Finding an overseas teaching job

Hurray for you!  If you’ve clicked on this tab, you’re probably at least toying with the idea of teaching overseas.  My advice is to go for it.  It’s a hassle for anyone at any stage of their life to make the arrangements to pick up and leave, but if this is a dream of yours, then find a way to make it come true.  Despite the bumpy first year (if you’re following my blog, you know what I’m talking about) we have NO regrets other than that we didn’t do it sooner.

A couple of things you should know to start.  Single teachers with several years of experience are the most sought after, especially if they have IB and/or overseas teaching experience.  AP experience is also good.  Next most popular are teaching couples – many people will tell you that they are the most preferred, but there is a catch in that the school needs to have openings for both of you. The best combination seems to be if one member of the couple is credentialed in a hard-to-fill specialization, such as IB/AP Physics or high level math, or is a school administrator, and the other member of the couple has a flexible endorsement like general elementary or language arts.

Schools are wary of what they call “trailing spouses” – a teacher with a non-teaching spouse.  It’s expensive for the schools to transport and house the spouse, and often an unhappy or bored partner is the reason a teacher leaves before the contract is up.  There are exceptions, and we can tell you more if you’re interested.  Children of any age through high school are fine, in fact they are welcomed: they suggest a stable family unit, and employers like that.  However, more than two accompanying children is a problem for most schools.

Another important consideration is age.  If you are an older teacher, you need to know that many schools – many countries, even – have upper age limits for hiring. We waited to go international until our kids were mostly grown and out of the house; Andreas retired from his job in Oregon so we would have some secured income in case things didn’t work out.

This was a good plan in many respects but we soon found that at age 58 Andreas’s overseas options were already limited.  Many Asian and Middle Eastern countries have mandatory retirement at age 60 and will not hire you if your 60th birthday is due to come around before your two-year contract is up.  Some schools can arrange waivers if the teacher has already completed a two-year contract and wants to sign on again, or if the school can show that the teacher’s specialty would make them hard to replace.  The age limit can be higher if the position is administrative rather than a teaching.  European countries seem to have higher age limits, but be aware that it is hard for an international education newbie to find a position in western Europe.

There are a couple of ways to look for a job.  You can go it alone, by researching job opportunities and sending out resumes to individual schools.  Or you can sign up with one of the agencies, which is what we did our first time.  Or you can do both, which is what we did this time.

To research jobs, you want to subscribe to The International Educator (TIE) – $39 for on-line access.  Many recruiters list openings first with TIE and often fill most of them before the big job fairs even happen.  There is probably advice on the site about how to proceed, but basically you check the listings regularly, then when you learn about an opening, you email your CV with a cover letter to the school and try to arrange a Skype interview.

The agency we signed up with is International Schools Services (ISS)  It costs $185 to join.  They screen applicants, then make job listings available to accepted candidates so you can apply directly to the school as an ISS approved candidate.  The school can access your credentials, resume, transcript, and letters of rec through the ISS site.  You can try to schedule a Skype interview or you can let the school know that you would like to interview in person at one of the fairs.

ISS conducts two or three job fairs each year.  We paid about $300 to register for a fair in San Francisco at the beginning of February in 2011; in 2012 we attended the Boston fair, also in February.  The fair is a grueling experience.  In the first couple of days, you can attend 30-minute informative presentations given by the schools – maybe 100 or so of them to choose from.  Then there is a sign-up session where you have short face-to-face time with the recruiters and where you try to schedule an interview, then two days of interview time.

Many candidates are interviewing in person as soon as the fair starts – having done the preliminaries online before the fair – so the job listings continually change as people are offered jobs even before the signups.  Whenever you are not interviewing, you are working madly on your laptop, researching the schools that you are interested in or that have shown interest in you. If you are offered a job at the fair you may have only a day or so to accept or turn it down. Many people come away from the fair with jobs, like we did the first time.  Or not, like us the second time.  Then you can continue your search on line.

Another big agency is Council of International Schools (CIS)  I think you can create a free account to see job listings at their site.  Like ISS, CIS hosts fairs, including a big one in London in January.  The focus there is European schools, with an emphasis on IB.  This fair happens ahead of the American fairs so has more job openings.  ISS and CIS run a job fair jointly in Chicago in mid-February.

A third agency option is Search Associates.  When you sign up with them, you are assigned an agent.  The agent works for both schools and candidates as a kind of matchmaker.  The agency also holds fairs for its clients.  We have several friends who have found good positions through Search.

Once you get into looking at particular schools, you will probably want to sign up with ISR (International Schools Review) .  It is free to join.  Make sure you use a screen name.  This site gives you access to reviews of schools by teachers who work there.  Because they are anonymous, there is a lot of venting by disgruntled teachers going on but I believe there is a grain of truth in much of the criticism.

Good luck!


8 Responses to Finding an overseas teaching job

  1. Keith says:

    Hi thanks for the information. The problem is I’m just a lowly EFL teacher. Are there lots of opportunities in Ethiopia for us? Or do you suggest that I get a different teaching qualification?

    • Hi Keith! There are lots of opportunities for EFL (and EAL – English as an academic or additional language). In international schools where English is the language of instruction there are always students who need help in this area. Do you have a teaching credential? Most schools want that. Some will look at a candidate without a credential if the teacher has enough experience, for example if they have taught at a private school in the US where a teaching certificate was not required.

  2. AB says:

    Hello Lorna, I’ve just stumbled across your blog in a general search for information about life in Addis as I am toying with the idea of applying for a position at one of the other international schools there. I’ve read all your blogs and you seem quite happy there and the information above is also useful. Would you recommend Addis for a single woman from the UK? This would be my first foray into international teaching – and in fact my first application.- so I’m not that hopeful but you never know! Thanks for the blogs – I particularly like the one about the tortoises!

  3. We have a number of single women teachers at our school. I guess whether I would recommend it depends on what kind of concerns you have. Generally speaking, Addis is quite safe – there is very little violent crime compared to many other big cities. Young women do get some unwanted attention but it’s mainly just annoying. The singles I know tend to go out and do things together; there are plenty of groups to join, people to travel with, and projects to get involved with where you can make friends. I don’t know much about the dating scene, though, and if you are looking for a really hopping nightlife scene then Addis might not be the best choice. You are right, though, we are quite happy here. I wish you the best with your job search. International teaching is fantastic!

  4. AB says:

    Thanks for the info Lorna. It’s nice to hear that Addis is safe and that there are groups and projects to join in with. As someone who is not such a young woman, I imagine I could handle unwanted attention – if indeed I even actually received any!!

  5. kelvin iman says:

    hi lornao farabia, i have gone through your blog and become intrested working in a foreign county.expecially in ethiopia cos i really enjoy working there but my job is industry is hospitality or a hotelia,will it be possebly to get a chef job as a sociar , breakfast, n bakery chef?.

  6. Jennifer Barbknecht says:

    You mention some exceptions to the problem of the “trailing spouse.” Can you give me some more information about this? I am a teacher and about to retire to hopefully teach abroad and my spouse is a retired attorney.

    • Hi, Jennifer! I’m not an administrator and I can’t claim to know all the factors that go into hiring decisions, but if a school wants a certain teacher badly enough then they’ll sometimes accept a trailing spouse. If you teach IB physics you will be much in demand! Also it seems just from observation that most trailing spouses are older; maybe administrators think such a person will remain satisfied without a job and won’t become as antsy as a young person on a career track. A retired attorney with a lot of outside interests might not be too much of a risk. I recommend searching the blog and forums on for more advice about trailing spouses. Good luck with your job search!

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