With its multicultural society, warm climate, and high tax-free salaries that come with good benefits, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is an excellent choice for experienced teachers in a range of fields.
When you hear about "teaching abroad," you may assume that this exclusively means teaching English abroad. While there certainly are English-teaching opportunities in the UAE, if you teach another subject, the UAE is still a great option.
With a large number of international schools, especially in Dubai, there are opportunities for experienced and qualified teachers in many subject areas. Here's what you need to know about applying for, landing, and preparing for a teaching job in the UAE.
Because the UAE is a popular place for foreign teachers, jobs are competitive. The more experienced and well-qualified you are, the better your chance of landing a job in a school that pays well and offers good benefits.
While many foreign teachers in the UAE teach English as a Foreign Language, this is not the only subject option by any means. Due to a large number of international schools in the country, teachers are needed in a diverse range of subjects; English, Math, and Science (Chemistry, Physics, and Biology at upper levels) are especially in demand. Here are the different types of jobs and schools to look out for.
Private International Schools
Teaching jobs in international schools are best suited to experienced and licensed teachers. These schools follow the curriculum of a foreign educational system, such as the British or U.S. systems.
As noted above, English is not the only subject option in such schools, as teachers of many subjects are sought. Further, because of the wide variety of nationalities represented among expats in the UAE, English is not the language of instruction in all private international schools. If you are a native speaker of, or fluent in, a language other than English, it may be worth checking whether there are international schools in the UAE that teach in your language.
The UAE's public education system has been the focus of a systemic overhaul in the last few years, with efforts made to improve standards. This means that lots of foreign ESL teachers have been--and continue to be--needed to meet the English-language needs of Emirati students. Jobs in public schools tend to be the best paid of all of these options and come with the best benefits.
Vocational colleges for local Emirati students seek ESL teachers as well as teachers of other practical subjects like business, aviation, and engineering. The UAE government has made concerted efforts to put more Emirati citizens in high-level positions in the workforce in recent years, so vocational colleges need highly skilled teachers from abroad to train the future Emirati workforce.
There are also opportunities in the UAE for elementary school teachers, too. Teachers in public elementary schools usually work alongside an Arabic-speaking teacher.
Foreign Language Schools
Teachers with strong ESL experience would be well-suited for teaching in a foreign language school with local Emirati students. Students are both adults and younger students applying to university. International language-school chains appear throughout the UAE, as well as homegrown chains and individual institutions. Again, language schools are not just restricted to English, as members of the UAE's multicultural population are interested in learning other foreign languages.
Private tutoring in the UAE is a little bit different. The UAE has a large and extended royal family, who are among the richest people in the world, so you may be recruited to teach royalty! Private recruitment agencies sometimes seek tutors for the UAE's wealthy families -- and ordinary Emirati citizens, too.
When to Apply for Jobs in the UAE
The school year in the UAE starts at the end of August, so recruitment tends to occur in the spring. Teaching contracts are normally for a minimum of two years. Incentives to complete your contract are usually offered, such as return flights to your home country and completion bonuses.
How to Apply for Jobs in the UAE
Schools of various types usually arrange for interviews to be held in the home country of the teacher. These are sometimes arranged directly and sometimes by a recruiter. Third-party recruitment companies are a useful way of arranging teaching jobs in the UAE, as they help organize visas and paperwork, too.
Average Salary of Teaching Jobs in the UAE
Salaries range from between around $27,000 to $54,000 per year. Salaries are (UAE) tax-free, and jobs either provide housing or teachers are paid a housing allowance to help cover living costs. Plus, most teaching jobs come with health care benefits and will pay for return flights to your home country (sometimes for dependents, too), as well as end-of-year or end-of-contract bonuses. So, even jobs on the lower end of the pay scale can result in more take-home pay than many teachers would be used to.
