This question deserves its own post because there's a lot of misinformation surrounding it.
I have answered this question in reply to various comments around the blog, but think it's important to clear this up so that people wanting to teach in Thailand, who don't have a degree, know where they stand.
The short answer is yes, you can teach in Thailand without a degree.
Over the years I have met numerous teachers, many who have been teaching for 10, 15 and even 20 years in Thailand without a degree. And they have no trouble staying employed.
So why do people say it is illegal to teach in Thailand without a degree?
Why do people say that to do so you would have to work for a school without a work permit or proper paperwork?
What the Law Says About Degrees
It is true that the law states that schools are not allowed to sponsor the work permits of foreign nationals who do not have a degree.
So then, how are all these teachers teaching without a degree?
Well, like many areas of law, there are a number of loopholes that can be exploited.
1. The first loophole is that a school can classify a teacher as a “classroom assistant”.
In many cases this is not technically untrue, because although the teacher is working full-time, he/she is part of an English program that is assisting the other teachers in teaching children English.
So, for example, an English teacher may be employed to teach English to a number of form classes belonging to other teachers, and therefore the foreign English teacher can be classified as an assistant.
Even if this is not absolutely the case, it is unlikely that a government official is ever going to visit the school and investigate this matter. The point here is that the word assistant is broad and can be interpreted in a number of ways.
2. The second loophole is that teachers without a degree can find employment through agencies. Indeed, a large majority of those who end up teaching in Thailand do go through agencies.
Agencies actively advertise and recruit teachers, often through job boards such as my own. The reason an agency can recruit the teacher without a degree is because an agency is a non-formal school.
The law only stipulates that a formal, government school cannot sponsor the work permit of a foreign English teacher without a degree.
So the agency can provide the job offer letter required to obtain the non-immigrant B Visa, and the subsequent work permit. The agency then subcontracts the teacher out to a formal school.
A Lack of Teachers
The reality is that Thailand cannot afford to be picky and solely employ teachers with degrees. The reason for this is because the demand for foreign English teachers is very high.
In the big cities of Bangkok, Chang Mai, Phuket, and Khon Kaen, parents are willing to pay extra to get their children into classrooms led by foreign English teachers and schools that provide an English program.
There simply isn't enough teachers to meet the demand.
Thailand has a very immediate need to better its overall grasp of the English language to compete in the worldwide economy.
So if you don't have a degree, you might have to go through an agency, but this is not going to prevent you from getting a job.
If you have a TEFL certificate, and you are polite and enthusiastic and want a job, the likelihood is you are going to get one.
every single week there are jobs published on my job board seeking English teachers, particularly for native speakers from the UK, US, Australia, and New Zealand.
If you meet the requirements and the school has an urgent need, then you will get the job.
In many cases one of the requirements is a degree, but this is often waived if the school is hiring for an agency and thinks the candidate is suitable.
=> Your Next Read: The Beginner's Guide to Teaching in Thailand
Is a Degree Really Necessary?
I think a degree serves as a good barrier for entry, so that you don't just get any Tom, Dick, or Harry applying for a position, but at the same time I don't think it's really necessary.
If a person isn't up to the job and is a bad teacher, the school will replace that person. A problematic person won't last long in a Thai school.
Moreover, a degree from a western country doesn't necessarily prepare you in anyway to teach children in a classroom setting in rural Thailand.
Okay, if you have a teaching degree, or some other degree relating to working with children, that's a different story.
Me, I have a degree in commercial music. This is not going to help me teach grammar rules to children. I would still need to do a TEFL certification and have some pre-job and on-the-job training to ensure that I am delivering the correct lessons in a way that is optimal for the children.
There are TEFL courses held in Thailand that not only provide a TEFL certification but also provide in-class training to prepare teachers for teaching children in Thailand.
So before you enter the classroom you have a grasp on the environment, the culture, the kind of children you can expect to interact with and their level of understanding of English.
It's my opinion that the government is well aware of the loopholes and help people get around teaching without a degree, but they don't bother challenging this with the agencies and the schools because they understand that the demand outstrips the supply and that they would risk losing a lot of good teachers who don't have degrees.
Glad we have cleared that up.