Working as an international teacher and wondering what to do about your pension?

When I first left the UK, I was advised by an older and respected colleague to do no more than two years of teaching outside of the UK before returning, if I wanted any hope of being able to work as a teacher again in the UK.

I am not so sure how true this advice is (I guess time will tell – I have been living outside of the UK since 2012) and it also assumes that I want to work in the UK as a teacher in the future, but it was one comment of many about the perils of leaving teaching in the UK to work overseas.

Another comment concerned pensions. This was from an older colleague, who had retired a few years previously but was continuing to work at the school in an administrative (UK sense of the word not US) capacity. This colleagues expressed shock that I could give up my UK teachers pension. I was reticent to point out that at my age at the time, I was unlikely and indeed, definitely not going to get the same pension deal from the government that teachers of his generation did. This was in 2011.

I am and always have been concerned about my financial future. Partly, it comes from my particular family background. My parents encouraged me to work from a young age (my first job was at McDonalds at 15 and I held steady work all threw 6th form and university) and they encouraged me to save. They have also reached their 70s without pensions and are still having to run their business, but that is another story.

Nevertheless, while I would dispute that it is worth making entire life choices based on the UK teacher pension (particularly in it recent forms), and would clearly stress that leaving the pension scheme should not stop anyone from leaving teaching in the UK, the comment haunted me for a few years.

Each country is different, obviously. And financial arrangements for school-teacher pensions are diverse between and within different schools.

Working in Switzerland I was paid a decent pension in line with Swiss labour law by both the schools that I worked at. I am not going to get into technicalities here, but the Swiss pension system works on their “three pillars”. Pillar 1 is the equivalent of national insurance in the UK, Pillar 2, is a private pension provided by employers and employee and Pillar 3 is the equivalent of tax-free ISA savings. The first two are mandatory and so if you are working in a school, your employer will be contributing to these. So you are covered.

In China there is no such provision for foreign teachers. So my school does not hold a pension scheme for me or pay directly into a scheme for me. Therefore if you don’t take care you could end up spending more money that you should. Clearly without a pension fund, I need to be saving for my retirement myself. although I am paid a contract completion bonus.

In addition to this, once you have had several employers in several different countries you may end up with pots of pension money all over the place. Another problem arises from the questions of how best to keep track and potentially amalgamate all these different pools.

For a long time I have wondered how I would manage the pension issue. It began to seem quite complicated and I don’t have the kind of money to pay someone to manage this for me.

And then I met Andrew Hallam. Well not quite, he presented at my school in 2015. After listening to his talk and perusing his blog I decided to buy his books. Like most of my book purchases, I wasn’t disappointed. They are a gold mine for any teachers wondering about what to do about their finances.

I’m not going to go into the details as you can read that yourself but suffice to say that the books provide a solid model for anyone thinking about retirement planning and achieving financial independence, without the need for being a millionaire and having to rely on the role of ‘expert’ financial advisers.

For any teachers who are considering working overseas and are concerned about what this would mean for their retirement and pensions as well as any teachers who are already working overseas and are wondering how to ensure that they can achieve financial independence in retirement Andrew Hallam’s books, Millionaire Teacher and Millionaire Expat provide a lot of practical ideas that will help you navigate the murky waters of international personal finance on a teachers salary.

The miscellaneous bookshelf

Through the threshold library

Miscellaneous bookshelf

Simply a list of all the other books I have read recently that has nothing to do with education or biology. Quite often, especially during term time, I just find I need an escape from thinking about learning and teaching. Horror and Sci-Fi/Fantasy is where I tend to go. Now that I am moving to China, I have parted company with many of my books and so want to keep a record of them here.

