Living & Teaching in Vietnam: Q&A by Emily Rose Wanders

In case you didn’t know, I have been living in Vietnam as an expat and as a teacher. I get a lot of questions regarding the process of finding a job, necessary qualifications, life in Hanoi, life in Vietnam, etc. Before I begin my Q&A, I need to have a quick rant! Ready? Okay.

Life here is good. It truly is. I genuinely love living here. The best parts of my day are the moments when I interact with locals and enjoy the city in which I’m living. There are many things you need to know before coming to Vietnam, but I do want to make one thing very, very clear to anyone who is considering moving here to teach: this is not your playground, and there is a certain level of patience and acceptance you need to have in order to live here and be happy.

Many, not all, of the expats here, have created a very bad reputation for people who do move here for more than cheap beer and a “good time.” I moved here to teach because I could not imagine myself staying in the United States and starting my teaching career there. I knew that if I settled right into a job where I lived, that would be it. I am young and wanted to experience something different. As someone who majored in English and minored in Education, I have always planned to be a teacher. This is not my backup plan.

Many expats come here and are absolutely horrible. They don’t care about anyone. They’re selfish, entitled, sometimes even get drunk and go teach, and are rude to locals, all while making 4x more per month than the average local person. This is not everyone, but the ease of life here makes for a lot of unwanted guests and backpackers in search of a quick dollar. If you want to come here, please don’t be one of them. This country doesn’t need any more people who don’t care about the work they’re putting forth into this world. Don’t be an asshole. Quite frankly, I’m sick of interacting with people who don’t take anything they do in life seriously and who complain about a country in which they are not even from. If you have a problem with the way things operate here, leave. If you’re impatient or intolerant, don’t come here to live. That is all. Now, here’s the Q&A.

 

Q & A: Everything You Want to Know about Living and
Teaching in Vietnam

Why Vietnam?

Oddly enough, this is probably the question I have received the most. While I do have a blog post that answers that exact question, I want to take it a step further. I do recommend you read the blog post as a general basis of how I have fallen in love with the people and culture, but beyond that, with regard to why I came to Vietnam to teach, that’s a different story. 

I didn’t know that I would move here when I planned my trip to Southeast Asia. It was a thought, but I didn’t know for sure. Hanoi, Vietnam, was my first stop when I left home in January. It was when I was in the taxi on the way to my hotel my first hour of being here that I knew this place would be my home one day. Not to sound cliche, but it was seriously just the ‘vibe.’ As I got to know the country more, it solidified my desire to live here.

There are a lot of things that influenced my decision to live here officially, but there are good job opportunities and the way of living here is very simple. There are opportunities to save money if you work a lot and aren’t partying every night. As someone with a legitimate background in English, I am lucky to have found the job that I have because it capitalizes on my skill set in a way that most jobs here do not. 

What documents and certifications do I need in order to teach in Vietnam?

In order to legally live and work in Vietnam as a teacher, you need to have a degree and a TEFL/TESOL certificate. There are jobs who hire people without the documentation; however, it isn’t legal, and there are risks involved in working illegally in Vietnam.

Best company to get a TEFL certificate with? 

I personally did everything through the International TEFL Academy. You can contact Britton Schaude at britton@internationalteflacademy.com OR you can fill out this form to request more information about ITA; tell him “Emily Albertell” referred you, and you might get some money off the course (not sure how it works, exactly!). DM me on Instagram if you end up emailing him – he is so helpful!

The reason I chose them is that they will pretty much always help you find a job, even long after the course is over. I took the course through AVSE (ITA’s affiliate) in Hanoi; AVSE only supports you for a few weeks after the course. However, I will always have support through ITA. If I change location, or want to change location, they will be there to guide me through it.

Was finding a job easy? 

I found both of my jobs pretty easily; if you haven’t read about why I quit my first job, you can here. Getting a job in Vietnam is generally super easy, and you can typically find one within a week’s time. However, finding the right job is more difficult. If you’re qualified and passionate, I would take the time to really find something that is reputable and suitable for what you want. It might take a little bit extra time, but the last thing you want to do is sign a contract with no probation period and end up screwed out of your pay.. Which is what happened to me with my first job.

To find jobs, you can use Facebook groups (literally just search English teaching jobs in Vietnam) and a bunch will come up. If you’re looking for jobs in specific cities, add in the city like “Hanoi English Teaching Jobs.” The same goes for other countries! It never hurts to see what’s out there.

Like I said, there are a lot of jobs, and I think it’s important to find the right job if you are here long term. Vietnam can lack organization, so if you’re not a “go with the flow” kind of person, find a reputable company. Join Facebook groups and ask others. If you’re a woman, “Hanoi Beautiful” is a great group for women only. It might take a bit for you to be accepted into the group, though.

