At my very first EFL teaching job interview in Thailand, I was asked for a photocopy of the ID page from my passport. Having been told by friends already teaching in Thailand that this would happen, I wasn’t surprised or concerned about giving it to them and had a photocopy already in hand.
In fact, if you teach in many countries in Asia, including Thailand, being asked for a photocopy of your passport by a prospective employer is par for the course. It does, however, concern some would-be teachers, who worry their identity is about to be stolen. Should it?
Why does the school need your passport information? – There are two main reasons any school in Thailand, or anywhere else in Asia, asks for a photocopy of the ID page from your passport.
a) They sometimes do a background check to make sure you are not on a known pedophile list or wanted by the legal authorities in your own country before they hire you. Thailand has had problems in the past with western pedophiles arriving in the country to “teach” as, obviously, that gets them closer to the children they are interested in. It’s not surprising, therefore, that some Thai schools are now checking with authorities before hiring a western teacher who may be one of them.
b) Photocopies of passports are often used by Thai schools to get the ball rolling in the laborious process of applying for your work permit. Eventually, you will discover you have to have several photocopies of the ID page of your passport along with many photocopies of other documentation (university degree and transcripts, TEFL certificate, the letter of intent from your school, your contract etc), before an application for your work permit can be properly submitted. Eventually, you will just get used to being asked for a photocopy of your passport ID page, as it happens all the time.
Should you worry about your identity being stolen? – In the 10 years of living and teaching in Thailand, I estimate I have probably given at least 100 copies of my passport to various schools and companies where I was teaching, as well as to the Thai Labor Department, the Ministry of Education, the apartment building where I live, the Thai banks where I have accounts, the company that helps me with my visa runs and on and on.
I’m so used to it now, it doesn’t phase me for a second when I’m asked for it, yet through all that time I have never had my identity stolen or anything bad happen because of it.
Of course, I don’t hand out a photocopy of the ID page of my passport to any random stranger on the street. All of the places who have asked for it and been given it are legitimate Thai businesses or schools, and all had a valid reason for needing it.
If you are worried about handing a photocopy of your passport to a Thai school official, you can always block out your ID number although, frankly, I’m not sure why you’d bother? After all, you’re going to be asked for it again by the Labor Department and the Ministry of Education for both your work permit and your teachers’ license and your passport number will need to be clearly visible then, so it will soon be “out there” anyway.
What happens if you refuse? – Some teachers move to Thailand and refuse point blank to give a photocopy of their passport to anyone. Needless to say, these are the teachers that usually don’t have teaching jobs or, if they do, they have the worst-paying jobs in Thailand and are often working illegally.
To put it succinctly, just about every legitimate school in Thailand is going to ask for a photocopy of your passport to at the very least process your work permit, so how do you expect to get a job at one of them if you refuse to comply?
Yes, you can be the paranoid westerner who shoots himself in the foot when it comes to his teaching career before he’s even started. That is your prerogative. If, however, you’d like to get a good teaching job in Thailand and a work permit to boot, just hand over a photocopy of your passport and think no more about it.