A Detailed Guide on How to Get An International School Job

How to Get An International School Job In 2020.

Table Of Contents:

1. Summary: How to Get An International School Job
2. What Makes An International School Job Different From Normal Schools?
3. International School Jobs – Advantages And Disadvantages
4. What Do International Schools Look For In Teachers?
5. International School Job Interviews: What Sort Of Questions Are Asked?
6. Do I Have To Know The Local Language To Work In An International School?
7. How Demanding Are International School Jobs?
8. Do I need a Masters Qualification to work in an International School?
9. How Much Will I be Paid In An International School?
10. …and What About Bonuses in International Schools?
11. How Can I Find An International School Job?
12. The Author’s Personal Experience: What’s It Like To Work In An International School?
13. I Would Like More Information/Advice – Can you Help? 

1.Summary: How to Get An International School Job

There are many ways to get an international school job but to maximise your chances here’s a round up of what an international school will look for:

– Recognised teacher certification qualification: do yourself a huge favor and get qualified. For a quick starting point:  Wikipedia: Certified Teacher Status per Country 

– Experience: In a state school. Why state school? See below ‘What Do International Schools Look For In Teachers?

– Educational Systems: Get as much experience of systems used in international schools – this could be A Levels, GCSEs, Common Core Standards, NGSS, AP and, of course, the International Baccalaureate schemes – PYP, MYP and Diploma program. 

– Language: Begin learning one of the world languages – top of the list being Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic. No need to be an expert, simply showing an interest is all that matters. 

– Extras: Develop your aptitude in an extracurricular activity that you can offer students. 

I have been working internationally as a middle and high school science teacher for 17 years. Prior to that I worked in the UK in a state school teaching secondary school science. Here’s my guide to working internationally, including all the benefits and challenges this brings. 

2. What Makes An International School Job Different From Normal Schools? 

International schools can help students look beyond their own country borders.

There is a wide variety of international schools each with huge differences in how they provide education. Some are purely international and strive to have no attachments to a particular country or culture. In reality this isn’t the case for most schools – many follow educational systems of specific countries and blend this with an international flavour.

Usually this means that students complete their education with the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma qualification which is equivalent to A Levels and AP systems in the UK and US respectively.

So, What Makes International School International 

1. The community is made up of several different nationalities as well as the home nationality. 

2. The Teaching staff is multinational, multilingual and supports the ideals of internationalism – value is placed on other cultures and languages. 

3. The school follows the International Baccalaureate qualification at all or some of the key stages. 

4. Their student body tends to be transitive – certainly more so than most state schools

5. International Schools are non selective and take on all students across the entire learning spectrum

Most international schools incorporate all or most of the aspects above. 

3. Working in an International School: Here’s my list of advantages and disadvantages:

Advantage 1: Less pressure (possibly) –  International Schools are generally not at the beck and call of a local authority when it comes to strict curriculum guidelines. This means that they are able to put in place a manageable curriculum that actively nurtures and develops students so that they are ready to qualify in their final year.

The result is that you will ‘galloping’ slightly less in class and have some time to explore areas of interest. This is of course dependent on the school and age of the students. As International School students near the IB diploma qualification, they certainly do have enough work and the pressure is definitely on. 

Advantage 2: More opportunities – International Schools tend to have a much higher turnover than state schools. Teachers arrive from far away to complete their two year contract and many then return home. This means there are more opportunities in-house to move into interesting roles. In my first International School I was dropped into the deep end teaching HL/SL IB Biology in my first year. The school didn’t plan this but due to an unexpected staff shortfall it was offered to me. I took the class and have never looked back. 

professional teachers
Work with an experienced team of multinationals who bring a lot of new ideas to the table.

Advantage 3: Teamwork can be more intense… and rewarding –  International Schools often have smaller teams working as departments. If you combine this with a more flexible curriculum it can often mean that you are directly involved in planning and the ‘big picture’ far earlier than if you were at a school back home.

I remember my first month at an international school in Costa Rica. After school science meetings were spent with a small team mapping out a new science curriculum to deliver to the students from kindergarten to pre university. I was amazed that I was able to be involved in such a task and I certainly learned a lot.  

