Being an international teacher often means that you are one of those lucky buggers that do not have to pay rent. When teaching abroad, flights, visa costs and rent are included in your package. But what can you expect from your accommodation? What does a teacher’s apartment look like? And what will you need to keep in mind when signing a contract and moving abroad? Let me take you through it.
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Accomodation depends on your school
If you think the life of a teacher abroad is laced with luxury, this might not be for you. Most accommodations are basic. No skyline views of Dubai, no infinity pools in Thailand and no 300 square meter palaces with designer furniture. You might be snickering at this thought, but trust me: on my quest through forums, YouTube videos and blogs I noticed that these are indeed the standards some people expect…
And fair enough! There are indeed schools and institutions that will offer you amazing apartments you would never ever be able to afford in a place like – let’s say London, but this is more of an exception. Also, keep in mind that luxurious and generous packages will often mean that you need to commit more of your personal time to your professional life.
2023 note: The longer you are in international teaching the more you know ;). Quite a few of our friends who have worked in Thailand had nice flats. They get between $600 and $800 a month to spend on rent. What you can get for this in Thailand depends on the city (Chiang Mai is cheaper than Bangkok), what part of the city you are looking to rent in (Expat areas will always be more expensive) and what you are looking for (Thai style accommodation will always be better value than western spec accommodation).
If you are starting your international teaching career – and since you are reading this blog post, I assume you are – you will most likely end up in a basic but nice apartment. Most apartments are one-bedroom apartments with a medium-sized kitchen and a bedroom with a double bed. Most apartments are semi-furnished (which is something we will talk about further in this post) which means you will be able to live, sleep and eat in your new home right away.
BUT – and there is always a but… there are some schools I know of in Dubai and South-East Asia that do offer large accommodation allowances. A former colleague of my husband made a welcome move to a better school and doubled her allowance. She can now afford a beautiful sky-scraper apartment in the centre of Dubai. The chance that you will be able to secure such a package on your very first contract as an international classroom teacher is slim. But that doesn’t mean you should be happy with whatever accommodation a school throws at you.
Do read the job posting and ask about accommodation in your interview or before you accept the job. Some schools prefer to cut costs and put 2 or more teachers into the same apartment. If house sharing is something you would rather not do, it is best you decline the offer as you will most likely have to live like this for 2 years. There are three kinds of accommodation schools can provide
2023 note: If you are looking to stay in a location long-term you might in fact be better off to rent an unfurnished apartment and furnish it yourself. We did this in Nepal and we have a 6 bedroom house for the same price of a furnished 2 or 3 bed apartment in the area. At the end of your tenure you can easily sell the furniture you bought or even take it with you as many good schools offer relocation packages which include a shipping allowance. Although the up-front cost of furnishing a house might be quite high, you will often have a much better accommodation for a lower price.
1. On site accommodation
Some schools offer on site accommodation. Although this used to mostly just happen in China, there are now also a few schools in Bangkok that have started offering on-site accommodation. On-site apartments for teachers mean the apartment building stands on the school grounds. Although some people might find this idea horrifying – you are always at work – it is quite handy as school is always close.
On-site accommodation is often provided when the school lies outside of the city. It can also be the case that you are in an area where it is hard to find quality (affordable) housing. The positives of on-site housing are that on a new campus, your apartments will probably be of a high standard. You will also be close to school and won’t have to spend money on commuting.
The drawbacks are that you can’t easily escape school and that you will probably be housed quite far outside of the city. The chances that your building will have a private pool and gym are very slim, instead, you will be able to use the facilities at the school.
Another drawback is that you will literally have to live with your colleagues in one apartment block. This means everybody is always in everybody’s business (trust me, we lived with 6 other teachers on one floor of an apartment building in Dubai) and that there is hardly any privacy. You will meet colleagues in the lobby, in the gym, at the pool… It might sound great if you are in your early 20’s, but this might not be a great environment for people who like it quiet or for families.
The good news is that even though school might have apartments on-site, they can also offer you a housing allowance in case you do not feel like living on the school campus.
2. Off site accommodation
Schools might also provide you with accommodation in a separate building. This is how accommodation is arranged most often.
Ask about the facilities at the building and how long the school has been renting the apartment for. The latter will give you an insight into the state of the apartment. When we first moved to Dubai we received an old apartment the school had been renting for some 10 years. The bed was broken – and after a lot of hassle replaced, the kitchen was so dirty the weekly maids could not get it clean and the apartment was very grimy. And don’t get me started on the cockroaches!
