When you secure a teaching job abroad, you will of course have to get some kind of work visa, work permit or residence visa. These allow you to live and work legally in the country for a specific time – usually a minimum of two years. The process differs for each school and each country but this is generally the timeline of getting a visa to teach abroad.
1. Accepting the job offer
When a school abroad offers you a job, they tend to give you a deadline to respond. Always read the contract carefully before accepting. Once you accept the offer, some schools will ask you to sign a letter of intent, or the contract, as your formal acceptance.
Along with your signed letter of intent or contract, the school will most likely request that you send scans of your passport and degree certificates to start the visa process. This might not be the last outing for your certificates (see step three).
At this stage, they are doing a preliminary check to make sure that you meet the criteria to secure a work visa. If there are any issues with processing the visa (i.e. your qualifications are not accepted in that particular country), they will be flagged here and the school should let you know why they are unable to employ you.
2. Get a background check
Because you will be working closely with children and young people, you naturally have to undergo a background check in order to secure your work permit. For example, in the UK, there is the Disclosure and Barring Service, or DBS, check, previously called the Criminal Records Bureau check.
Some countries are satisfied with a background check from the country you are currently residing in, while others require a background check from every country you have ever lived and worked in.
3. Get your documents legalised and attested
Many countries (especially in the Gulf region) need you to get your degree and teaching certificates legalised and attested to prove that they are genuine. You must complete this process before you arrive in your new country in order to get an employment visa.
Getting your documents legalised is a two-step (or occasionally three-step) process.
First, you must get them legalised (verified and stamped) by a relevant authority in your own country (e.g. the Foreign Commonwealth Office in the UK) to confirm that they are genuine.
Some documents should be authenticated by a solicitor or notarised by a Notary Public before legalisation and attestation. This may or may not be the case for you, so check with the school.
Second, you must bring or post the legalised documents to the relevant embassy where they will be attested.
Bring the approved documents to your new school, so you can present them to HR for approval. The process can be a bit time-consuming, so you may find it easier (though much more expensive) to pay a company to undertake the process for you. Keep your receipts carefully, as some schools abroad refund the cost once you present the original receipts to HR when you arrive.
4. Submitting your application
Some schools may send you a work permit application form and ask you to apply for your own work visa in your home country before you move. This will require you to visit the relevant embassy in your home country to do an interview.
The majority of schools abroad will process the application for you and have your work permit ready when you arrive or in the first few weeks of your arrival. In most cases, this means you will enter the country on a tourist visa and then it will be transferred to a residence visa once your work visa has been fully processed.
In some schools, you will be able to work for a limited time with only a tourist visa while your work visa is being processed.
How much does it cost?
The cost of a work visa varies from country to country, but check your contract: many schools cover the cost while others do not.
This is a general guide to obtaining a visa and there will be different processes in different countries. You should always read your contract carefully and contact the school to confirm which steps you need to take for your own professional situation. The work visa process can take quite a bit of time, so I highly recommend starting it as soon as you sign that job contract.
Sorcha Coyle has taught at schools in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates for the past six years. She also runs the Empowering Expat Teachers community, which can be found on her blog.
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