Advantage 4: Exposure to useful, stimulating educational systems such the International Baccalaureate. The IB is huge and it has considerable sway and influence in most International Schools as it determines their curriculum and how many of the alumni make it to prestigious universities. As an IB Biology teacher I still enjoy teaching the course and find it great fun to teach. 

Advantage 5: Life outside work can be extremely varied and fun. You’re living in a foreign country – just traveling home from work can be an adventure. Stopping in a local market to have a drink and watch the world go by. Chatting to local produce sellers about their exotic fruit and veg. Venturing out at night to join new friends and colleagues in fascinating new bars and clubs.    Joining local clubs and activities can put you in contact with people that you normally would never meet. You can improve your language skills, your chess skills – sometimes simultaneously!  

Advantage 6: Working with colleagues from all over the world is a great way to be exposed to new techniques and new approaches to learning. I work with around 30+ nationalities at my current school. The amount of stories, comedy and sheer experience within the staff is incredible. They all bring new ideas to the table and strategies that I would never have thought of. The local staff at my school are able to get the entire school community dancing and singing when it comes to the local saint’s day celebrations. Seeing G12 students working with the youngest students makes me realise what a great idea it is. It’s something I would never have tried myself. 

Advantage 7: Depending on the school – the class sizes can be smaller which can make your classes even more effective… The slight reduction in class size just gives you that extra moment to discuss something for longer with a student that needs it. It’s invaluable and makes a difference each day. Also – lets be honest – less pressure on grading and marking means more time on the football/soccer pitch after work with colleagues to plan more effective lessons ! 

Advantage 8: Get immersed into a new culture and language while collecting experiences you will never forget. Of course the benefits of a new country with a new language are huge. One overlooked advantage is that International Schools offer tons of amazing trips. This means that you are paid to travel around these incredible places. As you move around you will be naturally exposed to the language and have lots of chances to practise if you want it. 

Walking home through new areas add a new, exciting twist to each day.
…and the disadvantages:

Disadvantage 1: Salaries are not always better than the UK, it depends where you are working.  The economic pull of International Schools is well known and there are still schools that pay very well. But this isn’t always the case. Many schools pay well – for the local area, especially schools in Europe and the USA. In my experience there’s often a reason why schools pay high salaries – because it is hard to attract teachers to that location. This is not always true but is just a pattern I see. So you have to balance things out. High pay and restrictions on your lifestyle or lower pay and the chance to live in an open, free and vibrant location. Both have their merits and it’s up to you to work out what you want. 

Disadvantage 2: Lifestyles can be restrictive in some areas of the world.  Carrying on somewhat from disadvantage 1 – some areas of the world can be restrictive, especially for women or members of the LBTQ+ community. Teachers may have to live in a barracks or walled community with little possibilities for leaving as it is either too dangerous or simply not permitted. Air pollution in some cities such as Beijing or New Delhi can make it difficult to leave the house. For this reason the financial compensation in these locations can be very high.  

Disadvantage 3: Some schools may expect you to teach a new curriculum that you are not familiar with – this may occupy most of your planning time for your first year.  You should expect this and be open to new curriculum and even new ways of teaching. My school is very big on project based learning. I am also teaching a new curriculum this year – the NGSS. The NGSS is an American science curriculum and comes with strong pedagogical guidelines –  my article on  How the NGSS can transform your classroom. Tackling new curriculum could be seen as a both an advantage or a disadvantage – you have a lot of extra planning and collaboration but you also grow professionally from all the additional training and development. You also add another useful string to your bow.   

Disadvantage 4: International schools generally do not provide pension schemes – so that large salary may not be lucrative as it seems come retirement age. 

In my experience International Schools do not provide pension schemes. This means it is up to you to work out how to invest and prepare for retirement. Or just keep buying those lottery tickets. You will be paying into the national pension scheme in most countries. Many counties also have ways that you can continue paying into their pension schemes from abroad, I know the UK has this available to expats.  See the UK government site ‘Living Abroad and your Pension‘. For Americans the IRS website Taxation of Foreign Pensions and Annuity Distributions may be useful.  

