There are some but not many differences between being an ALT and a JET-ALT. The job description is identical in nearly every case because an ALT of any kind always works for a local school board (B.O.E.). However there are some key things that are important to understand between JET-ALT and ALT Dispatch
Salary & Hours: ALT’s from dispatch companies will have lower salaries but will generally be more able to get away with less overall participation at the school. Less “volunteer” time, leaving early if there is a school wide meeting. JET-ALTs are typically required to be at the school if there are teachers there. A JET-ALT’s schedule is less flexible but that isn’t set in stone. In most cases the schedules will be vary similar between JETs and non-JET-ALTs. The magical 29.5 hour limit is not a government practice so JETs do typically work longer hours. Some ALT dispatch companies will manage an ALT that works directly for the school board; in this case the ALT has similar restrictions to that of a JET when it comes to vacation and working hours.
Vacation: Vacation is a major difference between JETs and ALT dispatches. ALT dispatchers typically will pay half of the normal salary for either August or September. JETs have the same salary every month but have far fewer total vacation days. JETs are given eighteen to twenty vacation days to start with and are encouraged to use them when school is out of session. During summer, the JET program also offers a two week “study holiday” that can be taken without affecting your vacation time. On top of that JET ALT’s are allowed to roll their vacation over if they don’t use it all in the previous year. The dispatch companies will be more flexible with vacation in general but not fully paid. JETs generally have more restrictions but a more consistent salary. Also, if you work at a junior high school you may be asked to spend some of your summer vacation at helping prepare the students for their big English speech contest. However, a dispatch ALT at an elementary school could have up to five weeks off in summer alone.
Getting Hired: The JET program is very competitive but also has the most spots of any ALT position in Japan. Interac is the second largest and the only private nation-wide private provider of ALT’s. The JET program also offers the most consistent contracts. JETs have a five year term limit placed on their visas but JET jobs are pretty much a guarantee. ALT jobs from dispatch companies may be there one year and then be undercut the next year by a different company forcing you to look elsewhere if you want to stay in Japan.
Support Network: Because JET has the most ALTs, the support network is the best among the teachers (I linked a few examples of the teacher networks). Also, even though the government can be trying to work with here in Japan, the JET program isn’t concerned about a bottom line, just making sure the school board is happy. With this, the JET program is also more likely to offer benefits that wouldn’t likely be available with an ALT dispatch company. Nothing is the same throughout Japan. Some JETs have their housing subsidized, some don’t. Some get free parking, some don’t. It really depends on the contract and the area. ALT dispatch companies are less likely to offer those benefits because it cuts into their profit but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.
Timeline: While getting signed on with an ALT dispatch, particularly a smaller one is quick, the JET program can take six months to a year and you also have to be in your home country in order to do the interview. ALT dispatch interviews are typically done via Skype or Facetime and are also a benefit since they’ll hire those already in Japan. If you are coming from outside of Japan, getting here before your visa is ready might cost you round trip airfare that you will not be able to redeem. JET interviews must be conducted in your home country (I have no idea why this is the case, but it is, and its stupid). A US citizen already in Japan that wants to apply for the JET program can do the interview in Guam since it is a US protectorate. Either way you’re spending money on a flight for a job that you might not get.
Ultimately we ended up with an ALT dispatch company but aside from a few minor complaints it was probably the best fit for us. Given our timeline JET just wouldn’t have worked for us but if I did it over again I would go for the JET program. Given that you have the time and are not in Japan already, the JET program is probably the safest and most assured way to give you an excellent experience teaching English in Japan. As shown in our previous post about ALT vs eikaiwa, we feel that being an ALT of any stripe is a better general choice, but choosing between JET and ALT dispatch is less obvious. Make a list of your priorities and see which job lines up better. You can look at our posts about “The reality of being and ALT,” and “A day in the life – ALT.” (COMING SOON!) As always, you can check our Lessons Learned page for everything we’ve published about teaching.
I am not the all seeing eye of Sauron so if something “isn’t right” in this blog post, feel free to email me or leave a comment. The fact is, we keep learning as we go and the environment for ALT’s in Japan is a complex one. It generated four separate posts for just one issue. That being said, the most consistent thing I have heard about teaching positions in Japan is that they are inconsistent. It seems that no two contracts are a like. If you have a different experience or information to add, please do so.
If you have any questions don’t hesitate to email us, we’ll be happy to answer as best we can.