As September approaches, a new cohort of teachers will land in various countries across the world to take up posts in international schools waiting the promise of warmer climates, better work-life balance, and competitive salaries.
Eight years ago, I was in the same position as I exited DXB airport in Dubai on a hot and humid August evening before my school gave me a thorough on-boarding process detailing everything from getting around the city to the intricacies of living in a multicultural environment.
Fast-forward to today and, as I join a new school, the onboarding staff preparation is just as thorough – but what is missing, just as it was the first time around, is any guidance or advice on the finances of international teaching.
After all there is a lot to get your head around: What to do with your salary once you have earned it, how to save for a pension when you are now likely ineligible for a state pension, how to understand exchange rates, fees involved in sending money home and a whole lot more.
Which brings me to my question, should international schools educate their teachers in financial management?
Managing your money: why it matters for international teachers
Before you dismiss my argument and reduce CPD to things occurring strictly within the school walls, hear me out. In recent years, continued professional development has diversified far beyond simple topics like effective questioning in the classroom.
Teachers are being educated on all things from stress management to social media presence and tech safeguarding. Things we do effectively outside of the classroom can benefit what we do inside of it.
What’s more, correctly educating teachers on long-term savings or investment strategies could also be one way of reducing high staff turn-over in especially transient countries.
With wellbeing placed as a top priority in recent years, surely knowledge of a sound financial strategy for their future is of equal benefit to teachers than any mindfulness session?
Yet currently any CPD or even just access to a financial advisor on arriving is usually absent from any induction processes.
Financial pros and cons
This is far from ideal as when teachers move abroad, they are often unaware of the financial drawbacks that come with it. While you may be earning more money in your new country, you may also be forfeiting many of the financial benefits of home, such as a state pension.
You could also be unaware of tax implications on money you earn while abroad or the best way to transfer savings home without falling victim to massive currency exchange rates from the banks.
And while transferring these savings to the ‘safety’ of your home bank account might seem like the best option, it most probably is not.
On top of all of this is the added danger of (often uncertified) private financial advisors who penetrate these expatriate communities and prey on the financial uncertainties of the inhabitants.
Armed with a Rolex and a marketable dream, they frequently contribute to various expat forums or Facebook groups offering biased financial advice.
While some may be legitimate, many promote investment opportunities or offshore pensions which include high fees, lock-in periods, and generous commissions that eat into your returns – and perhaps even the risk you are breaking tax laws.
You may think teachers would be savvy enough to avoid these offers but they can be incredible persuasive and I have heard far too many anecdotes of teachers getting lured in and falling victim to long-term financial commitments which actually cost money rather than earn it.
Staff 'fending for themselves'
This is the last thing any international school wants for its staff – yet help with financial matters is almost entirely absent leaving staff to fend for themselves.
I was quite late to the game in educating myself on the complexities of expat saving and investments. My early years teaching abroad were defined by a travel-focused, hedonistic lifestyle with zero future planning.
As I became more conscious of my future, I opted to send money home to my Irish bank account, where it sat, earning zero interest, suffering from inflation and depleting with each monthly fee.
Eventually, having self-educated on the topic, I realised that there were far better options for me to save than simply sending money home.
My advice then is to start educating yourself on the options that you have in your new location and make sure to run a critical eye over the small print of any opportunities you consider.
As you step off the plane to start your expat teacher journey and plan explorations around your new city or future adventures abroad, make an effort to place financial planning as an equal priority.
Or, better yet, international schools might start investing in financial advice for the next CPD day.
David Keating is an English teacher joining Deira International School in Dubai this August. He has taught internationally for eight years. He tweets @DavidKeatingEdu