Renowned for its backpacker scene, South East Asia is often overlooked as a potential work place. Comprising of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Brunei, East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore; the countries in South East Asia have been made famous by their hospitality, friendliness and laid back style of living, making them a wonderful place to work, live and explore. Be warned though – if you value punctuality, honesty and a fast pace, South East Asia may not be for you!
If, however, you enjoy a laid back lifestyle, love the idea of not wearing a watch (and never asking “what time is it?”) and enjoy the company of friendly, intelligent and interesting people, South East Asia could be your ideal destination. Many people start by travelling and find that they love the countries so much, they stay there! After all, it’s a beautiful place enjoy both life and work, whether for a couple of months, a couple of years or a lifetime!
All South East Asian countries insist that you obtain a visa before they let you in. Some will allow you to apply on arrival, although it is easier, often cheaper and gives you better peace of mind if you apply before leaving your home country! This is easily done: just download the right forms from the specific country’s Embassy website and send it off with your passport and payment to your nearest Embassy. Usually it will only take a few days to be sorted out. Work permits are also necessary to work in an Asian country though each countries rules and regulations are different. Again, the best place to find specific information about each country’s application processes is their Embassy website (see below).
Of all the South East Asian countries, Thailand has become probably the most desirable destination in recent years. The most prevalent advertisements are for English teaching jobs in Thailand, where you can earn between £600 and £1500 per month depending on whether you are TEFL qualified or qualified as a teacher. There are many schools available to teach in, ranging from private language schools to Thai schools to International schools, depending on where you want to work. Thai schools are great for immersing yourself into Thai culture, whilst International schools and Language schools are geared towards the more serious and qualified teacher (and not the casual traveler!).
Some of Thailand’s most famous holiday destinations are its beaches. Think white sand, clear blue sea, constant sunshine, cocktails and fun and the picture is almost complete! If you enjoy scuba diving, Thailand’s southern islands (such as Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui, Phuket and Koh Lanta to name but a few) are renowned worldwide for their coral reefs. Many organisations employ trained scuba divers, or it’s possible to complete your training there and then stay on to work!
These opportunities are available throughout Asia with Malaysia and Thailand having some of the best dive sites in the world. Check out the PADI website at www.padi.com.
Thailand is relatively cheap to live in, though tourist destinations can be expensive. However, for long term rentals, many places in Thailand will offer cut price rates. The average living costs are between £150 to £500 per month depending on whether you live in an apartment, wish to travel or like to party!
Cambodia is a beautiful country, but far more under-developed than East Asia’s richer countries such as Brunei and Singapore, and living here will really take you back to basics. There are many Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) there that can offer jobs as diverse as nursing and physiotherapy to engineering and teaching. An amazing website to help you find this kind of work is www.transitionsabroad.com.
Healthcare jobs are the most popular. Social workers are currently in demand and can be paid between £150 per month to £750 depending on your employers (some NGOs pay well, others don’t!) and if you’re employed by an NGO, they will house you in a hotel/guest house of your choice, leaving you with no accommodation costs! If you wish to live in an apartment of your own, most leases last for a year (as you will find with any country) and on average it costs £200 a month to live in Cambodia, including monthly motorbike hire!
Laos is one of the most undeveloped of the South East Asian countries with most travel out there only provided by buses, and on very nice windy mountain roads at that! Few long-term jobs are available, though if you’re on the travel route and not working in order to save some cash, there are some fantastic opportunities in Vang Vieng (the tubing capital of the world!). Vang Vieng is arguably the party capital of Asia where tubing down the river on a rubber ring and drinking all day is the norm! It is a beautiful, quiet, laid back country encompassing the Asian attitude of mai pen rai (nevermind!). Jobs available here are unpaid, but the employers will pay for your accommodation, food and drinks (yes, that means alcohol!) usually on their premises in return for your services for a few hours each day flyering on the tubing route (and as it is unpaid, this also diminishes the need for a work permit). In other words, you get everything for free while tubing down the river, meeting people, jumping off 10 foot high swings into the river and getting drunk!
