Someone recently asked me a very good question: when you are recruiting, what are some things that every school should include in their contracts for foreign hire teachers? Firstly, I would say that it is highly unlikely that any two schools would have exactly the same package, but there are definitely things that I would look for in any package!
Also, I would like to point out that certain regions are known for having very different packages. An example that comes to mind first is that housing costs are not usually included in packages in Western Europe. The Middle East is known for having tax-free income (but so are many other places). Let’s just say that there will be differences wherever you go, but a few things are non-negotiable for me.
- Airfare: I have always had my airfare covered to and from my home city. Some schools (mostly in Europe) will only cover the beginning and ending of your contract (once to get you to the new country and once at the end of two years to get you home). Even those who are stingy and only do the beginning and ending for the first contract will normally include a provision to have annual airfare if you renew your contract.
- Visa fees: the school is hiring you to work. So they should be in charge of paying for and helping you to get a work visa.
- Health Insurance: all schools should offer you some kind of health insurance even if it is a local insurance. One really common insurer is TIE Care and they can be really awesome depending on the plan your school chose.
- Housing: I have never tried to work in Western Europe, so I always expect to find a school that pays for housing for teachers. While I have had to share a house (a giant 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom house) with another teacher here in Venezuela, and even a three bedroom apartment (with two other teachers), I have always had my own room and my housing costs covered. It is most common that you will get a two bedroom apartment included in your package (as a single teacher). At this point in my life, nearly 32 years old, with seven years of overseas international school teaching experience, I would specifically look for places that would provide unshared housing.
- Shipping: Schools know that you are moving your entire life overseas and that teachers tend to be hoarders, so they like to arrange for us to be able to bring our materials to our new schools. I have had everything from a few hundred dollars toward shipping to a couple of thousand. Some schools even arrange for a shipping container so you can move furniture and stuff!
These are the five things that are just non-negotiable for me. There are a few others that are fairly common that you could be on the look out for.
Pretty Much Expected
- Retirement: All of the top schools’ packages that I’ve seen have included some for of retirement plan. Some have official plans with Raymond James or other investment firms and they offer anything from 2-20% matching schemes. Other schools will offer you one or two months of your base salary per year worked. If you follow my blog, you know that retirement is something that I am carefully planning for, so I always weigh this heavily in my decision to accept a job.
- Professional Development: My state requires me to continuously take professional development courses. Several schools offer $500-$1000 per year toward professional development. Some schools even pay for a master’s degree (this is how I got my second masters!). Not every state requires you to do professional development, but I think it is in your best interest to stay aware of new practices and hone your teaching abilities, so look for schools who offer this in their packages!
- Settling-In Allowance: Many schools know that when you are just moving to a new country you had to leave behind many possessions that make your house feel like home, so they give you some money to settle in. Usually, this is a few hundred dollars, but I’ve seen a thousand being offered before. This is money you can use for food, kitchen stuff, bedding, hangers, whatever makes you feel most comfortable.
- Free Tuition for dependents: it is very common for at least one or two children’s school tuition to be completely paid for by the school. Sometimes it is one child per teacher. I honestly haven’t paid too much attention to this because I don’t have children (or a husband) so kids are not on my radar, but it seems fairly standard. Some places will only pay for 50% of the tuition, and some places will tax the money that they give you toward tuition. If you have kids, look at this very
- Utilities: many schools will pay all or part of your utilities. It is common to have all or part of your water, gas, electricity, and landline covered. Teachers normally need to only pay for cable internet and a cell phone.
The ten things I’ve listed above are basically the things that I, personally, would be looking for in a package (minus the bit about the tuition). Below I will list some items that are fairly common and would be very nice to have.
Nice to Have
- Car loan: while I really love living in a city with great public transportation (like Beijing), in Venezuela I feel like it is really important to have your own car for safety purposes. If a school can provide an interest free car loan, this would be ideal, so you don’t have to pay thousands of dollars when you first move to a new city/country.
- Dental: for some reason, dental insurance is seemingly very uncommon in many packages that I’ve seen. I don’t know why this is true because dental hygiene is very important, but perhaps it is just very cheap and easily found in those places that don’t offer it (like my past jobs in Venezuela).
- Vision: even rarer is the mention of vision, but perhaps that is included in normal medical insurance. I can’t say that I’ve really paid much attention to this one since I don’t have issues with my eyesight.
- Contract Completion Bonus: There are a variety of bonuses at schools, but being offered anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to up to a month’s wages isn’t that uncommon if you complete a two-year contract.
- Re-Signing Bonus: Another fairly common bonus is $2000-$5000 to be paid if you sign on for another year.
- Stipends for Extracurriculars: If you coach, host after school clubs, sponsor STUCO, sponsor NHS, etc. many schools will pay you at least a little extra.
- Language Lessons: if you are moving to a country where English is not spoken, it is not uncommon for a school to offer at least a few weeks of language lessons.
- Subsidized or Free Lunch: this is pretty straight forward. I’ve noticed a lot of schools in Asia offering subsidized lunch (yum), as well as many schools in Latin America. My school in China made it less than a dollar per day if you wanted to eat the school’s lunch. I always loved the food there, but as a fiscally responsible person, I think it is wise to take advantage of free food whenever you can get it. Hahaha
- Health & Wellness plans: a few schools know that it is important for teachers to stay healthy and happy (it saves them the cost of finding and paying for substitute teachers if nothing else), so I am always very happy whenever I see things like gym/pool access for teachers included in a package. I like to go to the gym at least three days a week, and if I had a lap pool available it would be at least three days for that as well. I’ve found that the more active I am the healthier I am. I wish more schools offered this.
- Laptop/iPad use: Some schools are very thoughtful because they know that their teachers bring homework nearly every day in some form or another. A few schools openly list the use of a laptop or iPad in their packages. While I have my own laptop (two now that I got Apple to fix my Macbook Pro that died last year) and iPad, a school-issued one would help extend the longevity of your own personal devices because you would be using them less. I had to take my own laptop to and from school everyday in Mexico and in Ciudad Ojeda, so I know how nice it is when schools offer this benefit.
These are all of the things that I’ve repeatedly seen in packages from all of the many schools that I’ve read about and looked into over the years. There are also some really amazing benefits that I’ve seen offered at only a few schools that I also wanted to share.
- Sabbatical leave: Usually this is only offered after five or more continuous years of employment at a school. Whenever I’ve seen this offered (only a few schools have listed this benefit), it is usually offering six months to a year of leave. I’m not sure if it is full paid leave or if it is only partially covered, but it still seems amazing. Sometimes I dream of being able to just save up enough money to travel the world for a full year, being able to volunteer at places where I want and to visit family whenever I want AND THEN go back to your amazing school and relationships that you have formed for the past several years. If a school offered me this, it would be a huge incentive to stay for more than the common 2-3 years.
- Cost of Living Allowance: Some places give you additional money to help you get the things you would get at home. Generally, these are hardship locations.
- Storage: one or two schools I’ve looked at offer to pay for your storage back home. I know that my mom would love it if I got all of my kitchen stuff out of her attic and into a storage facility!
- Use of a car: the first school I worked at in Venezuela let teachers use a school-owned car around town if we paid for the insurance. A couple schools even provide a driver!
- Pay back sick leave– I think that schools that offer to buy your unused sick leave are doing it right. They are paying you to be healthy!
Please Comment: What do you look for in an overseas contract? What amazing items have you seen in an overseas package? What are your non-negotiables?