Saturday, March 5, 2016

How to Teach Abroad

I've been getting requests from friends of friends asking for info about teaching abroad, so figured I'd just post what I know so you can pass it on. (Note, if any fellow international teachers want to chime in, feel free in the comments. I can only write based on personal experience, which is obviously limited):
First thing to know is the hiring season: The best schools start searching for candidates in November and hire by February for the following school year. The second tier schools are January to April. Third tier anywhere from early spring until well after school starts next year. Notices about these openings can be found on everything from forums to recruiting agencies. The best situation one can have is to be registered with an established recruiting agency, like Search Associates, who tell you exactly which school is looking (vs. general position and country) and their pay scale. However, these agencies require an investment on your part in the form of everything from time and effort (resume posting to online referrals from specific people in your school) to annual fees, depending on where you are in the world at the time of application. TIE ( has many openings, but their background info isn't quite as comprehensive. There are a ton more online agencies, but most just list job postings vs having your information on file for potential employers.
The basic scale from lowest tier to top tier schools is South America---> Middle East ---> East Asia ---> Europe. South America pays the least, and demands the least from its teachers. Middle East and East Asia have the best ratios of pay to cost of living for savings potential. In the Middle East you'll deal with schools that often don't know what they're doing and often, rather undisciplined students. In the Far East you'll often have high functioning schools and disciplined students, but very demanding admin and parents. Europe has lovely social life and great schools, but costs are high and benefits (housing, plane tix home, etc) are low. You don't teach in Europe to make money. You don't live in the Middle East for the social life. In the Middle East, best bets for a happy social life in order of best to worst (arguable, I'm sure) are Bahrain---> Dubai ---> Abu Dhabi ---> Oman ---> Qatar ---> Kuwait ----> Saudi Arabia. Families can handle Saudi because they provide great compound living to make up for the terrible social landscape outside (no movies, music, dancing, alcohol, exposed skin), but not great for singles. Kuwait costs as much as Doha, but is much more repressive. Thus, reverse the order for best pay. The best part is there are no taxes in the Middle East. I don't have personal experience in the far east, but have been told that China is hit or miss (often miss, for treatment of teachers), Japan and South Korea have high living costs, tiger moms, and xenophobic inhabitants, but good positions can be found. I heard Taiwan is the easiest for westerners, but happiness greatly depends on the school. Personally, I wouldn't join any school abroad that didn't pay for housing, private health insurance, yearly trips home, and some form of moving allowance. 
Before launching into applications to anyone, these items need to be prepared:
-Scans of education documents (degrees, transcripts)
-Scan of teaching license
-A passport style headshot (except smiling and looking teachery)
-A criminal background check from the FBI (not needed until ready to leave the country but good to have ready)
Extras that could help you get hired:
-A video about you on YouTube
-A teaching philosophy statement (sometimes this is mandatory)
Be aware that in some countries, the red tape is ridiculous. For example, in Qatar, you need to get your original diploma scanned, certified by notary that it's real, which is then signed by a representative at your alma mater, which is then forwarded to a state agency for signature, which is then forwarded to the US agency for verification, which is then forwarded to the Qatar embassy in the US, who then forwards approval to the country of Qatar. A good school will give you lots of information and help. I ended up using an agency in Virginia and forking over the $400 to get it all done. You can get a head start and save cash by getting your diploma verified early on while still in the states.
If hired, you'll be expected to do a health check. Sometimes they demand it be done in your home country, but usually in the new country. Sometimes, they'll ask for a US check up, then ignore that one and demand a new on in the new country. Usually the school pays for this as part of your work residency process. Note: Even if they draw blood, they're generally only looking for TB and HIV, not drugs. 
My personal process is the check out the notices I get from Search Associates, check the savings potential (listed right on the notice), check reviews of the school online, check photos of the place in Google, check average temps and social life of the area, and most importantly, check the political situation in that area. For example, there are ton of good paying jobs around Nigeria and Kenya right now, but it's not exactly a great place to be an expat/Christian right now. A few years ago there were a ton of jobs in Japan, but most were near the nuclear/tsunami sites. Note: no atheists do not officially exist in the Middle East; if you are western, you are Christian. And even if you are Christian, don't talk about it (though churches are available). 
To compare schools, the small annual fee for this review site is well worth it (like worth it in gold bars):
Re: tax free living. If you're a US citizen, you can earn up to $99K abroad and not have to pay taxes. HOWEVER, you DO have to file, along with a form that states you're living abroad and not subject to taxes. The form needs be submitted by April. Note that stepping out of the tax game also means you give up Social Security benefits. However, I saved more in the first two years abroad than my total benefits for my lifetime of work at the time I chose to give them up.

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