My experience working as a full-time English teacher in Vietnam for just under two years was overwhelmingly positive.
I would encourage others to consider Vietnam as their next teaching destination.
And so, this post aims to give an overview of what you’ll need and what can be expected.
I’ll walk you through my experience in the two cities I worked, Hanoi and Da Nang, as well as some of the technical and practical requirements for living there.
Oudtshoorn is my native hometown.
It’s a small town in South Africa, where I went to school and where I had my first teaching position.
I taught in Vietnam for just under two years. Then, I landed in Hanoi and lived and worked there for eight months. I was fortunate enough to have some good friends already living in the city, and they showed me the ropes and gave me some tips for finding work, a place to stay, and getting around. I soon got a job with a big company and stayed with them for as long as I was in the country.
At one point, I asked to relocate to Da Nang, in central Vietnam. I stayed there for an entire year. Covid was still a novelty then, and there were one or two hard lockdowns when we were very restricted and shifted to teaching online. Towards the end of 2020, I returned to South Africa.
High demand for teachers in Hanoi
The Vietnamese capital city, Hanoi, is an exceptional place to teach.
The demand for teachers is very high, and there is a wide variety of teaching positions available.
You could either choose to work during regular office hours at one of the many public or private schools or consider teaching after hours in one of the many language centers.
Depending on your interest, you can teach at various levels, from kindergartens all the way through to university students and adults.
Depending on the job, some may require you to teach across this spectrum.
Most of the vacancies are for English teachers, but the international schools will also employ subject-specific teachers and other specialists.
This demand for teachers can be attributed to the sheer size of the metropolis, but Vietnamese culture also plays an important role.
Education and culture in Vietnam
The Vietnamese are invested in the future of the youth and see education as playing a central role in their nation’s prosperity.
As such, teachers are valued for their contribution and enjoy high levels of respect.
Learners whose parents can afford to send them to extra classes tend to be well supported at home.
In public schools, learners are far less privileged and come from families of small business owners who can’t afford remedial interventions or extra academic support.
This is worth mentioning because while some teachers prefer cushy jobs, there are many who feel that they make a bigger contribution when working in public schools and will actively pursue these teaching roles.
In the end, the education sector in Hanoi covers many fields, and it will require research and reflection to decide what type of teaching position you prefer.
It’s an important decision to make!
Working and living in Hanoi
However, like many other prime destinations in the English teaching world, Hanoi is a transient space.
It’s not unusual for schools to have a high staff turnover as foreign teachers eventually return home after teaching for a year or two.
It’s unlikely that you’ll find yourself stuck in a toxic workplace without the option of working someplace else.
This is also what makes Hanoi an attractive option for newly qualified teachers: they can explore different fields and see which they prefer.
Hanoi’s quality of life
The teachers living in Hanoi enjoy a very high standard of living.
The cost of living is low, salaries are comparatively high, and teachers usually have a lot of free time.
The ex-pat areas have a very laid-back feel to them, and you are quite likely to run into friends and colleagues if you head out to coffee shops or restaurants.
It sounds absurd, but it’s usually far cheaper to eat out at local Vietnamese places than it is to shop at a market or grocery store and make your own food at home.
Most people will have their favorite spots that they visit on an almost daily basis.
As being well-fed is so easy, there’s no real reason to have a fully stocked kitchen in the apartment.
It probably won’t be used often enough to justify the expense (particularly if you’re living alone and enjoy going out).
How to find a place to live in Vietnam
When choosing a place to stay, there are a few things you need to prioritize.
Most importantly, landlords are legally required to register foreigners staying on their premises at the local police station.
Not all landlords are given permission to do this, so foreigners often end up living in the same buildings or areas, giving these places a very international feel.
Although it’s tempting to try and find accommodation near work to avoid commuting, it may not be worth it in the end.
It’s much easier getting things done in the ex-pat areas as most Vietnamese there are comfortable transacting in English.
It’s likely that your employer expects you to move between schools or centers that are part of their network, which makes commuting difficult to avoid.
The traffic in Hanoi has a bad reputation, but I feel the problem is overstated.
A colleague of mine once remarked that although the traffic felt crazy when he first arrived, he has started to love it.
“It feels like I’m in a video game, chasing gaps, dodging pedestrians, cars, other bikes…” May St. Christopher continue to keep a watchful eye over him!
Another teacher said that he wouldn’t even drink a cup of coffee before driving because he can’t deal with the traffic if he feels overstimulated. Everyone has their own preference and style.
Organized motorbike traffic chaos
Hundreds of weaving motorbikes look chaotic in photographs and travel documentaries, but the slow speed limit of 40km/h means that everyone has enough time to react.
Because most people use motorbikes, the traffic hardly ever becomes gridlocked, even during rush hour.
Everyone keeps chugging along, and it becomes quite easy to estimate how long a trip will take.
Most teachers living in Hanoi will recommend buying or renting a motorbike to get around. It’s the quickest and most convenient approach to moving around.
For small, 50cc motorbikes and electric scooters, you won’t even need a license. If you’d like a bigger bike, you can have your driving license officially translated.
Just make sure it clearly states that the license is for a motorbike and not a car.
