FAQ

I’ve had quite a few people recently contacting me with questions about teaching in Abu Dhabi/the UAE. This is great, but I tend not to have time to respond to each message individually (sorry). So here are answers to some of the most common questions I’ve been getting:

Q. How did you find your job?

A. Not in the way most people here found theirs. I simply emailed my resume to every international school in the UAE and waited to see what would happen. I got one interview, was offered the job, and accepted it. This is not really the best way to conduct a job search, but it did wind up working for me.

Q. How can I get a job in Abu Dhabi?

A. People seem to primarily use one of three major recruitment agencies for international school jobs: Carney Sandoe, International School Services, and Search Associates. There are also job fairs where international schools do a lot of their hiring. I suggest consulting with one or all of the agencies mentioned to find out about available jobs—but make sure to research the school yourself before you sign a contract, of course.

Q. Is _____ agency reputable?

The three agencies I mentioned above are the ones most people use. These are well known and generally people seem to be happy with them. Beyond these though, sorry, I don’t know.

Q. What do you know about _____ school?

I know a lot about my school. I have never set foot in any other school here, so I know basically nothing except rumors and hearsay.

my classroom

Q. Should I work in Abu Dhabi or Dubai?

A. I’m partial to Abu Dhabi, but I’ve never lived in Dubai. I will say that in Dubai teachers’ salaries seem to be higher, and there’s much, much better housing (and more of it) available. However, prices for almost everything from taxis to fast food to electricity seem to be a lot higher there, so it kind of comes down to personal preference, I suppose. Often people complain that Abu Dhabi is boring and Dubai has a better social scene, but honestly, unless you’re a real party animal, I think AD has more than enough bars, clubs, restaurants, and so forth to keep you busy. It’s about a 1.5 hour drive between AD and Dubai, so they’re not totally inaccessible to each other for day trips or quick weekend getaways.

Abu Dhabi waterfront

Q. What are your students like? Do you have a lot of behavior problems?

A. My students are a fascinating bunch. I have twenty 4th graders (age 9-10) born on six different continents. The majority of my students are from the Middle East and about ¼ are local (Emirati). Overall, I have about the same caliber of behavior issues that I had back in my suburban Atlanta public school last year. They’re not perfect angels all the time, but they’re mostly fine behavior-wise. This varies WIDELY between schools here, and you don’t have to look far to find horror stories about the behavior of children—including primary and elementary-age children—at the public schools in the UAE. Again though, this is all just rumor and hearsay, I can’t speak from personal experience. All I can tell you is that in my class, at my school, it’s not bad. Academically, most of my kids have been attending English-curriculum schools their entire lives, so while English is the second language for almost all of them, it is by no means a “foreign language” to them at this point in their education.

another classroom shot

Q. What cultures and nationalities do most teachers there come from?

A. It varies by school, but at the ones where the language of instruction is English, most teachers are American, Canadian, British, Australian, New Zealanders, or South African. At my school there are also some teachers from Pakistan and India, and a few from European countries such as Spain and Switzerland. There don’t seem to be many teachers of African background (African-American or other, for lack of a better word, black people) but I know of a few, and they don’t seem to have major problems fitting in or anything. One of the best things about living here is that, since the country is 80% expats (immigrants), no one really sticks out as a “foreigner” and it’s easy to blend in, unlike in many other countries where you are easily singled out as someone who does not belong. In that sense, the UAE is one of the easiest places to live as an expat.

Q. What kind of housing do you have?

A. I live in school-provided housing. I have a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment that I share with another single female teacher. It is on the small side and in a poorly-maintained building, but it is in a very convenient location right in the center of town at least. There is a limited supply of housing in Abu Dhabi and it is very expensive. My school has very, very few single (unshared) apartments available. Many schools have single apartments for all teachers but I am not so fortunate.

my apartment building

Q. Will my husband/boyfriend/five kids/dog be able to live with me in Abu Dhabi?

A. If you are married and your spouse will not be a teacher at your school, you may have trouble finding a job and getting housing that you can afford. If you’re not married but live with a boyfriend/girlfriend/fiancé/whatever, keep in mind that technically it is illegal for an unrelated and unmarried man and woman to live together here. In practice, this happens a lot, but the UAE is a Muslim country and people have actually been deported for breaking this law. Not often, but it does happen.

This might be a good place to mention, speaking of significant others, that homosexuality is not at ALL accepted here culturally (or legally, from what I hear). I’m sure there are gay people here, but being openly gay would lead to some major problems–at best it would be very uncomfortable, and at worst it could land you in jail. If you’re looking for someplace with a vibrant gay scene, look elsewhere; the Middle East is not the place for you. This has nothing to do with my personal opinions; it’s just the way things are here, and it’s not in my power to change it, clearly, but I think it’s best to be honest.

