Teaching abroad myth vs fact

We look at some common myths vs facts about travelling abroad to teach.

1. It’s difficult and scary to go abroad

Myth

It’s actually quite easy to go abroad in many ways! The biggest obstacles are really in your mind, but even though they’re in your mind, they are real – leaving your friends and family and everything you know can be very daunting. It’s easy to make friends when you’re working abroad, mainly because your colleagues may have also come over on their own and are looking to make friends. Like you, they won’t have families to go back home to every evening, so you’ll have people to hang out with. 

Schools complete the visa application for you and any other paperwork associated with your arrival, you just need to pack!

2. I have to go alone and leave my spouse and children

Partially a fact

This is a tricky one because this varies between schools so make sure you check if a visa for your spouse and/or children is available and paid for. 

Some schools (the best ones!) want excellent teachers and are willing to pay to relocate the whole family. This might include discounted school places for your children. However, there are also many schools who will only accept single teachers and provide single accommodation for them (sometimes it’s shared). Another point to make about couples moving abroad, if you’re both teachers and they want to employ both of you, they’ll prefer this as you’re two people needing one apartment. Secondly, in the Middle East, as far as I know (although this may change), you still have to be married to live together. Hotels won’t ask for proof that you’re married to stay there, but you must be married to rent an apartment. This also only applies to straight couples as homosexuality is still illegal and not recognised throughout the Middle East. 

Teaching abroad myth vs facts

3. Schools always provide accommodation

Myth

Many schools do provide accommodation (either their own buildings or they rent it) and the standard of this varies tremendously. It might be on the school’s site or far away and it could also be in a good or bad area. It’s of course, one less thing to worry about if you can turn up and they take you straight to a furnished flat, but it does mean you have no choice in it. This works very well for new teachers, but for experienced teachers who have been on the international circuit for a while will get wise to this and will start preferring to take the accommodation allowance and choose their own. You can start off in the school’s accommodation and move out but this is sometimes frowned upon because it means they then have to give you the allowance and they might not want to because it’s more expensive for them. Some schools give you an allowance from day 1 and ask you to find your own accommodation as they don’t have their own. This will be made clear to you before you start but it’s wise to ask what options are available. 

4.  I can’t find out anything about the school before I accept a job there

Mostly a Myth

It’s easy to find out about schools in your home country because they might have a local reputation or you might know people who have children there for example. Finding out about schools abroad is harder because you have less to go on. Your first port of call is the school’s website which will paint a very glossy beautiful picture of the school but might not bear any relation to real life! However it will give you details about location, number on roll, the age range and their curriculum. There might be testimonials but these are likely to be from parents which might show you what the school offers families but nothing on what it’s actually like as an employee there. One place for this is www.internationalschoolsreview.com. This site has a paywall but it features a huge number of schools, where current and ex employees have written reviews. Check the dates and if the head teacher/principal they are writing about is still there, as the turnover of staff is high in international schools and things can change quickly.

5. It’s too hard to live in a country where I don’t speak the language

Myth

The school you are going to, is likely to have English as the main medium  of communication and teaching will be in English, but problems might arise outside of the school when you’re trying to converse with the locals. If your job is in a school in a city, you’re unlikely to have too many problems (particularly in Europe) because English is widely spoken. If you have difficulties in a shop or restaurant for example, use Google Translate. Occasionally, another local with English will come to your rescue! The amount of English spoken varies around the world. In Malaysia and Singapore, you won’t have any difficulties, in Vietnam and China, you might have a tougher time! This is due to their history and colonisation in the past. English is also very widely spoken in the Middle East, particularly in the UAE. If you go to a school which is in the countryside or a remote area, this is when English is less likely to be spoken by the locals. 

6. It’s hard to find jobs abroad

Myth

There are many websites with jobs for teachers, a quick Google search will show you.

www.tes.com/jobs has many UK and international school jobs. Good schools advertise here!

www.teacherhorizons.com has links with many schools and is an easy site to navigate.

www.teachingnomad.com is an American site with international and TEFL jobs.

www.eslcafe.com has a vast array of TEFL jobs, particularly in South Korea and China.

www.tefl.com has many TEFL jobs and some TEFL teacher training options.

