In addition to incredible travel opportunities, what can make international teaching terrific? Let me start with the “biggies” and then move on to a few perks that veteran international teachers know so well.
Some schools, especially in Asia, are known for their excellent salary and benefits packages. Many offer a generous housing allowance, annual airfare to your home country, worldwide health coverage, free tuition for your children, stipends for co-curricular sponsorship and sports coaching, and funds to tap into professional learning. Some even provide a retirement package.
Beyond talking about benefits, let’s take a look at taxes. In some countries, there are no local taxes, ex-pats are exempt, or the tax rate is substantially lower than what you may be used to paying. There is also a good chance that, after moving overseas, you will no longer pay taxes in your home country. The US and possibly only one other country (Eritrea) continue taxing the salaries and benefits of their citizens who live abroad. The good news is that, in the case of the US, the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion of the tax code exempts an overseas income of up to $112 000 (for 2023). So, in many cases, Americans teaching overseas do not pay US Federal or state taxes. For more information on US taxes, listen to our interview with Dr. Stephen Boush and to our three-part podcast series of interviews with Dr. Jeff Devens, Episode 16B, Part 1 - Tax Buckets & Credits, Part 2 - Advantaging Brokerage Accounts, and Part 3 - Qualifying for Social Security & Medicare.
Low Cost of Living
There is the other end of the continuum, with many schools not offering outstanding salaries and benefits. Yes, there are places where the pay is low, and the expenses are high. Some educators “save” these locations for the end of their careers. However, living in a low-cost country is balanced by enjoying less-expansive travel options, inexpensive dining opportunities, and affordable household help.
The recruiting agencies have databases for their clients to review the salaries and benefits of schools and how much the average single and working couple can save. You can also research the lifestyles of expatriates living around the world through YouTube videos and the Numbeo cost of living website to help paint the picture of living in another country.
You can enjoy comfortable living in many parts of the world, where you may choose to hire affordable household help to cook, clean, and help support your children.
Travel and Adventure
The in-country and regional travel opportunities are often amazing! One pathway to follow is to venture out into your adopted city with your recently-acquired teacher buddies (which is another perk - new friends!) to experience your unexplored “backyard.” Oldtimers at your school will likely be ready to share their favorite places in the city and in-country travel destinations.
You will experience adventure and opportunities to move into your stretch zone, from learning how to order drinking water to design outings into the city to navigating the airport on your way to a white sand beach. 😀
Teaching and Learning
Being mission-driven is a big part of the international school experience. Some schools do better than others in bringing their mission into the school’s culture. Some are more clear than others about the scope of their program and what they cannot offer. Many schools focus on teaching critical thinking skills, which can involve project-based learning, teaching in terms of concepts, and inquiry, among several approaches to pedagogy. Curriculum review cycles are the norm in many schools. This sometimes means looking to new staff to bring new eyes to previous ways of doing things. Consider it a chance to leave your mark!
Though many high schools have AP or IB exams, you will not be teaching to state standards the way you would in the US. Additionally, classes will probably be smaller than public school classes in one’s home country, often capped at 20 - 22 students.
Raising Children Internationally
You get to teach children in schools dedicated to developing critical thinkers and global citizens. In almost all cases, your children attend your school and experience that wonderful learning environment. And consider the personal growth and learning opportunities for your children! From having friends from around the world to learning a new language to having incredible teachers to athletics and co-curricular experiences, the list of remarkable experiences for your children seems endless.
Personal and Professional Growth
Broaden your knowledge and life experience by being open to new situations in and outside school. See yourself grow your problem-solving ability and adapt as you experience some hurdles and opportunities! Become internationally minded by embracing the things that unite us while immersing yourself in the local culture. You can choose to spend much of your time at school with the expatriate community, and you can also venture out to be an explorer stretching yourself to learn a new language, eat new foods, volunteer and begin to learn about the culture of your new home. Your choice of the extent to which you engage in each of these is up to you.
Many schools offer professional learning opportunities throughout the year, with half and full days dedicated to helping you grow as an educator. Some schools give you an annual stipend for PD, which you can use in various ways, from attending conferences to taking graduate courses. Another perk is that many schools offer mid-level leadership opportunities and program development roles.
Community - Local and Global
As I just shared, community connections can be a big part of your life as an international educator. You will work with colleagues who become your friends inside and outside school. Your cohort of new staff members can be your “starter” friend group. If you have children, the opportunity to meet their friends’ parents especially comes into play if your school has weekend activities for students and parents. Some of your teaching friends will move to new countries each year, and you might do the same in time. Before you know it, you will have friends all over the world! The longer you stay overseas, the more global friendships you will have.
Most, if not all, international schools have some sort of co-curricular program for elementary and middle school students after school. They have programs for all the school divisions, from sports to dance, to art, to theater, to STEM and Model UN competitions, and many more. Some schools offer Week Without Walls experiential learning excursions in and out of the country that teachers help lead.
With the growth of so many new schools and older schools adding new facilities, you will find many purpose-built schools that include state-of-the-art labs, an outstanding technology infrastructure, performance halls, gyms, pools, and playing fields. Many schools also have beautiful outdoor areas with gardens and meeting areas.
Students and Parents
In many parts of the world, you will find a motivated student body well-supported by their parents and extended families. Educators are highly esteemed in several world cultures, so be ready for some parents to seek your guidance. Your world-traveling students often gain an understanding of multiple perspectives attaining high degrees of tolerance. Yet, some live and study under extreme familial and cultural pressure, sometimes living highly managed lives. There are places where privileged students and parents push the boundaries trying to influence teachers and the school.
There is a high probability that many of the national and expatriate students at your school are there so they can go to university in the US, Canada, Europe, or Australia. Some of your students might be the children of influential parents, and they will become business or governmental leaders in their adult lives. With many school missions focusing on growing global awareness and personal character, you and your colleagues will be helping to shape students who will become societal leaders.
Whew! This is a lot of information with some generalizations going on. It is tough to describe all of the perks of being an international educator without writing a whole book! To gain further insight into the perks of international teaching, listen to the following three podcast episodes: