Sam Thompson

Chasing the big bucks

The ongoing and exhausting search for a well-paid teaching job

Having taught in Thailand for over five years at primarily two different schools but also a multitude of other part-time, language school and private jobs, I find myself nearing the end of my current two-year contract. Two years! It seemed an eternity at the time I signed on the dotted line but hey, work permits don't appear by themselves.

Anyway, I find myself in the predicament that many of us in international teaching roles (ESL or otherwise) find ourselves in - should I stay or should I go? (cue the music)

As much as I've tried to fight it, I'm having to face the reality of the hour.  I'm just not making enough money to make it worth staying at my current posting. What with student loans, a mortgage and other bills to pay, not only am I saving zilch for retirement, but I'm also barely breaking even from month to month.

This is especially true after I quit my three-day-a-week 'second job' back in April that turned my Tuesdays and Thursdays into 14-hour days (with commutes) - and robbed me of my Saturdays.

I ask myself now how the hell I managed to do that second job for almost five years? Do I miss that extra 25,000 baht each month? Not as much as I appreciate the lower stress and increase in free time that I now have.

The problem is that for all its faults, I still genuinely love living in Thailand (but don't get me started on my recent 90-day reporting and all the problems that come with it)

Sure, now that I'm a qualified teacher with credentials and experience under my belt, I could definitely make a horizontal move to another school, making maybe 20,000 baht more a month. Hell, I could probably get a job - if I schmoozed enough - at one of the "top" international schools in Thailand, but as a recent article noted, being a "local hire" (something peculiar to Asia, it would seem) just isn't the best way to go about things if you're trying to think long-term.

Time to go?

So where does that leave a teacher that wants to live in Thailand permanently? Best I've figured is that it means leaving the country for a couple of years and living in 'misery' in order to pull in 'the big bucks', then return to Thailand to work at a school on an expat package (read: full salary and benefits).

It's a master plan and route to riches that I've been fighting against for years, but the reality check is that I'll just never pay off any of my existing debts (even at my relatively young age) and be able to afford to retire before I'm a hundred years old. I know what you're thinking - yes, yes, we've heard it all before, blah blah blah, move away and shut up Sam.

Anyway, I've always heard of great money to be made in places like China, Japan, Korea and of course the supposedly lucrative Middle East, especially the UAE and Saudi Arabia. This article from a while back gave the impression that there are two things that grow on trees out that way - dates and money!

I've just about accepted the fact that one of those destinations will have to be my temporary home for a few years. The problem is that even though I've been registered with several recruitment agencies (including the top international schools) and I have researched listings and vacancies extensively over the past few months, I just don't know where these supposedly high salaries are being offered. Where are those big bucks! It's definitely not at international schools, surprising as that may seem when compared to Thailand.

Mediocre packages

I was recently offered a position at one of the top IB schools in Dubai (International Baccalaureate, an international school programme), and although the benefits are decent and it's tax-free, the starting salary - even four steps up the scale - is a paltry US$3,200/month. With my extra jobs (yes, I still have more than one) I can make that sort of money in Bangkok!

While I have found schools that will provide packages allowing after-tax/expense savings of up to about $30,000 a year (which is not bad at all) I've also heard that working purely in the ESL field is where the money really is, but have yet to find anything that pays more than maybe $5,000/month (definitely not bad) but not nearly the $6 - 8,000 that other teachers claim can be earned in some places.

Therein lies the biggest problem for the eternally job-hunting teacher: how much money is worth the hassle of a move to another country and starting all over again?

Any ideas?

To be able to live like a true expat in Thailand, it seems a temporary, short-term move away is the best alternative for someone like me who went about this whole expat thing backwards - but oh boy, is the ongoing search for a suitable teaching gig tiresome. I'm certainly open to suggestions from any of you that have followed this route. Shoot me a line because I must just be looking in all the wrong places!

In the interim, it's back to the drudgery of the search - and the dread of having to leave the Land of Smiles behind for a spell.

I hope you enjoyed my blog. If you would like to get in touch or perhaps e-mail me with a question, I would love to hear from you - All the best, Sam Thompson.


Hello Sam,

I always enjoy reading your posts, Sam. As someone who lived in S. Korea in the 80s, I saw several types of long term ex-pats.

There were those who stayed and did well, financially, and from a career standpoint, and there were those who stayed and eventually ended up with zero social security and medicare benefits (US) when they turned sixty. (I left the ex- pat life, got into the international higher education recruiting field in the states, and became an expat again recently.)

