Everything you need to know about teaching English in Cambodia

 

This article is the first in a series of write-ups about teaching English abroad country specifics, and covers an overview of teaching English in Cambodia. There is a plethora of work available to qualified teachers of English in Cambodia, teaching in either the cities or the countryside, and this article deals primarily with what to expect if you choose to teach English in the major urban districts.

Cambodian flag

Where is Cambodia?

Cambodia, officially the Kingdom of Cambodia, is located in Southeast Asia and it shares a border with Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. It boasts jungle forests, bustling cities, the temple complex of Angkor Wat, charming locals and enjoys a relatively long coastline on the Gulf of Thailand. The country was completely ravaged during the 4 years of Khmer Rouge political control but has recently been making up for lost time and is now considered to be an emerging economy, reinventing itself whilst rediscovering its rich cultural heritage.

To legally teach English in Cambodia, you will be expected to show an international TEFL certificate, but a college degree isn’t mandatory for either gaining employment or for the work visa process. 

Cambodia is by far the easiest and less stressful locations to set up shop as an English teacher in Southeast Asia, although the work visa requirements (see below) are becoming stricter year-on-year as more and more people decide to make this kingdom of the Khmer their home base. 

Work is very easy to come by and is available throughout the year. The absolute best times to arrive though are in the months of March, April and May, when many teachers leave for the summer and when lots of new employment opportunities arise. 

Most schools pay monthly, some bimonthly, and for the first month, you should expect to just have a handful of classes. This is widely considered here as the norm and likened to a probation period. After this short period, you can expect to be in a position where you are having to turn down work because your schedule is becoming too full, or because you decide for example that you don’t want to teach on Mondays or Fridays because of your desire to enjoy long weekends. 

Lastly, always dress smart: an ironed shirt, clean shoes, pressed trousers or a skirt if you’re a woman and a tie if you’re a man.

Teaching in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh definitely represents the best salary over costs in the kingdom and is a frenetic city with a soft underbelly. Teachers can typically expect to earn between US$1,000 – US$1,500 per month, with some international schools even paying as high as US$2,500 monthly. The capital has the highest number of language schools – ranging from top end international schools to side street mom-and-pop school outfits. Some prefer the ambience of smaller towns, but there is a reason Phnom Penh is such a popular choice.

Phnom Penh royal palace

While it was once possible simply to turn up on a tourist visa and extend it indefinitely once the initial 1 month had expired, the Cambodian authorities have recently begun to make it slightly more difficult to get started here. However, compared with neighboring Thailand, it still represents a far easier option of starting out. 

We recommend flying into Phnom Penh International Airport and getting a 1-month Business (E) Visa. For this you will need two passport-sized photos and US$35. You can then extend your Business Visa for a further three months before then needing to leave the country to then return and repeat the process. If this is your first time to Cambodia then instead of the 3-month extension, you can apply for a 6-month visa extension. Once you have your work all lined up with a work permit from your school, you are free to apply for the longer 1-year visa and this can then be renewed annually. Please note that if you arrive and only ask for a 1-month Tourist Visa then you can only extend this by an additional one month before you will need to leave the country and repeat the process.

Angkor Wat temple

Teaching in Siem Reap

Siem Reap is the capital city of Siem Reap Province in northwestern Cambodia – located approx 300km from Phnom Penh and famous for being the home of the Angkor Wat temple complex. Teaching English work is plentiful here, but you will be competing with the many expats who have chosen to make this major tourist hub their home. Hourly rates for teaching come in at around US$10 per hour, but you might consider a slightly lower starting salary to begin with until you demonstrate that you are here to stay for a while.

Many people also travel to Cambodia to teach English on a volunteer basis and this can be a wonderfully insightful experience into rural Cambodian life. There is also a special sense of life purpose and job satisfaction which can be attained by volunteering and this is usually the emotion which drives people to choose to work for little or no salary. 

Generally, volunteer teaching English positions require you to make a donation for accommodation and food costs, typically averaging US$10 per day, and you should be prepared to chip in with other types of work besides teaching English while you are there. 

Please feel free to contact us for impartial advise if you are considering this option as some members of our Team have direct experience with volunteering in Cambodia and we can help you avoid the common pitfalls and errors which volunteers unfortunately very often make. 

Teaching in Battambang

Battambang is the second largest city in Cambodia and located in the north-west of Cambodia. The average hourly rate for teaching English here hovers at around US$10 per hour and finding work here isn’t difficult. Battambang is a charming, riverside town which seems to primarily be famous for the bamboo train which we hear is no longer in operation anymore. It also boasts an excellent culinary scene and a reassuring lack of the droves of tourists and expats alike who descend on Siem Reap in their droves.  

Bamboo train Battambang

One of the major benefits of teaching English in Cambodia are the startup costs. 

The average monthly rent of an apartment in Phnom Penh comes in at only US$500 and this price decreases when you leave the capital. A meal in a local restaurant should cost you no more than a few USD and a cool glass of Angkor beer will set you back a dollar. 

