Teaching English in Thailand, China and Vietnam and work permits

We know how wonderful it sounds when some teacher placement agencies and organisations tell you that, provided you do your TEFL or TESOL course with them, you can work in Thailand, Vietnam or China, irrespective of whether or not you have a degree. Who wouldn’t leap at the chance to explore a new country and earn good money, all for the price of a TEFL course? It’s what you're often not told that can cause a few headaches.


You may well get a job offer in any of these destinations. You may even be sent a contract to sign. However, getting the work permit is a different story altogether. Immigration regulations in all three countries stipulate that, to work legally, South Africans (and, I imagine, other nationalities) need a work permit. To qualify for the work permit, you need a bachelor’s degree.



To teach English in Thailand you’ll need to apply for a non-immigrant visa at the nearest Royal Thai Embassy. This allows you 90 days in Thailand. Once you arrive in Thailand, your employer needs to apply for a teacher licence and work permit for you; once you have these, you can apply for a visa extension for the period of the contract of employment. The Royal Thai Embassy's (in South Africa) website is quite clear: to qualify for a teacher licence, you need a Bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate. To quote from the website: Kindly be informed that to qualify for a teacher license, the Ministry of Education of Thailand usually requires the applicant to have: 1) a Bachelor’s Degree and 2) a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Certification. The permit is usually issued within 7 working days.”



For China you will need a work (Z) permit; to qualify for this permit, you need a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate. It is sometimes possible to do an internship instead, but the conditions of service of any offer need to be checked carefully. 



As is the case in China and Thailand, you need a bachelor’s degree and a full TEFL certificate to qualify for a work permit.


Any TEFL/TESOL training and placement organisation which promises you a job in any one of the three countries mentioned above, especially if you don’t have a degree, should be checked very carefully. It’s quite possible that some providers and placement agents have found ways to work around these work permit and visa requirements; however, if you do end up teaching illegally, the governments of these countries will hold you accountable. Working on a visitor’s visa is illegal, and could get you deported. Is it worth the risk?


Shaun Fitzhenry is a director of Bay Language Institute in South Africa, and lead trainer in their 120 hour, in-person TEFL programme. For more information on course availability visit www.tefl-southafrica.com or email shaun@tefl-southafrica.com.