This time last year we made the decision to relocate to the United Arab Emirates and only six months ago we packed up our belongings and prepared to make the move.
I’ll never forget the moment my job offer came through and the wave of anxiety we both felt as the months and months of research came to a head; were we really about to pack up and move to the other side of the world? The answer of course was ‘yes!’ but that didn’t diminish the moment of self-doubt we both experienced in deciding to make such a big change.
This post is written for those of you who work as teachers who are considering making a move to the UAE. I did a great deal of research and found there to be a lot to learn about living and working here so hopefully this post will pay-it-forward for other would be expat teachers. I don’t think we would have made the decision to relocate without the fantastic information that blogs and Facebook groups provided us with (not to mention being lucky enough to know a few people that were/had lived in Abu Dhabi), and I hope this blog will help someone else decide if this is the place for them.
If you’re interested to learn more about what it’s like teaching in Abu Dhabi, read on…
Will I be able to teach in the UAE?
Teachers in the UAE require either a bachelor of education or some form of a graduate diploma (again in teaching). Some countries allow people to teach with a general degree but the UAE is not one of them. As a general rule, you’ll also need to be fully registered, with two years of teaching experience, but it is worth inquiring even if you don’t meet that criteria as there does seem to be some wiggle room there.
If you’re not qualified to teach in a school in the UAE but still really want to move here to work in education, you could consider working as a Teaching Assistant (TA), but the pay is unfortunately significantly less, so it won’t be a suitable option for everyone.
What type of school should I apply for?
Schools fall into two main categories here; public schools (which are run by the Abu Dhabi Education Council – ADEC) and private/international schools (which are run independently but are still overseen by ADEC).
Both types of schools have their owns benefits and downfalls so what’s right for one, may not be right for another. The following information will hopefully give you a taste of the differences, but if you are contemplating a move, be sure to talk with people through Facebook and read a variety of blogs to help you build an understanding of the best fit for your needs.
Public ADEC Schools
These schools are run by the Abu Dhabi government and should you choose to teach in one, you’ll be teaching local Emirati children and could be anything from the only expat teacher at your school to one of many. These kids will, of course, come with a range of exposure to English, but for many teachers, the focus does appear to be on supporting their students to develop their English literacy skills. Behaviour can vary significantly – I’ve read my fair share of horror stories online and have read about many teachers disappearing off home in the weekend and never coming back! Likewise, I know some teachers that work for ADEC that love it… it’s a combination of luck of the draw and each individuals attitude and expectations I think.
Public schools can pay slightly more than private schools but come with a high degree of uncertainty in return. When employed directly by ADEC, you won’t find out your placement location until after you touch down in the UAE… It’s possible that you’ll be placed 4 hours out of Abu Dhabi city, in the vast (and relatively empty) Western region, living in a small compound, left without much to do! The blogs I read suggested that some people have taken a lot from this experience (and I bet manage to save heaps!) but living in such a remote area doesn’t seem to be top of the list for many expats. Working for ADEC, it’s also possible you’ll be placed in Abu Dhabi city (generally the most desirable location for single teachers and couples) or Al Ain (popular amongst families), but regardless of where you’re living, be prepared to travel long distances to get to and from work as housing is generally grouped together and schools can be quite a way out of the way if you end up in a school out of one of the cities.
The hours spent at school can vary so there doesn’t seem to be a clear cut ‘winner’ here however public school teachers generally seem to spend less time at school each day. With that said, they do tend have more callback time in the holidays and often spend more time commuting too and from school. Although ADEC schools often seem to have shorter work hours (and potentially a lesser workload) but I wouldn’t suggest factoring this in as a significant point due to the differences found between each individual school.
International, Private Schools
Private international schools have different benefits to their ADEC counterparts; you’ll have much more certainty and a better chance of advancing your career whilst working for them. Students in international schools can be from a variety of backgrounds, including expats from all around the world and Emirati children and though you’ll work hard to meet the needs of your learners, there may not be the same need to focus on core English skills within an international school (school and cohort dependent of course!)
When employed by one of these schools, you’ll apply directly and will know exactly where your school is based – for us that was a major factor that swayed us towards my current school as we really wanted to make the most of travelling whilst here (hence not wanting to risk being 4-5 hours from the nearest airport!). With Nathan also working from home, we wanted to assure our spot in/near Abu Dhabi City to give him the best chance of meeting people and making friends – it’s all very well for me to be based in a school, meeting people but it’s obviously incredibly important to consider how a partner that won’t work outside of the home will settle into a new country without social support. We figured it would be that much harder to be based in the middle of nowhere!
