Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Better Know a Language School: Gaba

I'm stateside for a few months after spending the last of my money in New Zealand. Therefore, what else should I try to do but return to a country with a high cost of living (but probably more jobs, too)?

Back to Japan and Gaijinpot job searches. Ideally, I'd like to be placed in Hokkaido or Tohoku, but something in me wants to try life in Tokyo. Maybe it wouldn't help my Japanese skills, being in a big city clearly so used to dealing with foreigners, but in terms of employment, I'd have more flexibility with freelance jobs, and a better chance at staying connected with my other interests: international travel, acting, and writing.

There still remained the problem of a working visa.

I had given up my Japanese residency in June 2008, when I disembarked at Osaka International Ferry Terminal (how many working visa holders have left by ferry, I wonder?) for Shanghai. No chance of simply picking up where I left off. I'd have to find a new company, interview over Skype, and begin the ritual paperwork process. And where, one might ask, is my attention focused?

Gaba One-to-One English looked appealing at first; they seem to be one of the only language schools that let teachers set their own schedules and still offer visas (as sponsorship requires 250,000 Yen/month salary and a minimum number of working hours). I did a preliminary interview via Skype this evening after sending in my resume and came up with the following:

1. The school is more of a tutoring company. You post your profile with your interests and specialties, and students sign up for one-on-one "classes" of their choosing. This is an advantage to students: they get exactly what they pay for.

2. Gaba is not for those who enjoy playing by the rules. They place teachers as independent contractors (itaru gyomu) and thus "circumvent" certain areas expected by those wanting to work in Japan.

- Transportation is NOT paid
- They do not provide Employee Health Insurance and Pension; of course, you need to sign up for the National Health Insurance and Pension as a matter of law
- No paid training
- No paid holidays
- Housing is your responsibility (in other words, key money)
- If a student cancels within 24 hours, you are still paid for the class, but you must wait in the designated area rather than leaving or working in the office. In other words, they want you to waste your time for money.

Check out this table on the Gaba Union page for comparisons with eikaiwa.

3. Despite what you see on other forums, Gaba does offer visa sponsorship. They usually have working holiday visa holders come in on 6-month contracts, but when an American comes in, they can offer consecutive contracts to fulfill the government requirement. Still a little sketchy.

4. I'll probably still opt to work there. Gaba is the only place I know that will offer both flexibility and visa sponsorship. Since I'll be listed as an independent contractor on my work visa, I can legally work anywhere else (though I heard the company asks you sign a contract stating they are your primary source of income... would probably be true in any case). I can completely understand job seekers not wanting to apply here, though (one man's interview). Are there any Gaba teachers reading this who took the company up on their offer, ditched, and applied to a more stable eikaiwa? Just curious. I'd love to hear from some Gaba teachers currently in the Kanto region.

Gaba General Union

Read this blog and thought the school had a good point on taboo topics in an ESL class: War, Religion, Age, Politics, Sex, Culture.


Anonymous said...

GABA is a scam. They pay you 1,500 a lesson before you "belt up" and charge the student 8,000. To "belt up" you have to take their training courses and pass the tests without pay. They DO NOT offer salary to independent contractor. If students don't like you, you don't teach and don't make money. Gaba won't tell you any of this until you are in Tokyo for the formal interview process which takes three to ten meetings.

Cube said...

Try Berlitz. Visa sponsorship; guaranteed working hours with the option to pick up additional/extra lessons; and you don't have to stay at the school if the student cancels the lesson (especially good if that canceled lesson was the last lesson of your day). Plus, they have a decent teaching system and there is an opportunity to make extra money if the students request your lessons. Finally, paid holidays, health insurance coverage all make for a very decent experience.

Anonymous said...

Dude, GABA is one of the worst places to work in the world.

Anonymous said...

When I joined Aeon, my predocessor had been at Aeon for year and a half. They decided to join Gaba to get the flexibity of schedule in order to study Japanese more. Gaba screwed her over horribly, as its very difficult to make yourself stand out amongst the other teachers, and until you start getting students, your not making the money you need. She had to give up and move back to America within 3 months.

Meanwhile, Ive been with Aeon now for 3 years and love the insurance coverage, the working conditions, the pay increases, and gifts from appreciative students.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about English schools, though my wife goes to Gaba. She quite likes a few of the teachers there. But if you're interested in learning Japanese and not spending a fortune on housing and food, consider the suburbs of the east side of Tokyo. Very convenient for transportation (can be anywhere in Tokyo with one transfer) and prices here are very reasonable. Not to mention, there aren't many English-speaking foreigners here so the chances to speak Japanese will have greatly increased.

Anonymous said...

