Thinking of moving abroad? Trying to decide if making that jump from everything you know? Everyone you love? Maybe everything you don’t love at home for the dream lifestyle?
I was in that exact position this time last year, and I’ll be honest with you, I have not looked back! Of course, I miss so many things about living in England, especially family and friends, and English snacks. But the whole experience has been such an incredible journey, which is far from over. Instead just opening so many doors for me.
I did a two week holiday in Vietnam, which was my first experience of South East Asia. Obviously whenever you’re on holiday you always like the idea of not going home. Although this was a completely different feeling to any holiday blues I’d experienced before. I fell in love with Vietnam, and I NEEDED to live there! So I spent a year saving, researching and pushing the idea of it on one of my best friends from home. I’m not very good at doing things alone!
My first piece of advice, the research is really important! However, I went way overboard! I convinced myself that moving to Vietnam would be too difficult without prior teaching experience, or a degree, so instead moved to Cambodia to start out.
Everything I read was absolute bullsh*t. I’ve been to Vietnam a couple of times since living here, and all the expats I’ve met over there… Real life people that are doing exactly what I’d planned to do, starting out in the exact same situation as me, are doing it!!!! I’ve also met so many expats in Phnom Penh that moved from Vietnam, who have also confirmed just how easy it is to find work over there without experience or a degree. So, obviously weigh up the pros and cons of your ideal destination, but I would say just get yourself there. You’ll be able to make it work.
Having said the above, I’m so glad I started out in Phnom Penh. It’s been awesome. I’ve made so many good friends, that I’m actually moving to Vietnam with next year. So going with plan B worked out perfectly well too. Just don’t overthink it too much.
If you’re planning to become a TEFL teacher, don’t go for the really expensive courses. Again, overthinking things, my buddy and I researched for the best TEFL courses for teaching English abroad, and paid the price for that. THERE IS NO BEST TEFL CERTIFICATE WHEN YOU GET TO ASIA! Seriously, just as long as you’ve got one, you’re good to go.
In fact, other than teaching online, I don’t know any schools that have even checked the TEFL certificates in Phnom Penh. No names mentioned, but one of my friends doesn’t even have a TEFL and is currently working in a school. (I’m not condoning, simply just saying).
Save yourself the money and buy a course through Groupon. It offers exactly the same certificate, and course information as the expensive ones. The only real beneficial thing I got from my course was paying for an extra in-class teaching session. But even then, you’ll have the opportunity to sit in classes over here before you start working anyway.
Obviously this is dependent on your own personal circumstances, and any financial commitments you have at home. However, you don’t need as much as you may think. I came out with over £4000. After about 4 days of being here, I started to panic about not already securing a job, which was ridiculous looking back. I was employed within a week and started working by probably day 10. Really I should have just enjoyed that holiday time a little more than I did.
I have not been careful with money at all, I’ve had numerous holidays, which means taking unpaid time off work, got multiple expensive tattoos (they’re western prices if you go to reputable places) made a lot of needless expensive mistakes, continued paying my bills back home, come across a couple of scams, shopped a lot, and thoroughly enjoyed a lot of no expense spared nights out here!
That part of my savings lasted about 6 months, and again, I was not careful. If you get a job at the right school, the wage is more than enough to live a really good life, and save money as well, so if you’re on a budget before moving, you’ll be absolutely fine if you get yourself work quickly, and don’t make any of the stupid mistakes I did. I’ll explain later.
Finding work out here is not like back home. There aren’t go to job boards, which is why I was panicking to start with. I had no idea how to find work. Forums and Facebook Groups are your Google out here. These are where you’ll find answers to all your questions, and where you’ll find the work.
Once I was clued up to this, I posted in one group about looking for work, and had a job interview lined up for the next day. My buddy Simon had actually found this group and posted first, and was contacted about a job…. I then swooped in doing the same thing, and was also contacted about the same job. Simon never heard back from them, and ended up working at a pretty bad school miles out of town!!
They prefer women for schools, and as a woman, I’m totally ok with that discrimination. But anyway… I had my interview, and returned to do a demo class the next day. Spent the evening overthinking everything about the lesson plan. I tried to go way above and beyond with it, which was a huge failure. After the demo one of the grade 1 gobby little students actually said “thank god that’s over!” and my feedback was to get more experience as a teacher and reapply. Very disheartening, however, the next day, they offered me a job as a substitute teacher.
That’s how easy it is to find work over here!
