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7 things I wish I’d known before moving to teach abroad

Teaching abroad for the first time can be an overwhelming the experience. Sorcha Coyle tells us what she’d do differently if she had her time again

Airport Departure

I've been an expat teacher for more than six years, working in Doha and Dubai, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. But there are a lot of things I wish I’d known beforehand, too.

Here are seven bits of advice that would have made my life easier:

1. Join a network

I didn’t have a support network before moving abroad but I wish I had. Before you go, spend some time seeking out country-specific expat Facebook groups and check out the Tes international forums to connect with other expat teachers so you can hit the ground running when you make the move.

2. Do your research

I wish I had spent more time looking into locations and schools abroad before I accepted my first job; that way I could perhaps have made a better choice for me in terms of social life, personal interests and so on. Finding a place that offers the things you want and need can make all the difference to your wellbeing. 

3. Ask to see the contract

If I could go back, I would definitely ask to see my contract before agreeing to take the job. In fact, as a general rule, I’d say never accept a job until you’ve scrutinised the contract: that’s perfectly normal here in the Middle East, and rightly so – you can’t say yes to a two-year commitment without knowing all the details.

When you get offered the job (usually a few days later, via email), respond with something along the lines of: “I’m delighted to have been offered the job working with your school and I look forward to receiving the contract shortly.”

You haven’t officially accepted the job but you’re showing your interest by asking for the contract. Once you get the contract, read it carefully and make sure you’re satisfied before proceeding.

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4. Get a good package

Make sure you know what to expect from a good teaching package. In general, it should include:

  • A competitive salary.
  • Furnished accommodation or a housing allowance, which varies depending on your status (single, married, with children).
  • Medical insurance (check if it is just for you or for your spouse and/or children).
  • Visa costs (again, check if it is just for you or for your spouse and/or children).
  • An annual flight allowance, including your flights at the beginning and end of your contract. I have heard of some schools only offering one return flight (at the beginning and end of your contract), rather than each year (which is the norm here). Check your contract carefully.
  • Free school places for up to two dependents or a tuition allowance if your dependents cannot attend the school where you work. International school fees are high, so you need this help from your employer if you have children, otherwise it probably won’t be worth your while.

5. Have a plan

Instead of arriving with a fixed plan to stay a certain number of years, I found myself living my life on a year-to-year basis. But I wish I had planned ahead. This would most likely have allowed me to settle a bit faster into expat life and enjoy the present instead of constantly thinking about my future.

6. Figure out your finances

Get smart about money because you're likely going to be making a lot of it. Luckily, I managed to save enough in my four years working in Qatar to buy a four-bedroom buy-to-let house in my home country, but I definitely could have saved more. 

Now, I try to read something about money each day, whether it’s about saving, investing, spending or just financial empowerment in general.

7. Pack the necessities

Think about what your absolute essentials are for when you make the move – and leave it at that. Some expat teachers spend a fortune shipping personal items to their new country but it will probably be cheaper and easier to buy them second-hand when you arrive.

Expats come and go all the time, so you are guaranteed to pick up nearly-new bargains.

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