If you go to Dubai, the life of an international teacher is pretty amazing: great weather, good pay and lots of travel! Ever since my husband and I moved to Dubai, our lives have changed for the better. We have more money, do lots of nice things together and the weather is always great.
As we were kind of desperate to go abroad – I was so sick of the UK, we settled for Dubai. It wasn’t my first choice and I wasn’t excited about this destination until the contract got signed.
You have the brunches, the many travel destinations and the overload of British expats that makes this into a favourite destination for many international teachers.
But what about the pay? How much do you earn as an international teacher in Dubai? And do you get to take a lot of money home?
Table of Contents
First of all – How do you get paid
When working in Dubai you will most likely receive a UAE bank account on which your school will deposit your complete pay. Where other international schools might deposit half of your pay on your local bank account and half of the pay on your UK bank account, in the UAE most often your whole wage will be paid in Dirham on your local bank account.
But what if you are saving? What if you want to easily transfer money from the UAE to the UK?
Quite a few people would clear their bank account at the end of the academic year and head to a bureau de change (exchange counter) to exchange their Dirham into Pounds. Now, this posed a couple of problems. First of all – depending on how much you saved – you would be travelling with a couple of thousand of pounds in your bag which means your bag will probably be searched in the airport as the sniffer dogs are also trained to sniff out money. Additionally, the rates at the bureau de change are BAD. You will literally lose hundreds of pounds exchanging your money in Dubai.
My husband and I would always use Transferwise – now Wise in order to transfer money from our UAE bank account to our UK bank account. This way our money would be on the account within 2 hours (sometimes even a couple of minutes) and at a rate that could not be beat by bank nor exchange office.
I would highly recommend signing up to Wise – even when you are not going abroad to teach, just because it is in my opinion the best way to make international payments. You can click here to sign up or to check the exchange rate they are offering.
There are many private schools in Dubai, choose the right one
When I say that “there are many private schools in Dubai” I literally mean that there is one on every corner. My husband and I live in Al Nahda 2 which is about the size of a sheet of toilet paper – maybe 3 square kilometres – and there are 4 (!!) private schools.
But before you rejoice at the high probability that you will be able to get a job in Dubai easily (which is true), you need to know that there is a massive difference in schools, the packages you are likely to get and the workload you can expect. You need to choose a school that is right for you and your expectations. Otherwise you are very likely to break your contract early or do a “runner”.
Negotiating your contract never hurts
When you initially receive your contract, you might want to negotiate your salary. As a first-time international teacher, you may expect anything from 9500 AED to 12.000 AED. Anything under that salary you need to renegotiate – when you received an offer on the low end of that you might want to try to het some more. If you are a head of department I would not accept anything under 13.000 AED as there are classroom teachers out there who earn more than that. When taking on extra responsibilities such as being a head of year – ask for at least 1000 AED extra.
When my husband received an offer for the school, he is at now we were told the salary was non-negotiable. He has a masters from the Uni of Cambridge and studied at UCL – one of the best (if not the best) education institutions in the UK, and still he needed to take a pay cut from his London teaching salary when moving to Dubai. We asked the recruiter whether or not we would be able to renegotiate (I was a bit angry as it was not the promised great Dubai Salary we were expecting) but the school did not even want to talk about this. I would have understood if there was a pay scale in place – but almost everyone was on a different salary which would sometimes mean that people with less experience took home more pay.
In fact, the worst part was that some classroom teachers – even though they had less experience, were on a higher pay than my husband who was a head of department. Many schools have strict rules about not discussing pay with colleagues, but I would recommend you do. Use this information (without naming people ofcourse) to leverage a better contract. In fact: before signing the contract I would try and reach out to existing teachers in that school via LinkedIn or other professional forums and ask them what pay they are on. Most will be more than happy to share.
Whether the school is open for negotiation or not (especially when you know they are lowballing you) might tell you a lot about school and management culture. So keep this in mind before signing a contract!
Your first contract as a teacher in Dubai will always be your worst
As a classroom teacher – and sometimes even as a middle leader: your first contract teaching in Dubai will always be your worst. The times that teachers can go to Dubai for a year or two and come back with a down payment for a house are gone. (Maybe if you live up North you still can)
More and more teachers are going international. As you might have read in my other post about acing your international teacher interview there is a shitload of competition. Depending on what school you are going for, there can be 500 other candidates applying!
Teachers who stay in Dubai for longer than 2 years however, are gold dust. Your second contract at the same school – or at a new (and better) school will often be a lot better and you will earn a lot more! If not – you are not valued and you should get out as soon as possible!
Dubai is also a great step on the ladder of being an international teacher. It can help you to get some international teaching experience which you can use as an advantage to get into other and better schools all over the world as international experience is a great plus!
When your contract is over you need to renegotiate hard
Whether you have a one year or a two-year contract – you need to renegotiate your contract! Depending on if you are ready to move on or if you want to stay at the school you go in hard or soft, but keep in mind that the money most private schools receive in tuitions is crazy high in relation to teacher wages. In fact, for the academic year of 2017-2018 Dubai schools received a whooping 7.8 BILLION AED. That’s almost 2 billion pounds. But teacher pay went down or was stagnant at best.
