Misconceptions about teaching abroad.

So you are thinking about teaching abroad in international schools, and you have done some research. Think you know all about it? Maybe you do, but many teachers go abroad without really understanding the basics about International Schools! Read on to discover some of the most common misconceptions about teaching abroad. 

Misconception #1: I will be teaching English as a foreign language.

Not necessarily. Whilst there are a number of English Language schools that exist solely to teach English language to non-native English speakers, there is a very large and important category of schools that teach a full curriculum of all subjects. These schools, known as international schools, use various curricula such as the US, UK, Canadian, Australian and International Baccalaureate and teach all (or most) subjects in English. Whilst some of the pupils may not be English first language speakers, they are still expected to learn all or most subjects such as Maths, Science, Geography, Art and Physical Education, in English. In fact, a TEFL (teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate is not required to work in International schools. They require approximately the same qualifications you would need to teach at home in a state-funded school. 

Misconception #2: I can teach anywhere I want.

Teachers wishing to work overseas must meet regulations on two very different levels - teacher certification and immigration. Many teachers think that because they are qualified to teach at home, they can teach abroad and this is not always true. Each country has rules and requirements for the required training and experience and they might not match with your home country. For instance, teachers in South Africa without a 3 or 4 year teaching diploma will likely not be able to teach in the UAE. British Special Needs teachers without a university degree or certificate in Special Needs cannot teach Special Needs students in the Middle East or Asia. In China, teachers must have 2 years of experience to teach at all at international schools. And teachers without a teacher training degree such as a Bachelors of Education, Masters of Education, Higher Diploma in Education or Post Graduate Certificate in Education, can usually only work in English Language (TEFL) schools, not in International Schools. 
Now for immigration. As with certification, each country has its own set of rules about immigration and because you can travel to a country on a holiday does not mean you are allowed to work there. Some countries in the Middle East, for instance, will not issue a work visa to anyone whose first degree and teaching certificate are not matching and in your chosen subject specialism.  Most countries in the European Union can only hire teachers with a European Union passport, excluding most teachers from the US, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and since Brexit - UK too. American curriculum schools are the only exception to this rule – most of these schools are able to sponsor work permits though they usually take quite a long time. Most countries require police checks and will not issue visas to people with a criminal record (often zero tolerance in China for example). Further, if you are travelling with a family, countries differ on the work and immigration rights of a trailing spouse and most countries require that you are married in order to receive these rights at all. Therefore, if you are not married, your partner must have his or her own work authorisation through his or her own job.

Misconception #3: Everyone I work with will have the children’s best interest at heart. 

Most international schools are privately owned, and whilst obviously schools are successful if children and their parents are happy, there are often competing forces within an international school that don’t exist in state-funded schools at home. As mainly for-profit enterprises, international schools must strike a balance between spending money to attract teachers, parents and produce good educational results against the income the school generates in school fees. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as well run international schools can adapt the efficiency of the business world with the joy of providing a service to children and parents, but some teachers might feel uncomfortable with the concept of a profit making educational enterprise. And there is a huge spectrum of schools – some are more ‘businesslike’ than others. International schools are as different as the children you teach – each one has a personality. Make sure your personalities are compatible! 

Misconception #4: I will save loads of money because the salary is tax-free. 

Firstly, tax-free salaries are only tax-free in the country in which you earn the money. Depending on the tax rules of your country of origin, you might still owe taxes on foreign-earned income back home. Some countries such as the US and UK might require that you are out of the country for more than 183 days in a tax year for a salary to be untaxed back home, whereas other countries have different requirements. Know the rules before you go so you don’t have any nasty surprises when you return.

Further, teachers cannot expect to make their current pre-tax salary everywhere in the world. Salaries will usually reflect the cost of living, and many schools take into account the added benefits of no tax payments and free housing so the basic salary will often appear lower than you might expect. This is why we encourage teachers to ‘do their sums’ with their current and overseas salary to find out what will be their final take home pay after all taxes, housing costs and transportation are taken into account. A basic salary of £35,000 in one’s home country where one pays tax and housing costs often results in far less money at the end of the month than with a tax free salary of £18,000 where housing and transport is provided. 

Misconception #5: I can take it with me.

Living and working abroad means relocating those who depend on you – your partner, your dependents and your pets. It is important that you understand whether you can bring them with you and the implications. Because a teacher’s family will require a larger apartment, school fees (schooling is not always provided free to children of teachers – go back to Misconception #3 for more insight on this) and more on-costs which are not usually feasible on a teacher’s salary, most schools will often not consider a teacher with more than 1 child per teacher unless the teacher’s partner has found his/her own job with relocation benefits. And they can remain very cautious when you tell them “he/she will find work once we get there”. 

Our much loved pets are unfortunately another complication that can cause major problems abroad. Most countries require ‘pet visas’ which mean you must have a full immunisation and health record for your pet and some pets such as snakes or birds might be banned altogether. Culturally, we do not recommend that teachers wishing to move to South East Asia or the Middle East bring pets because, at best, they are not welcomed or catered for, and at worst, teachers might be unable to find accommodation which allows them. Therefore, teachers with pets need to declare this to their recruitment consultant or school so that you can find out if the culture or accommodation is appropriate. 

Finally, before you go abroad, familiarise yourself with the rules of the country you are entering. Some countries prohibit the import of certain medicines, literature or other media so don’t get caught out. 

Misconception #6: If I am teaching in a British or American school, all the children will be British or American.

The idea of international education appeals to many parents, not just expatriate ones. You will find in almost any international school that there is a broad range of nationalities. Some schools even serve a very local population of parents who want their children to have an education in English with an eye towards attending a western University or working in a multinational corporation. Most international schools, in fact, serve host nationals rather than expatriates so make sure you know the particulars of the school you are considering and what suits you. 

Misconception #7: I am really ready for this!

Have you really thought this all out? Are you sure that you are flexible and adaptable enough to be able to relocate your life, your belongings, be separated from your family and friends all whilst starting a new job in a culture that you don’t yet understand? Do you need to rent out your house, put your possessions in storage and do you have enough money saved up to live until the first paycheque? Teaching abroad is not for everyone as it requires an enormous amount of adaptability, acceptance, preparation, optimism and most of all, resiliency. It is not for those who are insecure in themselves or their teaching, who give up easily or who expect it to be ‘the same as it was at home but with better scenery’. It is especially not for those looking for an easy life, as teachers working in private international schools need to know that parental and school expectations are high. Most international school positions require a 2 or 3 year commitment, so teachers must be quite sure they are ready. 

Yet despite all of the challenges and misconceptions, there are thousands of teachers happily living their dream of teaching abroad in exotic locations such as the Seychelles, Dubai, China, Spain and Peru.

Teaching is one of the few professions where you can literally work your way around the world whilst developing professionally. Teaching abroad offers the opportunity for teachers to learn, grow and refresh themselves in their profession whilst teaching motivated children in exciting locations. The journey abroad must start somewhere, and reputable agencies such as Teachanywhere offer their services and advice free of charge to teachers, providing a great place to start in your plan to “Teach the world and live the dream”!