Summer Vacation Dilemmas for International Educators


When summer rolls around, all of us living and teaching overseas face the same dilemma: Do I travel for June, July and August, return to my home country, stay put, or embrace a combination of all three options? On the surface, this decision sounds like a problem half the world would love to face, but in reality the summer months can be stressful on both the psyche and the budget of international educators.

If the spirit moves you to stay put for the summer months, it would certainly be the most convenient and least expensive alternative. Living in a vibrant area with “beaucoup” culture could make this the ideal way to spend your vacation. Not so, if you’re in a cultural dead spot choked with traffic, pollution, heat, poor internet and high prices. Consider also that many schools supply housing and request teachers vacate for the summer months. Some schools even refuse to pay teachers’ housing during the summer, requiring them to find new digs at the end of the vacation or pay the rent out-of-pocket to keep the old place reserved. I’d avoid schools that fall into the last category.

When my family was new to the international teaching circuit we were eager to travel and explore. We spent one of our first summers overseas on the beach in the Dominican Republic. We rented a house next to the ocean and settled in for a relaxing vacation with the kids. Other summers we stopped on route to the United States, spending weeks exploring Thailand, Holland, Indonesia and other places of interest that fell in the general direction of home.

During Christmas and other extended vacations we almost always traveled within our host country and/or to surrounding countries of interest. And so, eventually the day came when we had seen lots of the world around us and ultimately longed to spend the summer months with family and friends back home. The problem was, we had nothing back home to return to. We had sold our house and cars ten years prior. For anyone that’s been on the circuit for many years this is can be a very real situation.

For a single teacher it’s easier to come up with a solution to being homeless. It’s far more convenient for one person to drop in on family and friends and stay for a while, but it’s not the same for a couple or a family like us with two teenagers. As much as our families back home loved and missed us it was just too much to expect aging parents to adapt to three months with four more people in the house. Experience tells me that the old saying “fish and houseguests begin to stink after three days” is probably true. Plus, living out of a suitcase for the summer is no joy, especially for a family.

Without a home base, returning to the States is expensive. We easily dropped 15K in one summer. Sounds unbelievable, but air fare for four, hotels, car rental, eating out, shopping sprees for kids’ school clothes and supplies, entertainment, gas, and it’s just endless, adding up fast at US prices. If you’re planning on returning home for the summer months you would do well to calculate your projected expenses and debit this from your gross income to get an idea of what you’ll end up with at the end of each year.

Eventually we bought another house in the States and our daughter has lived in it for the past 6 years while we continue on with our international teaching careers. With a place to go every summer, coming home is easy and far less expensive. We have our cars and a place to eat, sleep and call home. Of course owning a house you don’t live in can pose its own problems. But when summers roll around we’re glad we have it. Plus it’s appreciating in value year after year….well, maybe not recently but it will again.

What about You? How do you spend your summer vacations? Do you return to your home country, travel, visit friends or stay put in your current host country? Have you discovered a unique and novel way to spend your summers? Do you have some advice to share with the international teaching community on this topic? After all, summer comes every year for all of us.

14 thoughts on “Summer Vacation Dilemmas for International Educators

  1. What a wonderful and sooo easy to relate to article. This has been our dilemma for the past 5 summers. Not quite in a position to purchase a house but definitely on the “next thing to invest in” list. Thank you!


  2. Four years ago my wife and I bought a six-bedroomed house in the mountains in Bulgaria for £20,000. (Yes, that is right. Twenty thousand pounds sterling.) Every summer we go back to Bulgaria and usually we have some friends over from England. When I was teaching at the British School in Bucharest, it was easy (and fairly cheap) for us to get on an overnight train to Sofia. Now we are in the UAE and Bulgaria seems a lot further away, but it is heaven to escape the heat of the Middle East and to enjoy the cool mountain air, the greenery and the very good Bulgarian wine! I just do not understand how any teachers can live and work in the U.K.


