It’s a big terrifying leap and there are a huge number of things to think about when you're getting ready to move and live abroad. So let’s bring up a checklist and work our way down.
- Getting around
You need to make sure you’re able to get into the country you want to teach in and work legally. That means getting the correct visa.
Visas take time to process and depending on the country will require different sets of documentation, which can take ages to prepare. For example some countries will require a background check and this can take months, so if you want to be teaching English you need to start preparing your documents before you even have a job offer. You'll be a more attractive candidate because of it.
As to finding out what is needed and the process, we have visa sections in the country profiles and you can always Google. For the finer details we'd nearly always recommend calling the embassy of the country you're going to teach in. For both China and Thailand I found the embassies (in London at least) to be incredibly helpful and patient.
Getting a working visa usually needs some input from your employer (they might have to submit documents on your behalf etc.), so you won't be able to start the process before you have a job, but by having all the documents ready you'll get through the process faster and be more likely to get the job.
Once you've got a timeline for your visa, you can start worrying about flights. Time to start talking to your employer and asking questions (if you haven't done it already).
- Who is booking the flights? You or the school, will they reimburse you?
- When will they reimburse you?
- If they do reimburse you, what proof do they need?
Usually you'll end up booking the flights and depending on your employer (or country) you might be reimbursed, although it's typically not straight away. Instead you'll be reimbursed several months into your contract partly as a precaution to make sure you don't just run off.
My favourite resource for buying plane tickets is Martins Money Saving page on Flights. It’s a bit of a busy page, but has loads of good tips. The sub-titles in all caps on the page aren’t hyperlinks, if you click on them they open up more information on the same page.
Are you going to need any vaccinations for where you’ll be living? There are plenty of good places to look up this information online, the USA Gov CDC website or the NHS UK website are both very useful.
There are usually some things you'll definitely need to be vaccinated for and some which are less definite. If you're not sure about the exact area you're travelling to, go to a travel clinic and ask them as they tend to be very knowledgeable and up to date.
Authors Note: Despite the fact they get paid for giving vaccinations, my personal experience is travel clinics have recommended me not to get vaccinations I was misinformed about.
There are loads of things you could bring to another country, but most of them are for sale anywhere and aren't going to cause a horrible problem if you forget them. However there are some items which are easy to get at home and nigh impossible in other countries.
For example in China deodorant is like gold dust and it’s easier to find Shangri La than get suncream in Vietnam. The best source for discovering what these are, are travel blogs and a quick google for 'what can't you buy in *blank*' will usually bring up the obvious suspects.
This is obviously really important and country specific, each country profile has a separate section for accommodation. However some general points:
Do you find it or does the school provide it?
School provided accommodation
Your school is giving you a place to live and you're going to be living there for maybe a year or more, so get those questions and objections out there.
- Where is it? How close are shops, public transport?
- How far is the commute?
- Is it furnished?
- What is it furnished with? Pay particular attention to anything in the kitchen and things like dishwashers etc. Some countries don’t have traditional western ovens.
- How will the utilities work?
- How is the rent paid?
- How much is the deposit?
- Is there anyone else living there at the moment you could talk to?
- If you’re in an apartment block, what floor are you on?
- (Most importantly) Can you see pictures?
Finding your own accommodation
- What kind of assistance can you get?
- And what will you do until you find it? Will they put you up in a temporary place or a hotel?
Finding a place to live is a pain in your own country, let alone one where you don’t speak the native language. Realistically you’re going to need help or at the very least other teachers who’ve done it and can talk you through it.
Deserving of its own section, which we gave it here. Let’s just briefly recap why you need to know it?
First and foremost because not paying the right amounts of tax tends to be looked on quite seriously, but also because budgeting without it is very difficult and we want to know how much we'll get paid. Anyway that's enough about it here.
You’ll need health insurance of some sort. Medical treatment of any kind is expensive and you want to be covered.
The three big questions are whether or not the country you’re teaching in has some sort of national health insurance, what does it cover and what quality of medical treatment does that get you?
If the country doesn’t have national insurance, or the quality of care it gets you is below what you’d expect from western countries, then you’ll need private insurance.
If national insurance does cover you, you need to look into how it’ll be paid (usually straight from your salary, you won’t even see it) and whether or not your employer should be paying any of it.
Two things. How will you get to work each day and how easy is it to get around the country when you want to travel?
If you’ve never commuted before, you should know that the quality of your commute (which comes down mostly to time) will make a huge difference on the quality of your life. The TEFL/ESL world tends to pretty good about this (typically schools will do their best to place you in accommodation that's very close to the school), but still check it out.
Secondly if you want to see the country and travel it on weekends and holidays, then look into how connected you’re going to be where you live. Living in a big city often means you'll have an airport or a large train hub to let you escape easily on weekends. On the other hand being stuck out somewhere rural might restrict you from weekend getaways or at the very least make them a lot harder.
On the subject of getting away, it's also worth checking with your employer how flexible hours can be. Being able to get Friday afternoon and Monday morning off can make a big difference.
There aren’t many countries with only terrible food. Chances are wherever you’re going, you’ll find food you enjoy. There are however some countries which rely heavily on certain staples and if you don't like them, then finding food becomes harder. For example if you hate fish, going to an island based nation like Japan, where fish is incredibly common is maybe not the best idea.
The other thing to think about is whether or not you'll be eating out a lot. Eating out can be super cheap in some countries, that is of course if you're willing to eat as the locals do (often not for hypochondriacs).
But if it's more expensive and you end up eating in a lot, we need to think about what kind of cooking facilities your apartment will have. If all your recipes involve an oven, you might struggle when you discover that many apartments in Asia don't have one.
Before going it's a good idea to know a couple meals you can make comfortably with what you'll have, that way you can avoid just eating ramen for the first few weeks.
In overlap with the packing section, you might also need to think about bringing over some of your kitchen essentials with you if you're big on cooking. This is a really interesting post on an expat moving to Vietnam and the cooking equipment they had to bring.
There are plenty of generalisations about how much you can make and save teaching English. The only real way to know is to plan out a budget. Again like tax, this is here to complete the checklist because it's covered heavily in money and the country profiles where we provide them.