Important Knowledge Before You Teach English In The UAE
Any mention of teaching English in the UAE and the first image that probably flashes through your mind is the iconic, sail-shaped silhouette of the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai, a 321-metre symbol of opulence in a wealthy land. But the UAE (one of the best countries to teach English abroad) is much more than Dubai. The country is a federation of seven emirates – Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Sharjah, Umm al Quwain and Ras al-Khaimah together post-independence from the British. Each emirate has its ruler and governance system.
When you land your teaching job abroad in the UAE, the first impression is of the searing heat. Nearly 90 per cent of the country is desert land. Fortunately, most schools are in coastal cities. The temperature can go beyond 50-degree celsius in peak summer months even here.
But almost every building is air-conditioned as is the highly sophisticated Dubai metro and the local bus network. Given that they are located in a desert, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are also unbelievably green. If things do get too hot, you can always cool down with an exciting snow-and-skate session at Dubai’s Ice Rink! Yes, in oil-rich UAE, a snowfall in a desert is indeed possible! Given these facilities, coping with the heat is not as severe as you think.
Though things are now changing in the UAE, the country was built by expatriates. In the 1970s and 1980s, given the shortage of skilled workforce and labour, the government had an open immigration policy. Workers and executives from Asia and Europe managed construction sites, schools, banks, supermarkets etc. As a result, the UAE is a diverse, multicultural nation today. There will be several reminders of home in the UAE.
This includes the company of other expatriates from your home country, familiar brands of clothes and groceries, varied cuisine choices.
Over the years, the UAE has become a social melting pot. But culturally, it is still an Islamic country. When teaching in the UAE, please do remember that you are living in a very conservative society. It is also an authoritarian country, with the Government having a large say in how people live their daily lives. Always follow the rules. This is a must if you are to avoid getting into trouble.
Here are a few tips on living whilst teaching English in the UAE:
- Couples are not allowed any public display of affection. Hugging or kissing your partner could lead to a fine or imprisonment.
- Expatriate men should not talk to local women in public or take their photographs. This is construed as sexual harassment.
- No drinking alcohol in public places. Non-Muslims are allowed to drink in licensed areas.
- It would be best if you had a permit to buy and drink alcohol at home.
- Dress conservatively (especially women), though the UAE has no rules regarding outsiders’ hijab or burqa.
- The Government has zero-tolerance for narcotics. It would help if you stayed away from drugs altogether.
- There are strict rules regarding prescription drugs too. So if you are on any medication, find out from your local UAE Embassy whether you can bring it into the country.
- Any disrespect to Islam is punishable by fines and imprisonment. Muslims fast during the day in the holy month of Ramzan. You should avoid eating in public during this fasting period.
- All sexual relations, other than heterosexual marriage, are a crime, and punishable by jail time, deportation or fines. Homosexuality is taboo. You are also not allowed to live with your partner unless you are married. Adultery is punishable.
How Can I Start Teaching English In The UAE?
The UAE has very clear guidelines on the qualifications required for teaching in their schools. You must have a minimum qualification of a bachelor’s degree or a 4-year university degree or higher in the required field.
Opportunities for teaching in the UAE exist in the government school system and private schools. If you are interested in teaching in a government school, you should apply through the Ministry of Education. If you aim to work within the private school system, send your applications directly to individual school administrations.
UAE does not have too many language schools. However, if you are a TEFL certified teacher, you can certainly send in your application to the few language schools that have opened here. The academic year in the UAE begins in September and ends in June. So be prepared to begin your application process by March-April.
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The UAE is very particular about the credentials of teachers in both government and private schools. The preference is for experienced teachers who have obtained their teaching license from a government certified institute in their home country. If you are an experienced, qualified professional teacher, then the UAE has several opportunities for you. On the other hand, if you have just graduated from college and are looking to teach abroad, it might be better to strike UAE off your list of destinations.
What is the UAE's Teachers Licensing System?
The country has made it mandatory for all teachers to have a UAE teacher’s licence from 2021 onwards. How do you go about getting a UAE teacher’s licence? Here is a step-by-step explanation:
- The first step is to register in the Teacher Licensing System. You are then issued an appointment to appear for the testing process.
