Teaching English Abroad in the Middle East
The Practical Information You Need to Get Work
The Middle East is a popular destination for hundreds of foreign workers, including teachers. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Jordan are the countries which have the greatest demand for TEFL teachers. Opportunities may abound in these countries, but foreign workers—especially highly liberal westerners—have to be very vigilant about following the extremely conservative laws of this region. Westerners should be very careful when attempting to challenge laws they may feel are not suitable based upon their own preconceived notions. Specific requirements, including working and living conditions, should be checked for the country that is being considered for a teaching position.
Countries have their own set of requirements when it comes to immigration even though they belong to the same region. It is therefore important that an applicant for a teaching position in a Middle Eastern country enquire first about its specific requirements to avoid problems at a later stage. The common requirements for an employment visa for Middle Eastern countries are: the passport—the length of minimum validity depending on the country of destination, certificate of sponsorship from the hiring company, and the employment contract. Rules regarding sponsorship also vary amongst Middle Eastern countries so it is best to know the differences.
United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one of the Middle Eastern countries which offer relatively higher wages to its workforce. Unfortunately, U.A.E. visas are not granted to Israeli nationals. Aside from the passport, the sponsorship certificate and copies of the work contract, an applicant for a worker’s visa should also have notarized copies of important documents such as Academic Qualifications, Marriage Certificate (if applicable) and Birth Certificate. Sponsorship is highly essential because the sponsor is responsible for the employee’s well being and conduct throughout the duration of his or her stay. Some activities, such as getting married or applying for a driver’s license, need to be approved in writing by the sponsor before the employee may complete them.
Another country that offers impressive remuneration for workers is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, though an employment visa is only valid for one year. In order to be granted an employment visa, an applicant has to have the following: a completed visa application form, a passport valid for at least six months, passport size photo with a white background, reference note with number and date of residence visa, original sponsor letter, copy of the signed employment contract, certified and notarized copies of the applicant’s university diploma, medical report proving that the applicant does not have a contagious disease (specific forms apply); and a police report with information on the applicant’s criminal record, if there is any. In addition, if you are transferring from a position within Saudi Arabia, then you will need a release letter from your previous employer.
In order to obtain an employment visa for Kuwait, the applicant has to have a passport with one year validity; an employment contract/work permit or letter of appointment which also states if family members will accompany the applicant; completed visa applications; a medical report that includes an HIV test and which clears the applicant from having any other contagious or disabling diseases, and a police clearance certificate. In addition to the employment visa, a residence visa also has to be obtained by the sponsor for the applicant.
Working and Living Conditions
Teaching in the Middle East can be highly lucrative. There are numerous international schools in the region and since there is not a tradition of English speaking within the region, there is a high demand for English-learning programs. Salaries are usually given in the local currency and may be tax free, depending upon the contract and the prevailing regulations from the teacher’s country of origin. Contracts are usually awarded for a period of two to three years. Schools that sponsor the teachers are responsible for obtaining the necessary residency and work permits that correspond to the teacher’s contract. Most Middle Eastern schools provide housing as part of the employment packages, some big enough to accommodate families with two dependents. Tuition fee discounts for a specified number of the teachers’ children at a given institution may also be included in the package.
Teaching in the Middle East means that educators also have to contend with cultural limitations set by the Islamic religion. Pork and alcohol are generally prohibited, though some foreign embassies occasionally sponsor events that allow these food and beverage. Intermingling of single men and women is not acceptable and any public display of affection between a man and a woman can result in imprisonment. Certain subjects, such as family members, are considered to be private matters such that students are not allowed to discuss these in class. Strict laws also prevent teachers from having access to wider materials such as those that would incorporate pop culture with political issues.
Teaching in the Middle East can be very satisfying and at the same time highly taxing. The environment challenges the teacher’s creativity to come up with teaching methods that effectively impart knowledge while at the same time using materials that are limited by sensitivity to the region’s cultural traditions.