Monkey Abroad

Videos and stories of the life abroad – food, culture, travel & work

Special Thai Project

“Special Thai Project” (ATI) Review


I recently participated in ATI’s Special Thai Project” in Phuket, Thailand to receive a TESOL certification and guaranteed job placement. Here’s my review of the experience.

Special Thai Project

ATI class picture taken on a Saturday morning. We’re all hungover. Another night of Chang beer and cheap Thai whiskey.

First off, it’s real.

Aside from mercilessly spamming TESOL sites like Dave’s ESL Cafe and with ads, ATI doesn’t have a strong web presence. And the presence it does have is disorganized (they have like 15 different websites). My biggest concern when I signed up was whether or not the company was legitimate.

At first it seems there are a few red flags. First you talk to ‘Alex.’ Alex will tell you there are limited spots open, so you’d better sign up ASAP. Classic salesman. The biggest red flag for me was the deposit payment process. You pay on a Paypal site called, which doesn’t really appear to be linked with ATI. If you pay the deposit, and Alex has you baited in, he’ll hand you off to ‘Ron’ and ‘Neil’. They fill you in with more detailed information about the program. The email correspondence is spotty, so it can be frustrating. But they’re only there to help guide you along the document-collecting process. Rest assured, if you’re interested in going with ATI, it’s legit.


To sign up for the “Special Thai Project,” I made an initial deposit of $600. Then right before the course started, I had to pay the remaining balance of $390. For a grand total of $990 USD, ATI provided a 3-week intensive TESOL training course and 3 week’s stay in a decent beachside hotel in Nai Harn, Phuket. The hidden costs are what you have to be weary of: visas, food, taxis, tuk-tuks, school materials, beer, etc. These things add up, and don’t expect ATI to cover the cost. I suggest preparing ahead of time for the miscellaneous crap.

Special Thai Project

Nai Harn Beach. The hotel ATI arranged was practically on the shoreline.


The American TESOL Institute‘s 3-week “Special Thai Project” course was a fantastic experience. By the end of training, I felt much more confident about the idea of teaching a classroom packed full of 45 Thai high school students. ATI covers all different facets of teaching: lesson plans, learning games, cultural do’s & don’ts.

In my opinion, the course primarily helps teachers-in-training develop the intangibles of being a teacher: confidence, classroom poise, improvisational ability, assertiveness, etc. Every school has its own curriculum requirements, so the lesson plan design you study with ATI may just get thrown out the window. Nonetheless it’s still valuable experience.

You’ll learn how to make a game out of pretty much anything. At first, it’s a little awkward. I mean, it’s a room full of acquaintances playing singing and dancing games in groups. But once your classmates and you get to know each other, it’s fun as hell playing ridiculous games all day with 40 other aspiring english teachers.

It’s a lot like being in college again. During the day, you all focus on learning the basics of english teaching. At night, it’s a shit show. Late nights on the beach drinking beer, exploring different bars & restaurants all over Phuket, gossip about the latest hookups and other wild, Real World-esque shenanigans. ATI introduced me to a network of friends that now reside in a variety of Thai provinces. It was worth the cost of training just to befriend so many interesting people from all over the world.

Special Thai Project

This picture was taken at a Thai orphanage. That’s me in the back. You can’t tell, but I’m sweating buckets without A/C.

But it’s not all fun and games. If you opt for the “Special Thai Project”, you’ll learn the basics of lesson plan writing for different age groups and comprehension levels. Once you’ve learned how to create a lesson plan, you’ll practice teaching in front of your peers, then practice in front of actual classrooms.

We taught 1 day at an orphanage, 2 days at a high school, then 1 day at a juvenile delinquent center. The experience was fantastic considering I’d had zero prior teaching experience. The hardest adjustment was the A/C factor. Most Thai schools don’t have air conditioning, and it’s hot as balls in the Land of Smiles.

Whittney Bishop, our instructor, is incredible. Whittney is a stark contrast to ATI’s scattered outward appearance. She’s calm, organized, and overall, an excellent TESOL instructor. She’ll make you feel like you got your money’s worth. She’s a true professional. A teacher’s teacher. Pak, Whittney’s friendly Thai assistant, was very helpful. Pak showed us that it’s possible to teach a foreign language without ever speaking a word of a classroom’s mother tongue.

