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Essential advice for teaching abroad

Career | Published 13 August, 2009 | By: Jennifer Beckles

An at-a-glance checklist for those considering teaching abroad.

Perhaps you’re toying with the idea of teaching overseas, but before you gleefully hand in your notice and start packing your summer shorts, there are a few things to think about. From accommodation costs to cultural differences, you’ll definitely need to do a fair bit of research beforehand.

Here’s some advice from teachers’ union ATL , forum users and teachers working abroad:

  • Ask yourself why you want to teach abroad. If you are trying to get away from personal problems then you could find that they follow you overseas, so it’s probably best to sort them out first and then see how you feel about teaching in another country. If you’re tempted by the exotic, think about how you would feel when the novelty wears off and you yearn for the familiar tradition of home life. But if you feel like you want to broaden your teaching experience, and contribute to the education of children from different countries, then you could have just the perfect reason.
  • Check out the school by asking loads of questions and doing some research. You’ll be in a better position to decide whether to take up a post.
  • Be aware of cultural traditions; buy a good guide and read up on the country.
  • Be sensitive to cultural differences; it might be acceptable in the UK to flash your midriff as you go about your daily business but some countries expect women to dress modestly or have other customs so be courteous.
  • Be aware of the political climate. Is it a liberal or autocratic society? If there are political tensions, what is the impact of this on day-today living?
  • Check out any regional and national security issues and follow any guidance.
  • Contact the foreign office to see if they have any advice.
  • Keep a copy of your passport for emergencies.
  • Remember you are going there to work; store images of cocktails at sunset to the back of your mind.
  • Be prepared for change. One country’s standard of living can be markedly different to the next, so don’t expect to grab a Starbuck’s coffee on your way to work in the morning.
  • If you’re used to the school bell ringing at 3.30pm each day and know the national curriculum inside out you may be in for a surprise when you arrive to find days that finish at 1.00pm and a hugely modified national curriculum. To make it work you’ll need to be flexible.
  • If things go wrong, put it down to experience, don’t panic and contact the British Embassy or High Commission.
  • Have a local contact/friend/colleague - someone in the know will prove invaluable.
  • If things go drastically wrong make sure you have enough money left for a ticket back home, and try to make arrangements so that you have a friend or family member who can put you up for several weeks while you make longer term arrangements.

Further information:

The Council of International Schools
Teachers International Consultancy
ISC research
TES overseas jobs

Need more advice on working abroad? Visit Teaching overseas

Do you have any advice on teaching abroad? Share your experience by posting below.





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5 average rating

Comment (13)

  • A lovely, comprehensive, logical list of important things to consider. A must-have for any teacher thinking of working abroad.

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    anonymous Avatar

    Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    6 June, 2008

  • You might also want to find out if the country you intend visiting requires exit visas as well as entry ones. Also find out who provides them and how tight the control is.

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    28 August, 2008


  • Really good advice above. TIC recruitment are holding a series of seminars featuring teachers who have worked abroad. There is one in Bristol in October, but also Birmingham, Manchester, London coming up. I think there is a fee, but its not much. It's not a recruitment fair, so no pressure, but impartial advice and opportunity to ask questions.

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    Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    2 October, 2008


  • Great advice! I've been in Spain just over a year. The definite MUST is get as much info on a school as you can. Difficult for me because the school was just opening, but what I was told before starting the job and the situation once working here were very different! I laughed at the statement about the possibility of finishing at 1pm. I start at 8.40 and finish at 4.45, work every lunch hour serving children's meals and supervising - just expected of all staff. Holidays are changed at will, regardless of you having booked flights and you don't get half terms.Promotions promised in line with other similar schools don't happen either. I'm going back to England because I've been conned into coming over here. I know that if anyone asks the staff, many will tell it how it is - so when visiting, try to get opportunity to speak to those NOT on SM team!