  1. What is this thing called knowledge? – by Duncan Pritchard. Read as part of Oxford Universities online CPD course – theory of knowledge
  2. Epistemology: Contemporary readings – edited by Michael Huemer
  3. Raising babies – by Steve Biddulph
  4. American Gods – by Neil Gaiman
  5. Neverwhere – by Neil Gaiman
  6. How the Marquis got his coat back – by Neil Gaiman
  7. Stardust – by Neil Gaiman
  8. The ocean at the end of the lane – by Neil Gaiman
  9. Anansi boys – by Neil Gaiman
  10. The rise and fall of D.O.D.O – by Neil Stephenson and Nicole Galland
  11. How to stop time – by Matt Haig
  12. Coraline – by Neil Gaiman
  13. The graveyard book – by Neil Gaiman
  14. Fragile things – by Neil Gaiman
  15. Smoke and mirrors – by Neil Gaiman
  16. His Dark Materials: The complete trilogy – by Philip Pullman
  17. Trigger Warning – by Neil Gaiman
  18. Norse Mythology – by Neil Gaiman
  19. Good Omens – by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
  20. The problems of philosophy – by Bertrand Russell
  21. Seven Storey Mountain – by Thomas Merton
  22. Seveneves – by Neal Stephenson
  23. Never let me go – by Kazuo Ishiguro
  24. Religion for Atheists – by Alain de Botton
  25. The Remains of the day – by Kazuo Ishiguro
  26. Fireflies – by Shiva Naipaul
  27. The Young Atheist’s Handbook: Lessons for living a good life without God – by Alom Shaha
  28. Raising girls – by Steve Biddulph
  29. Full catastrophe living – by Jon Kabat Zinn
  30. The moral landscape – by Sam Harris
  31. A Universe from nothing – by Laurence Krauss
  32. Nonviolent Communication – by Marshall Rosenberg
  33. The last child in the woods – by Richard Louv
  34. The Baroque cycle (3 books) – by Neal Stephenson
  35. The rational optimist – by Matt Ridley
  36. All the Evelyn Waugh novels and travel writing
  37. Game of thrones

My reads by year

Through the threshold library

My reads by year

A list of the all the books I have read each year.


  1. Trivium 21c – by Martin Robinson
  2. Prisoners of Geography – by Tim Marshall
  3. The Left Hand of Darkness – by Ursula Le Guin
  4. I am Pilgrim – by Terry Hayes
  5. The Handmaid’s Tale – by Margaret Attwood
  6. Slaughter House 5 – by Kurt Vonnegut
  7. A Wizard of Earthsea – by Ursula Le Guin
  8. The Tombs of Atuan – by Ursula Le Guin
  9. The Farthest Shore – by Ursula Le Guin
  10. Tales from Earthsea – by Ursula Le Guin
  11. The Other Wind – by Ursula Le Guin
  12. The Three-Body Problem – by Cixin Liu
  13. The Righteous Mind – by Jonathan Haidt
  14. The Curriculum – Gallimaufry to coherence – by Mary Myatt
  15. School Leadership and education system reform – edited by Peter Earley and Toby Greany
  16. Rocannan’s World – by Ursula Le Guin
  17. Planet of Exile – by Ursula Le Guin
  18. City of Illusions – by Ursula Le Guin
  19. The Word for World is Forest – by Ursula Le Guin
  20. Single & Single – John Le Carré


  1. What is this thing called knowledge? – by Duncan Pritchard. Read as part of Oxford Universities online CPD course – theory of knowledge
  2. Epistemology: Contemporary readings – edited by Michael Huemer
  3. What if everything you knew about education was wrong? – by David Didau – my review.
  4. Cleverlands – by Lucy Crehan
  5. Seven myths about education – by Daisy Christodoulou
  6. Making good progress? – by DaisyChristodoulou
  7. Why knowledge matters: rescuing our children from failed educational theories – by E.D. Hirsch
  8. Ouroboros –  by Greg Ashman
  9. What does this look like in the classroom? – by Carl Hendrick and Robin MacPherson
  10. The Sword of Honour Trilogy – by Evelyn Waugh
  11. Millionaire Teacher – by Andrew Hallam
  12. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – by Yuval Noah Harari
  13. Millionaire Expat – by Andrew Hallam
  14. Tiger Head, Snake Tails: China today, how it got there and why it has to change – by Jonathan Fenby
  15. A parent’s guide to raising kids Overseas (Volume 1) – by Jeff Devens
  16. Homo Deus: a brief history of tomorrow – by Yuval Noah Harari
  17. Fierce conversations: achieving success in work and in life, one conversation at a time – by Susan Scott
  18. The first 90 days, updated and expanded; proven strategies for getting up to speed faster and smarter – by Michael D. Watkins
  19. 21 lessons for the 21st Century – by Yuval Noah Harari
  20. Fahrenheit 451 – by Ray Bradbury
  21. Brave new world – by Aldous Huxley
  22. This is going to hurt – by Adam Kay
  23. Educated – Tara Westover