I've worked for GABA after I worked at AEON. It was a nice place to work but like another anonymous said, you get screwed in the end. They don't really pay you much for the time you put in and after working at a place like AEON where everything is rather easy on the foreigner, GABA you really gotta work hard to get students to like you. Otherwise you don't get paid. I don't think that'd be hard for a person like you, but you'll get tired of bending over backwards for your customers reeeal fast. I lasted 6 months there (after being with AEON for 2 years) before I burned out and returned back to Texas with virtually no money in my pocket even despite having fully booked teaching schedules. Getting them to sponsor your visa is a big PiTA too. Keep GABA as an absolute last backup only. MHO.

sakurazero said...

Have you thought about Korea at all? I'm in the hiring process for YBM ECC (they want to place me in Seoul) and it seems like a great deal. Especially since airfare (roundtrip) and rent is paid by them. Also, it's just a short ferry ride to Japan! Interview consists of a short phone call only.

Anonymous said...

I've worked for Gaba part time for several years. It's not a scam- they tell you upfront what they will pay you, and that you are not guaranteed lessons, so anyone who thinks that they are getting a guaranteed salary really didn't do any basic research. It is actually a pleasant place to work- something I really like is that provided you get no complaints management leaves you alone- no observations, no sales unless you want to be in sales, motivated students, tidy schools, all of which is a lot more than I can say for other eikaiwas I worked at.

I never had to bend over backwards to get students to "like me", I just did my job and they booked my lessons. Not a lot of effort on my part at all really- it's an easy, low stress job.

You have a few points wrong in your post- it's not mainly people on working holiday visas who work there, there are a lot of people on spouse visas (including me- these are probably the majority), dependent visas, student visas and also a surprising number of Japanese nationals who are also native English speakers.

If a lesson is cancelled within 24 hours you are expected to do other work if you want to be paid- checking spelling in the students' online vocab lists, writing birthday cards etc. If you do want to leave rather than do that kind of thing you can ask the staff to cancel the lesson and then you can, but most people are happy to be paid for doing very little.

I don't recommend it as a full time thing because the pay is not guaranteed. People wanting a fixed schedule, fixed salary, benefits etc should not consider working for Gaba. If someone does work for Gaba and doesn't get enough lessons they cannot say they were "screwed over" because Gaba never promised them a guaranteed salary. If someone is paying any attention at all they will realise this right from the outset.

I work part time for a Japanese public relations company and do freelance proofreading among other things, so I work at Gaba when I'm less busy with my other jobs. It's great being able to put in a schedule for whenever I want to work (usually a few half days a month, mostly in the morning) and earn some extra money, even if the pay is not great at my "belt" level. My schedules are 90%-100% full most days- it's really not that hard.

I know guys with families here who have been there a few years who are now on the higher "belt" levels- they are earning over 3,000 yen an hour, have almost full schedules, and you could not pry them out of their jobs with a crowbar. Sure, there is no transport reimbursement and no paid holidays, but the fact that there are able to choose when they want to work more than makes up for that.

Anonymous said...

I am currently working for Gaba and it is by far the most abusive job I have ever had. NO ONE makes anything close to 3,000yen/hour like a previous poster stated. They never stop harassing you no matter how positive your student evaluations get (mine are almost all 5 stars).
You can not pick what ever schedule you want as they claim in the hiring process. If you don't work the hours they want, you will be put on stand-by status most of the time and it is guaranteed you will not get your contract renewed.
We were warned against union involvement as well recently.

Anonymous said...

Who warned you against union involvement? As of December 2009 the Gaba branch of the General Union is protected by trade union law. That means they can't discriminate against union members or interfere in union activity. All thats left is to join it and demand our conditions are improved. Gaba is abusive. Its an abuse of the Itaku status. We are not sub contractors. Most people work near full time schedules at a designated workplace under the directives of management. That is not Itaku and we are entitled to benefits. And every time a company is abusive and unethical, you don't just leave them and find something better. That encourages other companies to do the same thing. At some point you have to improve the working conditions. That's what unions are for.

Adrian Ringin said...

Hello all,
Gaba has both good and bad points. There is a large amount of flexibility in choosing your schedule, and it is possible to make up to 2200 yen per 40 minute lesson (3300 yen per hour) at the highest pay rate.

The problem is that only booked lessons are paid for, and that the highest pay rate is basically impossible to achieve. The company has capped the numbers of instructors who can be paid that. Even getting a basic raise beyond the 1500 yen base rate is very difficult these days. And for those who were fortunate enough to get a pay raise before, things are not rosy either. The company has cut many instructors' pay over the last year.

Many of these issues were covered in a recent Japan Times article.

Best regards,

Adrian Ringin,
Treasurer, General Union, Gaba branch

John said...

What Adrian and others have said is true. GABA is a scam. They recruited me from overseas and "sponsored" my VISA. They send you this letter and have you hand it off to the Japanese Consulate immigration (where you go to get your certificate of eligibility) in your home country.

When you get there they tell you the real story: You are NOT promised any base income per month. You are not promised lessons. If you get a negative feedback from a "client" (not a student) then you're going to get punished for it. I know one guy that got so sick he couldn't speak and GABA cut his schedule down to almost nothing.

