Accommodation Allowance vs. Staff Housing

Accommodation allowance or staff housing is an important distinction when looking at international teaching compensation packages. Some schools provide staff housing or ‘free accommodation’; some offer an accommodation allowance; and others only offer a salary and it’s assumed that the cost of accommodation has been built into it.  How ever they position the ‘housing benefit’ remember to consider it’s overall value and how it fits into the entire package.

Will the accommodation allowance or staff housing be considered a taxable benefit? And for that matter what are the income taxes you’ll be expected to pay and where? Are you paying taxes in your country where you are working or your ‘home’ country where you are from? This is usually determined by your residency status and the international tax treaties between various countries. Places like Singapore and Brunei are tax free and this could be considered a valuable benefit in it’s self. While places like Canada require ‘residents for tax purposes’ to pay taxes on their world wide income, including benefits in kind such as housing. Think about what’s important to you and look at the overall value of the compensation package: salary + total benefits. Consider each scenario through the lens of the particular tax laws where you are working and where you are from.

Staff Housing

The ‘free accommodation’ option usually means an apartment (2 or 3 bedrooms, basic furnishings), located near or sometimes on school grounds.  You can expect to be living next to your colleagues. Young, single, new teachers often enjoy this for the camaraderie and opportunities to socialize. However, some teachers would prefer their own space and to keep their work and personal life separate.

Beware of accommodation that is physically on campus as it can be difficult to disengage from work. One teacher we know tells a story of living in an apartment above a school in Korea.  She was very sick, called in absent and prepared a lesson plan for the teacher covering her class.  That didn’t stop management from walking upstairs and knocking on her door and demanding that she come downstairs to her class.  This created an uncomfortable situation and was viewed as a violation of her western privacy expectations, but in Asia and at that particular school, it was viewed as a normal practice.

Be sure to insist on viewing photos or video of the accommodation before you accept a contract.  Ask for a detailed list of the furnishings and appliances that should be there on your arrival.  Speak to another teacher currently living there to help gauge whats on offer.  Is there an option to change locations or take an accommodation allowance in the event you are unhappy with what they provide?  Byron Recruitment works with schools in China, Brunei and Malaysia that provide staff accommodation options.

Accommodation Allowance

If the school offers an Accommodation Allowance, Living Allowance, Housing Allowance, Personal Allowance, etc. in your contract, pay attention to the overall ‘salary + allowances’. Remember it’s the overall compensation that is important and it’s how you will compare offers from different schools.

Be sure to research what typical rental costs are in the city you are moving to. A $750 allowance in Hoi An, Vietnam will ensure you live luxury but in Hong Kong, it will barely get you a bedsit! Ask about any rental contracts and any upfront fees you will be responsible for. These may include first and last month, security deposits, utilities deposit, length of contract, penalties in the event you are forced to break the lease… Teachers with families often appreciate the flexibility of an allowance. This allows them to find a home that best suits them. Most schools will be able to refer you to an agent that their teachers have worked with in the past who can help you when you arrive. 

Be sure to find out if the school will provide initial hotel accommodation for your first couple of weeks in country. Will they provide you with an interest free loan to help you with any start up costs?  Byron Recruitment works with schools in China, Vietnam and Malaysia that offer an accommodation allowance. When considered on its own, the allowance is generally is enough for a moderate place – nothing fancy.

Other Options:

If a school does not specify an accommodation allowance, compare the overall salary with packages that do. This option may be just as good as an allowance or even better. Byron Recruitment works with schools in China and Hong Kong that do not specify an accommodation allowance. They have built the cost of renting into their overall salary.

We also work with schools in Malaysia and Brunei that allow teachers to choose an accommodation option that suits them. The monthly rent is paid directly by the school.  This is the best of both worlds.  You get the choice of living situations with the convenience of having the school paying your landlord directly.

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