It would be hard to come here with children, unless you and your spouse are both teachers and your children are school age. Many schools don’t offer larger than a 2-bedroom apartment, so bringing more than two children would be tricky. On the plus side, most couples who do have children employ a full-time nanny and housekeeper very inexpensively. Obviously, I don’t have children myself, so it’s hard for me to give much insight into this.

I know of virtually no single parents here and I’m actually not sure if a school would hire a single mom/dad to come here with child(ren). Getting/being pregnant if you’re not married can get you deported, I know, but I’m not sure about coming here after you already have kids as a single person. If anyone out there has experience with this, it’d be interesting to hear about.

As far as pets, dogs don’t seem to be all that popular here (especially amongst folks living in apartments) but many people have cats and it’s easy to find food and supplies for cats here. I know several teachers who shipped their cats over from the US with them. This is expensive, but definitely possible. There don’t appear to be many regulations about having pets in apartments, unlike back home, where you would sign a lease that would specify which pets you can have (if any).

my neighbor's kitty playing with my sneakers

Q. Is _______ a fair salary? Can I live on that?

A. There’s a wide range of salaries and it seems to mostly depend on what school you work at, but teachers in the UAE probably make on average 10,000 dirhams a month (around $2700) tax-free. For a single person, keeping in mind that your housing is already paid for, this is quite a comfortable salary in my opinion; to support a family it would be kind of tight I suppose.

Q. Do I need a car there?

A. Again, it depends where you live and where you work. I do not have a car and really have no need for one. I live in the middle of the downtown area, and there are buses and taxis everywhere. I’m told that in Dubai it’s almost impossible to get by without a car, and if you live off the island in Abu Dhabi (say, Khalifa City or Musaffah) it would be impractical not to have one. I would guess that less than half of the teachers at my school own cars.

Q. What is the food like?

A. You can get pretty much any food here that you could get back home. Certain brands might not be available, but many popular restaurant chains (like Chili’s, McDonald’s, Papa John’s, Starbucks, and Pizza Hut) have a strong presence here. The supermarkets have a large selection that is almost comparable to a Stop & Shop in suburban Boston. The only major food issue is that pork products are not widely available. Muslims do not eat pork, and it is not served in any restaurant in Abu Dhabi that I’ve been to (in Dubai I’ve seen it on a few restaurant menus). I know of one store in Abu Dhabi, Spinneys, that does sell pork, in a separate room away from the other foods. I’ve never been much of a pork-eater, so it doesn’t really matter to me, but it is different from the US in that way.

Q. How about alcohol and bars?

A. Alcohol is sold in liquor stores, and in bars that are located inside major hotels—most hotels have several bars. Restaurants outside the hotels are not permitted to serve alcoholic beverages. To buy liquor from a liquor store you have to a) not be a Muslim and b) apply through your employer for a personal liquor license. This is a little tiny booklet with your picture in it where they record at the store whenever you buy alcohol. You are limited to I believe 10% of your salary that can be spent on liquor in any month on your license. This is more than enough unless you’re a serious drunk (in which case the Middle East is probably NOT the place for you). Public drunkenness can get you arrested or deported if you’re not careful, I hear. Fortunately I don’t have personal experience with this, and I don’t intend to find out firsthand!

Abu Dhabi personal liquor license


Q. Will I have problems if I don’t know any Arabic?

A. Nope. It is more of a handicap here not to know English, than not to know Arabic. I have encountered very few situations where a knowledge of Arabic would be helpful, especially since the majority of the residents are from other countries. In fact, besides English, Hindi or Urdu would probably be more useful than Arabic here. Everyone’s situation is different so there may be some schools or neighborhoods where Arabic is essential, but definitely don’t kill yourself trying to learn Arabic before you arrive.

29 responses to “FAQ

  1. Great information and much appreciated. I am a teacher from the U.S. currently pursuing work in UAE. I have one offer for a little over 10,000 AED per month, but I am looking to make a little more. Anyway, glad you found a job that you like and wish you the best of luck. Have a great day!

  2. thanks so much for the info! good luck with everything!

  3. What a wonderful experience you are having already! I found a company on craisglist that now I’m wondering if it’s legit. I will look into the other companies that you mentioned.

    This is big for me. Because of my convictions, I don’t work on Sundays. Is this even fesible to work there in the UAE as a teacher? Is there any way you could shoot me a five word:) e-mail back?

    Thanks so much!
    Michelle

    • Sorry for the long delay in responding. I would say that, frankly, it would be close to impossible to find a teaching job if you were unwilling to work on Sundays. Sunday is a regular workday throughout the Middle East. It would be like trying to find a job in the US where you wouldn’t work on Mondays. Best of luck though, I hope something works out for you!

  4. Sorry, feasible and not fesible.

    If any one else knows the answer to this question (Do teachers always work from Sunday thru Thursday? Won’t work for me), I would appreciate their input as well.