Work permits are difficult to obtain for Laos unless you work for a recognised NGO, few of which operate there. However, there are many voluntary opportunities in areas such as ecology, conservation and health care. For more information, check out https://gibbonexperience.org/ for the most incredible conservation project working with Laotian hill tribes in the Bokeo Rainforest and also www.openmindprojects.org for information on volunteering in temples, schools and healthcare organisations.
Vietnam is slightly different to other countries in Asia and receives mixed reports from those that have traveled there! Many say that it misses the friendly attitude of other countries in Asia; others complain that it is more expensive, and some that travel is difficult unless you fly from city to city. However, many others find it wonderful! Job opportunities are scarce due to Vietnam having only two major cities, Hoh Chi Minh and Hanoi. Teaching is the major occupation for foreign nationals here, though many multinational organisations are beginning to move into Vietnam. A good place to find more information about this is at https://vn.jobstreet.com/.
Teaching in Vietnam pays between £300 and £800 per month, with monthly living costs amounting to £270 per month, so you wouldn’t be able to save much money! For cheaper accommodation, guest houses have rooms for as little as £1.50 per night, though living with travelers can be a nightmare when you have to be up at 7am!
Myanmar is a politically volatile country and at the minute, most foreign embassies (such as England, Canada and America) are still advising people not to travel there. On the other hand, if you prefer to work for those that really need it, there can be some good job opportunities. Nursing jobs pay between £300 to £700 per month, and living costs are very low. However, Yangon is said to have electrical power breakdowns every thirty minutes, with little or no power at all during periods of instability, such as the scenes broadcast to the world last September. UNICEF and WHO also advertise jobs but at the minute are offering little information on living and working in Burma.
Brunei, Indonesia and East Timor are very different from the other South East Asian countries, because they are further developed and can therefore offer more diverse jobs. Brunei has many jobs in construction, engineering and of course the usual teaching and NGO jobs. One third of Brunei’s work force is made up of foreign nationals, which would suggest that jobs are easily accessible out there. However, jobs with NGOs have many applications for each position and there are complaints over language barriers which don’t enable foreign nationals to contact the charities. Teaching pays more than you would earn in your home country with salaries ranging from £21,000 to £38,000 depending on your qualifications (CELTA is preferred to TEFL), though this is also an expensive country to live in with apartments renting for approximately £1,500 per month!
There are also jobs such as accounting, administration, engineering and catering available. A great website for finding jobs in Brunei is www.4icj.com/bn. This site also advertises au-pair positions, internships and entry level jobs for recent graduates. Just remember that you can’t buy or consume alcohol here!
Indonesia is rapidly becoming one of the leading countries of Asia. With its tourist areas such as Jakarta and Bali; it attracts both travellers and holidaymakers who fall so deeply in love with the country they choose to stay! Teaching in Bali is a very attractive option as Friday afternoons are often reserved for surf school where you learn how to surf with your students! There are also many jobs available in engineering and construction, though this can be very demanding work. Yet job salaries range from £500 to £1000 per month, so if you’re tempted take a peek at www.pmicareers.com.
East Timor made its money and reputation through the sale of its natural resources: namely gold, petroleum, natural gas, manganese and marble. As you might expect, there are many jobs available in these industries and also the oil industry providing you are appropriately qualified. OilJobFinder often lists oil job advertisements for this region. However, safety might be an issue. East Timor has suffered from unrest throughout the country in recent years. Riots in 2006 killed hundreds of people and forced over 20,000 people to evacuate their homes.
Embassy websites have more information on the rules and regulations on entering each country. There are also thousands of sites on the internet with different views, stories and experiences of each country. While many of them gear towards the traveling population, they still offer a great insight into the countries, though remember you will be working there and not (maybe not!) partying every night like the average backpacker! Whether you decide to work in Cambodia or Brunei, good luck and bon voyage!