 

Do you feel confident when teaching?

I do feel quite confident while teaching. I get more confident as time goes on. I teach students who actually speak English, so I’m a lot more comfortable because we can have good conversation, and they have a feel for my sense of humor and sarcasm. I can be myself with some of my classes, and we genuinely have a good time.

I am not the type of teacher who merely “wings it,” so I always review my lessons beforehand.

 

How hard is the paperwork for the working visa?

If you plan to find a job here legally, then your employer will help you do all of this. There is a business visa, a work permit, and a work visa. You receive them in that order, but you will almost always enter on a tourist visa if you plan to get a job here and not beforehand. Once you have a work permit, then you get a work visa (I think). Honestly, I don’t totally know how it all works. The first steps are to find a job, get a health check, get your documents notarized, and get a police check. Your job will help you do the majority of it. These things aren’t difficult as they are pricey and annoying, lol. If you are from the UK, you have to send your documents back home to get them notarized. If you’re from the USA like me, you can just head to the embassy and they’ll have you covered – each document is $50 to notarize at the US Embassy. You make an appointment online. Try to get everything done as quickly as possible once you have your job. Most jobs will and have to assist with certain things, like the police check and the second part of notarizing your documents in Vietnamese. If you have questions, your employer will help you. 

If your job is not offering you a work permit, then you might want to find another job! It’s important to do things by the book here because the government is beginning to crack down on people who are not working here legally.

 

Do you know of any non-native English speaking teachers? 

I know that they exist, but I don’t personally know any! There are some companies that supposedly hire non-Native English speakers for the same pay, but it is kind of a well-known fact that typically non-natives get paid significantly less than natives. You’re still making enough to live here, at least to my knowledge. It’s doable because some small centers literally just want a foreign face to represent them; however, you need to remember that your primary role is pronunciation and having kids repeat things exactly the way you do, so your pronunciation should be pretty good.

*update* My company just hired a non-native speaker; she has both a degree and a TESOL.

 

What resources do you use to plan lessons?

My TESOL course was very in-depth and provided some good lesson plan ideas. However, YouTube is a great resource for games. Most learning centers will give you their specific guidelines for lessons and some offer training; in these types of places, you are given the content and need to fill the time productively. 

My company provides lesson plans for a lot of what I teach; I tweak some of it to make them more suitable for my specific classes. Incorporating games and brain teasers is always a good way to cut through the boring parts of content. 

 

What is the cost of living in Vietnam compared to the United States? Food, housing, luxury items? 

Note: all $ values are quoted in USD.

Of course, this depends on where you live in Vietnam and where you live in the States. I personally live in the southern portion of the “expat” area in Hanoi called Tay Ho – thankfully, my area isn’t flooded with westerners, but the rest of Tay Ho is. You have to understand that the amount of money westerners make is absolutely insane compared to what the locals make – I see job advertisements for locals and the pay is about 30k dong per hour ($1.29) while most teachers make at least $18 per hour. Therefore, Tay Ho’s prices are extremely inflated to match the income of westerners who come here. 

That being said, things are still cheap in comparison to the United States. I personally pay $480 for a one-bedroom apartment with a nice rooftop view. I wanted my own space, and I am paying for it. There is tons of real estate and you can get a room for as little as $175 per month, maybe even less! If you’re on a budget and you’re moving here, look outside of Tay Ho. Find a job first and then look at places to live close to where you’re working.

Regarding food, street food is super cheap. You won’t pay more than $2 for a solid meal, but sometimes prices are inflated in some areas or certain dishes are a bit more pricey. Some of my favorite places are only $1.29 per dish (30k).  I cook a lot at home and I rarely spend more than 150k on food ($6) that will last me for days on end. Things like potatoes, carrots, and white onions are very inexpensive, as well as herbs and greens. Things that are imported are usually a bit more expensive – for instance, a head of broccoli is usually ~$1 whereas I can get multiple carrots or potatoes for the same price. Asparagus and mushrooms are probably two of the most expensive things to buy, at least in my experience.

Luxury things like manicures, eyelashes, and massages? 

I personally pay $5 for a basic gel manicure (including removal of previous gels). If I get designs on all of my nails, it’s closer to $9. My gel manicures typically lasts 3 weeks – they never chip, but I hate the way my nails look when my cuticles grow out lol.

 My eyelashes cost no more than $11 and they last me about a month, but I like the fuller look so I typically get them done after 3 weeks. Most places charge around the same, maybe more toward $13-$14. 

Massages really range in price; sometimes, you can get one for as low as $8 – but I would say that the average is about $10-$12. There are some super “fancy” places with private rooms and a high level of professionalism that costs closer to $20-$25.

 

Do you ever have social anxiety with teaching? What advice would you give to others in that situation?

