Life in the UAE: A Single Educator’s Perspective

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

Photo by 401 (K) 2012 via Flickr Creative Commons
Photo by 401 (K) 2012 via Flickr Creative Commons

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.

 

Photo by A. Bannerman
Photo by A. Bannerman

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.

 

Photo by 401 (K) 2012 via Flickr Creative Commons
Photo by 401 (K) 2012 via Flickr Creative Commons

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.

15 Replies to “Life in the UAE: A Single Educator’s Perspective”

  1. There are no taxes in the UAE? Wow. I really didn’t know that. Thanks for all the info though. 🙂 I don’t have any immediate plans to teach in the UAE but it’s on my ‘one day’ list.

  2. Hello! I love your blog. I’m strongly considering teaching abroad, and was wondering: for UAE teaching positions, do I need to be certified to teach English in order to be considered? I am currently certified to teach high school history, but am unsure of whether I can still apply to teaching positions there.

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi, Kamilah! For public school (and many private school) teaching positions, you must be a certified teacher. Since you are, I say give it a go. Better to apply and be told no than not apply and miss out on a yes.

  3. Thanks Timah for sharing your experiences. I hope it’s okay to ask a few questions:
    1. What was the visa application like?
    2. Did you do an interview in person before leaving or was it via Skype etc?
    3. I’m assuming you applied online? Although each individual’s response time is different, how long did it take for you to receive a response?
    4. How do you find integrating within the society?
    5. The school week begins Sunday and ends on Thursday always, or are there times when this differs?

    Forgive my numerous questions, I am interested in working here. Truth be told, I was interested, a bit apprehension, but your post has reignited my desire.

  4. OMG! I have just begun the process of becoming a teacher in the UAE! I am approaching my 50th birthday, both my husband and I and we are empty nesters looking for an adventure. I applied for june 2016. What is the turn around tie for processing? You have answered so many questions and I thank you. I wondered about health/dental/vision coverage and services. I applied with TeachAway…is there another agency you would recommend? Do they, the agencies provide assistance with passports/visas and such? Can’t wait to hear more!

  5. Hi Timah, thanks so much for your wonderful blog. I am a mother of two, is this adventure doable with kids? what about education for the kids and keeping on track with usa’s common core curriculum and health care? what about safety? how safe is this for a single mom with kids?

  6. Thanks so much for this, Timah! Your blog has helped supplement our convos. I really appreciate this info, as I’m on the market as I type!

  7. Hello, I just recently accepted an offer to teach in the UAE in August 2016. I have several questions that I would like to ask you. Do you have an email address? I’m excited and nervous at the same time, because it will only be me so I really like to talk to you some more. I have enjoyed reading your blogs and I find them very helpful.

    1. hi Tiffany , I am just preping for an interview with the UAE MoE in 4 days . I was wondering how long did it take them to offer you the job after the interview ?

      1. hey just seen this comment I am going through the same process now with MOE would be interested to know your experience thanks xx

  8. I currently teach in South Korea and I’m looking into teaching in the UAE. Are there any recruiters that you can recommend. Also, any expat Facebook pages to meet people and find job postings?

  9. Hi Timah,

    I have just come across your blog, thank you for your inside input into life in the UAE.
    I will be working in Ruwais this coming August (3 weeks away)! I have a question, do you have an email address? I’m excited and nervous at the same time. I know Ruwais is in the middle of no where but looking forward to this exciting new adventure.

  10. Hi Timah,

    I am a 33 year old ESL teacher planning to move to Dubai in the next few weeks/months (process has been lengthy). I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions.

  11. Hi, thank you for both of your posts on this subject. Do you have any insights on what someone without a teaching license can do for work there? Or resources on how to find jobs?

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