Disadvantage 4: Job insecurity  – With their reliance on parental fees smaller international schools have none of the financial robustness of state schools. This is especially true in times of economic instability or emergencies such as the COVID19 crisis. This means that your contract could easily be terminated to protect the places of more established staff. More established schools are less liable to these measures. It’s another good reason to do your research on the school you are applying to. Is it a ‘Non-profit’ or a ‘For Profit’ school? I highly recommend the former as Non Profit schools are generally far better at providing job security as well as reinvesting their profits into staff training. 

4. What Do International Schools Look For In Teachers?

1. Essential: Recognised Teacher Certification/Qualification: It’s a big time and financial commitment but do yourself a huge favor and get qualified. Not sure where to start?:  Wikipedia: Certified Teacher Status per Country gives you a guide to the types of qualifications offered by most countries. The days of recruiting teachers with zero qualifications are drawing to a close. The IBO (International Baccalaureate Organization)  requieres licenced schools to only employ teachers with qualifications. During inspection time schools have to provide curricula and certificates of all teacher qualifications. If a school is employing teachers without qualifications this could mean they do not qualify as an IB school – something very important to international schools. Once you’re qualified you’ll be able to command a slightly higher salary too. So I’m afraid it’s time to get serious and get your teacher qualification/certification. In the long run it’s worth it.

The IB is the qualification of choice of International Schools.

2. Essential: Experience: The more the better  – although newly qualified teachers ARE accepted in many international schools these days so it’s still worth applying. In my opinion the best experience comes for working in a state school where the training, exposure to educational systems and demands on you as a professional will be at their most focussed. Having a couple of years of this experience under your belt is really helpful. Interestingly COBIS (Council of British International Schools) in its Cobis Teacher Supply Report  reports that teachers returning to the UK after working in the international arenas are valued for ‘cultural awareness (79%); global outlook/international mindedness (76%); adaptability (58%); and renewed enthusiasm for teaching (53%); as well as EAL experience, resilience, and professional development opportunities’. So working in an International School is great for your long term employment.

3. Essential: Educational Systems: Get as much experience of systems used in international schools – this could be relevant primary/elementary school experience. In middle/high school A Levels, GCSEs, Common Core Standards, NGSS, AP and, of course, the International Baccalaureate schemes – PYP, MYP and Diploma program.

4. Desirable: Language: Begin learning one of the world languages – top of the list being Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic. No need to be an expert, simply showing an interest is all that matters.

5. Desirable: Residence Permission: Are you able to live and work in the location where the international school is based? If you are, this is a HUGE bonus to the school and very likely to ensure your application makes it to a short list. International schools spend an enormous amount of time and money on pushing through visas for new staff – if they can avoid this it makes you very competitive in your application. This is not always required but certainly helps.

6. Extras: Develop your aptitude in an extracurricular activity that you can offer students. Have some evidence to show for this – so it might be a reference from your summer camp leader, or from the local football/soccer club confirming that you do indeed spend regular time there working with groups. 

5. International School Job Interviews: What Sort Of Questions Are Asked? 

As the head of science in my international school I am regularly involved in conducting interviews for new staff. What sort of questions will be asked in an interview?  Well, the answer varies greatly and changes depending on the role you are interviewing for. Here’s a short list of questions I like to ask with my colleagues in teaching job interviews:

– Why are you interested in this position?

– What experience do you have with <insert most relevant curriculum>?

– How do you think your students describe you to their parents? 

– What’s it like to walk into your classroom? 

– Think of a challenging situation you have faced with students in the past, how did you overcome it?

– How do you ensure differentiation occurs in your classroom? 

– How important is collaboration in your teaching? 

– What extracurricular skills can you offer students? 

Stick to your points, keep it succinct and be willing to ask questions.
My General Tips For How to Approach School Interviews:

– Try not to ramble. Many candidates begin answering a question and then end up taking a good old ramble through topics unconnected with the theme of the question. Answer the question and then stop talking.  Breath, smile, make eye contact and wait for the next one. It’s difficult but important to show that you are able to respond in a reasoned succinct way. 