    Sincerely,

    Michelle

  5. Marianne,
    I decided to try for a job and I was not hired. I went with Teach Away and they are a good company. I think it was the interviewer. I am more of a teacher directed kind of a teacher and they are not looking for that. Not saying I could not do that. I’ve subbed in public (4 yrs) and taught in private (5 yrs) and so I know I can. Be ready to give some lesson plan activities off the top of your head. I am now looking into private international schools or English schools in Dubai/Sharjah/Al Ain/Abu Dhabi. Is there anyone that could help me out with a list of addresses? I am really hoping to go there this year. Yes, Marianne, the jobs are horrible here. Maybe try and get with a No Child Left Behind tutoring agency. Pays well. Maybe that will help some if nothing else shows up????
    msarb565@hotmail.com

    • Michelle, I know this response is a long time after your post, but as far as not working on Sundays goes, I would be that way, too, except my church services would be on Friday, so my Sabbath would basically just be changed from Sunday to Friday, which I personally have no problem with.

  6. I would work in public schools there too that teach in English as their first language.
    Thanks!!!

  7. Thank you very much for your practical answers. We are to move in UAE soon for work, and it will most probably be Abu Dhabi instead of Dubai. My wife is a teacher and I hope she can find a job but your post is helping us getting info! Do you think it is useful to look for the job in August or should we wait September? For all the houses / cars / other things to set up for arrival, we have used the site: mubawab (www.mubawab.ae/en) it is both in english and arabic and seems to be quite used by the locals… We are fouding good opportunities for Real Estate anyhow. Hope it can help! Best, Karim

  8. Thanks, your blog has been a big help. I am currently
    working in Thailand and I am thinking of moving to UAE because the
    salary is better, and the weather sounds about the same. I am
    wondering about dress code. How strict is it out there? Will I have
    to be fully covered all the time or is something similar to what I
    can wear in Asia (basically anything as long as its not sleeveless
    and has a reasonably high collar), sufficient? Also, how strict are
    contracts out there? I know in Thailand they mean practically
    nothing. That is to say, most of the schools in UAE seem to have 2
    year contracts. But if I hated it would I be able to leave before
    then?

    • Hi Lune…just wondering if you are still in Thailand? I have been hired to teach in the UAE and am slated to move this August. I can answer your questions if you still want answers. Also I would love , LOVE to hear more about youe experience…as various countries in SE Asia were also on my list of places to teach if I had not gotten this position. Feel free to send me a comment here…and if you reply back then I will message you my details so that we can talk more about it! Happy Teaching!

  9. Pingback: 2010 in review | American Teacher

  10. Hi Mrs. M
    I am currently a semester and a half shy of graduating with a teaching degree and have been doing research on possibly teaching abroad. I am very glad I stumbled upon your website as I’ve found all the information very useful. I value accounts based on first-hand experience!!! That said,
    I am hoping you can answer 2 questions to which I am having trouble finding answers. My 2 questions are:
    1.) What is life like in the UAE for women. Especially American citizen women? What is the daily dress code there? How does it vary based on what you are doing and where you are going (i.e. while teaching; while around town; while on the beach – bathing suits; while going to bars/clubs; etc).
    2.) What is parental outlook on American women teaching there? (Respect for teachers…especially women). What were your parent/teacher conferences like?

    Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope to hear from you soon.
    Lana

  11. I have 31 years of elementary teaching experience. TX, VA, FL, Germany and Australia. I have recently left my wonderful teaching position (2nd grade) in Ft lauderdale to teach science at the University of PA but because of butgets cuts have decided I don’t like my job. Am interested in Abu Dhabi. Have a phone call set for Friday Apr 8th with a recuiter (teach Away). Would love a big change in my life.
    Please, any advice…. Thanks in advance, Joe

  12. I’m a university student, local from Abu Dhabi. Reading other people’s comments about dress code and the party life here in the UAE, i thought maybe I can share my citizen point of view. As a local I don’t have any problem’s being friends with people whom drink or wear whatever they want, (short, backless ..etc). Yes our religion doesn’t allow us to wear shorts but that doesn’t mean its probated here nor is it a problem for us. Although we find it unacceptable to see someone wearing short shorts and a tank who’s walking in the mall. Say if she was in the beach then we would find it normal.

    Hope this helps,

    Shamma

  13. Hello, I find your posting very interesting as I am in an ackward situation. I was born in the Middle East, and I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, GA. I have been teaching at a public school for over five years. I am now looking to move to UAE to teach possible middle, high, or university level. There is one thing that seems to be stopping me; the fact that I am MUSLIM and also GAY. My mom has lived in the Middle East for some time and raised many of her children there. She has visited UAE and states that it is one of the more liberal countries in the Middle East. Also, she states that I would be okay to live there and teach. In fact, she has been encouraging me for sometime to do just that. I have now booked a flight to see the country this March/April. What are your thoughts?

