Home. Transitions Abroad founded 1977.  
Travel Work Living Teach Intern Volunteer Study Language High School

How Retired Teachers Can Work at International Schools

Everything You Need to Know to Start an Adventurous New Job or Career

International teachers visiting sand dunes with 4x4 truck.

Not Quite Ready for a Rocking Chair?

You (and your teacher spouse) just retired from a long and successful career in education or will soon, and the thought of gardening/golf/grandkids leaves you feeling restless. You fall into the gap between retiring in your 50s and yet not quite ready to stop working. You need a change, and the stimulation of teaching in an international school could keep you going happily for another few years. We retired at 55 and subsequently worked in Russia, Dubai, and Thailand before finally retiring for good. You can, too, assuming you are a capable teacher with a positive outlook and lots of energy.

Your experience and certification are the keys to adventure, rich new friendships, satisfying teaching, and a financial boost to your battered retirement account. If you are healthy, flexible, teach a sought-after subject specialty (and have a teaching spouse), you might be a prime candidate for an overseas recruiter. It is probably too late for the school year. Still, if you start now, there's time to make a firm decision, prepare your family and friends, register with a recruiting agency, attend a job fair next winter, and start work in an exotic location by August.

The problem of the “Trailing Spouse”

The most desirable candidates to a recruiter are either single teachers or married teaching couples without children. The expense of hiring, transporting, and housing teachers is the reason. If you are married, it is improbable a school will hire you with a "trailing spouse, i.e., one who will not also work there as a teacher. Also, if you are excited about working in international schools for a few years, but your spouse is not, recruiters will not want to take an expensive chance on you either. Do the necessary soul-searching together and make this a joint decision.

What are International Schools?

International schools vary wildly, but with a successful teaching career behind you, you should aim only for the best schools. Instruction is in English, and the curricula are American or British. These schools most often resemble elite private schools, which means you could enjoy the most satisfying and challenging teaching of your career. It is quite usual for an international school to have students from 50+ countries, and the typical parent is involved and supportive. Budgets are usually healthy, discipline problems rare, and special education is not the norm, except for ESL.

Main Categories of Accredited International Schools
  • Embassy Schools — sponsored by the U.S. or U.K. governments and accredited fully. Here you will find top students and virtually all headed to university. They often admit local students, but the tuition is quite steep.
  • International Schools — they come in various types, but just be sure they are fully accredited. Avoid "for-profit" or proprietary schools.
  • DoDS — Department of Defense schools are similar to American schools in many ways. You are hired separately through the Department of Defense, not recruiting fairs.

Teaching in International Schools

"Travel is intensified living." says Rick Steves, and teaching in international schools is intensified living AND teaching. It is not just a "'job" but a way of life. You will be working in close contact with fellow teachers and parents; for all practical purposes, you are moving to a small town. International schools typically provide housing, which means you will live right down the hall from your fellow teachers. Consequently, it would be best if you got along with everybody all the time.

A Stimulating Way of Life

You may spend 3-day weekends in Prague or Luang Prabang. Spring break could be skiing in the Alps or touring Vietnam. While friends and family back home are in the same rut they have traversed for decades, you are riding an elephant in Chiang Mai, seeing plays in London, or bargaining for carpets in the souks of Damascus.

Teacher with 'Dumbo' the elephant

You will likely meet fascinating people with extraordinary stories. International teaching attracts a lively faculty, and the dinner parties and outings will be more fun than you have had in years. You will be expected to pitch in and contribute to the overall social life, so you might find yourself organizing a camping trip into the deserts of Dubai, a book group in Chiang Mai, sleigh rides for school families in Moscow, or teaching young teachers how to cook their first Thanksgiving turkey. If you want to sit at home and watch TV, international schools are not for you.

Camel crossing while teaching in Dubai.

