International Teaching 101

I decided to teach overseas more than a decade ago. I had been teaching for five years at a non-profit organization in Portland, Oregon, and I was frustrated by the low pay and lack of salary increases. LIke many teachers, I had debt and was unsure how to improve my finances. I had also traveled to Thailand for six weeks after college and the experience was life-changing. I loved meeting people from a different culture, trying new foods, learning words and phrases in the local language, and immersing myself in a place that was so unlike the one where I had grown up.  

I remembered an old college friend who had talked about American teachers moving to Saudi Arabia and getting paid more and with lower taxes. I thought it sounded too good to be true, but was curious and decided to investigate. I googled “Jobs in the Middle East” on Craigslist and interviewed for a position teaching middle school history and geography at an all-girls school in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Two months later, I was on a plane headed for the desert.

In today’s interconnected, globalized world, living and working abroad is easier than ever. You may be interested in opportunities outside of the States, but unsure about how to make the leap. Here’s a quick primer based on my own experience to get you started.*

How to Find a Job

The international job-hunting scene has come a long way from the days of searching on Craigslist. Today, the most popular and comprehensive international teaching job search websites are Search Associates, TIEOnline, GRCFair, ISS, and Schrole. To get started on these websites, you may need to pay a fee. Once you are registered and have created your profile, you then have access to hundreds of international school job openings around the world.

The above-mentioned organizations also organize job fairs for people looking for international positions. For example, Search Associates and ISS both offer several job fairs worldwide during recruiting season. Some of these job fairs are in America. For example, I know several colleagues who obtained positions at the UNI job fair that takes place in Iowa every February.

Because it takes a long time to get all the paperwork sorted to go overseas, many schools start sharing openings around the beginning of October. If you are interested in a job abroad, it’s best to start getting your application materials ready during the summer or at the start of the school year. If you are lucky, you will land a job before April. That way, you will have at least four or five months to get your visa processed and your bags packed.

Also, while it’s good to have an idea of a region you’d like to live and work in, the more flexible you are, the more opportunities you will have. Many American teachers start by saying they would like to teach in Europe. But there are loads of jobs available around the globe. It pays to keep an open mind. I have taught in the UAE, South Korea, India, and Laos. Each country comes with its beauty and challenges. I’m so glad I was willing to consider many different locations when job searching.

Researching Schools and Connecting to the Expatriate Community

Before you commit to an international teaching position, do your due diligence and research the school and the location to be sure of what you are getting into. Nonprofit schools are usually more reputable than for-profit schools, although there are certainly well-run for-profit schools out there. Review the school’s website and social media and talk to teachers who are currently working there to learn as much as you can. Preparation is key and will help you have a smoother transition. 

There are many places online with helpful information. LGBTQ+ educators and teachers of color can use the resources provided by AIELOC (Association for International Educators and Leaders of Color) as a starting point for finding inclusive school communities. International Schools Review offers teacher reviews on international schools around the world. However, you have to take these reviews with a grain of salt as, just like reviews on Trip Advisor, people who have extremely negative and extremely positive experiences are most likely to post. You can also join the Reddit: international teachers forum to get information on international school living, ask questions, and learn about different locations and schools. Connecting with other people who have gone through the process is invaluable. I recommend joining the International School Teachers group on Facebook and looking for expatriate Facebook groups in the country/city you want to learn more about. Networking is important and keeps you in the loop. 

The Benefits

As I mentioned earlier, there are many financial benefits to living overseas. The story about making big bucks teaching in Saudi Arabia was true! International schools usually provide expatriate teachers with generous compensation and benefits packages that can include: 

  • tax-free salaries, 
  • worldwide health and dental insurance, 
  • free housing, 
  • free tuition at the school for your dependent children, 
  • sick and personal leave, 
  • annual flights to your home country, 
  • reimbursements or cash advances for shipping and relocation expenses, 
  • generous professional development funds, and 
  • matching retirement contributions. ‘

Schools usually provide completion bonuses at the end of the contract (a standard international teaching contract is two years, with the option to renew for each additional year after that).

There are also numerous personal benefits to teaching abroad. For me, the biggest personal benefit has been the opportunity to travel the world and interact with people from different cultures and backgrounds from my own. I grew up in a White, middle-class, suburban household on Long Island. My perspective was limited. I feel honored to have had the opportunity to attend Emirati weddings, sing Karaoke in Korea, take classes in Indian block printing, and try my hand at Lao weaving. I have relished the opportunity to work with students from more than thirty countries. My life is richer because of these connections and experiences.  

The Drawbacks

One of the biggest drawbacks to working abroad is being away from friends and family. I have missed out on births and deaths, weddings and funerals. I haven’t been able to go to family gatherings during holidays, or to my friends’ birthday parties. Trying to squeeze a lot of socializing into summers spent at home can be stressful and exhausting. Jet lag is the worst. The time difference between the US and Asia makes it hard to call people. But, of course, I can text whenever I want, and social media makes it easy for me to stay abreast of what people are doing. And, luckily, I have formed a global support network of colleagues and friends that I can rely on for help and encouragement while abroad.

Go For It! 

If you are interested in teaching overseas, go for it. Don’t wait! You can go at any time at any age. Start planning and preparing now. If you decide you want to go home after your two-year adventure, you can. If you decide you want to stay and make a life of it as my family has, you can do that too. But you will never know unless you take that initial risk. 

I hope you have found this guide helpful. Feel free to comment below or get in touch with me to ask any questions you might have about going abroad. I love talking about my experiences and sharing what I have learned with others. Good luck wherever your career takes you!

Megan Vosk teaches MYP English Language Acquisition and Individuals and Societies at Vientiane International School. Megan is the Chair of AMLE’s Teacher Leaders Constituent Committee. AMLE is accepting new applications for all five of its constituent committees through February 4, 2024. 

*All organizations mentioned are included at the discretion of the author. AMLE does not endorse any particular association, recruitment, or search firm.