Each year, Americans travel abroad to teach English and other subjects at international schools. They are delighted to embark on an adventure and cannot wait to travel abroad. Many step into their new role without fully understanding some of the finer details of life as an expat. Before signing an international teaching contract, prospective teachers should gather as much information as possible.
The following eight tips will help you prepare for your international teaching endeavor.
The international teaching contract should specify the terms of the compensation. Do you know the answers to these compensation related questions?
- Is the salary a fixed fee or is it based on the current exchange rate?
- How often will you be paid?
- Will you be paid in the local currency or in American dollars?
- Where will the money be deposited?
- If the money is paid in the foreign country, what steps will need to be taken to set up a foreign bank account?
- Are there any additional fees when transferring money back to the U.S. and/or is there a mandatory wait time for the transfer of funds?
- Is there a limit to the amount of money that can be transferred in one transaction?
- Does your salary have tax-exempt status in the U.S. and in the foreign country?
- If you choose to break the contract for a good cause, is your earned salary penalized?
- Will you be compensated the same as the local teachers? (Negative attitudes toward foreign teachers can be an issue when there is a disparity in salaries.)
As an expat, you will most likely need to obtain a work visa prior to leaving the U.S. Do you know the ins and outs of the process?
- Is a work visa necessary?
- How long does the process normally take?
- Who will be paying the fees?
- Will anyone be providing assistance during the application process or is it your responsibility to complete and submit the paperwork?
- If you encounter any issues obtaining a work visa, are you on your own to resolve the problem or is there someone who will step in to help?
Housing and Food
International teachers live in a wide range of accommodations and eat a variety of foods. What do you know about your living and eating arrangements? Is your room and board part of your international teaching contract?
- Will you be living on or off campus?
- Are you responsible for arranging your own housing or is it part of your contract?
- If you need to find your own housing, do you know the local customs regarding rental property and whether there are any difficulties finding rental units near the school? (Examples: average length of leases, hefty safety deposits of up to a year of rent payments, limitations on renting to single women, etc.)
- If housing is part of your contract, what is the size of the room and what is included?
- Can you stay in the campus housing when school is not in session?
- Will you be sharing the space with other people?
- Are there any additional duties tied to living on campus?
- Can teachers eat food in the school’s cafeteria?
- What type of food is served?
- Are western options available?
- Are there any restaurants and grocery stores nearby?
- What is the source of your drinking water? Is it safe?
Each country presents a different environment. In some instances the standard of living may require certain precautions. Are you medically prepared for your new home?
- Will you need special inoculations before departing the U.S.?
- If you require daily medicine, can you obtain the medicine in your new location or will you need to bring an adequate supply?
- If dysentery, e-coli, and/or other GI related illnesses are likely, have you made arrangements to bring a supply of appropriate medicines?
- Are there any over-the-counter medicines that aren’t available in the foreign country?
Health Insurance and Medical Care
Health care will be covered in countries that offer socialized medicine. The range of health care will vary from country to country and city to city. Since no one knows what may happen in the future, do you know how your health care will be handled in the event of an accident or illness?
- Do your benefits include health insurance?
- Is there an additional fee to get coverage?
- What are the exact terms of the coverage? (Insurance in other countries can be very different from the U.S.)
- Does the school have a nurse or doctor on staff?
- How far away is the closest hospital and/or doctors?
Moving to another country can be expensive. Who will be paying for the hefty items that may eat away at your salary?
- Who is paying for your airplane ticket to and from your new location?
- Do you have any input into the routing of your flights?
- If your contract is for longer than a year, is there any compensation for returning home after the first year?
- If you exceed the airline’s weight limitation on luggage or ship some of your stuff, does the contract include reimbursement for any of these costs?
Curriculum & Responsibilities
Everyone is thrilled when they are offered a new position. Don’t let the excitement catch you off guard. Does your international teaching contract or other written documentations explain your job?
- Do you know what topics that you will be teaching and the texts/materials that are available?
- Will you be teaching solo, co-teaching, or under the supervision of a local teacher?
- How many hours per day will you be teaching?
- Will you need to work on the weekends?
- Will you be provided any training?
- Does the school offer an orientation for teachers?
- Will there be other expats? If so, do you know their countries of origin?
- Will you have any non-teaching responsibilities?
Some like to live life on the edge. But when you’re outside your normal comfort zone, it’s advisable to have a heads up of unfamiliar dangers. What situations would make you feel unsafe?
- If you’re a woman, is it safe to walk alone or at night?
- Are there any local issues that may cause potential safety issues? (Riots among disputing groups, wild animals, school located in a high crime area, etc.)
- Does the local population have favorable or biased views about American citizens?
- Does the campus have security personnel?
- Is it an open campus or are visitors scrutinized?
- If you live on campus, who has a key to your room and is there a place to lock up your valuables?
- Have you registered as a Smart Traveler with the U.S. Department of State?
Each expat teaching situation will present its own unique set of questions. The above topics with corresponding questions are a starting point for research and dialogue with your school administrators. It is essential that you understand all of the terms of your international teaching contract before signing it.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Try to connect with people who have worked as international teachers. They are an invaluable resource. The more you know in advance, the easier it will be to make the transition to living as an expat international teacher.
Good luck and enjoy your adventure!
If you have any questions, I’d be happy to respond. Contact—firstname.lastname@example.org
Sandra Bornstein is the author of MAY THIS BE THE BEST YEAR OF YOUR LIFE. It is available on Amazon. Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. She is a licensed Colorado teacher who has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses. Sandra is married and has four adult sons.
The memoir was a finalist in the Travel category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the 2013 International Book Awards, the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards, the 2013 USA Best Book Awards, and received an Honorable Mention award in the Multicultural Non-Fiction category for the 2013 Global ebook Awards.
If you’re interested in travel, follow Sandra’s latest adventures on Examiner.com.