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Teaching English in Dubai & The United Arab Emirates (The Country Guide)

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Lonely sand dunes and bumping night clubs, stately camels and shiny BMWs. Colorful minarets pushed up next to the tallest building in the world. 

Welcome to the UAE, a country that lies at the nexus of modernity and tradition.

You’ll find that this country has everything you’ve ever dreamed of, but that it feels nothing like home.

If teaching English in the United Arab Emirates sounds interesting to you — and if you hear the call of the hefty paycheck you can earn here — read on.

This article gets into the nitty-gritty of what it’s like to teach here, focusing on Dubai but also touching on the other emirates.

It’s got all the information you need to find a job and jet off to the kingdom.

Quick Info: TEFL Jobs in the UAE
Available JobsPublic schools; private language institutions; universities
Visa RequirementsTEFL (or equivalent); bachelor’s degree; passport from an English-speaking country
Monthly Teacher Salary$1,800-$5,000
Monthly Living Cost$900-$1,500 (without rent)
Peak Hiring MonthsYear-round; especially November
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Fast Facts About the UAE

The UAE (United Arab Emirates) is an affluent state and has the seventh-largest oil reserves in the world. This country of 9.44 million people is located at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula and borders Oman and Saudi Arabia, though Qatar, Bahrain, Iran, and Yemen are also nearby. 

The UAE consists of seven emirates, the most notable of which are Abu Dhabi, which is the capital, and Dubai. 

The other five emirates are Ajman, Sharjah, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, and Umm Al Quwain. Each emirate is ruled by its own emir or commander, but together they make up a sovereign constitutional monarchy. 

Arabic is the official language of the Emirates, and Islam is the official religion. 

If you decide to teach English in the UAE, you’ll be in good company: a full 84% of UAE residents are expats!

The weather in the UAE is beautiful, and this wealthy country has tons of attractions and even the world’s tallest building. 

However, that doesn’t mean it’s just like home. As a strict Muslim country, women are relegated to the women’s section of the bus and should dress modestly in all public places. Sex outside of marriage is prohibited, as is drinking in many places and even cursing and gossiping. 

It’s a huge culture shift, but if you’re willing to modify your lifestyle to live here you’ll find yourself with a handsome paycheck, a comfortable lifestyle, and no taxes. 

A note: This article will talk mostly about Dubai and Abu Dhabi because that’s where the bulk of jobs (and people) are, but it will also touch on the rest of the country. 

Highrise buildings in Dubai, UAE (Photo: knt, Unsplash)

Basic Requirements to Teach English in the UAE

In order to get a job teaching English in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or the UAE in general, you should at the minimum have a bachelor’s degree, a TEFL certificate or something equivalent, and a passport from an English-speaking country. 

Note that many schools also prefer teachers to have master’s degrees, teaching certificates, or experience teaching in a country like the U.S. or U.K., but these are by no means requirements.

The job market in the UAE and Dubai, in particular, is one of the most competitive in the world due to the high salaries, lack of taxes, and high quality of living here. 

So if you feel that you’re not qualified for a job here yet or are having a hard time finding work here, consider working in your home country or a different place like Oman or China for a year or so while you build up the experience to qualify for a job in the UAE.

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TEFL Courses in Dubai

Because the visa process in the UAE is pretty intensive, many people choose to get certified online or in another country and then enter the Emirates once they’ve gotten a job and a work visa. 

However, there are a few TEFL courses offered in the UAE that you can take advantage of:

Online Courses

If you decide to get TEFL certified online before entering the country, check out this guide to online TEFL certification! You might also look into getting certified in a neighboring country if you want to get a feel for the region before starting to teach English in Dubai or one of the other emirates.

Job Opportunities and Salaries

There are generally two kinds of schools you can teach at in the UAE. Let’s get into what your options are, what the pay is at each, and what sets each option apart. 

