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For decades, teaching English has been one of the most popular forms of work for people seeking to make a living in Thailand, and it’s not hard to see why.
Thailand is an appealing country for expats. It has great beaches, a low cost of living, and a lot of cheap and delicious food.
But making a living as an English teacher in Thailand is not that simple. In most cases, you’ll need a degrees and/or certificate.
So, where does that leave non-degree holders?
This guide to teaching English in Thailand without a degree will show you what options are available to you, where to find them, and the legalities of it all. This way, you’ll know exactly what to do while working toward a teaching degree or certificate.
- Why Do Degrees Matter?
- Finding Teaching Jobs Without a Degree
- Teaching Jobs You Can Do Without a Degree
- Thailand Visa Runs
- Now, on to You
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Why Do Degrees Matter?
According to regulations set by the Teacher’s Council of Thailand (TCT), anyone wishing to work at a formal school in Thailand requires a standard teaching license.
A formal school is any school which follows the Thai curriculum, be it a government school or privately-run school, and which places its students in classes alongside students of a similar age.
Those big buildings full of hollering kids in white shirts and khaki shorts or blue skirts with blackboards in all the rooms? Those are formal schools – and they are far and away the biggest employers of educators in Thailand.
As stated above, the requirements for a standard teaching license are pretty stringent and include things like a postgraduate teaching qualification, which restricts a lot of potential teachers from working in schools.
So, as a result, the TCT offers a temporary teaching license that is good for two years.
In order to qualify for a teaching license, you must meet be older than 20 years of age and hold one of the following:
- a degree in education
- a degree in another subject required by the school
- a teaching license from another country
Now, while it’s not impossible for someone to hold a formal teaching license from another country without having completed a degree first, it’s certainly unusual.
The upshot, then, is that in order to qualify for a teaching license to teach legally at the vast majority of schools in Thailand, you need a degree.
For this reason, then, you’ll notice that the majority of teaching jobs advertised on places like Ajarn.com will include a degree as a standard minimum requirement – it makes the paperwork easier.
This degree requirement can – perhaps understandably – strike a few non-degree holders as an unnecessary extra layer of bureaucracy.
They may insist that the skills you require to be a great teacher can’t necessarily be taught in a university, particularly if it’s in a degree that’s tangentially-related to the subject at best – and they’d probably be right.
I personally know a number of teachers who don’t hold degrees and yet are excellent at their jobs.
However, do bear in mind that the requirements for Thai teachers to work at formal schools are much more rigorous – and they’re frequently starting on lower salaries.
So, it’s perhaps understandable that they might feel a little resentful at foreign teachers waltzing in with a high school diploma and earning more money right off the bar.
The rules are meant to balance out this perfectly understandable resentment with the need to meet the overwhelming demand for foreign teachers.
Finding Teaching Jobs Without a Degree
So is all hope lost for non-degree holders? Should they just accept that teaching is a lost cause?
Not at all.
As we said above, there is a huge demand in Thailand for English teachers, and even lowering the bar for entry to just a degree has yet to fully meet it.
However, it’s worth pointing out that seeking work without a degree isn’t easy.
Not only will it make things harder for the school when it comes to filling out the required paperwork, you’ll potentially be competing with teachers who do have them.
With that said, the number of teaching jobs available to you will be severely limited compared to those available to degree holders.
So what are some things you can do to make yourself more attractive to employers? Well, here are a few to start you off.
Apply to Non-Formal Schools
The TCT’s rules only apply to formal schools.
There are plenty of schools that don’t fall under the TCT’s jurisdiction and therefore are subject to far fewer regulations than traditional schools are.
These include language schools of the kind that you can see in the education zones of most malls, and these schools are frequently hiring.
If you’re currently lacking a degree, try handing out your resume at these language schools at your local mall – you might be surprised at what’s available.
Get a TEFL Certificate
Getting a recognized TEFL shows employers that, despite lacking a degree, you’re serious about wanting to improve as a teacher.
Plus, an accredited 120-hour TEFL certificate is significantly cheaper than completing a four-year degree at a university, and you don’t need a degree to sign up for many courses either.
Be a Native Speaker (Or Have Good IELTS Scores)
Spend any length of time on a Thailand teaching forum and you’ll inevitably be dragged into the “who are the better teachers” squabble between native and non-native speakers.
