This is Part two of a series of articles I'm writing about teaching overseas. Part one was previously published in the New Teachers' Forum under the title, "Have Teaching Certificate, Will Travel."
Have you ever thought about teaching overseas? The cost of living in some countries is a lot lower than the cost of living in the United States, especially when you consider the fact that free or subsidized housing is often a part of the typical overseas contract.
Then again, there are also taxes to consider. In some parts of the world, like a good part of Western Europe, tax rates are higher than they are in the United States. But in other parts of the world, the tax rates are lower than the American tax rate and in some places like Saudi Arabia, there are no local taxes at all.
The Federal Income Tax law assumes that anyone going overseas, (who is not employed by the U.S. government), will pay the host country income tax. After all, this is only fair. Foreigners who come to this country have to pay the U.S. income tax so it stands to reason that Americans going abroad will pay the income tax of the country they’re living in. This does not exclude you from filing a U.S. income tax return and the U.S. Consulate can provide you with detailed information about deductions, exclusions, and tax credits that you may be entitled to for working within a given country.
If you’re living in Latin America, the Middle East, or parts of Southeast Asia, the low or non-existent taxes can really boost your income. For example, if you made $50,000 a year working in Saudi Arabia which has no taxes, then you would essentially have the same spending power as a person in the U.S. with an $80,000 a year taxable income.
Your disposable income can also be boosted by your contract benefits. Many schools provide free housing. Other schools will throw in free utilities, the use of a car, or an overseas “cost of living” allowance. The perks will vary from school to school and from country to country – but if you do your homework and you pick your country carefully, you can make quite a bit of money.
For example, consider my last place of employment, the American Community School of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon. As a teacher with 15 years experience and a Master’s degree, I was paid $27,800 a year, which was a high salary by local standards. The salary also seemed higher because I was paid in local currency, the Lebanese lira. Since the 1998 exchange rate was 1,500 lira to the dollar, I got a monthly multi-million lira paycheck of over two million lira.
Now I know that in terms of U.S. dollars, $27,800 doesn’t sound like much, but my apartment and my utilities were paid for as part of my contract benefits. Despite the fact that I traveled to Syria and Egypt and also spent a lot of money buying antique Middle Eastern furniture, I was still able to save $12,000 in the course of one year.
Could anyone living in the United States do the same thing? Unless you live at home with Mom or Dad or live in a packing crate and eat gruel, I don’t see how you could afford to save that amount of money and still have the wherewithal to travel and to buy expensive knick-knacks while working on a teacher's salary.
The streets of the Houston were busy as people hustled up and down the sidewalks. As Valerie walked past an alley, she was startled to hear a loud, "Pssstttt!"
Peering into the alley she saw a figure waving at her. It was a peg-legged man dressed in a faded blue frocked coat. The man wore an eye patch and a bandana. A stainless steel hook protruded from his left sleeve.
"Ahoy missy, it be I, Cap'n Dave, yer discount housing broker ter be sure and welcome to me humble office," said the figure waving his hand at the trash strewn alley.
Valerie jumped at the sight of a rat scurrying behind a garbage can. Captain Dave waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. "Aye and ter be sure, this ain't no posh sort of office for no lady - which is why me rates be so good. I save on the cost of me overhead and generous soul that I am, I pass me savings on ter you. And now lass, ter business. Would yer be want'n a room in this fair city?"
Valerie nodded her head.
"Well then," said Captain Dave with a broad wink, "I've just the thing for yer. It be a modest lodging but fer five dollars, I'll give ye a room. What say yer? You'll find no better deal in town and that’s fer sure. Many’s the time me crew has told me that I’m too tender hearted fer me own good – but ah lives me life on me own terms and what says I, did the Good Lord put us here fer if it ain’t ter do good fer one o’nother?”
A nervous Valerie forked over five dollars. The grizzled old Captain looked left and right - and since nobody seemed to be watching, he quickly speared the money with his hook. "Thank'ee lass, thank'ee - and here be yer lodging." He turned and rummaged in a garbage bin. He tossed a plastic trash bag over his shoulder. He dropped an empty whiskey bottle on the pavement. The bottle shattered upon hitting the ground, but Captain Dave didn’t seem to notice. He nearly threw away a box of moldy donuts but with a slightly embarrassed look, he tucked them into a waist pocket.
After several minutes of digging through the trash, the Captain gave a grunt of satisfaction. He heaved and struggled and eventually pulled a stained cardboard box out of the dumpster. With a smile full of broken teeth, he handed the box over to Valerie with a flourish.
"There ye go, lass - just unfold the box in any city park after midnight when the cops cut back on ther foot patrols and you've got accomodations fit fer a good summer's night . . . providing of course it don't rain. Thank'ee for shopping with Cap'n Dave, t'was a pleasure ter do business with yer ter be sure!”
So money is clearly one reason to work overseas - but is money the only reason? What about the quality of life? What would your life be like if you lived overseas?
Forget about the glamour of living in a foreign country and forget about the opportunities you’d have to travel. If you went overseas as a teacher, you’d probably do the same thing that you’d do if you were working at a school in the United States. You’d probably work long hours and chances are you’d probably take some of your work home with you.
Now depending upon which country you were working it, wouldn’t it be nice if you could come home to find a clean apartment? A servant in Saudi Arabia can do a fine job tidying up your home for about $4.00 an hour and you don’t even need to employ him full time. Unless you’re a total slob, a couple of hours on alternate days should be enough to keep your home nice and neat and that would be plenty of time for him to dust and scrub floors and clean the bathroom and do your laundry.
And what about food? Wouldn’t you like to come home to find a nice hot meal waiting for you? In Pakistan, for about $40 a month, you can hire a cook who will do all of the grocery shopping and cooking. After all why go to the local farmer’s market and spend hours haggling over the cost of meat and produce when your cook can do it in a shorter time and for probably a much better price.
In Beirut, you can hire an Ethiopian or a Bangladeshi to work a twelve hour day for six days a week for $100 a month. Of course, the cost of hiring a servant includes the expense of clothing, room and board, a work permit, and a visa but if you share these expenses with some other teachers, a servant can be quite affordable.
How many teachers in the United States can afford servants?
Again, if you do your homework and you pick and choose the country you work in, you could find a place with a low cost of living where you can live quite well and even have servants.
Logging off from Houston,