  1. Raising babies – by Steve Biddulph
  2. A brief history of everyone who ever lived – by Adam Rutherford
  3. Patient H.M. – by Luke Dittrich
  4. The Serengeti rules – by Sean Carroll
  5. Battle hymn of the tiger teachers: the Michaela way – edited by Katherine Birbalsingh
  6. American Gods – by Neil Gaiman
  7. Neverwhere – by Neil Gaiman
  8. How the Marquis got his coat back – by Neil Gaiman
  9. Stardust – by Neil Gaiman
  10. The ocean at the end of the lane – by Neil Gaiman
  11. Anansi boys – by Neil Gaiman
  12. The rise and fall of D.O.D.O – by Neil Stephenson and Nicole Galland
  13. What every teacher needs to know about psychology – by David Didau and Nick Rose
  14. How to stop time – by Matt Haig
  15. Why don’t students like school? – by Daniel Willingham
  16. Coraline – by Neil Gaiman
  17. The graveyard book – by Neil Gaiman
  18. Fragile things – by Neil Gaiman
  19. Smoke and mirrors – by Neil Gaiman
  20. His Dark Materials: The complete trilogy – by Philip Pullman
  21. Trigger Warning – by Neil Gaiman
  22. Norse Mythology – by Neil Gaiman
  23. Good Omens – by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett


  1. How to raise an adult – by Julie Lythcott-Haims – my review.
  2. What is the point of school? – by Guy Claxton
  3. Making thinking visible – by Ron Richhardt – my review.
  4. Aping mankind – by Raymond Tallis
  5. Getting Darwin wrong – by Brendan Wallace
  6. The problems of philosophy – by Bertrand Russell
  7. Why evolution is true – by Jerry Coyne
  8. Faith vs fact – by Jerry Coyne
  9. Seven Storey Mountain – by Thomas Merton
  10. Seveneves – by Neal Stephenson
  11. Never let me go – by Kazuo Ishiguro
  12. What is the point of school – by Guy Claxton
  13. Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End – by Atul Gawande
  14. Religion for Atheists – by Alain de Botton
  15. The Remains of the day – by Kazuo Ishiguro
  16. Fireflies – by Shiva Naipaul
  17. The Young Atheist’s Handbook: Lessons for living a good life without God – by Alom Shaha
  18. Justice – Michael Sandel
  19. The vital question: why is life the way it is? – by Nick Lane


  1. The brain at school: educational neuroscience in the classroom – by John Geake
  2. Classroom-based research and evidence-based practice – by Keith Taber
  3. Ways of learning: learning theories and learning styles in the classroom – by Alan Pritchard
  4. Pedagogy of the oppressed – by Paolo Freire
  5. Visible learning for teachers – by John Hattie
  6. Thinking, fast and slow – by Daniel Kahneman
  7. Raising girls – by Steve Biddulph
  8. Full catastrophe living – by Jon Kabat Zinn
  9. The moral landscape – by Sam Harris
  10. A Universe from nothing – by Laurence Krauss


  1. Good work – by Howard Gardner, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and William Damon
  2. Intelligence reframed – by Howard Gardner
  3. Contemporary theories of learning – by Knud Illeris
  4. Teaching as if life matters – by Christopher Uhl
  5. Nonviolent Communication – by Marshall Rosenberg
  6. The last child in the woods – by Richard Louv
  7. The sixth extinction: an unnatural history – by Elizabeth Kolbert
  8. Neanderthal man – by Svante Paabo
  9. The serpents promise – by Steve Jones
  10. The language of life – by Francis Collins
  11. Creation: the origin of life/the future of life – by Adam Rutherford
  12. Your inner fish – by Neil Shubin
  13. Life Ascending – by Nick Lane
  14. The Baroque cycle (3 books) – by Neal Stephenson
  15. The magic of reality – by Richard Dawkins