General Working Conditions and Salaries

  1. The work (and school) week in the UAE is Thursday through Sunday! 
  2. Contracts are usually 2-3 years, so don’t come here if you’re not ready to make a commitment. Contract completion usually comes with a generous bonus, though!
  3. Most teachers in the UAE make $3,000-$5,000 a month.
  4. When calculating your salary, remember that it’s completely tax-free and that many schools include housing allowances, health care, and ample vacation time in their compensation packages.

Public Schools

You’ll generally need a teaching license to teach in a public school, but if you find work in a public school you’ll be rewarded with generous vacation time (8-10 weeks a year) and a healthy salary. 

Public schools are usually gender-segregated, and you’ll teach local students.

You may find yourself working long hours or teaching a lot of different classes in a public school — especially if you’re the only ESL teacher in your school.

International Schools

If you work at an international school, your students will be locals and expats alike.

You may be able to teach a subject beside ESL in English if you work at an international school, especially if you have a background in another subject.

International schools tend to offer teachers good benefits packages, including shared housing, airfare, and completion bonuses.

They’re also a little more flexible about requirements for teachers than public schools.

Language Centers

You’ll mostly only find language centers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and if you get a job at a language center you’ll teach adults who want to learn English or students who want to practice English more outside of school (or more accurately, students whose parents want them to practice more).

You may work nights and weekends to accommodate your students at a language center, as they’ll be taking classes outside of regular school hours. 

You’ll be compensated well as a teacher at a language institute, and you’ll probably get a housing stipend (as opposed to housing provided by the school) as well as flight reimbursement and other freebies.  

Universities

If you teach at a university or vocational school, you’ll most certainly need a teaching license, but you again may be able to teach a subject apart from English if you have expertise in another field. 

University professors can make $3,000 to $5,000 a year in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and they generally get 8 weeks of paid vacation time plus benefits. 

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Hiring & Application Process

You should apply to jobs online before you enter the UAE. Most teachers find jobs through recruiters here, as they can help streamline the application process and help you figure out what kind of job you need. 

Contracts in the UAE tend to be for 2-3 years, so make sure to ask potential employers lots of questions and read through the fine print carefully before accepting a job. 

The job search might take you a couple of months, so allot plenty of time for it and make sure to give yourself enough time so that you’re not rushing into a job without being sure in your commitment.

As you search, keep in mind that it’s hard to get a job in the UAE without prior teaching experience.

If you’re a recent grad, consider teaching ESL abroad or at home for a few years to build up a portfolio before starting to look for work here.

Here are some online resources to help you find a teaching job in the UAE:

Visa Requirements

In many parts of the world, you can fly to your destination on a tourist visa and then look for jobs and convert it to a work visa once you’re in the country. 

That strategy does not apply to the UAE. 

While it’s technically possible to arrive in the country and then get a visa, it’s a giant hassle to do so and you’ll save yourself a giant hassle if you just get a job and a proper work visa before you enter the country.

The visa process takes 1-3 months and the job hunt can take another month or so, so start planning your move to the UAE well before your desired departure date.

You’ll need the following documents for your work visa:

Required Documents for the Visa Application

  • A color headshot of yourself against a white background
  • A copy of your passport, which should be valid for at least 6 months from your departure date
  • A notarized copy of your diploma(s)
  • A letter of approval from your employer

For more information about the visa process, you can visit the website of the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MOHRE)

However, your employer should be knowledgeable about the visa process and will walk you through the process as well as reimbursing you for the visa cost, so you won’t need to worry too much about the details.

Accommodation

Schools in the UAE usually provide either housing or a housing stipend. 

If you end up living in school-provided housing, you may find yourself sharing quarters with other teachers or living in a district apartment far from your school, so be sure to double-check what kind of housing setup schools usually do to make sure they work for you before signing a contract.

If you end up renting your own apartment, you’ll probably end up paying about $1,500 a month for a one-bedroom in Dubai, or slightly less for a shared apartment or housing in another emirate.

