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Step into a lifestyle of luxury with sparkling salaries, cosmopolitan cities and rich culture in the Middle East.
Chances are it’s the TEFL salaries that have attracted you to the Middle East. And while not every country in this region is overflowing with wealth, Gulf States such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE and Bahrain certainly do deliver. You’ll get an excellent tax-free salary that is often topped up with benefits such as healthcare, accommodation and airfares.
On top of that, what’s often overlooked about this part of the region is that it’s far more than a collection of super-modern luxury cities sitting in isolation in the desert. It’s true that you can luxury shop to your heart’s content. However, this region also has a long and fascinating history, making these states intriguing destinations in their own right. And if that’s not enough, you’ll find some stunning beach resorts plus adrenaline-racing desert activities to make the most of the region’s mega-hot climate.
Outside of the Gulf States, there are more limited TEFL opportunities in the Middle East. Long-running conflicts in countries such as Iraq and Yemen effectively rule out TEFL in large parts of the region. However, there are some great TEFL jobs in Turkey and, if you’re looking to get off the beaten track, Jordan can make for an intriguing option. For most though, it’s the wealthy Gulf States that put this region on their TEFL bucket lists.
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While it’s not always an official requirement, you will almost always need a bachelor’s degree to teach English in the Middle East as competition for TEFL jobs is so fierce. In addition, employers will look for a good TEFL qualification and previous teaching experience.
In Turkey, you’re technically required to have a bachelor’s degree to teach English. However, the strong demand for TEFL teachers means that you may well be able to find a job with just a TEFL certificate.
In Saudi Arabia, living costs are on par with those in the UK and the US. Across the rest of the Gulf States, they tend to be a little lower. However, your great pay package means that you can afford to live well and build up your savings, wherever you are in this region.
On top of a generous, tax-free salary, most TEFL teachers receive free or heavily subsidised accommodation – meaning that you’ll cut out the biggest expense from your budget. You’ll be living a far from basic lifestyle too. In Saudi Arabia, for example, most teachers live in secure, fenced-off compounds complete with a swimming pool and gym. Even if you eat out regularly at mid-range restaurants (as many expatriates here do) you should still manage to save a few thousand pounds each year.
The one thing that is pricey is alcohol. As it is prohibited in public places, hotels that do serve alcoholic drinks tend to charge a premium. While you may only pay 65p for a loaf of bread in Dubai, it’s normal for a small bottle of beer to cost in the region of £3.50 for example.
Costs in Turkey are lower but so are wages, so don’t expect to save nearly as much here as in the Gulf States. The good news is that you will often get accommodation included in your teaching package, although quality can vary widely. As food and drink (other than alchol) are cheap across the country, you should be able to afford a decent standard of living. Just don’t expect to have too much over at the end of the month to save.
The majority of opportunities for TEFL teachers are in private language schools. These cater both for adults looking to brush up on their language skills and children who want to build on the teaching they get from schools. Classes are built around the school or working day, meaning you’re likely to be teaching in the afternoons, evenings and at weekends.
If you’ve got a teaching licence and experience of teaching children, it’s worth looking at public schools. English is increasingly a core part of the curriculum – to the extent that some schools actually use it to teach lessons in other subjects.
There are also a significant number of international schools in the Gulf States, catering mainly for the high levels of expatriates plus local wealthy families. You’ll normally need a teaching licence on top of your TEFL qualification to work in one of these schools and most expect a minimum of two years of previous teaching experience.
Finally, there are numerous opportunities for private tutoring – including whole families who will brush up their English language skills together and professionals who want conversational classes with a native English speaker to improve their fluency.
Requirements vary across the region and regulations can be open to interpretation – incorporating phrases such as “suitably qualified”. In practice however, if you want to land a reasonable job in one of the Gulf States, you’ll need to be a native English speaker, with both a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL qualification plus have experience in teaching English. If you’re hoping to work in a public or international school, you’ll need a formal teaching licence on top of that.
Once you have a firm job offer, you can apply for a work visa. This is usually a straightforward process but can take three months, so make sure you leave plenty of time.
