6 tips for taking an international job when in a couple

Relocating with a partner is a big step. One international teacher gives some advice for those making the move

Chris Barnes

International schools: Tips for moving to teach overseas when you're in a couple

The idea of working with your partner might be the stuff of dreams, or perhaps it’s your idea of a nightmare.

For international teachers, it’s not uncommon to work in the same school as your other half. Likewise, it might end up that you have your child(ren) studying at the school – making it a real family affair. Even if you don’t work together or have children, moving to a new country together will inevitably mean a bit of co-dependence.

I met my wife in Moscow during my first international teaching post. Whilst she has teachers in her family – her father and grandmother both did time at the chalkboard, and her sister is a qualified teacher – it is not something that she ever considered.

Her career is in law, and it is one that has seen her work in Chicago, New York City, Moscow and latterly in Manchester. Each of us has always appreciated that we have our own mental space, circle of colleagues and identities in terms of work.

Teaching overseas: How couples can support each other

Invariably, though, a career move will take your family somewhere else. When it is the school that causes the change in environment, what happens when one of you is not a teacher? How can you make a smooth transition to your next posting for all concerned?

Here are a few tips if you’re in this situation:

Assess your partner's job options

A move is a family concern – your life is their life. There will be bumps along the way, but these may be magnified as familiar support structures will not be there.

One important agreement is what the non-teaching partner will be doing. If they are in work, their existing firm may have offices in the city or country to which you are moving. Alternatively, there may be similar firms or other opportunities that present themselves when you arrive. With this in mind, a bit of networking before you leave wouldn't hurt.

Look at the extracurricular possibilities

If you decide that the non-teaching spouse will not work, then creating your wider network will be one of the most important aspects of ensuring that your overseas transition is successful.

Social media will be a great source of information. Your partner will have the opportunity to do things that you will not have time to because you are at work: eg, finding out how to navigate around your new home city; locating the places that will make your family life feel more settled; and beginning to create a new life for your family.

This could include sports clubs, a church, Scouts or Guides…the facets of life that give a sense of normality, create friendships and enhance the experience of your time abroad.

Keep your partner in the loop

Where logistics around the move are concerned – dates, timings, documentation, medical information and especially anything with financial implications – make sure that there is complete transparency.

Discuss the contract and what is covered. This should include annual return flights or flights at the beginning and end of contract; medical insurance; 100 per cent fees coverage for two children and a discount for further siblings; and housing rental allowance.

Figure out the finance

Some countries provide a tax-free contract; others will require the payment of local taxes until you are classed as a local resident. These invariably have consequences for what you are able to do, initially and in the longer term.

You may be required to pay for some items up front and then be reimbursed later. Make sure that the school is clear as to what these are – they may range from the initial flights to the visas, pre-flight medicals, excess luggage or quarantine expenses.

If you are on a local contract then you will not be able to set up a bank account until you are physically in the country and local laws may mean that they are unable to transfer money to you if it is over a certain amount.

Make sure that your partner knows and understands this, as you’ll need a certain amount of money put aside.

Be considerate of their experience

You are going out there with a job already organised. You will have an induction programme, a structure and routine in place. Any children of school age will be accompanying you each day and have their own "normal".

Your partner’s experience will be quite different. For those that work, they may keep different hours; have to learn the host country language in more depth than you; and gain a more detailed insight into how the host country runs.

In many ways, they may gain a richer and deeper insight into the culture as they will see it played out in real-time.

International schools, whilst diverse in terms of their student body, are still more regimented: they have a timetable; set meal times; given start and end points to their day; specified holidays – bear this in mind when considering your long summer break as you won’t be able to just take off somewhere from July until September.

Analyse your annual leave

Local companies or branch offices of international companies will work local hours and all employees will have to conform to local conditions. For example, there may be no annual leave or holiday during the first six months of employment (other than for state holidays).

If you are in Islamic countries, the working (and probably academic) week will be Sunday to Thursday.

Whatever you decide, you will collectively have a rich and varied experience in your host country. The key is to remember that your life is also your partner’s life – and that applies equally to the teacher and non-teacher.

Chris Barnes is head of Year 6 at Crescendo-HELP International School, Johor Bahru, Malaysia. He tweets as @MrBarnesTweets