Alexis and I both had the intention of teaching English when we moved to Thailand. Had moving to Thailand specifically to become English teachers been our main impetuous, it would have been much smarter to move here in April or October. The school year in Thailand runs from May to March with a four week break in October. This is the equivalent of our Christmas break. The reason arriving in April or October is ideal is because the month before each semester starts is the main time schools are hiring.
This is all according to what we had read before coming here, of course, because teaching English wasn’t the main impetuous for moving to Thailand and we didn’t arrive in April or October. We moved here in June, smack dab in the middle of the first semester.
Also from everything we had read, had we moved here during the main hiring months, finding a job would be really easy, especially if you have a Bachelor’s degree and a TEFL (which Alexis did; I only have a BA but no TEFL). Our situation as it was dictated that we’d get here in June because our wedding and subsequent honeymoon took first priority in terms of schedule. Arriving in the middle of the semester was slightly concerning and we wondered if we’d be unemployed for five months until school started back up in November.
Turns out, even arriving in the middle of the semester didn’t prove to be an obstacle. Alexis found a job within our first week of being in Chiang Mai. You can read her full account in How I Landed a Teaching Job in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
On her first day of work, I decided I had better put in some effort too and hit the pavement. In Thailand, finding a job works best the same way finding an apartment does: on foot. Well, I suppose you could also drive or bike, but I mean on foot in the figurative sense as in: not online. There are websites that list job openings like Ajarn and Dave’s ESL Cafe, but for the most part, an email will get you nowhere here.
So I got geared up: khakis, button-up shirt, tie, nice shoes, and copies of my diploma, transcripts, and resume (which have your picture on it). If I had a TEFL certificate, I would have brought copies of that with me as well. Appearances matter a lot in Thailand. Looking the part will go a long way.
I had decided I wanted to teach at a language school instead of a grade school. The reason being: I was writing part-time for a travel website and I expected that work to stay consistent if not expand, so I didn’t want to take on a full time job. I had heard that language schools allow you to work part time so it seemed like the ideal fit. What I didn’t know at the time is that part time at a language school almost always means night and weekends. More on this in a bit.
I had found a few language schools online I knew I wanted to drop a resume off at, but by and large, Google Maps sucks in Thailand — It’s really difficult finding exact locations for places here, so while I had a general idea of where a few places were, my main strategy was just walking around neighborhoods that were close to Alexis’ school and our apartment.
I stumbled across six or seven language schools that day and dropped my resume off at three or four of them. One said they weren’t hiring, but the main reason I couldn’t drop my resume off was because they didn’t open until 3PM. This was a bummer because I really didn’t want to work nights and weekends and never see Alexis.
My last stop of the day turned out to be NES Baanpasa on Nimmanhaemin Road. NES actually has four locations in Chiang Mai, three of which are centrally located (see the locations here). They are one of the bigger language schools in Chiang Mai (hence the four locations) and so they were open more hours of the day which seemed promising. Perhaps I could work part time during the day, I thought.
Another reason I decided a language school would be the best bet for me was because I had heard it’s easier to get a job there than at a school because 1) they don’t require a TEFL certificate as often as grade schools do and 2) they don’t follow an academic calendar like grade schools do so it didn’t matter that I was job hunting in June.
I don’t know which one of those factors weighed in the most, but they offered me the job.
So What Does This Mean For You?
The main point I want to stress here is: Alexis and I both got jobs teaching English super easily when we moved to Chiang Mai. We both walked into a school on our first day looking and walked out that same day employed. And it was June, the supposedly more difficult time of the year to find employment. Maybe we’re the exception, I’m not sure, but if someone were to ask me how hard it is to get a job teaching English in Thailand, I would say it’s a piece of cake if you have a Bachelor’s degree, are respectful, prepared, and dress appropriately.
So I got offered the job, which was fantastic. It was a huge weight off my shoulders knowing we had both found jobs and were going to be able to support ourselves in Thailand. I always felt like our family was suspicious whenever we would tell them we’re moving across the world without jobs but that everything we had read said it shouldn’t be too difficult. It was nice to know our confidence and our assurances to them were not misguided.
What wasn’t fantastic was the schedule I had to agree to. If I wanted to only work part time, they were going to make me work nights and weekends, even though they’re open during the day. I think they do this out of necessity because so many travelers come through Chiang Mai looking for the same thing: a few hours every day during the middle of the day. The only option to keep my nights and weekends free was to agree to teach full time. I believe it was from 10AM to 6PM Monday through Friday. They offered 30,000 Baht a month (which is pretty decent in terms of Chiang Mai teaching salaries) and a work visa (which is also a huge perk). The workload was much more than I wanted to take on, but I agreed to do it. I was to start in a week.
We were excited that night, it felt like we made it. We were justified. The next day though, I felt terrible. The thought of actually teaching now that it was real, despite that being my intention, felt all wrong. I honestly felt like I was signing up for prison. I quickly realized teaching English is not what I want to do with my life.