  1. Bad Science – by Ben Goldacre
  2. Thirteen things that don’t make sense – by Michael Brooks
  3. The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks – by Rebecca Skloot
  4. The rational optimist – by Matt Ridley
  5. Quantum evolution: the new science of life – by Johnjoe Mcfadden
  6. The diversity of life – by E.O. Wilson
  7. Impossibility – by John Barrow
  8. Collapse – by Jared Diamond
  9. The self illusion – by Bruce Hood
  10. The selfish gene – by Richard Dawkins
  11. Genome – by Matt Ridley
  12. The secret life of trees – by Colin Tudge
  13. The man who mistook his wife for a hat – Oliver Sacks
  14. The Handmaid’s tail – by Margaret Atwood
  15. The Inheritors – by William Golding
  16. The Baroque cycle – by Neal Stephenson
  17. The greatest show on earth – by Richard Dawkins
  18. The song of the Dodo – by David Quammen
  19. The lives of a cell – by Lewis Thomas
  20. Fifty ideas you really need to know – by Hayley Birch
  21. The violinists thumb – by Sam Keen
  22. All the Evelyn Waugh novels and travel writing
  23. Game of thrones

Swapping the Alps for the Yangtze: Paperwork 1

In November 2017 my partner and I made the decision to relocate our family from Switzerland to China. I explained the reasons for this in this post.

I thought the Swiss were bureaucratic but the paperwork required and the subsequent cost and effort to obtain a visa to work in China is quite mind-boggling. A process that began at Christmas continues in April, still with no visa in sight!

People keep asking me, how the preparation for the move is going and I still don’t have an asnwer for them because I am still dealing with paperwork. Different paperwork from the stuff in January admittedly, but its still paperwork.

So what is it we have had to do and continue to do to secure that working visa? I hope that the narrative below offers some pointers for anyone heading down this road in the future.


Firstly I had to get a new passport because my old one was due to expire eight months after we arrived. This wasn’t too much of an issue. I was able to order it online when I was back in the UK at Christmas and pick it up within the space of a week before I headed back to CH.


On the list of required documents our new school sent us was an ePhoto. I erroneously assumed that this was just a scan of a passport photo. On no! An ePhoto is a special digital passport photo, and, guess what? The Chinese specifications for passport photos are different to European ones. The only place we could find that could do this locally was a local photographer. He charged 100CHF for the four of us to have ePhotos. China 1 – Vincents 0

UK Degree & Teaching Certificates

Next, we had to have our UK degree certificates and teaching certificates authenticated/legalized by the Chinese Embassy in London. This involved sending all the documents to a UK solicitor who was able to stamp and sign them off as genuine before that could be sent to the UK Government’s Legalisation office who legalised the solicitors signature (effectively to say, that this solicitor was a real solicitor).

Once that was done the papers could be taken to the Chinese embassy in London who added a sticker to them that says it is an authentic document. This takes a few days and the documents have to be left at the embassy during this time.

The two visits (one to apply and another to collect) to the Chinese embassy had to be done in person and thankfully our family was able to help us here.

The UK embassy doesn’t seem to require any of the documents to be translated.

Swiss Birth Certificates

We had to undertake a similar process with our daughters birth certificates but this time in Switzerland as both of them were born here and have Swiss birth certificates. We had to take these certificates to the Cantonal Legalisation office in Lausanne to have them stamped before sending them to the Federal Legalisation office in Bern to be certified.

Once certified we were had to have the birth certificates and their certifications translated. We had a friend do this for us.

Once translated we were able to take the birth certificates to the Chinese Embassy in Bern, to have them authenticated and again we were able to collect them a few days later.

Criminal Record Checks

Thankfully, as we have lived in Switzerland for six years we aren’t required to submit UK record checks. I say thankfully because all the steps so far have required a large volume of posting, signing and filling in forms and when you are living in one country and having to get paperwork of another country sorted…well, it isn’t the easiest thing to do.

The Swiss system seems to be particularly well set up for these procedures. When applying for a Swiss criminal record check you can select an option to have it legalised at the federal office for an extra 20CHF. This means that your form arrives in the post already stamped.

Once certified by the federal office these documents also needed to be translated before they can be taken to the Chinese embassy in Bern to be authenticated.

