Conditions will vary considerably, probably more than in Europe, depending on country, city size and employer/school. See Teach English Abroad for several excellent and compact country profiles.
Recruiters — individuals or agencies who match candidates to jobs and charge a fee for this to schools and/or candidates — are fairly common in Asia. Some are good, some are bad. Be on the lookout for some handy advice from Tedkarma on this very topic in the near future.
Stories of shady employers in Asia also abound, and while I don’t categorically doubt teacher accounts, I think it is difficult to really know how common this is. To be honest, I don’t think it’s all that surprising that things sometimes go wrong given the risky nature of accepting a job from abroad and making a year-long commitment to an employer from and in another country. That doesn’t mean it’s acceptable…just that it’s an unfortunate part of life and not always an indication of pure evil on behalf of the schools of a country. It pays to do your research and be careful, but also be aware that it would not be difficult for urban legends to proliferate.
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In contrast to Europe, it seems that the possibility to work in a university setting and the chance that you will (have to?) teach children are both greater in Asia. As usual, check out the Dave’s ESL CafÃ© International Job board (as well as the Korea and China boards) and Tefl.com for job listings.
Absolute salary will depends where you go — as will the salary to cost of living ratio. For example, salaries may be similar in Japan and Korea, but due to cost of living, many teachers report that it is easier to save in Korea, sometimes up to $1000 a month. The Jet Program, though, is a well-known (and highly competitive) program in which native speaker teachers work in public middle schools and high schools and for which conditions and pay are generally considered quite good.
Salaries in China and Thailand will often be lower than in Korea and Japan, but you may well still be able to live well there and gain both teaching experience and a unique cultural perspective. Vietnam may be the dark horse of the region, with relatively high salaries compared to low cost of living.
Almost all countries in Asia require teachers to have a bachelor’s degree to get permission to work, though it happens in practice that some employers find a way to hire teacher without this qualification. While TEFL certificates give anyone an edge, you may well also find work without one — and perhaps more easily than you would in many European countries. This may well change as the demand for teachers is met or reduced, but for now there appear to be many positions which need to be filled.