What You Should Know About Teaching Abroad

Teaching abroad gives you the experience of living and working in a different country while still pursuing your teaching career.  If the thought of living in a foreign country and teaching students there sounds exciting to you, there are many ways to get started with teaching abroad. You can work for American-sponsored schools. In this case you would go through the US Department of State. This federal department regulates international schools as well as military schools abroad. You can also get hired by foreign schools and even tutoring centers that are looking for native English speakers to teach their students after school.  The country where you work and the organization or school that hires you determines many aspects of your experience—from how you get your visa to where you live to what you teach. Let’s take a look at some of the things you should know about teaching abroad.

How To Find International Teaching Jobs

If you’re going the international schools route, you can search openings from the US State Department. You can also find schools in the country where you’d like to live and teach and apply directly through them. If you are looking to be hired directly by foreign schools or programs, you might want to get a recommendation from friends or other ex-pats who have experience teaching abroad. Jennifer Dong and her husband are both American teachers in South Korea. She says of their experience, “We met a friend who had recently come back from teaching in South Korea, and she recommended her "hagwon" or after-school academy. We felt safer getting a recommendation from a friend before stepping out in the wide world of teaching abroad, as we'd heard horror stories of people getting their passports held or not getting paid.”

Also be sure to check for international school hiring fairs and recruiting services like Search AssociatesInternational School Services (ISS)TIEOnline, or Schrole Connect. Many of these sites cost money to set up profiles and use their databases, but those memberships sometimes last for a few years or until you are hired (whichever comes first). Last year, the GRC had a free recruitment fair in Dubai, all you had to pay for was your plane ticket and hotel.

How to Work Out the Logistics of Teaching Abroad

The specifics around work permits, residency cards, and visas depend on where you’re going. In most cases, the schools or organizations that hire you should help you complete everything you need to teach with them. Despite the help, you need to be very organized and stay on top of things to make sure the right paperwork gets completed and processed on time. If you’re ready to dive into teaching abroad, the first thing you can do is make sure passport is up-to-date.

In terms of other logistics, many schools will help you find housing or even provide it as part of your contract. Dong says of her experience, “When we came to South Korea 11 years ago, most decent academy jobs or public school jobs through EPIK or GEPIK [both are programs that recruit in South Korea for teachers of English] offered a monthly salary, 1- year contracts, paid apartment housing (we were responsible for utilities - electric, gas, water), 50% or 100% of national health insurance coverage, national pension plan, a year-end completion bonus, arrival and departure flights to your home country.”

What they didn’t offer was any support in the way of shipping goods. Most teachers who decide to teach abroad need to learn to live out of just a few suitcases. Dong says that many of the people who take these types of teaching jobs do so because they’ve just graduated or they taking a year off from something else—they don’t think it’s permanent until 3 or 4 years have passed!

What Else Should You Keep in Mind about Teaching Abroad

Before you start your search for the perfect international school, consider what you’re really looking for. Ask yourself some of these questions:

  • Do you need a country/housing that is good for pets?
  • Do you have children who will need to attend school?
  • Do you have one dependent spouse that does not work or will there be an option for a non-teaching spouse to find work?
  • Do you have any special medical considerations?
  • Are you looking for a certain type of learning/teaching community?
  • Are you single and wanting a good nightlife scene? 
  • Do you want to be near the ocean, mountains, a certain climate?  

You probably won’t find everything you’re looking for in one place, so try to narrow down the list of “must-haves” to as few as possible.

Also, remember that this a teaching job, so be sure you understand and can support the curriculum model and methods used in the school. If you believe in hands-on education, don’t chose a place that requires textbook learning for 6 hours a day. Also, be sure that you’ll continue to receive professional development opportunities.

Depending on your lifestyle and where you teach, you may be able to save quite a bit of money. This is especially true when you find an organization or school that cover things like rent, travel, and professional development. However, don’t go into teaching abroad assuming that you’ll be making a lot of money. It’s more about the experience of living and working in a new culture. You’ll grow as a person and you’ll grow your connection to the world. As Dong says, “The international teaching community seems very broad, but the longer you are in it, the smaller and more connected it is.”

Amanda Ronan is an Austin-based writer. After many years as a teacher, Amanda transitioned out of the classroom and into educational publishing. She wrote and edited English, language arts, reading, and social studies content for grades K-12. Since becoming a full-time writer, Amanda has worked with a diverse set of clients, ranging from functional medicine doctors to design schools to moving companies. She blogs, writes long-form articles, and pens YA and children's fiction. Her first YA series, My Brother is a Robot, is slated for release by Scobre Educational Press in September 2015.

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