There’s a lot of money going around in private and international schools and the rule is that if you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it. Yes – some schools might have pay scales, but trust me: a lot of them don’t. Could be that your colleague with less experience is actually earning more. Why? Because there were less (good) applicants for their role. I hate this part about Dubai private schools – but I am sure that unless you are employed by a big chain or a COBIS school, this might be the case in loads of different destinations all over the Middle East.
Anyway, renegotiate your contract after 2 years. Good teachers that stay in Dubai after 2 years are like gold dust. A lot of teachers leave after (or even during!) their first year and a majority will want to move on after their second (we did, and I am much happier in Nepal to be fair). If you want to stay at the school you are currently teaching, ask for a 20% to 25% raise and settle for anything over 15% (even though that means they are cheapskates). If you are looking to earn more money you might also look at another school and think about what you realistically want to earn. You can use your current salary to negotiate with new schools in Dubai. Some schools pay more than Dhs 20K + 17k per month housing for head of departments depending on where you are and how big the school is. There’s always room for a wiggle or a move!
Are you leaving? The school might want to put in an offer anyway. Think about what you need to stay. Better accommodation? Better end of year bonus? Better pay? Put everything on email and throw it out there. See what happens. Worst case scenario they say no and you can be on your way to another great country to teach at!
Great pay comes with great responsibilities and no personal life
Although you might be starstruck by the amount of money you can earn in Dubai (or not – depending on where in the UK you thought) , keep in mind that many of the expensive schools – who pay teachers very well, also require you to work hard. And with working hard I mean – they work you to the bone.
Three formal observations per week, work until 6pm – sometimes even 8pm at night. Working on Saturdays… I have heard so many stories of teachers who make great (amazing even) money, but who need to work so hard that they don’t have any time for their kids or partners.
You will need to make that decision for yourself – do you want a shitload of money and no personal life? Or are you looking for a better balance between your personal life and work life? When researching the school you are looking to apply to, take an extra look at their work culture. When you are already in Dubai and looking to move schools, use your network to talk to teachers who are currently teaching at the school.
You won’t easily get those 50k or 60k salaries in Dubai anymore as a classroom teacher
Let’s stop spreading the myth that you can easily earn £50k or even £60k a year tax free as a classroom teacher in Dubai. That *might* have been the case some time ago, but it definitely is not true anymore. Because of the massive influx of teachers looking for a position in Dubai and the fact that schools can easily pay Indian or local teacher half the salary a British or American teacher, you should be happy with anything north of £25k as a minimum.
Yes… that’s quite a pay cut if you come from London. But keep in mind that housing is included and that kids are (often) a lot better behaved than in inner London schools and that the overall quality of life in Dubai is much better than in the UK – think of the weather alone!
So where do you still get the big money? In KSA. But then you will need to actually want to live in Saudi Arabia. And I am sure not many couples or women will want to. Teachers in KSA live on compounds and there are strict rules for going out. When teaching in KSA you are literally exchanging 2 years (or more) of your life for a ton of money.
Can you negotiate on accommodation
First of all I would say that you should never ever accept a contract in Dubai without accommodation or with shared accommodation (where you have to share a flat with another teacher). Almost all schools offer accommodation and if they don’t they are cheapskates and this will be felt in their day to day workings and work culture.
But if they do offer accommodation, the quality of the accommodation varies. Schools often have two or even three buildings they rent or own apartments in. This can not only mean a difference in space and cleanliness (think cockroaches!) but also in whether you have access to a pool, a gym or public transport.
You might want to research accommodation for the school you are applying to as there are massive differences not only between buildings but also between schools. Maybe ask the school for the name of the building or for pictures of your apartment so you can make up your mind whether you want to take the accommodation provided or the allowance.
Also make sure not to accept any shared accommodation in Dubai. It is just the school wanting to cheap out on you. It is a sign that the school does not respect you and your application. In a city where so much real estate is sat empty, it is a goddamn common curtesy to at least provide you with private accommodation!
If you are not happy with the pictures, the building or the location of the accommodation provided by the school you are always allowed to take up an allowance. I know in our case that the allowance was a bit of a pisstake and wouldn’t get us anything more than a cramped studio. We were happy with the pictures we have seen and decided to go with the accommodation provided.
Before rejecting the accommodation and accepting the housing allowance I would research rental prices in the area of the school – or within a reasonable drive. This will not only give you an idea of what is available, but you will also have a stronger point to negotiate from. If they would, for instance, only provide you with Dhs 36000 and you see that you won’t be able to rent anything that looks remotely like a 1 bed apartment, you should negotiate.
They failed you in providing good accommodation in the first place, they shouldn’t fail you in the housing allowance as well!
