It’s no secret that teaching abroad in the Middle East offers very lucrative contracts for teachers. The contract benefits and salaries many Middle Eastern teaching positions often pale in comparison to other teaching abroad opportunities. Programs like these are a great way for certified teachers to expand their professional profile, travel the world and save some money all at the same time.
I taught in Abu Dhabi from January 2010 to December 2015. Part of the reason I stayed so long was because of the amazing financial benefits. I was able to live a life of luxury while still saving over $1,000 USD per month. I was able to travel, participate in many social activities, pay off all my debt and save!
Below is a summary of my personal spending habits while teaching in the UAE, living in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi. Hopefully this will help you get a better idea of the average cost of living for a couple in the UAE. The budget below will vary based on your individual spending habits and number of family members in your household. Your savings will vary depending on your personal financial goals. It’s really important to balance your spending and saving in order to make the most of your international teaching experience.
My average monthly salary as a teacher in the UAE was about $3,600 per month. The salary is tax free in the UAE. I was a new teacher, so at the lower end of the pay scale, however, the amount was more than enough to live comfortably and save extra money.
Many teaching contracts in the UAE provide housing or housing allowances. I lived in a large 2-bedroom apartment, as a single teacher. The rent was covered as part of the benefits of the contract. I had to cover the cost of my utilities, which included water and electricity (around $160 per month), and internet/cable (roughly $95 per month). I was also provided with a furniture allowance when I arrived. I was able to get some great lightly-used furniture for half the price and saved some of this money.
Pro tip: check out the local swap and shop groups to get in on those deals!
The most common and convenient way to travel in the UAE is by car. It is very important to rent, lease or buy a new or used car when living in the UAE. Some of the larger cities do have public transit however, these can be expensive and unreliable. I chose to rent a car (a Toyota Yaris) for $435 per month. Check out dubizzle.com for more option on renting, leasing or buying a car. Remember, with driving comes gas expenses as well. Gas is relatively cheap in the UAE, costing only $13 to fill up a tank. I didn't have to pay any maintenance fees for the vehicle because I rented, but if you decide to lease or buy a car, you should set aside some extra money each month for miscellaneous vehicle expenses (such as tune-ups or oil changes).
I had my smartphone unlocked when I arrived to the UAE. I was able to purchase a monthly data and calling plan which included 1 GB of data and unlimited text and local talk for approximately $28 per month.
I spent on average about $300 on groceries for myself and my husband. This included shopping at the more exclusive and expensive foreign grocery stores – sometimes you just need a little taste of home!
We ate out a lot, as there are a variety of local and foreign foods available in the UAE. If you are looking to save some money but still want to eat out, I’d suggest trying the local restaurants. You can get a shawarma for $1. Overall my husband and I spent about $300 per month eating out.
My shopping obsession was fully satisfied by the large shopping malls in the UAE. There is no tax in the UAE, so you pay the sticker price. I spent about $300 per month. A great way to bargain shop in the UAE is visiting the local souks or Karama, a major shopping market in Dubai.
My entertainment costs (not including eating out or shopping) came to about $200 per month. Most of my entertainment costs came from visiting friends in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and participating in group activities such as Friday brunch and yachting (yes, you can afford to do that in the UAE!)
I was lucky enough to be able to travel to a variety of different countries at a relatively low cost by buying packages on various deal sites online. For example, I went to Kenya all-inclusive for four days for $800 with a Groupon. I was also able to take a weekend trip to Sri Lanka for about $500. I’d take about 2 trips per year. I was also provided a round-trip airfare as part of my contract, so I was able to return home to Canada once a year as well.
I would add an additional $200 per month for miscellaneous costs. Things like gym memberships, taxis, gifts, haircuts/beauty would all be included in this category.
Total savings/month teaching in the UAE
I would highly recommend the UAE to anyone looking to teach abroad. Teaching abroad in the UAE was a rewarding experience both personally and professionally, and the salary allowed me to save more than I could ever have dreamed of in my home country. So check out our job board and start applying today!