What’s the average time teachers stay overseas?

Embarking on a journey to teach overseas is an adventure that can last anywhere from 2 years to a lifetime. The average time most teachers stay overseas is 2-5 years, depending on their personal goals, job opportunities, and visa regulations.

“As an educator, being able to travel to different countries and experience new cultures while inspiring the next generation of learners, is a dream come true.”


careers in teaching Search Associates ANZ graph showing how long on average teachers stay in international schools
ISC – ‘Recruitment and CPD in international schools’

Our Experience

careers in teaching Search Associates ANZ people gathered at a restaurant and eating togetherAs part of the ‘getting to know you’ activities at our first international school in Hong Kong (placed through Search Associates), we were asked to order ourselves in terms of years of service at the school. There was a tiny group of teachers who had taught there for over 10 years; the majority had been at the school for 2 to 5 years.

We thought we would do the same and work our way around the world, but found ourselves still in the same school 10 years later! The community, livability, and conditions were too good for us to consider leaving. Such a placement can be known as wearing ‘golden handcuffs’!

We returned home eventually to indoctrinate our sons into their home ‘culture’ which included football and family, (not to mention to solidify their accents) and give them a sense of ‘home’. We were happy to find that nothing had really changed back in Australia since we had left. Hong Kong was in our blood by then and we spent every summer teaching summer school in Hong Kong for 3 weeks a year.

After four years at home, itchy feet took us to the opposite end of the globe for another contract, this time in Egypt. We planned the timing of this contract around the boys’ educational needs and the health of extended family members. The idea of introducing our boys, who were by now a little older, to travel and other cultures was too irresistible for us to remain in our comfort zone.

Sometimes family and friends try to discourage people from making the big move to work overseas. We were very lucky that our families supported us in these extended moves overseas and were able to visit us each year wherever we were living.

Research into time spent teaching overseas

Recent COBIS research on the topic of the amount of time spent teaching internationally, (specifically dealing with British teachers teaching in British international schools) and based on more than 1,600 survey responses, provides concrete data about the profile and motivation of teachers entering and leaving the international school sector.careers in teaching Search Associates ANZ quad biking trip in Dahab, Egypt

  • 77% of outgoing teachers are happy or very happy with their international experience; 81% of new international school teachers are happy or very happy with their experience.
  • Teachers choose to work internationally for many reasons. The main motivations are travel and cultural exploration (71%); and enjoyment and challenge (63%). Other contributing factors include dissatisfaction with the home education system (47%); career growth (45%); salary (44%).
  • Many teachers return to the UK after working abroad, with family commitments (44%) and a desire to return home (45%) cited as the main reasons. 26% of returning teachers worked internationally for 3-4 years; 71% leave the international sector within 10 years.
  • Returning teachers bring with them a wealth of experience and skills including cultural awareness (79%), global outlook/international mindedness (76%), adaptability (58%), and renewed enthusiasm for teaching (53%) as well as EAL experience, resilience, and professional development opportunities.
  • Nearly a third of teachers entering the international school sector (32%) were thinking about leaving the profession before taking an international job.

“It can be a great thing for young teachers to do and they generally come back. It is rare that someone stays out there for more than a decade.” Dr Anne Looney

Returning home

We think there is a ‘boomerang effect’ for some teachers i.e. they come home for a few years after their first posting and slip into their old routine with friends and family. Then they slowly start to feel the pull of adventure again. Before they know it, they are off on another contract overseas. Other teachers skip the trip home entirely and move straight onto their next adventure. Mick Green, an experienced international school teacher says:

Everyone starts thinking they’ll spend a few years overseas and then come home. And then there’s that feeling you are ‘missing out’ by being home. We did that. Four years overseas, came back to Melbourne. Bought a newsagency in Elwood, realised it was very boring and two years later we were back overseas teaching.

For the majority of teachers, time overseas is a short chapter in their teaching career that enriches their lives and leads to greater cultural understanding. (There are of course exceptions, such as those who end up meeting their life partner and who never return home again, except on vacation).

With our recruiter hats on, we advise teachers to stay at each school on average 3-5 years. This gives teachers long enough to acclimatize and learn the ropes of the new country and school. They add value there before spending the last few months preparing to move (whilst still focussing on the kids, of course!)

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