Living and working in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Before You Go
Right, so let’s first have a look at the formalities as to what’s needed before you set off on your teaching adventure in the up-and-coming capital city of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Unlike many Asian and South-East Asian countries, the basic requirements for teaching in Cambodia are almost next-to-nothing.
It is recommended to have a Bachelor’s degree in any field as well as being TEFL certified, however, these are not compulsory. You do need to be a native English speaker from either America, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, South Africa, or Canada. With this said, it is also possible to find jobs as a non-native speaker provided your English language abilities are of a high calibre and your accent is relatively neutral.
Again, as with most Asian countries and ESL jobs – schools do prefer white candidates. The schools believe it portrays a better image for the school or language centre if parents/students see white teachers; they believe it portrays an image of more ‘authentic’ English being taught and of a higher standard. As racist and prejudice this may be, it is unfortunately the case at most institutions. We can only hope it will change in the not-so-distant future.
The best case scenario is to have a Bachelor’s degree in Education, although this is not needed. The higher your qualifications and the more teaching experience you have, the better your chances are of landing a position at the more prestigious international schools of the city.
DO NOT STRESS ABOUT GETTING A JOB!! As is stands at time of writing (February 2018), you can basically shake a tree and a job offer will fall out. There are always vacancies at schools and I do not know of a single native-speaker whom has failed to obtain a position, regardless of their qualifications.
Cambodia has very relaxed visa requirements and citizens from most countries can obtain a visa at the airport upon arrival.
Make sure you get the Business Visa when you arrive, it is also referred to as the Ordinary Visa or a Working Visa. DO NOT GET THE TOURIST VISA! The Ordinary Visa will be valid for one month from arrival date and can be extended from within the country at various travel agents. I would recommend Lucky Motorcycles (or a name similar to that) for visa extensions – they are safe, reliable and efficient.
Visa requirements have been changing as of late. In the past you could extend your visa for either 3, 6, or 12 months. It seems the laws have changed and you now require a work permit from your employer to get a 6 or 12 month visa. 3 month visas can still be obtained without a valid work permit.
The most important thing to remember is to make sure you get the Ordinary Visa on arrival and not the tourist visa.
As formerly mentioned, finding work in Phnom Penh is extremely easy and should not be a major concern for you – it can be done upon arrival in the city.
The best ways to go about finding work include:
- Dress up smart and ensure your appearance is up to scratch. Hire a TukTuk driver for the day. Get him to take you to the various schools. At the schools, give them a copy of your CV with a recent photo of yourself attached. If possible, try and speak to the manager/head of the school directly – this will greatly improve your chances of getting the position and will ensure the receptionist doesn’t just ‘lose’ your CV.
- Follow various Facebook pages – jobs are occasionally posted there.
- Search on various ESL web pages such as Jimmyesl.com. Jobs are also occasionally posted here.
Once you have successfully passed your interview, you may be requested to do a demo class prior to being offered a position. This is normal and I do not know of anyone whom has failed the demo lesson. Try and request some material relating to what you will be teaching in advance as to ensure you can actually prepare a decent lesson and are not simply thrown in the deep end.
Work is very easy to come by in Phnom Penh and teachers are constantly coming and going.
Many people are highly intimidated by the prospect of arriving in a foreign country without knowing anyone, with a completely different culture, and with a native language different than their own. Of this, the biggest factor is often the dread of being alone without any friends.
The first few weeks may be tough in this regard but you will quickly adjust and adapt. It is pretty easy to make friends with fellow teachers and you will end up doing a lot of sightseeing and going out with your colleagues.
Phnom Penh is a very small city so once you have a small group to go out with, you will meet a lot of people at the various bars and clubs around the city. Most people whom have already been in the city for a few months will have a small group of friends. You will find that you will probably become friends with one of the group members and from there you will make friends with the rest of the group.
Due to Cambodia’s easy visa requirements to settle down and work, combined with the cheap cost of living, the country does unfortunately also attract some rather dodgy individuals. You will occasionally come across them at the various bars. These are often older people (45 and above). They are easy to spot and best to simply avoid unless you want your ear spoken off for the next couple hours by some unruly fellow.
Salaries in Cambodia are not very high in comparison with other TESL options. An average position in a private school will generally vary between $1200 – $1400. With this said, the cost of living is very cheap and your money goes a long way. It is very easy to save between $400 and $700 a month, depending on how lavish you want to live.
Your greatest expense will be your rent but there are apartments available of all different sorts – from modern and lavish Western apartments, to traditional Khmer style apartments. There are apartments to suit all budgets.
As with going to any foreign country where English is not a native language, there will always be some sort of language barrier.
Cambodia’s level of proficiency in English is relatively decent and you can definitely get by without knowing the native language, Khmer. There will be times where you may struggle, however, there is always a friendly person nearby to help translate if need be.
From discussions with various people, we believe Cambodia’s English proficiency is higher than that of China, Vietnam, Thailand, and Myanmar.
Cambodia has a truly fascinating history and it is amazing how far the country has come since the Khmer Rouge era. I highly recommend researching the Cambodian genocide and definitely doing the Killing Fields and S21 tours. These tours give you a greater understanding of the country and an appreciation for their development. It is very easy to look down on a third –world country without knowing its history. Try and do these tours as early on in your stay as possible; it will simply help you understand and appreciate the country and its people.
Must do sightseeing
Cambodia has some great sightseeing and activities that must be done on your visit. I won’t go into the details of them but information can be found from a Google search.
- The Killing Fields tour
- The S21 (Toul Sleng Genocide Museum) tour
- Central Market
- Russian Market
- The Royal Palace
- Angkor Wat (must do!!)
- Sihanoukville (namely the Koh Rong Islands and Otres beach, I would stay away from Serendipity beach – it has become very commercialised and dirty).
Right, so is Cambodia the right place for you? To answer simply, it greatly depends on you as a person and what you are looking for.
If you are looking at indulging yourself in a foreign country with a fascinating history and an entirely different culture – then sure, go for it!
If you are looking at relocating for a period of time of greater than a year, then I would recommend considering other options. Cambodia has a cheap cost of living and it is easy to set up life there, however, it is still a third-world developing country and after 6 months or so, you may start missing various aspects of life that you have become accustomed to.
With that said, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Phnom Penh and it is an experience I will never forget.
Images courtesy of Markus Van Der Merwe (IG:markus_gray_browne)
About the author
Jared Jones is a 25 year old South African, with a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing Management. He is also a qualified EMT-I (Intermediate Life Support Paramedic) and a TEFL graduate.