The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is made up of seven states (emirs); Abu Dhabi (capital), Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah and Umm al-Qaiwain. A large international community combined with some lucrative opportunities have make teaching in the UAE a popular option for overseas teachers.
Schools in the UAE attract a large number of overseas teachers, with international schools, public schools and foreign language schools all employing a large number of expatriate staff.
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Salary expectation in the UAE
Salaries for overseas classroom teachers in the UAE can range from 100,000AED (£22,000) to 200,000AED (£44,000) tax-free per year. What you can earn varies between schools, with the higher-paying schools normally asking for more overseas teaching experience as a result.
Having a first-rate education system was identified as part of the UAE National Agenda’s ‘Vision for 2021’. As a result, the public school system in the UAE has been the subject of a substantial overhaul in recent years with some lucrative contracts available.
Bonuses and benefits
Almost all schools offer free accommodation, or an accommodation allowance that can be put towards your own place. Depending on the school, this may include allowance for your partner and family. Most schools will also include some sort of health care provision as part of your contract.
If you’re particular about where you live check the location and the small print in the agreement, as some teachers have ended up in locations they didn’t expect. Also check whether your accommodation will come furnished.
Schools will pay for your flights out and normally offer a return flight to your home country per year. Depending on your contract this may include flights for dependents. Most schools will offer a ‘relocation allowance’ somewhere in the region of £500, although the cost of visas and paperwork can cost around £300.
Almost all schools offer end of year bonuses or end of contract bonuses, normally these equate to one months’ pay. Some will also offer reduced or waivered school fees for your own children.
Many of these points will be open to negotiation depending on the strength of your position and how competitive the market is.
Cost of living in the UAE
The currency in the UAE is the United Arab Emirate Dirham (AED) which, at time of writing, equates to 22 British pence. According to cost of living comparison site Numbeo, the cost of utilities for a two bedroom apartment in Dubai would be around 585AED (£130), although internet is considerably more expensive at between 262AED (£65) per month.
There are lots of options for eating out and socialising that range from inexpensive to very costly, but drinking alcohol is considerably more expensive than in the UK. Don’t be surprised to pay 40AED (£8) for a beer or 185AED (£40) for a bottle of wine when in a bar or restaurant.
Economic political situation
The seven Emirate states are governed centrally by the Federal Council and Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, but still maintain a considerable amount of political and financial independence. Although affected by the recent slump in oil prices, the UAE’s economy is considered fairly stable.
The influx of low-skilled migrant workers to the UAE has previously raised concerns with some human rights groups, and teachers have noticed a significant divide between sections of the expat community.
Local culture in the UAE
Although the UAE is now tolerant to many aspects of western culture, there are some areas where they remain less progressive. Gay and lesbian acts are still illegal under UAE law and there have been high-profile cases of people being imprisoned or deported due to this. Sex outside of marriage is illegal and public displays of affection, whether heterosexual or same-sex, can lead to prosecution. For more details check the UK Government foreign travel advice website.
Alcohol is widely available from licenced hotels, bars and clubs. Officially you are required to have a licence to drink alcohol, whether in a licenced venue or in your own home, although teachers have rarely seen this law enforced. As with other licences and paperwork, this can take some time to process.
With a large expat population there are lots of opportunities to socialise outside of work. There a numerous gyms and sports clubs, while the popular Friday brunch is famous for lasting well into the evening.
Language in the UAE
Although the national language is Arabic, the large number of western immigrants and international culture mean English is widely spoken throughout the UAE.
Within schools, Arabic is taught and some teachers have found interacting with the Arabic staff a challenge. As with most foreign countries, learning a few key phrases will undoubtedly win you some kudos, not to mention friends.
Interview, visa and contracts
Many schools will invite you for a face-to-face interview in a local office, although video calls are becoming more prevalent. Interviews, especially for schools that are part of a chain, have a tendency to be quite business like.
Getting the necessary paperwork in order to complete your visa application is straightforward although fairly time consuming. Documents will need to be attested by a solicitor and taken to a customs office and relevant embassy. There are third party companies who will organise this for you, which can be cost effective if a trip to the offices involves travel costs.
Visas can take time to come through when you arrive and having to spend up to six weeks without a visa or passport is not uncommon, this is OK although this does prevent you hiring a car or obtaining an alcohol licence.
Teaching contracts typically start at two years and often include a probationary period in which either party can terminate. Teachers who leave during this time will typically be asked to repay any flight allowance. Additional payment systems differ between schools, but many assign points for extra responsibility which equate to an increase in salary.
The school day in the UAE
The school week starts on a Sunday and finishes on a Thursday, with Friday the traditional day of prayer for Muslim countries. The average school day will run from 7.30am to 2.30pm, with some schools finishing slightly earlier on a Thursday. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan the school day is usually shortened to between 8.30am to 1.30pm.
The school term follows the same pattern as western schools, with two-week breaks between terms and a slightly longer, two-month break over summer. Officially there are no half-term holidays, although most British curriculum schools will give students a two- or three-day break.
Typically there are less teaching days than in schools in the West; however some schools have been known to include as many as 15 inset days. Teachers will also be expected to attend meetings and involve themselves with sports teams and extracurricular activities outside of school hours. That said, the general consensus from teachers in the UAE is that workloads are lighter than those in the UK.
Weather in the UAE
Summers in the UAE are extremely hot, with August temperatures averaging 36 degrees centigrade and often getting into the mid-40s. With most contracts beginning at the end of August the new climate can take its toll on new arrivals.
During the winter the temperature drops to around 18-20 degrees centigrade, with evening becoming quite cool. Between January and March there is a small amount of rain.
Local infrastructure and amenities
Although there are buses in the UAE, the primary mode of transport is car or taxi. Many teachers hire cars, which you can do for around 1400AED (£305) per month. Most rental companies now offer deals on 10 month hire allowing you to keep a car on the road during term time. It is possible to hire and drive a car with a foreign licence, although once you receive your Emirates ID you’ll be expected to apply for an Emirati driving licence within 30 days.
With thanks to Ruth Sudlow, a secondary school teacher in Dubai, and Nigel Davies, a secondary school teacher in Abu Dhabi.
My life teaching in Abu Dhabi – we speak to a teacher about relocating his family to the UAE