If you are considering living and teaching in Asia, chances are you will have a lot of questions. It’s likely that someone before you has asked the same questions, too!
The following is an extensive list of questions and answers conveniently broken down into topical categories. We hope you’ll find the answers you need, and we’re sure you’ll discover some helpful info that you never thought to ask about. As always, please feel free to contact us with any specific questions that you have!
Working in Asia
Q. Who is AT, and what exactly does AT do?
A. Put simply: we’re a recruiting agency. Everyone on the AT team has lived and taught overseas and we use our industry experience to help you navigate the foreign job market, offering the most extensive upon-arrival support in the field. We work tirelessly to prepare our teachers to live and work abroad for a year, and you can count on us to be upfront and honest with you the whole way through. We are aware of and interested in each teacher’s unique needs and desire because were all teachers once, too!
Our methods can be a bit different than other recruiters. In a nutshell, it’s not our practice to just throw a bunch of random schools at you, like most recruiters do. We try and do as much filtering work as possible beforehand, so that you’re not just getting thrown random interviews and random contracts. So rest assured, when a school extends an interview offer, it’s most likely a school we’ve had in mind for you specifically. It is always our hope that a contract offer will be quick to follow an interview, as that particular school is usually one of our top 3 choices for you.
Q. When do I get a contract?
An important FYI about the job market in Asia – jobs don’t typically open until 1-2 months before the actual start date. Might seem crazy to those of us in the West, but in the East, things always come together last minute. Chalk it up to a cultural difference! That being said, it will likely be anywhere between 3-8 weeks before your desired departure that interviews will start for you. The market for teaching jobs is more competitive than ever – in all the years we’ve been in business, we’ve never seen so many people trying to find teaching jobs overseas! Also keep in mind that all interviewing and hiring is done exclusively by individual schools in Asia, not AT. Each school has a unique contract, although the vast majority are essentially identical in the details (salary, housing, vacation time, teaching hours, etc). After you interview with a school, if they offer you a position, they will send us a contract for you. We will be sure to look over the contract, making sure everything is in order and nothing looks fishy. The best advice we can offer? If you get offered a contract, keep in mind that you might not get offered another one!
Q. Can I have a university teaching job?
A. First off – universities in China and Korea do not usually use recruiters, so if you’re serious about a university job, you’ll have to go straight to the university to apply. Also, university positions are considered to be the most competitive market for teachers. University professors typically have masters degrees, if not Ph.D’s, to accompany years of teaching experience.
Q. What salary can I expect as a first year inexperienced teacher?
A. A typical salary for a new teacher is between $1,100 – 1,600 USD per month.
Q. Do you think, since it’ll be my first year, that it would be more ideal to have a structured curriculum?
A. This depends on your personality. Some people like to have complete creative freedom and to run their classroom the way they like. For most, a structured, provided curriculum makes things a lot easier. If you are a first year teacher, without much training and or formal teaching experience, we would definitely recommend accepting a job with a more structured curriculum. Rest assured, we’ll be looking for those types of positions for you in the first place!
Q. How do national holidays work?
A. Holidays depend on the national calendar, and most national holidays are paid days off. Pick up a calendar when you arrive, and you’ll see that every year the actual date of each national holidays changes – be sure to check before booking a vacation or weekend getaway.
Q. Do I get paid vacation time?
A. Most likely, yes! It would be very unusual if you were not paid for your normal school-sponsored holidays. For extra time off not outlined in your contract or any national holidays, you will most likely not be paid. These specifics will all vary from school to school!
Q. Approximately how long does the process take from the time I submit my application online to actually getting overseas?
A. In one sense, this is entirely up to you! The process can go very quickly once you turn in your visa documents, or it can take months. We suggest a 4-5 month window for Korea, and a 1-3 month window for China – giving you plenty of time to gather the necessary visa documents.. Please look at these charts and you can see how dates line up (when to apply, when to have visa documents ready, etc). Sometimes people depart for Asia after 2 weeks of starting the process because they have all their visa documents ready, and other times teachers have been preparing to depart for 5 months. It is really up to you, as jobs are opening and closing each month of the year.
