The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is an increasingly popular destination for English-speaking teachers looking to gain experience in a new environment. And it's not hard to see why. Teaching there offers higher disposable incomes, well-equipped modern classrooms and high standards of living.
As a country, the UAE consists of a federation of seven emirates. Everyone has heard of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but there are also five other lesser-known emirates: Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm Al Quwain. Each emirate varies in terms of culture and what they are looking for from teachers.
So, if you're thinking about heading to the Middle East, here is everything you need to know to teach in the UAE.
What qualifications and experience do you need?
There are no unified criteria around what schools are looking for in terms of experience and qualifications, so each school will have slightly different requirements.
“In Abu Dhabi or Sharjah, at secondary level, you need to have your degree in the subject you are trained to teach. So a maths teacher must have a maths degree followed by a PGCE or BEd," explains Jamie Wilkes, international schools director at Tes Global.
“At primary level, this is not required, so your degree can be in any subject followed by PGCE or a standard BEd. You must also have a minimum of two years teaching experience.
"While Abu Dhabi and Sharjah are slightly more strict, Dubai is a bit more relaxed on its requirements. NQTs are welcome and there is no requirement for a secondary school teacher to have studied their subject at degree level,” says Wilkes.
However, for NQTs looking to teach in Dubai, Wilkes points out that “you need to be employed at a BSO (British Schools Overseas) school in order to complete your NQT year.”
By 2021, all teachers in the UAE will need a teacher licence, including those teaching in international schools. The Teacher and Education Leadership Standards (TELS) licensing programme aims to standardise teacher qualifications for Emirati and expatriate teachers working in private and public schools across the region.
There are four TELS UAE standards: professional and ethical conduct, professional knowledge, professional practice and professional growth. You can use existing CPD to achieve the TELS UAE qualification, even if this has been attained outside the UAE. New teachers moving to the country can undertake the relevant CPD once they arrive and their schools may provide assistance with this process.
However, you will need to pay for the licence yourself, which could be facilitated by your school paying for it initially and then taking monthly instalments out of your pay, as it would for a pension.
Getting a visa
The visa process is relatively straightforward, as most of the legwork will done by your school.
"It can be time-consuming, but the school that you are being employed at will look after the visa processing on your behalf. All you need to do is provide the relevant documents," says Wilkes.
Michael Strachan, a teacher at Repton School Dubai, explains the process: “The whole visa process, which includes a medical that incorporates a blood test for HIV and hepatitis, an x-ray for tuberculosis and fingerprinting, was over in two weeks and I was supported through the process well by my school."
Before you head to the UAE, you will also need to get all your paperwork and certifcates attested. “Most importantly, your original educational paperwork must be attested," says Wilkes. "This means your teaching qualification, your degree certificate and in some instances, your secondary school and/or A-level certificates. It is your responsibility to ensure that these are formally attested and the cost for this service sits with you."
However, this can be done online for less than £200, Wilkes explains.
"There are companies that can be easily found online that you can engage with to have your documents attested," he says. "You should budget for anywhere between £100 and £200 for this service, depending on the number of documents you have that require attestation, and allow a fortnight for them to be processed. After that, all the school needs in addition are simple things like your passport and some passport photographs in order to begin the visa processing.”
But Strachan has some words of warning about tourist visas.
"Some schools bring staff into the country on a tourist visa, which is a red flag. If the school isn't well run, staff may have to leave the country (usually a visa run across the border into Oman) and then re-enter on another tourist visa until their employment visa is processed. This process can continue for months in some schools,” he says.
How the emirates differ
To give you an idea of how teaching differs throughout the UAE, Strachan offers the following teacher's guide to the emirates:
- Abu Dhabi is the largest emirate and there is plenty of sport and culture to take advantage of. Abu Dhabi is quieter and more conservative than Dubai and compared with other emirates, accommodation is expensive. However, there are a lot of schools, many of which perform to very high standards.
- Dubai is undoubtably the party capital of the UAE and is a real global emirate, with lots to do. The sheer number of international schools in Dubai makes it is easier to get a job there than in the other emirates.
- Sharjah is the most conservative of the emirates. For example, alcohol is banned there. The emirate styles itself as the cultural capital, but due to the cheap rent, it is very crowded and traffic is a nightmare. There are also fewer international schools, so there aren't as many job opportunities.
- Ajman is a small emirate aiming to increase its influence. There are very few international schools, but some local schools with Emirati students may offer positions to international teachers.
- Ras al-Khaimah is a mountainous and liberal emirate. There are fewer employment opportunities and, as it is cheaper to live in RAK, salaries are lower.
- Umm Al Quwain is another small emirate, which is liberal but generally slow paced. Again, there are fewer job opportunities here than in the larger emirates.
- Fujairah is on the east coast of the UAE, making it the only emirate on the Indian Ocean, instead of the Gulf. There are even fewer job opportunities here and a very slow pace of life. If you are looking for social life, there are fewer options here than in the other emirates and if you are looking to travel, be aware that it is a long way from Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
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