How We Made Over $100k Teaching Overseas
Hello! Today, I have a great article from Amanda about making money teaching overseas. Enjoy!
Hey! I’m Amanda Swartz from Every Further Mile, a travel blog that helps families learn about and find great opportunities for work and travel overseas. Along with my husband and family, I am an avid traveler who jumps at the chance to try anything new and adventurous. One such opportunity led to this post, where I’ll walk you through how we made over $100,000 in 10 months while traveling to 7 countries.
With a heart full of wanderlust and a restless spirit, you might think that our decision to move overseas to teach was an easy one. But it wasn’t. In a time when our lives were taking major steps backwards, we were presented with an opportunity of a lifetime and we almost let it slip by.
I grew up in a tiny town (of about 500) that I don’t have many fond memories of and I had decided when I left that I would never go back. But, as many of you know, life doesn’t always go the way you had hoped or planned. When my husband had lost his job that he loved, our little family of three had to make the hard decision to live in any apartment within our means and that meant moving back to that tiny little town and into subsidized housing (which I am actually eternally grateful for, we needed it).
We, thankfully, had really good friends who lived down the hall to make it easier, but it was absolutely not where we wanted to be. My husband, Nathan, ended up taking a temporary job that paid barely more than minimum wage and I was able to find a temporary, part time job to help pay the bills.
Amidst our struggles, we had other great friends who would email us about how they were ‘living the life’ working overseas as teachers (they didn’t really put it in those words). As they regaled us with their travel tales and exotic life, my wanderlust was peaked. Every so often they would subtly suggest that we consider joining them, but Nathan was against it and I was too nervous to push it.
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Some may understand our reluctance and some may be questioning our sanity.
Why wouldn’t we want to take an opportunity that could get us out of a situation we desperately didn’t want to be in, that would give us more income than we ever had and more vacation and travel opportunities than ever before?
- The #1 reason for this was that the opportunity was for teaching in Kuwait. With the news being so negative about the Middle East, we were fearful of taking our 5 year old (and ourselves) to live there.
- Taking a big step in anything is scary, let alone moving halfway across the world to live in a country and culture we knew nothing about.
- We would miss our family.
- Our family might kill us.
- We didn’t know how to teach (we are not trained teachers).
Why we decided to teach in the Middle East:
Now you might be asking, why did you go?
- It was an amazing opportunity.
- It paid more than any job we ever had.
- It was an intriguing challenge.
- We are a restless sort, who love to try new things (much to our families’ chagrin).
- We love to travel and it gave us the opportunity.
- We had significant debt and it was only growing.
Facing our first fear:
Our friends had to work hard to settle our fears of the Middle East. It was the one place in the world that my wanderlust heart had no intention of visiting. Truthfully, I’m embarrassed to even say this now (please don’t judge too harshly), but I thought just about every country in the Middle East was war torn, hated women and had nothing of interest.
But now I know that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Kuwait, like many Middle Eastern countries (more on this below), is a very wealthy country with lots of amenities, things to do, history and culture to experience, friendly people to meet, and delicious delicacies to taste.
We didn’t get to experience everything in Kuwait in our 10 months there, but there was lots that we loved and truly miss.
Some of our favourite places and offerings in Kuwait:
Beaches, Oceans and Sunsets: Kuwait had stunning sunsets. All the dust in the air made for many orange skies at night. It reflected in the ocean and was a photographer’s haven for cityscape silhouettes.
The public beaches had nice boardwalks and private beaches allowed for more relaxation as women were free to wear what they wanted (yes, even bikinis). Normally, women would be expected to dress in what I might deem clothes ‘respectable’ for the office: shoulders covered, skirts/dresses/pants to the knees, no midriff showing.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that men have clothing expectations too. If you are going into a government office for anything, then you better not go in shorts, they will tell you to come back when you’re wearing pants.
Malls: Due to high temperatures and high incomes, air conditioned malls are very popular in the Middle East. If you want high fashion and impressively large malls, go to Kuwait (or many other Middle Eastern countries).
The Avenues is the biggest and most glamorous mall I’ve ever been to with all your typical stores, a section that is modeled after ancient Middle East culture, and a section that offers only high end products (Gucci, Ferrari merch and so much more that I didn’t explore because I felt very much out of place!)
In addition to malls, there were also traditional markets and even a great farmer’s market on the roof of a downtown building.
Food: Coming from a tiny town, Kuwait was the most glorious experience in regards to food choices. If you wanted it, you could get it. Not only in restaurants, but at your fingertips too. Talabat is an online food ordering website that you can use in just about every Middle Eastern country. You can have almost anything you want (including ice cream) delivered to your door.
As a Canadian, we were especially surprised and delighted to have a Tim Horton’s in The Avenues. They even knew our ‘Timmy’s terminology’ (i.e. Double Double).
Out of pure excitement and possibilities, we wasted a little too much money eating out at first, but toned it down as the year went on.
Luxury: When I think luxury resorts, I think Maldives, not Middle East. But let me tell you, Kuwait and many other Middle Eastern locations have some of the top luxury resorts we have ever experienced with beautiful accommodations lining the ocean, palm trees, gardens, spas, unique pools, and delicious poolside service.