At the same time, you have to consider factors that are outside of your control and outside of AT’s control. For example:
- Like most of the world, the economy in Asia fluctuates from time to time. How does that affect you? Parents have less money to send their kids to English Language Schools. As a result, student enrollment goes down, so directors hire less English teachers and there are less jobs available. Not to mention that there are THOUSANDS of people trying to get jobs in China and Korea, so the market is VERY competitive.
- Current teachers are renewing contracts. Teachers all over the world know what’s going on, so they’re holding onto their jobs rather than switching to new schools or returning home to a slow economy. Good news for them, because they get to keep their job, but bad news for you, who would normally be getting their job.
What does that mean for you? Be flexible. If you really want to get overseas, open up your options a bit. Rest assured, we won’t just throw you into a random school – we’re still committed to finding you a good fit. But we’d highly recommend rearranging your priorities when it comes to preferences. The more flexible you can be, the better chance you have of securing a job and actually getting over there!
Q: I’m going with a friend/spouse/partner. How does that work?
A: We work with couples/spouses/friends going to Korea on a regular basis! We’d be delighted to assist you. A few things we’ll say about the process – first and foremost, we are a third party recruiter. You can think of us like your partner in the search for a sweet teaching job overseas. School directors do ALL of the interviewing and ALL of the hiring – those are not decisions that recruiters make. Here’s what people going to Korea together can expect from us:
- We will ask about your preferences. Keep in mind that the more flexible you are, the more freedom we have to find you something that will be a good fit – for both of you!
- It’s incredibly rare for a school to hire more than one teacher at a time. It’s usually only the bigger campuses (ones that have 8+ foreign teachers on the staff) that hire more than one teacher in the same hiring season. What’s more common is to find two separate schools in the same area that are hiring for the same start date.
- It’s quite common for 1 person to interview and get offered a contract before the other person. Believe it or not, this actually makes our job easier! If one of you is able to secure a job, then we can really focus our efforts on that area/neighborhood. We always get the same feedback, too – the 1 person is afraid to sign a contract, when their friend/partner/spouse hasn’t been offered anything yet. It is very normal to feel worried, and we understand why you do! But we’ve been doing this for a long time, and we’ll work tirelessly to help both of you secure jobs in the same area, with the same arrival date.
- Schools in China and Korea typically do not hire for open positions until 3-7 weeks before the job actually starts. Suffice it to say, everything will come together very last minute! We can almost guarantee that it will be stressful – don’t worry, this is also very normal.
- There is always the chance that a school will contact us for 2 teachers. Obviously, this is ideal for both us and you! Again, this is rare… but we will all hope for the best!
If you read through our testimonials, or meet our past teachers, you’ll see what other friends/couples/spouses have said about our service.
Living in Asia
Q. Which book about East Asia would be our top pick?
A. Korea Unmasked is an illustrated book that presents a historical (and often comical) history between China, Korea, and Japan. It seamlessly weaves together history, sociology, and cultural anthropology, introducing insights on why specific traditions, foods, and even tensions exist between these three countries. It’s written by the South Korean author Won-bok Rhie, and we promise it won’t disappoint you! If you’re in the mood for an easy read, try out The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. It’s a quick, delightful novel about a farmer in pre-industrial China, and gives a great overview of Chinese culture and tradition.
Q. Can I buy a good bicycle?
A. Actually, a good bike is a fantastic investment when you’re living overseas. The price can range from $20 to $1000, depending on what you’re looking for (basic bike – road cycling). Riding a bike is a great way of getting around, but can be quite cold in the winter. When teachers leave, they are often looking at getting rid of what they have, so find one of these teachers to get a great bargain! There are also lots of small bike shops to buy from, or to simply get your bicycle fixed.
Q. Do we have to bring pots/pans/bowls/plates…etc?
A. Many apartments come “partially furnished,” which could mean a variety of things. Some apartments may only have one or two pots and pans, while other may have more then enough. Kitchenware can also be handed down by past teachers or can be found at any department or grocery store.
Q. Should I bring a gift for my employer and co-workers?
A. Although it wouldn’t hurt, it isn’t necessary or expected of you. If you’d like to bring something from home, we’d recommend a little knick-knack from home, something significant to your hometown, region, or home country.
