International school accommodation- 10 questions to ask

How many jobs that you know of (other than the President or Prime Minister of your country) have housing included in the benefits package? One of the main reasons for International teaching is that, in many regions, accommodation is included in the salary package. When you think about what proportion of your salary you spend on rent/mortgage, rates, tax, maintenance etc, this amounts to a big cost saving over the course of a two year contract. Indeed, many teachers first take an overseas contract so that they can save for a deposit on a  house in their own country. So what can you expect from schools?

International schools differ in terms of what the accommodation package looks like but lots of  schools will offer one of the following categories:

Accommodation Allowance

Some schools will pay you a separate allowance in order for you to find your own accommodation once you have arrived. Obviously there are pros and cons to this and in general the allowance is based on your personal circumstance such as marital status and if you have kids or not. A single person could expect an allowance that covers a one bedroom apartment, the same for a married couple without kids. Similarly, a teaching couple with two kids could expect to receive an allowance that covers a three bedroom apartment/house in the region where they are staying. Of course, these are general guidelines and in places where accommodation is at a premium, such as in Hong Kong or Singapore, some teachers elect to pay a bit above the odds so that they have accommodation that suits their family needs or is located closer to the school. In other places, such as Dubai, younger staff members who don’t mind sharing an apartment, pool their money together to save on rent and perhaps also live closer to the beach or to an area where the nightlife is good. The cons to this are that you have to source your own accommodation and lock yourself into a minimum one year lease. Costs involved include letting agents fees, security deposits, electricity/internet/phone setup and maintenance fees. Be sure to ask the school at interview about these costs prior to accepting a position.

School Provided accommodation

Many schools will have a housing department whose role it is to source and lease accommodation from local landlords, thus removing the hassle of this from staff. This is a good option, as long as the housing department is proactive and follows up with landlords on any repairs. In one of my positions, the school did a deal with a local construction company, swapping school places for their employees for apartments. This was an ideal scenario as the school was able to purchase good quality staff accommodation, and also had oversight on repairs and maintenance. If this is what is on offer, be sure to ask the school who is responsible for maintenance and if there is a housing bond that the school holds after completion of your contract.

Campus accommodation

At one of my previous schools, all the teachers lived in one bedroom villas on campus. The villas were comfortable and well furnished but it did give the school a certain holiday camp type feel! Whilst it was nice to pop your head out of your door at the weekend and see who was barbecuing on their porch, it was a bit like living in a fish bowl. There was a great sense of community, and of course you had access to all the school facilities such as the gym, football pitch, library and swimming pool. And you had the added bonus of being able to stroll into your classroom in the morning within minutes of getting out of bed! However, you did hanker for the holidays to come so you could leave The Truman Show and get a sense of the outside world. Long story short: if you’re someone who doesn’t mind living side by side with your work colleagues and you feel you can contribute positively to the community, on campus living is for you. If this might be a source of frustration and potentially affect your performance  in class, think very carefully about what you are signing up for.
House parent
Not for everyone this, but it is becoming more and more of a popular choice, especially in places where accommodation is rarely offered such as Europe. If you thought living side by side with colleagues can lead to frustrations, imagine what it is like living with the students also! However, some teachers like this situation this and thrive on the pastoral nature of it. You get to  forge relationships with the students and this can have a knock on positive effect on their learning. Many teachers thrive in this scenario, especially if it is balanced out with regular holidays.

10 Questions to ask

Remember that you won’t be effective in the classroom if you’re not happy in your home. So do your homework and speak to the facilities manager and other staff members about the pros and cons. Ask to see pictures of accommodation options and make sure you read the fine print on the contract regarding housing.
1. How much is AC/Heating?
2. Who is responsible for maintenance and repairs?
3. Who pays the real estate agents fees?
4. Will the school take a deposit off me?
5. What do I do in the event of a dispute with my landlord?
6. What assistance will the school give me?
7. How much is the housing allowance and will it cover my needs?
8. How many installments is the rent paid in?
9. Can I see a sample lease?
10. If my circumstances change (kids etc), will my accommodation package also change?
Remember too, that you should try and maximize your experience of living abroad. One of the teachers we placed, who was teaching in a school in the Caribbean decided to pay extra to live on the beach: Why? What’s the point moving to the Caribbean if you can’t get to enjoy the beach….

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