Special Thai Project

Whittney had no idea this picture was being taken. That’s Pak in the corner.

How ATI works

You get what you pay for with the American TESOL Institute. ATI’s “Special Thai Project” was a real bargain, but you’ve gotta be aware of the overall program structure. ATI only asks for $990 for a 3-week, full-time, intensive training course on the beach in Phuket, Thailand. The catch: you don’t actually become TESOL certified until you complete your training AND a full semester of teaching in the school you’re placed in. That’s made clear in the company’s many contracts that you’ll sign.

ATI partners with a variety of placement companies (either Media Kids, High Value, or Innovative Solutions) which guarantees you a job. I was chosen by Media Kids. Following the 3-week TESOL course in Phuket (if you’re with Media Kids) it’s mandatory that you attend the Media Kids orientation class in Bangkok. It’s kind of a waste of time, but worth it. You’ll get free accommodation and breakfast in Bangkok for 4 days. Who doesn’t love free housing and food? Holla, city of squalla!

In certain TEFL forums, the American TESOL Institute has earned a reputation for placing teachers in less than desirable schools (hence the guaranteed job). That’s subjective – you can enjoy or hate your teaching experience anywhere, depending on your attitude. If you have no experience teaching overseas, you can trust ATI to hold your hand and guide you along the process. ATI might guide you into teaching a classroom of 50 Thai students, but you’ll be employed, experienced, and TESOL certified after one semester.


What if you don’t like the school you’re placed in?

If you decide your placement in isn’t right for you, you have 3 options:

1) Opt out of the placement and forfeit your TESOL certification, having paid only $990 for a 3-week vacation in Phuket.

2) Opt out of the placement and pay an additional $500 USD, receive your TESOL certification immediately following the completion of the course, and find your own teaching job.

3) Opt out of the placement, pay nothing, and try to find a job anyway (because technically it’s not required that you have a TESOL to teach, it just helps significantly).


I would recommend the American TESOL Institute to anybody on a budget interested in obtaining a TESOL certificate. The course is insightful and it provides an outlet for international networking and friendships. It’s also a smooth transition into Thailand for anybody who’s never been to the ‘Land of Smiles’ before. ATI’s “Special Thai Project” was a blast – you won’t regret signing up.

ATI reviews from around the net:

American TESOL Institute (ATI) Review | Paths Unwritten

ATI Special Thai Project Review | All Thai’d Up

American TESOL Institute Review | From Here to There

American TESOL Institute Review (By a Graduate of the Program) | The Katy Holmes

HEY! Find my review helpful? Great! If you plan on signing up for this program, contact me and let me know (I can get a referral fee) 🙂

— FAQ —

I completed the American Tesol Institute (ATI) “Special Thai Project” course in April 2013. Since I posted my review of the experience, I’ve received dozens of emails from folks interested in signing up for the same program. Due to the volume of inquiries, I wrote up this list of frequently asked questions. You may contact me if you have any more questions, but please read the FAQ first.

I’m interesting in signing up. Can I trust ATI?

Yes, The American Tesol Institute is a legitimate company. When you apply, you will talk to Alex first. He is the salesman/recruiter for ATI, so he put a bit of pressure on you to sign up ASAP. Don’t worry, it’s not a scam. He’s just trying to fill all available spots.

How much money should I bring?

Bring at least $2000. The more the better. You can survive with less, but Phuket is expensive. Also, you won’t receive your first paycheck until after a month of teaching. I didn’t get my first salary payment until 2 months after my arrival date.

How much money do you make teaching ESL?

30,000 baht ($1000) per month. I tutor a little on weekends also, so 31,000 total.

Is 30,000 baht/month enough?

Yes, if you’re smart with your money it’s plenty. I’ve been able to save half of my earnings, but I “live like a Thai.” Curious how I’m able to live so frugally?

See my article: 10 Ways to Save a Ton of Money While Living in Thailand.

