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My Life Living And Teaching In Abu Dhabi

Guest posts

Teachers in Europe or the United States may have heard other teachers returning and sharing their stories of what life was like for them as they engaged in an English teaching job in the Middle East, specifically the United Arab Emirates (UAE). If those stories pique your interest and you want to know more, let me share what such an experience can be like.

The nation of the United Arab Emirates is actually seven independently governed emirates. The largest cities of the UAE are Abu Dhabi City and Dubai. Abu Dhabi is one of the seven emirates with Abu Dhabi City its capital. It is a cosmopolitan city populated by native Arabs as well as many expats. From shopping malls to beautiful beaches, a teaching job in the UAE will never be boring. If you are an ambitious educator and desire to grow professionally and have the chance to explore the Middle East, Abu Dhabi is the perfect place.

Any teaching job in the UAE can be a challenging cultural experience for any Westerner as well as a challenging job. With a strong desire to modernize education systems and provide the best education possible, much is expected from teachers in the Middle East. However, don’t let that discourage you from seeking out teaching jobs in the UAE, because it is an unmatchable, amazing experience certain to transform your life. Teaching jobs in the Middle East are rewarding and create the opportunity to gain invaluable experience while participating in historical, ongoing, educational reform.

The Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) was established in 2005 by the government to manage education initiatives from early childhood throughout a student’s higher education.  2009 reforms of high international standards seek to prepare the youth of Abu Dhabi for the future society and economy they will participate in. Spring and summer are the typical seasons when schools are hiring, however recruitment is a year-round activity.

Qualifying for teaching jobs in Abu Dhabi require that you are a native English speaker, fluent in English, have a Bachelor’s Degree, are currently certified or licensed to teach, with two years of teaching experience in an accredited school after certification or licensing. TEFL certification is, therefore, highly recommended.  The type of experience desired can be full-time in the classroom, substitute teaching, or teaching in international school or public school in other countries.  To increase your chances to land the best job, it’s easy to see that acquiring experience is an important consideration.

Learning English is a core subject that is part of Abu Dhabi’s educational plan. As an English Medium Teacher (EMT), teachers are responsible for one or more core subjects that are taught in the English language, such as English, Science and Math. ADEC uses a curriculum that is student-centered and outcome based and it will be your responsibility as a teacher to help your students develop their skills and meet the standards of the outcomes. From day to day, expect to prepare lessons, assess progress, administer tests, and grade papers.

Although specific work schedules will vary from school to school, a teaching job in Abu Dhabi typically consists of about thirty hours weekly, Sunday through Thursday.  Apart from kindergarten, all other classes are gender segregated. Female teachers may instruct both genders but male teachers may only instruct male students. Although some of the students might have had exposure to the English language, their communication abilities will most likely be limited. That, of course, is why you are there, to help your students gain a higher level of command of the English language and become bilingual.

Teaching jobs in Abu Dhabi usually involve a two year contract and, of course, a residency visa. Most contracts include a twelve month salary, airfare, assistance for obtaining a visa, furnished accommodations or a housing and furniture allowance, medical insurance, two months paid vacation and paid national holidays. Considering these factors in determining just where in the Middle East you want to teach, Abu Dhabi is, perhaps, one of the best places to choose. There are also chances to renew teaching contracts, advance, and gain administrative experience.

An abundance of teaching jobs in the UAE are easy to explore - many of them are teaching jobs in Abu Dhabi. Public schools and private schools both have a great need for English teachers.  Most teaching jobs in the Middle East will provide living accommodations or a housing allowance.  You may even receive a furniture allowance if housed in an unfurnished apartment. Utilities will usually be your own responsibility. Other expenses to plan for will be food, clothes, entertainment and transportation. It’s possible your housing will be further than walking distance from the school you will be teaching at. Using taxis, leasing a car or buying a second hand car is an easy and affordable solution. Depending on personal lifestyle choices, when teaching in Abu Dhabi, you can expect to save sixty to seventy percent of your monthly salary.


Teaching jobs in Abu Dhabi, depending on qualifications, pay between 12,000-20,000 AED. That translates to about $3,000-$5,000 USD. Expect to be paid by direct deposit in UAE dirhams. Opening a bank account in Abu Dhabi to access your salary is easy and there are many banking institutions to choose from.  You will want to bring some money from home with you because it may be about six to eight weeks from the time of your arrival before you get your first paycheck. Once you are ready to do a little shopping, you can use a credit card or cash to make your purchases.

Although modern and offering the best of the West in an Arab city, Abu Dhabi is a bit more low key than Dubai and not quite as busy of a city. The city offers malls, theatres, restaurants, private fitness gyms, beautiful beaches, and nightclubs. If you want to enjoy a glass of wine or pint of beer, you will need to apply for a permit.

With old world charm blended with modern sophistication, take advantage of forming great friendships and enjoy all that Abu Dhabi has to offer. To learn about Middle Eastern culture and history you can visit any number of museums, parks, and small villages. You can visit an oasis in a tranquil desert or enjoy swimming and kayaking at a beautiful beach. Shopping in a bazaar and spice market is a traditional experience and the perfect place to find common and exotic spices like cardamom, cumin and saffron. There are also many different places of worship such as churches, temples and mosques. Abu Dhabi’s official religion is Islam but the Constitution of the UAE provides for freedom of religion. If you land a teaching job in the UAE, you will be free to practice the religion of your choice.

If you bring along your significant other, one thing to remember is that public displays of affection are not acceptable in most Middle East cultures, so keep the kissing, hand holding and caresses for home. In order for your significant other to accompany you, the two of you will need to be legally married and bring along your marriage certificate to authenticate your union. If you also bring your children, they will study at one of the many private schools in Abu Dhabi.

Although the summer months are terribly hot, this is the time when teachers in Abu Dhabi have the opportunity to escape the heat during school break by traveling and exploring nearby countries. Oman is one such place, featuring a rich history and beautiful landscapes. Summer vacation time is typically from the middle of July until September.

Women considering a teaching job in Abu Dhabi should be prepared to be the center of attention no matter where you go. Men will stare at you even if you are wearing an outfit that fits like a potato sack. It can be a bit disconcerting at first, but, eventually, you get used to it. Single women can take comfort that the UAE is a safe country but women should also practice safe traveling choices, such as not walking alone late at night or hanging out alone with large groups of unknown people.

Unlike many destinations in the Middle East, women in Abu Dhabi do not need to wear head scarves. Teaching jobs in Abu Dhabi usually require business casual attire such as slacks or skirt and dress shirt with sleeves. When not at work, English teachers in Abu Dhabi can wear whatever they like. However, be courteous and respectful of your host country and its conservative standards.

Another cultural difference you may notice is that Abu Dhabi time is different than Western time and Abu Dhabi parenting is different than Western parenting. It is not uncommon to see parents with unruly children out very late at a shopping mall or restaurant.

It is easy to see why Abu Dhabi is one of the most popular locations for teaching jobs in the Middle East. It is an adventure that can change your life as well as advance your career.

Previously: Time and time again