- There are two tests you need to pass to get the license. The first is a pedagogy test, while the second is based on your specialisation.
- You have to pass both tests to get a license that allows you to work legally as a UAE teacher.
In case you have an international teaching license, you must submit the relevant documents when you register with the Teacher Licence System. A committee will go through your credentials/documents to decide if it is equivalent to the UAE’s teaching license. If the decision is unfavourable, you have to go through the testing process.
Do give the test on the date allotted to you, even if your international licence is under review.
How do I Get a Work Visa To Begin Teaching English In The UAE?
Once you get a job, the school will sponsor your entry permit into UAE. The permit is issued by the General Directorate of Residency and Foreign Affairs. It allows you to enter the country within a specified period and to stay here for two months. During this period, your school has to apply for a residence visa and labour card.
Again the application and paperwork for the residence visa will be made by the school. You will have to undergo an extensive medical check-up at a government-approved health centre in the UAE. Applicants having communicable diseases like HIV or TB are deported immediately. There is no process of appeal if you fail the medical test.
It is also mandatory to get your graduation certificate attested by the UAE Embassy or consulate in your country and from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of your home country. Other documents needed to apply for the residence visa include the filled and signed application form, passport size photographs, original passport and the entry permit.
Some Quick FAQ's On Teaching English In The UAE
Dubai is one of the top places to teach English. Because of this competition is fierce and becuase of the high pay, schools in Dubai and the UAE want the best teachers with the best qualifcations. You can teach English in Dubai with just a bachelors degree however a lot of schools require a Masters Degree & a teaching qualification or teaching certificate (not TEFL related)
The UAE pays some of the highest salaries available to English Teachers in the world. If you work in the ESL industry in the UAE at a language school, you can expect to make upto $3000 USD, if you work at an International school in the UAE you can expect this to be close to double.
Yes it is possible to teach English in the UAE without a bachelors degree or teaching degree. However it will be very difficult due to the competion from other qualified teachers. Equally the schools or language centres who do employ you in the UAE may not be the most ‘professional’ So be careful and do your research.
Once the residence visa is granted, it is pasted onto your passport. The visa is valid for three years and allows you to move freely in and out of the UAE during this period.
The school will apply for a labour card after your residence visa goes through. You need to submit almost the same set of documents along with the residence visa. Once the labour card is issued, you have all the legal documents required for your stay and work in the UAE.
The Experience of Teaching English in a UAE School
A UAE classroom in a private school is exciting as you will teach students of different nationalities and ethnicities. That makes teaching in the UAE a rewarding experience. Most teachers carry home warm memories of the synergies created by the cultural and social diversity in their classroom.
Public schools in the UAE work from 7.30 am to 2.30 pm. You will have a five day week. However, during the weekdays, your working hours may extend beyond the official school timing as teachers are expected to be involved in workshops and tutorials. The students are the local Emirati children, though many parents nowadays prefer to send their children to private schools.
The salaries for teachers are extremely lucrative in public schools. Your monthly pay cheque could be in the range of $3500-$5000. Other benefits include family accommodation, health insurance, flight tickets for you and your family to travel home for the summer break and a year’s bonus at the end of the contract period. The contracts are for two years and may be renewed.
The attractive salary is offset slightly because you have to be prepared to be placed in any location in the public school system. You have no choice or voice regarding your placement.
The salaries and benefits in private schools do not match the Government’s offer in the public school system but are still very attractive. Your salary would be $2500-$4000 depending on your qualifications.
While the public school benefits extend to the entire family, this is not the case in private schools. You might have to share accommodation. While your flight ticket to travel home during the annual summer break will be paid for, it would not cover your family’s travel expenses.
School timings and breaks are the same as in the public school system. Teachers are expected to commit their time to organise extra-curricular activities for students and to provide extra teaching support if needed.
Schools in wealthy UAE have the latest equipment and facilities. For example, traditional classrooms are now exploring e-learning platforms. Homework is done online, and lessons are also uploaded for ease of learning. Resources are shared online. So if you are planning to apply for a job in the UAE, you need to brush up on your knowledge of e-learning tools.
