The hidden problems you need to know

Moving your life overseas to teach in the international sector is not something to be taken lightly.

Yes, it’s a wonderful experience, and almost everyone who takes the plunge has overwhelmingly positive experiences, but there’s no doubt that living and working abroad poses major challenges – some obvious, some less so.

We have already considered the importance of choosing the right school, but there are other aspects to consider if you are considering moving abroad.

Drawn from the hard-earned experience and insights of those who have worked in international schools, here are some questions to consider.

Salary security

One of the big draws of international education is the promise of higher pay than you would get back home.

However, this is only true if you actually get paid. It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds: salary security is something that can affect schools in the short term, due to cash flow issues, or potentially be a much deeper issue, due to poor planning. finance or corruption. This can mean late payment or potentially no payment for the teachers who work there.

A few times during my time abroad, I came across schools that simply weren’t able to pay the people who worked there.

In the worst example, a school failed to pay its staff for nine months. The teachers involved eventually lost patience and refused to continue. The school closed shortly thereafter.

This is why the reputation of the school you join is so important. Talking to current or former teaching staff will help you understand the school’s financial security. Luckily, this only applies to a small number of schools, but it’s important to make sure you don’t end up working at just one.

Secret taxation

There are many places in the world that offer a “tax-free” salary. Having worked in a few of these environments, I can attest to how fantastic it is in terms of results.

However, to say that these locations are tax-free is not entirely accurate. Often there are stealth charges that may seem suspicious like taxes and will reduce the take home pay you budgeted for.

An example would be the payment of “housing tax” in the United Arab Emirates. Although there is no council tax as such in the UAE, there is a surcharge on top of your rent. In short, the equivalent of five percent of your rent must be paid to the government in addition to your monthly rents.

It’s a similar scenario when it comes to your car. You won’t pay road tax, but there are government charges when processing your car insurance which will be more or less exactly what you would pay for your road tax in the UK.

As long as you know that there are several examples of these types of fees and incorporate them into your financial planning, you won’t have any unpleasant surprises.

Cost of living vs savings potential

In light of all of this, it helps to understand how high your salary will realistically go in a particular country after factoring in the costs.

A position at a school in Japan, for example, might offer £70,000 or £80,000. However, when you factor in rent, food prices, and basic living expenses, there will be very little left. Other places, like Thailand, offer much lower wages, but your ability to save might actually be better because the cost of living is much lower.


If you are in a relationship and one of you got a job, you may think that when you arrive, the jobless spouse can start looking for a job without any barriers. But it’s not always the case.

In Vietnam, like in many other countries, there are restrictions on who can teach what. For example, if you are a primary school teacher in the UK and your degree is in education, you may find it difficult to get accreditation from Vietnam’s governing body to teach, as it is not a basic material.

Also, if you don’t have three years of classroom experience, regardless of your degree, you won’t be considered qualified either. This can be a disaster for a teaching couple who depend on the second partner finding a job when they arrive.

Ironically, until recently in the United Arab Emirates it was the exact opposite. If you had a science or math degree, you wouldn’t be able to teach elementary school because your degree had to be in education. Having a senior PGCE was not considered sufficient (unless you already had a job there before the rules were introduced).

The fact is that each country determines what it considers necessary to be considered a fully qualified teacher, so be sure to check with your potential new school’s human resources department that you and your partner are qualified to work in that area. You can also contact the embassy, ​​who should be able to point you in the right direction.

Validation of your documents

Attestation is the process of validating your official documents, such as qualifications and professional certificates.

It’s an extremely expensive process, and depending on where in the world you want to go, it’s necessary or not. Some countries even require your GCSE certificates to be attested.

This is an expensive and time-consuming process, as you have to send your documents to a company that will process them for you. It is not uncommon to pay £100 for each of the documents you need.

If you wait until you are in the country where you need it, it may cost a lot more due to registered mail shipping and delivery.

Temporary travel insurance

If you’re moving abroad and taking a long-haul flight, whether to South America, the Middle East, or Asia, you’ll likely have school-provided insurance.

However, this will not be in place until your visa has been applied for and stamped in your passport.

So there is a small window where, if you haven’t thought about it beforehand, you could be vulnerable. Be sure to cover yourself in the short term, for at least a few weeks, until the ink on your visa stamp is dry.

None of the above should discourage you, but hopefully it will give you some insight into the types of issues that can arise in international education so that you are fully prepared before you take the plunge.

Next time, we’ll look at how you can ensure that your international teaching career path follows the path you want rather than stagnating or taking you into areas that don’t match your skills.

Paul Gardner is Deputy Principal of Methodist College Belfast and author of So you want to teach abroad, available for pre-order in April. He previously worked in international schools in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Russia and Spain

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