Teaching in the UAE is not for everyone. However, it’s one of the best ways to make money while traveling the world. Daniel and I taught in Abu Dhabi from 2014 to 2016, and this was our experience.

 

teaching abroad infographic about the UAE

The Stats

Average Income: $2,000 month to $5,000 month

Free Housing/Utilities: Yes

Tax Free: Yes

Healthcare: Yes

Free flights: Yes

Vacation Days: We got three weeks Christmas, two weeks at spring break, eight weeks over summer break, two or three long weekends, and half days during Ramadan.

Certifications Needed? Yes and no. Abu Dhabi is now requiring a teaching degree or certification (TEFL won’t cut it), but I taught there from 2014 to 1016 with only a college degree. In Dubai, a college degree alone with out a teaching specialization can still land you a job for now.

Contract Length: Most schools will require you to sign a two-year contract.

Where to Find a Job:

Teach Away

Teaching Abroad Direct

Footprints Recruiting

Dubai Jobs

The Guardian

Teach Anywhere

I am not affiliated with these sites or responsible for any job or experience you may have through them.

Finances

I found my job teaching at a SABIS school in Abu Dhabi through the career portal on my university website. My husband (only boyfriend at the time) and I both did a phone interview, and I took a bus from Boston to New York for an in-person interview as well. They try to set them up for those who can make them, but it wasn’t required. We both were informed that we had the positions for the upcoming school year in February, and we signed the contract in March.

The contract included housing, utilities, flights at the beginning and end of the school year, healthcare, and a $2,200/month salary, equating to $26,400/year. However, we also received a raise our second year and a $10,000 bonus upon completion of our second year.

All in all, we received about $66,000 each in monetary income over the two years. With the value of the free housing, tax free income, and flights, the package was worth closer to $86,000 for the two years of work. Considering we were on vacation for about 7 of those months, it was a killer deal!

Every teacher (and I mean EVERY) also tutors kids under the table. The fees for an hour session usually range from $40 to $50 each, and there were some weeks before final exams where I was banking $1000 in tutoring sessions alone. It adds up fast.

 

Sunrise in Dubai

 

Cultural Expectations vs. Reality

The culture shock that I experienced after I moved to Abu Dhabi was real and definitely not easy to adjust to. When I first arrived, I thought that I’d be making a major lifestyle shift away from my drinking and party days in college (because it’s the Middle East, right?).

I was SO wrong.

There’s not a lot to do out in the middle of the desert, so we would hit the brunches hard. Brunch there is a magical thing. In the UAE, it means that you pay a set fee and get access to a five-star buffet and open bar for four or five hours at a time. Once those were done, we’d grab a taxi and go dancing or drinking for the rest of the night.

There were beaches in Abu Dhabi, but we lived out in the suburbs (Khalifa City A), so they were farther away. It was also too hot in the summer and fall months, and they tended to be expensive to enter.

Instead, we’d usually opt to buy a Groupon to one of the luxury hotels and spend a day lounging in the pools instead. In Dubai, there is a little more to do (the Jumeirah walk, Dubai mall, or Miracle gardens, for example), but you can only go to a mall so may times before you feel like you’re back in your pre-teen days.

On longer weekends while teaching in the UAE, teachers would rent a car and drive down to Muscat or east to dive off of the Omani coast. The other Emirates like Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah also offered some variety to explore but not much. All in all, the UAE is a strange place. If you don’t drink, and you love to explore the great outdoors, it is definitely NOT the country for you.

Now for the questions that I know you’ve been wondering about.

Yes, the UAE is Muslim. The call to prayer woke me up every night, and we often saw women dressed in burqas. However, they are pretty lax about applying their cultural rules to foreigners. When it came to clothing, my general rule of thumb was to show my shoulders or my legs, but never both. With one or the other, I was usually fine. However, when we went out drinking, dresses, short skirts, and high heels were the norm.

The UAE is 80% expats, so there is a LARGE divide between the Muslim Emiratis and the western population. For the most part the Muslim culture did not affect me much at all. I read a lot about horror stories and crazy arrests before I went, but they are rare and only usually if you really piss off the wrong person. I have a friend who passed out drunk and woke up at the police station TWICE without consequence. It’s not as scary there as the media portrays it to be.

 

Lifestyle

There were about forty other twenty-something Brits, Irish, and other English speaking teachers working at our school, so our friend group was built-in. We all lived in dorm-style apartments and hit the nightlife hard together.

We would also frequent the “Ladies Nights” weekly, which was basically just when bars shrug their shoulders and let all women drink for free.

