USA: The High Costs of Returning Home

Without insurance, both health and car, entering the US short- or long-term could spell financial suicide.

Count yourself lucky if your school provides health insurance that includes the United States. For those of us WITHOUT such broad coverage, even a short visit home could spell financial disaster if medical attention becomes necessary.

On the bright side, short-term policies are available at what could be argued ‘reasonable prices.’ Don’t be surprised, however, if you don’t qualify for the lowest premiums. Insurance companies set prices based on the odds of whether or not they’ll have to pay claims. Because you’ve been out of the country, there’s no paper trail to attest to your current state of health. Nothing personal. it’s just that you’re a bigger gamble so you’ll pay more.

Short-term policies do have a big disadvantage: They expire every six months. Should a health issue occur during any 6-month period, that issue is eligible to be classified as ‘pre-existing’ and not covered in an ensuing 6-month policy. For educators planning to stay a while, a short-term policy may not be the best choice.

A COBRA policy may be what you need if planning a long-term stay, such as moving back permanently. Named such, no doubt for its stinging high price, a COBRA policy lets you extend an expiring policy for a set period of time. Be aware: Insurance companies know you will no longer be overseas where medical costs are reasonable, but rather in the US where prices are often 10 times that of many other countries. The monthly premium will reflect this. Ouch!! A COBRA policy can be useful until you find a suitable long-term policy.

Not to rub salt into the wound, but you’re also going to need transportation. America is not known for its transit systems. You could risk it and drive without car insurance, but if you end up in an accident of your making and someone is hurt, an ambulance chaser will litigate you into financial ruin. If you’re an American returning from overseas and cancelled an existing policy some years ago, you’ll be placed in the “lapse in coverage” category. For all the insurer knows, you’ve been driving without insurance. You’re high risk now and the price reflects it.

Leaving the United States is easy. Coming back in is a different story. Factor two kids and a spouse into the equation and …. well, you see the problem! ISR asks: What has your experience been with visiting the US or moving home in terms of insurance? What advice would you give newbies?

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Caught in the Shanghai Lockdown w/ Children

Shanghai, China

If you’re unaware of the recent, draconian COVID-preventative measures taken by the government of China, allow us to bring you up to speed:

In late March, 2022, the Chinese government imposed a severe lockdown on the entire city of Shanghai, an area of over 26 million residents. Going far beyond anything experienced in the U.S. or European Union, the Shanghai lockdown demands all 26 million residents stay in their homes, 24/7. This has been in effect going on 5 weeks.

Faced with outrage from citizens, Chinese health officials held to their position, reporting they will continue to separate COVID-positive babies and children from their parents. The impact on a child, especially an English-speaking, Western-born child forcibly separated from their parents and taken to a Chinese detention hospital will be profound. To compound the trauma, visitation at these facilities is prohibited unless the parent also tests COVID-positive, in which case they can remain with their child. (See Google search results for more details.)

Shanghai is home to upwards of 40 International Schools, making it home to hundreds of expat educators and their children. China, overall, hosts 600 International Schools. What’s to prevent this brand of quarantine from spreading? Communist Party officials have already announced plans to move people from their homes in Pingwang, to Zhejiang Province for no less than a week while they sanitize the city. In Beicai, residents were told to move to temporary accommodations. The relocation order requires entry doors to remain unlocked and closet doors open.

ISR asks: If you are an educator living/teaching in China and accompanied by your children, how do you cope with this situation? Why haven’t you packed up and left?

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China Visa Rude Awakening

Considering China for a Career Move?
An ISR Member Recounts Their Failed Ordeal

“I was interviewed and offered a job in November, 2021. I’m based in the UK. I was interviewed via Skype. I really liked the director and was looking forward to joining the school.

The paperwork process began and 3 months later I had all the necessary document legalizations from the United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCOD) and the Chinese Embassy, as well as a new police certificate. I spent hundreds of pounds travelling back and forth to London, invested lots of time and energy, and also lost pay for the days I took off work to attend legalization appointments.

A week prior to receiving the Chinese legalizations, I came across the required steps for entering China after receiving a work visa. The school had not informed me of these steps – they had only outlined the steps to get the visa. After visa approval, there would be a number of hurdles to overcome.

