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How to Teach English in Indonesia

Working in the Emerald of the Equator

Typical town in Java, Indonesia.
Typical town in Java, Indonesia.

Despite continued teething problems as Indonesia moves to a democracy, it remains a popular destination for both experienced and newly qualified English language teachers. Why? Could be something to do with an excellent climate, tasty cuisine and warm, friendly locals who have a genuine curiosity about foreigners.

English language teachers living and working in Indonesia have an excellent lifestyle. All reputable employers will offer shared housing with 3-4 other teachers. The teachers live in middle class neighborhoods and tend to have a maid for cooking, cleaning and washing clothes. It takes a little bit of adjustment to having a live-in maid — one has to remember it’s a cultural norm, it provides vital income to Indonesia’s rural community and despite the costs of paying a wage, having a maid makes it cheaper to buy groceries.

Bartering is the norm in Indonesia — a commodity is generally worth whatever the retailer can get for it. Of course supermarkets will have a “harga pas” (fixed price), but it means they are more expensive. As an Indonesian (and usually indigenous to that particular island), your maid will have excellent bartering skills — and more importantly she’ll also have the time to shop around.

When making your own purchases, a sense of humor and a little bit of Javanese (if on Java), can go along way to driving that price down. Anecdotally, I discovered there seemed to be 3 price brackets on Java — 1 for Javanese, 1 for “bule” (white people) and 1 for Chinese Indonesians. In colonial days the Dutch brought Chinese people over to help with administration, consequently many 4th-5th generation Chinese Indonesians hold a lot of economic power which causes some resentment.

Where Are the Jobs?

Pretty much everywhere, with a large concentration on Java — more than half of Indonesia’s 200 million people live on Java and it’s where all the decent Universities are. Getting a position on Bali is never easy and preference is usually given to people in country, especially those who have a proven track record teaching in Indonesia.

I spent 7 years on Java with EF English First, which is the largest chain of language schools in Indonesia and therefore the largest employer. They operate on all the major islands but have the most vacancies on Java and Sumatra. Being so large they have the advantage of career development, such as rising to the position of Director of Studies and beyond.

Visa Requirements

Indonesian’s Immigration Authority has tried to restrict the influx of “backpacker” teachers and has put some controls in place. To have correct working papers, English teachers are now required to have earned a TEFL or TESOL certificate and a BA or BS.

Indonesian’s Immigration Authority will only issue teaching visas to nationals of the UK, Canada, the US, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand — as it has deemed these to be English speaking countries. Employers in Indonesia are restricted by these laws and are by no means discriminating against nationals of other countries.

The schools should process candidates for a working visa and issue a KITAS (Identity Card for foreigners) after registration with the relevant authorities in the city you are working. Unless you live close to an Indonesian embassy, the initial visa is usually processed in Singapore on the way to Indonesia as most schools have agents there who can process the visa quickly.

The Students

English is part of the national curriculum in Indonesia so it is rare that you will have to teach complete beginners. Indonesian uses the Romanized alphabet so there are no difficulties with regards to teaching a new script.

The majority of the teaching takes place at the end of the students’ day — be that after school or after work. Most language schools operating in Indonesian have a high proportion of children and if applying to a school located in a residential area this could mean that up to 50% of a teacher’s workload could involve teaching children (i.e. under 16).

Compared to European teenagers, Indonesian teenagers are well behaved and a pleasure to teach. They tend to embrace English and are particularly interested in our popular culture. Some status is attached to being able to speak English and frequently Indonesian celebrities use a smattering of English to demonstrate how cultured they are when being interviewed by the Indonesian press. This has real advantages as an English language teacher — it’s “cool” to speak English!

Working Conditions

Wages and hours will vary from location to location and from provider to provider. Generally teachers teach about 20-25 hours a week.

Related Topics
Teaching English in Asia
Living in Indonesia: Expatriate Resources
Related Articles
Living Abroad in Indonesia
Inside Tips on Teaching English and Living in Indonesia

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