Medical Checks

The medical is relatively straightforward. You have the usual stuff like blood pressure, height, weight as well as a chest x-ray, HIV and Syphilis blood test, and ECG. Except that our doctor forgot to also get my blood type, meaning I needed to have two blood tests with a 10-day delay over Easter.


So that’s where we are as of April 1st 2018. Lots of forms and paperwork filled in but still no visa in sight. All of this paperwork in Switzerland has also been hugely expensive (who would have thought of anything else in CH!)

Swapping the Alps for the Yangtze: Prelude

In December last year, my partner and I succeeded in securing new teaching posts….in China. 

A lot of people, both in Switzerland and at home, thought we had gone a little mad. And perhaps we had.

Why leave Switzerland? Why leave the perfect country for raising young children? Why leave beautiful idyllic scenery and swap it for a throbbing smoggy Chinese metropolis that hardly anyone has heard of (Chongqing)?

Unfortunately, economic circumstances have turned against us in Switzerland.

The economic situation in Canton Vaud has been such that my partner has not been able to find her first teaching position here. When we moved to CH she gave up a career as a nature conservation ranger and land manager and, while looking for work with a variety of NGOs, has worked in several different roles in the two schools we have worked in and gained her teaching qualification.

Because CH is such an attractive teaching destination, most international schools seem to require a minimum of two years teaching experience as a way of filtering the volume of applications they get. As an NQT with limited teaching experience, it was hard for her to get a foot in the door for teaching.

We decided that to stay in Switzerland we needed to both be in full-time employment by August 2018 so we gave ourselves several “family” deadlines and options. We didn’t want to live off savings nor not be able to pay into our pensions – particularly after watching my parents survive old age without one. November 2017 came and went, and this initiated us spreading our net further afield in potential posts- India, China, Uganda to name just a few places where we looked for joint international teaching jobs.

After narrowing (and being narrowed)! China became our hottest option. Since then lots of people have asked us: Why China? This question presupposes choice as if we were simply able to throw a dart at a map and move where ever it lands. The reality in international teaching isn’t like that. You move where the job is. You don’t move and then find a job.

We didn’t set out thinking “Let’s move to China“.

We started by talking about what we needed as a family in any new context we found ourselves in.

One of the reasons we didn’t want to leave CH was the opportunity to place our two daughters in a good public school system where they would have the opportunity to become fully French/English bilingual. Hardly anyone in my family in the UK speaks a second language. For me its really important that my daughters grow up appreciating other cultures through the languages they learn. And from the little I know about language acquisition, it is best that children are immersed in a second language before the age of 7 or 8. We don’t speak anything but English at home and therefore by leaving CH, we were potentially giving up on that dream unless we could find another context where the girls would be immersed in another language.

We also needed somewhere that was going to be a springboard for my partner’s new career as a teacher. Having kids and raising a family overseas is not easy. Obviously, there is less support, as your parents and extended family can’t be called upon to help with childcare and emotional support. But, CH also has a limited support system for young families, particularly for those where both parents want to return to work. There is a limited supply of affordable nurseries and creches. The cost of one child at a private full-time creche is over 3000CHF per month. Therefore with the high cost of childcare in CH for my partner to return to work, she would need to earn more than usual for an NQT.

When our first daughter was born I desperately wanted to have the opportunity to stay at home and look after her. With a lack of paternity leave (there is no statutory right to it in CH – thankfully my employer gave me a week), and with a partner without work, and a lower earning potential, for the sake of the family liquidity, this just wasn’t an option.

We were, therefore, trapped in this unfavourable economic circumstance. My partner couldn’t find a teaching post, and even if she did, it just wouldn’t make sense as the cost of childcare. And without a partner who had a career to keep the family solvent, I was unable to stop work to be with my children.

It was time to find a way for my partner to kick-start a career.

Therefore our two criteria for our new school in order of importance were:

  1. It must be a bilingual environment so that our daughters have the opportunity to learn a second language from a young age.
  2. The school would employ my partner in her first teaching position.

The school we accepted hit these criteria and they offered me a promoted post. We think we got quite lucky!

So, either stay in CH, with all its perfect idylls and become bankrupt or go to busy China and set all the family up with the right conditions for growth. What would you do?

All we need to do now is find child care for daughter number 2…