Monday, 28 April 2014

Teaching In Thailand: Agency vs. Direct Hire

If you have decided that you want to come and teach English in Thailand then one of the first questions you will ask yourself is how will I find a job? The internet is awash wish job listings and the general consensus seems to be that there are more then enough jobs to go around. If you look carefully at these job listings though you will see that many of them have been posted by one user who is usually an agent connecting schools with foreign teachers. 

Don't be put off by going through an agency certainly at the beginning. The truth is that most schools don't advertise on these websites and will find their teachers either though an agency or from candidates who have personally contacted the school either prospectively or through word of mouth. If you are new to the country and don't feel confident or comfortable hitting the streets with your CV in the the blaring Thai heat then an agency might well be the way forward for you. There are of course good agencies and bad agencies and I have come across some absolute horror stories in my time of agencies literally stealing thousands of baht from it's employees. I have worked for two agencies in Thailand and have been very lucky that they are both reputable stand up operations who have their teachers best interests at heart. 

The role of the agency is to find it's clients (the schools) employees who are reputable and qualified to teach in their organisation. The agency makes its money by taking a percentage of the salary from the employee which they have placed at the school. The most common remuneration package for government schools in the south of Thailand is that the school pays 35,000 baht per month and the agency takes 5000 baht leaving the employee with 30,000 baht. The fact that the agency is taking money every month from the salary leaves them with a duty of care to the employees they have placed in the schools. The best agencies will offer full support with settling in for example help with finding accommodation and transportation etc and then provide ongoing support while you are working for them. Most agencies will employ coordinators whose sole job is taking care of the teachers and dealing with all the paperwork which is involved. My agency is very good at this and the coordinator who lives in town is very approachable and eager to help.

(My first school was very rural)

30,000 baht per month is the most common salary for employees at government schools even if they are direct hire and there is no agency involved. The main difference is that the schools which hire their staff directly will invariably pay for the total cost or the work permit and one year visa and do all of the paperwork involved with this. The truth is however that the paperwork involved with hiring a foreign worker legally and attaining a work permit is colossal and requires quite a good knowledge of the system. Many schools either have problems with the paperwork, don't have the required knowhow or simply 'forget' to apply for the work permit leaving the employee forced to do border runs every three months and working illegally. Most schools in the city know exactly how the work permit process works but if you are going to work for a school directly make sure that they are going to apply for the work permit and that they have actually done it before!

The agency will take care of your work permit and visa but you will usually have to cover the costs of these yourself although some agencies are now starting to cover the work permit costs themselves which is good to see. If you work for an agency you should remember that while you technically work for the school, you actually for all intensive purposes work for the agency. This means that most of the time they will be the ones you deal with if you have any problems at work. I actually think that one of the reasons Thai schools like to use agencies is because they don't like conflict. In the west we are used to a culture where we can talk directly to our superiors in a firm but respectful manner about any grievances or problems we may have. In the west if we had a problem with our salary we would go ahead and talk directly with the head of finance who is responsible for our salaries but in Thailand you would have to go through a bizarre chain of command in order to have your problem dealt with or someone might loose face!. The schools feel comfortable that the agent can talk to the teacher and then address the matter with the school in a respectful 'thai' way. If you work for the school directly you are more likely be thrown into the Thai bureaucratic system at the deep end without any support mechanism which can leave you feeling helpless. 

(Transport from my first agency - it was a small town) 

The schools also like to use agencies because they can easily change teachers at the end of the year without having to have too much dialogue about performance etc. The schools know that the agency will send them a brand new native English speaking teacher next year and so the process continues. Most agencies know the value of a native speaker in Thailand and as long as you weren't sacked for gross misconduct or were a terribly poor teacher they will find you another school because they usually have lots on their books. Another potential problem with working for an agency is that if they were to fall out with the school then they could simply employ a different agent, which means that you would have to leave regardless of how good you were at your job. It is very rare to be offered a direct contract from a school which you have worked at as an agency worker and I imagine the most clued up agencies would have clauses in their contracts with the schools which prohibit this unless compensation was paid. 

(Apartment from my first agency)

I would recommend that unless you personally know people in the area that you want to live who can help you find a school then you should use an agency when first coming to teach in Thailand. I would also recommend those who are coming to teach English in Thailand as a sort of 'gap year experience' use an agency too. The agency will help you with settling in and take care of the work permit and visa situation for you so you can concentrate on teaching and enjoying yourself. If at the end of your contract you decide that you would like to stay longer then you could then use the contacts you have made as a teacher on the ground to search for a new job which is direct hire. If you decide to search for a direct hire job after working for an agency try your best not to burn your bridges because you never know when you might need them again, they do have a large number of schools remember. 


  1. thanks for posting! I am really interested ... i think i need to find a good agency. Would you mind recommending one for me? thanks!

    1. I have to say that we have an agency, and our contracts are 12months. We also pay for the work permits, give full support, and help with accommodation. If you would like to know more. please free to contact us via our facebook page
      or our website

  2. The problem with any agency, they will only give a 10 month contract at the most. The contract is also not worth the paper it is written on, so don't rely on it when it comes to a problem. The school can tell the agency they don't want you and your out with no pay. If you are direct hire you are more likely to have a 12 month contract and the school most likely would honour it. There are of course a few exceptions to this but it is rare you will see the wages that you are entitled to.

  3. As an agency I feel that this is a pretty balanced view, and that the writer has been pretty honest and fair.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Hello:) i am a fresh graduate of college. Is it possible for me to teach english in thailand or in any other countries even i am not yet a licensed teacher? I like to teach abroad gaining some experience and of course money fo the LET exam. Are there any agency for us (fresh grad.) Or agencies recommending teachers abroad? ThankYou:)

  6. I'm Sherwin G Vital from the Philippines. I'm a retired soldier and prieviosly instructor when in the active service. I also serve in United Nation based in Paup- to- Prince Haiti.My exposure in the public service was good especially in English Language, As a soldier I'm a hard working and capable,patient, and willing to teach in English matter. My objectives are to impart my knowledge and skills to some individuals. One of the biggest accomplishment is how the students learned more from you and also learned how to be adjust from them. I love to teach one of NY passion when I was in the active service.So. soon be part of your good examples subordinates as teacher. May be these week j explore in Thailand to share and seeking good job applicable to me. I assure be an effective/efficient teacher.Thanks and More power.

  7. Can anyone suggest any legitimate agency for teaching English in Thailand please?

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