I am often asked questions about my experience in the UAE. I’m always happy to answer, but know that I can only speak from the perspective of a young, single, childless professor living and working in Abu Dhabi. With that being said, allow me to answer some of the most recently asked questions about work and finances.
What’s it like being an educator in Abu Dhabi?
Try to remember that the education system in Abu Dhabi is still in the process of reform. Instruction is done in English, and learning no longer means simply memorizing and parroting back the information your teacher told you. This has an effect on schools from KG all the way up through Higher Ed. Since you likely come from a country that is older than the UAE, which is only 43 years young, and are an experienced educator, you are an asset to this system. You may not always be treated this way, but you can help turn things around. I didn’t say this would be easy, but I’m still naive enough to believe that you can make a difference. Teaching at a public school here, whether it’s in K-12 or other, is very much like teaching ELL populations at inner city or lower tier rural schools in the USA. You will be frustrated. You will be stressed. You will be challenged. You will be just fine. Remember not to take the negatives home with you after work. Enjoy the good moments in the classroom, and take advantage of the opportunities afforded you by this lifestyle.
What is the salary for educators?
Assuming you’re from one of the coveted 7 (UK, USA, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, or Ireland), the salary will vary based upon your credentials, position, experience, and institution. From my understanding, ADEC teachers (K – 12 public school) will net slightly more than private school teachers. Administrators in these schools will make more than teachers. Vocational or technical school teachers may earn more than them. In the higher ed level, nationality isn’t as big of a factor. At least, not at my school. Your salary depends on your credentials and position. Lecturers have only a Masters degree and will earn less than professors who have PhDs or EdDs. Higher ed educators are usually paid more than K-12 educators. Emiratis will earn at least 2 times more than all of us. To give you an idea, female graduates of the Emirati-only college where I work who become public school teachers will earn a minimum salary equivalent to over $13,600 USD a month. Due to a shortage of male Emirati teachers and other cultural responsibilities men have, male graduates of my college who become teachers will earn a minimum salary equivalent to over $19,000 USD a month. These are both considered low paying jobs for Emiratis.
Is the salary really tax free?
All salaries are tax free as there are no taxes in the UAE. If you happen to be a lucky citizen of the USA, your foreign income may be subject to taxation if you make over a certain amount. Remember that, while you may very well be exempt from paying US taxes, you are not exempt from filing US taxes. Silly, I know. But those are the rules if you’d like to keep benefiting from your fancy blue passport. Have a look at the IRS website to learn more about filing taxes with foreign income.
Is housing expensive?
You bet! Rental prices in Abu Dhabi can be quite high. The cheaper places are usually in older buildings or outside of the city. The pricier places will have great views, amenities, and prime locations. For example, I chose to live in a neighborhood with many other expats in a place that is moderately priced with a decent view and good amenities in the building. Last year, the rent for my furnished 2 bedroom/2 bathroom/laundry room apartment was about $3,400 USD a month. After this year’s rent increase, the price is around $3,575 USD a month. But don’t expect to pay in monthly installments. All landlords want a year’s worth of rent to be paid up front in one check. Most landlords will accept 2 or 3 checks, but may add an additional fee for this convenience. Don’t worry! More than likely, your job will provide you with a housing allowance to cover your rent. Or, they will provide you with housing where you are only responsible for paying utilities and maintenance costs.
What about saving? I heard the cost of living is very high.
I find the cost of living to be high in some areas, but salaries for the coveted 7 expats are generally high to compensate. Groceries, especially those that are imported from UK/USA/Australia, can run you a pretty penny. Clothing at large chain department stores or fast fashion places is higher than it would be in the USA, but there’s also no tax. Gas is crazy cheap considering that the lowest grade unleaded gas here costs around $1.67 USD a gallon and is the same octane level, 95, as premium gas in the USA. Labor is also very inexpensive. You can hire a cleaning company to manage your household chores for as little as $14 (or sometimes less) an hour. You can even have 2 weeks worth of laundry picked up, cleaned, pressed, and delivered back to you for less than $40. Meals and drinks can be very pricey at the top tier venues, but there are coupons, groupons, and specials that you can take advantage of to cut costs. Saving can be done if you’re savvy.
Your situation may be different, but I came here to travel, save money, and become debt free in 33 months. I’m currently on track to knock out nearly six figures of student loan and consumer debt in 23 more months. I send money home, tuck some away in savings, set some aside for vacation, pay my bills in the UAE, and have fun with whatever remains. I enjoy shopping, brunch, concerts, camping, hiking, sporting events, and evenings out with friends, but I also enjoy staying in my apartment in my pjs watching a movie or TV series on most weekends. I live in an apartment with a rental price below my housing allowance and drive a used car. Try not to get caught up in living the flashy lifestyle and living beyond your means, and you’ll be fine.
Do you have any other questions about working and finances as an expat in Abu Dhabi that weren’t answered in this post? Feel free to leave your question in the comment box or shoot me an email. I’ll try to get to it in another post.