The best part about the lifestyle for me, though, was the travel.

During our two years teaching in the UAE Daniel and I got scuba certified in Thailand, stayed in a treehouse in Sri Lanka, saw Mount Everest while hiking in the Himalayas in Nepal, camped on a  beach in Oman, ate our way through the Christmas markets in Berlin, enjoyed the nightlife in Porto, and rang in a New Year in Barcelona.

I made some lifelong friends in the deserts of Abu Dhabi, and the social aspect of the schools and carefree lifestyle (lots of money, lots of travel) was an amazing experience.

 

Abu Dhabi desert engagement photos

 

My Experience Teaching in the UAE

The school year runs from late August to late June. As teachers, we were required to show up two weeks early our first year and one week before the school year started our second year. Those two weeks are all the training you get before you’re thrown to the wolves though, so it’s NOT easy in any sense of the word.

I think any teacher can agree that the first year on the job is difficult no matter what. I was emotionally exhausted, I came home crying after work, I had stress dreams so intense that I would walk around my apartment handing out play-doh and talking to my students in my sleep. Working hard every day to be upbeat and emotionally available despite what’s going on in your personal life or how poorly the students behave definitely takes some getting used to.

It was tough because in the US, if you dislike your job, you can quit and find a new one. Teaching abroad is unique in the sense that your job, visa, and housing are all rolled into one. I couldn’t exactly quit if I was unhappy because I would be deported and on the hook for a $1,400 flight home. That being said, NOT every school is the same. If you have a teaching degree (unlike me), your school quality and salary will increase significantly.

While tough to deal with, it was also nice to have that push to stick it out through the homesickness and culture shock. I’m so glad that I did. I thought about giving up many times and not signing for the second year (and second year bonus), but staying was the right choice. The second year was so much easier in every way.

What else did I go through that I wasn’t expecting? Something that definitely needs to be mentioned is a unique feeling of isolation from the rest of the world. Isolation may be a strong word, but I definitely felt very far away from my friends and family in the US.

Part of it was the 8 hour time zone difference. Our school week also ran from Sunday to Thursday, which meant that when everyone on social media was enjoying their Saturday mornings, I was prepping and going to bed early for school the next day.

Additionally, we worked on Thanksgiving, slept through the Super Bowl, and there were absolutely no Christmas or Easter celebrations in school. We missed two Christmases at home with our families because flights home were too expensive (although, our European friends didn’t have that problem). Still, I wouldn’t trade the experience that I had there for anything. For me, the benefits definitely outweighed the cons!

 

So, in recap, over our two year contract, we taught for 17 months and travelled for 7. We made extra money easily on the side and banked $66,000 each in tax-free cash before we left. If any of this sounds good, teaching in the UAE just may be for you!

PS still exploring your options? Visit the Working Abroad Series to learn more ways to make money while you travel and find in-depth guide to teaching online ESL classes, working as an au pair, getting a job as a flight attendant, finding work as a translator, start a digital marketing business, breaking into freelance writing, or even working on a yacht!

25 Comments

  1. Dinesh Kumar Singh

    I am Dinesh(B.Sc chemistry Hons in 1993 with three year degree course).I want to teach Maths and Science in UAE private school. I have not B.Ed degree but I have 15years of teaching experience. I need help from you of whole process for joining as a teacher.

    Reply
    • Slight North by Dianne Minardi

      Hi Dinesh, check out some of the links in this post to begin the application process for different school systems. If you have other questions about getting started, shoot me an email at slightnorthblog@gmail.com. Good luck with your search!

      Reply
  2. Ksenia ilinykh

    Hi Dianne, are there exclusively summer jobs? I am a music (piano) teacher, and don’t have a teaching license, but teach at a college as an adjunct professor. Unfortunately, summers are not paid and I am looking for other work opportunities in late May-August.

    Reply
    • Slight North by Dianne Minardi

      Hey, yes, I taught in the SABIS school system and they had a summer school/camp every year in Bath, England. A lot of teachers would go and they earned like $3,500 for 5 or 6 weeks, plus flights and housing was paid for. Usually they took teachers that were full time at the school, but since you teach a specialty thing like music I think you’d definitely have a shot at getting in. I’d suggest looking at the SABIS website to see who you can contact about that. You can also look at other schools in the UAE (GEMS is another big one) and contact them directly to see what they offer. Good luck!

