Let us do a little of comparison between teaching English in China and Thailand

My wife and I taught English in China for a year and have now been in Thailand for almost 3 years. I regularly remember some of the bad things that happened to us on a regular basis in China that never happens to us here in Thailand. Please note that I’m only expressing my personal opinion based on my personal experiences as an English Teacher and that I’m not trying to promote an agenda.

The visa process


The visa process in Thailand can be a bit confusing. You cannot apply for a working permit unless you are in the Thailand. Most prospective teachers enter Thailand on a 6o day tourist visa, which they apply for at the Thai Embassy in your country of birth or they enter Thailand on a 30 day landing visa obtained at the airport in Thailand. Once you have arrived here you either attend an Onsite TEFL program (preferred) or if you have already obtained an online TEFL prior to arrival in Thailand, you go straight into the job-application process.

Once that is done, you now will need to apply for a teaching position through an agent, or respond to the numerous job advertisements on many media pages such as Ajarn.com etc.

You will start working with a tourist visa, which is illegal according to the Thai employment laws. However 80% of teachers in Thailand work on tourist visas., Educational visas etc! Why is that you might ask? The answer is quite simple. The system is simply not conducive to a smooth transition from a tourist visa to a working permit. Working permits in Thailand are issued to specific schools ONLY!! Having said that, the schools’ management and the agents if there is one involved, are very reluctant or non-cooperative in assisting the teacher to apply and secure his/her work permit as it contains a major amount of paper work and out of experience I know that teachers do not stick around for the minimum amount of time required to obtain a working permit which is one year.

Let us have a look at the perfect scenario:

A teacher arrives in Thailand on a 60-days Tourist visa. He/She attends a 120 Hour TEFL program and immediately after graduating commences a teaching position at a government school. At the end of that first month his visa needs to be extended for 30 days at a local immigration office at a cost of 1900 baht. At the end of that extended visa period of 30 days, the teacher is now forced to do a visa run to a neighbouring country be it Malaysia, Laos or Cambodia to go and apply for a new 60 Day tourist visa and re-enter the country. This exercise normally takes 2 working days. Then the teacher carries on teaching. Now only will the school start the process. If they are satisfied with you as teacher and you have pressured them to start the process to apply for a work permit, they should now start the process, but ….this is a lengthy process. The teacher will be required to once again leave the Kingdom to an Embassy at one of the previously mentioned neighbouring countries to apply for a non-B immigrant visa. The validity of this visa is 90 days. On return the teacher will continue working and the school or agent will now apply for a working permit at the local Labor department to convert that non-B immigrant visa to a one year working permit. At this point in time the teacher has been in Thailand for almost 7 to 9 months. Once your work permit is issued you will be required to report to immigration every 90 days to confirm your address and that you are still working.


Compare this to China. It’s a completely different process. There are two ways of getting into China to start teaching.

Plan A

You seek a possible teaching position online through one on the hundreds of “agencies”! They will send you a list of requirements and ask you to forward some paperwork to them. After a couple of emails back and forth they will more than likely say to you that they can offer you a teaching position and make you an offer! Now you are extremely excited but that is the easy part!

Now the agent needs to send you an invitation letter from the school and a certificate from the local Foreign Expert saying they agree to issue you a work permit. Once you have received the documentation you need to travel to the nearest Chinese consulate, which, except for people living in large urban areas, isn’t close at all. You’ll travel back to your hometown, wait for the visa, then travel to the consulate again, then travel home again. Chinese consulates don’t process work visas by mail. Once your visa/work permit is approved you need to get to the school in China where they then have to apply for a one year resident permit at the local Foreign Expert offices. You will be required to do a comprehensive medical checkup prior to the approval of the residence permit.

Plan B

Get a tourist visa in Hong Kong, visit the school, hope the FAO can get the paperwork done within 30 days or get an extension to your tourist visa, go back to Hong Kong to get the work visa, then go back to your school. Before you go to Hong Kong, you have to get a health check. After you return from Hong Kong, you have to get a foreign expert certificate, then take the health certificate, foreign expert certificate, and work visa to the PSB to get a resident permit.

Your school might pay for some of the things you have to do, but a lot of them don’t pay at all. Generally, they won’t pay for any expenses incurred outside the city where the school is located. And before any of this starts, you have to get a recommendation letter from your previous school and they have to cancel your foreign expert certificate.

It’s also important that the school name on the recommendation letter has to be the same as the school name on the Foreign Expert certificate and the health certificate.

Salaries and Living cost

This is, in my opinion, the only area where China is superior to Thailand.