How much do we recommend you take with you? It can be done on only US$2,000 and this will enable you to stay in a hostel or guesthouse when you first arrive – while you are securing your accommodation and employment – and cover your new apartment costs and your daily expenses. We do recommend though ideally taking with you between US$4,000 – US$5,000, if you can afford it, as this will provide you with even more breathing space and comfort.

Sihanoukville beach

Teaching in Sihanoukville

Sihanoukville was for many years the backpackers go-to chillax place, but recently the Chinese developers have moved in and incredibly, in just the space of a few years, the skyline has transformed from sleepy coastal town to high octane casino central. While this is great news for the local economy, as long as it does benefit the locals, it has meant the last nail in the coffin for teaching English here and unless you can get lucky teaching wealthy Chinese businesspeople, it’s now best just as a stopping off point to the islands. 

You can apply for teaching English jobs from abroad, but Cambodia is one of the countries where it is recommended to find work once on the ground here. 

The reason for this is that you will be in a much better bargaining position once you are here as you will have a clearer idea about teaching rates of pay and as there are so many schools taking on teachers, you will be able to see the schools for yourself and then form a more objective decision. 

You can choose to teach adults or children in Cambodia and you will find Cambodians to be respectful of teachers and will bring to classes a wicked sense of humor. 

Despite officially holding the title of being a third world country, Cambodians always dress immaculately for classes and there is no better demonstration of this than the sight of schoolchildren leaving their rural villages in the mornings, dressed similarly as any child in the UK would on their daily to and fro from school. 

The only negative regarding the classroom setting, which we would like to make note of, is the quiet insistence of the education system not to teach Cambodian history as it was truly represented – particularly regarding the four terrible years of the Khmer Rouge. 

However, apart from the tendency to whitewash the history books, Cambodia is an exhilarating country to teach in and a location we definitely recommend. 

Teaching in Koh Kong

Koh Kong (Krong Koh Kong) is a frontier town with a Wild West feel, nestled close to the Thailand border in the south-west of the country. In the past, the only reason to travel here was if you were catching an onward bus, but this might well be Cambodia’s best kept secret. Costs are extremely affordable here and although teaching wages do reflect this, if you do choose to teach here, you will find a refreshing sense of being one of the only English teachers in town and with a friendly and supportive, non-clique expat scene.

Koh Kong city centre

A word of warning!

When we recently crossed over the Cambodian border at Hat Lek – the southernmost border crossing, on the road from Trat – we each had our US$30 Tourist Visa fee ready, as well as our two sets of passport photos. This is likely one of the worst border crossings in Southeast Asia, and we have received reports of similar shenanigans occurring on other Cambodian border crossings. 

We duly handed over our passports, our visa fees, and our photos. Then, to our surprise, the slothfully-dressed “Visa Immigration Officer” asked, instead, for 1,500 Thai Baht – equalling almost double the price of the official US$30 Tourist Visa fee.

We reiterated, politely, but firmly, that the fee is US$30.

The Wild West officer then demanded, instead, US$35 each from us – meaning we would be overcharged a total of US$10 for our combined Tourist Visas.

It was at this stage in our group dialogue that I felt the call of my ancestors rise up from within, and calmly, I asked why he was asking for US$35 per Tourist visa, when the official fee is in fact US$30.

What happened next was that he very curtly asked us to exit the office – leaving us to wait a full half hour – until eventually, we both received our US$30 Tourist visas.

Our advice, is never cross this border and pay for your Cambodian Tourist Visa with Thai Baht : you will otherwise end up paying a higher price, pocketed by the “Visa Service official”.

Just stand your ground, be polite, but firm, and eventually, you will receive your Tourist Visa stamp for the correct Tourist Visa price.

The Cambodian authorities should really do something about the outright, blatant corruption on this border, as it gives a terrible first impression of a country that is otherwise a pleasure to travel in.

Oh, and the safest for of travel from the Cambodian Hat Lek border to the nearest town of Koh Kong, is by Tuk Tuk, We paid 200 Baht combined for this journey of less than 20 kms, but it is far safer than a motorcycle taxi. We also advice not accepting a ride to Koh Kong in a private car – at least by travling in a tuk tuk, you are clearly seen by other people, and are not at such a high risk of a mugging soon after crossing into Cambodia.

Should you decide to take a private car, make sure you are alone with the driver. There have been reports of another person, or person(s) sharing the ride, and upon arrival to Koh Kong, money and valuables missing from backpacks and clothing pockets.

In the event that you are overcharged at this border, calmly take one of the Customer Service Feedback Forms, take down the number of the official who scammed you, and then lodge a complaint through your Consulate/Embassy in Cambodia.

Actually, I grabbed one of these forms while I was waiting for my passport to be returned, and the officer inside must have seen this, because as soon as he had, my passport was issued immediately.

Also, take a pen with you so as to avoid the people there renting pens, and whatever you do, never become convinced to enter a ‘Red “Cross Health Tent’, on the right of the immigration offices, where they will charge you money simply for entering the tent.

But again, please don’t let the corruption at the border put you off this wonderful country. Almost everyone whom we met during our Cambodia travels, were honest, warm, and hospitable

Read more Teaching English Abroad Country Specifics articles on the tefl online pro Blog

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