Nine top tips for teachers moving to the UAE

Education experts share their advice for teachers taking the next step in their career in the Emirates

Pupils on their first day of in-person learning after the pandemic at Indian High School in Oud Metha, Dubai. Ruel Pableo / The National
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The UAE is a popular destination for teachers who want to advance their careers and embark on a new chapter in their lives.

Thousands of teachers choose the UAE as their new home every year, with attractions including a tax-free salary and year-round sun.

For many, this will be their first time living and working overseas, which brings challenges and opportunities.

Here is a list of nine top tips for teachers preparing to move to the UAE, compiled with input from education experts who understand the teaching culture and environment in the Emirates.

1. Research, research and more research

The first recommendation from experts is for teachers to do their homework.

Teachers should research everything, including the school they are going to join, the culture of the emirate they have decided to live in and the work-life balance they can expect to have.

Sorcha Coyle, a career coach and founder of Empowering Expat Teachers, a community for those planning to work abroad, spoke of the need to be prepared.

“This a huge and very exciting move, personally, professionally and financially,” she said.

“I would plan at least a year or six months in advance and have a tight career strategy in place.

“I really would say because you're going to spend so much time of your life in the school, really research the school and the company if it's part of a group.”

She also advised teachers to look up feedback from past and present staff at the school they wished to work at and review the curriculum.

Ms Coyle added that teachers need to ensure that they pick an emirate and school that matches their values and goals.

While some might prefer a city with a larger population of foreign residents, others may like a smaller community.

2. Salaries can vary

Salaries offered can vary greatly from school to school. Depending on whether you are working in a private or government-run school, its rating and curriculum are also factors at play.

Salaries can range from Dh3,500 to Dh22,200. Typically, more experience results in higher pay.

In many schools, salaries include accommodation, transport and an annual flight home.

Candidates should comb over the details of the financial package they are being offered before putting pen to paper.

3. Document checks are crucial

Talat Goldie, human resources director at Taaleem, one of UAE’s largest school groups, said teachers need to make sure they have the right documents in place.

Taaleem has about 80-100 new teachers join them from outside the UAE every year.

“They have to make sure they have tonnes of copies of everything, that the documents are properly attested and that things are properly certified,” Ms Goldie said.

Victoria James, regional head of development at Tes Institute, advised teachers to check their qualifications in advance and ensure these would be accepted by the UAE's Ministry of Education.

4. Be aware of labour laws and study terms and conditions carefully

Ms Goldie recommended that any teacher taking on a new job in the UAE should understand the terms and conditions properly, and also read up on the labour laws that could be different from their home countries.

She said that teachers need to be up to speed on some of the basics of terminations, resignations, grievances and harassment and should be aware of their rights.

5. Study and understand the culture

Teachers are also advised to research the country they are moving to.

Ms Goldie said that what they do with their team in terms of integration is to "take them through the culture, the do's and don'ts, what they should be careful of”.

She said they ensured the staff understood the customs of Ramadan, for example.

Ms Goldie said that teachers could look these up on social media themselves to be fully versed in the societal norms of their new home.

6. Embrace a multicultural workplace

Teachers should be prepared to work in a culturally diverse environment, reflective of the multicultural make-up of the Emirates.

“Because of the diversity, there're so many different viewpoints. I think that they need to prepare themselves for different cultures which they have never worked in before,” Ms Goldie said.

Victoria James explained that at Tes Institute, they run an international teaching practice course, which focuses on introducing teachers to being an instructor in an international environment.

Teachers are taught how to engage with parents and given a deeper look at special education needs within international school settings.

7. Assess cost of living so that you are not caught off guard

Utility bills and general living costs in the UAE can often differ from those that teachers are used to paying back home. Experts recommend that teachers research and compare utility prices so that they have an idea of what they can expect to pay.

Ms Goldie said that many teachers realise only after they arrive that Dubai can be a fairly expensive place.

“I think one of the things they struggle with and should prepare themselves for is to really understand averages on what they can expect to pay on a monthly basis for groceries, utilities and transport,” Ms Goldie said.

8. Understand the difference in school cultures across the world

Ms Coyle said that teachers needed to be aware that many of schools in the UAE are private institutions, not publicly funded, which can make for a different dynamic.

“The expectations when you come from a state school, like the majority of us do in Ireland, UK, America, South Africa … it's very corporate [in the UAE] and in many cases that can be a shock,” Ms Coyle said.

“That also means that schools can be run by people who aren't teachers.

“They set targets and their staff have to meet them. There is a lot of pressure that you may not be used to back home. Be prepared for that and do not take it personally.”

9. Find your community and support network

Many teachers moving to the UAE are away from their families for the first time or at least at a greater distance than before.

Teachers should try to develop a support network and build up their social circle.

“I would say, say yes to everything for the first three months,” said Ms Coyle.

“Go to every meetup you can go to, any sports team event. Just for those first few months, try everything and see what sticks.

“Go to every invite and decorate your apartment, spend that money, make it your home. You can buy things second-hand, but I would definitely say from like September to Christmas is a crucial point because you're in your probation period.

“It's a big upheaval and you start to get homesick, it's coming to December holidays. And you find some teachers don't come back after the holidays. After the December holidays, I would say come back … it gets better.”

Talk to as many teachers as possible about their experiences and ask questions, she suggested.

Updated: January 29, 2024, 7:25 AM