Career Networking: What would it be like to live and work in the United Arab Emirates?

The idea of living and working in a country other than the one you currently live in may be both exciting and overwhelming. Where do you start? How do you search for a job? What information should you include on your resume or CV? How much should you expect the job to pay? How will you know whether the job will pay enough to cover your expenses when you don’t know how much things cost in that country?

This article is part of an occasional series of career networking articles constructed from interviews with employers who have advertised jobs with TESOL. The information in each article reflects one small group of employers’ views of living and working as an English language teacher in a particular country. The views and opinions expressed in these articles are not indicative of all employers or all experiences. The employers’ views in this series are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of TESOL.

Career networking is a valuable benefit of TESOL membership. Although the information in this article reflects the view of only one employer, it may help you decide if the United Arab Emirates is a potential destination for your next dream job. If you like what you hear, but would like to hear other opinions, come to TESOL’s annual Job MarketPlace, where you can network with recruiters and job seekers who can share their insights and help you get started.

Adrienne Reynolds from United Arab Emirates University, Aamena Khan from Higher Colleges of Technology, and Bryan Gilroy from Zayed University cohosted a session on living and working in the United Arab Emirates during TESOL’s 39th annual convention in San Antonio, Texas, in the United States. Together, they provided the following insights:

What kind of information do people normally include on a CV or résumé for a job in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)?

There is really no specific, recommended format for résumés and CVs. One thing that many people don’t know about the Emirates is that about 80% of the population is expatriate. Institutions are accustomed to seeing résumés and CVs from all over the world, so they are pretty flexible as to the format. It is common for institutions to have a separate application procedure as well, which requests any necessary information that might not have been included on the applicants’ résumés or CVs.

How are ESOL jobs in the UAE compensated, and how are salaries quoted?

The salaries in the UAE are quoted in terms of monthly income BUT we have 13 salaries a year because there is a bonus of one month's salary for every year of service. This bonus is paid as an end-of-employment gratuity--in other words, the extra month's salary is not paid at the end of every year.

One thing that many people do not realize is that their salary is not subject to income taxes, which can take a substantial piece of teachers’ paychecks in their home countries. This, combined with the many benefits most jobs in the Emirates provide, means that English language teachers can often have a much higher standard of living than they may have had in their home countries.

When comparing jobs, it is important for applicants to look at the whole package. A salary that might be a struggle to live on in applicants’ home countries goes much further when you don’t have to pay taxes or housing expenses. Utilities are much less expensive in the Emirates than many other places as well. If you look at your monthly income, then realize that you will take home that full amount and will have very few monthly expenses beyond a telephone, mobile phone, and satellite television, if you choose to have those things, you will likely find that the salary goes a very long way.

What kinds of benefits do ESOL jobs in the UAE usually include?

Jobs typically include housing and may include a furniture allowance that applicants can use to either ship their furniture or purchase furniture when they arrive. The housing is generally spacious flats or even villas. Applicants should be aware, however, that the furniture allowance may have to be reimbursed to the institution if a teacher fails to complete his or her teaching contract.

Jobs typically include generous vacation time and airline tickets to a teacher’s country of origin or an airline ticket allowance that can be applied to tickets to other places. Jobs also typically include health care for the teacher and may include health care for the teacher’s spouse and dependent children. Children’s education subsidies may be included as well.

What is the typical academic schedule in the UAE?

There are two semesters per year, with a winter break and a summer break. There may be an abbreviated schedule during Ramadan as well.

What are housing costs like in the UAE?

Housing is typically included with the jobs, so paying rent is not normally a concern for teachers. Utilities are very affordable on teachers’ salaries. One thing to be aware of is that kitchens in unfurnished units may not be outfitted with appliances, but used appliances are readily available because the large expatriate community is always in flux. Furniture is very inexpensive, with furniture imported from Asia readily available. IKEA is in the UAE, too.

What surprises people who are new to the UAE? What do they like or dislike?

People are surprised by the international and very cosmopolitan nature of the Emirates. The architecture, high-rise luxury hotels and apartments, and high-end shopping malls and restaurants contribute to a Riviera-like atmosphere.

You can find food from all over the world: American, Chinese, French, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lebanese, Mexican, and Thai. Most of the major international franchises are available, including Starbucks, T.G.I. Friday’s, Chili’s, Pizzario Uno, and Fuddrucker’s. Most of the major fast food franchises are here as well, including Burger King, Cinnabon, Dunkin’ Donuts, Hardee’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Quizno’s, Subway, and TCBY. There is also excellent fine dining as well as very chic nightclubs. Going out is an important part of the culture here.

The shopping, especially in Dubai, is excellent. Most of the major designers’ lines are available here. There are dozens of shopping malls with familiar franchise stores. Gold jewelry is far less expensive than it is in much of the rest of the world. Best of all, there is no sales tax!

Although the UAE is a Muslim country, the large expatriate community means that many products that are not available in other Muslim countries are available here to non-Muslims. Alcohol is available and there are pubs and bars. Large international supermarkets make food from all over the world available as well.

The warm climate means that outdoor sports are popular throughout the Emirates. Golf and tennis are popular, as are water sports like boating, diving, snorkeling, and surfing. You might find a few sports that are new to you as well, including camel racing and wadi bashing (driving four-wheel drive vehicles in dry riverbeds in the desert). Amusement parks and water parks are available as well.

One major advantage to living in the Emirates is the close proximity to excellent travel destinations. Africa, south and southeast Asia, and Europe are all easy flights from the Emirates.

One thing people sometimes dislike about the Emirates is that the summers can be extremely hot. This is usually combated with air conditioning that is often extremely cold. People might find that they need a sweater to wear inside of shopping malls and public buildings.

Do you have any special advice for someone considering working as an ESOL professional in The United Arab Emirates?

One thing that is important to be aware of is that public demeanor is very important. Although the large expatriate community means that some things may be tolerated more in the Emirates than in other Muslim countries, it is also understood that these things should be kept as private as possible. For example, although alcohol is permitted, public drunkenness is not, and driving while drunk is an extremely serious offense.

Living and working in the Emirates is what you choose to make it. If you want to experience another culture, there is not only Arab culture here, but also a wealth of cultures from around the world due to the large number of expatriates. At the same time, you can live and work here without giving up as much of your home lifestyle as you might have to in other countries.