Posts tagged: working overseas

Picking a new Country for a Long-Term Commitment

China? Brazil? Tanzania?

Where would you decide to settle for the next five to twenty years?

We are going to talk a bit about expatriate thinking this month with a series of posts about living abroad for the longer term.

Life abroad can be pretty addictive and many of us who have spent more than three or four years abroad often end up overseas for twenty or more years.

There is an initial hump of two or three years that sends most people “back home”.  That “hump” will be the topic in a following week.

RULE #1:  Don’t fall too much in love with the first place you land.

Too many people arrive in one country and never leave it.

They arrived in Brazil, fell in love with it and never left.  What they never found out is that they would have loved Japan, China, Costa Rica or some other place even more.

Give a few other countries a try too.

Part of what is happening is that people are falling in love with the experience of living abroad, which is pretty d*mn exciting all by itself.  But in the process they attach that love and excitment to the specific country in which they are presently living.   In other words, the same thing would often likely happen in almost any country in which they first landed.

I was lucky when I started out as I had decided I wanted to see many countries and live in more than a few.  So I spent about two to five years and more living and working in Botswana, Korea, Thailand, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.  That way when I decided to settle down, I had a much broader base of information to call upon for the decision.

Korea was my home twice for three academic years each time, but ten years apart.  It was strange to see so many long termers there that had never left and experienced living and working somewhere else while I have the good fortune to experience two additional countries and cultures in depth during that time.   Don’t misunderstand, Korea is a wonderful place, but don’t limit your options so early in your expatriate experience.

If you intend to work abroad only for a year two, then yes, one country is about right.  The cost of moving and changing jobs is a bit much to do it more often than about every two years.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Don’t close out your options.  If you are going out to “See the World” – go see it and experience it.  LIVE and WORK in more than one place so you can get a broader sense of the real world out here.

Teaching Internships in China

Planning a TEFL Career Abroad: Your Education

This post was inspired by a man who wrote the following:

Hi, I am 20 years old and trying to figure out what to do with my life.   Recently I heard about teaching abroad and this is now my goal. I’m about a semester away from my associates degree [a two year degree in the USA] and was wondering whats the next best step I should take.

This is a great question and as mentioned in the last post, one of my few regrets I have about living the TEFL life abroad is that I didn’t even KNOW about it as an option until I was 37.  If I had known as this young man does at age 20 – I would have been raring to go!    Good for him that he has found something that fires his imagination for living an extraordinary life.  He has already proven he is smarter than I am!

A Few Realities Intrude . . .

My advice to this  young man was to finish university with a bachelor’s degree.  Though if he would like to just go out for a year and teach to see if it is what he hopes it is – then he should just grab an online TEFL certificate and go for one year to a country like Cambodia where the TEFL certification will do him just fine.  And then get back to school and get the next level of degree.

Degrees and TEFL

A BA/BS degree is quickly becoming a requirement and while there are still a few places where you can work without one, the choices are shrinking by the day and you would only ever be getting jobs from the bottom of the barrel.  You might even think you could talk an employer into hiring you without one – based on your charm, skills and experience, but usually the degree is a legal requirement for your working papers.  Thus your potential employer usually has no choice but to hold out for the degree holder.

Get that degree.  There is another reason too.  And that is if you intend to be an educator, it is good to have demonstrated your own belief in education.   I sometimes find it amazing the number of people who say that you don’t need a degree to be a good teacher.  They are right, you don’t.  But how do you intend to sell your students on education if you as an educator don’t have one and demonstrate your disinterest in it?

Get that degree.  In fact, if you have a BA/BS and find you like teaching abroad – I usually recommend that you RUN – don’t walk – to get a master’s degree.  The differences between a BA and an MA are about as huge as between no degree and a BA.

A graduate degree will make you eligible for college and university positions, a more likely candidate for teacher training jobs and Academic Director type roles and wages along with the amount of paid time off can improve dramatically.

During most of my teaching career I had anything from ten to twenty (yes – that’s 20!) weeks paid vacation per year.   All that paid time off is a special treat if you love to travel or if you need to earn a little extra.

Many teachers take a short paid job while on vacation to boost their savings.  Others use the time to visit family and see even more of the world.  And many of us did both.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Okay – I’ll say it a THIRD time: Go get that degree!


The BEST EFL Teaching Jobs in China: Government Colleges, Universities and Secondary Schools offer the most reliable and worry-free jobs in China. Click on the Link if you would like to Teach English in China

Living Abroad is Not for Everyone?

A reader recently commented – and copied part of a previous post – and also asked a good question . . .

