Teaching internationally


More than fourteen months before I stepped onto the plane to fly out to Deira International School, Dubai #DISDubai, I started a professional diary. It is a record that covers the journey from initial proposal to landing in Dubai and the first few weeks. I hope you can glean some intel and reassurance from it.

Twelve years before arrival

Before I married my wife, the church where we were getting married required we attended a days counselling – “Preparing for married life.” We heard from the Reverend, marriage counsellors, a divorce solicitors and a church couple, thirty-five years married. This is my first recollection of sharing with my wife that together, one day, I wanted to see more of the world.

Planning ahead

In the peace and quiet of my early morning runs, I was thinking about my next steps professionally, personally and our next steps as a family.

I was approaching two years into my first Headship. We had secured a very strong inspection report, student outcomes had improved and were forecast to improve again (which they did).

The original draft post was titled ‘No dress rehearsal.’ I think that tells you a little about how I was thinking at the time?

Married for twelve years, we two, are now five. I was 43 and my wife a little younger. She works 20 hours a week as an accountant, however would much prefer to spend more time with our children and making a home. Our eldest, Harry (9), was moving into Year 6. Freya (7) was happy in school, a reluctant swimmer, and Olly (3) was about to start pre-school. Our children are quietly confident and sociable and part of a loving, extended family. We have recently fell in love with caravanning and enjoy spending time together as a family and extended family. We have worked hard, we have been conscientious. We have 7 years left on our mortgage. Regrettably my father has been unwell and at the outset, this meant we knew we had to be able to get home promptly. Dad would get more ill not better. I am only telling you this because everyone’s circumstances are unique. Any conversations you have, will be unique to you.

Keep the negotiations open

Our starting point was where? We came up with a few loose guidelines. Direct flight (so grandparents can visit and kids could cope). Predominantly English speaking. Family friendly – on the quieter side.

Surreptitiously, my wife had the opportunity to visit her good friend working in Qatar. So she did, the February half term nearly 14 months ahead of my arrival. She enjoyed her time, flight times were reasonable. The Middle East moved to the top of our list and with that, our investigations moved to being our intentions.

Here is the summary of factors steer our decision in priority order. Timing: The need to gain more experience as a Headteacher and credible impact. Harry’s impending move to Secondary in September 2019. Distance: Direct flights / flight time and distance so that our extended family can visit. My wife wanting to spend more time with the children. Wanting to see more of the world. Financially stable. Education opportunities for the children and their readiness for something new. At this point, I had no preferred role or specific destination – but a decision had been made. We were going. (These factors fluctuated but were relatively constant.)

What would be your factors? Opportunities and constraints?

13 months until arrival – planning for 18

In the May 2018, planning for September 2019, I reached out to a trusted colleague and highly regarded International Headteacher. A conversation that spanned a few weeks ensued. I was very fortunate and thankful. Here are the highlights.

I’m seek your professional advice. My wife and I have been discussing our 2018 steps. With three young children, we want to give them a broader view of the world. Could I ask your advice on headships abroad?

Here is what I learnt

Hi Kristian – in the right type of school in a location that you like it could be the best move your ever make for you and your family – that’s certainly how I feel. As in the U.K. you need to be careful about schools. Check for BSO accreditation, not for profit is ideal in my humble opinion, also check out governance. Community life can bit intense, one of the possible downsides.

Keep an eye on TES. Smaller recruitment agencies.  

If you have young children your wife will quickly meet other mums from UK and around the globe. Living in a diverse international community is one of the pluses in my experience; generally people have a more global outlook. Your children will end up with a “global network of friends.” The experience of living and working in a different country, culture and climate is amazing and could enrich your lives like nothing before.

Living in a diverse international community is one of the pluses in my experience; generally people have a more global outlook. Your children will end up with a global network of friends.

It is a different role, for headteachers?

Community life can bit intense, one of the possible downsides, close Expat community can mean staff/parent staff/staff conflict is more common place than you might be used to. Depends on location and professionalism of staff body.