How expensive is Daily Life As An International Teacher In The UAE?
The cost of living depends on where you live in the UAE. Dubai is the most expensive emirate vis-a-vis the cost of living, though it also offers the best lifestyle. The cost of living in emirates like Sharjah and Al Amin is lower. Some expatriates work in Dubai and live in Sharjah to cut down on costs. However, torrid traffic jams and the long commute can affect your quality of life.
Housing will be the highest component of your monthly expenses. If your contract provides accommodation, you can relax! Your saving potential has just gone up by 38 per cent! Yes, that’s how high rents can be here. Rentals and in this example for a one-person house in the central part of the city is around $1200. If you move further away from the city, the rents decline to $900.
This is apart from the utility charges, for which you will have to shell out another $160 per month. This includes your electricity, heating, water and garbage disposal bills. Food and kitchen staples are also expensive, and your grocery bill will eat up at least 23 per cent of your earnings.
As for entertainment, a meal at a low-cost restaurant will be approx $8-$10, a movie ticket costs around the same, and a monthly membership at a fitness club will set you back by $75. You will have to pay around $150 for a monthly internet plan. Remember that there are restrictions on the use of internet in the UAE and selected sites and apps are blocked.
Live a Vibrant Life in a Desert
Most of the country is a desert. But you can be forgiven for often forgetting this fact. Other than the heat, there is little to remind you of the desert when you live and teach in the bigger cities of UAE. Iconic buildings, massive malls, landscaped open spaces, busy markets. This desert offers infinite possibilities for living a good life, making UAE so enticing and a sure hit on our best countries to teach English with teachers.
There is plenty to do once you are free from your school duties in the evening. A visit to one of the luxury malls for some retail therapy is always a good way to perk up your mood. During winters, there is a lot of colour and activity on the beaches. The Kite Beach in Dubai, Corniche in Abu Dhabi, Ajman Beach in Ajman each have their advantages.
The Kite is a busy beach with eating joints and lots of activities, while the Corniche has some secluded places where you can relax with a book and chill. Ajman offers serenity and tranquillity. There are more than 20 other beaches to choose from! An evening out with the surf and waves is a perfect way to get ready for school the next day.
The malls have their charm, but to capture the spirit of the land, you must visit the quaint souks. With their fascinating wares and persuasive stall owners, these traditional markets have a unique energy and verve that will enthral you. Every souk has its speciality. There is a gold souk, spice souk, perfume souk, textile souk and many more. The souk will soon become an important part of your daily life here. However, it would help if you learned the art of bargaining before venturing out to the souk.
Eating out is a passion among the residents here. As per a study, the UAE has the highest number of food and beverage outlets, per capita globally. The restaurant sector is thriving with plenty of choices in terms of cuisines, budget and ambience. New eating places pop up regularly, so there is always something new to discover and explore.
Your Must-Do List in the UAE
Look Down on the World from the Burj Khalifa
The world’s tallest building is a marvel of architecture and design. The Burj Khalifa stands at 828 metres and has two observation platforms on the 124th floor and the 148th floor. The view from the top is, of course, indescribable. Suffice to say that you must go to the top of the world at the Burj Khalifa if you get the chance.
Catch the Pulse of Eternity at the Liwa Oasis
The Liwa Oasis is like the last frontier on earth. Beyond, is the undulating 650,000 km stretch of the desolate but starkly beautiful Rub Al Khali desert. The Oasis is also the historical home of the founders of Abu Dhabi, the Al Nahyan family. The villages, the date palms and the towering dunes have a timeless air about them. The Rub Al Khali desert is known as the Empty Quarter, and as you gaze at its endless, eternal sands from Liwa, the world recedes into insignificance.
Teachers Sharing Their Personal Experience Teaching English In The UAE
Should Teaching English In The UAE Be On Your List?
The UAE is not an easy destination for teachers looking for opportunities abroad. Getting a job here is difficult for new graduates as the preference is for well qualified, experienced teachers. With the UAE teachers’ license becoming mandatory by 2021, the job market is likely to be further squeezed.
However, if you do get an offer, the UAE offers great saving potential, a comfortable lifestyle and an immersion into a new culture that will enrich your life.