Dear Sajeda

Quite a few teachers write to me because I often scribble posts, as "the hippo", on The Times Educational Supplement website. Here is a recent email I had from a lady called Sajeda.

Hello again Simon.

Thank you for this wealth of information. I apologise I didn’t see this until after I’d sent my initial email.

In answer to your question, I have three children, 2 of whom are school age. The other is still only 7 months.  So I would be looking for a school that would pay school fees for the first two, otherwise it would make no financial sense for us to move abroad. 

Our main aim for moving abroad is to be able to spend quality time together as a family as here in the UK, we just can’t seem to do that.  In order to make ends meet, both my husband and I work around the clock. I was hoping with moving over to Qatar, we’d be able to have a good work/life balance as well as save some money for our children and the future.  Being Muslim, we don’t drink anyhow and we don’t have much active social lives in the way of clubs etc. We tend to do more family orientated activities i.e take the children to the beach, zoo, art galleries etc. 

We don’t own our own property in the UK so that wouldn’t be an issue for us. (Getting on the property ladder here is just not doable for us!) If you don’t mind me asking what do I need to generally need to take in to consideration about the ‘set up costs’ of moving abroad that you speak of? 

Your pictures look incredible! Spending most of my time either at work or with the kids has left me unable to really do any kind of travelling or exploring, so I would hope to be able to take pictures like yours documenting our adventures, one day. 

If you don’t mind me asking, did your wife work whilst you have been abroad? The lady who is processing my application for QP Mesaieed made it very explicit that my husband would not be able to work for the duration of the time that we’re out there. 

Finally, I don’t want to rush in to a decision at  all. Rather, I’d wait for something that feels right. I have heard that good schools in the ME tend to recruit from November - March? Is there any truth in this? Would this mean that most schools who are hiring now are just trying to fill spaces because they are having retention issues etc? 

I thank you wholeheartedly for being so generous with your time and replying to my emails. (I have tried finding you on FB but am not having much luck!) Maybe you could look for me? (Sajeda Amir)

Thank you again and best wishes,

Life's a beach
Forget T.E. Lawrence. It's Irena of Arabia!

Dear Sajeda,

Great to hear from you! Now I am going to re-read your e-mail and answer each question in detail, if I possibly can. But before I do that, I must make clear that I am just a Year 5 class teacher, so I am by no means infallible. My wife and I were in Doha for five years, so yes, we do know Qatar pretty well, I think, but for the last five years we have been in China and so some of the information I am giving you might be a bit out-of-date.

Yes, you must think very seriously about school fees. If you already have two children of school age, then you certainly do not want to pay any school fees. The school uniforms and all of the extras will be quite expensive, as you will discover. You also need to be careful because some schools will only give you a discount on the fees, so you have to pay the rest.

Yes, there are some nice things to do in Qatar, such as the beach, the swimming pool, Souq Waqif, the zoo, the Corniche and the amazing new (or fairly new) Islamic Art Museum. The bad news is that all of these things are in Doha, not in Mesiaeed, so buying a car is pretty much essential. You will have to rent a car initially, as you will not have a Qatari licence, and then you will need to buy a car. Renting a car is expensive, of course, and renting one for a couple of years might be as expensive or even more expensive than buying one.

Yes, you need to think seriously about what your husband will do, if you go overseas. This could be, as the Americans say, “a deal breaker”. My wife, otherwise known on the TES Overseas Teaching forum as Mrs Hippopotamus, had a full-time teaching contract when we first moved to Qatar, so we were both working. Then she did some private music lessons for individual pupils (not really allowed, but it happens a lot). Here in China, she has also done some piano lessons and more recently she has been working as a model. You can read about her modelling assignments, and a lot of other things, on my blog,

Yes, I mentioned set-up costs, namely the costs and the expenses that you have to pay when you leave one country and go and live in another one. That is not quite the same as going for a little holiday! The good news is that most (no, not all) schools will refund to you things like your visas costs, attestation fees and the bills for medical check-ups. Flights will also be reimbursed, but probably not all of your costs associated with travel will be paid back by the school. When you move into your new apartment, you will probably have some pleasant surprises and some that are not so pleasant, in terms of appliances and things that may (or may not) be there. I have already mentioned cars. Transport in Qatar could be a serious hole in your pocket. Yes, petrol is cheap, but you still have to buy a car at some point. Buying a second-hand car usually means car repairs, in order to keep the car on the road and get it through the Technical Inspection (the Qatari equivalent of the MOT). Ouch!

Yes, I think that most good schools in the ME (or anywhere else) usually get most of their recruiting done much earlier. It is all done and dusted by March. However, things do go wrong, even in the best of schools, so the fact that MIS is still recruiting in May might not necessarily be a bad sign. On the other hand, you say that you have read some less than complimentary things about the school’s management, so maybe accepting this job might not be such a good idea.

Yes, property prices (and Council Tax!) in the UK are insanely expensive and that is why we no longer live there. If you are going to be teaching overseas for the foreseeable future, then I would recommend doing what we did and buying a country house in Bulgaria for the long summer holidays. We bought our five-bedroomed house for twenty thousand pounds (yes, that is correct – twenty thousand) and since then prices have gone down. You also need to have your own house, so that you have somewhere to keep all of your bits and pieces while you are teaching overseas. Well, that is what we have done.

I am glad that you enjoyed the photos of Qatar. I will send you a few more. Generally speaking, Qatar is wonderful and pleasantly warm from November through to April, when all of those poor people back in the UK are shivering with the cold and rain and the grey skies. During the summer months, Qatar is like living inside an oven and life is impossible without air conditioning.

If you decide not to take the Mesiaeed job, then I would strongly recommend you to widen your net and think about SE Asia. To be honest, we have been much happier here in China than we were in Qatar. Well, that will have to wait for another e-mail or else you could just read about it on my blog. Yes, the journey is a bit further and a few more hours on a plane. That is not really a problem because you do not pay for the flights and you do not make the journey every week.

Well, I am retiring this summer. My wife and I have been overseas since 1998 and it has been fun. No, it has not always been easy, but it has certainly been a lot more interesting and exciting than teaching in the UK.

Very best wishes to you, your husband and your children! Please do not hesitate to e-mail me again, if I can be of any help at all.

Simon Hill


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