Finding a teaching job in Vietnam can come with a few pitfalls. I remember a few errors I made many moons ago. I was left trapped in an apartment with two months of unpaid bills, my salary withheld and important documents being held in an unknown location. In short, I was screwed.
I made the mistake of being sucked into a dishonest third party company when I came to Vietnam; the contract contained deceptive language, and I did not check out the business thoroughly enough. What resulted was dishonesty, withheld pay and illegal circumstances.
The company sent me to get my business visa, but when I tried to board the plane in Bangkok I was informed my visa letter was not legitimate. I spent the next week alone in Bangkok with hardly any money, figuring out a new visa. When I returned, they refused to give me my salary and my documents, claiming they were being “used to make my work permit.” I made up a lie and was able to get my documents back, but when I tried to leave my apartment I found the company had not been paying the bill as outlined in the contract. I fought to get some of my salary, used it to pay the 20 million VND bill and flew to Cambodia, escaping one of the most stressful situations of my life.
Later, I did the right research and background checks and found a job at another company, which flew me in from Cambodia on a business visa. I worked in a positive, paying and legal teaching position from then on.
If you think this is a rare occurrence, think again. Many teachers have similar horror stories either from not properly reading the contract, not researching the company or simply from the company breaking contractual obligations.
What followed were endless threatening calls explaining that they would be hunted down by the police, deported from the country and blacklisted from Vietnam.
One teacher from South Africa, Carrie Steynberg, described her introduction to Vietnam as a horrendous tale of deception, mistreatment and fear mongering. Outlined in her contract were 100 teaching hours per month for 1,500 U.S. dollars and a free fully-furnished apartment. She arrived to an empty run-down empty, no teaching schedule or training (as stipulated in the contract) and only one contact from the company who was often impossible to get a hold of.
After a month of sleeping on a mattress on the floor, being told 30 minutes prior that she must teach a class and having almost zero help from the company, she had reached the last straw: the company refused to pay her a salary. Instead, they gave her 2 million VND to “get by” for the month until she had made up the full 100 hours required to receive a salary.
Another teacher who was owed two month’s salary told Steynberg about an escape plan she had been devising and asked her if she would like to join. “We were told to pack quietly and leave all lights off and that a taxi would be waiting to pick us up early in the morning to take us to a flat in Eco Park, where two former employees of the same company had escaped to for the same reason.” Steynberg said. “We snuck out quietly as told, but were spotted by our TA and [the company] was dutifully notified.” What followed were endless threatening calls explaining that they would be hunted down by the police, deported from the country and blacklisted from Vietnam.
Steynberg was fearful. “Our only thought was to get to the South African Embassy in Hanoi to seek protection,”she said. The embassy reassured her that the company could not follow through with any of their threats as they had broken the contract.
Now Steynberg works for a reputable company in Hanoi stating that “years later we’ve all worked our separate ways up and are thriving under good employment.” However, she says that now and again she bumps into the other escapees and they “reminisce over our shocking introduction to Vietnam.”
“The Facebook groups really helped when looking for jobs, asking questions, and gave an insight into other teachers experiences.”
So, if you would like to just skip all the crap and jump right into a legit job, here are some of my ‘Dos and Don’ts’ for getting a teaching job in Vietnam.
- Do look for jobs online. Try the vietnamteachingjobs website and on Facebook pages English Teaching Jobs in Vietnam, Vietnam Teaching Jobs and any pages specific to the city you hope to work in, such as Hanoi English Teaching Jobs or Da Nang English Teaching Jobs.
- Don’t look on just one page or one site. Don’t apply to just one or two jobs, apply to several. This way, you can negotiate salary, benefits and working hours with a number of companies and get the package that best suits you. You do not want to put all your eggs in one basket.
- Do join groups like Hanoi Cover Teachers. If you are looking for a job in Hanoi, take your time and do not rush. If you need extra money to buy you time then it is good to cover some classes without having to commit. If you really like the classes you cover, often you will be asked if you want to continue teaching them. It is a great way to “test drive” a company and it can even be exciting.
