Dos and don’ts of teaching overseas

The dos of teaching overseas

Try and learn the local language
First, get some tapes or CDs and try to learn some of the local language, if you are a total beginner. Even if you can just say a few pleasantries, it will go a long way. If you can find a local person who would be prepared to teach you for a few months, then that would be even better. It will enrich your experience, open up new circles of friendship and could increase your personal security.

Check out the free language resources on the BBC website

Have a look at the free language learning resources on

Eat local food straight away
For many Brits working in exotic destinations, ‘Delhi belly’ is an issue. It’s probably nothing to do with bad food or bacteria, more likely that our stomach is not acclimatised to the local flora and fauna. Best thing is to chow down at local eateries and adjust to the local food.

Find yourself a good accountant
Discuss the option of becoming ‘non-resident for tax purposes’. It’s not a good idea if you’re only going to stay overseas for a few months, but it probably is worthwhile if you plan to be out of the UK for several years. You will find this rather difficult to sort out once you are away, so change your tax status before you leave.

Take your children – but only…
If before you do, you think carefully about where you are going; will you have sufficient time to devote to your children? Are they going to be as safe as one can ever be safe?  In a developing country, the kind of medical provision needs to be thoroughly investigated. Nothing is as frightening as having an emergency when you’re in a place that can’t treat it. The upside is travel will broaden their horizons like nothing else.

Read the contract thoroughly
And make sure it is signed at the beginning of the school year, otherwise redundancy pay not be forthcoming if the school runs into difficulties, for example. Watch out for legal loopholes such as whether promises are enforceable under the local country’s laws. Also, if you leave before the end of the contract, which may run into years, you may have to pay a financial penalty and have air fares or gratuities withheld.

The don’ts of teaching overseas

Assume your school will have resources
Find out as soon as possible, which year group or year groups you will be teaching and which subjects. Send off an email or two and try to find out what the schools has in terms of resources, but in the meantime start photocopying, laminating and scanning like mad. If you have not yet bought a scanner, hurry up and get one and learn how to use it. Save it all onto your laptop and make sure that you back it all up onto an external hard drive.

And don’t forget to scour TES Resources for useful free downloads.

Assume your qualifications will count
For teachers taking the migration rather than ex-pat route to teaching overseas, this is important. Commonwealth countries which base their education system on the UK’s, do not necessarily recognise UK qualifications, which has implications for salary and promotion. New Zealand does not recognise the PGCE for salary purposes, and does not recognise the GTTP at all.  

The Europass website can help you present your qualifications to overseas employers.

Junk your visa documentation
Or your certified copies of teaching and academic qualifications. The bureaucracy of some countries is horrendous and may require you to re-apply for a work visa each year. Similarly if you live in Australia and fancy moving to a different state, you will have to be re-licensed all over again. Once you’ve successfully gone through the process, hang onto the bits of paper. Make sure your passport has several years to run before you set off on your overseas adventure.

Ignore local customs and beliefs
If you are in a very religious or conservative country, you may have to adapt your beliefs and respect local customs when in class and in public. This may include the way women and children are treated, the way you dress and interact with other teachers. You may also have to be able to handle the uncertainty that comes with a change of political regime. Wider political tensions will filter down to your school and may be magnified at an international school.

Forget you will return home, one day
You should remember that, in the UK, employees’ statutory employment rights such as protection against unfair dismissal and rights to redundancy payments are generally dependent on length of continuous service.  Your ‘continuous service’ will be broken for many purposes by your period of employment abroad.