The school now moved everyone into a new apartment block and both the overall happiness and the living standards have increased phenomenally.
3. Housing Allowance
Schools that provide off-site accommodation often offer an accommodation allowance as well. This allowance allows you to rent your own apartment. Before agreeing to the allowance you should have a look at the cost of apartments in the area of the school.
TIP: I recommend looking on local real-estate websites even when going for the accommodation provided. This way you get an idea of what to expect and whether or not it lives up to your standards. An allowance of AED 36.000 a year, for instance, won’t get you a lot. Even in the poorer areas of Dubai. There are schools in Dubai that offer an allowance of AED 70.000 a year. This will allow you to comfortably rent a beautiful skyscraper apartment downtown Dubai. Choose your school carefully!
2023 note: In Dubai our school put all teachers in two buildings. You were lucky if you were in the first one, not so much if you were allocated to the second one. Now we are in Nepal, the school tries to look for an apartment in the area of the school. There are a couple of apartment blocks the school tries to house people if apartments free up that are within the housing allowance, but it is not like everyone is divided between one or two buildings. Here in Kathmandu it is easy to move and a lot of teachers end up taking the housing allowance and start looking for their own accommodation while others decide to stay in the housing provided by the school.
Does teacher accommodation abroad have pools and gyms
Whether your apartment has a gym or a pool depends greatly on the housing standards of the country you are looking to settle in. In Dubai for instance, there will be an 80% chance your building has at least a pool. If having a pool is not a deal breaker for you, it is safe to ask about this after you have signed the contract. If you are desperate for some splashy times – do ask the school before you send them a signed contract.
Buildings boasting gyms are no exception in Asian countries. Yet – these gyms will not always be up to your standard. In fact: most of them will be nothing more than some treadmills, some weights, and a few other basic machines. Don’t let this hold you back accepting a job as there will always be great private gyms around. When moving to a hot country, having a pool is way more important than having a flashy gym.
How to get better accommodation
Most schools will offer you a choice between accommodation or a housing allowance. Depending on the size of the allowance you can start looking for better apartments or houses. Keep in mind that experienced (international) teachers find it easier to secure great packages. Some schools prefer to keep everyone except for senior management in the same apartment block. Other schools upgrade their subject heads to better apartments or offer them a bigger allowance.
It is a matter of starting at the bottom of the ladder and working your way up when starting as a classroom teacher abroad. So how to get better teacher’s accommodation? You can wait and rise in the ranks of international teaching. You can also take your allowance and look for a better apartment. Or you can apply to expensive and prestigious international schools. But as I said: these expensive and prestigious schools will often ask a lot more of you then you’re used to at home.
Is teacher accommodation abroad furnished
As I said before in this post, most – if not all, accommodation is half or fully furnished. This does not mean that you won’t have to put in a massive Ikea order though. In fact: there will be tons of things you will need:
- Pots and pans (good schools will provide some of these)
- Bed sheets (Schools might provide these)
- Towels – both bath towels and kitchen towels (might be provided)
- Cutlery and dishes (good schools will provide some of these)
- Drying rack
- Extension cables
- Vacuum cleaners
- Cleaning tools and products
- Storage boxes and baskets
- Any storage or surface furniture you might miss
- Personal Hygiene products
You will probably need to spend close to £400 on essential items in the first few weeks. Do not splash out on unessential furniture until you are 100% sure you will be staying.
2023 note: When we arrived in Dubai, the school offered us 1 cup, 1 plate, 1 pillow, a 1 person duvet, 1 knife, 1 fork… you get the gist. Even though they KNEW we were a couple. When we arrived in Nepal, however, the apartment already had quite some cutlery. The school also provided us with some basics such as a plastic plate and a bowl and even a bottle of wine! That was in addition to the school providing us with a shipping allowance so we could ship things from the UK to Nepal. Even though we arrived in Nepal in the middle of the pandemic, we had a much better experience than when we arrived in Dubai.
Lieze Neven is a globetrotting travel writer and expat currently based in Nepal. With a passion for exploration, she has lived in Dubai, the UK, and Belgium, alongside her international teacher husband. Her parents live in France and she tries to visit Paris at least once a year. Together, they travel the world looking for the best hotels, experiences and food locations have to offer!