Different schools in different emirates have different requirements in terms of qualifications, as there is no unified standard across the UAE. Typically, high school-level teachers are required to have a degree in the subject that they're teaching, as well as a teaching qualification, although this is not applied everywhere. Masters degrees in any subject are also an asset. ESL jobs are restricted to teachers whose first language is English.
Jobs on the higher end of the salary scale generally go to the teachers with the most experience. A minimum of two years' experience is usually required for jobs in UAE schools. Teaching jobs in the UAE are sought-after and competitive, so it's unlikely for an inexperienced teacher fresh out of college to get a well-paying job in a good school in the UAE. If it's your goal to teach in the UAE, it's best to get some experience under your belt elsewhere first.
The UAE is an exciting destination for teachers, but some things are very different from Western countries. Here are some important things to know before you go.
Popular Destinations to Teach in the UAE
The United Arab Emirates is actually made up of seven emirs, or states: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah, and Umm al-Qaiwain. Here are a few of the most popular:
- Dubai: This is the most Westernized of the Emirates, and is known as the party capital of the UAE. There are lots of international schools here, but the cost of living is high.
- Abu Dhabi: This is the largest emirate. There are lots of local schools (therefore lots of job opportunities) here. It's more culturally conservative than Dubai. The cost of living here is also high, though less than Dubai.
- Ras al-Khaimah: This northernmost emirate is located on the Arabian Gulf, famous for its beaches.
- Sharjah: This emirate is the most conservative of the seven Emirates. Alcohol is prohibited here.
The emirates vary in their cost of living and conservatism. Most job opportunities are limited due to smaller populations and fewer schools, so most international teachers focus on Dubai and Abu Dhabi. If you've been employed by the public school system, you may not know where you're being placed until long after you've been hired, so only apply to this system if this unknown factor isn't a problem for you.
Visas & Sponsorship
Getting a work visa for the UAE is not difficult if you've accepted a job, though it can take some time. You will need to get all the paperwork and qualifications verified as authentic, which can take a number of weeks.
One good reason to go with a third-party recruitment agency is that they help with the paperwork required to get a visa in the UAE. Visa are sometimes not granted until after your arrival in the UAE and can take a few weeks.
Teacher Work Culture in the UAE
The working week in the UAE runs from Sunday to Thursday, with Friday and Saturday being days of rest. The teaching day usually starts at 7:30am and ends at 2:30pm. Teachers in the UAE are often expected to be involved in extracurricular school clubs. However, the workload is generally considered to be lighter than in schools back home.
The kind of social life you can enjoy varies depending on which emirate you live in. Dubai has a vibrant nightlife scene, whereas other places tend to be more conservative. Alcohol is available in licensed premises (except in Sharjah), but technically individuals are required to have a license to consume alcohol. Although this law is often flouted and ignored, for teachers who are staying in Dubai long-term, it is worth obtaining the license.
It's important to know that same-sex sexual acts are illegal in the UAE. This is an important consideration for LGBTQIA teachers. Public displays of affection are also against the law -- for any sex.
Classroom Etiquette in the UAE
Teachers in the UAE across all school types have noted that students here are generally very keen to learn and that there are fewer problems with classroom discipline than back home. Technology is used extensively in classrooms, and students in the UAE are generally very tech-savvy.
Schools in the UAE are both single-sex and co-ed, with international schools more likely to be co-ed and public schools single-sex. There is not the same strict separation of the sexes in the UAE that you will see in Saudi Arabia, for example, but there is still normally a preference to keep the sexes separate in many aspects of society, including education. Some schools are nominally co-ed but have separate wings for boys and girls.
Health & Safety in the UAE
The UAE is a very safe destination, with crime rates low and policing efficient. However, be mindful of the local laws -- especially regarding alcohol, public displays of affection, and same-sex relationships -- because rule-flouters will not be tolerated.
The standard of healthcare across the UAE is generally good, with Dubai and Abu Dhabi boasting the best systems. Healthcare is free for Emirati citizens, but foreign teachers usually receive benefits with their contracts.