At the time of research, there were no direct flights to China from the UK. Direct flights leaving Europe were £1700-£4000 one way at the time. Indirect flights from the UK involved 1 or 2 transit stops. Indirect flights would not have been an issue until I understood the Health Declaration Certificate (HDC) required in order to receive an approval to fly. The flight allowance was 6000RMB (£719 / $943US).

Obtaining the HDC would involve receiving negative PCR and antibody COVID tests from medics approved by the Chinese Embassy in the UK. There are very few on the list and the test costs around £300. If someone has had Covid, there are extra PCR and chest X-ray tests to undergo at least 4 weeks before your flight at a cost of around £400. Add to this the need to do the PCR tests again in any transit city at that country’s Chinese-approved facility and these medical check costs could end up being well over £1000, especially if I’d had to stay in a transit city to attend an appointment or await results, etc. This is after already paying the legalizations and visa costs (£600+).

Having had Covid I was starting to worry that these upfront costs were unaffordable, given that I’d also learnt I needed to pay the 14-day hotel quarantine on arrival and later request a refund. I was also concerned that I might not be able to avoid a reinfection within 90 days of the flight as it is very hard to avoid in the UK, especially in schools.

I raised my concerns with the school and they immediately offered to buy the flight and possibly pay the quarantine on arrival. When I shared the details of the possible costs and my concerns about paying all of them upfront with the risk of being refused entry into China (I’ve heard this has happened to some), they said they would get back to me with the level of financial risk I might expect. Instead, they came back to me saying that since I had had Covid, the PU letter needed to apply for the visa would likely be rejected. They then reneged on the job offer as they now thought I would be unable to enter China (or so they said).

If I couldn’t get into China after recovering from Covid, why hadn’t they told me that having had Covid was a deal breaker when I interviewed in November? If people who recover from Covid can’t get into China, why does the Chinese Embassy require an extra medical step for these people?

To be fair, the school did refund the cost of the legalizations but not the travel and all the other costs incurred. This is something, I guess.

This is a message for anyone thinking about interviewing who is NOT already based in China: I would advise you to check the steps to entry carefully on your country’s Chinese Embassy website and decide how much effort you’re willing to expend and how much cash you’re willing to risk in the event you can’t get into the country.”

ISR asks: How does your experience compare with the author’s?
Advice? Comments? Please scroll down to participate in this ISR Discussion Topic

Vaccines, Masks, Social Distancing & Quarantines: How Your School Stacks Up

From the ISR Member Forum:

by voyager » Tue Aug 24, 2021
…..I’m definitely scouring reviews and FB groups to see how each school managed the vaccine access and safety measures for staff because that is the main reason I left my previous gig. Being denied a vaccine during the height of the pandemic, under lockdown all evening, high infection and death rates in the community but we were also required to teach in person with 300+ people a day really soured me on things this year.

by voyager » Thu Aug 26, 2021 11:06 am
…..yes I caught COVID at work in December 2020 as we were working in person during massive surges. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one but it gives me pause and when I recruit again this year I will be asking about vaccine access and safety measures going forward. Hoping to find something good but honestly I am not sure that the international teaching scene is going to be the same anymore. Who knows!

If you’ve been on the circuit for any length of time, it comes as no surprise some schools put profits before the health and safety of students, teachers, and parents. Regrettably, in the age of COVID, this makes choosing the right school more consequence-charged than ever before.

In April of 2020, during the early days of COVID, ISR hosted a Discussion Board dedicated to revealing how schools were coping with the virus. Over 185 teachers supplied information about their schools. Many schools were caught off guard and failed miserably.

Much has changed in the last 18 months. Hopefully schools reported to be slow to react, or that did not react at all, to the crisis now have a viable system in place to keep everyone safe. However, voyager‘s Comments (above) from the ISR Member Forum tell a different story.

Please scroll down, Name YOUR school and tell colleagues about Current COVID safe measures (or lack thereof) at your school. ISR will put a backlink to this Discussion Board on the Schools Review page of each school mentioned here, ensuring everyone gets ALL the information they need to make safe, sound decisions.

Please scroll down to participate in this ISR Discussion

Name YOUR school. Tell us about what is currently being done to provide a safe working environment in this age of COVID:

COVID Conflict: Breaking My New Contract

Last week I received confirmation my work Visa had been approved and processed. This news, from my new school in India, came with a reminder telling me the report date for new staff was set for late August, less than 2 short months away. But with daily world health news blaring negatively, I feel apprehensive to say the least. Yesterday, 46,000+ new COVID cases were reported in India, not including the thousands of cases health officials say go unreported each day.

