How I Found a Job Teaching Abroad

Someone once told me that teaching was my ticket to travel the world. Years later, I took a job at a private, cutting-edge international school on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Boy, were they right.

Why should you teach internationally?

Teaching overseas is a great option for anyone who wants to continue building their resume while having the experience of a lifetime.

Imagine it’s Friday afternoon and you just finished your last class. Your suitcase sits ready behind your desk. You know that as soon as the students leave, you’ll be heading with your teacher friends to stay the weekend at a beach town you’ve never been to before.

A lot of times we think we need to choose between a jet-setting lifestyle and a steady paycheck. Teaching abroad can meet both of those requirements!

Teaching is one of the only jobs that you can find literally anywhere. It’s also a job that guarantees a decent standard of living in almost any country around the world!

How do I start teaching abroad?

Step One: Identify the countries you could see yourself living in.

When it comes to finding a teaching job in another country, you first need to identify where you would like to go. If you have a natural inclination to a certain country, it will make it easier to stick it out when you experience trying situations. Living abroad requires you to step outside of your comfort zone! Although that is one of the best parts of the experience, at times it can be really hard! You need to go to the country that you will feel comfortable, safe, and excited to be in. That will make the hard moments worth it.

I was always drawn to Latin America when I was looking at international teaching jobs. I was drawn to the rich, colorful culture, the value they put on the family, the warmth of people there, and of course, the Latin dancing! It was always on my bucket list to learn how to salsa!

Ultimately, I chose Costa Rica because of its climate. A tropical country that hovers around 90°F all year long? Count me in! That and the fact that I would be just minutes from the beach made the decision for me.

As far as other countries that you can teach in, the world is your oyster! There are international schools in just about every country. China is a very popular choice for international teachers. There is a big need for native English speakers and they will pay almost the same as a teaching job in the US. Dubai is said to have the highest paying teaching jobs for international teachers. Japan is also a great option! I have even met people that were looking for teaching jobs in Egypt! One of my good friends worked as a teaching assistant in Australia.

It’s important to first identify the countries that you are interested in and then begin looking for jobs!

Step Two: Decide which regions and cities you would like to live in.

Cities within one country can be drastically different! Think about the US or the UK. If someone was thinking they were in for a New York City experience, but ended up in Iowa, how would that affect their stay?

I think there is value in any part of the country that you experience, but it’s important to align your expectations to the reality of where you take your job.

Many people choose Costa Rica for the tropical beaches, but taking a job San Jose, the capital where many schools are, will not give you that same experience.

Decide if you wish to be in a smaller community, or if you would like the amenities of living in a big city. It’s also important to look at what kinds of attractions are around the area. Lastly, and most importantly, be sure to research the safety of the cities that come up in your job search! Just like in your home country, how safe you feel depends on where you are.

How do you teach at international schools abroad?

Step Three: Take to the internet and apply, apply, apply!

Although there are websites that were created to help teachers find international schools, don’t be afraid to apply to individual schools, just as you would in your home country. You can find wonderful jobs just by applying on your own!

In fact, I will always guide teachers to look at international schools in the area or country that interests them because I believe it gives you a more authentic experience. It also enables you to learn the language better, get connected with likeminded people, and experience the culture of the country firsthand.

What I found to be the most effective way to do this was to identify the area that I would like to live in and then begin researching international schools in that area. From there, you can kind of shop around for the school that fits you and your teaching style!

Blogs and the internet are your friends when looking for international teaching jobs. Look up the area that you are interested in and search for the best schools in that area! I found my international school on a blog that was written for families moving to the area. They compared all of the schools in that area.

In my case, there were many different international schools to chose from in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. After researching the best schools, I found a school that specialized in project-based learning and an interdisciplinary curriculum. I had had the opportunity to work in a data-based, traditional school in the US, so this was a great opportunity for me to learn a new approach! I have since taken what I learned in this Costa Rican school and applied it to the jobs I have had after.

Now, how this process plays out differently for everyone. You might connect with a school that is hiring right off the bat. I had applied to a couple schools that were not hiring before the perfect one got back to me. So don’t lose hope and, when in doubt, apply!

How do you apply to international schools abroad?

In my experience, I found that the best bet was to apply to each school specifically. Sometimes schools will post their openings on international teaching websites, but they are not always up-to-date.

What I found to be most effective and efficient was to go to the school website of any school I was interested in. There, I looked for a tab or dropdown menu (generally at the top or top right of the website) that said something like “Join us!” or “Employment”. If I didn’t find something at the top, there was usually a link at the bottom of the webpage. If all else failed, I would look for an email and ask if they were hiring, with my resume (and potentially a cover letter) attached. The worst they could say is no. And even so, you have now put yourself on their radar!

Where else can you look for international teaching jobs?

There are also a couple websites that specialize in connecting teachers to international schools. You can limit the job search to a certain area in the world or search for jobs within a specific country.

Here are some websites that are very well known:

Teach Away – This is probably my favorite website for looking for jobs. Here you can search by country or region to see what teaching jobs are available.

Go Overseas: Teach Abroad Programs – This website provides a collection of programs that may include room and board, transportation, etc. Here you can compare and contrast companies that place teachers in foreign countries.

