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Navigating International Teacher Contracts: Key Considerations

Empowered by the valuable insights gained from When Choosing a Job at an International School Consider This!, you have navigated the jungle of applications, and crushed the interview stage.  Now, the golden ticket to your dream teaching adventure abroad shimmers in your inbox. That is, your international teacher contract!!  However, before you sign and do a victory lap (we’ve all been there!), let’s talk nitty-gritty. This guide aims to equip you with the basic knowledge you will need when reviewing your teaching contract. It will dive into key details you might find and provide questions you need to consider before signing on the dotted line. 

Each contract is different and what might be a good contract for me, may be seriously lacking for you! Therefore, at the end of the day always consider your individual situation when evaluating your international teacher contract.  

Your adventure awaits!

a puzzle piece showing different clauses in international school teacher contracts

International Teacher Contract: Must-Know Clauses for Your Overseas Adventure

Understanding Your Role: Essential Clause in Your International Teacher Contract

This section in your contract outlines your official title and specific role within the school. Look for details like:

  • Specific Teaching Position: Does the contract explicitly state “Elementary School Teacher” or “Secondary School Teacher”? Or does it specify your subject area, like “Math Teacher” or “History Teacher”?
  • Assigned Grade Levels: Are specific grade levels mentioned, like “Grades 3-5”, “PYP” or “High School”?

This clause holds significant importance in your international teaching contract. Since without clear and specific details, you might end up teaching different roles or grade levels (within your area of expertise) during your time at the school. For example, I initially applied for an Elementary School position, but my contract only stated “Teacher.” This ambiguity allowed the school to easily add a Secondary School class to my workload in my second year. Although this was not a major issue for me, in another context however it could prove problematic.

A precise job title and role ensures that you understand your expected responsibilities and empowers you to negotiate any potential changes. 

Contract Length

Most initial contracts for teachers are 2-3 years, but leadership contracts can be 5 years.  Generally, contract renewals are 1 year in length. However, I recently saw a 2-year contract renewal and you could opt to extend for 1 year instead.

Dollars & Decisions: Making Sense of the Money Matters in Your International Teacher Contract


This section outlines your specific salary and placement within the school’s pay scale. Look for the salary document that should accompany your international teacher contract. This document details the pay scale and how your experience and qualifications determine your starting salary.  I prefer working for schools that use a published pay scale that considers your years of experience and qualifications.

It is important to note that:

  1. Most schools won’t recognize all your years of service. That is, you might have 20 years of experience, but you will start at year 6 on the scale. Therefore, the pay scale should specify the maximum number of years considered when determining your salary.
  2. Pay scales often have a cap! In other words, this means that your salary won’t increase beyond a certain point unless there is a revision of the entire scale. 
Look for details in your international teacher contract that explains: 
  • Currency: Will my salary be paid 100% in local or foreign currency? Is there a percentage of my salary that will be paid in local currency? If paid solely in the local currency, is it pegged to a foreign currency?

This is especially important if moving to a country where their local currency devalues frequently. 

  • Taxes: Will I have to pay taxes? Does the school offer any help with taxes or will I be responsible for managing this myself?  
  • Payment Frequency: How often will I be paid? Monthly for 10, 11 or 12 months? 
  • Gratuity/Pension: Check if the contract includes a gratuity payment or payment instead of a pension. This is usually a percentage of your yearly salary. 
  • Pension System: Depending on the country, schools might use the national pension scheme or offer individual investment options.
  • Bonus: Some schools offer a signing bonus for each additional contract you sign. This is usually stated as a dollar amount.

Remember that you will need to factor in the cost of living when considering your salary. While USD 45,000 might seem attractive at first glance, its purchasing power can vary greatly depending on the location. For example, the same salary might offer a comfortable lifestyle in Brazil, while proving insufficient in Hong Kong due to the higher cost of living. As a result, you should thoroughly research the living expenses in your potential host country to ensure the offered salary allows you to maintain a decent standard of living.

Unpacking the Package: International School Contract Benefits

Benefits you may find in your international teaching contract are:

Relocation Expenses: Who covers the cost of visas, medicals, attestation/notarization of documents and courier service? Do I get a moving allowance or salary advance to help me in the first month? Is there a shipping/airfreight/baggage allowance?

Flights:  Does the school help with covering flight costs, such as reimbursement or direct booking? If there is a flight benefit, is it only for the teacher or dependents as well? Can I get flights to/from somewhere other than my home country on record? How many flights are included? Are flights only at the beginning and end of a contract, or every year within the contract?

Accommodation: Is there housing on the school campus or is it close by? Does the school provide a rent allowance? Will the allowance cover the full rent based on the market? Do I have to pay utilities or does the school cover? Does the school help with finding a place or help with deposits? Is it shared housing? If accommodation is not provided do they put you up in a hotel until you can find your own place?

Yes, some schools might ask especially single teachers to share a house!!

Dependents benefits: How many children will the school allow as your dependents? Will they cover 100% of the school fees for all school-aged children or is it a percentage? What fees will you have to pay (books, uniform, school development etc)? Will there be a guaranteed space for my child or does it depend on passing a test? If your child does not get a place at your school, will they pay to send them to another? Will the school sponsor the visa (if needed) for all dependents?

Work-Life Harmony Within Your International Teacher Contract

Consider the:

Expectations: What are your working hours? Do I have to work on weekends? Do I need to have office hours outside of my regular work hours? What duties outside of teaching do you need to do? How many/how often do I need to lead extracurricular activities? Is there a probationary period?

Leave and Absences: Are there personal or sick days? Is there bereavement leave for funerals? How many days for maternity leave? Is there paternity or adoption leave? Do I need to be employed for a specific number of months before I am eligible for paid leave? How many days of unpaid leave do I have? Is there recruitment leave?

If you have young children the sick and personal days will be important. My friend signed her contract without paying attention to the fact that her school only allowed 3 sick and 2 personal paid days FOR THE WHOLE YEAR!!!
While some schools might offer additional support during bereavement leave, such as paying for flights home or providing a cash contribution, this is not standard practice and shouldn’t be expected. Note that in most cases, schools will only recognize the passing of immediate family members, that is, parents, siblings, spouses, and children.

Insurance: Is health insurance only for local treatment or international as well? Is health insurance only provided for the teacher? Is there life/evacuation/disability insurance? If the health systems in the country are not adequate, is medical evacuation covered? 

Important Considerations Beyond Your Overseas Teaching Contract

While the answers to these questions will not necessarily be found in your contract, it is still worth investigating them.

  • Will you have to give in your passport for ‘safe keeping’?
  • How will you get from the airport to where you will live? Will the school arrange this or will you have to figure it out?
  • Do you get help from the school to clear items if you decide to ship your belongings? 
  • What is the turnover rate like for staff? There are a few schools that I have decided not to apply to due to my observations. Since 2015, as I have been searching through recruitment sites, I have noticed that they advertise music teacher roles every year!!

Remember to conduct detailed research and careful consideration before signing any contract. This will help make your transition smooth and reduce any surprises along the way. Some schools may not always fulfil their obligations as agreed upon. Take a look at this article and read the comments on schools failing to honour contracts.

When contemplating offers, it is important to look beyond the contract. Resources such as international teaching questions amongst others, can be helpful. I remember the wave of emotions when I signed my first international contract. Now, I’m cheering for you! If you have any questions or just want to connect, reach out – I’m happy to help in any way I can.

Share your key considerations in the comments below. Together, we can build a valuable resource for aspiring international educators!

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