Teaching Abroad: Choosing a School

by AndreaMeyers /
AndreaMeyers's picture
Jun 07, 2016 / 1 comments

Just one year out of college, I accepted an opportunity to teach at a private elementary school on the island of Saipan in Micronesia. I was young and didn't have children or a mortgage, and it seemed like a great time in my life to pack up and go as I would probably never be that portable again.

As it turned out, I enjoyed and learned so much from the experience I decided to stay abroad for a while, and I spent a total of eight years teaching in Saipan, Colombia, and Saudi Arabia.

Teaching abroad can be a very rewarding experience, and if you have considered taking the plunge, this is the time of year to start preparations for the job search. Many K-12 international schools start making contact with potential candidates in November and December and do their first round of hiring in January, February, and March for the next school year, with hiring continuing into the spring. Schools want the teacher list firmed up early for the coming school year as moving a person or a whole family abroad takes a lot of time, money, and paperwork. To offset the cost of hiring teachers from the U.S., many schools supplement their recruited teaching staff with local qualified teachers, including qualified teaching spouses of expatriate embassy/consulate staff or employees working with international companies. Local teachers cost the schools less because they not have to pay any moving costs and often the schools pay them lower salaries because they do not qualify for the premiums used to attract U.S. teachers.

Teaching Abroad: Choosing a School

Once you decide to teach abroad for a couple years, or even perhaps pursue a career in international education, then begins the process of choosing the schools that interest you. Research all the options while asking yourself these questions:


  • Why do I want to teach abroad?
  • What type of school do I prefer to teach at?
  • How long do I want to commit to working at a school?
  • What type of cultural situation will I best adapt to?
  • How far away from home do I want to be?


Why Teach Abroad

Some people decide to teach abroad for the opportunities to travel and immerse in another culture and language, while others may be enticed by the salaries and sometimes lower cost of living, which can add up to a decent sum of money to put away in savings. Others may have more altruistic concerns and want to work with underprivileged students in developing countries. Whatever your reasons, they should steer you toward the types of schools that mesh with your personal goals.

Types of Schools

Various organizations manage K-12 international schools for U.S. expatriates, including the U.S. State Department, Department of Defense, private companies, and religious groups. State Department schools are independent, non-government institutions, and the student population may comprise a mix of U.S. expatriates, including children of embassy or consulate employees, as well as locals or students from other countries. Department of Defense schools serve the needs of military families stationed abroad. Private companies may operate a school for children of its employees, or one company might manage multiple schools for different corporate clients. Religious groups working in a region often have schools with a mixed population of local and expatriate children. The U.S. Peace Corps also sends volunteer teachers to areas of need, and these schools typically serve local underprivileged students in developing countries.

Most schools with U.S. expatriate students use U.S. textbooks, though some now offer the International Baccalaureate program. Most require teachers to hold a valid state certification or license and have two years of classroom teaching experience, and some countries even require expatriate teachers to hold a Master's Degree in their teaching area. Often schools are accredited by one of the various accrediting organizations in the U.S. or abroad and are members of a regional school association.

Spend some time reading about each type of school and decide which will best fit your interests and needs.


How long do you want to stay? Due to the expense of moving a teacher abroad, many schools request a two-year commitment, and may require reimbursement of moving expenses if you only stay for one year. Depending on school policies, teachers may have to sign a contract committing to two years. So before starting your search, ask yourself if you can truly commit to two years. If not, then make sure you search for schools that have flexible agreements or are willing to accept a one year commitment.


Some people want a full-on immersion experience in another culture, while others may prefer something similar to their current lifestyle. How comfortable would you feel in a culture with laws and beliefs that might be very different from your own? As you begin your search, ascertain your comfort level with differences in lifestyle and your flexibility in new conditions.


Some people prefer to work with schools that have easy access to flights home, while others may want the adventure of being in a far-flung corner of the world. Some people want a warm climate while others may want a long snow season for winter sports. Some people want a large city with many high culture opportunities while others prefer working in developing countries or a remote tropical island. Determine your comfort level and gauge your search accordingly.

Once you have answered all of these questions, you can decide if teaching abroad is right for you. If you think it is, then it's time to start your job search! 

Related Articles:

Teaching English in Istanbul

Five Popular Teaching Destinations Around the World

Best Resources for Finding an International Teaching Job




Andrea Meyers is the Teaching Abroad Editor for Wandering Educators

Comments (1)

Leave a comment