  3. I solved this problem by buying an apartment in Budapest, my first overseas school. Unfortunately, I have not been successful in renting it out when I am not there. I could write a book about the tenants who took full advantage of the owner living out of country. I had what turned out to be, a squatter, although I had paid a good bit of money to a property manager who assured me after six months of no payment for the rent, the “renter” had been asked to leave as I requested and was told this had been done. Imagine my surprise a year later when I went to Budapest for the Christmas holidays, to be greeted at the door by this stranger!!! (Who insisted that I go to a hotel! I insisted that she leave instead! She did, but the beautiful apartment was knee deep in garbage…..what could be broken was, and this “lady” was getting her electricity from the building outlets outside! ) So, these situations are not ideal, and I spent that particular vacation deep cleaning, but I was also happy to have the apartment back. Sometimes in Hungary, as in other places in the world, a squatter is most difficult to get out! I continue to go there each summer and it does provide a good base for traveling.I purchased this apartment 12 years ago out right, so it does offer a good alternative with no further out of pocket money for the privilege. And I still love Budapest. It will also give me a place to retire to next June while I figure out the next phase of my life.


    1. So Celticsong, have you retired? I need to work a couple of more years. I too am a music teacher. Do you have any suggestions?


  4. I still own a place because when I went to sell the market had fallen too much to make a profit. I have had tenets this time for two years but it is a challenge to keep it up and leased. I feel homeless as there is no place to stay except with friends and a short visit with my daughter. I don’t like the stress of the revolving visiting and it is expensive. This summer I arranged to take care of friends’ pets while they returned home in exchange for staying in their place. I got a change of scenery and they got great care for their pets.

    I no longer need to go home…as it is where ever I am. My children taking care of me???I would not count on it…they will be struggling to take care of themselves with all the debt from this recession.


  5. This is often a big problem especially with families. Sometimes house swaps can be arranged with teachers and academics overseas. University Accommodation is often very cheap during student holidays and places like London University offer some great deals in some great areas. I believe many Universities offer these deals in July, August and September in most major cities.


  6. I have a wonderful summer cottage in Ontario. It’s large enough to accommodate guests. Why visit everyone else when they can visit you????

    It is also great for my kids. Since most people on my lake are summer residents, they have made loads of summer friends and never get bored with swimming, raspberry picking and biking. It is close enough to a city for my shopping but it is too far for a daily trip. That way I am not inundated with consumerism and malls, which also helps my budget!

    As for a car, I have made friends with a local slimy used car dealer. He sells me a car every summer and then buys it back when I leave. I pay about 5-600 and have the convenience of a car and he makes a nice little profit.


  7. Hey Louis,
    That doesn’t necessarily apply after the first year. There are two ways to qualify. Check with the IRS website and I suggest and Accountant. Mine checks every year and makes sure that I am in compliance. BTW they have recently changed some wording for IRA contributions so I would no longer contribute to those.


    1. Find the link to where you think you can be home more than 35 days and still claim the exemption and post it for us. I suggest you check.

      Here is the link to the FAQ on it:

      The taxpayer must meet one of two tests: the bona fide residence test or the physical presence test.

      You meet the bona fide residence test if you are a bona fide resident of a foreign country or countries for an uninterrupted period that includes an entire tax year.

      Example: If you go to a foreign country to work on a particular job for a specified period of time, you ordinarily will not be regarded as a bona fide resident of that country even though you work there for 1 tax year or longer. The length of your stay and the nature of your job are only some of the factors to be considered in determining whether you meet the bona fide residence test. You would basically need to have acquired “permanent residency” status (like a green-card to remain indefinitely.) Any visa with an expiration date would fail to meet this test. That means if your teaching visa is a one or two year visa, and you are not a permanent resident, you would fail this test. In addition, you would also have to have residency in a country that has a tax treaty with the USA:

      You meet the physical presence test if you are physically present in a foreign country or countries 330 full days during a period of 12 consecutive months.

