Full-time contracts are almost never a good idea

Most Academic Managers/Senior Teachers are given a target quota of full time-to-part time teachers by upper management. Something like 60:40, depending on the size of the school.  The prospect of full time employment is usually touted at some point during your first interview as something great to strive for.  It’ll go something like:

“Well, we have a few part time positions open, and it looks like a full time position coming up in October, which we would be willing to consider you for based on your performance over the next two months. How does that sound?”

In reality, that AM wishes he or she could have you sign a full time contract right then and there, and have it sent off to HR before the ink is dry. This is because full time contracts always tip the scales in the school’s favour.  Most of the “benefits” of full time employment are cleverly worded traps that hurt you and help the suits at corporate.

It’s important to note that the term “Full Time” is used differently when teaching EFL abroad than it’s generally used in the West.  Instead of a 40 hour, Monday through Friday work week,   full time means you are guaranteed a certain amount of teaching hours per week, and are paid a monthly salary instead of hourly.  The idea here is that the work will be more stable and provide more benefits, while the employee will have to sacrifice certain freedoms and make a more concrete commitment in return.

1. Guaranteed Hours Aren’t that Guaranteed.

This is half true, seeing as you’ll supposedly get priority over other teachers if you’re hovering around 16 hours and need two more classes.  However, there will be times—usually around winter and the Tet Holiday—where there just wont be enough hours to keep any of the teachers fully scheduled.  Here’s where it gets messy.  If they have a part timer happily working 16 hours, and they suddenly cut them down to 8, that part-time teacher will just quit, as nothing is really forcing them to stay.  Meanwhile, you’re locked into a full-time contract and are much less likely to quit (usually because of some contract completion bonus** floating 7 months down the river.)  The scheduler knows this, and is actually a lot more likely to cannibalise hours from you so they don’t have to risk losing one or more part time teachers.

So, they may very well cut a class or two from you and keep you at a paltry 16 hours a week. This sucks, because you incur a debt of hours to the school.  If you’re hired on a 20/h per week contract, and teach two months at 16 hours, you will now “owe” the school 32 hours over the remainder of your contract.  This means over summer, you can and will be strong-armed into teaching overtime hours to earn money you were already paid six months ago.  You will end up having to accept really obtuse schedules (IE; 7;30-9;30am, 5;30-9;30pm) or marketing classes.  You can’t say no, since you are contractually indebted to them. This is not a good way to be.

**That “bonus” at the end of your contract will be added to your final month’s pay.  No amount of negotiating will get the school to change course on this.  Assume you make about $1600 a month, and your bonus is about $2,000.  Your final paycheque will come through at $3,600.  This is a pretty high monthly wage by Vietnamese standards, and it will cement you firmly into one of the higher tax brackets.  You’ll be lucky to walk away with about half of that bonus.

Monthly Income in VNDMonthly Income in USDTax Rate
0 to 5m$0 to $2205%
5 to 10m$220 to $44010%
10 to 18m$440 to $80015%
18 to 32m$800 to $1,42020%
32 to 52m$1,420 to $2,30025%
52 to 80m$2,300 to $3,55030%
Over 80m$3,550 and over35%
 Exchange Rate $1 = 22,560vnd used. Numbers in USD rounded to the nearest $10 dollars. Source: xe.com and PWC (pdf)

2. Your “Paid Days Off” are Not Payed Anywhere Near in Full

At one school I worked for, I got about $15 dollars per day off.  This is about 1/3rd of what you make per class, and a depressing fraction of what you would have made on a busy Saturday.  Also, the schools will never reimburse you for un-used days at the end of a contract. The financially wise move is to save all your days off until the end of your contract, and just throw them onto your last two weeks at work.  Since you’re going to get obliterated by taxes when your bonus processes, it makes sense to work as little as possible towards the end. Of course, where’s the fun in that? You did come here to travel, after all… 

3. You Generally Make Less Money Than Your Part Time Friends

Part time teachers are hired at higher hourly rates than full time teachers.  The school will rationalise this by saying that part time teachers do not receive any benefits, such as insurance or PTO, and therefore make slightly more to offset this.  Lets say Jack and Jill stroll into the same English centre on the same day.  Jack goes full time, Jill does not.  Chart for reference:

 Jack (full time)Jill (part time)
Pay Rate$1,400 per month (salary)$20 per hour (hourly)
Hours20 per week18 per week
True pay rate (before taxes)$17.50 per hour$20 per hour
Monthly Income$1,400 $1,440

Jill will almost always get her requested 18/h a week. Even over the slow period (Christmas through Tet,) Jill will be able to take an abundance of cover classes for all the full timers like Jack who are trying to use their vacation days.  Furthermore, Jill is also: Allowed to work for other schools, able to take more control over her schedule, and able to pass on dreadful marketing events (which we discuss here.) 

4. The Health Insurance Isn’t Very Useful

The Health Insurance offered by full time contracts will not cover you on a motorbike if you don’t have a license and the bike isn’t in your name.  Getting a licence is a huge pain in the ass, and getting a bike actually registered to your name is neigh impossible. There’s a 90% chance that anything that happens to you here will be motorbike related, so your insurance will be of zero help (you were driving illegally, after all.) I have known people who had to go to the hospital for bike accidents, and some of them were actually successful in getting their insurance to help. They had to lie and tell the insurance adjuster that they fell off the back of a motorcycle taxi, or something along those lines.  I shun to think what would happen if the insurance provider found a way to prove them wrong. 

5. They Will Offer to Pay for a Work Permit/Visa, but this is a Huge Challenge

This actually is probably the main draw of a full time contract, because it absolves you from having to do annoying visa runs. However, getting a work permit is no walk in the park, requiring a health check, police checks from both Vietnam and your home country, and a mountain of documents that all have to be certified, notarised, translated, etc. The school will reimburse you (eventually,)  but you still have to come up with the up-front cost to have all this done—usually around $500 USD. I personally was never keen on using 1/3rd of my monthly paycheque for the permit.  I’ll take the $60 border run every three months.

visa vietnam american

Especially if you’re a US citizen. You can get one year multiple entry visas for under $200 dollars. You still have to jump the border every 90 days, but the Cambodian border zone has some of the cheapest tax-free hard liquor in the world. win/win.


There was a lot to say on this topic, so it got it’s own post. This post was originally an entry in 6 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Teaching English Abroad Check the link for the other things on the list. 

Hasta la victoria Saigon,