Did you enter with a tourist visa and then switch to a work visa?

That’s what ATI will suggest you to do. It works just fine, but you’ll eventually have to do a “visa run” and switch it to a work visa (non-immigrant “B” visa).

You can even do a VOA (Visa on Arrival) but you’ll have to do the dreaded “visa run” 30 days after your arrival and change it to a work visa.

I was very lucky. I got a non-immigrant “O” visa before my departure from home, which is typically reserved for people with spouses of Thai nationality. The Thailand Consulate General in Dallas, TX gave me this visa because I told him I wanted to stay in Thailand for a long time. I have no idea how/why I got this visa, but it’s probably the best possible visa because it has very little restrictions.

How much does a visa cost?

Tourist visa will likely cost you about $60. Non-immigrant (work) visa will cost you about $200.

Do you think getting a TESOL certificate from a location in the U.S is ideally better?

See my article: TEFL Certification Online vs. Onsite: Which is Better?

How often are you able to use the internet?

HINT: When you stay at the hotel in Phuket during training, DON’T PAY FOR THE HOTEL’S WI-FI. It’s expensive and doesn’t work. Go to the cafes and restaurants nearby. WiFi there is free and more reliable.

After you finish the course, you’ll have access to Wi-Fi almost everywhere. Internet cafes are on every street corner. You can Skype with family and friends when you get homesick, no problem.

Once I finish training, how long until I start teaching?

I didn’t begin teaching until 10 days after training. Other people in my same training class started 3 days after the course and others had to wait a full month. That depends on your placement.

Where can I stay during my time between training and teaching?

Again, this depends on your placement. My placement company, MediaKids, provided accommodations in Bangkok for 5 nights during this period. Granted, we had to attend a 4 day Thai culture course/training course during that time. The course was a waste of time, but it was worth it because we got to stay in Bangkok for free for 4 days.

If you’re placed in a school that doesn’t need you to start teaching until a month after training, you’ll likely need to fork up the money to pay for a hostel. Depending on where you decide to hunker down, expect to pay between 100 to 300 baht/night. There will be others from your training who will have a similar placement situation so I recommend splitting the cost with a friend you make during the program.

Do you ever hang out with the friends you made during training?

Yes, all the time. We plan trips to various places all over Thailand and meet up. You can take weekend trips as often as you like, pending your tolerance for long hours on public buses.

The best time do arrange meeting with classmates is during Thai holiday weekends. You will have plenty of 3 and 4-day weekends to travel. I once had a 9-day break from teaching because my school hosted a province-wide basketball tournament! I traveled to Bangkok and stayed with friends from the ATI course during that time.

Are you the only teacher at your school from the program?

I’m with one other teacher from ATI, James. We’ve become good friends here since we’re so remote from everybody else in far northern rural Thailand.

Does ATI help you with finding a house or apartment?

Your placement agency will help you find and pay for housing. The American TESOL Institute isn’t a placement company; it’s a TESOL training company. ATI partners with a few different agencies and hands you off to one of them once you finish training.

Depending on where you’re placed, you’ll either have accommodation totally covered, or you’ll be assisted and expected to pay the rest.

How much does your rent cost?

My rent only costs 3,000 baht ($100USD) per month. MediaKids, my agency, pays this fee for me. Understand that I live in rural Thailand and it’s much cheaper to live here than in urban areas like Bangkok and its surrounding suburbs.

What are your average monthly expenses? 

Motorbike – 2,500 baht/month

Utilities – 1,500 baht/month

Food – 5,000 baht/month

Beer – 2,000 baht/month

Travel – 4,000 baht/month

Total: 15,000 baht/month

Do you need an international drivers license to drive a motorbike?

Technically, yes. But I’ve never been stopped by a cop. And even in the off chance that you do get questioned by a cop, it’s really not a problem. Since it’s such a corrupt police system, just be prepared to pay the cop 500 baht and he’ll let you go.

Do you have your own apartment or can you find a room-mate?

I have my own studio apartment. Most people from the ATI course have their own place, too. Your accommodations will be provided, but if you aren’t happy with your living situation you can definitely find your own place.

