Setting Up a Teacher’s Life in Cambodia 101

Cambodia is a really easy country to live in. There is minimal stress, a thriving English job market, and the price of living is low. Before this easy life style can take place you need to first get here, find a job, and find a place to live- and that is where the stress sets in. Below are some tips on how to make your arrival, job hunt, and setting up life a bit easier in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Unless you are from Afghanistan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, or Nigeria you are able to obtain your visa upon arrival. There are two visas available- Tourist ($20) and Business ($25). Make sure to get the BUSINESS VISA- it is the only one that you are able to extend for one ($45), three ($80), six ($165), or twelve ($280) months without having to do a border run. A border run is where you have to leave the country and re-enter to obtain your visa extension. Tourist visas can be extended for only one extra month and it is single entry only. You will need one passport-sized photo and your passport must be valid for 6 months from the expiry date. You are also able to obtain your visa online, if you would like, but it is not necessary especially since getting your visa upon landing is quick and easy.

you want the 25$usd visa!!!

you want the 25$usd visa!!!

Passport Photos
I would bring 20-25. Every school and landlord is different, and if you end up switching schools/housing you never know how many you may need. If you run out or don’t bring enough there are shops located around town where you are able to get more photos taken without a hassle. Also if you plan on traveling outside of Cambodia those extra passport photos are handy to have for visas.

Job Market
Cambodia believes in worker discrimination but they are upfront about it. It is common to see job ads where it states preferred gender and age. In regards to teaching it is easier for women to get better paying jobs here, but with that being said it is still easy to get a teaching job regardless of your genitalia. On your resume you should include a photo of yourself, your local telephone number, an address, birth date, and your country of origin. In regards to finding a job there are websites that post listings or you can do a CV drop where you go around to a schools and drop off your CV. You will be getting a lot of phone calls back so double check to make sure that your local number is correctly listed on your CV.

Local Phone
It is highly recommended to get a cheap local phone. There are phone shops everywhere on Sihounkouk Blvd. where you can pick up a cheap Nokia for $25 (including charger) and a sim card for $5. To use these phones you must buy credit, which can last you a while. If you have a smart phone and decide to bring it with you, be weary. There are professional pick pockets and bag snatchers who will not hesitate to take it from your pocket on a quick drive by. A good motto is if you don’t want it stolen don’t bring it out with you, especially if you are out at night drinking. Replacing a smart phone here is much more expensive then in the West, because there are no plans to sign up so you buy a phone at it’s full retail price, and you can never be sure if you are buying the real thing or it’s knock-off.

Documents to Bring
While you do not need your TESOL certification to teach here, it does help. I brought my degree, TESOL certificate, and an FBI background check (not necessary) and made copies and attached them to my CV when doing CV drops at schools. I would also scan your passport so you can keep a document handy on your computer in case it gets lost or stolen. If this does happen make sure to contact your embassy and they can direct you on the next steps to take.

Negotiating and Your Contract
Everything is negotiable in Cambodia, EVERYTHING including your contract. Many schools will withhold a certain percentage or dollar amount of your pay until you have completed your contract and have returned materials if you were given any. If you break your contract you won’t get that money back. Also sometimes there are things you have to do at schools that they don’t tell you about- for example one school my friend teaches at, makes it mandatory for the teachers to stand in front of the school 30 minutes before school starts and for 30 minutes after school’s finished waving to parents and students. You may have lunch duty, or are required to stay on campus till a certain time even if you don’t have classes.

Make sure to ask questions!

Are there any extra duties with your teaching job? Are they in your contract? What are the hours? Is the pay hourly or salary? Do they provide lunch? Sick days? Vacation days? Are these days paid or not? When do you get paid? Once a month? Twice? Do you need to bring in your own materials (white board marker, copies, eraser, etc)? Do you get reimbursed? How many different classes do you have? Do you have your own classroom or do you go from classroom to classroom? Are there staff meetings? If you are on hourly do you get paid for these meetings? Does the school get your work permit or is it your responsibility and how much is it a month?
Also ask to see the classroom before saying yes so you can see your working conditions- most importantly is there aircon and does it work? Being during the hot season in Cambodia without aircon is death. Make sure to ask these questions and more. If you don’t like something negotiate. Make sure if there is a new agreement that your contract is changed to match it and don’t sign it till it does.

If you are working full time you should not be making less than $1000 a month (that is low). While I have my degree it is not in teaching and when I moved here it was my first time teaching. My first job I was making $11.50/hour, which I left for a salary job of $1,300. The highest paying school that I know of for teachers who have their TESOL but not proper teaching degrees is $1800 per month which is extremely high and is not the norm. Anywhere between $1200-$1400/ month is average and you will be able to live comfortably.

