All about Teaching and Living in the Middle East
Nestled between Europe and Africa on a well-trodden path linking the east and west, the Middle East has welcomed travellers from many nations for thousands of years. Yet despite its strong cultural traditions, few places have changed as rapidly over the last 50 years. Those that teach in the international schools of Middle East find that the landscape sometimes appears to change overnight with the construction of striking new skyscrapers.
Types of international schools in the Middle East
The Middle East has a variety of international schools, and teachers wishing to teach abroad in the international school in this vibrant region might be overwhelmed with the selection available. Local International British and American schools which serve local children using an expatriate curriculum make up more than half of the international schools in this region. Because English is widely spoken and the quality of state schools varies considerably from region to region, many affluent parents choose to place their children in English speaking British and American international schools from an early age. The breadth of the curricula and extra-curricula opportunities, and the facilities available to pupils varies from school to school.
There are international schools that cater to pupils from a variety of nationalities. These are generally located in areas such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where there are large numbers of expatriates from a wide variety of countries. On the other hand Original Expatriate schools of middle east that serve mainly one nationality exist in small numbers throughout the region.
Finding a Teaching Job in the Middle East
International schools in the Middle East know that hiring good teachers is the key to their success and to maintaining an excellent reputation. Schools in this region hire thousands of teachers each year.
Contracts for teaching jobs are typically 2 years long, with the exception of some schools in Kuwait and Oman which offer 1 year contracts. Teachers who find teaching jobs in the Middle East must be aware that breaking a contract before the agreed completion date, regardless of how nicely you do it, can result in financial penalties as well as country-wide work bans which last from 6 months to 2 years.
Contracts almost always include return flights, housing either rented for you or heavily subsidised and some form of local medical coverage. Housing can be quite expensive, and this is why schools that hire less experienced teachers may only provide shared accommodation. Less experienced teachers often find the benefits of sharing an apartment with your own bedroom helps to create an immediate social circle especially for those who are starting their first jobs abroad so we recommend it be considered for those regions. Due to local regulations and customs, you will always be sharing with someone of your own gender.
Salaries are often tax free, teachers, this means you do not pay taxes in the Middle East. Depending on your home country’s policy, you might need to pay tax back home. It is important to find out before you go so that you file the right paperwork and are not surprised by a big tax bill upon your return.
Education and Experience Requirements for Teachers in the Middle East
In some countries such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the Ministries of Education specify the educational and training requirements that must be met in order to be eligible for a work visa to teach at an international school. This might mean that your undergraduate degree must be relevant to the subject you teach, and that your training and certification is appropriate to your subject and level, regardless of your number of years of experience. In most countries, you need to have at least a Bachelors degree and teacher training; Diplomas of Education are generally not viewed as equivalent to a Bachelors.
Teachers with some experience and training of teaching children for whom English is not the first language are in high demand and teachers who have English as their first language are preferred. Because modelling the language and communicating with children who are acquiring English is so important regardless of the subject being taught, many schools can be sensitive to strong regional accents of any kind, whether or not English is the mother tongue.
Teachers who register with Edvectus will find resources and tips for teaching children who are acquiring English in our Learning Portal.
Newly qualified teachers or those with less than 2 years post qualification experience at the time of departure will find that their options are more limited due to school preferences and ministry regulations. Those with less experience will find that their salaries and benefits packages are lower, though still lucrative enough to allow you to save a substantial percentage of your salary each year. More experienced teachers with a work history of substantive posts versus ‘supply ‘or temporary positions, will find that they can save more than half of what they earn. As a general rule, the more popular a place is, the lower on average are the salaries for comparable schools which means that schools in Dubai will probably pay 10 to 30% less than similar schools in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia
Visas for Teachers in the Middle East
Most countries in the Middle East have visa-related age limits, the upper age limit usually being 60 years of age. This makes it very difficult to give serious consideration to teachers who are nearing this age. In some countries it is possible to get a visa for someone over 60, but it is almost always more expensive and time consuming for them. If you are 55 years old or above, please contact us so we can give you advice on regions that do not have this complication.
