Teaching overseas is the best way to combine great working conditions with living an exotic lifestyle. But it’s not without pitfalls for the unwary. I’m going to share a little story with you about how an experienced international teacher ended up having a really, really bad couple of days…
When you are getting ready to move overseas, you will definitely want to take a very close look at what kind of visa you need to get. Moving your teaching career abroad isn’t the same as going on holiday. You are not entering the country for tourism purposes, and most countries distinguish between tourism visas and, well, non-tourism visas!

You many need to get a non-immigrant visa, or a business visa or a working visa… there are many names and number designations that are country specific. For example, teachers who are moving to the United Kingdom require a working visa (or a working holiday visa if they’re under 30) but I needed a non-Immigrant B visa to enter Thailand to take up my post here.

Your new school will let you know what kind of visa you need to get, but you’ll probably have to go and apply for it at the embassy yourself, possibly with documentation that they’ll send to you. Ensure that you read every word in the emails and letters from your new school. And if you don’t understand something, ask for clarification. Here’s why…

In 2007 I started my new job in Thailand at an international school. When we first arrived at the school for our orientation, we were asked to hand in our passports so that the school administration staff could prepare our work permit applications. Our work permits were to take the place of our non-Immigrant B visas when they ran out in a couple of months. We were assured that in the interim, we it was quite legal for us to be working on our non-Immigrant B visas.

I was rather confused when one of my new colleagues leaned over and quietly asked me what a non-Immigrant B visa was. After a little questioning I realized that she didn’t have the right visa because she hadn’t read the instructions in a registered letter we’d received months earlier. The letter contained our official invitation of employment that we were supposed to take to a Thai embassy to get the non-Immigrant B visa which would allow us to work legally in Thailand. My colleague had thought the letter was just something for our records…

As a result my colleague had entered Thailand on a tourist visa which couldn’t be ‘converted’ into a work permit under the immigration rules. This was the beginning of a number of really bad days for her as she had to leave the country in order to get herself the correct visa.

Yes, she got to spend 5 days in Malaysia while the Thai embassy in Malaysia processed her visa application. But it meant that when she got back to Thailand with the correct visa:

* she had no time to prepare for the students starting school the next day
* she still had nowhere to live when most of the rest of us had already found apartments
* she was several hundred dollars out of pocket because she’d had to pay for the trip (hotel, flights, visa for Malaysia) herself.

And the real eye-opener of this story? This particular colleague was an experienced international teacher starting her third overseas position.

It can happen to us all, but don’t let this happen to you! Read everything and ask for further information when you come across something you don’t understand. It’s highly likely that the people contacting you about visas and other ‘house-keeping’ issues will speak English as an Additional Language and this can make communication challenging at times. Bear with it and don’t assume that you’ve understood until you’ve checked.

A quick tip for you – if you’re having trouble communicating with the administrative staff at your school, ask for a ‘buddy’ from among the teaching staff to contact you. Your buddy can help interpret the correspondence from the school and help you out with any questions you have!

Kelly Blackwell’s teaching career has spanned more than a decade and crossed 3 continents. Kick-start your international teaching career today!