At Long Beach in Koh Rong on a long tail boat

At Long Beach in Koh Rong on a long tail boat

Cambodia Public Holidays
Cambodia has 25 official days off. If you are on hourly you will not get paid for these. Most fall towards the end of the year, and depending on your school you may have more or less time off. This is important when it comes to your pay. This is where salary is beneficial, because who doesn’t love to get paid to vacation, and Cambodia has some awesome places to visit.

Homeless upon arrival?
Book a hostel before or ask a tuk tuk to take you around (I would have a list prepared). Hostels are cheap and staying in one for a month or two while setting everything up is normal and reasonably affordable.

Number 9 Hotel located near the Riverside and Royal Palace

Number 9 Hotel located near the Riverside and Royal Palace

The School System
The school system is relatively new here in the Kingdom of Wonder and it wasn’t until this year (2014) that the government started cracking down on cheating and bribery. With that being said, your experience as a teacher may be a bit baffling. Don’t be surprised if you are not allowed to fail students, if the administration changes student’s grades, and if all of your students cheat. The tide is slowly changing but cheating and bribery is still alive and well. There are also topics that most schools will tell you not to bring up such as government, politics, the Khmer Rouge, and religion. If they come up in your class don’t dismiss them but gracefully bring your class back on track and away from the “taboo” topics. I had one experience in my class where the Khmer Rouge was brought up. It came up during a conversation about slavery in the United States. After explaining what slavery was one student compared it to the Khmer Rouge (working for free with inhumane conditions). Then the whole class started talking about it and I observed and monitored to make sure the feeling in the room was right and no one was getting upset. I also interjected with questions due to curiosity, but as a whole the conversation stayed positive and educating and no fingers were pointed, nor racist remarks made.

Schools and Their Reputations
Western International is a huge school and eager to hire foreigners. They have a reputation of always paying their teachers late and with little or no notice that you will be receiving your pay late. This school pays hourly. Location: All over Phnom Penh
Zaman International has the highest salary that I have heard ($1,800/ month). This school is Turkish and Muslim and very traditional. Men and women co-workers are not allowed to sit together and there are a lot of extra curricular activites outside of normal school hours that are mandatory for teachers. Location: Toul Kork.
Heritage International School a very relaxed school that pays well with an easy going atmosphere. Teachers have a lot of room to incorporate their personal style into the curriculum. Location: BKK1
Gateway International School- the pay is reasonable, but they like to have their foreign teachers outside every morning waving and greeting the students.
Golden Gate International School- I almost took a job with this school until I realized that I would have to compile 35 lesson plans per week!!!!! That is outrageous. For that amount of work the pay was not up to par. Also I heard that last year (2012) some teachers who went through the same TESOL certification program that I did got hired here under the condition that for the first 3 months (probation period) they would only receive $800 of their salary and once they passed they would be bumped up to their full salary. Once the three months passed the school fired them. and it is pretty much impossible to get fired in Cambodia. Be weary with this school but ask around and see if someone knows something that is more up to date.
ELT- good working environment, hourly pay and offer different class schedules; ideal for part time work. This school has older students (highschool and up) and offers many night classes.
There are a plethora of schools in Phnom Penh- look up some addresses and hire a tuk tuk for the day to take you around. You will also get to know Phnom Penh much better and see what a normal commute would be depending on where your school is.

There are a couple forums that I would recommend for finding housing. First on Facebook join these two groups: Expats in Cambodia and Phnom Penh Housing. Also join the yahoo group Cambodia’s Parent Network, and lastly talking to a realtor is a good idea if you are looking for the whole place to yourself, or have a group to move in somewhere. If you are looking for a room the groups listed above are good resources.
And that about does it. Any other questions are best asked when you actually get here. Phnom Penh is developing at a rapid rate and things change overnight. One of the greatest resources here is the expat community, which is filled with friendly and helpful people who will divulge any helpful tips and knowledge. So if you are feeling frazzled go out, grab a beer, iced coffee, or fresh coconut, sit down and start up a conversation. You never know what’ll you’ll learn and who’ll you’ll meet!

Hope this helps with you decision and transition into the Kingdom of Wonder….you’ll love it!

Facebook- Expats in Cambodia, Phnom Penh Housing,
Yahoo Group- Cambodia Parents Network
Other Websites: Khmer 440
Facebook: Phnom Penh Jobs Alert,
Yahoo Group- Cambodia Parents Network
Other Websites: Khmer 440, Asia Teaching Jobs, CamHR, Bong Thom Classifieds
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4 thoughts on “Setting Up a Teacher’s Life in Cambodia 101

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to read this Alan! I’m glad you agree and if you have anything to add throw it down in the comment section! Hope all is well wherever you are in the world 🙂

    • I put a local address, it’s better for them to see that you are in country, if anything make one up of a hostel you are staying at if you don’t have permanent housing yet

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