Living abroad means living a life without worry or regret. A life full of constant beauty and fun times. It is escape from the familiar, a jump into adventure, bliss on tap and…a pile of paperwork. That’s right. While being an expat is a lot of fun, there are a number of annoying bureaucratic hoops to jump through.
I’ve lived abroad for the past ten years and have given advice to hundreds of new teachers about how to get through these procedures without letting them interfere with, or at least not take over, their lives. While part of living life on the road is a certain amount of spontaneity and chaos, getting kicked out of a country or losing one’s job because of a paperwork issue is just plain careless. It won’t be something to tell stories about, it will simply be a regret.
Read on for some basic tips and explanations on the type of paperwork you need before going abroad to become a teacher. Or, if in your fast paced life you don’t have time for that, click on the button below for a handy checklist to make sure you’ve done what you need to do.
Passports and Visas
The first step, if you don’t already have one, is to get yourself a passport. The only thing to note here is that it may take longer to get a passport than you might think. Allow yourself at least two months of leeway here.
The second essential piece of passport advice that I have is that you ensure that your passport is going to valid for OVER the time you are planning on being abroad. The rule of thumb is that for certain things, your passport needs to still be valid for six more months. You don’t want to get stuck in a situation, like I was, where you have a valid passport, but are still not able to get a work permit because it won’t be valid long enough. Basically, if your passport is near expiring, renew it. It’s a lot easier to take care of these things in your home country than in a country you may have just moved to.
Regarding visas, I can’t give too much specific advice here as it is very much a country by country issue. What I can say is that there are basically two types of visas that TEFL teachers tend to get: working visas (if you’re working for a legitimate company that will sponsor you) or tourist visas (if you’re only working short-term or for a small establishment). Make sure to ask your new employer what the visa requirements will be. Some countries/companies necessitate that you come into the country with a work permit while for others, your work permit is processed while you are in the country. In the next section, I’ll walk you through the typical necessary documents.
A final word about passports. Make sure that you get a lot of passport photos when you are getting any. You’ll need one for many other documentation on the way, so you might as well get a large amount (10-20) when you’re getting one. It’s fairly cheap and will save you a lot of hassle.
Necessary Documentation for TEFL Teaching
Most TEFL jobs require you to have a university degree. Most of the time, you will be required to prove this. This means that you will need an original copy of your diploma that has been notarized within your home country or at your embassy. In South Korea, I even had to submit a copy of my transcript, but that was the only case in which that was true.
You may have already guessed this, but yes, your TEFL certificate (or equivalent) is also usually required. Some of these certificates look very official, others are merely printed on card stock with no identifying watermark or stamp. The important thing, is to legalize it by bringing it to a notary.
Another thing that you will likely be required to submit is a criminal record check. This was a bit of a shock the first time that I was asked for one, but basically it is just a document that states that you haven’t committed a crime. You can either have one done by the FBI (or equivalent for non-Americans) or by your local office where you were last a resident. I still have to do these when I move to a new country even though I haven’t lived in my hometown for ten years.
The criminal record check takes at least a few weeks and usually needs to be done in person by either yourself or a legal guardian. This is the most important thing to try to get done before you come abroad as they are annoying and time-consuming. Also, they can be quite expensive if you end up shipping them by express mail. They are only valid for six months after they are issued, so don’t do this one too far in advance. This will also need to be officially notarized.
Another thing that is sometimes required is a health check. Sometimes this must be done in the country where you’ll be working, but sometimes a health check from your regular physician is acceptable. Ask for a copy of your records next time you get an exam by your family practitioner if you’re lucky enough to have one. This too will need to be notarized.
What Does Notarized Mean?
The first time I read that a document had to be notarized, I remember having to look it up. Here, I’ll save you some time; it means to have a document legalized by a notary. Notary offices are easy to find in most cities. I recommend a quick Google search for your nearest one.
If you are abroad, however, your best bet is to go to your embassy or consulate. Check the website to make sure they provide these services. They likely do. Occasionally, and this has happened to me, you’ll also need to get certain documents notarized by the country in which you will be working as well as by your embassy. Your school should help you with this. Oh, bureaucracy.
Kill me now?
Trust me, it’s a lot easier than it all sounds and it will be even easier if you take my advice above and do a few things before going abroad. Also, most schools will have someone employed there to hold your hand through most of the process. It’s in their best interest to make you legal after all.
If you’d like a quick checklist of documentation to get and things to do before leaving your home country, you can get access to the resource by clicking on the button below.