Teaching Abroad: 5 Things To Look For In Contracts

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Looking for a job abroad? Here’s what you need to know about the contracts on offer

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As more teachers consider time working abroad, here’s how teaching contracts work in international schools and some insights into what to look for before signing on the dotted line.

1. Fixed-term contracts are the norm

Most international schools offer an initial contract of two years, which can be renewed either annually or every two years. But be aware that there is not the same job security overseas as there is the UK, although in some countries ex-pats do accrue more employment rights after a period of time (often five years). It is usual for there to be a number of penalties if the teacher breaks contract by not completing the agreed period, such as a penalty of a month’s salary and the right to any end of service benefits.

2. Beware the difference between ‘overseas’ and ‘local’ contracts

“Overseas contracts” are contracts where the teacher gets a salary and also receives a benefits package (flights, medical, housing etc – see below); whereas teachers on a “local contract” will only get the salary. Local contracts are a way in which schools can save money by employing the spouse of someone who is working in the country who has a full overseas package. Teachers should make sure that they are clear about the nature of the terms of the job offer before they sign a contract.

3. How does sponsorship work?

Many countries overseas have a requirement that the employee has to be sponsored in order to get a residency or work visa. The school will usually sponsor teachers, unless they are sponsored by their spouse (as in the case of a local contract). Any teacher who has a spouse or children should check whether the school will sponsor their family or whether the teacher will be responsible for them, which can be an additional cost.

4. Is there a pension or end-of-service benefits?

Teachers working in the UK benefit from a pension scheme to which both the teacher and the school contribute – this is not the case overseas. Instead, teachers are paid a “gratuity” or lump sum on completing their contract (some countries pay this at the end of each contract, some pay it at the end of service). Typically, the gratuity is worth three weeks or a month’s salary for each year of service. Beware that this is usually only calculated on basic salary and not on any bonuses or other allowances.

5. What should I look for in a benefits package?

There are five key benefits that any teacher moving overseas should consider.

1. Medical insurance: Coming from a country where private medicine is a luxury, it is easy to forget that ex-pats are responsible for putting their own medical insurance in place. Schools will usually pay for this – indeed in many countries it is a requirement for employees to provide a basic level of cover. However, it is worth new teachers getting details of the insurance provision and ensuring that this is adequate. Anyone moving abroad with a family should check that the school’s medical provision for dependants is sufficient.

2. Accommodation allowance: Some schools will provide school accommodation, at least for the first year of contract. Thereafter many offer an “accommodation allowance” – it is worth doing some research into what level of accommodation the housing allowance can afford.

3. School fees for children: Unlike the UK, most educational systems overseas are fee-paying and the costs can be quite considerable. Most international schools give either a significant discount (75 per cent plus) or up to two free places for children of teachers in the school. Anyone moving abroad with a family should do the sums before they sign a contract.

4. Flight allowances: It is usual for international schools to pay for the flight out at the start of the contract and the flight home at the end. Beware that, in many countries, the return flight will not be paid if the teacher breaks contract or moves to a different school in the same country. Furthermore, most schools will provide an annual flight allowance to allow the teacher to return home each summer.

5. Relocation allowance: Moving overseas can be very expensive. In addition to flights, some schools will provide an allowance for shipping personal items and even furniture.

Mark S Steed is the Director of JESS Dubai and is moving to be Principal and CEO of Kellett Hong Kong from September 2019.


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