South Asia, specifically Southeast Asia, is a booming TEFL market. Of course, there are some of the favourites; Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia – but what about Cambodia?
Like Vietnam, Cambodia is a country with a complicated history. That’s history, though. Current-day Cambodia is a rapidly growing nation, with an improving economy and a real demand for learning English. In fact, English is something of an unofficial second language across the country. You might expect more French linguistic influence, with Cambodia being a former part of French Indochina, but it’s English that’s far more prevalent, with Khmer being the official language of Cambodia.
In the wilder, more casual days of teaching English abroad, it used to be that Cambodia had a reputation for attracting backpacker English teachers. Anyone could turn up, qualified or not, and hope for the best. That is, thankfully, no longer the case – demonstrable qualifications and skills to teach are absolutely essential.
The Cambodian infrastructure for English teachers is improving and there’s still plenty of demand to bring proficiency levels up. Cambodia has low proficiency, according to EF’s English Proficiency Index. From conversations with TEFL teachers in Cambodia, we know that there’s a broad focus on vastly improving the level of English.
What about Cambodia as a place to live? There are absolutely incredible sights to behold, from Angkor to the Temple of Preah Vihear, and not forgetting Sambor Prei Kuk, which became a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2017. The country’s history might be tragic, but current-day Cambodia is culturally exciting, extremely hospitable and, all in, a beautiful place to live and teach.
TEFL in Cambodia, then: let’s get into it!
Cambodia: Things to see and do
So, what’s available for TEFL teachers in Cambodia, in terms of culture and sights? As always, we like to refer to UNESCO, which points to three Heritage properties in its guide to Cambodia. Angkor, probably the most famous attraction Cambodia has to offer, takes pride of place; its 400 square metres contain highlights from the capitals of the Khmer Empire, and the countless temples are a sight unlike anything else.
Another absolute must – according to both us and UNESCO – is the Temple of Preah Vihear. A complex structure that dates back to the 9th Century, this temple is incredibly well-preserved, a truly unique example of faithfully maintained architecture. Finally, there’s the breath-taking Temple Zone of Sambor Prei Kuk – we’ll refer to UNESCO themselves for the description:
“The property comprises more than a hundred temples, ten of which are octagonal, unique specimens of their genre in South-East Asia. Decorated sandstone elements in the site are characteristic of the pre-Angkor decorative idiom, known as the Sambor Prei Kuk Style. Some of these elements, including lintels, pediments and colonnades, are true masterpieces.”
What about music? Our friend, TEFL teacher Daniel Gillard, told us all about the music scene in a previous blog post:
“Back in the 1960’s, Cambodia was one of the most liberal countries in Asia, with a thriving arts and music scene. Their particular passion was psychedelic rock ‘n roll music. Home-grown singers like Sinn Sisamouth, Ros Sereysothea and Pan Ron filled the airwaves with music that was inspired by the West, but that had a Khmer filter attached to it… I went on to find that the psychedelic music scene hasn’t died, and there are still bands today, like The Cambodian Space Project, Bokor Mountain Magic Band and Dengue Fever that are keeping the 60’s spirit alive.”
Into beaches? You’ll be more than satisfied; the southern islands of Cambodia are where some of the whitest sand and quietest sunbathing spots can be found. Try islands around Sihanoukville, like Ko Ta Khiev, or the likes of Koh Rong Sanloem.
Talking of Sihanoukville, there are plenty of buzzing cities to wander around in. Obviously, Phnom Penh is the most populous, and the nation’s capital. There’s also Kampot, Kep and Siem Reap, which are full of amazing street food, fantastic live music and more than a few trendy bars and clubs.
Finally, given Cambodia’s location, there’s also easy access to the rest of Southeast Asia. So, if your curiosity expands beyond the mainland and islands, you can try Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and others on for size!
So, what do you need to teach English in Cambodia? Well, not a degree. You can gain a visa to live and work in Cambodia without a bachelor’s. Equally, you don’t need any teaching experience to get started, and the country is also a good spot for non-native English speakers to get started in TEFL teaching.
There are some requirements, though. A high-quality TEFL certificate is crucial to finding work. Your TEFL qualification should be from a highly accredited and well-recognised course provider and must have contained at least 120 hours of training.
Teaching in Cambodia
Teaching in Cambodia can be a fantastic experience, with students who will value your cultural experiences, and ability to teach English. However, the standards can be variable based on where you’re teaching and the kind of infrastructure in place. The public education system and its materials vary by the size of the populace, so you’re more likely to find full-time, reliable work in big cities like Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville than you are in more rural areas.
If you’re looking for work in private or international schools, this kind of work is largely centralised in Phom Penh. Academic work, in universities and colleges, can be harder to come by for newcomers, but it’s immensely rewarding, as Daniel Gillard told us in I Taught English Abroad:
“Here in higher education, they’re recognising the importance – as they have done for a long time – of English. In Cambodia, it’s a very unofficial but very strong second language. It makes life very easy out here [for English speakers]. I’m at a health sciences university, and we provide four years of English to all the students, whether they’re training to be doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists, pharmacists… all of these courses and programmes require English, so we get to specialise our English.”
Increasingly, universities in Cambodia are becoming bilingual. This way, Cambodian talent can work around the world, and in kind, TEFL-qualified teachers can tutor in a range of subjects.
In more rural areas, you’ll find a lot of voluntary roles, which are great for building TEFL experience. Volunteering can be great for networking, and getting a grasp of the education system in Cambodia; little surprise, then, that people often come back to work in Cambodia after a spell of voluntary work.
Salary and Cost of Living in Cambodia
What can you expect to earn while teaching in Cambodia, and what is the cost of living like?
First, salaries: a basic monthly salary for a full-time position teaching English is likely to be around £680-1,000/$900-1,300. The top bracket salary for teaching English is around £1,500/$2,000 per month. You’ll commonly find Cambodia language teaching jobs advertising their hourly rate, which is around £7-11/$10-15 on average.
How about cost of living, then? The wages may seem comparatively low, but living in Cambodia is much, much cheaper to live in than the US, Ireland or the UK. In Siem Reap, renting a one-bedroom apartment in the city centre will only cost £195/$237, and a three-bedroom city centre apartment will set you back just £431/$525 a month. Phnom Penh, meanwhile, is more expensive, but still very much affordable. A city-centre one-bedroom apartment costs around £427/520 to rent, while a three-bedroom equivalent costs £1,238/$1,506. Rent, then, won’t eat up most of your wages.
What about everyday stuff in Cambodia? The cost of living is about a quarter lower than in the UK, and common expenses aren’t quite as… well, expensive. A solo meal in an inexpensive restaurant is about £2.88/$3, a pint of beer is a buck (or £0.82 if you prefer) and a monthly travel pass is likely to only cost around £9.87/$12. Getting around is cheap, eating and drinking are cheap, and comparatively speaking, so is accommodation.
Cambodia: In a TEFL teacher’s words
Not convinced by Cambodia yet? Well, we’re not sure how, but maybe these words from Daniel Gillard will give you the inspiration you need:
“The people here are so warm, so friendly.
There’s this professionalisation of English teaching taking place. We have a conference every year called Camtesol, where other English teachers, native or non-native speakers, several thousand of them, come to one of our major conference centres for a three-day conference every year. The kind of professional development going on out here – and it’s the first time they’ve ever tried it – is amazing.
So many of [the teachers] come out here looking for a nice teaching job, and then suddenly find they’re running a department, or a faculty, or a whole school, and it can happen really quickly. Even if you just want to teach, it can be good fun as well!”
To learn more about TEFL in Cambodia, check out our full guide here!