In truth, my conscience doesn’t want to leave the school hanging, but if the new COVID case count stays the same or gets even worse, I’m planning to bail on the Contract. What else can I conceivably do? We all know that the school would not have any hesitation whatsoever letting me go at the the very, very last minute if it was faltering. Yet, still I’m feeling conflicted. Should I tell them what I’m thinking?

A sprinkling of ISR School Reviews report schools still rescinding Contracts due to the unforeseen rise of the COVID variant. If schools can break Contract at this late date due to COVID, so should teachers have the right to do the same. My feeling is, schools, along with recruiting agencies, don’t see it this way. My Contract contains a force majeure clause to cover unforeseen circumstances. However, on close examination, the wording implies only the school can exercise that right. No surprise there!

My question is: If I don’t get on the plane in August, will I be killing all subsequent chances to teach overseas? Will future potential employers and the big recruiters understand why I did not go, or will I be banned forever? Anyone else in this predicament? To quote a member of the ISR Forum: A Contract is not a suicide pact.

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Taking a Year Off

A year gap on your resume can be an unwanted stain that’s sure to prompt an interviewing school Director to ask for an explanation:  Were you just hanging out? Traveling? Did an emotional overload dictate a break? Is there an ailing parent in the picture? How did you keep up your teaching skills? Are you sure you’re still interested in International education? Or, maybe you’re in some type of legal or financial trouble?

If you have been forced to spend a year away from International Teaching because Covid wiped out your position, or you autonomously decided to stay/go home and play it safe, there should be little worry about this explainable gap in your resume. However, ISR definitely does recommend you document your explanation with a letter from your previous school explaining the consequences of the Covid Virus on your previous school and position.

Do, and we encourage you, be prepared for this next question:  How did you spend your year off? Killing time vegging in front of YouTube isn’t going to win you stature as a candidate. On the other hand, cultural experiences, personal development or an addition to your credentials will paint a much better image of you and say something positive about what you’ll contribute to the school atmosphere. Again, documentation is important and helps a school Director choose the best candidate.

If YOU decided to take a year off due to the Covid crisis, or your school decided for you, ISR invites you to ask Questions about and Share thoughts on how YOU will incorporate this gap into your resume.  Of equal interest is your impressions on how a year away during the Covid crisis may affect future job seeking efforts and how YOU show you utilized the time to make yourself a better and more desirable International Education candidate.

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Back to School …. Already?


In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of International Schools plans to reopen as early as this week, some by choice, others by government order. ISR Asks: What will this early return to the classroom look like for students & teachers?
  • Will teachers & students all wear masks?
  • Will social distancing be achieved through reduced class size & staggered lunches?
  • Will a percentage of students stay on virtual learning to reduce class size?
  • Will everyone entering school grounds be temperature-tested daily?
  • Would you comply with a return order if your school called you back today?
ISR Member and Site Visitors Comment:
__________________________________
I’m not comfortable with it (an early return). I think I will be wearing a mask. I really miss the kids and they miss me, but I am more interested in first seeing the numbers in a week or two when those who traveled have symptoms appear. If a parent asked my opinion, I would tell them to keep their kids home if it’s possible or if they were worried. I would also encourage them to use a mask if possible. But that is not the school’s position.
There are a ton of guidelines to follow, many of which are near-impossible to enforce, but we’ll give it a shot. The government has mandated an opening so we have no choice. The only kids who won’t return are those with family members who are sick. If kids show symptoms at school, even mild ones, we are to send them home for 48 hours. Teachers are to also follow this rule.
__________________________________
My school in China is reopening for grades 9 and 12. I am not in-country but they sent out a video to all high school students on the requirements and it looks like a prison! I would not want my kid going back and do not understand the value of going back compared to online. Also, since 1/2 our staff is out of country many classes are still distance-learning and the teachers that did go back are getting an increased workload without compensation. For example, I was directed to find a teacher on campus to remove all items besides desks and computers from my classroom and make sure all desks are 1.5 meters apart.
______________________________
Schools in Shanghai are opening in grade-stages. April 27, 2 high school grades return. Other grades will return staggered by grades, upper grades first. We have been told to be prepared to return after May 6 but nothing is confirmed yet. This is direct information from the Shanghai Education Bureau. Kindergartens open last.
________________________________
When I see how the school has prepared, I’ll determine then how comfortable I am going back. Lots of people here are roaming around without masks and it makes me very uncomfortable!