I used to have a lot more social anxiety when teaching in the United States because I had no experience then; as I’ve taught more, I’ve gained a lot of confidence and don’t really get anxious. In terms of advice, I think it’s important to remember that your students have no idea what your lesson plan is, and you’re allowed to change things to be more suitable. Don’t worry about messing up. Have fun with your students and allow them to see your personality and build a relationship based on respect. When you’re a teacher, you realize how bad teachers are if all of their lessons are just powerpoints. There are more ways to learn than just taking notes; most of my classes are filled with discussion, activities, and critical thinking.

 

What is the workload like? 

My workload is pretty doable, but not all centers operate the same. Some places require you to lesson plan yourself, but they give you the content in which you’re supposed to teach – it’s your responsibility to fill the time and cover all of the content. Some places have certain structures that you’re supposed to follow and input the content into. 

The content that I teach can be a bit dense at times, so it’s imperative that I take a look at everything and prepare a bit beforehand. My job isn’t the type of job where I can just “wing it” and assume that things will go well because the content is far more advanced than other centers, which I enjoy.

I am also being given more responsibility at my job, where I am paid for office hours to create content or write material. They give me a set number of hours in which I need to complete it, and I get it done in my own time! 

Pretty much, you can work as much or as little as you want. There is room for more work, always.

Any starting off advice for someone beginning their TESOL/TEFL course today? 

Whether you’re doing it online or in person, give it your all and actually try to pay attention. Listen to the classroom management strategies, and if your instructor hasn’t gone over it, then ask them to go over it. 

 

Best company to get a TEFL certificate with? 

I personally did everything through the International TEFL Academy. You can contact Britton Schaude at britton@internationalteflacademy.com OR you can fill out this form to request more information about ITA; tell him “Emily Albertell” referred you, and you might get some money off the course (not sure how it works, exactly!). DM me on Instagram if you end up emailing him – he is so helpful!

The reason I chose them is that they will pretty much always help you find a job, even long after the course is over. I took the course through AVSE (ITA’s affiliate) in Hanoi; AVSE only supports you for a few weeks after the course. However, I will always have support through ITA. If I change location, or want to change location, they will be there to guide me through it.

Is it possible without teaching experience?

It’s definitely possible to get a job without any experience! Some companies will literally offer you a job on the spot; some companies also offer their own set of training. Some of the better companies to work for definitely require some experience in teaching, but a lot of them don’t. Even so, your TESOL/TEFL course should require you some in-person teaching hours, which will definitely boost your confidence. Don’t feel intimidated or inexperienced because a lot of people are likely in the same position as you are. Be confident, and you will find what you’re looking for in terms of a job. 

 

How’s your personal life, love life, and social life?

All of the above are completely nonexistent. Lol, just kidding. I have a few friends, I date sometimes but have generally given up on apps like Tinder and Bumble, and I would say that my personal life is great. I have no complaints about the way things are here, though the dating scene is quite bleak if you have even a semblance of standards. Hanoi is not a place you come to find love, and that’s okay. My life is a lot easier when I don’t date, and I’m introverted as hell to begin with.

 

What do you usually do after work?

I think the real question is what do I do before work, lol. Most of my days, I go to work around 4 or 5 pm, work for a few hours, and then come home, chill and watch Netflix with some wine (maybe). Before work, I work out, cook, go to the market, read, write, drink coffee, and all of that good stuff. I never drink alcohol before work. Only copious amounts of coffee.

How are your students’ English levels? 

My students’ English is absolutely fantastic. I think it’s important to note that my job is a lot different than most here. I would say that a majority of teachers are teaching English as a foreign language in either public schools or private learning centers; while I do teach in a learning center, I do not teach English as a language. Instead, we focus on critical thinking, reading and writing skills, as well as skills courses like public speaking and debate. My degree is in English, so I honestly prefer this kind of teaching; it’s what I do best!

How long are you staying abroad? When will you be back?

No idea. I am planning a visit home for sometime next year around the holidays (November 2020). To live, though? No idea.

 

Did I leave anything out? Are there any other specfic questions you have? Feel free to leave a comment with any other burning questions, and I’ll be sure to respond and add them to the list!

Thanks for reading.

Until next time,

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2 Comments

  • Sarah

    Hi Emily!

    Just finished my TEFL and I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts! I saw you mentioned that you work out in Vietnam, are you a member of a gym, or do you exercise on your own?

    Also, do you have any recommendations on sites to start looking for apartments?

    Appreciate it.

    • emilyrose

      Hey there! Good for you. I personally workout at home, I have some dumbbells.
      In terms of apartments, I only know for Hanoi. Is that where you’re planning on moving? There is a group called “hanoi massive housing.”

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