    • I would never recommend that a gay person move to the Middle East. It’s not just illegal there, it could be physically unsafe. While in the UAE I met a guy who was there visiting and had just accepted a very high level job. He was gay and when he saw what the life was like socially for gays there he backed out of the job.

  14. I maybe coming to UAE to work aswell and am a gay man. While I am aware of the cultural attitudes toward homosexuality, I have heard conflicting reports from others living in UAE (i.e. Dubai)– where they say that homosexuality is prevalent but done VERY DISCREETLY and privately. I personally am quite conservative, and feel I could survive at least 2 years without dating. However, I wonder about should I find me a partner for occassional “private sessions of release” in the privacy of my apartment, would that accomodate my needs. I have no need in ruffling UAE religious dictates, yet also worry about having no private companionship for 2 years as well. I wonder are your native neighbors heavily in your private business?

  15. This was so informative and helpful! The details in this forum are so interesting. I am a senior in college majoring in Education in the US, and I’m considering teaching abroad. Thank you again for such a cool insight into what it’s like to teach and live abroad!

  16. @ Love ya, you make some interesting points and ask some questions that abound my mind too. What I am finding such an enigma…that of the African American male with a TEFL certification, along with teaching experience and a graduate degree. Are they in line to get hired by Middle Eastern schools or is it the same xenophobic ideology that I read plagues some Asian countries?

  17. Hi! Infinite thanks for the very informative article. As a soon-to-be college graduate from the US, and very interested in teaching in the UAE, I wanted to know if you could share some insight on the popular requirements for said jobs. Would you say a Bachelors in English, native speaker and a TESOL certificate enough to land me the teaching job I strive for? What sort of credentials did you have during your search? Thanks again!

    • I was/am licensed as an elementary teacher, all subjects grades 1-6 in the US. I have a bachelor’s in political science and a master’s of arts in teaching elementary education. I imagine it would depend on what type of job you are looking for. For classroom teaching jobs, you really need to be a certified teacher (like qualified to work for a public school) in your home country.

  18. Hello, I recently just accepted a position teaching middle school math in Abu Dhabi and I was wondering, if you have time, if you could answer a couple of questions… As a teacher what do you wear to work everyday? Would it be similar to what you would wear as a teacher in the US (dress pants and a conservative shirt?) Have you ever felt unsafe/disrespected while in the city by yourself? I am so excited about this new journey, but I just want to make sure I am as prepared as possible. Thank you so much!

    • Hi! Sorry for taking to long to reply. I wore pretty much exactly the same clothes teaching in AD that I wore in the US. Dress pants and a shirt that is not low cut or too tight. I never wear shorts or skirts anyways, but if you do they have to be at least knee length. I have seen women in AD wearing tank tops/sleeveless shirts, and they got a few stares, but I never saw anyone say anything to them.

      As far as safety, I felt very safe as far as being free from crime or harassment. Compared to other countries I have been to, there was virtually no street crime or even panhandling. They drive a little crazy there, so you have to be careful as a driver/passenger/pedestrian. There were certainly times when I felt disrespected in the sense of “I can’t believe that person was so rude to me!” but not like people making lewd comments or anything.

      Good luck on your adventure!

    • MARCIA PARRISH

      Thank you for your response. I will be 62 this year to respond to your comment. And I meant to say Abu Dhabi, not Dubai. What have you heard about public schools in Abu Dhabi, and why would you only consider teaching at a private, nonprofit school in Abu Dhabi if you returned? Don’t they pay a lot less?

  19. Great article with some info that recruiters don’t mention usually. Curious….is the author of the article still teaching in Dubai? I taught for over 30 years in the same metropolitan Atlanta area as the author. Would the school system in Dubai consider hiring an older, retired teacher from America?

    • I never taught in Dubai, but I taught in Abu Dhabi. I have been back in the US since July of 2010. It depends what you mean by “older,” I suppose, and which school you applied at. From what I’ve heard about the UAE public schools, I would never, ever teach at one, but I can’t speak from personal experience. If I were ever to go back, there are only a few schools I’d be willing to teach at. I would limit myself to American curriculum, non-profit private schools.

      In Abu Dhabi, the oldest teachers I met were probably in their late 50′s, and a few administrators in their 60′s. Some schools have upper age limits and some countries have age limits on granting work visas, but I don’t know off the top of my head whether the UAE does this.

  20. What is it like teaching at a Government School (KG levels)in Abu Dhabi?

    • I haven’t done it and never would. From what I have heard about public (government) schools in the UAE, it sounds absolutely maddening, frustrating, chaotic, and not at all worth it. Even many of the private schools are extremely unpleasant.

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