I would say that for those who are starting a family and who are not getting a good enough package here, head home now for the sake of the kids' future and for one's financial future well being before its too late. An ESL career overseas has little market value in the US job market unless you stay in the ESL field.

All the best,


By Lenny, Rangsit (5th January 2018)

Thanks for the comments, all; keep 'em coming!

Yes, I've heard China is the new Middle East. I'm not opposed, but just don't think I could stand the pollution in a city like Beijing, etc., money or no money.

Still looking, as many of us are... it's really a patience game more than anything else. I'm not expecting to get rich by any means, but I know options are there... especially as a way to gain experience with more money to then come back and get an expat package at a school in Thailand.

The search goes on!

By Sam, Chatuchak, Bangkok (17th December 2017)

For Alex,China, 70,000rmb is the actual salary for the Head of Science position at a prestigious British school in Beijing. So you can now be sure. Many salaries are based on years experience and qualifications.

By DuNIkU, Thailand / India (17th December 2017)

You'll get lots of bites on LinkedIn if your profile is done right. Most of the Chinese contacting you are just looking to steal your personal information. Beware.

China is now instituting a point system, if you are old and only holding a Bachelor's check into it.

Ton of jobs here in Thailand paying 40-50k. Maybe just not for you. In fact, you shouldn't work for less if you're a good teacher because not only do you deserve 45+ but any environment where teachers making less than 43 is not a place you want to work!

Do not work for any agency. Ever, for any amount of money.

PS 50k is jaw dropping amount of money for most Thai.

By Minewee, Compost Heap (17th December 2017)

You took on a mortgage (in thailand presumably) and have student loans? So all your options are in Thailand

By Shane, bangkok (17th December 2017)

Not sure about 70000 Yuan or Kwai, as we "locals" pronounce it, but 30000 to 40000 is duable in 1st tier cities. My case is very similar to Ignasi's. After working at semi international schools, I have decided to change the scenery and going after the big bucks. Currently pulling around 25000 plus bonus at the end of each year. Location is Suzhou, a couple of hours from Shanghai. Can't wait to go back to Thailand on vacation because of high pollution levels and what looks like a freezing winter because of the luck of central heating system in apartments and no insulation whatsoever. Probably should have stayed in Kunming where i worked previosly my last 2 years. The school in Suzhou, however, is much more professionally run. But.. climate in Kunming was way more pleasant. My advice is, if one has to look for a lucrative gig in China, try and find it in coastal towns. Or go deep North, where one can walk in pajamas inside the apartment in January. Oh... the things we miss once we leave the comfort of our homes, or more precisely, the comfort of our previous home.

By Alex, China (16th December 2017)

Thank you for your article.

I have to agree with you. I find myself in the same position. While I would love to stay in Thailand and teach, it only makes sense if the compensation works.

There seems to be a broad range of what people will take to get by and what people want to make. My purpose for going abroad to teach is to pay off my mortgage and any debt. If I have to work several jobs just to get by I might as well go back to the US.

I can tough out a few years that has a nice compensation package. I commend you for the two years that you did. Best of luck!!! The position and money you want is out there for you to have.

By Brie, Bangkok (16th December 2017)

A lot of good comments and thoughts. I came to teach in Thailand in 1987 - a lot has changed in Thailand and around the world.

A couple of points:

China is the new Middle East. I have seen appalling salaries in the ME lower than in my own country (UK). So you will see less of the high salaries. China offers low and high salaries. In a good school as HoD you will get circa 70,000rmb (Read 7,000pounds a month) and housing, flights, insurance, PD allowance in addition. That is savings potential.

Schools in Bangkok have reduced their interest in local expat teachers. and I have seen a big shift to agencies. Many agents simply see the ad in say TES and then pretend they are offering the representative agents. They aren't. they will push your name and grab their fee fi successful, which most of the time they are not. Invest in Search associates or ISS with fairs in Bangkok. Schools can then start to get to know you even is you are not successful the first time.

Many schools/Heads don't want to recruit a person because they love Thailand, they want to recruit an educator who loves teaching and happens to like Thailand. This needs to be made clear which is why your plan to go to another country does work for many. But don't be surprised if you suddenly find you love your new country for different reasons and stay longer than planned!

My viewpoint is as an experienced Head and teacher in many countries (3 times in Thailand.) Good luck.

By DuNIkU, Thailand / India (15th December 2017)

Hi Sam,

Thank you for your article. I liked it. It is well written and full of interesting ideas to reflect upon.

This is Ignasi, a teacher from Spain who taught in Bangkok in one of those middle range international schools (65,000B/month) and decided to go elsewhere in order to make/save more money.

