A Look Ahead for 2008: ESL Hotspots
Japan is Asia's largest and longest established ESL market, but the country is tightening its security measures on foreigners entering the country and the job market has been dealt a major blow with the closure of Nova, a franchise that had at its peak close to a 50% share of the marketplace. The wages for teachers are still higher in Japan, but the cost of living (especially in rent and food) outweighs most of the benefits from the high salary.
Tainted with fake-degree scandals and new restrictions on E2 visas amid a run-up to presidential elections, Korea is certainly not as attractive an ESL market as it was a year ago. Wages here are still quite high and the cost of living is manageable in comparison with monthly salaries. This is the country many teachers still come to with the intent to pay off student loans or save for graduate school. But this will likely change in the coming months, at least in terms of the influx of teachers common to Korea. Visas will take longer to process in the New Year and fewer private schools will be able to meet the demand of increased wages for experienced teachers. Regardless, for most of 2008, Korea will still be the place to go for many teachers because of the relatively high salaries.
Taiwan is gaining more attention these days as teachers are looking for alternatives to Japan and Korea, but to be sure, the country's ESL market is past its prime. It's illegal to teach kindergarten as a foreigner in Taiwan. This doesn't stop almost every private institution from running one and hiring foreigners for it. Also the visa process now requires a bank statement showing $2,000 or more in available funds. Yet, even with this statement, there's no guarantee the consulate will approve a teacher for the extended visa necessary to get an ARC card (Alien Registration Card). Wages are competitive, but lower than Korea and the cost of living is slightly higher than Korea as well. Taiwan is still a viable option for many teachers, but do the homework before moving there.
Southeast Asia has several countries that will likely surpass the ESL markets of Korea, Japan and Taiwan combined in the coming years. Wages are still relatively low in most of Southeast Asia, the highest being somewhere between a $1000 and $1500 US in Thailand for a reputable school. But the most attractive thing about Southeast Asia right now is the low-cost of living. Vietnam gained a lot of attention in 2007 for its competitive wages and cheap living costs. Laos is poised for the same attention in 2008. Teachers who are tired of the hectic, expensive lifestyles of Japan, Korea and even Taiwan are leaving the long-established ESL markets. Expect 2008 to bring many changes in foreign employment in Asia.