CIEE – This company specializes in programs for teaching English as a foreign language (ESOL/ENL). They have programs in Spain, South Korea, China, and Thailand. A company like this sets you up with a trustworthy school and offer semester-long or full year programs.

U.S. Department of State – Teaching in International Schools Overseas – Finally, American citizens can teach in schools on military bases all over the world! I hadn’t even heard of this option when I was looking to teach abroad, but I wish I had!

What do international schools look for when hiring?

The requirements for international teachers differ for each school. Some schools prefer at least three years of teaching experience in your native country, while others are more lenient.

As for the contents of your application, they are very similar: your resume, a headshot, a cover letter explaining why you are interested in working at this school, and 2-3 reference letters.

Just like in the US, what comes next is generally a round of interviews. Administrators will ask questions to get to know you better, as well as your intentions. How long are you looking to stay? What is your experience? Why are you interested in this country or area? (This is why the researching part is so important!)

Step Four: Book a flight to visit the area!

After you have identified where you would like to live, I suggest visiting the area for a week or so. This enables you to get a feel for what it would be like to live there. Generally, international schools would like you to commit to staying for one or two years. You want to be sure that you would enjoy and be comfortable living there!

After I decided on Costa Rica, I visited the area that caught my eye most! Guanacaste is a hot, desert-like region right on the Pacific coast. Although I had already applied for some jobs, I booked a flight to experience Guanacaste for myself. I wanted to confirm that this was a place I could see myself living in!

Also, traveling to the area is a great time to reach out to the schools you are interested in! If there is a school that is hiring and that you are interested in, feel free to send an email when you are in the area! You might be able to visit that school and get to know some teachers and administrators.

On a side note, connecting with a teacher from the school is also a great way to learn more about it! I reached out to an international teacher on Facebook who was working at the school I applied to. She gave me advice and a lot more information.

Step Five: Ask the necessary questions.

An interview is an opportunity for the school administration to get to know you, but also for you to get to know them! You’ll have questions when you’re making such a big decision as this! Ask them!

What should you be looking for in an international school?

There are a lot of important things to consider when looking for a teaching job abroad.

Here are some of the most important ones:

What is their salary? – Recognize that the costs of living and the typical salaries differ from one country to the next. I can’t speak for every country, but if you are looking in Latin America, you can’t expect to earn as much as you would in the US or the UK. (Remember, you’re doing it for the experience and everything you’ll learn through the process!)

Looking into the salaries of many different schools in the area will give you an idea of a fair rate for that area. You can also take that into consideration when deciding which job to accept.

Does the school provide transportation to teachers? – Although this probably shouldn’t make or break your decision, it is nice to know! Whether or not they provide transportation really depends on the school. My school did not, but the school beside us did! If your school does not, do you have enough in your budget to purchase a car? I actually got away with never purchasing a vehicle because my friends and I carpooled, but it is something to think about!

How many students will be in your classes? – Just like in the US, class size is a big deal! You don’t want to feel that you are spread too thin. My classes were capped at 23 students.

What subjects will you be expected to teach? – At smaller schools you can expect to wear multiple hats. In my school I taught math, science, and English language arts for two different grades. That means I had 6 preps! However, I do think that teaching multiple classes or levels kind of goes with the territory. My friend taught math for four grade levels at her international school. Whatever it is, it’s important to know what is expected of you before you commit to a school.

What is the daily class schedule? (How many plannings do you have?) – You have gone to another country for the experience. Will you have enough time to plan during your day so that you can experience the country when your school day ends?

What is the school year schedule? (How close does it align with you family members and friends that will still be working in your home country?) – This is perhaps the most important question of all.

Will they give you the holidays that are important to you, such as Thanksgiving? Do you and your loved ones share the same vacations? You need to be sure that you are comfortable with the times of year that you will be required to be in the country working.

Do they provide housing? – Unless you have signed up with a program, it isn’t very common to have housing provided for you. However, what kind of support do they offer you when looking for housing? My school did not provide a lot of information and it was a real stressor! But asking about this in your interview shows that you are seriously considering the position.

What kind of support do they offer to international teachers? – International teachers will need support in many different things–finding housing, buying a car, completing and processing Visa paperwork, etc. It’s okay to ask about that up front! You will need support. Even if there’s not a formal department that helps you with this, does your administration and Human Resources team seem like they would go out of their way to help you?

What kinds of benefits are offered to international teachers? – Sometimes schools will offer money for flights home, or bonuses for each year you stay. What does your school offer?

What kind of curriculum do they use? – Without saying the words, figure out if there is a curriculum! I started a brand new school and developed a curriculum alongside my fellow teachers. I would do it again in a heartbeat but it was a big undertaking! You should know what you’re getting yourself into.

What is their teaching style? – Finally, how will you be expected to teach? Do they do project-based learning or do they prefer the more traditional methods? Are you free to use your own teaching style?

Step Six: Accept your dream job and get ready!

After researching, applying, “trying on” your new life, and finally getting to know your school through asking questions, you are ready to commit!

It’s a very difficult decision that will surely mark you life. There may times that you feel overwhelmed, but there will be more times that you will feel so thankful that you were brave enough to do this. I know you will grow and learn so much from the experience.

There are few things as amazing as teaching abroad.

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