Teaching, Saving, and Investing – 5 Takeaways On Our 1-Year Expat-aversary

When I wrote about my new adventure becoming a Canadian Expat last year, I was quite surprised at the positive reception MDJ readers gave it. Frankly, I wasn’t sure what to expect given how niche the idea of becoming a Canadian expat was.

So, as we start our second school year in Doha, I thought I’d share a few insights that my wife and I have gained over the past year.

1) Teaching Anywhere During a Pandemic Isn’t Much Fun

Our school and the entire campus that our school is located on is incredible. The facilities are quite new and absolutely gorgeous.  We have more scheduled prep time than in our old Canadian public schools, and generally our teaching load is less demanding.

That said, Covid teaching has been pretty rough anywhere outside of a few isolated havens in Singapore, Taiwan, New Zealand, etc. (It’s also been great for post-secondary profs who are basically now facilitators more than teachers, but that’s another story.) I spent the year teaching “blended synchronous learning” which is a fancy term for: Teach the kids in front of you and the students that are online at the same time – while engaging both groups.

Some students could elect to learn purely online, others were in school for some classes and not others, while still other students waffled back and forth between multiple scenarios. Teachers were asked to adapt constantly – all while embracing a crazy weird school day and often being quarantined as a “first contact”. All of that said, full credit to the Qatar government for getting teachers vaccinated quicker than almost anywhere else in the world. My wife and I received our vaccines 3-4 months before our colleagues in Canada did.

So while our first year of international teaching wasn’t what we imagined in January of 2020, we still thought it was substantially less demanding than what our former colleagues in Canada dealt with – it just isn’t accurate to say that we had a blast at work over the last year!  (I don’t think many could say that they did!)

2) International Teaching Is a Great Way To Meet Really Cool People From All Around The World

My wife’s Kindergarten team last year had teachers from Texas, the UK, New Zealand, Portugal, Peru, South Africa, and Nigeria. We laughed at the idea that while all of the teachers were native English speakers, their KG students might have some really interesting variation when it came to pronouncing certain words!

We made a ton of friends from all over the world and learned so much from people who had deep firsthand knowledge of cultures that we had really only brushed against before. A lot of this learning was done over delicious meals as each group brought their best to the common table.  

That was all pretty cool!

3) Many Expat Work Opportunities For Canadians Really Do Involve Almost Zero Expenses or Deductions!

When we started looking at after-tax paycheques from around the world last year when considering various schools, we obviously highlighted the fact that certain countries (such as Qatar) had little or no income tax. What we didn’t realize is that no income tax was only the beginning when it came to a lack of deductions.

Even though we knew the money taken off of our paycheques would be minimal, I think that we were just so used to seeing endless lines of deductions on our Canadian teacher paycheques (union dues, insurance, EI, long term disability, pension contributions, etc.) that we assumed there would be at least a few places for our money to go instead of entering our pockets.

Deductions: $0

Imagine our joy when we saw that line on our first pay slips? It is still semi-unbelievable to me each month to be honest. I know that part of me was definitely thinking, “Hurry up and send part of this home before they realize they made an error!”

The no deductions thing is just the start of savings opportunities however. Many expat positions in Qatar (and in several other countries around the world) generally include housing as part of the overall compensation package. So this usually means no rent, no electric bills, no water bills, no land taxes, no house insurance, etc.  

You really can spend incredibly little in day-to-day costs if you so choose. Of course, Qatar is also a country in which shopping and building gorgeous shopping malls are competitive sports. It is very easy to spend every single Riyal on high-end everything + excellent restaurant options every night of the week.  

We enjoyed some fabulously expensive brunches (“brunches” mean something totally different here…) and staycations, but by and large we were able to save pretty darn close to the predicted budget that we set out when we left last year.  This was despite the fact that the pesky Canadian Dollar kept getting stronger as the year went on (thereby slicing into our take home pay when we converted back to CAD).

Overall, we saved 4x-5x what we would have saved as two teachers that owned their house and two necessary vehicles back in Canada.

4) Travel Is Difficult, But There Are Cool Opportunities Available Right Now

One of the biggest reasons that we decided to make the leap and embrace international teaching was the travel opportunities that came with living on the other side of the world. Obviously that has not panned out quite the way we thought it would.

That said, due to our relatively quick vaccination, and the large number of direct flight options available from Doha, we were able to sneak in a 10-day trip to Tbilisi, Georgia last May. This year we’re hoping to see Turkey, Dubai, and Sri Lanka, but we’ll see if these pesky variants cooperate!

The great part about visiting Georgia last spring (and I think this will continue for another few months) is that there was no crush of tourists. I know it’s selfish to enjoy the fact that some poor folks are likely losing much-needed income, but it’s a simple reality that if you can get to some of these former hotspots right now, you get to benefit from a lot of additional attention and relatively little competition for spots at nice restaurants, in-demand tours, etc.

5) The Lack of Investment Taxes Really Is The Potential Hidden Gem of Expat Citizenship

Catch my chat over at the Canadian Financial Summit this year if you want all the details, but the basic idea is that a couple dozen countries around the world (including Qatar) tax their citizens’ investments based on the principles of “Territorial Taxation”. This can take a few different forms, but the basic idea is that a country only taxes the economic activity that takes place within their borders – thus leaving your Canadian/American/European/Everything Else stocks & bonds alone, and away from any tax shrinkage.  

It’s like having a giant TFSA with no contribution limit or rules to worry about!

Given the gains that the overall market made this past year, territorial taxation looks like a pretty sweet deal at the moment!

At the end of the day (a very hot day… every day is now a hot day) our move has been a financially rewarding adventure. We’re eagerly anticipating trying the whole thing without masks and variants… one day… eventually… maybe.

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Kyle Prevost

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