Financial Benefits

Teaching in international schools can be financially rewarding. Your school's package most likely includes free housing and utilities, free medical care, flight to and from your school every two years, and pension account contribution. Perks vary. Income is free of American income taxes if the amount is below $87,600 per person, and you can satisfy the "bona fide residence" test. But the cost of living is the more important consideration; $50,000 in Dhaka goes much further than $50,000 in Paris. In Russia, Dubai, and Thailand, we saved half our salaries, paid off debt, and traveled widely.

Your Decision

So, should you (and your spouse) teach in international schools after retirement? First, do some honest soul-searching. Can you go back to work for two years or more? Even with the travel, monetary incentive, and quality of students, teaching in an international school is not a vacation but hard work. What about your responsibilities and connections at home? Your adult children might not take well to your decision. How much will you miss your grandchildren? Should you rent your house, and what about your "stuff?"

Can a reliable family member watch over your house and bank accounts? Even with Internet banking, this person's role is indispensable.

The Recruiter’s Decision

Hiring and housing an overseas teacher is expensive — often in the $10,000 range. During your 15 minutes in the hotel room at the job fair, the recruiter must judge whether you are suitable as a teacher and whether you and your spouse will fit into the school community without causing trouble. You will find yourself answering questions an American interviewer would have no business asking about your personal life. Below is a recruiter's wish list:

  • Fully certified with at least two years’ experience.
  • Matches vacancy. Math and science teachers, counselors and librarians are especially hard to find.
  • Younger than 60 (many countries cannot hire those older than 60).
  • Healthy (you will probably need to pass a physical).
  • Proven record of successful teaching and extracurricular activities or coaching.
  • Previous overseas living or extensive travel.
  • Spouse with a desirable teaching specialty.
  • Committed for a 2-year contract, minimum.
  • No dependents to cost the school tuition.
  • No emotional problems or issues with drugs or alcohol. Solid marriage.
  • Ability to get along with all kinds of people; a positive attitude.
  • Open to change and growth, flexibility, and a sense of humor.

When and How to Proceed

Once you (and your spouse) have firmly decided you want to teach overseas, researched the lifestyle (see More Information below), and prepared your loved ones for this change, here's the schedule:

  • Register with one of the larger placement agencies in the fall, such as International Schools Services or Search Associates. These agencies are selective, so once you are accepted, prepare for the recruiting fairs in February. Learn as much as possible about international schools.
  • Approach possible schools in advance. We recommend using some of the websites listed below for their highly practical advice on structuring your job search.
  • Attend at least one recruiting fair in February. You will be hired if you have prepared well and are a good fit. Be flexible about location; you will likely do this for the adventure.
  • Prepare to move overseas for two years.
  • Start work in August.
For More Information

The International Educator — has many job listings and quality articles and charges a fee for access to their vacancies and posting your resume.

International Schools Services — lists the international schools ISS represents in each country. The site is great for daydreaming.

International Schools Review — is a site for teachers to air their "honest" opinions about a school. The site might help you avoid going to a dreadful school, although of questionable veracity sometimes. It carries a yearly subscription fee.

Joyjobs: Teaching Jobs Overseas — is a service that costs a small fee, provides daily vacancy postings, and hosts your personal CV web page. Packed with detailed advice, it also lists vacancies.

Study our “Teach Abroad Advisor” section for first-hand accounts of other teachers’ experiences.

Related Articles
Guide to Landing International Teaching Work: Real Advice from Real Teachers
Teaching at an International School — Five Key Facts You Should Know
Teaching as an International Career
International School Teaching Jobs: How to Plan a Successful Interview
Teach Overseas: The International School Route
International Teacher Exchange Programs: An Excellent Opportunity to Work Abroad
How to Find and Land the International K-12 Teaching Job You Have Always Wanted
Related Topics
Teaching Abroad K-12 and University

About Us  
Contact Us  
© 1997-2024 Transitions Abroad Publishing, Inc.
Privacy Policy Cookie Policy Terms and Conditions California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) Opt-Out IconYour Privacy Choices Notice at Collection