Options for working in Southeast Asia

Options for working in Southeast Asia

While there is scope to work in Southeast Asia in order to prolong your trip, much of what is offered is illegal and the pay poor. We’re breaking this out into three sections: legal, illegal and somewhere in between.

Planning categories

Legal work

Most of the legal work opportunities you’ll find in Southeast Asia will be full-time jobs meaning, well, you won’t be travelling much. If you’re after casual work, you’ll want to scroll down to illegal work.

If you’re a native English speaker (or sometimes even not), teaching English is probably the most common route for those who decide to work and save. Two other popular options include working in the dive industry, and getting into the media via a sub-editing kind of role. Other professional angles include business development, a plethora of jobs in the digital area and even working in a call centre.

While you’ll be getting a regular pay cheque with these jobs, it may not be very big. Teachers often work five and a half days a week, leaving little time for travel, and while working as a dive master means you’ll be diving all the time, you’ll have precious time for little else.

If you are considering working long term in Southeast Asia, bear in mind that companies pay expatriates hired in their home countries far more than their locally engaged personnel, and more than local companies. This means an overseas recruited teacher at an international school in Bangkok will be paid far more than a locally engaged foreign teacher at a local school. Look at your skill set, get your paperwork in order and sometimes applying from overseas can pay significant benefits.

Be warned: Organising your work visa and work permit can be expensive and extremely time consuming, with fickle, frequently changing rules and regulations.

Sometimes it is easier, and wiser, to just to save up more before you leave—unless you plan to live long-term in the region.

Illegal work

There are no shortage of illegal work opportunities in Southeast Asia, from holding up a bar a few nights a week to handing out hostel flyers at the bus station. If you’re caught you may well be jailed and/or deported. The pay or payment in kind will be low, often very low—to the point of there not being any. This is fine if you’re happy taking the risk and kicking around on a bar on Ko Pha Ngan for a season in return for bed and board, but you generally won't save money. It's important to realise it for what it is.

Many countries in Southeast Asia have a list of jobs that foreigners are not permitted to do—tour guide is a common one. If you’re caught working as a tour guide, however informally, you may well be detained and/or deported.

Somewhere in between

With the growth of the internet and remote working, an increasing number of people are choosing to not quit their job at home and rather continue to work while on the road. In theory, this is no different to a CEO checking and answering their email while laying poolside in Thailand—that’s work, right?

In practice this is legally a very grey area. We would recommend against jumping up and proclaiming you are a remote worker when immigration walks into your favourite co-working station. Legality aside, this is a growing phenomenon. If you choose to undertake it, we recommend keeping a low profile.

Further reading

Planning well is an integral part of getting the most out of your trip. Be it picking the right backpack, the right vaccinations or the right country, the simple decisions are often the most important.

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