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(Note:  Previous comments are from ISR Open Forum)

Name Your School & Comment on their Response to Covid-19. Let’s Keep Each Other Informed


Firsthand accounts that describe how individual International Schools treat teachers during the Covid-19 pandemic will help us ALL to make informed career choices in the future. Schools which put teachers’ safety and well-being ahead of profits are schools where we all want to work.

Let’s help each other identify schools that we can depend on to support teachers in times like these. ISR invites you to Name Your School and tell colleagues about the support, or lack of support, your School is currently providing teachers in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic. Keeping Each Other Informed is what International Schools Review is All About.

It’s easy to remain anonymous: Simply enter your comments below and fill in the name field with an incognito-type Username that will appear with your entry. Leave the Email and any other fields blank. If any fields have self-populated because you are logged into a WordPress affiliate site, remove the text and enter your newly-created Username.

Please Scroll down to tell Colleagues
about your School’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Feel free to include the name of your school with your comments

Your Job in the Shadow of Covid-19


If you’re wondering about the future of your International Teaching job, here are some factors to consider that will impact every school’s ability to keep teachers employed through the Covid-19 crisis.

This is by no means a complete list. If you have something to add that will help colleagues to evaluate job stability, please scroll down to participate.

Consider the following when determining job stability:

  • The number of expat parents who lose their jobs and the number of local business that permanently close will impact enrollment and job security.
  • Depending on the duration of the crisis, parents may begin to question tuition costs and seek less expensive, strictly online alternative schools and/or seek a brick-and-mortar school with lower tuition. 
  • Schools that launched and perfected a comprehensive virtual teaching platform may sustain a strong sense of community and maintain student population, as well as your teaching position (!), until the end of the academic year at least.
  • Schools with a high percentage of embassy families may have a better chance of survival because they’re not dependent on local funding.
  • Schools with multiple sections of one subject may let less experienced teachers go first.
  • Head and/or lead teachers could have a better chance of keeping their job.

Don’t Leave Your Career to Chance! Do your due diligence, ask questions, consider the points mentioned in this Article, and most importantly, Have a Plan. As seen previously in ISR School Reviews, there are schools that basically abandoned their teachers during times of political unrest. Believing such a school’s reaction to the Coronavirus pandemic would be any different is clearly not sound thinking.

If it becomes necessary, schools could enact Force Majeure. This would allow them to break the terms of your Contract due to extenuating circumstance. As such, a financially solvent school would award teachers a lump-sum payout and additional assistance as needed. However, financially fragile schools could simply shut down, leaving you stranded and unemployed in a foreign country and with no future employment on the horizon. ISR recommends you get the facts and plan ahead. 

Have something to add? Please scroll down to participate in this Discussion


Spread the word! To what extent is your school supporting its teachers during the Covid-19 crisis? Submit a short Review and spread the word. Helping each other make informed career decisions is what ISR is all about!

Impact of Coronavirus


Living in far-off, exotic lands, International Educators often feel somehow exempt, even insulated from a lot of what’s going on in the world. Time and distance have a habit of providing a false sense of security that does not apply to the outbreak of the Coronavirus.

To date, China alone reports 92,290 confirmed cases, resulting in 3,130 deaths. Iran, Italy, South Korea, Japan, France, United States, Philippines, Australia, Thailand and Taiwan have reported deaths due to the Virus. Yet this is not the complete list of impacted countries as the Coronavirus has reportedly spread to 66 countries and every continent.

ISR Asks:  What effect is the Coronavirus having on International Educators? Will Recruiting Fairs continue to attract large numbers of educators when the future of an offered position is uncertain? What about Contracts already signed for China and other areas where the Virus is prominent and spreading? Will there be financial compensation for educators who may find themselves jobless? How are those International Educators currently in areas with stringent quarantines and school shutdowns coping with the situation?

In an effort to keep each other informed, ISR encourages Members and readers to use this space to ask questions, recount experiences and offer sound advice based on their first-hand experiences.