You’ll probably have to sign a one-year lease, and you may have to pay up to 3 months’ rent as a deposit upon moving in.

Here are some online resources you can use to find housing in the UAE:

The Financials of Teaching in the UAE

You’ll make a lot of money in the UAE, but life here can also be expensive — especially if you like to splurge.

You’ll find lots of opportunities to indulge in fineries and big nights out, which can really cut into your paycheck, but if you’re even a little conservative you’ll save quite a lot.

The cost of living in Dubai and Abu Dhabi is pretty much on par with any affluent country. Expect things to cost about as much as they would in England or the United States or more. 

Numbeo’s breakdown of basic expenses in the UAE can help you calculate what your monthly outlay might be. 

While you’re calculating, keep in mind that many schools provide teachers with free airfare to and from their home countries, and they also offer generous bonuses upon completion of 2- or 3-year contracts. 

Oh, and all income in the UAE is tax-free. How’s that for a pocket padder?

With the generous income and all these bonuses, you can easily save $25,000-$35,000 a year in the UAE without living like a monk or rubbing pennies together for heat.

The Best Cities to Teach English in the UAE

Dubai

The Burj al Arab in Dubai, UAE (Photo: Roman Logov, Unsplash)

Dubai is the capital city of the Emirate of Dubai, and with a population of 3.137 million people it’s also the most populous city in the UAE.

If you like beaches and brunch, you’ll love teaching English in Dubai. This world-class city is a dream destination for anyone who wants to make a lot of money — and spend a lot of money, too. 

A global business home and home to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, Dubai is the place to be. It’s got tons of expats, good nightlife, and beautiful scenery.

It’s also got the most English teaching jobs, so even though the job market is competitive here you’ll be able to find a job if you search hard and are qualified.

Abu Dhabi

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE (Photo: David Rodrigo, Unsplash)

The city of Abu Dhabi is the capital of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and the UAE as a whole. 

With a population of 1.206 million, Abu Dhabi is certainly bustling, but it feels a little more relaxed than Dubai. 

It’s also a little older, a little more staid, a little cheaper, a little greener. Both cities are full of opulence, beautiful scenery, and all the amenities you could possibly want, but if you want a lifestyle that’s a little more laidback, choose Abu Dhabi.

And don’t worry: there are plenty of teaching jobs to be had in the UAE’s capital city.

Al-Ain

Also located in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and home to 766,936 people, Al Ain is the fourth most populous city in the Emirates. 

Though the city is smaller and more relaxed than Dubai and Abu Dhabi, it has major shopping malls, an airport, and the world’s largest date company!

Come to Al Ain for sultry desert, lush gardens, rejuvenating mineral waters, and a relaxing way of life. 

And while the job market here is smaller than in more major cities, Al Ain still has enough jobs to go around — and the market is less competitive here. 

Sharjah

With a population of over a million people, Sharjah is the third most populous city in the Emirates and is the capital of the Emirate of Sharjah. 

While it’s less famous than Abu Dhabi and Dubai, this gorgeous coastal city that lies along the Arabian Peninsula is well worth a visit (or perhaps a move?).

Sharjah has a far different feel than the two most populous cities in the UAE: it’s less glitzy and high-rolling, no alcohol is permitted in the entire emirate, and it’s got fewer tall buildings than rolling greens and stately architecture. 

If you’re outdoorsy, you should definitely consider moving to Sharjah. It’s got a sprawling national park, lots of forest, waterfront, and wildlife, and a wonderful aquarium. 

For people who love culture and art, the city also has some beautiful museums and is even the permanent home of the Rain Room (if you know, you know).

Sharjah is a wealthy city with lots of private schools as well as a number of colleges and universities clustered in a place aptly called University City. These learning institutions provide plenty of opportunities to teach English in this city.