Do you suggest I switch to an internationally recognized bank such as Chase before I go?

You don’t need a large corporate bank to withdraw money overseas. As long as you have a Visa or MasterCard, you can withdraw money at any international ATM, regardless of the bank. Don’t forget to contact your bank prior to leaving and let them know you’ll be living in Thailand, otherwise they’ll block your account.

How does banking work in Thailand?

I’m not the best person to answer this question. My placement agency, MediaKids, provided me with an ATM card that was linked to a direct deposit account from my teaching salary. They took care of my banking for me.

Would you have chosen to do it another way or with another program?

No I’m very satisfied with my teaching training with the American TESOL Institute.

Which is the best placement company?

As far as I know, ATI partners with 3 placement agencies: MediaKids, High Value and Innovative Solutions.

MediaKids was my placement agency. I believe MediaKids works primarily with rural and small town schools. High Value and Innovative Solutions are more likely to place you in a school within Bangkok or its surrounding suburbs.

All of these companies are good, but if you have a living preference (urban vs. rural), then you need to express that ASAP so ATI can place you with the most fitting agency.

Is it possible to be placed in Chiang Mai?

No. The luxury of the American TESOL Institute is that it guarantees a job following your completion of training. Since everybody in Thailand wants to teach in Chiang Mai, the competition is too fierce to guarantee anything in that city.

If you’re dead-set on it, I suggest completing a semester of teaching where you’re placed. After that, take a bus to Chiang Mai and find a job on your own.

REMEMBER: You’re paying the American TESOL Institute to train you and find a job for you. They take care of all of the complicated stuff so you don’t have to. That’s why you’re paying them! Just relax and trust the system. I did, and it worked out well for me.

American Tesol Institute

American TESOL Institute on-site training in Phuket.

Author: Kevin Cook

I want to inspire you to pursue your own dream of traveling and/or living overseas!


  1. Hey Kevin, when did you decide to teach abroad? I am looking at the Special Thai project and it costs $1590 now instead of $990. Unless there is something I am missing!

    by the way, awesome blog!

    • I decided to teach abroad last November when I paid my initial deposit (then $600) to ATI. That’s odd that the Special Thai Project costs so much more than it did only a few months ago. It might cost that much now due to higher demand? Bummer. If you’ve got the money to sign up, I suggest it. Best decision I ever made.

  2. Thanks for the link forward. Those reviews by Mark Buttweiler and Katy Holmes were helpful when I was looking in to it too.

  3. Hello Kevin, Your blog has been sooo helpful. I am in the process of talking to Alex and getting signed up. I was just concerned that this was a scam and I am really not trying to end up sold into sex slavery…no, seriously. 🙂 I am preparing for the October class in Phuket. Any suggestions while I am in the process? I think I am going to give him the go ahead to sign me up, but just wanted to see if you had anything to add. I was so happy when I saw your post referring to Alex and describing the same “few seats left” drill.


    • Hey Kevin, so they now have a program in October for $800 and am thinking about that. But, Flor I just seen this message and again I am debating on doing the October trip too but am still just on the fence about it. Let me know what you end up doing. Kevin, is there any more insight that you might have?

      • Like I said to Flor, my post pretty much sums it up. If you’re on the fence, I say just sign up. I was a little apprehensive when I signed up, but I did it. Now I’m so happy that I did. It’s better to regret the things you’ve done than the things you haven’t (most of the time)!

      • Hey kc. Sorry for late reply. I went ahead and signed up. Class starts in Oct. Hope to meet you there.

    • Ah a fellow Texan! I’m from D-town.

      Not much to add to my post about ATI. Just know that you’re not getting scammed. It was the best decision of my life to sign up with ATI so you won’t regret it. I’m loving the life abroad.

      Just bring as much money as you can. I’d say at LEAST 2k on the side, after all expenses. It takes about 2 months after arrival before you actually get paid your first paycheck.

      Let me know if you have any more questions. Good luck in October!