7. I’m locked into a 2 year contract

Myth

Schools really want you to stay because they have paid a lot of money to get you there! They’ve paid for your airfare, visa, medical insurance, accommodation, police clearance, sometimes a luggage allowance, a settling in allowance and maybe other perks. They are also aware that this isn’t your home country and you’re there temporarily, so you’re not put on a permanent contract. It’s common for teachers to be put on 2 year contracts as this is seen as a good amount of time for you to make an impact on education in that school and it looks good on your CV. At the same time, you’re not in prison! You can talk to your line manager if you’re unhappy and they may be able to help you. If not, see what the terms are (inside or outside of your probationary period) for handing in your notice. It’s obviously better to leave at the end of an academic year – even if it’s your first year. Occasionally there’s a financial penalty but I’ve never seen that implemented. What I would definitely not recommend is if you just leave without a word (we called those people ‘runners’). This leaves the school in the lurch, makes you look unreliable and you won’t get a reference. 

8. Salaries are excellent abroad

Mostly a fact

This does vary so it’s definitely something to check before signing on that line. It’s also worth taking into consideration the full package being offered, not just the salary because if accommodation or an allowance to rent somewhere is offered, you can add this value onto your salary. This is because in your home country, the cost of accommodation will come out of your salary. This also means you can live very cheaply abroad and there are some very good salaries available in most schools. You can expect to earn £2,000 – £4,000 a month and more if you have a management position as part of your expatriate package, meaning the savings potential can be huge. Another point to make about salaries is it’s impossible to compare school salaries and rank them in order because of the huge differences in standards of living throughout the world. In some countries it’s possible to live very cheaply (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam) so you won’t have to spend much. Some countries are super-expensive (Switzerland, Hong Kong, Singapore) so there’s less savings potential. It might be that saving money isn’t your focus and you just want to get out on those Swiss slopes – that’s fine. It’s also worth noting that the overpopulated islands – Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, housing is at a premium because of lack of space. Schools in these countries are more likely to give you an allowance rather than actual accommodation because of the cost. This means you have a choice where you live, who you live with and how many people you live with, but it also means that you might need to top up that allowance to afford a nice apartment in a good area. 

9.  I have to have a medical before I leave or when I arrive

Mostly a fact

To get a resident’s permit in the Middle East, you do have to have a medical once you arrive. This happened in all of the Middle Eastern countries I lived in, and for my Saudi Arabia permit (known as an Iqama) I had to have a medical before leaving AND once I arrived! This was also in times of COVID so I had to have a PCR test as well! The medicals are paid for by the school. If you need one before you leave, your medical is likely to be in a private practice, possibly Harley Street, London. It will consist of a chest X-Ray where they’re looking for TB infection, urine test, blood test and a doctor will ask you a few questions. The arrival medical is also the same. If you have any medical issues which you think might show up in the tests or might be an issue for you receiving a resident’s permit, talk to your GP or your contact in the school who can advise.

10. I need more qualifications to teach children overseas

Myth

If you are a qualified teacher (BA QTS/PGCE) you’re already qualified to get a job anywhere in the world in an international school. I have heard of schools not wanting to employ people whose degrees are not in education even if they have a PGCE, but I don’t think this is common practice. You should have no issues receiving job offers if you are a qualified teacher. The only issue might be if you are an early career teacher (ECT, previously known as NQT) you are unlikely to be able to complete your first year (where you would receive mentoring and support) overseas. 

If you’d like to be a TEFL teacher, you don’t need to be a qualified teacher with a degree, you need to have a CELTA or a Trinity CertTESOL qualification. Occasionally there are jobs where you just need to be a native English speaker or you might need an online 120 Hour TEFL certificate. For the best TEFL jobs, they will ask you for a CELTA or a Trinity CertTESOL which can be completed in as a little as 4 weeks.

11. There are big costs involved in moving abroad

Myth

Not really. The schools are liable for your big out-of-pocket expenses before you leave such as the visa and flights. Even once you arrive, your school will either provide you with accommodation or an allowance and your medical insurance. Occasionally a luggage allowance or a settling in allowance is provided, so you really shouldn’t have any major expenses to move. You might want to ship some items out there which may or may not be covered by the school. I usually just take two suitcases as 50 KGs plus hand luggage should be enough. You can even make money on a property you own in your home country by letting it out. One expense you might have is putting your items you’re not taking, into storage, and this cost can mount up over time. If it’s possible for a family member or friend to help you store some of your things, that would help you out a lot.