Preparing To Teach Abroad
Teaching English abroad is, for most people, one of the best decisions they’ve ever made. But it’s a big commitment, and it’s important to make sure that you are prepared and that you know what you are getting into.
There are a few important things to think about whilst you are preparing to teach abroad, to make sure that you are really as ready as possible for the move to another country.
Let’s dive in with everyone’s favorite topic: Managing your finances. It is absolutely possible to pay your bills back home and make enough to comfortably live on while you are abroad – but it takes planning and carefully managing your finances, so make sure you aren’t going in blind.
If you have student loans, do what you can to consolidate them and make your payments as simple and streamlined as possible. Take stock of how much you will have to pay each month for any loans, credit card payments, insurance payments, storage, and any other bills back home, and be realistic about how much you expect to make teaching and what your cost of living will be.
Also, be aware that getting started in a new country isn’t cheap, and you’ll need anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 in savings, depending on where you are going and how long it will be until your first paycheck arrives.
Visas and Paperwork
Getting a visa is often a complicated process, and it varies a lot from country to country. Do your homework, apply for your visa as early as possible, and make sure that you have all of your documents in order. Make sure you know what the process is once you arrive in the country as well – often you will have to get official documentation from you school and go to the immigration office to apply for a working visa.
Make photocopies of all of your important document, too. It’s also a good idea to store digital copies of your documents somewhere secure online. You never know when something will get lost or stolen, and being able to access your documents online can be a lifesaver.
Health Care and Insurance
Schedule a check-up a couple of months before you go, and make sure you ask about any recommended vaccinations for the country you are traveling to. It’s worth considering travel insurance, as well, especially if you are going to a country where the health care might not be up to first world standards, or where you will be a long distance from a good hospital.
Research health care in the country that you plan to go to before you leave. In some countries, such as Taiwan, you will have access to very high-quality health care through your work visa. In other countries, you may have to pay out of pocket, or you may find that you are living a long distance from a good hospital.
Teaching isn’t just a means to travel. It’s a job, and one that has to be taken seriously. You will be spending anywhere from 20-40 or more hours in the classroom every week, most likely teaching kids. Ask yourself if teaching kids is something you will enjoy doing and be passionate about. If your heart’s not in it, you’re cheating yourself and your future students.
Also, be aware that the school you will be teaching at is most likely going to be a private “cram school.” These schools, also called Buxibans or Hagwons, usually hold classes in the late afternoon and weekends, and have a very different structure to their classes than what you are used to. Do some research and know what you are getting into.
The chance to be completely immersed in another language is one of the biggest benefits of traveling abroad. It’s worth taking some time to think about how committed you are to learning the local language.
In a lot of countries, especially in big cities, you can get around without knowing much of the local language, but having a few phrases in your pocket is always helpful.
Setting aside some time to learn the basics before you leave can help you navigate your new home, understand the culture, and can lay a very valuable foundation for you to start really learning the language when you get there.
International Charges and Roaming Fees
Find out what the international fees and charges are on your bank accounts and credit cards, and plan ahead so that you minimize those fees and get the best currency conversion rates.
Make sure that you notify your bank of where and when you will be traveling, too. Sudden, unexpected international charges are going to raise red flags, and the last thing you want is to find out that the bank has put a hold on your card.
Keep in mind roaming fees on your cell phone, too. It’s pretty easy and cheap to get a local phone and pre-paid SIM card that will allow you to make and receive local calls. Skype or other VOIP services allow you to talk to people back home for free, so get friends and family set up on those before you go to avoid international calling fees.
What Comes Next
A lot of people go abroad with absolutely no idea what to do after teaching. Being open to all of the possibilities that teaching and living overseas can create in your life is a beautiful way to approach your time abroad. You never know what you will discover about where your path is taking you and what you really want to do.
That being said, most contracts last for 6 months to one year. That sounds like a long time at the start, but it will absolutely fly by. Make sure that you are aware of how quickly the end of your contract is going to come up, and are being proactive about determining what comes next.
If you have a specific career or job in mind that you are considering returning to after your year abroad, have a plan for keeping in touch with your network of classmates, co-workers, and colleagues. It will make the transition back to that career so much easier, if that’s what you choose to do. If you feel that you want to travel and teach longer, put some thought into whether you want to stay with the same school or look for a new one – or even travel to a new country.