Ria is an avid writer who is currently teaching English in southwest Japan. She loves helping other wanna-be English teachers and expats.
Adventure-loving young people often seek out chances to teach English abroad so they can make money while living in a new country. While some countries will offer great pay and benefits, there's sometimes a catch involved. Some governments are extremely conservative—totalitarian, even—and if you get yourself into major trouble, there may be literally no one who can help you.
If you still feel very drawn to a particular country after doing all of your research, then good for you! Just make sure you have a plan B in case of civil unrest or other major problems. A credit card with a high enough limit to get a plane ticket home is a good minimum.
China offers good pay and benefits for English teachers, especially considering the low cost of living there. However, there is a major catch: the Chinese government maintains a firewall that blocks Facebook, Twitter, and a range of other sites. In the past, China has even blocked Google, meaning that foreign tourists couldn't even use Google maps to get around! Additionally, China is strict about criticism of the government, and outspoken Westerners can quickly find themselves in trouble if they say the wrong thing to the wrong person. Arbitrary enforcement of laws means that foreigners can be prevented from leaving the country for a wide range of reasons.
Even if you manage to stay out of trouble, life can be difficult for foreigners. Crime in China isn't as bad as in some other countries, but it's not unheard of for unscrupulous businesses to take advantage of foreigners. The difficult language barrier also makes life hard for foreign teachers. In major cities, air pollution can significantly aggravate any existing health issues you have.
Of course, hundreds of English teachers have completed their time in China without any significant problems. If your heart is really set on teaching in China, then go for it - but if you're open to other options, look elsewhere.
Websites that promote teaching English in South America often advertise Nicaragua as a beautiful country that will welcome foreign teachers with open arms. While the schools are often impoverished, the friendly and casual atmosphere is a good fit for many young teachers.
Unfortunately, the US Government actually has had a "Do Not Travel" advisory in effect for Nicaragua as recently as September 2018, and the civil unrest across Nicaragua is still a significant problem. Paramilitary violence, understaffed hospitals, crime, and human rights violations are rampant in many areas. While Nicaragua's situation may soon improve, it's probably best for would-be English teachers to wait and see what happens next. (You can check for the latest information from the U.S. State Department here.)
Like Nicaragua, Venezuela has been in crisis for some time, and faces similar breakdowns in medical infrastructure and law and order. There's even a shortage of food, water, and other necessities in some areas, and while some parts of the capital city of Caracas are safe, others frequently experience robberies and other violent crime. The current situation is so dire that even U.S. Embassy employees face significant restrictions on when and where they can travel.
Like Saudi Arabia, Indonesia has laws in place that make it hard for foreigners to leave if they don't like their job. In fact, Indonesia's laws don't just keep you from leaving during a work-related dispute - they keep you from leaving the country without permission from your employer until your contract is fulfilled! Your employer may accept a contract cancellation fee or other penalty from you in exchange for releasing you from your contract, but if your employer is already short-staffed, they may be reluctant to do so.
It doesn't matter if your parents just died or your employer has been violating your rights. Immigration authorities will not let you leave the country until you have a piece of paper from your employer stating that you are allowed to leave, or until your contract with that employer has expired. In extreme cases, your embassy may be able to intervene, but that takes time and is not guaranteed to work.
Saudi Arabia actually offers some of the best pay and benefits for English teachers! Teaching English in an authoritarian regime for a year or two sounds like great material for a memoir, right? All you have to do is give up pork, alcohol, porn, extramarital sex, wearing shorts, eating or drinking in public during daylight during Ramadan...
In all seriousness, though, living in Saudi Arabia isn't as simple as giving up more liberal lifestyle choices. Saudi Arabia doesn't respect due process the same way that Western countries do, and as a foreigner, you may be particularly vulnerable to human rights violations. You can also be prevented from leaving Saudi Arabia if there is any kind of dispute between you and your employer. Check out this full list of rules and things to worry about if you go to Saudi Arabia, courtesy of the U.K. government.
Still feel like spending a year over there? No? Good.
In 2014, Thailand experienced a coup d'etat that installed a military regime. While the country maintains a facade of democracy, crackdowns on free speech are common. In one case, a student activist was sentenced to jail for sharing a BBC article that was deemed to be critical of the royal family. Everything from t-shirts to Facebook posts are subject to scrutiny, and just because you're foreign doesn't mean you'll get a pass.
Additionally, some regions near the Thai-Malaysia border are becoming increasingly dangerous, with foreign governments putting out travel advisories for specific provinces. If you do decide to teach in Thailand, talk with your placement company or direct employer to make sure you won't be asked to teach in these areas. Check with your country's State Department or similar travel advisory body for the most up-to-date information on where to avoid.
© 2018 Ria Fritz
Liz Westwood from UK on November 04, 2018:
You make some interesting, relevant and useful points for anyone considering working in these countries.
RTalloni on November 04, 2018:
A little truth goes a long way to shedding light on current events in other countries. Thanks for offering a head's up to idealists who want to travel and help the world. When the naive find themselves in the hands of these governments they learn fast, but it's better to be honest about the facts ahead of time.