So you are thinking of settling down in the beautiful country where you have been teaching for the last 2 or 3 or 5 years. You’ve met some nice people, maybe a special someone and you can’t bear to leave. But you are sick and tired of FULL TIME employment in a school that provides less than satisfactory personal fulfillment. Or perhaps you are ready to take retirement or early retirement.
Having left full time employment over 2 1/2 years ago and settling semi-retired abroad at the age of 46, I’ve been asked by a friend to write about my experiences. Am I an expert on the subject? NO, but I’ve been around the block a few times and maybe what I’ve learned could be of interest or help to anyone contemplating settling in a foreign land. I will throw out a few issues that ought to be considered before you make this leap and some of the perils you might face. My experiences are based on living in Turkey and Romania; who knows whether the knowledge gained here applies to anywhere else in the world. But I guess they might.
You Should be Able to Answer
Yes to These Three Points Before Proceeding
1. Hopefully, you have been saving your hard earned tax-free dollars and have enough money, a pension, and/or investments to provide you with some type of income. If you are ready for full retirement then you probably have all these ducks in a row.
2. Are you satisfied with the health care in your new country or have medical evacuation insurance coverage?
3. Is the cost of living low and inflation not too bad? You want to be sure your investment can keep up with these factors. Many emerging market countries offer great rates of return on savings and bonds.
Tips While You are Still Legally and Fully Employed
1. Make friends with your school’s business office or government liaison. You need to be on good terms with whoever is in charge of government visas and permits, health insurance, banking, and other residency issues. These people can provide you with valuable info on what if any possibilities are available for a residency permit extension. They can point you to the right office and provide you with an introduction to a friendly government official.
2. If you are really serious about establishing yourself do the math and the research needed to make sure you are covered for at least 5 years. If you just want to hang in a hippiesque fashion enjoying the sun and vibe while you recuperate from your last horrendous teaching job, then maybe this is not so important. If you haven’t found your niche as a freelance teacher, international English consultant, importer of crafts, bistro owner, Internet entrepreneur before you quit your job, then you have missed valuable opportunities for networking. Many of your co-workers probably have spouses in business or other professions that may help you (ditto for students’ parents). It’s better than searching the yellow pages for an accountant, real estate agent, dentist, etc…. network now or waste time later.
3. Find out what options are available for establishing residency. Volunteering is a great way to establish residency. I found an organization in Romania willing to do the mounds of paperwork required to be a volunteer in exchange for 2 hours a week of English lessons and help with their multi-cultural festival. Volunteering also helps establish you in the community and expands your social and professional network. In Turkey I was lucky to have been an employed resident for 5 years. After 5 years the requirements weren’t difficult to meet to extend my permit for another 5 years. At the time I had no job, but I had a good chunk of cash in the bank. My bank statement, a clean police report, and the permit fees were all I needed to stay in Turkey. Of course marrying someone from the country you wish to settle in or buying a home there are usually foolproof ways to establish residency. If you are retired and have proof of an external source of income then you are also good to go (stay).
4. Learn the language as fluently as you possibly can.
Tips After You Leave Your Job
1. Don’t sit on your ass. Keep busy. Lying on the beach drinking pina coladas will turn your mind to mush. Ideally, you have at least one hobby and a few freelance jobs or private students to keep you busy. Time management becomes an issue in a different way when you leave the life of 7-3 or 8-4 or whatever hours you put in as a full-timer. Things take longer when you have to travel from lesson to lesson or appointment to appointment. Also you don’t have the support of the business office to take care of a lot of life’s little problems.
2. If you are hoping to make some income teaching private lessons, here are a few specific recommendations. Get the money up front; have your client sign a contract or a promissory note (if possible). Chasing people for money can take considerable time. Most people want lessons under the table – tax free. I’m not sure it is the best idea to rely on black money if you don’t have other substantial investment income. It may be hard to explain how you have survived the next time you need a residency extension. Make sure you keep the tax I.D. number that your school got for you. This is also required from banks in some countries. So find an accountant who needs English lessons and trade services. Small individual businesses are not difficult to start in Turkey, a few forms to fill out and quarterly tax payments and receipts are the basic requirements. Network, network, network – students come and go and you need to be constantly looking for new ones.
3. Keep on top of changing regulations. I’m sure each country has different rules and these often change frequently. I was in Romania for 10 months and the banking rules chanced 3 times. First I was only allowed to open a Romanian currency account of the equivalent of 2000 euros, and then they let me open a euro account, and finally they allowed dollar accounts in unlimited amounts. Because of currency devaluations and fluctuations, usually local currency accounts pay high interest rates, maybe 15 to 20 percent or more. Residency regulation also can change unexpectedly. Those countries slated for EU membership are in the process of change that will take years and years to accomplish.
3. Develop your social network outside of your old school. Most of your American, British, or Aussie friends will eventually leave. You need to get to know fellow ex-pats, and locals or you will find yourself a lonely soul. I’m assuming that one of the reasons you are staying is because you have found the people of your new country charming and enchanting so this should come naturally unless you are a recluse of sorts.
4. Continue with language learning. If your language skills are weak, of course friends will help. But friends can be only asked for so much and if they have full time jobs their time is limited.
5. Stay out of trouble. Keep your paperwork in order, pay your bills and/or taxes and don’t piss off anyone who might tell the authorities that you don’t pay your bills, that you do drugs, that you are a spy for the CIA, or any other fabrication from their imagination. Believe it or not, some people have the idea that maybe you are taking work or a job from a local member of their country.
So There You Have It.
Yes, There Is Life, and a Good Life After Teaching
If you retire the right way in a country other than your own that is. Let’s face it, teaching the children of the rich and privileged begins to have its disadvantages. If you’ve been on the overseas teaching circuit for a while you know exactly what I’m talking about so I won’t go into it. On the other hand, the opportunity to immerse in a new culture and check it out from the security of an international school position is a wonderful opportunity. Cutting the umbilical cord between you and your school may be a big step but if you follow the steps I’ve outlined above, you’re well on your way to a successful experience.