holidays A TEFL certificate alone won't get you legal - but it will probably get you a better job!

By Del, Thailand (20th July 2012)

I have to agree with all of the responses by Ajarn. It is definitely more difficult to obtain the required paperwork now and that is not going to go away.
Also, I have nothing but contempt for those who attempt to justify their 'qualifications' by means of 'life degrees'. Yes, real universities can be expensive but that applies to us all and it took me years to wipe the debt off.
The Open University is definitely an option you should consider.

By Steve Middleton, Bangkok, Thailand (20th July 2012)

OK, so I can't advise doing ANY of this, but...

To start you can google a "life degree" university and find out they are bogus, but checking on an actual degree from a real university takes more work. Just claim you have a degree from a school in the USA, with the time difference they will never check. Find an image online of a diploma from that school and photoshop your name in. Most of them look the same anyway in black and white.

Find someone with the same name as yours, who has a degree. Maybe not easy for someone with the Name Tam, but start on Linked in, and Face Book, then move to goggle. You might get lucky. Then request or make up the bogus degree, if they call it will just be confirmed.

Change your name to someone you know who has a degree, then just get a copy of theirs.

Get a real CELTA, because people tend to focus on the last, most recent experience. If you only have one, such as a degree, all the scrutiny falls on that document. Slide the degree behind the CELTA certificate which is valid and there is less pressure on the fake degree.

By Devin Stone, Thailand (20th July 2012)

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