Asia is a brilliant destination to either work or volunteer on your gap year. Paid work almost exclusively comes in the form of teaching English as a foreign language – more commonly known as TEFL – and volunteering packages often involve working with animals, the environment or vulnerable people.
Almost every paid job in Asia comes in the form of teaching, which not only can really help boost your budget but also look fantastic on your CV. The bulk of TEFL jobs are in Thailand and China, but it is possible to find work in the rest of Indochina, South Korea, and Singapore.
You're generally expected to have a degree in order to work as an English teacher. But you don't need to speak the native language - you'll be paired with a native teaching assistant, and encouraged to speak entirely in English in order to help the children learn.
You'll also need a TEFL qualification. These are usually obtained in the UK, but you can take the course abroad. There are some schools that will occasionally accept people without a degree or TEFL, but only if they're desperate. Chances are these schools will not be well organised, and you might not have a good experience.
It's worth doing some research before accepting any teaching job abroad. Although chances are you'll be fine, some unscrupulous schools have been known to withhold pay, or terminate your contract early to avoid paying your flights home. It should be easy to look online for people that have held these jobs in the past and see their experiences.
To work in Japan it's likely you'll need an advanced TEFL qualification or higher, as requirements here are generally stricter.
Wages usually aren't high compared to what you would earn in the West, but it's all relative. For example, living costs in China are so low that a teacher can live a very comfortable life on what might at first seem a small wage.
There are abundant opportunities to volunteer in Asia, usually in the South East. It might be working at an elephant camp in Laos, supervising children at an orphanage in Cambodia, or helping to preserve coral reefs in Indonesia.
As with any volunteering project anywhere in the world you should think very carefully about your strengths, weaknesses and natural interests before committing to anything.
If you’d like to volunteer with animals in South East Asia there are lots of projects to choose from. Thailand and Laos are the best countries for volunteering with elephants whereas further south, on the Malaysian side of Borneo, you can volunteer with orangutans and various rehabilitation centres which care for the endangered species.
Cambodia is a popular destination for gappers who want to work with neglected children, many of whom are orphans, and also with landmine victims, of which there are many.
Further south, particularly around Indonesia, there are plenty of opportunities for environmental work, particularly in the form of marine conservation.