1. Get your passport/passport pictures.
This is a top priority! You can’t go anywhere without your passport, and leaving it until the last minute is a dangerous thing to do, when you don’t know exactly how long it will take to get one.
First, you’ll need to fill out the form DS-11 online (make sure you use a .gov website) or in person at your local passport office. Important: Do not sign your [DS-11] form until you are at the passport office, standing in front of the person who is collecting the paperwork from you.
- Passport pictures: You’ll need at least one. This is no simple task. They must be recent pictures (within 6 months), great quality, and the perfect size. Unless you’re a professional, it’s probably best you leave it to the professionals. Walgreens, Walmart, FedEx, UPS, or the 1-Hour Photo Lab at Costco are all places where you could get your passport photos taken. For more information, read “Where to Get a Passport Photo Taken“.
- Necessary forms of ID: Proof of citizenship (like a previous U.S. passport or a birth certificate) and proof of identity (like a social security card, military i.d., or a naturalization certificate). Without those, you’ll need two forms of secondary identification, which include things like a credit card or a library card. My advice is to have as many forms of identification as possible, in case one form is denied.
- The cost to get a passport: The fee is around $130 (not including the price of photos).
- Time it takes to get to your mailbox: normal processing time is 4-5 weeks (or 2-3 weeks, if you pay for a speedy delivery)
- How long is it valid?: 10 years
If you’re still confused about how to get your passport, read “U.S. Passport Applications and Renewals”.
2. Pick a country, then pick a city.
This is a big decision. You have to settle on a place you’re willing to live in for 6 months to a year, or more.
Consider these things:
- The culture: What are you interested in? What are you comfortable with? Make sure to do your research.
- The proximity to your interests: Do you like to surf? You’ll probably want to live near the ocean. Do you like to rock climb? Then living in the mountains would be helpful.
|Beach view in Xiamen, China|
- Technological capabilities: For example, China has internet, but limitations on surfing the web. Read “Top 10 Internet-Censored Countries” for more information. Many of the countries on the list don’t have access to many of the social media sites (or blogging sites) you might consider a high priority to have access to. Countries with slow internet speeds might also be something you want to be aware of.
- Personal qualifications: Your most important qualification is that you speak English as your first language (though it’s not always a deal-breaker if English is not your first language). Many countries require a college degree, a TEFL or a TESOL certificate, or in some cases even a degree in English or Teaching.
- Job Opportunities: Some countries have more job opportunities than others. Some pay more, and some pay less. Some countries require you to interview in person (which means you’ll need to already be there before they will hire you). All of these things will be important when you are making your final decision.
3. Save your money.
- Your plane ticket: Flight prices are constantly fluctuating, but you should expect to pay at least $1000, if you’re traveling to Asia from the United States, and about the same to fly to South America or Europe.
- “Settling in” money: It costs more than you think to move into a new apartment in a whole new place. Consider what you have in your own place back home, then think of what you can do without. Most things you’ll need to buy when you move into your new apartment (Examples: Pots, pans, garbage can, laundry basket, broom, cleaning supplies).
|My first apartment in Taiyuan, China|
- “Before the first paycheck” money: Waiting for the first paycheck at any job can be hard, but waiting for your first paycheck from your new job, in a new country, in a new city, in a new apartment, can seem like it’s taking forever. Plan to have money for a month to a month and a half of food and entertainment.
4. Get your visas.
You do not want to get turned away when you’ve arrived. Having the incorrect visa, or no visa at all will be the easiest way to make that happen.Talk to your future employer about which visas you will need, and which visas they will provide or reimburse you for. Then, do your own research to make sure you have the proper documents that will grant you access to the country you’re headed to.
5. Buy a plane ticket.
It may seem like a simple task, but routing your travel can be overwhelming and time consuming. Luckily, it is easy enough to keep track of good deals on airfare, through email notifications from sites like Kayak, Expedia, CheapOair, Priceline, or Orbitz. That way, you don’t have to sit there pouring over flight times and prices. You can just type in your tentative dates and times, sign up for notifications, and wait for the deals to come to you.Mashable has compiled a list of 10 great ticket-buying websites. Each site has a different feature to cater to a veriety of travelers.
- Buy your tickets about 8 weeks in advance
- Fly on a Sunday
- Use social media sites to find deals
6. Do your research!
Have I mentioned this before? It is so important to know where you are going and what you are getting yourself into. I made the mistake of not doing my research on the city I’d be moving to
and the school I’d be teaching at, before moving to China, based on a friend’s recommendation. There were a lot of things that weren’t as I expected them to be, when I arrived.
Make sure you know about:
- The city/town you’ll be moving to: Is English spoken commonly, by the local people? What is the environment like? Are there local things you might like to do while you are there?
- The school where you’ll be teaching English: Is it a reputable school? How do they treat their foreign teachers? It might be worth while to try to contact another foreigner who has worked at the school.
|Morale-building field trip for staff at the school I worked for in Taiyuan, China|
- The living conditions in the city: Some cities are very Westernized, and some aren’t. The city I lived in had a lot of squat toilets (including the one in my second apartment) I had to get used to very quickly. I also had to boil my water before drinking it, but I could live with that. Every city or town has different living conditions. It might be something to think about before moving.
- The cultural differences: There are things you may or may not be comfortable with in other parts of the world. Make sure you can get comfortable with the culture you’ll be immersed in, before making your final decision.
7. Study your contract.
Read your contract inside and out before you sign it, discuss it with your employer to make sure you both understand it, then have the school email you a copy right away. This is the piece of paper that both you and your employer agree to abide by for one whole year.
If you or your employer fail to honor your deal, during this time, you both have negotiating rights, based on the contract. I was able to negotiate a paid vacation (something I have never done before) in China, because my employer broke my contract.
|Vacation time in Hong Kong|
Contract items you might want to be aware of:
- Number of work days/hours per week
- Sick leave
- Health insurance
- Local language lesson availability
- Western holiday recognition
- End of contract bonus
- Paid return flight
- Paid Vacation
Certifications for teaching English abroad are available both online and onsite. Monkey Abroad has a great article with comparisons for online and onsite classes. Some things to keep in mind are price, flexibility, and satisfaction. For example, online classes are cheaper (from $250 to $500) but there’s no guarantee you’ll get a job through the website. Onsite [4-week] classes are far more expensive (between $1000 and $2000, not including travel and food expenses), but there is usually a guarantee that you will have a job when you complete the class.Finding the best TEFL Certificate provider for you is a lot to think about, but the International TEFL Academy has broken the process down into 5 tips.
9. Sort out your home life.
There are some things you can put on hold, but there are other things you’ll have to deal with before you leave.
Here is a checklist of things I had to take care of before I left to travel:
- Graduate college
- Defer student loans
- Pay outstanding bills
- Buy out cell phone contract
- Leave pets in care of family/friend
- Toss/sell/store belongings
- Finish/terminate apartment lease
- Transfer apartment bills to roommate or future tenant
- Throw fantastic “going away” party
10. Take the risk!!
Dive in, head first! Anything can happen, and many things will happen, but regretting the experience as a whole is so very unlikely.
Before you know it, you’ll be…
Thank you so much for reading!