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Your Embassy in Times of Crisis


To what extent can you depend on your embassy or consulate for assistance in the event of an emergency situation? The Corona-Virus situation in Wuhan, China brings the question to light.

Knowing what you can expect from your government in a time of need could ultimately save your life and the lives of loved ones. Americans living in Wuhan report they were disappointed with the U.S. government’s response to the situation. Many say they wasted precious time assuming help was on the way:

• “Information about the evacuation flight was difficult to obtain. They [the consulate] never answered the phone. An outgoing message on an answering machine told me to go to the Consulate website for information. It was dated.” 

• “Consulate employees and their families got priority seating on the evacuation flight. Charging non-government employees $1000 per ‘leftover’ seat was without conscience.”

• “I could board the evacuation flight but was told to leave my Chinese wife and child behind. I stayed in China.”

Becoming familiar with your government’s policies and its past history of intervention in times of crisis is a must for expats. As witnessed in China, assuming your government will come to your rescue could produce a false sense of security with dire consequences. Following 9/11, International Educators living in Pakistan reported that the U.S. Consulate evacuated ASAP, leaving them to fend for themselves.

Have you had the occasion to rely on your embassy in a crisis situation? How did that  experience play out? Did it elevate your perception of your embassy or consulate and give you a feeling  of security and confidence? Or? What advice do you have for fellow expatriates?

Sharing experiences will help colleagues make informed decisions in the future.

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Overseas Medical Emergencies

From critical events where minutes count, to major issues that should be addressed ASAP, medical emergencies come in varying degrees of urgency. Hopefully, you, a family member or colleague will never have a medical event that needs absolute, immediate attention. But if it happens, knowing where to call for help, and available treatment options, can make all the difference.

Can you answer these questions? Where is the nearest hospital? Who do I call in the case of an emergency? Is there 9-1-1 here? What surgical procedures can be/are safe to be preformed in my local hospital? What type of incident qualifies for medical evacuation? Who do I call for evacuation? Does my insurance cover it? Should I get my home-country Consulate involved? If you’re not sure about any of these possibilities, you’ll want to get the answers before you’re in the middle of a panic situation where seconds count.

A minor surgery in Ecuador convinced me to be prepared…

I opted to undergo minor surgery in Ecuador for a frozen knee. Knees are not life threatening nor a medical emergency. However, my experience in an Ecuadorian hospital told me that had I been in a real emergency situation things could have turned out quite differently. Here’s my experience in a nutshell:

Picture yourself on an operating table in Ecuador. You’re awake because you’ve been given a spinal tap to nullify the pain of the surgery. You’ve been watching the arthroscopic operation in progress on a video monitor and chatting with the surgeon, when bang! The monitor goes dark, the overhead lights flicker and you’re all in total darkness. That was me, until a surgical assistant’s cell screen illuminated the area. The hospital did have a back-up generator, but couldn’t get its big diesel motor started.

Later, in the recovery room, I learned a guy in the surgical theater down the hall had survived open-heart surgery in spite of the 52-minute outage. This was cause for celebration. A year later I had the same knee fixed in my home country since the result of the surgery in Ecuador was never quite right. 

I had had the option to tough it out on a frozen knee or submit to surgery in the developing world. I chose surgery. That was a mistake with little consequences. But what if the medical event had been of a serious nature where the results of a bad decision could have been fatal? As ISR constantly stresses: research, research, research! This holds true for your medical options as well as with choosing an International School.

Embassies are usually an excellent source of emergency medical information as they will already have a plan in place for their employees. They can also recommend doctors and hospitals with whom they have had a positive experience. But, if you’ve been thinking your school Director will take care of things for you, that could be a foolish, even fatal mistake. He/she may know even less than you.

If you’re an educator working in a country with top-rated medical services, consider yourself lucky. If you’re in the developing world, it’s important to keep in mind that many, if not most medical issues can be stabilized or postponed until you can reach quality, qualified services. Additionally, bring the topic up at a faulty meeting. Long-time staff can be a good source of information–there are qualified doctors in every part of the world. Talk to the school nurse. ISR strongly recommends you do your due diligence before an emergency strikes. Be prepared for the unexpected. Then make a plan! You’ll be glad you did!

Comments? Do you have advice or comments to add to this Discussion?
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