The first comment is dead on. GABA has changed their recruitment process slightly. I had 2 interviews in America and 0 in Japan to "work" for GABA. If you like being a salesman and thrive in an abusive work environment and you like writing post cards to students, then GABA is for you.

Otherwise steer clear of these jokers. I'm lucky because I was able to escape GABA after only a few months, but it was the worst job I've ever had.

Anonymous said...

....."Gaba has both good and bad points. There is a large amount of flexibility in choosing your schedule, and it is possible to make up to 2200 yen per 40 minute lesson (3300 yen per hour) at the highest pay rate." ****WRONG****
You are unlikely to ever earn 2,200 Yen a lesson at GABA, about the best you can hope for is 1,700 Yen, as of August 2011 only 13 (Out of over 900 teachers) were making 2,200 Yen a lesson, the majority 549 teachers were making 1,500 Yen. See full details at

Anonymous said...

I came over on a visa sponsorship, figured it was the easiest way to get into Japan because I worked for GABA previously. They gave me the third degree at every possible turn, requiring me to pay for a background check before finally sponsoring the visa.

When I arrived, I had trouble setting up an apartment and arrived late to (one of three unpaid, 8-hour days) certification. After the day was over, I was gently taken aside and told my contract was terminated for arriving late. It was a bizarre meeting, when pushed, I received a hint at the real reason: GABA was entering the slow months now and hired too many instructors, while they had been begging me to come over earlier in the year.

At any rate, if you're lucky enough to get a visa and get dumped by these guys, you have three months to find a job with someone and have them report it to the Immigration bureau. The visa is "inactive" during this time, but valid, and becomes "active" once the bureau has proof of your employment. The company does not need to sponsor the visa.

GABA kind of screwed me, but leaving me with the working visa was a blessing. I'm not sure of an easier way to get a visa and then transfer it to a company that pays well but refuses to sponsor overseas applicants.

If you are a native speaker of english, private work or work at a better school is not at all hard to find. Leave GABA to those who really cannot do any better, there are plenty of better eikaiwas out there.

mike said...

I didn't work at GABA but went through the interview process, from the date of my first interview till I got a reply the process lasted 31 days (You can read my full story at In the long intervals between interviews I used the time to check more details about GABA - the Internet turned up a gold mine of negative reviews !
I also had an interview at another school run by a gentleman that was an ex-teacher at GABA, he had nothing good to say about GABA, apart from their flexible work schedule.
I was left with the feeling that the organization has a habitual pattern of lack of respect and disregard for a persons dignity.
I still don't have a job :(

WuTangShogun said...

Last time I worked in Japan, for ECC, they hooked up my visa before I ever got there. Wouldn't it be possible to get the visa from GABA and then get a real job either before or soon after arriving. It's not like they have any way to withdraw your visa once its in your passport, right?

Turner said...

You are correct, but you would still have to go down to immigration and change your visa status, whether you were doing private lessons or signing with a different company.

Anonymous said...

I just read this article about a GABA teacher. He seems to be doing ok in Tokyo. No mention of any visa problems. It just goes into what he does with his non-GABA time.

Nkeller said...

Hi, I was applying to Gaba, other companies in Japan, and a few in Korea. One question I have is: What is the background check that Gaba requires? For my Korean background checks there is a long drawn out process of getting apostilled FBI checks, and I wonder if the Japanese ones are a more simpler background check, or the same. I suppose it won't matter as my Korean check could be used with any job, but good to know what is required since I cannot find the specifics.

Anonymous said...

Message to Nkeller: No checks like that here in Japan - you'll have to show your passport and your visa, and your CV/resume then go through the interview process. Unless you specifically need a job with a flexible schedule (Even this point of GABA is over rathed) you can find much better places to work. Good luck

Anonymous said...

I worked at GABA for a number of years - simply because the scheduling was so convenient.

There are many downsides, however. Don't be fooled by promises of belting (payrise ) - your school has a limit on the number of beatings per moth/quarter, and the decision comes down your local manager who will most likely be biased towards teachers who do more than 200 lessons per month. Since most teachers have other things going on (private work, university, Japanese language school) a lot of teachers have to wait a very long time to receive long overdue payrises.

Also, almost every student complaint is upheld and teachers will be held completely responsible even in the most ridiculous f circumstances. GABA does not consider that misunderstanding due to lack of language ability is possible. Simply put, you are wrong, and this counts against you too for belting.

Would I recommend GABA? Not a chance. My only regret is putting up with them for so long. Do yourself a favour, and give them the widest berth ever.

Lin Ein said...

Dear all, thanks for all your comments.

Sounds like a nightmare to me. I am writing from Singapore where they are recruiting teachers in Aug, 2014. I'll just go and find out more.

Anonymous said...

I work for Gaba now and it is the pits!! I am just slightly above poverty level. DO NOT WORK AT GABA!!