      Reply
  3. Ophil

    I’m a B.SC holder and my M.SC is still in view and I don’t have a TEFL. I have taught in about 4 secondary schools here in Bénin republic and currently lecturing in a university and want to ask what are my chances of getting a teaching job in UAE to teach English or computer science and I have written papers from various schools here attesting to my expertise and experience

    Reply
    • Slight North by Dianne Minardi

      Hi! Thanks for reaching out. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what your chances of getting a job are but my advice is to just apply to the schools and see what happens! Having a masters degree and teaching experience is a definite plus. Good luck!

      Reply
  4. ebony

    Good morning I am considering and applying for teaching positions in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I have been a elementary Special Education teacher for four years in the United States. I have a Bachelors in English and a Masters in Education. What advice would you give to me in terms of which location to pick and job options.

    Reply
    • Slight North by Dianne Minardi

      Hey! Some people prefer Abu Dhabi but I definitely would suggest Dubai. The worst part about Dubai is that the traffic can be terrible, but there’s WAY more to do there, better beaches, and just an all around a better city to live in.

      As for job options, I’m not too sure on the best schools to teach in qualified teachers like you. My advice would be to join some Facebook groups, I just looked and there are a lot for teachers in Dubai and the UAE. Some of them look very active, so I think it’s a good resource to check out to see which schools they are recommending.

      Reply
  5. B

    Hi, I’m apply right now to schools in the UAE. I was wondering about the teaching experience you had at SABIS? How were the kids? Did the listen about as well as you would expect?How were the other teachers at your school? The administration? or the school facilities?

    Sorry for the long ask! But thanks for any extra information!

    Reply
    • Slight North by Dianne Minardi

      Every SABIS school is different, so it’s hard to answer for all of them. At mine, the kids were pretty poorly behaved and I did not find the administration helpful when I needed them. You kind of have to learn to fend for yourself because you don’t get a lot of training. Because of that the first year was really hard for me, but then the second year was a breeze. Try NOT to be like me and make sure you area really strict from day one, and you will have a much easier time! Definitely the best part of teaching there is the other teachers, they were all young and fun, and we all lived together and became great friends 🙂

      Reply
      • B

        Wow thank you so much for answering and for the advice! I really appreciate it. I’ve applied and had my first interview with Sabis so reading your blog was super helpful. And one more question if you don’t mind, how was the housing situation? I know you mention living with other teachers(which is great for meeting people!) but how was your actual housing, like was it small, well kept? And how did you and your boyfriend handle the housing? My boyfriend is also applying to Sabis. sorry for all the questions, but your blog is like the only info I’ve really found about this school. Thanks for any help! I’ll stop asking questions now lol.

        Reply
        • Slight North by Dianne Minardi

          No problem, I’m happy to help and share everything I wish I knew before we landed in the UAE haha. The housing varies a lot by school. We were in Khalifa City A and each had a small studio apartment. It was basic, but it worked. I really liked having the privacy of a studio, and even tho it was technically illegal (but everyone does it) my boyfriend and I just lived together in one and used the other one for storage haha.

          The second year you can move and request new housing, so me, my husband, and two friends all got studios in a row on the same floor and it was really fun. On the flip side, there was another group of girls who lived in an actual giant mansion that was walled in and had a yard, and then a bunch of people who had nicer shared apartments, with two or four people in each. A friend of mine moved to the Ras al Khaimah school and had a nice one-bedroom apartment to herself with a balcony overlooking the ocean, and other girls on Yas Island had their own pool. Honestly it’s all different and totally the luck of the draw. If you don’t like what you end up with you can probably request to move even in the first few weeks though!

          If you have any more questions feel free to shoot me a message at slightnorthblog@gmail.com and definitely let me know if you get the job, and what school you are assigned too. Oh, and make sure you and your bf request to be placed at the same school (and probably remind them once or twice throughout the process to make sure it happens!)

          Reply
          • B

            Wow, okay really good to know. I wasn’t sure if they would accommodate us or not when it came to us wanting to teach at the same school so that is great to know. I can’t thank you enough, I’m really so appreciative of all the information you’ve given! I’ve got your email saved and as soon as I find out if I got the job I’ll be letting you know and probably asking so many more questions haha. But really thank you again and best of luck in your travels! 😀

  6. Nicole Timm

    Hi Dianne.

    How did you manage discipline or what discipline techniques were most effective?
    I’m from South Africa and I’m at a school where discipline is definitely a problem. However, keeping them in for detention or calling in parents helped most of the time. I’ve heard about the learners being favoured in the schools, so I just want to know what’s what.