There it was. Our green light. Our intentions confirmed and strengthened. When I look back now, from that conversation on, the key driver very quickly became “best move your ever make for you and your family,” and less about the role, location or financial package. We were not ignoring those factors, they were just less important and I can only say that, because we are financially stable.

I asked about our 16 month preparation and lead-in time.

Reasonable and sensible but sometimes you have to seize the right opportunity when it presents itself. The timing is not always perfect, you may need to consider some short term pain for long term gain.

Given that advice, to be in a position to “seize the right opportunity” I refreshed my personal statement, resume and online profile. How true those words of advice have become!

No better answer to big questions

I can not improve of the advice above.

10 months until arrival – planning for 15

A year in advance – I can recommend that you consider your annual finances.

  • When does your mortgage product end – is probably a key consideration we over-looked?
  • What yearly renewals do you have? eg car tax, insurances, various policies, Amazon Prime etc etc.

Start scaling back your personal and professional commitments – and make time for important planning conversations and negotiations.

We choose not to tell the children.

Started reading about the international schools market and international curriculum in your preferred area. Learnt a little about the iGCSE and IB, I visited two independent school providers in the UK. I sought international connections via social media, many of whom were very generous with their time – thank you to all those educators that connected and supported me.

Small answers

Your personal or family composition – impacts upon your overall package. Are you a single teacher? Are you a teaching couple? Are you a teaching couple where one of you is going to teach? One, two or three children? What is your notice period?

Types of school – there are three tiers of school and two distinctions.

  1. British school, British curriculum, British school leadership staff, local teachers / mixed of teacher, local students.
  2. British school, British curriculum, British school leadership staff and teachers. Mixed of local and international students.
  3. British school, British curriculum, British school leadership staff and teachers and predominantly international students.

Schools are either for profit and not-for-profit.

Snippets of advice that made sense to me

There are too many horror stories I was unaware of with a Principals & owners of schools clashing, ending in a one way ticket home for the Heads.

Accepting of centralised decision making – if you join a group.

Thoughts of staff retention and headship job security.

International education is different. That is why you are considering the move. You may benefit from being understanding and flexible. However, one Headteacher told me…

If it starts to make sense, it’s time to go home!

8 months until arrival – planning for 13

I made one key connections – Bill and Alison Turner of Search Associates were very knowledgeable and supportive. Search Associates are a professional listing site – there are numerous others and they often carry the same vacancies. Bill and Alison have been, continue to be, understanding and supportive. There is a fee – but it is money well spent. You know about the TES.

Another way to look at it, as one recruiter told me,

Simply, the more lines in the water – the more chance you will get a bite.

I continued to make connections via LinkedIN – though this is slow and requires quite an investment on time. Other information sources I have stumbled across – IPSEF. Global conferences that combine keynote presentations. The International School Review holds some interesting intel. The Enrollment Management Association – a group primarily focused on admission practices to sustain independent schools has an interview with Richard Gaskell.


I benefited from a number of conversations with serving International School headteachers, from Qatar, Oman, Al Ain and Sri Lanka. Here are just a few of the points they raised about contracts. However, it is impossible to service all the questions you may have, contracts are unique to each school.

  • Salary. Allowance. Benefits.
  • What is the salary and what are the expectations of role?
  • Allowance – accommodation
  • Benefits – Schooling, health and medical cover (and for whom?)
  • VISA application and Notary Public costs?
  • Relocation / shipping / arrival support?
  • Gratuity – remember there is no pension contributions in many roles

Since arriving – there have been some additional costs. Residency / ID, short-term temporary accommodation and transportation.

8 months until arrival – planning for 13

Know your current contract inside and out.

I received a number of approaches that progressed to various stages but let me tell you about this role.

A call, a short screening interview and an invitation to visit the school. Within a two week window, I found myself flying to Dubai. Working full time and managing multi-stage applications can be challenging, hence the need to reduce your personal and professional commitments.