Typical Contracts and Salaries for Teachers in the Middle East
Contracts are typically 2 years long, with the exception of some schools in Kuwait and Oman, which offer 1-year contracts. Teachers who find teaching jobs in the Middle East must be aware that breaking a contract before the agreed completion date, regardless of how nicely you do it, can result in financial penalties as well as country-wide work bans which last from 6 months to 2 years.
Contracts almost always include return flights, housing either rented for you or heavily subsidised and some form of local medical coverage. Housing can be quite expensive, and this is why schools that hire less experienced teachers may only provide shared accommodation. Less experienced teachers often find sharing an apartment very beneficial as a result of peer support and establishing a social network. Edvectus would recommend it be considered for those regions. Due to local regulations and customs, you will always be sharing with someone of your own gender.
Salaries are often tax – free which means that you do not pay taxes in the Middle East. However you may need to pay tax in your home country depending on its tax regulations. It is important to find out what these are before you go so that you file the right paperwork and are not surprised by a big tax bill upon your return.
Medical coverage in the Middle East
It is important to note that in many countries in this region, local medical coverage is not provided to teachers who do not have a valid working visa and residency, which is one of many reasons we recommend only working for reputable schools that provide you with the appropriate visa and residency paperwork. Spending more than 3 months on a visitor visa can be expensive and can leave you legally exposed.
School Term Dates in the Middle East
The school year typically runs from early September to June, and new teachers are expected to arrive a week or two early for a new teacher induction. The breaks vary by school, so we recommend that you make sure to ask your school for a calendar because some holiday periods might not overlap with the typical Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter.
Lifestyle in the Middle East
In the Middle East, the climate is generally hot and dry, but the winter months are cooler with a little rainfall. Because of the hot climate, almost every building, school, apartment and vehicle has air conditioning. In September, which is the start of the school year, it is about 31C (88F), and the average temperature in February is 19C (66F). You will be in school from September to June, and so will miss the worst of the hot summer months.
In Your Free Time…
Beaches and Water Activities
The Middle East has fabulous beaches, and water related sports such as scuba diving, snorkelling, swimming, sailing, power boating, jet skiing and waterskiing abound. And with a hot and sunny climate almost all year round, it is a water sports paradise. Many teachers join expatriate beach clubs that are associated with hotels, which gives them access to beaches, pools, restaurants and lots of social activities.
Shopping and Dining
Shopping and eating out are major pastimes in the area, and you will find restaurants and shops to suit almost any taste. Western brands and stores have flocked to the region, so you will find Taco Bell and Tag Heuer at the Avenues Mall in Kuwait City, and Marks and Spencer, Fudruckers and Starbucks in Abu Dhabi.
Shopping at the many souks (open air markets) in the region is a cultural delight, and lets you experience the way shopping was done before the advent of air – conditioned glass and steel malls. Whether you visit the gold souk in Dubai, the alcohol souk in Qatar or the fish souk in Abu Dhabi, you will get to browse and haggle to your heart’s content before relaxing with a cup of delicious Arabic coffee at a local cafe.
Clubs and Societies
There are a large number of clubs and societies available for you to join and meet like-minded people. Each country or city has a variety of clubs where as an expatriate you will be able to meet like-minded people. They range from Gaelic football to Canadian women’s groups, from amateur theatre groups to bicycling clubs and everything in between. Most expatriates who are new to an area find that clubs are very open and welcoming to new members and this enables you to blend into various social circles with ease. In addition, most foreign embassies host social gatherings for their expatriates, allowing you to mingle with your fellow countrymen. This is particularly true of smaller countries such as Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain and Oman where the communities are smaller and more tightly knit.
Bars and Pubs
Alcohol is restricted throughout the region, and although different countries have different policies , public drunkenness is not tolerated and drink -driving penalties are very severe.. In the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan and Oman, you will find pubs and some restaurants that serve alcohol, however Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are much more restricted. Due to the latter you will find that expatriate social life revolves more around socialising, clubs and sporting activities instead of boozy nights out. Many teachers find this a healthy alternative, and save pub visits for weekends away to less restrictive locations.
Travel within the Middle East can be cheap with low cost carriers such as Fly Dubai, and trips to exotic locations such as the Seychelles, India, and Thailand are relatively inexpensive. Most teachers find that they spend their school breaks and long weekends travelling to places that they never dreamt they would see.