“I had lost my job in Australia and was having difficulty finding work, but I was also at a stage where I wanted to experience life in other countries,” says Melbourne native, James Donaldson, 44.
“My savings were modest, so I knew I’d need to find a way to earn money to cover my travel expenses along the way,” says James. “Having read about work opportunities on various local expat and job websites I was confident about picking up work as an English teacher in Cambodia. I expected to grab some kind of lower level job but landed a position at a school that pays a fair whack compared to the local cost of living.
“I’ve been here for over a year and earn enough to lead a good lifestyle—including travel around Asia—with cash left over to save a bit in the bank. Before moving here, I had no idea how simple it can be for a Westerner to find a teaching job right off the bat.”
You’ll find a wide range of teaching positions available in Cambodia but the capital city, Phnom Penh, is home to the most opportunities due to demand from local middle-class families who favour language institutions that employ Western expat teachers.
“Almost anyone can get a job as an English teacher in Cambodia, regardless of qualifications, experience or even fluency in the language,” says James. “There is a massive shortage of foreign teachers.”
Like James, Amanda Roberts, 31, from Queensland, also teaches full-time in Phnom Penh. Being a native English speaker made her a strong candidate, but she decided to boost her longer term earning potential with a professional teaching certification and some classroom experience.
“Having a university degree in virtually any subject almost immediately increases your potential pay grade but the best way to increase your take home pay is by gaining a recognised teaching certification which combines theory with practical classroom experience,” says Amanda.
Amanda took the LanguageCorps TESOL Certification Program, a four-week course combining classroom training and practice teaching. LanguageCorps is partnered with several educational institutions including local schools and a university which offer immediate employment opportunities upon completion of the certification process.
The course is also aimed at integrating teachers into Cambodian culture by including tours to key landmarks in Phnom Penh as well as optional excursions to the Angkor Wat temple complex in Siem Reap and the beach town of Sihanoukville.
“An interesting mix of people were on the course with me,” says Amanda. “There were a fair number of expat ladies of all ages and pensioners that wanted something rewarding to do part-time while earning a little money on the side.
“Many schools really like hiring women for classes with the younger children. A lot of local school directors feel that women can deal with younger kids better than men. This worked to my advantage when it came to negotiating my employment contract—with my qualifications and their preferences towards female teachers it meant I was able to get a full-time salary rather than just hourly pay.
“If you want to work at one of the better schools you will need to be able to offer the whole package. A well-established candidate can earn $3,000 or more a month, an inexperienced teacher might make half that.
“Even so, it’s pretty attractive either way, thanks to the low cost of living in Cambodia. I rarely spend more than 50% of my take home pay and it’s not for want of trying, believe me!
“It’s pretty hard not to save money in Cambodia, even if you splurge on shopping and nights outs. My job is rewarding but I really love the weekend when I meet up with friends for coffee at Starbucks or Gloria Jeans before having a hair, nails and spa day. We get the full package at the best places in town. Later on, we meet up for cocktails at the Eclipse Skybar in Phnom Penh Tower which is on the 22nd floor of one of Phnom Penh’s tallest skyscrapers and has a great view of the city.
“I take my teaching responsibilities very seriously and the students mean everything to me, but I can’t believe how great my teaching life in Phnom Penh is. How many teachers in Australia get to live such a pampered lifestyle and still be able to put a good amount of money away each month?”