Working in a private school is likely to be a more similar experience to what you’re used to at home too – the leadership structure is not unlike what I’ve experienced in the past (which may in turn result in better future career prospects) and there is plenty of support on offer. In my case, the curriculum is different to what I’m used to teaching off of in New Zealand but if you’re from the US or UK, chances are, you’ll find a school with a curriculum that’s similar to your past experience. I’ve always worked off the belief that curriculums have a similar foundation though, so regardless of the curriculum, if you’re an experienced teacher and are open to learning, you’ll be fine over here.
What package can I expect?
Packages, of course, vary, however all schools are likely to have somewhat similar benefits on offer. Teachers (and their partners and children) will generally be flown from their home back to the UAE, and back again at the end of their contract + receive either a flight or a payment to cover return flights for each summer in between. Medical insurance and shipping costs are also included, as is furnished accommodation (that’s right, say goodbye to rent payments!)
In some cases, families will be paid a housing allowance and expected to source their own accommodation, however singles and couples seem to be covered + some families. We were put up in a hotel for a few nights as our apartment was prepared, so you don’t need to worry about landing and being left to your own devices.
One of the big draw cards for teachers to the UAE is of course the appeal of tax free income! Check the tax was in your country as not all teachers will be elligable to skip out on tax back home, but many do benefit from pocketing what they would have paid in tax.
You can expect anything from 10,000AED to 17,000AED (approx). I was initially told that I’d earn significantly more working for ADEC but I’ve since spoken with public school teachers that are on a comparable income, so the idea that public school teachers receive a better rate of pay may not be true after all.
Those of you with children will obviously need to think of schooling over there. Non-nationals are not eligible to attend public schools, which means that if you work for ADEC, you’ll need to either budget in the cost of international school fees, or consider home schooling. If you accept a job working privately, school fees for your children will almost certainly be included free of charge.
How do I go about applying?
TeachAnywhere and TeachAway are some of the largest recruitment companies for ADEC, so if you decide to apply in the public sector, chances are you’ll talk to someone from those companies.
I applied through TeachAway – the application process online was straight forward but quite time consuming. This was followed up with a skype interview (which lasted for approx 30-45 mins) with a lovely representative in Canada. I was then tentatively accepted, subject to attending an interview in person but this was where things came undone!
I was told that I would be required to attend an in-person interview (which was mostly a formality) to be accepted into ADEC so waited patiently for the interviews to be called in either New Zealand or Australia as had been suggested. After a month or so, we were told that there wasn’t enough interest locally to hold these interviews, but by that stage the interviews in other parts of the world had been and gone (not to mention the fact that I had a full-time teaching job in NZ so I couldn’t have up and left to travel to the other side of the world during term time anyway).
Eventually they decided to allow us to have our final interview over Skype but by that stage we’d decided that an international school was the better fit for our needs and I’d been offered a position in a well-regarded school, so we turned the final ADEC interview down.
If you elect to apply to teach in private schools, you can either do so through a recruitment agency, such as Search Associates, or directly to the schools of your choice, as I did. There are countless international schools in Abu Dhabi but to get you started, you could check out Aldar Academies, Gems, Taaleem, Amity and Cranleigh.
I applied directly to (what was to become) my school… I sent my application through in February and by the end of Feb/early March I’d had a Skype interview and was offered the position later that day. The interview lasted approximately an hour and focused on the standard teacher-interview questions, along with questions regarding how I expected to settle here (which is of course, very important) and how I thought I’d cope with the change of curriculum. It was a great process and my interviewers did a great job of answering the few questions I had left.
If you do decide to apply to work here, I suggest you read widely about living and teaching in the UAE. Depending on where you’re from, life in the Middle East may well be different from what you’re used to and the more you know about how things operate here, the better you’ll be able to confidently say you expect to manage the transition. Life here is often awesome, but does have it’s share of challenges (as everywhere does) so it’s important to go in with eyes-wide open. To get a better idea of what it’s like living here, keep an eye on my my Middle East page.
What is it like being an expat?
The million dollar question!
Fast forward almost half a year and any doubt is long gone as we continue to build our lives here in Abu Dhabi. Expat life in the United Arab Emirates has been a real adventure so far; we’ve met countless people, all of whom have welcomed us with open arms, we’ve been fortunate to receive personal insight to a new culture (and religion) and have had travel opportunities that we’d never of dreamed of back in New Zealand (since August I’ve been to Oman, Sweden, England, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and of course the UAE + we’re off to Jordan, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda in the next two months… Who gets to do that kind of travel?!)
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In the meantime though, here are some photos from our Abu Dhabi adventures to date…
Do you teach in the UAE? If so, please share your experiences in the comments!
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