Tips for becoming an International Educator

Over the years I've received lots of questions about how to begin the journey abroad. Some things have changed since I initially wrote about my experience moving overseas:
  • The landscape has become significantly more competitive; everyone wants to live overseas now! As of this post, I still know of people who are already overseas that have yet to be hired for something new. That is slightly perplexing, and was definitely not the case last year. I am mindful that not everyone's journey and experience is the same, and that there could be numerous reasons for this. But there was a time when the landscape was wide open. Not anymore; word's out.
  • Most of the people I followed and grabbed inspiration from have since returned to their respective home lands for one reason or another. Finding (consistent) blogs or vlogs of people still at it has become more difficult, but a lot of us are still out here.
  • Pay cuts. No other way to put it. My region in particular has faced unprecedented changes that have become turn offs for people who have been here a long time or for people who were hoping to come. I'm specifically referencing the ongoing blockade against Qatar and the implementation of VAT in Saudi and the UAE. This region was renowned for its tax free, abundant salaries and living, and I can tell you that those golden days are over. It hasn't changed anything for me, yet, but I am keeping my antennas up.

If you're ready to take the leap anyway, read on:

Essential Questions

  • What are my non negotiables? For example
    • Will I be comfortable working in an extremely religious environment as a non-religious person? 
    • Will my spouse have a difficult time finding employment if I am the sponsor? Can I even sponsor my spouse? 
    • Will I have to leave my family behind until I get settled and pass my initial probation period? These are realities for some.

  • What nations are on my absolutely will not work list? Rule them out now and keep an open mind about the rest. An open mind about location will greatly benefit any potential expat.

Reputable Recruiting Agencies

DoDEA: via USA Jobs. These are positions for certified educators who seek to pursue employment on U.S. Military bases around the world. Like most government jobs, these are extremely competitive despite being overseas schools. Military spouses usually get preference in the hiring process. Free to access.

TIE Online: Job search portal for those ready to move broad. $39 registration fee; expires after one year. Not as extensive as ISS or Search but still good, and it cuts out the middle man. I found my first overseas job through TIE.

Search Associates: Job search portal for those ready to make the move abroad. $250 registration fee. Provides the same services as ISS.

International School Services: Job search portal for those ready to make the move abroad. I acquired my current job with ISS. There's a $200 registration fee (UPDATE: With the merger, ISS-Schrole is now $75); sounds like a lot, but the most reputable international schools only post their vacancies with them and with Search Associates. The fee also gives you access to a myriad of job fairs around the world. I got hired before the fairs started but most attendees will get hired on the spot. 

Sample package salary
via ISS

Where To Learn

Google. ☺

International School Review: this is an online portal of anonymous reviews of international schools and their administrators. Last time I used it the fee was $30/annually. Do not skimp out on this cost, it is essential to know something about where you're going.

Brothas & Sistas Working at International Schools: Facebook support group for people of color that are already employed or looking to be employed as educators abroad. Certified educators only.

There are also several FB groups for location specific info for what we call educator "hopefuls". Black American Teachers AbroadInternational School TeachersADEC Hopefuls, etc., are examples of several. You can peruse the Facebook search feature to find them and others. 

What do I need to comfortably earn in order to maintain my current lifestyle and my responsibilities back home?

Before asking someone “is it enough?” consider your personal goals. What are you going abroad for- To save more money? For the expat experience? For travel opportunities? All of the aforementioned? Consider these things and determine if the proposed salary meets your needs.

To that end, what are your savings goals? I have found that many don't understand savings potential when it relates to working abroad. For example: my gross income was significantly higher in the states than what it is now. However, my take home pay is much more now than it was back then. Back then my income was taxed, I had a mortgage, car note and other responsibilities. Now, my salary is tax free and my employer pays for my lodging. Basically my money is my money. 😎

Savings Potential: Most reputable recruiting agencies will give you an estimate of what you can save per school year as a single person or as a teaching couple [see example below]. Only you will know how far off or how accurate the number is. Consider the following: what bills do you have to pay back home? Do you have an annual savings goal [minus your travel]? Cost of living in the region?

Insurance: what does it cover, can it be used abroad, and back in your native country? What are your deductibles? Beyond the basic medical, does it include dental, eye, Life, etc? These are basic things to consider with insurance policies, anywhere.

Taxes: If you’re being paid in local currency, determine what the salary amounts to once converted to your home currency. Clarify if your salary will be subject to local taxes. A tax-free region is a plus, but in Korea, my employer was kind enough to pay our local taxes for us.

Does your potential employer provide housing, and is it single or shared? 
It's not always possible but ask your potential employer to send you sample photos of the housing you’re anticipated to receive.
  • An ideal housing package will include furnished accommodation plus utilities, all paid for by the school. Cell phone bill and internet are typically not included, but some schools are willing to pay those as well. Both of my places have been within 5 minutes distance to the school, but not everyone desires this. Works for me.
  • For those who will have a housing allowance instead of having furnished lodging provided, clarify before hand if the supplement will be part of your salary or not. Very important!
  • If your accommodations will be some distance from the school, ask about a transportation allowance if not already clearly defined.

Other Important Considerations

  • For those with children: is their school tuition included in your package? A good school will waive tuition fees for at least 1 or 2 kids per employee.
  • Will the school pay for your trip home during summers? An ideal package includes roundtrip airfare to your home of record. If you have dependents, be sure to clarify if their airfare is also included.
  • You will likely need an employment visa. How tedious is this process, and will you be reimbursed for expenses associated with securing the necessary documents for processing your visa?
  • Will you receive a shipping/relocation allowance to transport your things from home to your new country?
  • Are there any contract renewal incentives? A good school will give those who renew their contracts some type of bonus for their loyalty.
Sample package benefits via ISS

What are the pros?
While each school will come with its own set of challenges (or not) not having to deal with the politics of the public school system has been soooo lit! Like, the best thing ever. If I ever got any thoughts about repatriating, one reminder of the bureaucracy and ridiculousness and the thoughts quickly dissipated.

Living abroad allows me to continue my love of travel quite nicely.

For the most part I am generally happy, comfortable and content most days. My quality of life has improved tremendously.

What are the cons?
These will obviously vary from person to person but for me, the biggest one is not having access to what I need at a moment's notice. For example: I miss WalMart. Judge me. Where else can you go and get household items, a bathing suit, groceries for a week and a pedicure all in the same place??

I miss out on watching my nieces grow up. Thankfully there's FaceTime and the like but it's not the same as being there. That really hurts when weddings, birthdays and baby showers happen.

I used to miss American sports but I've stopped watching them all together since moving abroad.

For single people it can be a little difficult to find and maintain a good vibes tribe. This line of work is transient; most contracts are only two years, so you might click with some folks one year and then they're gone the next. Dating abroad is hit or miss and that's all I'll say. You can google various perspectives on that one. For married folk and families, you run the risk of someone within your ready-made tribe not liking the new country and thus forcing everyone to return; I have seen this happen more than once. Your heart may be in it but your family needs to be on the same page as you.

Then there's the one that no one wants to talk about: what if something happens to me? That is a very real and somber consideration that I detailed here.

The advantages of working abroad have far outweighed any negative experience I've had thus far. Many of them I've already detailed-the money, the lifestyle, the freedom to choose my next move, etc. I also get to meet students from all walks of life. Not that I was unable to do that back home but there's something exceptional about TCKs. 

And no, this decision is not to be taken lightly, but if you're obsessing over it, make it happen. Here's some encouragement.

I hope this information has been helpful. 🌍