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    23 October, 2008


  • At this time of year the New Zealand Ministry of Education is busy trying to recruit teachers through participation a number of exhibitions across the UK under their TeachNZ banner. Two years ago I attended such an exhibition and subsequently moved to New Zealand. For anyone considering a similar move it will be apparent from first comparison of the UK and NZ salaries that NZ pays considerably less. However, this is often quickly dismissed as a problem by NZ as they suggest that the cost of living is cheaper here. It is debatable how true this really is. Moreover, when moving to NZ to teach it is required that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority assess one’s qualifications by comparing them to their own. One’s starting salary is then based on this. As a Bachelor of Education I have recently discovered an important failing in their system. It is required that one’s degree and teaching qualification are separate to get onto the better salary grades. As this is clearly not the case with a B.Ed this means you cannot access the better salary grades (G3+ or level 14). This is probably the equivalent of being told that you will never be able to go through the UPS threshold. The fact that the NZQA may assess your B.Ed as comparing to 360 credits at level 7 whereas the actual requirement to go onto G3+ is that ‘a teacher must hold a level 7 subject/specialist qualification of at least 120 credits’ is apparently besides the point. To add insult to injury their own NZ teachers have been given the opportunity to move up to the better grades by taking a ‘New Zealand Diploma in Specialist Subjects’ which, from all accounts is a very short, straightforward qualification designed with the sole purpose of targeting NZ teachers who may only hold a trade certificate. It is not possible for holders of a B.Ed to take this course and thereby move up a grade as it is merely ‘another teaching qualification’ As things are this means that overseas teachers with a B.Ed can expect to have a future in New Zealand where they are always paid less than their kiwi counterparts, even those who are in actual fact less well qualified. It seems that the NZ MoE wants first class overseas teachers whilst paying them second rate salaries.

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    25 October, 2008


  • Hello,I was trained in England as a French and Spanish teacher and then moved to Scotland. I haven't finished my induction (probation) period yet but as I want to broaden my experience I have just applied for a post in an international school in Malayisa after having asked the GTC if it was possible. They said yes! I'd like to know if there's anyone out here who's done that, begin the induction in the UK and finish it abroad? Thanks for your answers! Bilou

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    5 February, 2009


  • Hello, I'd like to share with you that all the above advice is very good. I recently got my 3rd overseas teaching post (with CfBT in Brunei) which I think is definitely the best one I've had so far. If you're thinking of going overseas...just do it!

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    6 February, 2009


  • I'm surprised that little prominence is given here to voluntary teaching - not with a specific organisation (although I'm with VSO), but generally. I've found it liberating, stimulating and as I'm paid an allowance which reflects the local cost of living, the lower wage isn't an issue in Ethiopia. Work has included English language teaching, developing methodology with my colleagues, reviewing the syllabus and curriculum, as well as all the cultural enrichment I'm lucky enough to be experiencing. Of course, there are drawbacks: as well as the lack of funding for education in a developing country there's understanding a totally different system, including time- and resource management; a completely different approach to assessment and methodology; the responsibility of being perceived as someone with at least some of the answers; and the language challenge.

    The positives are so huge, however, that they eclipse all the minor grumbles and I'm learning as much myself as I'm teaching! It's incredibly rewarding to work with students who value education so greatly and I'd really urge teachers looking for something different to consider voluntary work. It doesn't have to be for a long time, and I'm planning to return to the UK after a year; getting a job may feel daunting but I know that my skills for any future employer will definitely have been enhanced by my time abroad. In addition, my pension / NI contributions based on my most recent salary continue to be paid by VSO throughout my placement. Brilliant!

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    10 February, 2009


  • Hello, I currently teach Primary (early years) in the UK, Nottinghamshire and I'm looking at teaching abroad in Athens, Greece as my partner lives there. I haven't spoken to anyone who has taught in Greece and would like some advice. I know there are International schools in Cyprus but not sure about Athens? If anyone has any advice about what it's like to teach there, salary, how to apply and find out about jobs there then I'd be very grateful. Thanks.

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    28 April, 2009


  • I've just read a book called 'Notes from the Jungle' by John Price. It was more a memoir than a guide to international teaching, but it was quite helpful. I liked the bit about sacking Alfie. Quite funny in parts.

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    1 May, 2009


  • Be very careful of schools overseas owned and run by one person, especially one without an educational background

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    8 May, 2009

    Linda Moffat

  • All I can say is be VERY careful! The two schools that I worked in, both in the middle-east, were run by incompetent heads, both of whom wouldn

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    3 July, 2009


  • I worked in a school in Accra for 3 years..........supposed to be one of the top schools, charges dollars, has 'the best' teachers...... HOWEVER, the principal has only ever taught for 6 weeks as part of her M.Ed, and could never cope with a full-scale teaching session in a junior or senior classroom. Unfortunately in Gh, it's who you know. Decided that it wasn't doing my career any good, so went back home. Best decision ever!! MAKE SURE YOU DO YOUR RESEARCH & good luck!

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    17 November, 2012


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