      It seems crystal clear to me. Either you you are permanent resident of a foreign country — can live/work permanently/indefinitely — (bona fide residence test) or your are out of the country (USA) for more than 330 days (physical presence test).

      I would like to see an IRS link that gives more leeway or clarification, if you have it.


  8. Remember, if you go home to the USA for more than 35 days you will lose your foreign earned income tax exemption. By the 36th day (cumulative) in America in any year you have lost your exemption are are liable to pay US taxes on 100% of your foreign earned income.


    1. Remember–for tax purposes you can have your tax preparer change your IRS dates to make it easier to split vacation time in the US. Many people think that the tax year must be from January through December, but instead you can split the summer so that you don’t exceed the correct number of days.


  9. I’m in Hunan, China. My original plan was to travel back to the USA in early July and come back for the July 22 eclipse. Finances and China’s reaction to the swine flu problem chilled those plans.

    My uni allows me to stay in my apartment over the summer, all expenses paid, so I’ve used the opportunity to do some traveling around China, earn some yuan tutoring a few students, and enjoy my summer holiday. At this point in my life, I am essentially homeless (in US terms). I sold my house and was renting before coming to China. My wife and I are separated. My kids are living in three different states. So if I go back to the USA, it would only be for a short stay — two weeks max.

    My Chinese friends can’t fathom this concept. Their customs expect children to care for their parents, so the idea that my presence might not be entirely welcome back home escapes them. I don’t mind it. I get paid for one of the two summer months, and my extra work more than makes up for the missing salary.

    I’m 53, and I feel more free than I did when I was 23. Though, I wonder whether I should establish a homebase somewhere other than my current residence.


  10. I am working in the Middle East, and EVERYONE goes home for the summer, it seems. However, this year I decided to take a couple of trips in the Nth hemisphere, and (Yes, partly because of the Swine-flu) skip the visit to my family in Australia and NZ. So I had about a month out of the country, but am staying in Kuwait for the rest of the summer.

    It is surprisingly nice to be here. I have stayed in the school apartment, and I am enjoying the quiet, restful days. It is so nice to sleep in, watch movies, go to the gym every day, read, and wander around the shops. I have had enough traveling to satisfy the urge to be somewhere else, but I do feel refreshed and rested.

    I sold my home in NZ before I left 2 yrs ago, so I do have those issues of staying with family members. I am always a little stressed when in someone else’s house, and Im aware that it is easy to outstay your welcome. Next break I will be very keen to get back home, but for this summer, it was a good decision to stay here. It is important to find out before you accept the job, are you entitled to stay in your apartment if you wish?


  11. This really is the “dirty little secret” they don’t mention at the job fairs, isn’t it? We were warned not to immediately sell our home, but when you need to rent it to pay bills and/or keep it lived in, you still haven’t solved the problem of where to live during the summer months. We decided after a couple of years overseas to sell our house to the people who were renting it. Now we were really “homeless”!

    Looking back, I can hardly believe we were gutsy enough to impose on our daughter and son-in-law for four years, literally wedging ourselves in their tiny house for 3 months out of every year. We wanted to be as close as possible to our granddaughter, and tried to be helpful by helping with house improvement projects and buying groceries, but the time arrived when we could tell we needed to find other lodgings to preserve a positive family dynamic.

    Luckily for us, we had enough cash saved from the sale of our house and were able to find a seriously under-market condo only 15 minutes away from the grandchildren. The pool is a great draw for the kids and we’re seeing them almost every day. The condo is behind a security gate and we feel comfortable leaving it for extended periods while we’re overseas teaching. In addition, we’ve been able to find short term renters through a vacation rental agency to offset some of the costs.

    All in all, it’s worked out really well for us. My advice? Don’t impose on family or friends as long as we did, and if you can buy now, you’ll get some excellent bargains in many areas of the country.


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