    Being in a school where discipline is a problem can make one feel very despondent.

    Hope you don’t mind me asking these questions.

    Reply
    • Slight North by Dianne Minardi

      Hey, thanks for reaching out. Managing discipline is definitely the #1 problem that most teachers face. How old are your students? Discipline techniques definitely depend on age.

      For my pre-schoolers, my most effective tool was a star system. I had a stop light in my room and every student had a clothes pin with their name. They started each morning in the green, and if they misbehaved got a warning. If they did twice, the moved into the yellow, and if they did 3 times they moved into red. If they turned their behavior around, they could move back into the green. Every single day without fail (this is important) I put a star next to the name of every child that stayed in the green. Once they reached 5 stickers, they got to choose a small prize from the box, which motivated them to stay in the green every day.

      In my second year, I also started extremely strict so they knew what was expected, and never ever raised my voice. At that point, a stern look was enough to get almost everyone to behave. In my first year, I started out nice and friendly, which was a huge mistake. I think the first impression is the most effective discipline tool honestly.

      My second grade class was more difficult to manage. The first year was basically a nightmare from start to finish, and the second year was easier just because I started so strict and had a good class. I never really figured out an effective way to ensure discipline with them honestly because the first year was a disaster and the second year I was just lucky with a good group and I didn’t need to do much.

      I hope this helps you, and if you have any more questions definitely ask! Good luck!

      Reply
  7. Fidel

    Hi Dianne,

    My wife and I have been teaching over 20 years each and we have been looking forward to finally teach abroad. I have a B.S.in Social Studies and have experience teaching high school and middle school History, Spanish, Physical Education and other electives. I have also coached American football, wrestling and softball. I have taken a break from teaching and no longer hold a credential. But, I did complete my teacher credentialing program many years ago. My wife has taught middle school and is currently teaching 3rd grade. We are currently living in California. What are the opportunities like for a husband and wife teaching combo with our experience? Could you direct us in the right direction to explore our options? Lastly, in your experience what are the would the salary look like with teachers of our experience?
    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Slight North by Dianne Minardi

      Hey Fidel, thanks for reaching out.

      To be honest, my experience was so different from yours that I don’t think I can answer all your questions, but I’ll help you find people who can. Search Dubai teachers/Teaching in Dubai/Teachers in Dubai and variations on that keyword in Facebook and narrow the search by groups. Then you can join the larger/active ones and talk to teachers who are there right now and have a better idea of which schools you’re suited for with your specific background and what salaries you can expect.

      Good luck, I hope this helps!

      Reply
  8. MIlandre

    Good day

    My daughter is currently living in China and would like to teach in Dubai.
    She has a degree + TEFL and will be doing her CELTA later this year. What are her chances of getting a job in the UAE without a teacher’s licence?

    regards

    Reply
    • Slight North by Dianne Minardi

      Right now many countries in the Gulf, including the UAE, are getting stricter and starting to require teaching degrees in every school. If your daughter wants a higher salary, better school, nicer apartment, and job security, getting a degree is definitely the best bet. CELTA and TEFL can still land a job in the country for now but I wouldn’t count on it staying that way for too much longer.

      Reply
  9. Ann Nichols

    I’m have 8 years teaching experience and am ESL certified in my state. I am really wanting to do this but I am years past my 20’s and 30’s. Will I be considered? I don’t look or feel old at all but some countries frown on mature teachers, so I’ve read.

    Reply
    • Slight North by Dianne Minardi

      If you’re a certified teacher and have 10 years of experience you shouldn’t have any problems getting a job in Dubai no matter what your age is. There are plenty of older teachers in the country.

      Reply
  10. Ashley

    What were you teaching while overseas? Just English as second/foregin language or were you teaching everything (match, science, etc)?

    Reply
    • Slight North by Dianne Minardi

      Most schools are entirely in English so people teach every subject, not just English. I had preschoolers so I taught them everything like math, English, Art, etc. and with my second grade class I taught Social Studies.

      Reply
  11. Kathy card

    hi;
    I was an education major at college for 3 years and did an internship but switched to sociology and have currently a masters in sociology and rehabilitation counseling! HA. I also worked in a day care. I could get a teaching degree here in Houston and would like to teach overseas. I am pretty mature! but could love a second career… do you see any chance? I have worked with people with disAbilities for many years.
    Kathy Card

    Reply
    • Di Michelle

      Yes, people of all ages return to Abu Dhabi and Dubai year after year to teach. If you get the degree I think this is a great opportunity!

      Reply

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