– This isn’t a time to recount your entire life story – unless asked for. Long personal introductions are pointless unless asked for. In my experience the most impressive interviewees kept this part of their presentation as short as possible, or even entirely absent. If the interview team needs to know more, they will ask. 

– Ask questions about how the school is dealing with relevant or current issues/problems. In my experience the best interviews are the ones that become an interesting discussion on themes important to the school, the department or education generally. To spark such a discussion you can ask about how the school deals with an area that is typically tricky. Examples could be: 
– It’s exam time soon: You could ask: how does the school motivate students as they approach exam time?
– Somebody mentioned G10 students are more absent than normal in recent weeks You could ask:  how does the school deal with absences?
– Personal Development has been mentioned: You could ask how does the school ensure that personal development is effective?  
– The school timetable/schedule was mentioned: You could ask: what could a really effective timetable/schedule look like, what would the school like to add or remove from their rotations?
It’s all about listening carefully to the interviewers as they speak and picking up on an issue that might be current in the school. If you do it right you can turn part of the interview into an interesting discussion. Don’t be afraid to ask a question or two at the right moment and be very ready for these questions to be reflected straight back at you.

– Be punctual, dress smart, be friendly. Don’t be too familiar, keep it professional but don’t be scared to show your lighter side, if you are able to a little light humor is always a great way to discharge the mood and put everyone at ease. Humour is obviously minefield so be very very careful and if in doubt: avoid. 

The International Schools Review has a great blog post on what directors look for in prospective candidates entitled ‘What Directors Look For in International Teaching Candidates’ It’s very interesting to read what directors of schools are looking for. 

6. Do I Have To Know The Local Language To Work In An International School?

In my experience this isn’t necessary but certainly helps. And it doesn’t have to be the language most relevant to that particular international school. What does learning a language say about yourself? It’s a strong sign to others that you are open to new cultures and experiences. Simply stated: the fact that you are interested in something connected to cultures outside of your own country makes you more attractive to international schools. 

7. How Demanding Are International School Jobs?

International school jobs certainly have the reputation of being less demanding but is this really true? You certainly can’t be expecting a relaxed work day with few distractions, a light teaching load with classes of 10 students. A tea trolley filled with buns, fancy cakes and hot drinks is unlikely to make an appearance each break time in the staff room. Smaller classes sizes mean slightly less grading/marking pressure. I find that if you’re well organized at work you can protect your free time, especially during the weekends and holidays. This seemed far more difficult in state schools.

International Schools: when the parents arrives for the meeting and expects fluency in the local language.

Pressure from parents can be higher – they might be a little more expectant and in need of details than your previous school – but pretty much without exception I have found parents to be very fair and very supportive. It’s not unusual for parents to expect/ask you to conduct a meeting in the local language – so now is a good time to brush up on your parent-teacher local language conversation skills.

8. Do I need a masters to work in an international school? 

Leadership positions do need masters qualifications, such as headmaster, Principal, head of School. But teaching positions do not. Of course it certainly does not harm anything to have a masters and can add a small bonus to your pay packet each month. A very small bonus. Many international schools fund/contribute to their teacher to start and complete their masters – this should be available to you after you have completed your second year at the school.

This is very dependent on where you are interested in working. Here’s my take on international schools and payment – generally:

  • The more pleasant and safer the country the lower the wage
  • The more dangerous and risky the country the higher the wage

…Combined with

  • The higher the cost of living the higher the wage
  • The lower the cost of living the lower the wage.  

This means that places like Switzerland (safe and expensive) pay a high average wage of €61,250 – mainly due to the high cost of living. Areas such as Saudi Arabia and Middle East generally pay quite well due to security issues and restraints on lifestyles in those countries.  Asia has some of the highest paying schools, especially in Hong Kong and Singapore where living costs are high.

