You finally did it. You applied to teach abroad, and you’ve been offered a position at an international or government school in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE. Congratulations! It takes a lot of courage to start a new adventure in a country you haven’t lived in before. While there are a few quick guides out there for teachers in the UAE, we think Abu Dhabi deserves it’s own comprehensive one; from where you can socialize in the city to what to expect on your first day of school.
If you haven’t arrived yet, you probably have a million questions about what the experience will be like. You’re nervous and excited to imagine what it will be like when you arrive. Here are some things you should know:
We asked Abu Dhabi Q&A (a must-join Facebook group) what they wished they brought with them when they came to the UAE.
Buy most of your electronics when you get here, as it can be complicated to find adapters and your electronics might not have a compatible voltage; plus they take up a lot of space and weight in your luggage.
“I would mention not to pack food/brands that are in home countries as you can get most brands here.” --Kelly
Moving to a new country can be intimidating, and you’ve probably seen different depictions of the gulf in movies and the media. Let’s bust some of those myths now so you know what to expect:
Everywhere you go in Abu Dhabi, even in the height of summer, you’ll need to bring a cardigan, scarf, or sweater. The A.C. is always on full blast indoors, which can become quite chilly. Once you get acclimatized, Abu Dhabi’s 24C winters will make you reach for a light jacket, and even a scarf if you’re going out at night. (You don’t believe us now, but you’ll see by your first January).
If you go to a government building, or public indoor space such as a shopping mall, there are dress codes that you need to adhere to-- mainly that both men and women should cover to their shoulders and knees. But you do not have to cover up everywhere you go and you might be surprised to see people wearing sleeveless tops, shorts, and beachwear outside, particularly around the Corniche, which is Abu Dhabi’s lovely beach walkway.
Teachers in the UAE work hard and play hard. You’ll easily find bars and clubs for those over the age of 21; many also give teacher discounts. Nightlife in AD is more relaxed than in Dubai, but if you’re looking for a more wild night out, Dubai is just an hour and a half away.
Movies and social media can be misleading. The UAE has big middle and working classes; the flashiest hotels, restaurants and experiences are only one side of the story. You will meet people who have lots of money, and people who don’t; it’s up to you what kind of lifestyle you want to live.
The UAE has a huge number of expats, including a large community of expat teachers who have all been through exactly what you’re about to embark on. Facebook groups and forums can get you quick answers during those first few weeks when you might feel overwhelmed. Here are some groups to get started on:
Pro-tip #1: go to your family doctor, dentist, and OB-GYN before you leave home. It will take a while to get your insurance set up, and even longer to find a place you’re comfortable with, so make sure you’re all set health wise before you take the leap.
Pro-tip #2: (From a community member) “You don't need to bring anything other than a suitcase. Everything is here. And chill as it's a lovely country to live in. ADCB is a good bank, Shift Car rentals are cheap as chips, have a Netflix subscription, get the cheapest Etisalat package as you probably won't watch the channels, and know that you are coming to one of the safest places on the planet. I hope you like the beach. Oh and a lot of people put on weight here, so be mindful from the off.” -- Paul
Your school will likely help with documentation and the visa on arrival process when you first land in Abu Dhabi, just make sure you bring multiple photocopies of everything and try to be patient. It’s not always easy after a long flight, but these things take time.
Most teachers first arrive in the summer, so wear layers on your flight and be prepared for the UAE summer heat when you walk out of the airport. Don’t worry, August is our worst time of the year, and it will only get cooler.
Most schools will provide teachers with accommodation. Sometimes you will be put in a hotel for a week or so while they sort out your documentation and get things set up for you. Teacher accommodation is a great way to make friends with other teachers, and takes the burden off you finding a place to live during your first year.
Without all the usual comforts of home, accommodation can feel a little impersonal, so you might want to buy a few things to make yourself feel more comfortable.
For plant lovers: Mina Flower Market. Here you can find hundreds of varieties of plants from small shops. Mina Plaza is currently going through a regeneration project, but the plant souk will still be there when you arrive. For decorations: you can try Madinet Zayed (for bargains), The World Trade Center Souk (for more expensive options), or check out the Carpet Souk for haggling. Of course, there’s also always good old IKEA, which has two locations in Abu Dhabi.
Moving to Abu Dhabi can be lonely. Whether you came alone or with family, it can be stressful to be in an unfamiliar place without the comforts of home. There are time differences between you and your loved ones, and travelling to a new place can be emotionally exhausting.
Here are some tips from the Abu Dhabi Q&A community:
Socialising in a new country takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself, and stay connected with friends and family at home while you settle in. Know that many people feel the same way you do, and make that effort to reach out to them. There are tons of clubs, gyms, and activities to try and meet people.
If you’re looking for more mental health resources, be sure to check out Teacherly’s bitesize audio courses.
You don’t need to learn Arabic to get around in Abu Dhabi, but people who have lived here for a while usually pick up a few words and phrases. If you want to feel like an old-timer already, here are the words to know:
An international school in Abu Dhabi might be very different from the kind of school you’re used to working in. Even though the school might be teaching a familiar curriculum, their routines and practices can be different, so be prepared to go with the flow and ask your team leader any questions you have.
Abu Dhabi students in international schools come from all over the world, and your classroom will be filled with children from different countries, cultures and religions. They may be new to the country like you are, or they’ve lived here for their whole lives. On the other hand, if you’re teaching at a government school, the majority of your students will be Emirati.
International school is expensive, and while many parents work for companies that pay school fees, some don’t, and most of them see themselves as customers at the schools they’ve bought into. Many teachers report parents being more demanding than they are back home, but they are also often more motivated and involved in the students’ lives. Be prepared for vigorous questions from parents, and students who are likely motivated and supported to succeed at school.
Irtiqaa is Abu Dhabi’s school inspection programme, introduced by the Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK) to improve the quality of Abu Dhabi’s schools. They are responsible for inspections, school rankings, and benchmarking. Schools are inspected approximately once every two years. Your leadership will tell you all about how to pass inspections and maintain standards.
What you are doing is amazing and will impact you for the rest of your life. Being a teacher in Abu Dhabi will teach you more about being a citizen of the world than any book you could read, and you’ll have the opportunity to travel to other countries you might never have imagined visiting.
If you feel lost and overwhelmed, reach out to the communities we’ve recommended above and share how you’re feeling. A simple post asking how to cheer yourself up after a long day of teaching could introduce you to your next friend. You were already brave enough to move here, so don’t be too shy to ask for help. Everyone has felt how you do at some point and you’re not alone.
You moved to Abu Dhabi because you are driven, intelligent, and not afraid of a challenge. You might feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything you want to do, and that’s where Teacherly can make your life in Abu Dhabi a bit easier.
We have free lessons and beautiful lesson templates to make your lesson planning fast and simple. We also support distance learning by facilitating live lessons, and make collaboration between teachers easier through sharing and feedback.
Take your teaching to the next level and join an international teaching community on Teacherly!
Have questions about teaching in Abu Dhabi? Want to learn more about Teacherly and our community? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org