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Dos and don’ts of teaching overseas

Career | Published 1 March, 2013

Many UK teachers dream of upping sticks and getting a job in a sunnier climate or a different culture. These commonly discussed do’s and don’ts portray the upside – and the downs – of teaching overseas

The dos of teaching overseas

Try and learn the local language
First, get some tapes or CDs and try to learn some of the local language, if you are a total beginner. Even if you can just say a few pleasantries, it will go a long way. If you can find a local person who would be prepared to teach you for a few months, then that would be even better. It will enrich your experience, open up new circles of friendship and could increase your personal security.

Check out the free language resources on the BBC website

Have a look at the free language learning resources on

Eat local food straight away
For many Brits working in exotic destinations, ‘Delhi belly’ is an issue. It’s probably nothing to do with bad food or bacteria, more likely that our stomach is not acclimatised to the local flora and fauna. Best thing is to chow down at local eateries and adjust to the local food.

Find yourself a good accountant
Discuss the option of becoming ‘non-resident for tax purposes’. It’s not a good idea if you’re only going to stay overseas for a few months, but it probably is worthwhile if you plan to be out of the UK for several years. You will find this rather difficult to sort out once you are away, so change your tax status before you leave.

Take your children – but only…
If before you do, you think carefully about where you are going; will you have sufficient time to devote to your children? Are they going to be as safe as one can ever be safe?  In a developing country, the kind of medical provision needs to be thoroughly investigated. Nothing is as frightening as having an emergency when you’re in a place that can’t treat it. The upside is travel will broaden their horizons like nothing else.

Read the contract thoroughly
And make sure it is signed at the beginning of the school year, otherwise redundancy pay not be forthcoming if the school runs into difficulties, for example. Watch out for legal loopholes such as whether promises are enforceable under the local country’s laws. Also, if you leave before the end of the contract, which may run into years, you may have to pay a financial penalty and have air fares or gratuities withheld.

The don’ts of teaching overseas

Assume your school will have resources
Find out as soon as possible, which year group or year groups you will be teaching and which subjects. Send off an email or two and try to find out what the schools has in terms of resources, but in the meantime start photocopying, laminating and scanning like mad. If you have not yet bought a scanner, hurry up and get one and learn how to use it. Save it all onto your laptop and make sure that you back it all up onto an external hard drive.

And don’t forget to scour TES Resources for useful free downloads.

Assume your qualifications will count
For teachers taking the migration rather than ex-pat route to teaching overseas, this is important. Commonwealth countries which base their education system on the UK’s, do not necessarily recognise UK qualifications, which has implications for salary and promotion. New Zealand does not recognise the PGCE for salary purposes, and does not recognise the GTTP at all.  

The Europass website can help you present your qualifications to overseas employers.

Junk your visa documentation
Or your certified copies of teaching and academic qualifications. The bureaucracy of some countries is horrendous and may require you to re-apply for a work visa each year. Similarly if you live in Australia and fancy moving to a different state, you will have to be re-licensed all over again. Once you’ve successfully gone through the process, hang onto the bits of paper. Make sure your passport has several years to run before you set off on your overseas adventure.

Ignore local customs and beliefs
If you are in a very religious or conservative country, you may have to adapt your beliefs and respect local customs when in class and in public. This may include the way women and children are treated, the way you dress and interact with other teachers. You may also have to be able to handle the uncertainty that comes with a change of political regime. Wider political tensions will filter down to your school and may be magnified at an international school.

Forget you will return home, one day
You should remember that, in the UK, employees’ statutory employment rights such as protection against unfair dismissal and rights to redundancy payments are generally dependent on length of continuous service.  Your ‘continuous service’ will be broken for many purposes by your period of employment abroad. 


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Comment (11)

  • Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
    7 December, 2012


  • This is a ridiculous article. You don't mention National Insurance Contributions and you should. You make it sound easy to become non domiciled for tax purposes, but there are strict rules and one does not need an accountant to help. Call HMRC and they will advise for free. I suggest that the people / person who wrote this have not worked overseas. This is an unhelpful and very superficial.