It does take some time to adjust to the roads, so some will prefer to use the bus routes or use ride-hailing apps to book taxis.
Taking public transportation in Vietnam
The taxi industry is very competitive, and rides can be booked at almost any time of the day. They’re very reasonably priced, and most apps will confirm the price beforehand, so there’s no need for haggling.
The buses run at fixed times, and there will usually be some waiting involved. Bus rides tend to take much longer, and you may need to stop and change routes once or twice. However, the buses give one a chance to see the city and get a sense of the daily routines of the locals.
Bus tickets are also incredibly cheap and paid for in cash after boarding.
While it’s possible to adapt to the traffic, the pollution it causes is difficult to escape. But, for the most part, conditions in Hanoi are satisfactory.
It rains fairly often which clears the air. However, in autumn, when the air is still and drier, the smog builds up for days and reaches dangerous levels. During these periods, people with poor health or lung conditions are at risk. Outdoor exercise is considered dangerous and discouraged.
Vietnam has chosen a development model similar to the tiger economies in South-East Asia, where fast-paced economic growth is given precedence over environmental and health concerns.
The government seems to view pollution as a necessary evil as they fast track towards a more prosperous society. As a visitor, I endured it for a while but eventually felt quite claustrophobic and decided to move to the coastal city of Da Nang in central Vietnam.
Living in Da Nang
Moving to Da Nang was mainly a lifestyle decision.
Being a much smaller city, it does not have the same demand for teachers as Hanoi.
If you move to Da Nang to look for work, it may take slightly longer to get employed, but the chances are that you’ll eventually find the right fit.
I stayed with the same company I was teaching for in Hanoi.
I asked for a transfer, and my request was granted, but I was to be paid less for the same work because living costs are apparently lower in Da Nang.
That was annoying but less frustrating than the pollution, so I accepted the new contract.
After about two or three months, I was relocated. The move wasn’t particularly stressful because I knew I’d have an income when I arrived.
That being said, there wasn’t much to stress about in Da Nang before Covid.
The air was clean, and there was a seemingly endless beach and a beautiful forested nature reserve on the peninsula adjacent to the city.
The roads are wide, so traffic is never an issue. The cuisine was different but on par with Hanoi.
Through my rose-tinted glasses, even the students I taught seemed more disciplined and relaxed. I was most surprised to learn that HR hadn’t lied about the costs of living being lower.
My disposable income stayed roughly the same, even though I was earning less.
Da Nang is an amazing place, and I can’t do it justice in a few short paragraphs.
It will suffice to say that any teacher considering moving to Vietnam should remember it as an attractive option when sending out applications!
Covid and lockdowns
With Covid, things changed very quickly. After a few cases were picked up in the city, we were put under a hard lockdown for a month or two.
The school moved its classes online, which was very difficult because our methodology and curriculum didn’t translate well to the online space.
It was challenging to get students to interact and practice the target language of the lessons.
In under a week, my work had gone from being very enjoyable to deeply frustrating. I’m sure many teachers around the world had a similar experience.
Initially, Vietnam did well to stop the spread of the virus. The lockdowns were constricting, but they served their purpose and were quickly lifted.
It was surreal not being able to go back to South Africa. It required that both Vietnam and South Africa were allowing flights in and out of the country at the same time, which didn’t happen for a few months. When my contract ended, it was fortunately in one of those time periods.
Currently, Vietnam seems to be returning to normal.
The initial fear and hysteria have subsided, and schools are open again. Some schools insist that their teachers are vaccinated, but it does not appear to be a legal requirement.
Those initial, strict lockdowns are unlikely to be repeated, but it isn’t easy to make accurate predictions of what might happen in the future.
Necessary paperwork and documents you’ll need to teach in Vietnam
The requirements for a teacher’s work permit in Vietnam are relatively straightforward.
You need a teaching degree or postgraduate in education as well as an English teaching certificate (TEFL, TESOL, CELTA).
These documents need to be signed off by a notary of state and approved by the relevant Vietnamese authority (using a big red stamp). It may appear simple, but the process is complicated as a result of the language barrier and the fact that the regulations and requirements change fairly often.
It’s better to have an HR representative at the Vietnamese school navigate this confusing world on your behalf while you supply them with passports and certificates as requested.
I made a complete bungle of the notarization process, which ended in me having to courier certificates to Pretoria, South Africa.
Copies were processed by the relevant South African authority and then approved at the Vietnamese embassy in Pretoria before being couriered back to Hanoi.
- Vietnam Embassy in the US
- Vietnam Embassy in Canada
- Vietnam Embassy in the UK
- Vietnam Embassy in Pretoria
Most of the other foreign teachers’ embassies could complete this process in Hanoi.
If you lack faith in the competence of your government’s administrative abilities, then get your paperwork done before you leave your home country.
I think fondly of my time in Vietnam, and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to live in two different cities.
If Vietnam wasn’t on your radar before, I hope that the summary of my experience there will encourage you to consider it.
Many of my friends and colleagues have stayed on in spite of all that’s happening in the world.
That alone should be very encouraging to any teachers who plan to live and work there.