Thinking about teaching abroad but aren’t sure what to expect when it comes to international teaching contracts? Learn what’s involved in this guest post by Christopher Jacklin.
There are two lenses that you should look through when evaluating an international teaching contract before you uproot your life and travel across the world to teach abroad.
Gross Salary vs. Cost of Living
I’ve heard countless stories of teachers being seduced by big numbers (in yen, pesos, or rupees, etc.), only to realize later that, after their monthly expenses and tax deductions, they had no cash left for pleasure, to save, or to invest.
On the flip side, certain jobs can be deceptively lucrative. Certain salaries may look low on paper but, because your monthly expenses are so low, you’re able to net much more. I’ve seen this most often in the Middle East and Asia.
Certain Middle Eastern countries have very low, or non-existent, taxes (the UAE, for example). And many schools in Asia offer free room and board and one paid round-trip home per year to their teachers.
Both factors mean more money in your pocket.
One caveat here is that, in certain parts of the world, you could be offered a salary that is very high relative to the average, but very low relative to the cost of living in your home country. For example, a friend of mine made 2-3 times more working as an international teacher in Monterrey than local, Mexican teachers. She lived very well during her time in Mexico, but her salary didn’t go nearly as far when she visited home. Even though she was able to save 60% of her salary each month, it roughly equated to saving 60% of a minimum-wage Canadian salary.
Before you take a position, ask yourself where you want to be financially at the end of your contract. For example, do you want to have enough money for a down payment when you go home?
Then calculate your expected net salary (the gross salary included in the contract minus the average monthly cost of living) to see if it matches your goal. Add a conservative estimate of how much money you plan to spend traveling or doing other activities that fall outside of your normal monthly expenses (conservative means, if you have an expected range, opt for the higher end – you’ll almost always spend more than you think).
Will you reach your financial goals on the salary being offered?
Note: To get a better idea of the true cost of living abroad, speak to a current teacher at the school you are interested in and ask them what you can expect.
Safety and Security – AKA Your Benefits
This will differ a lot based on the school and country, but here are some basics that you should look for:
1. Paid round trip home: At the very least, one paid round trip home per year.
2. Health and accident insurance: Ask about coverage for both short and long-term illnesses, and make sure that you have some type of insurance that covers you in case of emergency.
*In some countries, you may need to set up certain insurance privately. Double-check with your employer about what is covered and what needs to be covered by you (particularly when you’re outside of work) – don’t forget about dental.
3. Pension: Your employer should pay a certain % of your gross salary into a pension fund (even if you only plan to be abroad for a few years). For me, at the very minimum, this shows a commitment from the school to the holistic well-being of their teachers.
4. End-of-contract bonus: This may not be “basic,” but often a 1-2 month bonus is paid out to employees after they have completed their contract.
5. Health benefits: See if you will receive any money for things like gym memberships, massages, or prescription eyewear. In Sweden where I taught, it’s typical to get $300-500 USD per year.
6. Language classes: Don’t underestimate the value of learning the local language. Even if you only plan to be abroad for a few years, learning a few key phrases goes a long way toward making you feel included in society.
7. Accommodation: Make sure you have a stable (you can stay there for the duration of your contract) place to live when you arrive and that it is furnished.
I moved 8 times in the first 5 years I taught in Sweden. It can be done, but it’s a completely unnecessary stress factor that you don’t want to deal with.
And trust me, living out of a suitcase loses its novelty very quickly.
8. Admin: If you need documents to enter/work in the country where your school is located, your employer should arrange them for you. Or at the very least, instruct you how to sort it if it needs to be done on your end.
This is especially important in countries like China, where documentation is challenging.
Considering these factors is essential for making an informed decision about your international teaching contract.
It’s not just about the numbers on paper (although that helps) but about creating a sustainable and secure environment that allows you to thrive both personally and professionally during your time teaching abroad.
About the Author:
Christopher Jacklin is from a small town in rural northwestern Ontario, Canada. He secured a job teaching abroad in Sweden in 2014, where he worked as an English teacher, Head of English, and Special Educator. He still calls Sweden home to this day.
Now, he shares everything he’s learned about teaching abroad to help teachers find their dream job in Europe. Here is Chris’ complete guide to finding a teaching job abroad in Europe in 2024.