Teaching English in Bishkek (vs. China)

When I lived in China teaching English on the side was a great way to pay rent.  In 2008 my monthly rent was 700 RMB (about $100) and the going hourly rate for private lessons was 150 RMB ($22 at the time), and lessons were always 2 hours long.  People in China are willing to pay [comparatively] a lot for education, considering that the average salary for recent college grads was then 2000 RMB a month.  The hourly rate in China is still the same (in some places it’s even dropped to 100-120 from the influx of cheap foreigners), but accredited FT teachers can expect to earn about 7,000-12,000 RMB per month in a language training center or public school and 10,000-30,000 RMB (depending on qualifications) at a private or international school. Visa costs, housing allowances  and yearly round trip airfare to your home country are also usually added on by reputable institutions. Considering the low cost of living – a bus ticket is 1-2 RMB, a simple lunch 5-20, rent 1,500-3000 for an entire apartment (outside of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen) – it’s a pretty comfortable salary, and I even saved a lot while working in China.

It’s a different story in Bishkek.  During Soviet times education was standard, public and free.  People still don’t expect to shell out a lot (or even a medium amount) for education, no matter how qualified you are.  I did college guidance counseling (at the international school) in China, and have years of experience editing.  In China that also pays pretty well.  In Bishkek people think this service should be free, and no one is willing to pay for it.  Private tutors are not highly in demand, and most people expect to pay them the same hourly fee

Callan School Bishkek

as local Russian tutors (about 500 som/90 minutes ~$5.44/hr).  I know Americans who have been paid $4 and $6 an hour for private tutoring (though neither of them were qualified teachers).  However, if you set a higher price – and you have qualifications coupled with experience – you may be able to set a higher rate.  When teaching talking club at Manas I was able to negotiate my way to $16/45 minutes (or $26.6/75 minute class) when teaching talking club and $20/hr when teaching private classes to the secretaries working in the administrative center.  This includes preparing classes and going to and from the university for just an hour of class, so the payoff wasn’t really worth the time. Manas is also dishonest, and when I signed my contract for the Talking Club classes I noticed (and the English department apologized profusely) that they had cut the salary we had earlier agreed upon by 25% – three weeks after  began teaching.

However… $20/hr is not really the going rate in Bishkek.  There’s a reason Bishkek has no good English courses: because none of the schools pay enough to attract qualified teachers. Academia Business English, arguably the most professional of language centers in the city, offers about 300-700 som per lesson. The London School in Bishkek pays around $600/month (plus free lodging in the dorms, and maybe a few Russian classes thrown in).  International Language Academy Central Asia (iLAca) pays about $9/75 minute classes and is run by a flexible, friendly American expat. The Callan School pays 500 som/90 minute classes or nothing in exchange for free dorm stay and Russian classes as an “intern”. I’ve heard that American University Central Asia (AUCA) offers about $10 an hour, and they’re often looking for teachers for their summer preparatory program – though more reputable, they often hire teachers only PT – which means no visa support (and I haven’t heard of anyone getting accommodation or airfare allowances).  There are a few more English schools around the city (English Zone, American School, and a dozen others hidden in back alleys of soviet neighborhoods or upper stories of office buildings) and while I’ve heard positive things about English Zone, I don’t know enough about any of them to post salaries or an opinion.  Occasionally the US Embassy also hires qualified EFL Teachers for it’ English Language Program. However, the 2015-2016 SY deadline was in Dec 2014.  If you are a serious, accredited teacher, then you could look into the local international-curriculum schools: Silk Road School, Quality Schools International, Hope Academy, and the European School Central Asia. However, these schools definitely try to hire more long-term and it looks like there are not a lot of vacancies each year.


In short – if you are actually a qualified EFL (or any foreign language) teacher, Bishkek is not a great place to come looking for a job.  You won’t get paid well, and you most lively will have to pay for your own visa and airfare (which can be up to $2,000 a year, depending on how many times you have to renew your visa and where you’re flying from).  If you’re an unexpereinced teacher looking for some adventure after university – same, you’ll get paid more elsewhere.  If, however, you are really keen on coming to the CIS states and need something to cover your in-country expenses, I would recommend looking into London School Bishkek’s internship program (especially if you want a TEFL certificate and Russian classes):

TEFL/ESL program with stipend: Enrollment and visa support procedures; Two weeks of pre-teacher training with followed practical teaching; Discounted Russian/Kyrgyz morning classes; Four working days and 16 hours teaching in a week; Cultural orientation session; Preparation of the students for the internship and monitoring of their evaluation; Assistance and support throughout your placement by school administration; Monthly stipend and free room; Free cultural trips within the country during the internship.

Other than that… the food is better in China, the pay way better in Kazakhstan, and the weather far better anywhere in SE Asia.

If you’re still on the fence, this fantastic video….


6 thoughts on “Teaching English in Bishkek (vs. China)

  1. Pingback: I got a job! (AKA, Don’t Come to Bishkek Looking for Work) | Mountains And the Sea

    • The international schools seem to mostly advertise for foreign teachers on international hiring boards, and thus have to keep wages (and benefits) relatively competitive. I recall seeing an advertisement for one school last fall that listed the salary at 18-26k pounds/year. Pay for local teachers is obviously lower, as they aren’t operating in a competitive employment market within Bishkek.


  2. Public universities aren’t “free” in Kyrgyzstan because students are expected to pay obscene bribes to their professors in order to pass exams and graduate. In Kyrgyzstan, a public education can be very costly


  3. Students are expected to pay bribes if they don’t study and come to the lessons. And public Universities aren’t free, we pay 27k-50k+ a year. Yes, it’s not expensive for you, but not for us. Because the average salary is 12k som ($190). And 500 soms\90 minutes are really good. Because the local teachers earn 6000 soms ($90) per month. Also most of people work 12 hours to get 500 soms. I used to work as seller and earned 300 soms\ 12 hours. Sorry for my English, I’m a local student.


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