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    Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
    7 December, 2012


  • Why don't you rewrite the article and tell us what we need to know. Eg I have no idea why it's supposed to be better to become non-resident for tax purposes... I don't know whether my old age state pension will be affected by working abroad, presumably linked to NI contributions. Do they still get paid? I don't even know how wages are paid - eg do I need a new overseas bank account? Is there any union support, should things go wrong? I was thinking about working abroad but realise I don't know the first thing about it! Where's the best place to work?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    11 December, 2012


  • my opinion is that teaching overseas is the same as teaching in the UK e.g the same hours the same class management, parental expectations etc. therefore if you don't like teaching in the uk dont teach overseas. also if you are single think carefully as alot of folk are in couples or married who go overseas to teach and this can be lonely

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    30 December, 2012


  • I'm in my third year teaching abroad and thought I'd respond to a few questions asked by fletch.

    > I don't know whether my old age state pension will be affected by working abroad, presumably linked to NI contributions.

    Yes it's linked to NI contributions and will be effected as you won't be paying NI contributions anymore. Check for pension details in the contract - you'll probably need to get a private pension setup - you won't qualify for the teacher's pension for the years you're away and even if you're only gone a couple of years it can have an impact on final pension. Some of my colleagues are voluntarily continuing to make NI contributions off their own back, but it doesn't happen automatically like it would in the UK.

    > how wages are paid

    Check your contract, it varies. It's quite common for you to be paid locally or have a portion paid locally and the rest paid in to a UK account, or you might have the option. The school I'm at hand-held all the new staff through setting up a local bank account.

    > Is there any union support, should things go wrong?

    No. But this would depend on the country, some may have their own teaching unions. Certainly the union you're a member of in the UK won't be able to help you abroad (although they'll still happily take your money if you forget to cancel your membership before you leave).

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    20 February, 2013

    Peter Astbury

  • I am studying my PGCE and wish to eventually move to New Zealand.. This article states that NZ do not recognise the PGCE for salary purposes, but do they recognise it in order to get a teaching job in the country?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    28 April, 2013

    Tahlia Balfe

  • If you are thinking about moving to New Zealand to teach then this is a good website to look at - I would suggest holding off coming here for a while as the recession has caused the lowest number of job vacancies in ten years. All job vacancies in education are advertised in the Education Gazette Hope this helps.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    5 May, 2013


  • I have worked here in the USA for seveal years. I have found the experience here to be fantastic. Many of my colleagues have children or are married. ( spouses get a work visa) The company organised everything for my husband and I before we came it was an easy process.
    The support when you first get here is amazing from opening bank accounts, to help with taxes to taking a driving test.
    there are six British schoosl here in major ciites.
    be prepared to work hard set high expectations but the opportunity for travel is great. As you do not pay NI contributions there is a system called 401K you pay a percentage of your salary and the company pays a percentage which you can take after tax if you leave the country. lots of staff stay for many years!

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    29 May, 2013


  • I am considering moving my family to the USA to teach in the near future. Which qualification do they consider the most, PGCE or QTTP or Teach First ? Also which company did you use? and what visa did you apply for?

    Your help would be appreciated.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    2 June, 2013


  • I have an entirely different view of teaching overseas than Teapot12. After teaching in primary schools in England for 12 years, I moved to China and have been here for 13 years. I find it much easier, less stressful and more satisfying teaching here.
    Here, parental expectations and support are much higher. Student motivation, discipline and work-ethic are much better. (a discipline problem here is when a student wears black socks instead of white!)
    Granted it can be lonely for single people if you are the only "foreign" teacher in your school or town but, if you are in a city where there are other overseas teachers, the social life can be buzzing, especially for the young and single. Travel of all parts of East Asia is cheap and easy.
    Overall, I have a very positive opinion of teaching in China and would recommend it to almost anyone.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    7 September, 2013


  • For those people looking at NZ for an option I am not sure where the information in this article came from BUT I have a PGCE and it is recognised here. You have to send all your qualifications to the NZQA and they will assess it against equivalent qualifications there. My PGCE was found to be the equivalent to their Graduate Diploma in Education ( a one year teaching course). Added together with my MA (again recognised by NZQA) and experience I have managed to be at the top of the pay scale....

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    21 October, 2013


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