Just off the back of this, that gobby little student ended up being one of my favourites, and I’m pretty certain that was a mutual feeling. If not she’s a liar. And I got Simon a job at the same school as me as soon as I could, so all is forgiven.
Teaching jobs are rife out here, most schools are always in need of teachers, so don’t accept a job paying less than $1200 a month. Good schools will pay between $1400 to $1500. Hold out for what you want, as once you’re working in a school it’s harder to find a new job. Obviously those forums you used to get your current job, your bosses are active on, so your other options are to quit then find a new job, or hand out CV’s door to door, which is not what you’ll want to do in 38 degree heat, or torrential rain. (These are the only two weather options here!)
Again, get on Facebook groups and forums. There is accommodation for all budgets. You can have a lovely luxury western apartment, which you’ll pay western prices for, on your expat salary! Or you can look at the more traditional, in my case Khmer apartments which are super cheap. I share with my buddy, I’ve got a huge room, with its own balcony and bathroom, we’ve got a large living room, not that we’ve ever once sat in there, and another balcony, which is ridiculously big.
One of the rooms doesn’t have outdoor facing windows, but this is pretty standard for Khmer apartments. It only costs us $330 a month, so between 2, it’s not bad at all. The only thing that bulks that cost up is the aircon, which is a necessity in this heat. I thought I’d love it, but actually I do quite like to hide the aircon a lot of the time.
Do not buy flights out of the country if you’re told to at any layover stop at the airport! This was my first big waste of money, and I hadn’t even got to Cambodia. We were just getting our connecting flight from Thailand to Phnom Penh, and one of the staff tried to stop us from catching the flight because we didn’t have exit flights booked. This was a huge shock to us! We’d just traveled all the way from London to Bangkok absolutely buzzing about our new venture! Now we’re learning this may not be a possibility anymore despite being so close. There’s also a very real potential we’re now stuck in an airport. (Our irrational fear talking there!)
I had my UK sim still, the WiFi was awful, I could not get an internet connection to book a flight! It was awful. For some reason we were still let on the flight in the end, but the fear was still very real. We didn’t say a word to each other during our flight to Phnom Penh! Upon landing, I booked us flights in months’ time to Thailand which were the cheapest I could get. £180 each! We went through border control in Phnom Penh with no questions asked! They didn’t need confirmation of the flights I’d just wasted £360 on.
If this puts a little bit of fear in you and you want to have proof of your exit from the country for visa reasons, book a cheap coach ticket for a border run. You’ll be paying about $15 instead.
Buy a sim card upon arrival
This would just be common sense to some, but you’ve probably gathered I did my research on the wrong areas when moving. I could only use my phone when connected to WiFi, and when getting to a brand new country you need your maps, and google to get yourself around! Plus, when calling home, I thought I was making WiFi calls. Incorrect, so that was another £400 wasted so unnecessarily on phone bills. If you’re coming to Cambodia, Smart is a great network, obviously connection isn’t perfect, but you’re in Cambodia! However, I top up $1 a week for unlimited data. I spend hours on WhatsApp calls, and also teach online using that $1.
It’s like Uber, and you can get a bike, a tuk tuk or a car. Again, would be common sense for most, but you know! The taxi’s at the airport overcharge you, and they do not have a clue where they’re going. Even if you give them a map location on your phone, they won’t put that in their own phone, they’ll just rely on you for directions.
Seriously, I can’t give you directions, I’ve just got here, (and I don’t have internet because of the above!)
We jumped in the first tuk tuk we found. Told him where we needed to go, and hoped for the best. We ended up being dropped off in the middle of some local back alley, nowhere near where we needed to be! Fortunately, the locals here are so lovely, so despite neither party having a clue what we were trying to communicate to each other, somehow, we managed to use their WiFi and get ourselves to our Airbnb.
Teaching in South East Asia
Lastly teaching is obviously huge in South East Asia, with so many opportunities for it. Some countries are stricter on it, for example, Thailand is a lot harder than other places in terms of work and visa. However, the possibilities with online teaching are enormous too! And much better paid might I add, so you should be fine regardless. If you’re not sold on teaching, but you’re not yet working online, please get in touch with me. I’d love to help you get your own journey started. You can also check out my other blog how to become a Pinterest Manager .
I hope you’ve found this useful. Please do let me know in the comments if you’ve got further advice, or had similar experiences. Also if you’re planning on moving to Phnom Penh get in touch, it’d be great to take you for a beer and help you get settled.