Family fun: While there are many times throughout the year that it’s a bit too hot to play outside, there are many indoor play spaces and museums that are great for kids. The Scientific Center with IMAX and an Aquarium that compares nicely with Ripley’s Aquarium, made for a great place to hang out for the day. They even had cheap yearly family passes that we absolutely took advantage of. Kuwait just built a new massive museum (I believe the biggest in the world) that we didn’t have a chance to see, but we wish we did because it sounds amazing.
The best indoor play space in Kuwait was Kidzania; a mini town built to be a fun and immersive experience for kids. You could buy a drink at a mini Starbucks, work at a mini Pizza Pizza to make your own lunch, get your driver’s license from the mini DMV and test drive some go karts around a track. Be a firefighter as you drive around in the back of a fire truck. Pretend to be a police officer or a prisoner in a jail cell with ropes instead of bars (making it easy to escape). It was an expensive place to play, but a fun one!
In addition to these great aspects you can also expect:
- Grocery stores much like we see in Canada (or the USA).
- Public hospitals that are okay and cheap, but private hospitals that are expensive and modern.
- Busy and diverse nightlife. Coming from a small town when everything winds down by 6pm, it took some getting used to when everyone else was just getting started. It’s a dry country (no alcohol), but for those looking, they can likely find something to drink…just don’t get caught (you’ll be deported). If you’re American (or friends with Americans as we were), then the American Embassy has its own bar.
- Driving is a bit different and a lot busier. People like to honk to indicate they are passing you or turning or when they’re angry or when they’re happy…basically people just really like honk their horns.
About Our Work: Perks, Wages and Vacation
While I enjoyed the idea of teaching, it was the wages, vacations and perks that were the driving force behind our decision to move to Kuwait. We were $14,000 in debt (just with our credit cards and line of credit) when we decided to take on this adventure. On top of this, I had made a goal for myself to bring our son, Corban, on world traveling adventures by the time he was 5 years old. It was looking pretty bleak before this opportunity came along and so we (eventually) jumped in with both feet and many youtube videos.
Here are some quick facts about our work:
- English School: We were classroom teachers who taught all the core subjects (not ESL) at an English (language and country) school. I taught grade/level 1 and Nathan taught grade/level 5.
- We aren’t teachers: We had major doubts that we would ever get hired because we had a BA in Biblical Theology and were applying to work as teachers in an Islamic country. But with help from our friends, we were accepted even with our lack of teaching degree.
- Hours: Islam’s Holy day was on Friday, so we worked from Sunday to Thursday. School started at 7am and went until 3pm. Because they had other teachers for Islam, Arabic, Art, Gym, Computers and Music, the classroom teachers had more time for marking throughout the day then what I see happen here in Canada.
- Wages: The moment many of you have been waiting for…depending on the conversion each month, we were paid between $8000-$8500cdn (or $6300usd) per month combined. Although we only worked 10 months, we were paid for 12 months altogether.
- Other Wages: We also took on tutoring jobs outside school hours to make a bit of extra spending money ($40cad/hr) and I was youth pastor for a short while at the church we attended (yes, Christians are allowed to worship in Kuwait). This brought in an extra $1000cad/month for me for about 3 months.
- Perks: On top of our pay we also had our 2 bedroom apartment, heat and hydro bills covered. We had to pay for taxis (only for recreation because we were a 5 min walk from work), internet and groceries.
- Airfare: Free pre-paid airfare to and from Kuwait for each year you are working with them. If you work multiple years, then you can choose where you fly to and from at the beginning and end of the year if you plan to travel instead of go home.
- Taxes: Because we are Canadian and the fact that we immigrated to Kuwait for the year, we weren’t taxed at all on our income. Kuwait doesn’t have income or sales tax either, so bonus! Every country has its own tax rules so do your homework.
- Vacation: Kuwait (and other Middle Eastern countries) celebrate Islamic holidays and since we worked at a British school, we also celebrated the main Western holidays. With these combined with summer holidays, I calculated that we had 17 weeks off a year (11 weeks during summer and 6 during the year).
- Total: This means that we earned $100,000, didn’t have to pay for housing (and estimated income of $15,000), and got 17 weeks of vacation. Not bad at all.
- Debt and Savings: This meant that we were able to pay off $14,000 of debt, save $25,000, travel to 7 countries, and live reasonably comfortable throughout the year (eating out, buying toys and generally enjoying our time in Kuwait).
Why Kuwait over teaching overseas in other foreign countries?
When I read about teaching overseas, it almost always is from TEFL teachers that teach in Asia (and specifically in South Korea). While I’m certain these are great experiences, it seems to me that many overlook the option to teach in the Middle East, which I think is a mistake.
There could be many negatives and positives about teaching in each of these countries/areas, but I’m going to stick with just wages, perks and vacation when helping you decide where it would be best to teach.
- South Korea: $3,000 usd/month
- Kuwait: $6,000 usd/month
South Korea: You get many of the same perks (return airfare, rent, etc), but it seems that you have to pay for your own hydro and heat.
