It’s rare for a teacher not to earn, and save more teaching overseas than they do at home. When comparing salaries the amount you see next to your step on the salary scale is NOT the one to be taking the most notice of. You need to take into account the total amount of benefits offered, and the tax rate (often low, sometimes zero, overseas) and then weigh your net take-home salary in the light of the cost of living in a country.
Each year schools registered with Search Associates update their compensation packages and list the salaries and benefits offered to teachers. The base salary is listed along with tax information. Schools are also asked to indicate in U.S. Dollars their estimate of approximately how much money the teachers can save yearly while still maintaining a comfortable standard of living, including some travel over Christmas, spring, and summer holidays. Most importantly, teachers currently at the school are surveyed to answer: Can a family of four “make do” on one salary?
You may be much better off, even if you get a lower salary than in your home country if the cost of living is significantly lower and you don’t pay tax or have any rent (etc) bills.
The most important parts of a teacher compensation package include
Salaries vary not only between countries but also between schools in the same country, depending on enrolment, facilities, whether or not a school is ‘for profit’, local government regulations, etc. Sometimes a salary is in line with how expensive a city or country is to live in, in order to compensate for this. Schools in popular destinations may pay less (e.g. Europe), while schools in less popular locations may need to offer more, because of the laws of supply and demand. Salaries roughly track student fee structures in international schools. The higher the fees, the higher the budgets for teacher salaries and benefits.
Salaries are generally non-negotiable – most schools have a set salary scale and will not have any flexibility to negotiate. This even playing field is welcomed by educators. Paying teachers in the same school different “off the scale” amounts can cause divisions amongst staff as they perceive they are being unfairly treated compared to their colleagues.
Factors to consider
- Is the salary tax-free (in your new country and/or in your country of origin)? If you are unsure, check with an accountant who deals with the tax implications of working internationally.
- The cost of living for your preferred lifestyle.
- What other benefits are offered?
International schools usually help in some way with housing for teachers. It varies from school to school. Depending on the country, you might get a choice or you might not. Some schools offer a cash allowance and teachers find their own accommodation. For single teachers, some schools arrange shared housing with another teacher. You might be offered temporary accommodation until you get settled and then need to find your own place. Housing is usually furnished but could be partly or wholly unfurnished. Most schools will help you identify a place to live.
It’s important to have an idea of the costs of local housing and what’s affordable.
When we first moved to Hong Kong, we were in a hotel in the city for three days and then moved into housing located opposite the school. For the first few weeks, we managed without furniture until our shipment arrived.
When we moved to Egypt we chose not to live in the gated community as many ex-pats did, because we wanted to be close to the school. Other staff members chose to live in the city and commute to school in the staff minibus. There were more options for them in terms of lifestyle, but a longer travel time to work each day. Some single teachers often want to be close to a city’s nightlife while many families want access to child-friendly amenities. Also commuting times in many large cities can add substantial time to your working days, which adds another consideration to your accommodation choice.
Listen to the advice of the school HR department, as they have experience and want you to be safe and ready to work, and to do what suits you and your family. Some single teachers often want to be close to a city’s nightlife while many families want access to child-friendly amenities. Also, commuting times in many large cities can add substantial time to your working days, which adds another consideration to your accommodation.
Many schools include flights at the beginning and end of a contract. Some also offer annual flights to your “home of record” destination; some will give cash equivalents. The number of flights offered to teachers can vary. If you have dependents traveling with you it is important to find out if they are all covered.
A relocation allowance can also be included in an international teaching package. This is an amount that is given to help with the initial costs of moving to another country, which soon adds up, especially if you have to kit out a house.
Medical insurance is often provided with overseas teaching contracts. The amount and the range of cover will vary. Some schools will provide worldwide cover. Other schools have policies that offer good cover within the host country but do not insure you when you leave for vacation or trips back home. Check the policy carefully for things like dental cover, maternity waiting times, and information re coverage for pre-existing conditions. Check if your dependents are also covered by the school’s policy.
The tax rate in a particular country can have a huge effect on your take-home pay. Each country has different laws which dictate how workers are taxed.
Many schools located in countries with weak currencies pay part of the salary in the local currency (which acts as spending money) and part of the salary in an Internationally recognised currency such as the US Dollar, Euro or British Pound. A few schools will pay your income tax for you, making their salaries effectively tax-free.
However, some countries tax housing, flight, and medical benefits – so make sure that you understand all aspects before you do your calculations.
Benefits usually extend to family members making the move with you. For example, travel, housing and medical insurance will probably be offered to children and spouses.
Tuition fees (or a substantial discount) for teachers’ children is usually included for 2 children, sometimes more than 2, sometimes only for one or none.
Professional development opportunities.
Cost of living
Not all countries offer high salaries, but in many countries, the cost of living is substantially lower and the benefits you get as an international teacher will mean that you have opportunities to save. Once you have determined your disposable income, you need to consider what that money will buy. That’s where the Search Associates information comes in handy.
As an illustration: a PE teacher with 9 years’ experience in Bangladesh may earn about US$40K a year and save $25K, while a teacher in Bermuda might earn a gross of US$90K a year and not save anything, even if trying to live as frugally as the person in Bangladesh.
Once you have clarified the details of all of the above aspects that affect you, you have the information you need to accurately evaluate your potential employment package.
Most international educators find their saving capacity is far greater than in their home country. Obviously, this depends on your salary and benefits package and your priorities in terms of saving and spending. We all have different life goals but an extended time teaching internationally can transform your financial situation.