Explaining your contract and benefit package in international schools

Checklist

  • If you need a work permit or visa, find out who is expected to provide this
  • Read your job description or teacher’s duties to know what is expected of you
  • Find out how much you will be paid and in which currency. Once you know the exchange rate, you can work out how much you will earn
  • Check whether you have to pay any kind of tax and how much. Contracts in the Middle East usually mean that salaries are tax-free enabling teachers to make huge savings.
  • Have a look at your contract to see if your flights to and from the country will be paid for by your employers
  • Find out if accommodation is provided and at what cost
  • A large empty flat will be of little use to you so check to see if furniture is included and at what cost, if any
  • If you fall ill you will need to know that medical bills will be paid for, so make sure there is medical cover in your contract
  • Teaching, wherever you are, is demanding and you’ll definitely need a break so check how much leave you are entitled to and whether it will be paid.
  • You might be eager to see friends and family during school holidays, but you’ll need to check whether you are allowed to leave the country and if you will need a re-entry permit.
  • When the patter of tiny feet is imminent, you will need to know if you are entitled to maternity leave and if so whether it is paid

Your benefit package

  • Length of contract - How long is the contract, and what’s the notice period on either side? A minimum of a school-year for a contract is desirable, but if it’s a southern hemisphere school where the year ends in December, do you want to be able to leave in July or will a contract term ending in December be OK?
  • Salary - The contract should set out the salary payable and what currency it will be paid in. The contract should also outline any provision for salary increases and any conditions applied to these increases. It’s very difficult to give typical salaries for overseas roles, the amount paid will usually reflect the cost of living and will probably take into account any other benefits such as reduced tax payments and subsidised or free accommodation. To find out if you’re going to be better off overseas you need to do a direct comparison of final take home pay after taxes, housing and transportation costs are taken into account.
  • Taxes in international schools - Remember tax-free salaries are only tax-free in the country where you earn the money, you might still owe taxes on foreign-earned income back home. In the UK you have to be out of the country for more than 183 days in a tax year for a salary to be untaxed back home.
  • Housing allowance. Often international schools will pay you a monthly housing allowance, or even provide accommodation for you in an apartment or a housing complex. If you’re offered a housing allowance you might even find yourself with a bit extra every month if you can find accommodation cheaper than the allowance. If the school provides accommodation make sure you get detailed information and specific assurances on the type of accommodation to be provided; the NUT warns that “experience shows that teachers are frequently disappointed with the accommodation provided.”
  • End-of-contract bonus. To encourage you to stay for the full length of your contract some international schools provide financial initiatives if you make it through to the bitter end. If this is not in your contract it’s worth trying to negotiate a bonus of between 10-15%.
  • Find out if the school offers health insurance and a pension scheme. If you have to set money aside for a pension, and health insurance, do deduct these costs before considering the level of any income offered by a school. What seems generous at first sight can be less so after taking these costs into account.
  • Check your contract for sick pay and sick leave details as they may well be less generous than in the UK and there may be conditions attached to entitlement. The same words of caution also apply to maternity leave and pay conditions.
  • Visa arrangements - Do check that the school can help with visa arrangements, and with any paperwork that has to be put in place before arrival, such as a new driver’s licence. The responsibility for getting the visa lies with you not the employer, but if you need to provide any work permits then these should come from your employer.
  • Working hours - School hours may be different, and night owls may find those countries with early starts more difficult to get used to. Sunday may also be a working day in non-Christian countries, although most have Saturday as non-working day. Hours may be longer than you are used to, as can the length of the school year, so read any contract carefully.