Madelyn knows a thing or two about TEFL contracts. After teaching theatre/drama for years and shifting career to TEFL, Madelyn knew exactly what she wanted in her TEFL contract and she has tips to cover all aspects of a TEFL contract. Let’s take a look…
A Little Bit About Me
Hello! My name is Madelyn, and I currently teach in Seoul, South Korea. I have been living in Korea for the last year but have been an avid traveler for the last 10 years! Seoul has definitely won my heart and is an incredible city to be able to teach in. The food and people are amazing, and I adore my students! I began my education journey 7 years ago but stepped into teaching English last April. I got TEFL certified through Premier TEFL and then embarked on their internship program soon after!
The first time I moved aboard I was filled to the brim with anxiety about finding a job. I wanted to ensure I was going to be somewhere that paid me fairly, made sure I had good housing and overall was a positive experience. So I knew receiving a proper contract was going to be key in ensuring my safety and comfort while away from home.
Below are the things I look for every time I sign a new TEFL contract. As well as a free downloadable question sheet that places all the questions you should ask in one place. I hope these support you in securing an awesome job abroad!
> Download the Question Sheet for FREE
Knowing Your TEFL Contract Rights
One of the most significant things you can do to protect yourself is to understand your rights as an employee. Regardless of what country you have selected to teach in, look up their labor laws! Before I even start applying for jobs I look at the visa I’ll be travelling on and research:
– How many hours am I legally allowed to work weekly
– What subjects I am allowed to teach
– Government-mandated holidays, holiday pay and overtime pay
– Student age restrictions (sometimes you are only allowed to teach a certain age range of students)
Making sure you thoroughly understand your rights is important because unfortunately, not all employers will be looking out for you. It is even more critical to understand your visa restrictions while travelling as these can get you deported if they are broken. There was a big cull of teachers a few years ago in South Korea that were found to be teaching subjects such as science and math. Many of the teachers protested this should be the responsibility of the employer, but they were deported instead.
Understanding Your TEFL Salary
(Taxes, medical, payday and other little fees)
Make sure you fully understand your salary before and after taxes. What deductions will there be? How much are you paying and does your employer match some of these costs (e.g. medical)? Do they help you set up a bank account for direct deposits? When do you get paid? Ensure your TEFL contract has an exact date of when you get paid each month so they have no excuse to pay you late.
Taxes depend on the country you are in, but regular deductions typically include:
– Government tax
– Amenities (gas, water, electricity, internet)
– Building maintenance fee
– Medical (in some countries this is 50/50 between employer and employee
**Confirm what is covered in your medical benefits e.g. dental, massages, etc.**
It’s always worth asking your employer what your approximate net salary will look like. Then take into account the living costs for the area you’re moving to and verify it’ll fit your needs.
TIP: ALWAYS GET A PAY STUB. Read that again. This will guarantee you know exactly what is being taken from your pay-cheque and why. This should reflect the terms of your TEFL contract. Employers are human beings and can make mistakes so always check everything adds up properly.
Hours, Vacations and Sick Days
After your salary, always check your hours according to your TEFL contract! Are you working 4 hours a day or 12? Different countries have various standards so ensure you clearly understand it is in line with your visa.
Make sure you understand when you will have vacation days. Are they paid or unpaid? Are they flexible or set? How many paid sick days do you get a year and what happens when you run out? If you need to miss a class for a doctor’s appointment, how much will be deducted? How does class coverage work?
This will save you a lot of stress if you get sick or need to attend a last-minute dental appointment. Knowing ahead of time doesn’t leave any surprises on payday.
Free Housing or Housing Stipend
Most countries will either offer you free housing or a housing stipend (money to put towards housing). Know which one you will be receiving and if the company will help you obtain a place to live.
This is another great time to know your rights! In South Korea, the company must provide you with housing within a 20min walk or one train station stop away from the school. They have to pay the deposit (which is sometimes upwards of $10K) and ensure it is kept at a livable level.
You should understand what costs are associated with the building (maintenance fees) and where you can put your trash or collect your packages.
Most companies will offer you flight reimbursement. Depending on the country, laws and company (another know your rights moment!) they will either pay for a one-way ticket or roundtrip. In some countries, companies must provide a roundtrip ticket with a TEFL contract, but be aware of adjusting laws. In South Korea prior to 2021, the company had to provide roundtrip airfare. This was changed and they presently only have to pay for a ticket to get you to the country.
What Are You Responsible For
As always it depends on the country but ensure you understand what you are responsible for. Do you need to pay your bills or will those costs be deducted from your pay-cheque? Are there any moving-in or cleaning costs? What exactly will you be expected to pay for upfront, during and at the end of your contract? You can ask your employer for a list, so you know you have the relevant savings set aside.
Also, understand what you are responsible for at your job. A clear job description will make sure you are not taken advantage of later on in the process.
Breaking Your TEFL Contract
When you move aboard you might not want to think about what would happen if you need to break your TEFL contract. But this is a VERY IMPORTANT thing to know. In some countries, you may need to pay back your flight cost or even part of your salary. In other countries, you may need to pay back almost 6 months’ worth of your salary as a “fine.”
Understanding this ahead of time helps you to make a decision about whether to sign a TEFL contract or not. I personally do not sign contracts with these clauses as you never know the environment you are going to be working in until you’re there. The only time I sign a TEFL contract is when you can leave after giving a month or two notice and there are no fees associated with departing. If it is vague in any way, do not sign the contract.
Sometimes there will be bad managers. Sometimes they change your hours or benefits or you show up and your housing isn’t safe to live in. Sometimes there is a family emergency and you need to return home. You never know what might happen therefore being prepared is always important.
Finally, confirm the TEFL contract states what happens if the company severs the contract. It may happen sometimes, and you should receive money from the school and for a flight home. But double-check that this is stated in writing somewhere.
TIP: If it’s not in writing, then it is not binding. This goes for everything. Pick up an extra class? Get it in writing. Being paid for overtime hours? Get it in writing. ALWAYS get it in writing.
Check ALL PARTS of Your TEFL Contract
Lastly, make sure you check over your contract many times. Get your friends to read it. Make sure you really check everything and clarify any questions you have. Especially check to make sure the school name, contact and address on the TEFL contract match the actual school you will be working at. Some schools might put different information to avoid tax payments, but this is something that can get you deported. If it seems fishy, know your rights and triple-check everything.
– Know your rights
– Triple-check everything
– Get everything in writing
***It does not matter how nice someone seems, if it is not in writing it does not count***
Moving abroad can be scary, but it is truly a life-changing experience. Making sure you obtain a strong contract enables you to be protected as you embark on this new adventure. If you still have questions, you can always ask to be connected to a teacher at the school. You will usually be connected to the head teacher (like a manager for the foreign teachers) so take what they state cautiously. But it can definitely aid you to figure out the feel of the school. No matter what taking the jump into teaching is an incredibly rewarding experience!
If you have more questions about moving abroad be sure to check out the other amazing blogs below or see Premier TEFL’s full blog library at premiertefl.com/blog
> 5 Ways to Make Friends When Living Abroad
> Your Guide to TEFL in Colombia
> Teaching English in Spain
> 6 Ways to Save Money in South Korea