After 5 years making 5000$ a month in Kazakhstan, and saving 90% of my salary, because here the package is just excellent, the question is: was it worth it? Mmmm... Honestly I have my doubts.

Living in a place that doesn't make you happy is hard, really hard, especially in the long run. Like you I love Thailand. I don't know why. It's just a matter of feeling. It makes me feel good.

Long story short, I think moving out of Thailand and teach elsewhere for money can be a good option depending on your personality type and priorities. If you are a money orientated person, that will definitely suit you. But if you are the kind of person who values other things, mmm... then probably not. Besides, some inherit properties in their home countries and now can happily live accepting mid-range salaries. So the options are many, and as I said, it depends on one's priorities and personal situation.

The million dollar question though continues being: What is best, living in the "here and now" and "sanuk", "sanuk"? (like most Thais do); or sacrifice our present time for a better future? (like most Westerns tend to fall into blindly).

In my case the answer is clear: moving to Kazakhstan was not fully worth it. I am coming back to Bangkok at the end of this academic year. Why not? I feel I ruined my health and got older at a faster pace than normal due to the low quality food, the extreme climate conditions, the air pollution, and the sadness it brings staying in a place where you feel you do not want to be at. Masochism? Probably, but I finally saw the light, and realise what was really important in my life.

Ignasi Carreras

By Ignasi Carreras, Kazakhstan (15th December 2017)

Those jobs are out there, and plenty are here. The bigger challenge is the competition you're facing for them. As Jack pointed out, the number of schools that pay more than what you typically see advertised is quite small in the larger education market. That being said, globally there are many international schools that do provide salaries and benefits well above the equivalent of $4,000 - especially if you factor in the other benefits.

In Thailand there are at least 15 to 20 schools that pay quite well, and a handful that pay extremely well. Take a look at a few examples: The lowest there (assuming that STA's new scale has continued to rise) offers a minimum of just over 131,000 baht/month ($4,000+) when you factor in the housing allowance and bonus. The top example, with housing and other benefits again included, puts you at just over a minimum of 200,000 baht/month ($6,000+). In both cases, those represent the BOTTOM of their scales, and that's not mentioning the flights, health insurance and other perks. One of the four does show a second scale for 'other' teachers, which is probably local hires for them.

The hard part is figuring out how to land one of those positions if you're already here. You're going up against a lot of applicants from around the world, especially for the best paying schools, which will usually only hire two or three local teachers each year.

On the plus side, especially if you can live with being outside the Land of Smiles for a spell, a lot of other comparable international schools around the world pay just as much as these ones. Check out and look at the 'Compare school salaries' page. You'll find many of them there.

Getting noticed means being different. Find a way to build up yourself so that you are offering something that other candidates are not. Simultaneously, start getting to know teachers at the schools you are aiming for. Attend PD, network with them, ask for advice in your area of expertise and build up a relationship. A lot of the teachers at these schools are hired because they've gotten to know others there and are recommended.

It's absolutely not easy. But if this is what you're aiming for, the hard work is worth it.

By Daniel, Bangkok (14th December 2017)


Nice reflections.

The lesson learned: Just because information is found on the internet does not make it true.

Over the years there have been a few guys frequently posting here about how they make 2 to 3 times more than the highest salary ever posted on a reliable job site in Saudi or surrounding countries.

While I won’t say these guys talking about all the big bucks there are to be had in the land of sand are all full of beans, it would seem obvious the number of jobs paying multiple times the going rate is very small.

The reality is being a professional in the field of education can lead to quality salary and a very nice lifestyle, but it will rarely lead to riches, despite what is sometimes written by people online to make themselves look good.

This is not a site where articles are edited and vetted for accuracy, just because you read it on Ajarn does not make it a fact.

I have worked in a number of countries, and I have made more money abroad than here in Thailand but like you I generally prefer to live here than elsewhere.

Good luck, but my advice (which you will probably ignore) is when looking for a long term career working internationally don’t limit your options to teaching.

By Jack, Not in the Sand (14th December 2017)

Here is my take on teaching positions within the international circuit in Thailand.

If a certified teacher is employed at one of the middle international schools in Thailand for more than a few years, it is difficult to get in one of the top schools in BKK. It happens but not often.

The big money is usually teaching jobs like Physics, Math or Chemistry. Those teachers can make B150,000 or more per month with all the benefits. Teaching any college level class for HS students going overseas can also pay very well.

I have known admin whose wages were on par with any large school district in the states. Sometimes, HS counselors come close.

ESL and elementary teachers tend to be towards the bottom of the Baht heap.

By George Bowman, Phitsanulok (14th December 2017)

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