So I contacted NES and turned the job down. I felt bad backing out, but I told myself at least I did it before I actually started instead of a week into the job when people would have started to depend on me. I immediately felt better. I felt like I was taking control of my life.
A small gossipy side note before continuing on to what I’m doing instead: About a week after I turned down the job, I heard through a friend that NES actually has a somewhat bad reputation for falling behind on payments and mistreating employees. Now, keep in mind this is all hearsay and I am not saying I know this to be true, but it came from someone I trust, someone whose opinion I value, so it made me feel even better about turning down the job.
The Next Phase and Other Ways to Work in Thailand (or Anywhere!)
My part time travel writing was continuing, but it wasn’t steady enough to support ourselves, so I started looking for more freelance work. I created profiles on Elance and oDesk. Within the first day of looking for work on both of those sites, oDesk proved to be much more useful. The site was more user-friendly, there were more jobs available, and I was getting a roughly 50% response rate compared to literally zero on Elance.
I haven’t used Elance in over two months, but I’m on oDesk every day. I’ve picked up close to 10 writing gigs, with a few of them being really consistent part time work. Writing gigs are plentiful on oDesk, but it’s far from all they have available. There’s everything from data entry to personal assistant to website design work.
Getting work has been surprisingly easy. I never expected the process to be so simple when I was getting started. For each job you apply to, you’ll place a bid and answer a few questions. The bid is the amount you require to do the stated job and you can use the job offer’s stated budget as well as the average bid from the other applicants as guidelines.
While finding work has been easy, what has proven to be more difficult is moving up in pay grade. Most of the jobs I get on oDesk are pretty low paying. It’s definitely enough for Thailand, but in Western standards, it’s a pretty paltry amount. Keep in mind though that I’ve only been doing this for two months. I feel like I’m starting to gain some leverage though as I have a pretty steady flow of work from low to medium-low paying jobs that I can be more selective in the jobs I apply for. Both in terms of pay and type of work.
Here are some tips I would give to someone looking to make a living off of oDesk and other freelance jobs:
- Don’t be so selective in the beginning. You need to build your profile and credibility. Hirers on oDesk often limit their applicants to people who already have good ratings and reviews. Positive reviews for a crappy job is more important than pay or doing something you actual enjoy in the beginning.
- Be quick to respond. There are a lot of applicants, and hirers are often looking for the first “good enough” person to come along, not necessarily the best of the best. I usually don’t even bother applying for jobs that have been posted over 24 hours ago and I always respond to my current clients within 24 hours.
- Be friendly and positive. No one wants to work with an A-hole. This doesn’t mean you have to fill your emails with emoticons and exclamations marks (in fact, definitely do not do that), but just use positive language and make the other person feel comfortable in working with you.
- Put yourself in the hirer’s shoes: What kind of things would you need to hear or read in order to trust some random stranger on the internet? What kind of person would you want to complete this job? Make it as easy as possible for this person to trust that 1. You’re not a weirdo 2. You know what you’re doing and 3. You’re not going to shaft them.
- Have a writing sample ready. Obviously, this only applies to those seeking writing gigs, but almost every job I’ve applied to has asked for a writing sample, sometimes two or three of them. If you have more, all the better. Send the one that’s most applicable to the job you’re applying for.
- This is perhaps the most important one: Be honest with potential clients and yourself. We all want the best jobs with the best pay, but seriously ask yourself: Am I really qualified to do this? Can I handle this amount of work? Is this a topic I feel comfortable writing about? Am I satisfied with the pay? The more honest you are with yourself, the happier you’ll be.
oDesk and Elance aren’t the only places to look for freelance work either. I’ve never used these sites personally, but Guru and Fiverr are other websites that link employers and freelancers. Craigslist is an option too, although I’d be a little more hesitant about that since there’s no system in place to ensure you get paid.
I’ll write another post soon about the pros and cons and reality vs. perception of freelancing, but it general, it’s been great. I work from home sometimes, from coffee shops other times. It just depends on my mood. UPDATE: Freelancing: The Pros and Cons and Perception vs. Reality is now live!
There are four big things I really hope everyone takes away from this post:
- Finding work teaching English in Thailand is easy. Stop fretting about it and just make the leap. I haven’t heard of a single person who wasn’t able to find work in less than a month.
- It’s okay to be selfish. Do what makes you happy and don’t be afraid to cut ties with the things that don’t.
- Freelancing is a great option for those looking to make money while traveling. It can done from anywhere in the world and jobs are easy to get.
- You do not have to be super skilled at anything in particular to get freelance work. When I started getting writing gigs on oDesk, I had close to zero professional writing experience and now I’ve written over 200 published (or soon to be) articles. I mean, data entry work is literally copy and pasting — anyone can manage that. The job posters know that too, so a lot of the time all they’re looking for is someone responsive, nice, and honestly just… normal. Being a normal human being wins you major brownie points online these days.