The Middle East is fast becoming a top choice for teachers looking to experience life in an international school. With year-round sunshine, delicious food and attractive tax-free salaries, it isn’t hard to understand the appeal.
The Middle East is an area of “must-sees”, being home to the Pyramids, the former Ottoman Empire and Mecca. It is made up of 16 countries: Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Saudia Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.
In recent years, with a booming economy and an increasing desire for Western education, the region has seen a large increase in the number of international schools.
These tend to attract a mixture of local students whose parents want them to study the British or US curriculum and secure them positions in Western universities, and those from expat families, whose parents have moved to the region for work.
Although economic growth in the Middle East is predicted by some to slow down, there are still lots of opportunities for teachers looking to relocate.
International schools offer some of the most lucrative packages in the world, with salaries that are effectively tax-free, and with many schools offering bonuses and accommodation allowances, relocation makes financial sense for many.
The landscape for overseas workers is ever-changing, and Saudi Arabia is dramatically increasing a charge levied on companies employing expatriate staff. Whether this will have an impact on international school staffing, or if it will spread to the rest of the region, remains to be seen.
430 – the number of new international schools that have opened in the Middle East in the past five years.
1.5 million – the number of students attending international schools in the Middle East.
306 – the number of international schools in Dubai.
£1,800-£3,000 – monthly tax-free salary for an international classroom teacher in the UAE.
£18.84 – the average price of a mid-range bottle of wine (£3.45 in Spain).
9 – average hours of sunshine per day in Abu Dhabi in January.
£65 – average price of a monthly gym membership in Saudi Arabia.
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Meet Julia Knight, an English teacher working in Bahrain
“I love teaching in Bahrain. The students are very well behaved and they want to work and do well, and the parents are extremely supportive, so when you do take issues to them – whether it’s about homework or behaviour – they are very likely to support the staff.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a negative experience with the parents at our school and I find the local community to be very, very friendly.
“I was an international teacher in Thailand before, but this experience has been the most positive. I have been teaching here for three years and have got another year left on my contract. It would be nice to work in another part of the Middle East, and we are especially drawn to the UAE and Dubai, but for now we consider this little island home.
“The day job has given me plenty of opportunities to be grateful for. I recently secured a meet-and-greet for some students with Lewis Hamilton at the Formula 1, as well as organising events for things like International Women’s Day. I can teach without the stress of UK regulations and that, in itself, is pure freedom. There will always be some frustrating aspects but hasn’t everything?
“We do spend a lot of time together as a family, which was the biggest draw to Bahrain. The life here is relaxed and the weather makes it ideal to spend winter outside horse riding (our boys are learning) or doing team sports. My husband plays football weekly while I do yoga and attend a women’s fitness club.
“We have made some fantastic friends along the way through our children, who are 8 and 4, and in our colleagues. We spend time barbecuing, brunching and time at our local club where the children can play or swim.
“One of the biggest reasons we are so happy here is that it has all the charm of village life with the added benefit of being close to a city and all that has to offer. We can dine out at nice restaurants or have drinks in rooftop bars. One of our favourite things is to fill the car up with buckets and spades, cool boxes full of drinks and food and head over to Al Dar island and spend the day on the beach.
“I had never been to the Middle East before we arrived in Bahrain and, even though we didn’t know what to expect, we have found it easy to live here. There are rules about sensible dress codes but they are professional and modest – it’s not as restrictive as people might believe. I don’t have to cover my head and I can wear bathing suits at private beaches (the public ones aren’t great).
“It’s like all international postings – you assimilate into your host country and enjoy it while it lasts until the next adventure.”
Julia Knight is an English teacher and head of year at the British School of Bahrain
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*Figures from Relocate Magazine, Holiday Weather and Numbeo.