Teaching English in Cambodia

Jobs teaching English in Cambodia aren’t hard to find.

There are many, many expats in Cambodia teaching English, from qualified professionals with Western teaching degrees and years of experience to backpackers volunteering for a few weeks at shady orphanages. While many expats are genuinely here to teach, it must be said that teaching professionals can make more money in neighboring countries in Asia. The average salary for foreign English teachers in Phnom Penh hovers around $10 to $14 per hour. The rate is slightly less in Siem Reap and less still in Sihanoukville.

The majority of expats choose to teach in Cambodia because the barriers to entry are quite low. Getting an English-teaching job without any sort of degree is not difficult, particularly if one is light-skinned and not unpleasant looking. If one is wildly unattractive, it’s best to have a bachelor’s degree, but no specific teaching degree is required. In general, it’s easier to find a teaching job in Cambodia if you are young, white, and female, but those who are none of the above can find work as well; it’s just not as ridiculously easy.

Having a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate or CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) will increase your odds of getting a higher-paying job at a better school. If you want to work at one of the genuine international schools in town, you’ll need a real teaching degree and previous teaching experience. The difference in pay between the regular English schools and the international schools is significant.

The thing to remember is that many Cambodians put aside all of their extra earnings to save up for English courses. Being an English teacher who is grossly unqualified to teach is truly unfair to these students. While many schools think that being a native English speaker is qualification enough for a job, if you want to be a good teacher it’s worth getting a TEFL certification, or better yet, a CELTA, from an accredited institution. If you don’t have either of these, consider trying to get some ESL teaching experience at home before you come. Or try volunteering as an English teacher for a few months in Cambodia when you first arrive.

Many women and children’s organizations are eager to find volunteer teachers who are willing to stay more than the week or two that most backpackers offer. Westerners often find that after a few weeks of volunteering they either take to teaching like a duck to water, or realize that it’s not the career path for them. Better to find out where you stand before you sign a contract and commit to a full term.

Depending on your school, teaching in Cambodia can be an exercise in frustration or incredibly rewarding. This is why many teachers switch schools regularly, especially at first. Classrooms can be raucous places, filled with children who have never experienced discipline in their lives and are more eager to show up the teacher than to conjugate English verbs. On the other hand, many students are bright and eager to learn and develop great relationships with their teachers.

It’s also important to remember that most teachers are paid only for their classroom hours and not preparation time. Note that the pay for teachers is generally taxed at around 15 percent.

If you’re ready to take the plunge, read our Finding work as an English teacher section.

This is an excerpt from Move to Cambodia: A guide to living and working in the Kingdom of Wonder. To learn more about 100+ topics that pertain to Cambodia expats, please consider buying the book.