      • I’m from Houston…. love Dallas but its been a while since ive been.
        So I did it. Now just have to book my flight. Thanks so much for your advice. I just read your new post about all the details. It is super helpful. I am looking toward to just landing wherever they put me. Figure it is more of an adventure that way. If you need anything from tx like a Chili dog or a whataburger let me know. 🙂 Thx for all your help for all of us newbies.

  4. “Aside from mercilessly spamming TESOL sites like Dave’s ESL Cafe and with ads, ATI doesn’t have a strong web presence”

    Hi, I’m the owner of and don’t really understand what you mean by the above comment? ATI had a listing on the TEFL course training page, along with about 16 other Thailand-based TEFL course providers, but I would never describe that as ‘mercilessly spamming the website’

  5. Howdy from Austin, Texas!
    I am researching places to get certification, since I did not graduate from a college. There are some myths that have been kinds of scary to hear about, but I am Asian (Cambodian to be exact, right next door to Thailand), from your experience, would this be a disadvantage for me since I look like everyone else in the classroom I would be teaching lol? Good reviews so far about ATI, but I am looking to do the Online course only, I assume I’d have to travel and have an immersion period before teaching in an actual classroom…any info would be great to have, since I would be traveling with my fiance – he will not be teaching in what ever country we land in!

    • Howdy neighbor, I’m from Dallas! Interested in teaching overseas too… It may be a challenge for you since you don’t have a degree, but it’s always possible. In China, a private language school will hire you without a degree, no problem. But I don’t know about Thailand.

      As an American of Cambodian descent, you can easily find a job in SE Asia. I worked with Filipino English teachers in Thailand so as long as you speak English as a first language, you’re golden.

      Best of luck on your teaching endeavors, and I do recommend ATI.

  6. Hi Kevin, Logan and Addison here. So we are both interested in the Special Thai Project. I noticed that you said a certain job placement group chose you? We are wondering if we both go is it possible for us to be placed in schools close to one another? Or will we be split up for sure.

  7. Oh yes, if you go together, they’ll place you together. Just request it and it’s as good as done. Tons of schools need 2+ ESL teachers and PREFER to hire couples, etc.

  8. Hi Kevin! – Thanks for this blog. It was extremely helpful!! I have decided to do the program myself and am working on getting everything together to head over in September. I have a question about getting the Visa and booking the flight. I know we are going over with an Immigrant Visa (since we don’t have our school placement yet). However, to get the Visa, you need to show a return ticket. How did you handle that? Did you just buy a refundable return ticket for within 60 days of your Visa? Any advice would be appreciated! Thanks!

  9. Well written article man! From Cleveland and just went through this entire process, Media Kids, rural north Thailand, ect to the T. Ha! Is “north” then considered north eastern or up past Chiang Mai in your experience?

    @Christina – A friend said to purchase a 24-48hr refundable ticket and then cancel? Not sure if this is correct or not…

  10. hi,

    I am an Indian with masters degree in commerce & want to take up English teaching in Thailand.

    What would be chances of getting a JOB for an Indian after completing the course.



  11. Pingback: Review: American TESOL Institute (ATI) Special Thai Projects

  12. Hi Kevin,
    This is a great blog. I am thinking about going ahead with the ATI special Thai program next April.
    I was just wondering how useful their TESOL accreditation had been to you finding your own teaching jobs? And whether you have worked in other countries on the back of this?
    I was concerned that because of the courses unusual structure, it might not be valid in other countries (especially European one’s). Have you found it to be globally accepted?

  13. Hello, is this program only for americans or people with english as their mother tongue?

    I am from Norway, but feel I can communicate well in english, I Worked in schools for some years now and are educated as a “child and teenager worker” (I’m not sure of the title in english) it is not a universety degree, is that needed?

    Love Thailand and would really love to live and work with the fantastic people there.

    Best regards from Norway

  14. hey Kevin – just stumbled across this post and am intrigued. What were the hours like during your training days?

  15. What are your thoughts on getting tefl certified in Greece?

    Also, can you make 1000$ in Thailand with only a TEFL certification?

    • In Thailand, I’m pretty sure you need a bachelor’s degree to be employed. I honestly know nothing about getting certified in Greece, but it’s likely just as legitimate as this program here in Thailand.

Let me know what you think


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