I do not think it is honorable to go over the details however – after visiting the school in Deira International School Dubai, pending the resolution of two points regarding Health Insurance and schooling for our three children, I was confident this could work for us. An all-through school, with ambitious plans, not for profit, with strong values.

3 month until arrival

With a contract offer – we told the children.

With the timeframe suddenly moving from September to April. How prophetic ‘seize the right opportunity’ turned out to be. The timing will not always be perfect, you too may need to consider some short term pain for long term gain. But here we are.

Next steps

Create copies of all of the following – (Office Lens App creates PDFs which are useful). Of cause, you can do this ahead of time.

  • All qualification certificates (you will need originals)
  • All qualification transcripts (Undergraduate degree, PGCE, QTS, Masters).
  • DSB needs to be within 6 months – get on the update service
  • Doctor’s letter of good health
  • Passport
  • Passport photos, the sizes are dependent on the country.
  • Birth Certificate
  • Parents passports of death certificates
  • Marriage Certificate
  • Children’s Birth Certificate
  • Children’s latest school reports / doctor’s letter of good health
  • Drivers Licence
  • Know where the nearest FedEx postal office is
  • Know where your nearest Notary Public works. Ian Gordon in Southampton, was excellent. I know this means nothing to you now
  • Revisit those direct debits (Amazon, subscription, magazines, phone contract).
  • Plans for the family home? Cars?

Bank Accounts – do any UK banks operate in your destination country? If so – move your UK accounts to that bank. International transfers are now often available between most UK and international accounts. You may even get a cash bonus for moving.

In March, my father past away, at home, with my mum. This made making the move really tough. Life is unpredictable.

In the final weeks – the school may ask for a bio? Maybe a culturally sensitive photo.

Final week Tax P50 – should you have a break to support the moving overseas process you may be able to claim a Income Tax refund. P86 Parts 1 and 2.

Before leaving

Having a good book in hand is never a bad thing. Especially if there is a lot of policy and procedure to fulfil.

Let me get back to you on this one.


First few weeks

I arrived in April. Mid-year transfers do not seem to be that common so read what I write from here on in, with a pinch of salt.

Arrivals – DIS offered a meet and greet service. That was a really nice touch. They took me through customs and made sure I got me Visa stamped.

Next – it’s warm. Sunny.

45 and not a day more.

I came without my family. I had a day to get settled in. The temporary accommodation is smart. It has a small kitchenette, washing facilities, ironing board and wifi. It makes life just that little bit easier. It has a gym, pool and hot tubs. In the round, I think it is a good solution, if not a long term one. I did come home to a birthday cake too!

For the first week I got a taxi to and from work before moving to a rental. These two options were about the same cost. Careem and Uber are local options with quite a few offers.

The school and the staff have been the highlight. Understanding, empathetic and supportive. School arranged for HSBC to visit. Bank account set up, the paperwork and card was delivered to school.

A trip to the local mall, with your passport, will enable you to get a local visitors SIM card that needs to be topped up. I bought mine with my first shop at Carrefour. Don’t forget school will need your passport for your Emirates ID.

Expect the first few weeks to be disjointed given the fact you are new, there is a fair amount of paperwork to complete.

Top tips – I downloaded Google’s offline map. That’s been a plus.

What I wish I had known

Create a destination email account. eg Gmail. You may find yourself setting up numerous new accounts; banks, utilities, rentals…

Wifi is very available (airport, most malls, venues), WhatsApp and SMS is the main communication tool (Instagram is very popular locally).

Wifi checks often need a local mobile number or email to authenticate.

Lots of transactions and notices are confirmed via SMS and/or Email. Emirates ID updates, bank withdrawals, credit card payments, utilities updates.

WhatsApp is the local communication platform. It is worth learning how to save and invite a contact as well as sharing a map ‘pin’ to confirm a pick-up or delivery location.