Money & Currency
Q. How much money should I bring when I come to Asia?
A. We recommend bringing between $500-800USD in cash that you can exchange to local currency at the airport upon your arrival. Keep in mind that you will not be getting paid until after your 1st full month teaching, and you will need to have money to pay for the following…
- Apartment deposit, if you are finding your own apartment (~$400 USD or more)
- 1st month’s rent (depends on your apartment, but ~$150-$400 USD)
- Food, entertainment, etc
In South Korea:
- Bus ticket from the airport (~$20 USD)
- Health exam for your ARC (~$80 USD)
- Food, entertainment, etc
The amount you will need for food + entertainment is directly related to your spending habits, and also depends on how you budget your money.
Q. How does banking work?
A. The majority of schools will pay you by automatic deposit into a local bank account. Setting up a bank account in country will require some help from your school director/school representative. They should be able to help you with this during your first few weeks. We’d highly recommend talking with your placement coordinator about banking after you’ve secure a position with a specific school.
Q. Wiring Money
A. Some people choose to wire money home instead of leaving it in their foreign bank account, while others have to send money home every month to pay off loans. Wiring money is a pretty simple task, as long as you have your bank information from home. The fee for wiring money is pretty standard – there is a fee from the foreign bank for sending, and a fee from your bank and home for receiving. The fee is usually around $50 USD per transfer.
Tip: After wiring money home the first time, save your receipt, so you can show it to the teller the next time, and avoid any confusion. To wire money home you will need:
- Your bank’s name
- Your bank’s address
- Your bank’s phone number
- Your bank’s swift code (ask a representative from your bank – they will know what you are talking about)
- Your account number
Q. How much should I expect to pay in utilities and other bills? (Prices listed are in CDN/USD)
- Depending on the size and location of your apartment, you should expect to pay about $150-250 per month in utilities for a one person apartment. The bill is typically broken down into 2 parts:
- Apartment Maintenance Fee. This fee is directed toward the building guards, maintaining shared areas, and other building fees.
- Gas, water, electricity, and if you have one, cable TV.
- Phone bill (cell phone), will depend on how much you use it. We recommend using Skype to call home.
- Phone bill (home phone). Most people choose to only have a cell phone, but if you’re interested in a home phone, please talk to your director after you arrive.
- Internet Service. Internet service is available everywhere. It is very fast and costs roughly $35 – $45 per month. A one time installation fee is typical as well, unless you take over another teacher’s contract. Your school should help you get connected to the internet. If you don’t have a computer, Internet Cafes are located in most neighborhoods, with very inexpensive hourly rates.
Q. How much will my living costs be (food, transportation and entertainment)?
A. There is no set level as to how much your living expenses will be because it fluctuates according to your lifestyle. We know some single people who live on about $300 USD a month and others who push it easily over $1000 USD per month. It depends on how thrifty you are and how often you go out. $600 USD is pretty reasonable for a single person. This allows for dinners, drinks, nights out, movies, small weekend trips, etc.
Q. Any other money suggestions or tips?
A. Many times unexpected bills or expenses come up in your home country after leaving. In order to prepare for these instances, we recommend leaving some signed blank checks with a trustworthy family member/friend. If you don’t like this option, you can also think about having a signer (called power of attorney) added to your account (a parent, sibling, trusted individual) to help you manage your affairs at home. Try to make sure that as many of your money matters are in order before leaving for one year. Typically it is much easier to deal with these things in person than trying to do them over the phone or through family members.
Make sure you have set up online access to your bank accounts at home. Double check to make sure you know your login name and password.
If you are going to be making consistent payments to things like a credit card, student loans, or other loans, try to set up it up so that you can make your payments online from your bank at home.
Flying to Asia
Q. How do I get from North America to my school?
A. Depending on your contract, you may get your flight to Asia reimbursed after arrival. Some schools only offer a ticket home, after you’ve finished your contract. Either way, be prepared to provide the money for your ticket to Asia upfront. Your placement coordinator will guide you through the process of booking your flight.
Q. Which airport do I fly out of?
A. Whichever international airport is closest to you! Again, your placement coordinator will give you all the flight-booking information later in the process.
Q. When will the school reimburse me?
A. IF your school offers flight reimbursement, they will pay you back after you’ve been teaching at the school for 1 month. The money is usually added to your first paycheck.
Q. What do I bring with me?
A. Great question. Check out this page.
Q. How will I get from the airport to my apartment?
A. Your placement coordinator will work with your school to make arrangements for your arrival. You will be given these arrangements in the week leading up to your departure.