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  • Elizabeth Cochran

No problem mentality and working in South East Asia

South East Asia is full of amazing and diverse countries with delicious food and vibrant cultures. It is no wonder so many people wish to holiday here or live here via work, volunteering, or just long term travel. I feel like you could spend months exploring South East Asia and you still wouldn’t see all the beauty there is to see.

I have been living in Thailand for a year and still haven’t even seen all there is to see in Thailand. I had planned to visit other South East Asian countries, however the state of travel in 2020 has halted and my plans are at a standstill. Normally, I would have been able to see much more of Thailand and do my trips around South East Asia. There is still so much time and when this pandemic passes travel will be open again for all with time.

Koh Samui Tree Cafe in Tang Rua Waterfall

Something I have learned from word of mouth and experience, is coming to South East Asia will challenge your patience and you will get a more relaxed way of life. I come from a very work oriented and fast paced country- the USA, and the way of life is so different compared to that of South East Asia. I am an expat here for one year in Thailand and the “mai bpen rai” no problem lifestyle has made it into my daily vocabulary. As a teacher, this is the most important thing to keep in mind as lessons change, announcements are unannounced, and the unavoidable visa obstacles.

If you are a tourist, visas are much easier actually. It depends on your nationality, but I know traveling all around South East Asia is really easy and that is why backpacking around here is so popular. If you are wanting to immerse yourself and take time in each country, like how I am doing in Thailand, then the visa options you have are work visa (non-immigrant B).

The visa process for a work visa is something you cannot prepare for (mentally) and truthfully you cannot expect for it to be a simple process either. The policies for documents needed via your school change frequently. You will need to apply for a work visa via a “visa run” (suc as Laos or Malaysia) at the Thai embassy and after you obtain your work visa then you can apply for your work permit in Thailand. It takes one to two months to get your work visa and another month usually for your work permit. That means it takes around 3 months to get your work visa and work permit. However, it is pretty common that you have complications along the way. A common one is doing a visa run and not having the correct documents to apply for your work visa. This happens very often and it is what it is. The thing that makes it a hassle is you went all the way to Laos or Malaysia and still don’t have your visa for Thailand to work legally. It is pretty rare you get a work visa before entering Thailand from your country, but it is indeed possible. Once you get your work visa, Thailand wants you to renew it very often, the visa is not valid for long, so you will pay to extend again and turn in more documents again. Every 90 days you must do your 90 day check in report to immigration. Thailand and getting a visa is a process and is never ending too, the process never ends for a person working in Thailand for ESL.

If you want to know more about my personal story with this keep reading, its more about visa stories in Thailand.

I have had visa issues the whole time whilst in Thailand essentially. It was never a smooth process and what I learned on arriving is sometimes the visa makes your decision on what job you will have rather than you. You learn to go with the flow more and hope for the best. Follow the orders of the school, double check the documents needed to apply, and hope it will go okay. I had a time where I went to Laos and did not have the correct documents, a couple were missing and stamps on some papers too. I had gone to apply in Laos for Thai work visa and was denied. I went back to tourist visa and then still didn’t have any progress with my work visa at this school, my agency Echo didn’t help me through this process so I looked for work elsewhere. I moved to the South on an island at a school there and got my visa sorted smoothly with them. I was lucky with that!

Covid then hit and my school shut, then they were low on funds and bye bye to that school. Also, no pay during the pandemic. I know some teachers were paid their salary regardless that the school was closed, I was not so lucky with that. However, I knew that the need for teachers was still high so I stuck around rather than trying to sort a life again back in the States during economic crisis. It was a hard decision to make and I was right teachers are needed badly here.

During the pandemic, Thailand had granted all visa holders in the country an automatic extension no questions. This is the visa amnesty, which I am on now. The government would give us all a month, then announce a couple days before the month was up you get another month, and you can see the theme here. Last minute is there style.

I found employment easy and am back at the rural school a couple hours outside of Bangkok. I am struggling once again with my visa and am not surprised. I will say though the whole visa process and being amidst a global pandemic this is not fun and is more anxiety provoking than before because the bordering countries are not open for visa runs. It’s disheartening because thousands of teachers in Thailand are in the same situation that immigration says you cannot apply for your visa do a visa run, but thats impossible at the moment.

I am having terrible visa issues currently and have had to go back and forth to Samui and Nakhon Pathom and trips to Bangkok. It has been hard to sort my documents and immigration isn’t necessarily just granting people the working visa’s they wish to have. I know this is out of my control and am doing my part of going to the immigration offices, I have my own documents, and am just waiting for them to get the documents sorted from the current and previous school.

The biggest thing I have overcame with teaching in Thailand would have to be that things don’t always work out how you wish. I hadn’t planned to move around Thailand so much from Bangkok, to rural Thailand ok Nakhon Pathom, to the Southern Islands in Koh Samui and then back again to Nakhon Pathom, but it did. And because of it I have gotten to meet lots of different people, the different areas of Thailand, and live in a very local place and live in a very touristy place.

A year later and I didn’t realize how much time had passed, but I am still here and I am proud of my resilience with the visa process, my willingness to want to keep on teaching here, and my openness of moving all around. I experienced working in a government school, a language center, and an International school.

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