Bright ideas for tech-savvy educators, right to your inbox

What to Consider Before Teaching Abroad

Thursday, June 8, 2017 -- Scott Sterling

Recent education program graduates or educators with a flair for adventure are often attracted to the idea of teaching abroad. With perks like travel opportunities and the draw of a cheaper standard of living, there are plenty of enticements. But, going abroad to teach is no small decision, and as with all choices, there are pros and cons, good experiences and bad, best practices, and potential pitfalls. Here are three important things to consider before taking the leap.

Certifications and experience

The greatest demand in international teachers is for those who wish to teach English. The employment opportunities for those positions are nearly endless considering the explosive growth of emerging nations and the popularity of English-language programs. In general, these positions require some type of English-language teaching certificate, although they often don’t require a degree in education or a formalized licensure. The most common credential is the teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) certificate, which is recognized by most private language schools overseas. TEFL certification courses in the U.S. are usually highly intensive, short-term programs (two to six weeks) focused on different language-instruction methodologies and practical training.

There are opportunities out there for other subjects, but they are much harder to secure. Most are with international schools or through exchange programs for working teachers. Individuals with bachelor’s or master’s degrees in education, as well as prior classroom experience, will usually be better able to secure these kinds of positions and receive better salary and benefits packages.

What to research

As with any other career move, it’s important to do your research if you’re considering teaching abroad. Ask the right questions to find out as much as possible about the school or organization for which you hope to work, as well as the living conditions of your target country. What is the daily life of a teacher in this country like? How many preps will be expected? What are the hours? How much support can you expect from the organization? Don’t be surprised if the answers to these questions are much different than in the U.S.

It may sound pessimistic, but don’t neglect to consider what happens if things go wrong too. If you hate your position and want to go home, how easy is it to get out of your contract? What are the penalties? Will you have access to quality healthcare in case you get sick or injured? Is there an embassy or consulate near your location? What’s the current political situation like? Thinking about these things doesn’t make you cynical—it makes you smart.

Money matters

For many teachers working abroad, part of the allure of the experience is a relatively inexpensive standard of living in most places, which allows them to save quite a bit of their salary. This can be true if you are naturally frugal or have a lot of your living expenses taken care of by your employer. However, there are very few places in this world where teachers are rich, so don’t count on teaching abroad as your ticket to independent wealth.

Get a handle on what your financial situation would really look like before making a move abroad. Be realistic about the salary and benefits you can expect, and consider the cost of living in your target area. Cities are expensive no matter where you teach, and some foreign cities are more expensive than U.S. ones. Also, know yourself. If you spend a lot of money going out for entertainment here, you’re probably going to do the same abroad, especially if you find yourself with a like-minded group of expats.

Many educators who go abroad to teach look back on the experience as one of the most valuable (and fun) times of their lives—many more than those who run into serious trouble. With the right preparation and a healthy dose of realism, you can find the teaching abroad adventure that’s perfect for you. Ready to get started? Here are a few of our favorite websites for up-to-date opportunities: 

Thinking about other outside-the-box ways to grow your teaching career? Check out this blog post to find out if online teaching is right for you!