If you’re planning on teaching English in Asia, one of the things you may have to make a decision about is whether you want to live in school housing or rent your own apartment. Not all schools in Asia provide housing but some do and, if you’re given the choice of living in paid-for housing or not, there are some things you should consider before you make a decision.
As a former teacher in Thailand, I had job offers at two schools that also offered housing. One of the jobs informed me living on school premises was mandatory, while the other gave me a choice – school housing or a monthly housing allowance. Although nowhere near covering the cost of the rent I ended up paying, I chose the second school and the housing allowance. You may decide differently.
Here are a few things to think about before you do:
Ask to look at housing before you decide – The concept of an ‘apartment’ in Asia can differ greatly from what many westerners are used to, particularly Americans. That’s why, if you are told school housing is available at a teaching job in Asia, make sure you ask to look at it before you decide.
The school that told me their housing was ‘mandatory’ was offering a tiny studio apartment in an ugly cement block with a Thai-style shower (water pours out of a shower head fitted into the wall and all over the toilet, sink, bathroom floor etc). Not ever living in accommodation that poor, I had no intention of starting then so that job was an instant turn-down for me.
On the other hand, I met a couple of teachers in Bangkok who were teaching at one of the top international schools and their apartment was a three-bedroom affair packed with all the mod-cons and would have put your average $2,000-a-month Los Angeles apartment to shame. I understood immediately why they chose school housing instead of having to look for their own place.
Is the school housing on campus or away from school? – One of my closest friends in Bangkok accepted a job with school housing in an apartment block all the teachers had to live in. It was over an hour from Bangkok’s city center and in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a chicken and rice stand close by and a bus that picked them all up to take them to school every morning. Needless to say, she lasted a month before she left the school and the apartment.
Some schools offer nice on-campus school housing, while others pay for teachers to live in an apartment block miles away from school. If you’re not on campus and still have to travel for miles every day anyway, I can’t say I understand why any teacher would want to do that.
Is school housing be close to town? – Let’s face it, if you move to Asia to teach English, you want to learn all about the culture and the people, and see and do as much as you can. Being stuck in school housing miles from town, and requiring hours spent on a bus or in a taxi and you’ll soon come to hate the place you live in and, by association, the job.
Is there a curfew? – I know one teacher who teaches outside Bangkok and lives on school premises. His apartment block has a curfew as some of the students are boarders. He doesn’t mind having to be back in his room at 10pm on weekdays, but some teachers would. Check that out before you decide to accept school housing.
How much is the housing allowance? – While most school housing, if offered, is free, a housing allowance isn’t always very much. Considering you may get less than $100 a month (mine in Bangkok was around $75 yet my rent was $300), you may decide living in school housing is worth some of the sacrifices you have to make. My overall salary was so good that, even with a low housing allowance, I was still making excellent money. So paying for apartment rent was no problem. Things, however, may be different for you, particularly if it’s your first teaching job.
Deposits – You won’t generally have to pay a deposit if you accept school housing, but with an apartment anywhere in Asia you will. Most places ask for first and last month’s rent. In Thailand, it’s common to be asked for first month’s rent plus two months, so it can be a chunk of change to have to pay when you first arrive in the country. Weigh up the cost along with the personal freedoms you may have to give up living at school before you decide.
Is finding an apartment yourself easy to do? – If you’re new in the country, you might be worried about being able to find your own apartment. In a city like Bangkok, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur or Beijing, Don’t be, it’s easy, as they’re everywhere and at all price ranges. In smaller towns, however, it may be a little more difficult.
Either way, this is when you have to decide if you don’t mind staying in a hotel for a few days while you go apartment hunting or if you would prefer to live in school housing for at least the first semester.
When I moved to Bangkok, I already knew two Thais and an American living here so my finding an apartment took less than 24 hours. If you’re not in a similar situation, school housing may be an ideal solution, although, honestly, I think half the fun of moving to a new country is finding your own apartment and getting settled in. Plus, in most places in Asia, what you can rent for less money than you would pay back home is quite astounding. In some places, palatial even.
Whatever you decide, make sure you allow at least a week between arriving in country and starting your new teaching job, so you have plenty of time to either accept school housing or find a nice place of your own.