In Thailand the starting salary is 30000 Baht ($900). If you have a 4 year degree you will be able to earn a starting salary of approximately 45000 baht ($1250)

In Thailand you will hardly ever get a teaching position that offers you accommodation and additional benefits associated with the teaching position. It is just not part and parcel of the “farang” (Thai word for foreigners) package!

Average teaching hours per week is 20 hours – Monday to Friday

Living costs in Thailand, such as accommodation, clothing, transport and food are extremely affordable, and if you are not a big socialite you will be in a position to save at least $350 (R4 650) per month!

In China, the starting salary, depending on qualifications and experience, is 7500 Yuan ($1200) up to 15000 Yuan+- ($2400) if you have a degree and some teaching experience. Furthermore you will get free accommodation or an accommodation allowance! The school will also pay you an end of contract bonus equal to one month’s salary at the end of you contract period, normally the 12th month.

Living costs in China is not cheap at all. There are not many street markets and the food in the formal food centers is expensive.

At the end of the day, it simply depends on what the reason is that you are teaching abroad. Some want to travel and explore or take a GAP year or the main objective might be to save money irrespective of the living conditions. The choice is yours to make!

The students

The students in Thailand are much more disciplined and much more receptive than Chinese students. In Thailand, the students’ attitude is “OK, we’re just going to have this lesson and learn some English and everything will be fine.” In China, it was more like, “But will this help me pass the exam?” “But I disagree with your teaching method.” “But I don’t like your personality.”

At my last school in China, I did a series of lessons on human senses, smell, taste, listen, hear, see, look, touch and feel. I got a memo from the Director of English, clearly pointing out to me that the lesson had been translated from Chinese. Then they pointed out that students were confused by the difference between “look” and “see”, “listen” and “hear” etc. When I tried to explain the differences and when it would be appropriate to use the different words, they seemed genuinely oblivious to my opinions and they just wanted me to “stay in line and follow orders”.

Here in Thailand, I taught the exact same lessons and the students absorbed it all without a hint of difficulty or protest nor any interference from the Thai Teachers.

The Thai and Chinese students were the same age. The Thai students view English skills as something they need and something they can master. Part of this is that the ASEAN Economic Community, with is just around the corner, will use English as its official language. Contrast this with Chinese students being told they need English because of China’s entrance into the WTO. There were a lot of crazy English books, a lot of packed English corners, and a lot of students requesting practice time with their foreign teacher, not to mention hordes of university English majors. But the passive aggressive resistance remained.

The country itself:


Facebook, Youtube, etc, nuff said.
7-11 on every block.
Cold drinks everywhere.
No cold weather.
Beaches, etc. 
Awesome food.
Friendly locals.
Clean bathrooms and clean classrooms.
Clean air, very little pollution, neat cities.
Good transportation system.
Reliable postal system.
Nobody cutting in line. 
Nobody honking and spitting.
Nobody smacking their food. 
Nobody talking in a loud voice. 
Nobody bumping into and grabbing each other.
Nobody setting off fireworks every 5 minutes.
No children relieves themselves in public.
Nobody saying, “Watch your bag”


Facebook, Youtube etc Blocked
Battled to fine proper convenient stores
Chinese drink everything hot!
Very harsh winters
Only in the South.
Really very weird eating habits
Do not like Foreigners. Rude
Smelly dirty disgusting!
Pollution major problem and dirty
Not bad depending where you are.
Not so reliable
They have no respect always jumping the queue
Everyone does it!
Everyone does it
Always screaming and shouting
Always doing it! Very weird
All the time. Always looking to dive for cover!!
Common. Anywhere any time!
Not safe at all! Need to watch your belongings.

The contrast in public behavior is striking. There’s a food court outside my Thai school. I explored that food court from one end to the other without anyone touching me. And this was in a place packed with energetic elementary students. In China, I would have been bruised from head to toe and my shoes would have been thoroughly scuffed. And of course at least half a dozen people would have cut in front of me while I tried to get my food. The Chinese are fascinated by our blue eyes and blond hair. Just want to touch you.

Ok, if I seem to be biased towards Thailand, it is simply that the quality of life and that what matters to me and my wife is all here in the land of the smiles! China could not offer that to us!

What is the downside in Thailand?

Lots of people complain about the heat and humidity but I love the weather! I hate extreme cold weather and wind!

Salaries, compared to the rest of Asia, are much lower, but on the flip side, the cost of living is a lot more affordable. If it is savings you are after, then Thailand is not the best choice.

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