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Teaching Overseas: Preparing to Go

In the Nick of Time

Jeff Straub

Last week I began a series on overseas teaching. This week I want to consider the preparation necessary for such a venture. For those who regularly travel internationally, this essay may seem a bit rudimentary. But for others who are less experienced, there may be some helpful information here.

Once you have decided where you are going and what you will teach, you need to consider the details of getting there. Do you have a current passport—one with at least 6 months left on it? Some countries will not admit you if you have less than six months left in your book. If you need a passport, get one early. It can be expensive if you have to get one quickly.

Will you need a visa? Some countries require a visa before you land while others offer a visa on arrival. Some visas are easy to obtain with applications online, while others need a personal visit to a consulate in the United States. If you do not live near one, you may have to use a visa service, which will add significantly to the cost. Moreover, you will need to determine what kind of visa you should get. You may not be able to teach on a tourist visa. Some countries are cracking down on Christian missionaries doing even short term work in their countries and are making visa acquisition increasingly more difficult. You need to enquire carefully before you invest in the price of an airline ticket. Ask the missionary. He should know.

Once you have determined the paperwork issue, you will need a means of getting there—most likely by air. When should you buy an airline ticket and on what airline? Generally, I begin to look at ticket prices no more than 90 days out and sometimes less than this. Prices will ordinarily be at their best that far out, and the closer that you get to the departure time the higher the prices will be. I begin looking and watching the prices, but I do not buy until the 60-day window.  If you can, travel mid-week—Tuesday or Wednesday—on both ends you will likely get a better price than traveling on a Friday/Saturday or Monday. As far as what airline, if you use a site like Orbitz or Expedia, you can compare prices. Several factors affect the price including travel time and layovers. Some cheaper flights might entail lengthy layovers or departures at odd hours. I don’t like hanging out in airports overnight waiting for a seat that may be $100 cheaper. Also keep in mind from where you are flying. If you are fortunate enough to live in a major airport hub as I do here in Minneapolis, then ticket prices will likely be cheaper than if you live in a secondary area that requires an extra flight to get to an international hub. Since I live in Minneapolis, I can fly east or west with ease—directly to Europe or to Seattle for a flight into Oceania. Also find out what airport to fly into. On a recent trip, my host had to make a 12-hour journey to pick up a team that flew into the wrong airport.

How early should I arrive and how long should I plan to stay? I like to get in early enough to be over any potential jetlag. I will address how to handle jetlag next week, but consider having at least one free day before you start to teach. This will allow for a good night’s rest and perhaps a long nap during the first day to help reset your internal clock. You may wish to sightsee in conjunction with your trip but remember that your missionaries are not tour guides. Most are willing to help you see some of the sights, but they have lives and families and schedules that may not easily accommodate extended stays for visitors. Be sensitive to their needs. If you want to see the country, think about traveling on your own. Major tourist spots are generally pretty accessible to western tourists, so it might not be necessary to have a local guide. If the missionary wants to guide you, be sensitive to his financial circumstances. Even offer to pay to do certain things. This will be a blessing to him and may give you a great opportunity to minister to him.

Preparing for your trip includes packing for the weather. Keep in mind that the weather in the southern hemisphere is opposite to ours here in the north. Their summers are during our winters. On occasion, I have failed to bring a sweater because it was too hot for one in Minnesota but a necessity in Africa! Speaking of packing, prepare for lost luggage by carrying at least one change of clothes with you on the airplane in your carryon bag. In my recent past, my luggage failed to make it on a delayed transfer flight, and it was four days before my bags caught up to me. On another recent trip to Europe, our entire party of 23 had a baggage problem caused by a weather delay. The group arrived on time but their bags were a day late. Another secret to packing, especially if your wife goes with you, is to cross pack. Put some of your stuff in her bag and vice versa. That way if a bag gets lost, you will have something.

Also prepare ahead of time for things you may need but be unable to get overseas. If you are in a European country, you may be fine, but in some places you may not be able to get things. Before you buy a bunch of unnecessary things, check with your host about the availability of what you think you will want.

Also, most of us take too much when traveling. Consider leaving some room in your bags to bring things for your hosts, both as gifts and to supply them with things they cannot acquire in their country. I routinely carry 50 lbs of “stuff” for my hosts, and they are glad to receive it. Ask them for a list of needs and wants.

What about money? How much should I take and where can I get local currency? I routinely carry a certain amount of cash but generally use very little. In many countries, the best way to secure local currency is through a bank machine. Make sure you contact your bank for details about using your card overseas. Also ensure your card has a chip in it as this is required in most places. Many places will take a credit card, but in some countries cash is required. Your host will help you get local currency if necessary and can advise you on how best to do this.

It takes some careful planning ahead of time to travel overseas. The work is worth the effort. Next week I will address some challenges you may experience in the country. Things will not be like they are back home. Can you handle the uncertainty? Stay tuned.


This essay is by Jeff Straub, Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.


Go Forth, Ye Heralds, in My Name
John Logan (1748–1788)

Go forth, ye heralds, in My Name,
Sweetly the Gospel trumpet sound;
The glorious jubilee proclaim,
Where’er the human race is found.

The joyful news to all impart,
And teach them where salvation lies;
With care bind up the broken heart,
And wipe the tears from weeping eyes.

Be wise as serpents, where you go,
But harmless as the peaceful dove;
With care bind up the broken heart,
And wipe the tears from weeping eyes.

Freely from Me ye have received,
Freely, in love, to others give;
Thus shall your doctrines be believed,
And, by your labours, sinners live.

About Guest Author

This guest article has been published because an editor has determined its contents to be supportive of the values of Religious Affections Ministries. Its publication does not imply full agreement between its author and RAM on other matters.