February 22, 2024

What it’s like to live in Dubai, Qatar, from a teacher who moved there

When Sorcha Coyle was a teacher in England, she earned just £1,200 a month after tax. “After I paid my bills and rent, I honestly broke even at the end of every month,” she told Business Insider.

After teaching there and in her native Ireland, she spent the rest of her twenties in Qatar and Dubai, where the money was much better but the pace of life was so fast that she eventually came home, having saved enough to to realize her dream: buying her own house.

She was looking for something more adventurous after working in England for a year and then back home in Ireland as an assistant teacher.

“I just thought, where can I go to make some money, hopefully buy my house and travel,” she said.

She moved to Qatar for a higher salary

Coyle told BI that many people she knew viewed the Gulf countries as “scary,” especially for women.

But Coyle got a better impression from her aunt, who had worked as a nurse in Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates in the 1980s.

Coyle applied to teach at schools in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar. She was offered all the jobs she applied for and chose a position at a new English-speaking department of an international school in Doha, the capital of Qatar.

It was also the best financial package, she said. It offered her 11,500 Qatari riyals a month tax-free, about 2,300 euros at the time, with free accommodation and a travel allowance.

She got a 2 bedroom apartment

When she arrived in Doha with other teachers who went to work at the same school, she received half her monthly salary in an envelope and a phone with a SIM card, she told BI.

She said they each had a furnished two-bedroom apartment a 20-minute walk from the coast. It was the first time she had a place of her own.

Coyle told BI that she received a housing allowance of 9,000 riyals in her second year. She moved in with a friend in the same block and cut her rent in half.

She set a monthly budget

Coyle said she initially planned to save 100,000 euros over five years, which at the time would be enough to buy a house in Ireland.

She set a monthly budget and stuck to it, but still had enough money to travel to Cuba and China on vacations, subject to her employer’s permission to leave the country, she said.

The balance between work and private life was better

Coyle said she would get up at 6:30 a.m. and leave at 3:30 p.m. She said her work-life balance was better than in Britain. She worked at summer schools and also tutored.

She found opportunities for career development. The school agreed to let her start her own department aimed at the school’s older students and to act as a career counselor.

She had to pay attention to what she said at school

According to Qatari law relationships between people of the same sex are punishable by imprisonment. The government also maintains one guardianship system for menwhere women need permission to marry and travel abroad if they are under 25 years old and single. Freedom of speech is limited.

“We were told from the beginning not to mention certain things,” Coyle said, citing pork, LGBTQ people and Israel as examples.

Coyle told BI that the students often asked questions about life in Western countries, such as how people met their spouses and why people drank alcohol.

“I was very clear when I said there is no right or wrong way,” she said.

She didn’t want it to be perceived that she was “trying to impose a liberal agenda on them,” she added.

There was a difference between public and private life

Coyle said she felt “nothing is impossible” in Qatar. She told BI that the expat community was close-knit. They went for drinks in nice hotels and met people she thought they would never have met at home, such as successful business people.

She joined a Gaelic football team and regularly met friends to walk along the coast or explore the souks.

As expats, she said, they could dress the same way they do in the West to clubs and bars. But they know they must be careful to avoid offending conservative sensibilities. “You would just jump in a taxi and go straight to the location. You wouldn’t choose to walk on the street,” she said.

Coyle told BI she felt safe in Qatar, adding: “Every time you go anywhere in Qatar you have to show your ID to get in so they can track and know where you are going.”

When she returned to London, she found herself confronted on the street by “drunk and noisy men shouting at her”, making her feel unsafe.

She bought a house in Ireland at the age of 29

Coyle left Qatar in 2015 after four years to pursue a master’s degree in linguistics and English language teaching in London.

The 70,000 euros she saved was enough to buy a house in Ireland.

“I don’t think I would have ever been able to buy my house if I hadn’t done this,” she said.

She was not allowed to return to Qatar

When Coyle lived in Qatar, migrant workers were subject to a private sponsorship system called “kafala.” Human rights groups have said the system allows abuse of migrant workers, such as those involved in building stadiums for the 2022 World Cup.

Coyle told BI that she fell foul of this system when she tried to return to Dubai to work at another school, but the previous school used its power to veto it within two years of her departure her work for a competitor. “I was devastated,” Coyle said.

Instead, she moved to Dubai

Coyle applied for a job at a school in Dubai, UAE. When she arrived, she said, she was put up in a hotel for a month while she looked for a place to live.

Her monthly salary was 16,000 Dirham, approximately 3,800 euros at the time, and she received housing allowance. Coyle also rented out the house she bought in Ireland.

She said BI Dubai was “more hectic” than Doha. But she loved the culture and the museums.

She noticed that her students, who were all Emirati, were more open to other cultures than her Qatari students. “I noticed they were very tolerant because they were just exposed to more things,” she said.

But she missed the Arabic-style architecture in Doha. “In Dubai you often feel like you could be in California,” she said.

Moving to Ireland was a relief

She moved into the house she bought in February 2022 after six years in Dubai.

Coyle said she found her life in Doha and Dubai “easier” than her life at home.

“You don’t have the same worries once your rent is paid,” she said. But she began to feel unhappy and found herself longing for a sense of stability.

She said Dubai, where she knew mostly young, single people, lacked “that homely feeling for me.”

In Dubai she started her own company where she advised other teachers on preparing to work in the Gulf countries and, in addition to teaching, she also created an online course. She was in her 30s, working hard and concerned with making money and showing off her lifestyle, she said.

“You can get burned out if you live that life for so long. You can lose touch with your family, your home life. It gets harder as you get older,” Coyle added.

She said she now advises her clients preparing to work in the Gulf that it is best to teach in the Gulf countries for a limited period: achieve your goals and then go home.

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