Balancing high pay with a great location

I know teachers that have saved a fortune working in New Delhi, India – a fascinating place but the high pay reflects the daily challenges of fluctuating security levels and extended periods of poor air quality.  There are some exceptions. Schools in Bangkok, Thailand have a reputation for high wages. Bangkok is a place that has a relatively low cost of living, but many schools pay very well. Most countries in Europe pay average wages, only slightly higher than the local average wage. They don’t ‘need to’ pay high wages as they have a long waiting list of teachers eager to live in green, leafy, safe Berlin, Milan or Madrid.

Bangkok: Rich culture, high wages and very reasonable cost of living.

10. …and What About Bonuses in International Schools?

Most International schools will offer you a bonus in some way. This ranges considerably from a large benefits package with tax free earnings,  free flights home, free housing and a contract completion bonus. Schools in more popular areas of the world (Europe, USA) will generally offer less by the way of bonuses, though staff contracted from abroad will generally still get free flights home. 

11. How Can I Find An International School Job? 

Generally there are two main places in my experience where teachers actually find effective adverts for International School Jobs:


The TES is great place to start looking at the requirements for international jobs.

1Times Educational Supplement International Jobs SectionTES: My favorite resource for finding new jobs – in fact it’s the place where I found all my previous positions. I like the ‘TES’ as it gives you instant access to current job advertisements from excellent schools. It is a UK based newspaper so many of the schools are British schools. But many are not.  If you are not British you shouldn’t be put off as these are International Schools and therefore interested in all nationalities. If you find a position that you find interesting and would like to apply you simply have to fill out their application form and attach a cover letter.  No need for job fairs. Admittedly the application forms for some of these schools can be long and time consuming. But it’s often worth it in the end. A fabulous site, with plenty of interesting articles on where to apply and interview tips.  Best of all it’s completely free to anyone. 


Search Associates
Search associates are professional teacher jugglers – they will find a job somewhere…

2. Search Associates: This an American resource but can be used by any nationality. The service is paid – approximately $300 dollars but this can vary. The payment includes entry to a recruitment fair where you can meet other schools and have on-the-spot interviews. Many candidates are offered positions at these fairs. Several colleagues of mine have tried Search Associates and returned from the fairs with a position secured. If you’re thinking about contracting Search Associates to help you find a position you should check out this interesting read: The International School’s Review of Search Associate Job Fairs. This report included real user reviews and accounts of their experiences at the Search Associates Job Fairs. 

12. The Author’s personal Experience: What’s It Like To Work In An International School?  

Working in an international school is fantastic but you have to remember that first and foremost it is a teaching job so you can expect a decent amount of work and stress on your plate from the onset. It’s manageable to (more or less) protect your weekends and holiday time. There’s fantastic opportunities to move quickly into areas of responsibility.

surfs up
First weekend in Costa Rica – what to do?















In my first post I was teaching IB Biology after the first week to cover a teacher that had not returned from his long summer holiday – it transpired that he has decided to return to the UK without letting the school know. So I quickly managed to make the position mine and have never looked back. As a head of department now I am involved in decisions affecting the whole school.

The students are friendly, generally well behaved and often genuinely interested in you as a person and where you come from. This makes for great classroom discussions on subjects outside of whatever you are teaching which for me is often football, music and local culture. One major bonus of working at international schools is the staff. The staff tend to be open minded, sparky , travel loving teachers. There’s always someone to go travelling with. At weekends there’s plenty of options to go out and experience the local nightlife. Most schools have decent or excellent sporting facilities and I enjoy playing sports on a regular basis with my colleagues.

Walking home through a different city with a different language and different customs is a great way to end the day. When family and friends come to visit it’s great fun to show them around your adopted new home. I would certainly recommend the experience. As I mentioned before – your International School will not just want, but expect you to be involved with school trips. Whether it’s trekking through the jungle with G10 students or canoeing through a canyon with IB CAS students – the experiences are unforgettable.  

There’s always something new to do when you’re working near the beach.


13. I Would Like More Information/Advice – Can you Help?

Of course: If you have any questions about this article or would like any further advice feel free to email me:  info@holatutor.com.  Thanks HolaTutorTom.