In Turkey, you’re technically required to have a bachelor’s degree to teach English. However, the strong demand for TEFL teachers means that you may be able to find a job with just a TEFL certificate. Once you secure a job, you will need to apply for both a residence visa and a work permit to work legally. This can be a lengthy process of up to seven months, so make sure you apply well in advance.
If you’re working in a private language school you’ll normally teach 20 to 30 hours per week, plus preparation time. However, this can go up to more than 30 hours both in the Gulf States and Turkey, so make sure you check your contract before you commit to a job. As lessons are generally scheduled for outside the normal school and working day, expect to work flexibly across afternoons, evening and weekend slots.
Your timetable will be more structured if your job is in an international school or public school. Due to the high temperatures, the school day often starts and ends earlier than in the west – a start time of of 7 or 7.30am is normal.
Classes are usually relatively small in the Gulf States – even in schools you’ll generally only have around 20 pupils (compared with an average of 30 in the UK) – and private lessons are likely to be smaller. In Turkey, on the other hand, class sizes are far larger, particularly in public schools.
You will need to dress modestly and respect the students’ culture, wherever you’re based in the Middle East. However, the segregation in Saudi Arabia can allow female students to remove outer clothing and relax far more than is permitted in a mixed environment.
The most lucrative teaching contracts are usually in Saudi Arabia, with Qatar, the UAE, Oman and Bahrain hot on its heels. Teaching packages can be particularly attractive for families, as children can often be included in the visa and be offered benefits such as schooling as part of the package.
In each of these states, TEFL jobs are concentrated in the wealthy areas of the main cities where most businesses and schools are based. Popular destinations include Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Riyadh, Jeddah and Manama – but do be aware that you’ll normally need a degree, TEFL qualification and a minimum of two years’ teaching experience to successfully apply for jobs in these areas.
The majority of jobs in the Gulf States are organised in advance. Look at online TEFL jobs boards for advertisements. These will normally be followed up by either an interview carried out either by Skype or via a recruitment agency in your home country. However, if you are already legally in the region, it is possible to find a job by approach schools in person.
There are far more opportunities for inexperienced TEFL teachers in Turkey where even newly qualified teachers can find work. Again, focus your search around the main cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, as this is where most of the teaching jobs and language schools are found. However, it is possible to pick up work across the country.
One word of warning – while there are some great language schools in Turkey, the industry has a reputation for hiring quickly but then issuing poor contracts that are often ignored. To avoid this frustration, do take time to research your institution before accepting a job or focus on roles in British Council schools and internationally recognised agencies that have a good reputation.
Salaries are excellent in the Gulf States. While average salaries are around £2,000 per month, you can earn up £3,000 per month often with added bonuses on top such as free accommodation, return air flights and health insurance. Some companies will even throw in free schooling for your children if you have any.
Wages are considerably lower in Turkey, with a wage of around £750 more the norm. However, as the cost of living is relatively low here also, you can still afford a decent standard of living – although you’re unlikely to have much left over to save.
The recruitment and visa application process for TEFL jobs in the Middle East can be lengthy, so it’s important to start looking well in advance. While exact dates vary across the region, terms usually start August / September and January, and you’ll often find jobs advertised around six months ahead of these dates.
Most employers recruit in advance, so keep your eye on TEFL jobs boards for the latest vacancies. However, if your visa does allow you to enter the region in advance, it is possible to find a job by contacting schools in person.
Teaching English in this part of the world may not be for everyone. Islamic law is followed throughout the Gulf States. Women, including foreigners, are expected to cover up in public, there is gender segregation, and actions considered normal in western life, such as kissing or drinking alcohol in public, are frowned upon at best – and, at worst, can get you into a lot of trouble. On the flip side, as long as you respect the local culture, you can live and work here perfectly safely. In fact, the segregation of men and women in countries such as Saudi Arabia can actually make female TEFL teachers feel more secure as they will only teach women in their classes.
Overall, once you’ve built up your teaching portfolio, a TEFL job in a Gulf State could be your perfect destination – immersing you in a completely different culture and providing an excellent opportunity to build up your savings.