[My only regrets about living the TEFL life abroad were...]  “That I waited until I was 37 to do it! Had I known, I would have gone as soon as I graduated from university in 1976.  I don’t dislike America, it’s just that it is all too familiar. I had already spent 37 years there and there is too much to see, too many places to experience and enjoy.”

The reader then wrote:

What you wrote is exactly how i feel right now today. I am 37 and was thinking these exact same thoughts. Thank you.

Question – why do you say living overseas is not for everyone?

Over on my first ever TEFL-type website www.TEFLdaddy.com I wrote a checklist of questions about whether heading abroad is a good idea for an individual.

Let’s revisit that idea.  From a positive perspective the question might be:

Is Teaching English Overseas appropriate for me?

It might be.  Only you can decide if a career in TEFL – teaching English overseas – is the right path for your life at this time.

What are the things to consider?

Do you have a family that you are responsible for?  How would they feel about moving overseas and living in a foreign land?

Do you have a spouse?  How would s/he feel about giving up their job?  Will she be able to find work overseas?  Is she interested in teaching English also?

Do you have children?  How will you educate them while overseas?  How might they feel about giving up their friends?

Do you have debts that must be paid while you are overseas?

Are there special medical issues for you or your family that must be considered?

Do you have the financial reserves to return to your home country and re-establish yourself if things don’t work out?

Have you ever taught before – do you have any reason to believe that you might enjoy teaching English?

Have you ever traveled or lived overseas before?  Did you enjoy it?

Would you find the daily problems of living and working overseas frustrating – or a refreshing challenge?

This list is only a beginning – as individual as each person is – so are the questions that need to be answered in making this decision.

What qualities are needed to succeed?

My observation has been that people who succeed in TEFL overseas have the following characteristics and knowledge:

  • They have reasonable expectations about their new occupation and what it can and cannot provide for them
  • They understand that their new country is not like their home country – solutions to problems that work at home often don’t work overseas
  • They realize that problems they had at home will probably also exist overseas
  • They know they will have good days and bad days – just like back home – and don’t blame the bads days on their job or new country.
  • They know they may experience good bosses, bad bosses, good jobs and bad jobs – just like back home
  • They are flexible people who can roll with surprises and “punches” – they are resilient and can bounce back from a bad situation
  • They are willing to work under different cultural expectations, willing to follow different cultural work rules
  • They are not generally moody or depressed
  • They view their success as a personal challenge
  • They spend a considerable amount of time researching their move – before they move.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Give yourself some honest answers about the questions and then you will know if you are ready and appropriate for the challenges of living and working in another culture.


The BEST EFL Teaching Jobs in China: Government Colleges, Universities and Secondary Schools offer the most reliable and worry-free jobs in China. Click on the Link if you would like to Teach English in China

Teaching English and Job Security

Is there job security when teaching English abroad?

People often ask me this question and my answer is usually, “Yes, and No.”

To a large extent it depends on your employer and the country in which you decide to work. The English teaching world is not really any different from working in your home country, there are excellent employers and there are shady characters you hope you never work for.

So, just like back home, take your time and select your employer carefully. See Checking your Employer’s Reputation on this blog.

It is up to you to create your “security”.

Easy enough answer, no?

There are many people in this business, and I am one of them, who will tell you that you should always consider yourself a “private contractor”. That you should always think of yourself as working for yourself. Don’t count on any one employer looking out for you or assuring your future. If you do, you will surely be disappointed.

Case in point: My best friend worked for a university in Korea for over ten years, only to find that they had decided to implement a policy which would limit foreigners to THREE years. At first, he was told that they would “grandfather” him into his position.

But the reality was that he had to leave. He had put down roots in the town where the school is and had made himself very comfortable in a good job. He did his best every year for the students and school. Yet, he found himself hustled out the door. Boooooo, bad school!

Year-to-Year Contracts

Year-to-year contracts are the norm in this industry and that should tell you something. Namely, that you should be prepared to hunt down a new job every year (but you won’t really have to). Some jobs, in some countries offer longer contracts. they are not rare but they are not really common either.

Though contracts for teaching English tend to be year to year, lots of people work for many years at all kinds of schools. If you do a decent job, you will usually be renewed.

It’s not all that bad

The good thing about all this is that, as noted in one of the subheadings, you will have to learn to create your own security. You will find a deep sense of satisfaction in building your own employment and financial world that is independent of your employer(s).

Don’t find yourself in the same boat as the people who worked for Enron or Worldcom, CitiBank, Bernand Madoff or even those who relied on defined benefit retirement plans from some of the largest corporations in the world. Take care of your future.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Learn to take care of yourself. It’s not a bad idea, it’s a GREAT idea.