South Korea: 2 weeks paid vacation (not including summer holidays)
Kuwait: 4-7 weeks paid vacation (not including summer holidays)
Which Middle Eastern Countries are Best to Teach In:
Now that you might be thinking of teaching in Kuwait, let’s look at the various Middle Eastern countries that you might also consider:
- UAE (Dubai or Abu Dhabi): This wealthy country continues to invest in the glamorous tourism scene. From fancy turning skyrises to indoor rainforests, UAE has many amazing experiences to offer. Just don’t spend all your money here! (They also allow more imbibing at private resorts).
- Jordan: We had friends who worked in Amman and enjoyed it more than their experience in Kuwait. Not just due to the school they taught at, but also because Jordan has more amazing historical and cultural tourism opportunities that you can take advantage of (i.e. Petra and sleeping in the Wadi Rum desert).
- Oman: The stunning landscape of Oman is one of the biggest reasons to consider this destination.
- Bahrain: Culture, history and tradition mixed with modern structures and amenities makes Bahrain a great option.
- Qatar: Similar to UAE or Bahrain, this modern country is also known as the go-to country for higher education. It even boasts the title ‘Education City’.
Should You Bring Kids to Kuwait?
It was both the hardest and best experience that we could have given our son, Corban. As a shy child, it was difficult for him to make friends at first, especially considering many of the students in grade/level 1 still spoke Arabic in their spare time. Corban was the only English as his first language student and the only caucasian in his class. 50% were Kuwaiti and the other 49% were mostly Egyptian or other Arabic speaking nationalities.
While the beginning was difficult, he truly tried his hardest to keep a positive attitude and embrace the adventure we were on. After a couple months, Kuwait became home to him. He loved his friends and enjoyed this exotic life of culture and travel. We all left a piece of ourselves in Kuwait and miss it for all that it imparted to us.
There were few times that we felt unsafe. Sometimes when we were in taxis (they often didn’t have seatbelts and drove like maniacs, but we always tried to wait until we found a taxi that had seatbelts for us). As a fairly timid woman, I didn’t feel comfortable going out at night by myself, but was perfectly fine if we were out as a family or if I was out with others (but truthfully I feel that way about most places/cities).
We felt safe, our son enjoyed making friends and experiencing a new culture, we all learned so much about making friends who may have different views on life (including a beautiful Egyptian, Islamic family that welcomed us into their lives with open arms and became our family away from home).
Yes, I absolutely recommend taking your family to Kuwait to teach.
You will be surprised at the lessons you will learn, the love for others you will feel and the cultural diversity you will experience.
How to Apply:
Many schools in the Middle East do require that you have a teaching degree or equivalent. However, there are some schools (including the Cambridge English School that we taught at) which only required that you have at least a Bachelor’s degree. TEFL was not required.
When you apply, then you will want to include a cover letter and a resume/CV that highlights the following:
- Work/Education with children.
- Work/Education in specific core subjects or specialty subjects.
- Work/Education with creating children’s programming or curriculum .
- Using popular and up-to-date teaching terminology.
- Ask teachers in the field. If you’re applying to an American school, then ask American teachers. If you’re applying to a British school, then ask British teachers.
- Do this in an informational interview style. Find them in a Facebook group or through a friend and see if you can chat on the phone or over coffee and get an idea of what the school may want to hear in the resume or in the interview.
- Of course, include the normal organizational, interpersonal, teamwork skills, etc.
Here is an example cover letter and resume/CV that I used when we applied:
Where to Apply:
Below, I’ll give you a list of websites you can look to for schools that you can check out in the Middle East. Check out the school websites for further details on how you should apply or for their email. Keep in mind that most of the schools will say they have only certified/qualified teachers, but many of them still accept those who have just a B.A. (again, like Cambridge English School). Start with applying to the ones that you are most excited about and go from there.
Of course, if you know someone who already works at a school in a Middle Eastern country that you are happy with, then ask them to put a good word in and ask if you can add their name to your cover letter. You will want to apply to British, American, and/or International Private Schools (not public schools).
Best Online Resources for Teaching Jobs/Finding Schools to Apply:
Wikipedia (Google the schools on their lists):
Bahrain has their own list here
Lastly, Edarabia lists the schools by country and by quality
Be Careful When Teaching Overseas:
When applying to any international job, be sure to do your due diligence. Check into the school online, find teachers in Facebook groups to vouch for the school and the person hiring you. Do your research and read your contract carefully. Don’t sign it if you aren’t certain. And lastly, never ever hand in your passport when you reach a new country, not even if they insist it’s necessary. Always have photocopies of all your important documents on hand and know where your nearest embassy is. Bring your own money with you to get you started. This is just good advice for any international job.
Embrace Your Adventure:
My parting advice is to embrace your adventure. Are you looking for a chance to travel the world? Want to experience new cultures, rich history and great traditions? You have debt to repay and want to save money? You enjoy working with children? These are all great reasons to teach overseas, especially in the Middle East.
Go with an open mind, a respectful attitude and a positive spirit. You’ll fall in love!
If you have any questions about teaching overseas, I would be happy to answer them in the comments below.
Are you interested in teaching overseas?