Personal note: Even if the pictures of your apartment look okay, reality might be far from. This sadly was the case for us where the pictures looked fine but where our kitchen was covered in grease from top to bottom, our bed was broken, we were given the most uncomfortable sofa in the history of sofas, and most of the furniture was broken or on the verge of breaking. We had cleaners in every week but the apartment just stayed very grimey and only two of our hobs were working. I was never able to really get our kitchen sink to look clean, and don’t get me started on the smell coming from the washing machine. In fact, everyone in the two blocks our school rented had massive problems with cockroaches in winter. No matter how clean you kept your apartment, these buggers came under the door into the apartment. They often lived near or in the thrash shute, so if you were the apartment next to the shute, you were in trouble.
Luckily the school changed hands and management going into our second year after which we were put into a much better and nicer, new accommodation. My tip would be that if you enter your apartment and you are not happy with anything, you need to be sending emails about things that are broken or dirty or just not up to scratch in the first week. I remember our school basically saying it wasn’t their problem after the first month of us moving in which was incredibly frustrating because they were the ones that provided us with broken furniture in the first place.
Differences in Packages
Before you accept the job, you should also have a look at the package that is offered. Most – if not all, schools offer you a yearly flight from and to Dubai. They will also (have to) pay for your visa and for your medical insurance. And this is where a school will show you whether they take care of their staff or not.
Medical insurance is incredibly important in Dubai as you need it to be able to get your residence visa. Bad schools will offer you bad insurance. It is as simple as that. It is not uncommon for teachers at bad schools to have to shell out a lot of money if they get ill or want tests done. The insurance offered by good schools covers blood tests and scans. Check if the insurance is international insurance. Again: bad schools won’t want to pay for your international insurance while better ones will want you to be healthy and will pay a premium to get you great insurance which will almost always be an international one.
Example: Our school in Nepal is incredibly good. They offer incredibly comprehensive insurance for the whole family (wife, husband and up to 2 children) worldwide (!) including maternity. I literally went to Bumrungrad (best hospital in Asia) in Bangkok for some check ups and everything was covered. We could only have dreamt about this when living in Dubai!
Does the school pay you back the visa costs for your spouse and kids? That’s an important one as a visa for 2 years can cost more than 750 pounds! Good schools will; bad schools… well, I guess you see where I’m going.
Another thing to think about when choosing schools is whether or not your kids will have a free spot at the school. Good schools will offer you spaces for your kids (most of the time up to two kids) throughout foundation, primary and secondary. We decided to move away to Nepal because the school in Dubai would not offer me and our future kids health insurance, flights home or repay our visa costs while the school in Nepal does. It makes a massive financial difference when you have a spouse or a family!
If schools say ”no school in Dubai offers visa fees or flights for kids and spouse or free spaces for kids” they are lying through their teeth. It is true that a school cannot sponsor your spouse and kids – but at least they can pay the visa costs and send someone with you to get your visa arranged for you! Trust me, it is a lot of hassle and it would be great to have someone with you who has gone through this process before!
Another one to look out for is Internet and Dewa costs. Almost all schools you want to teach at (AKA good schools) will pay for your internet and water and electricity costs. We paid 87 pounds for our internet (just internet) and 60 to 70 pounds for water and electricity (even for months we are not in Dubai!!!) while friends of ours at premium schools like Kings get their utilities, internet and tv for free.
When enquiring about your apartment it is also important to ask how electricity is arranged. I remember that in out second apartment, all tenants shared the cost of water and electricity. So if you would go home over the summer, you would still have to pay sky high electricity bills for those months (even though you were not there) as you are subsidising the bills of heavy users. It’s always better to have your own meter if possible!
Personal note: In other countries they might not pay for internet and utilities either. They don’t in Nepal. But utilities here are super cheap and most teachers save 60 to 75% of their wage so it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. We pay about 10 pounds a month for ultra fast internet, 13 pounds a month for electricity, and 30 pounds a year for cooking gas. That kind of money is not going to make a difference. In Dubai, on the other hand, we were paying almost 150 GBP per month for utilities in 2018. So this would actually make a big difference, especially since it is not always easy to save in Dubai!
Another question to ask is what kind of furniture and utensils are included? When we moved in into our grotty Dubai apartment we got 1 cup, 1 plate, 1 knife, 1 fork, 1 bowl, 1 pillow, and a 1 person duvet (even though they KNEW we were coming as a couple!). Some schools will offer their staff free pots and pans, complete sets of cutlery, an Ikea sofa or even spending money to OR ship stuff over OR buy new furniture in Dubai. Choose wisely because you don’t want to be out of pocket when you get there. Have a look at the countless Youtube Videos about teacher accommodation to get a sense of what to expect and what schools will offer their teachers. If you want to read more on what to expect from teacher accommodation, you can read up on my blog post about teacher accommodation.
I would also say working 1 or 2 weeks for free is a big no-no. When you are asked to head to Dubai early for induction, this induction needs to be paid – it is not a holiday. If a school is not paying you for induction, I would run away as far and as fast as you can because it means they are tight and don’t care about staff!
Lieze Neven is a globetrotting travel writer and expat currently based in Nepal. With a passion for exploration, she has lived in Dubai, the UK, and Belgium, alongside her international teacher husband. Her parents live in France and she tries to visit Paris at least once a year. Together, they travel the world looking for the best hotels, experiences and food locations have to offer!