“[On arriving in Hanoi] I decided to scour local Facebook groups to scope out the marketplace, which was quite an experience. I found myself consumed, for hours, by the thrill of the game,” said Melissa Mahfouz, an American teacher. “I posted my bio and throughout the day would voraciously check any posts, likes or comments. I quickly became addicted to that tiny red dot indicating a new message had been received. Much like those requited ‘You’ve Got Mail’ moments between Tom and Meg.”
- Don’t be taken advantage of. The normal rate is 450,000-550,000 VND per hour to cover a class. Just because you are a cover teacher, it does not mean you should be getting paid less. And on this note, don’t undervalue your worth.
“When I first started teaching I had ‘imposter syndrome’ and couldn’t believe how much I was getting paid for a job I was just starting out in. So, when my employer asked me to work six instead of five days a week or do other things for them for free I immediately said yes, thinking I had to prove myself,” said Rebecca Adams, a teacher from the U.K. “However, I quickly learned that these ‘free favors’ weren’t appreciated by the employer and it was completely unnecessary for me to do them – I learned that I deserved the wage I was receiving for the hard work I was putting in as a teacher.”
- Do look up every company that offers you a position. Read reviews others have left. How did they treat the teachers? Did they follow through on visas and work permits? Was the salary always delivered on time? Is the schedule stable or does it constantly change?
You deserve good pay, benefits and a healthy working environment
- Do not believe every review you read. There are bound to be some disgruntled foreign teachers who do not jive with the way things are done in Vietnam. There is a difference between a bad working environment and one that is just significantly different to what you are used to. Remember, you are living in a developing Asian country – it is not going to be the same as your home country. Look for support from other expats to find positive working environments.
“I have a friend who had been living in Hanoi for three years and he helped me a lot with my transition,” said Kelso Dowling, a teacher from the United States. “He set me up with a private class and had me follow teaching Hanoi groups on Facebook to find additional jobs. The Facebook groups really helped when looking for jobs, asking questions, and an insight into other teachers experiences.”
- Do read your contract carefully. Look out for any hidden clauses. Ensure that it says how many hours you will be working a week, and between what hours. If it says you have two days off a week, ensure that it is two consecutive days off, if that is what you want. Is the salary before or after tax? What are you paying for medical insurance? Are they going to provide you with the necessary documents in a timely fashion and who will cover the costs?
- Don’t accept everything that is in the contract. NEGOTIATE. You deserve good pay, benefits and a healthy working environment. Circle all the things you do not like and negotiate with the company. Often, this will make you seem more experienced and therefore more viable for the position than if you just roll over and accept whatever they offer.
- Do ask for the emails of some current teachers and reach out to them. Ask questions about the working environment, if the salary is paid on time, and their general feeling towards the company.
- Don’t accept it if the company says “they can’t give you employees emails.” If that’s the case, then give them yours and tell them to have an employee reach out to you. You have the right to contact current staff. If they are telling you no, it is a definite red flag.
- Do befriend the teachers and staff–this is your support group and your union. There may be (and probably will be) times that the company will try to go back on things stated in the contract. Stand up together—they don’t want a mutiny on their hands.
“I would recommend taking a job where there will be other expats because they are the people that helped me grow and progress as a teacher. They provided me with ideas for the class, support and help with homesickness when it crept up,” said Lucy Neville, a teacher from the U.K. “The T.A.s and staff were really helpful too. From my experience, the managers and owners of the schools/businesses are not as helpful and are only really looking to make as much money as possible.”
- Don’t get fussed about every little thing. Stand up for yourself, but pick your battles. If you try to fight every little thing you will feel exhausted. Step back and ask yourself: “Is this really that important?” You will be asked to do events and you will have last minute schedule changes. It is important to go with the flow but also, as Adams explains, “don’t be afraid to say no when you get a call at 7 a.m. to teach in an hour, you won’t get fired, trust me.”
So there you go, a few dos and don’ts about finding a job in Vietnam. Avoid the mess I found myself in and ensure you do a lot of research and negotiating to get what you want. Best of luck on the job hunt.