If you intend to spend more than just a year or two abroad or if you surprise yourself and end up spending longer than you thought you would, get moving at educating yourself for long-term financial security.

I bought and paid off several rental properties to help provide for my old age (Yeah! You can do that while teaching English and seeing the world!) I am not rich but I don’t have to worry about my former employer(s) going bankrupt and failing to pay my living expenses.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Find out about medical plans independent of the minimal plans offered by your employers.

While you are young and healthy this may not be too much of an issue, but life can throw surprises and challenges at you at inconvenient times.

Because the cost of medical in many countries is much lower than in Western countries, you may find good quality insurance much less expensive than you had thought.

Carrying your own insurance usually makes it portable, so you are covered even while traveling outside the country in which you are working, which is rarely the case with employer provided insurance. That portability can also mean you are free to change employers and countries when and if you wish and still be covered – even between jobs.

Disclaimer: Sorry, but you know how the world is . . . so here I will say – don’t follow my advice, nothing is my fault if you create problems in your life and please read our legal disclaimer.

Is Teaching English Overseas Appropriate for Me?

Will I be happy and successful working abroad?

This is one question that only you can answer, but I will provide some guidelines and questions here that will help you take a solid look at yourself and come to a good answer.

Life overseas is not for everyone. It is a life full of wonder and new experiences, but along with all that also come some new challenges and difficulties. Sometimes even simple problems easily solved “back home” can br quite difficult to sort out abroad. Just getting a driver’s license in some countries is probably equal to getting a bachelor’s degree.

What are the things to consider?

Do you have a family that you are responsible for? How would they feel about moving overseas and living in a foreign land? Things often don’t work well unless everyone is on the same team.

Do you have a spouse or partner? How would s/he feel about giving up their job? Will she be able to find work overseas? Is she interested in teaching English also?

Do you have children? How will you educate them while overseas? How might they feel about giving up their friends? Educating children while abroad can be a very expensive proposition. International schools charge huge fees for their (usually) corporate-sponsored families. School fees can easily exceed what the ordinary English teacher earns each month.

Do you have debts that must be paid while you are overseas? If so, choose your country carefully. In some counties it is easy to save US$1000 a month, in others you can live well on the local economy, but it will be difficult to save more than for a ticket “home” once a year.

Are there special medical issues for you or your family that must be considered? This is sometimes an easier issue to deal with abroad. Medicines and medical care in some countries can easily be only ten percent of what you might pay in a Western country. But, some countries won’t have the latest in cutting edge medical care and drugs. If you have chronic or complex medical issues, check with your physician first and double check what is available where you intend to go.

Do you have the financial reserves to return to your home country and re-establish yourself if things don’t work out? It is good to have a little emergency cushion, just in case.

Have you ever taught before – do you have any reason to believe that you might enjoy teaching English? Teaching is a “helping” profession, do you enjoy working with people?

Have you ever traveled or lived overseas before? Did you enjoy it? This isn’t a “have to” but it does help you know. I went to Africa at age 37 only having been across the border to Mexico for a few days. Wow! What a transition. But it worked out okay – for me. It might not for everyone.

Would you find the daily problems of living and working overseas frustrating – or a refreshing challenge? Life’s daily frustrations don’t go away just because you are living in another country.

This list is only a beginning – as individual as each person is – so are the questions that need to be answered in making this decision.

What qualities are needed to succeed?

My observation has been that people who succeed in TEFL overseas have the following characteristics and knowledge:

They have reasonable expectations about their new occupation and what it can and cannot provide for them.

They understand that their new country is not like their home country. Solutions to problems that work at home often don’t work overseas.

They realize that problems they had at home will probably also exist overseas.

They know they will have good days and bad days, just like back home.

They know they may experience good bosses, bad bosses, good jobs and bad jobs, just like back home.

They are flexible people who can roll with surprises and “punches” and can bounce back from a bad situation.

They are willing to work under different cultural expectations, willing to follow different cultural work rules.

They are not generally moody or depressed people.

They view their success as a personal challenge.

They spent a considerable amount of time researching their move, before they moved.

TED’s Tips™ #1: While it is useful to seek other’s opinions on these issues, listen to your heart. Is this something you really want to do? I had dreamed of living abroad for years and years before I finally made the move. It was in my heart to do it. If it had not been, I would not have survived those two years in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

TED’s Tips™ #2: This doesn’t have to be a decision forever. If you find you hate it, you are still free to return home. Few things in life are totally irreversible.