Home guards for the foreign legion
A teacher who recently came home after many years of working abroad has had to seek help from the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers. She thought she would still have a pension on her return, but it turns out that she does not.
Each of the professional associations has similar stories to tell. So, if you are thinking of working abroad, read every word of your contract - if in doubt, get legal advice. Bear in mind that verbal promises of additional benefits - such as an annual bonus - may or may not be fulfilled.
Here are some of the other issues that should be considered: * Pay At an international school in northern Europe an inexperienced teacher might earn about Pounds 20,000, a more experienced teacher Pounds 30,000 - higher than this in the Middle and Far East, and lower in Africa.
According to a UK consultant who works with schools abroad: "I think there is still money to be made in oil-rich places where conditions are still a bit harsh for Westerners - Kuwait, Saudi Arabia."
Remember, though, that if your career is slow to pick up when you return, some of the financial gain will disappear.
Teachers who go abroad to teach English as a foreign language in private language schools are quite likely to receive meagre salaries.
In Greece, with many TEFL vacancies, the going rate seems to be between Pounds 420 and Pounds 560 a month. After local taxes and accommodation are deducted this typically leaves you with Pounds 75 a week. As Martine Udall, who worked there in an English language school, explained: "Some things are cheaper, but others are more expensive so you can expect to be constantly drachma-pinching. "
* Accommodation May or may not be included. Many Middle Eastern jobs come with accommodation, and VSO also expects the host country to provide accommodation.
* State benefits and pension How will National Insurance contributions be kept up-to-date while you are away? Ask your prospective employers about this. Some will pay them; some will expect you to make your own arrangements. When you know what your responsibility is, see your local Benefits Agency.
What will happen about your teachers' pension? Pursue this until you are satisfied. In the UK teachers' pension scheme, you pay 6 per cent of your salary in contributions and your employer more than doubles this. If you don't contribute for three years you could find yourself Pounds 1,000 a year worse off at retirement.
Some schools and agencies expect you to look after yourself, either with the Teachers' Pensions Agency or through a private insurer. Others (VSO is one) will pay into a private insurance scheme that helps to plug the gap. If you have to look after yourself, you ought to budget at least 15 per cent of your salary.
* Medical Insurance The same principle applies. Some employers provide good cover, some countries have good provision. Other employers refer you to a private insurer such as BUPA International or expect that you to sort it out. Just make sure you understand. If you have to cover yourself completely - hospital and out-patient care, dentistry, home visits - think of a premium, as a young and healthy person, starting at about Pounds 500 a year.
* Professional Development Your return to a UK job will be easier, and perhaps at a higher level, if you have had good in-service training. Will you have to spend money keeping up to date or does your prospective school have a professional development budget? What sort of school is it anyway that does not have a development budget ?
* Leaving a house?
Sell or let? Only you can decide. However, if you do let you should do so at a rent which will pay your mortgage, and might make a small profit. Employ an agent to manage the tenancy, even if your tenant is a personal friend. Denise Reeves of Halifax Property Services, explained that a good agent will settle on a figure for the rent, find tenants ("We reference them in every way possible") and collect the rent "by knocking the door if necessary". They also, of course, regularly inspect the house and oversee any repairs. The usual charge is 12.5 per cent of the rent.
* Oiling the wheels You should plan to have lump sums of several hundred pounds ready for three occasions: just before you go, to equip yourself with anything from a good short-wave radio to a supply of contact lens solution; in the middle of your service, so you can travel; and when you return, to tide you over until you find a job and start earning. VSO recognises these three separate financial needs by paying a grant of Pounds 2,000 to be divided between them.
As well as the agencies mentioned, a useful source of advice about working abroad is Christians Abroad (you don't have to be a Christian). It produces helpful lists and publications, and offers a 90-minute consultation for Pounds 50 (Pounds 30 if unemployed).
Contacts Voluntary Service Overseas, 317 Putney Bridge Road, London SW15 2PN, 0181 780 2266; BUPA International, Russell Mews, Brighton BN1 2NR, 01273 208181; ECIS, 21 Lavant Street, Petersfield, Hampshire GU32 3EL, 01730 268244; Christians Abroad, 1 Stockwell Green, London SW9 9HP, 0171 737 7811; Teachers' Pensions Agency, Mowden Hall, Staindrop Road, Darlingon DL3 9EE, 01325 392929.