However, the harsh truth is that regardless of who makes the better teachers, many Thai employers prefer native English speakers over non-native. Native speakers are generally defined as anyone who holds a passport from one of the following countries:
- South Africa
- New Zealand
If you don’t hold a passport from any of those countries, you likely have to demonstrate a strong level of English-language proficiency to make yourself attractive to employers.
So, a TOEIC score of at least 600 or IELTS score of 5.5 or above is essential.
Join a Teaching Agency
One loophole a few teachers have used to get around the TCT regulations is to sign up with one of Thailand’s many teaching agencies.
These agents sign you up as one of their employees, provide you with a visa and work permit, and place you in a local school under the designation of a classroom assistant, thereby bypassing the need for a teaching license.
The downside, however, is that the work is likely to be low-paying and the agency will take a cut of your paycheck each month.
Teaching Jobs You Can Do Without a Degree
So, who’s likely to hire teachers without degrees?
For starters, you can rule out international schools. Many of these have a high bar for entry (think Masters in Education) and positions are highly sought after even for experienced, degree-holding teachers.
It’s not impossible to get a job at an international school, but it’s unlikely barring some incredibly-good connections or some other marketable skill.
Similarly, positions at schools in the big urban centers such as Bangkok or Chiang Mai tend to be more competitive and therefore harder to get into without a strong resume.
Where, then, should you be looking for teaching work in Thailand? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Thai government schools are less-than-ideal places to work in many ways; they are often underfunded, have over-sized classes, and use dated equipment.
However, many of them – particularly outside of the big cities – would be greatly appreciative of a few classes with a fluent English speaker, and would perhaps even be willing to bend the rules a little to allow you to work there legally.
It’s certainly not for everyone, and the pay won’t be great, but it will allow you to live and work in Thailand and provide you with a unique insight into a side of the country most tourists – and even some expats – rarely see.
As stated above, language schools fall under the category of non-formal schools and are therefore exempt from the TCT’s regulations – meaning there’s no legal requirement that you have to hold a degree to work at them.
Be warned, however, that these schools can vary greatly when it comes to pay, conditions, whether or not they’re willing to provide you with a work permit, and so on.
So, do the research before committing to anything. Also be warned that as the bulk of the customers at these schools are only free to study on evenings and weekends, the hours tend to be inconvenient for you.
In the post-Covid world, online teaching has become a popular way for teachers to supplement their incomes.
There’s a big demand for English teachers in places like China, and the pay for teaching students there via apps like Zoom can be pretty good.
However, you should be aware that this kind of work is illegal in Thailand, as you’re earning money without holding a work permit.
But, if you’re considering doing it full-time, perhaps consider getting legal through a company like Iglu.
If you’re presentable and willing to do some networking, it’s possible to make good money in Thailand private tutoring, particularly if you can teach niche subjects such as IELTS.
There are plenty of benefits to working this way; you set your own hours and salary and it’s often much more relaxed than teaching at a language school.
However, like online teaching, it’s also technically illegal – although it’s massively common. You can find expats teaching at many coffee shops in Bangkok on most weekends.
Thailand Visa Runs
Many expats without degrees get around the rules by working illegally, taking on language school work, private tutoring, online teaching, and so on to get by.
As they’re not entitled to a work visa, they instead stay in Thailand on other visas (tourist, marriage, education, etc.) and a cottage industry has developed around the infamous visa run.
This means they leave Thailand for a neighboring country when their tourist visa expires, and then apply for another visa from a Thai embassy in that respective country.
While common, we should probably stress that this is not a good idea.
The Thai government has been cracking down on this in recent years, and foreigners with a suspiciously high number of back-to-back tourist or education visas risk being barred from the country.
Add to this the country’s still strict COVID requirements and the admittedly small risk of being caught working on a tourist visa by the police, and it all adds up to trouble.
Plus by working illegally, you’re vulnerable to exploitative or abusive employers, with no legal recourse if you get into trouble.
Now, on to You
While there are teaching opportunities in Thailand for those without degrees, finding good, well-paying, and most importantly legal work isn’t easy.
Though it may be tempting to take the visa run route of working illegally, we strongly advise against it.
If you’re serious about wanting to pursue a teaching career in Thailand, ultimately the easiest solution is to simply bite the bullet and get a degree.