Ajman

Although this city is small, with a population of under 500,000, it’s become a popular tourist destination thanks to massive efforts to improve its amenities and tourist attractions over the last several years — and thanks to its proximity to Sharjah. 

Ajman is the capital of the Emirate of Ajman. It makes good use of its coastline, offering attractions like kayaking and beachside dining. You can also ride camels, tour the desert, and hike in a nature reserve! Plus, this city is only 40 minutes from Dubai.

Ajman’s ESL job market is definitely on the smaller side, but an influx of expats and tourists is leading to an increased demand for English education among locals who want to be able to communicate with and better serve Westerners. 

Ras Al Khaimah (RAK City)

RAK City has a population of just over 115,000 and is the capital of its emirate, which borders an Omani exclave and the Persian Gulf. The city has two major areas, and elsewhere in the emirate, there are gated communities as well as a smattering of villages and towns. 

Ras Al Khaimah is one of the longest continually inhabited places on earth, making it a great destination for history buffs. 

It’s also becoming a tourist destination, and in fact, has built the longest zip line in the world. And with all that tourism comes an influx of ESL jobs. 

Fujairah

Located on the Gulf of Oman, Fujairah City has a population of 97,226 and is the capital city of the Emirate of Fujairah.

The city has a number of malls and outdoor markets, as well as a host of mountains, beaches, mosques, and forts. 

If you’re looking for natural beauty and a break from the hustle and bustle, this is the destination for you. If you’re looking for a job and an expat community, though, maybe not so much.

Umm Al Quwain

This is the least populous of the emirates, with a population of just 72,000 in the metro area. It has some interesting historical relics like forts and ruins, and it also has a giant water park that draws tourists.

You won’t find many expats here, but if you’re looking for a traditional Muslim way of life in a smaller, less happening area, then this may be the destination for you. 

It may be hard to find jobs here because there isn’t too much demand for ESL work, but if you decide you want to live here at least you won’t have a lot of competition!

Classroom and Work Culture

Although the UAE is similar to the States and Britain in certain regards, in many respects it’s very, very different. 

We’ve listed some aspects of the classroom and general culture that may surprise you to try to give you a better sense of what the country is like.

The Students May Be Uninterested

Many teachers complain that students in the UAE can be unattentive, disengaged, and bored. This can make teaching extra frustrating, and it may be a shock to you if you’ve taught somewhere like China where students tend to be studious and eager to learn.

Don’t Break the Law

This is obvious, right? However, it’s worth mentioning because breaking the law in the UAE is punishable with serious sentencing, even for foreigners. 

Casual drug use, PDA, taking pictures of strangers without their permission, and other offenses that might seem minor could lead to deportation or worse. 

Understand and follow the law and you’ll be fine here.

Modesty is Encouraged in the Workplace

While you can wear whatever you want when you’re at a nightclub or brunch spot, for the most part, you should dress conservatively in the classroom — perhaps more conservatively than you’re used to. That means no exposed knees or elbows, and nothing see-through or too tight. 

Follow the lead of other teachers at the school to make sure you’re dressing appropriately. And don’t be afraid to ask if you’re not sure what the rules and norms are in your area!

Last Thoughts

The UAE is truly a place all its own, a cultural mishmash full of tradition and newness, strict laws and total fun. 

Let’s recap some of the finer points in the article:

You can make quite a lot of money teaching here and indeed can save up to $35,000 a year without scrounging too much. 

Most of the teaching jobs in the UAE are in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which is also where most of the expats are. 

You should probably apply to teaching jobs through a recruiter before entering the UAE so that you can get your work visa sorted out before you arrive.

The visa process and job application process can take 4-6 months in total, so leave plenty of time to figure out your teaching situation before you plan on departing!

If you’re interested in teaching here, we hope this article has been helpful and we wish you good luck on your journey. 

Find other great places to teach English abroad here.

Feel free to comment below with any last questions about teaching ESL in the UAE!

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