Top left photo by Al Jazeera English
Bottom right photo by Al Jazeera English
Work Visa (Iqama) in advance
Cost of Living
University Students, Children
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What Kind of Teaching Jobs Are There In Saudi Arabia?
The most commonly available teaching jobs in Saudi Arabia are in public or private high schools and universities. Teaching is segregated, so male teachers teach male students and female teachers teach female students. There are also jobs teaching English at language schools and Business English for companies, but these are less common.
Teaching at schools and universities in Saudi Arabia
Finding a job
If you know someone who is already working in Saudi Arabia, getting them to recommend you to their employer can be an efficient way to find teaching work. If you are starting to search for teaching jobs in Saudi Arabia from scratch, online TEFL jobs forums like LoveTEFLjobs.com are the best places to start.
When to apply
The school year usually runs from August/September to May/June, so most employers are looking to hire in February or March. The process can take a long time – especially when it comes to the visa paperwork – so make sure you’re looking as early as January or February to avoid missing out.
Teaching hours & Class sizes
Most EFL teachers in Saudi Arabia work about 35 hours per week with 20-25 teaching hours. The remaining hours are usually spent in the office preparing lessons or marking students’ work. Schools tend to be open from 7:30am until 3:30pm from Saturday to Wednesday, but this can vary depending on the institution. And class sizes also vary depending whether the school is public or private, with classes having roughly 15-30 students, though some classes could have up to 50 students.
Salary & Bonuses
Salaries can vary widely depending your experience, the type of employer and the location you teach, but they tend to range from £1,900 and £3,600 per month. The salary will also be tax free if you remain in Saudi Arabia for 12 months. Be aware, if you leave before 12 months is up you will be liable to pay tax on everything you have earned!
In addition to the salary being tax free, teachers tend to find that most of their salary is disposable income. Accommodation and transport to and from the school is usually provided by your employer and the cost of bills is usually very low in comparison to most Western countries, so you should have quite a bit left over each month to travel with or save up!
All holidays work around the Islamic calendar but you should end up with around eight weeks of paid holiday per year.
- Slower pace of life
- High, tax-free salary and relatively low cost of living
- Hospitable and welcoming local people
- You will need to ask permission from your employer before leaving the country, to ensure you don’t void your visa
- Lack of social venues/entertainment facilities
- Restrictions to behaviour and clothing (especially for women)
Other types of English teaching jobs in Saudi Arabia
You may be able to find work at English language centres or teaching Business English within companies. However, this kind of teaching work is much less common and often difficult to find.
Am I eligible to teach in Saudi Arabia?
Do you have at least a Bachelor’s degree? Do you have a Trinity TESOL, CELTA or other recognised teaching certificate? Do you have at least two years of experience in TEFL teaching? Are you a native English speaker? If you’ve answered yes to all these questions, you’re eligible to teach in Saudi Arabia!
How can I get a visa?
The visa for teaching in Saudi Arabia is called an Iqama, which is a resident’s permit that allows you to legally live and work in the country. Your employer will sponsor you for the visa and will take you through the entire process, as it’s not something you can obtain alone. It can take a while to obtain – often about three months – so be patient and keep in contact with your employer for updates.
Be aware that if you’re a single female you may need to ‘prove’ your single status as part of the visa process by obtaining a signed letter from a solicitor. It may be the case that your local solicitor is unfamiliar with this process so be sure to seek advice from your employer before requesting this.
Where can I teach in Saudi Arabia?
The most popular places to teach English in Saudi Arabia are Dammam, Jeddah, Makkah, Madinah and Riyadh. These all offer quite different lifestyles, so you’ll need to think carefully about what you want before choosing a destination.
For those that want to be closer to the Western lifestyle, Dammam (on the east coast) is a great option. It’s fairly modern, the centre of the oil industry and it’s only an hour from the centre of Dammam to the island of Bahrain, where western laws and culture apply. This means there are no clothing restrictions and alcohol is available. Though keep in mind, most visas will require you to ask for permission to leave the country from your employer before you leave the country – so make sure you check whether you can travel before you go!
Jeddah (on the west coast) is a great option if you fancy a more relaxed lifestyle. Even though it’s near to the holy cities, its population tends to have a more open view of Western culture. It’s also close to the mountains and the Red Sea, offering great options for things to do on your day off, and there’s a relatively high number of teaching jobs in Jeddah.
Makkah (aka. Mecca) and Madinah (Medina) are the beautiful holy cities on the west coast, but you can usually only live in these places if you are of Muslim faith.
If you’re looking for hustle and bustle but don’t qualify for the holy cities, try looking for teaching jobs in Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia. It’s located slap bang in the centre of the country and has a range of things to do, from shopping at malls to exploring the huge sand dunes to the north and south of the city centre. It’s currently the strictest place in the country, in terms of the religious rules observed, but it is also the first to see big changes and new ventures, such as the first Saudi Arabian cinema!
If you don’t want to miss out on cold winters and are looking for more of an authentic experience, Tabuk – in the mountainous north of the country – could be the best option for you. It has warm summers and often has snow in the winter so has a perfect combination of desert and mountain climates! It also has some amazing archaeology sites for you to explore, like Wadi Dam (just to the west of Tabuk) and is less modern and urban in general, so you get a feel for the real Saudi Arabia, free from Western influence.
What are the challenges of teaching English in Saudi Arabia?
This can, unfortunately, depend on your gender. For women, the primary challenge will be reduced independence and autonomy, when compared to Western culture. The unofficial laws of the country – which are not officially written down but are observed – that affect women include:
- Male ‘wali’ (guardian): Each woman needs to have a wali who is responsible for her and from whom she needs approval for certain major decisions (like obtaining a passport or leaving the country). In families this tends to be either the father, husband or brother of each woman but if you are single and going out to Saudi Arabia to teach, your employer will tend to take up this role, so they will be responsible for you and in charge of any admin/bank accounts, etc.
- Clothing restrictions: Women should all wear a long cloak called an abaya that reaches the ground, is not see through and has no obvious openings/splits. Traditionally this was always black but slowly different colours and patterned fabrics are being introduced (although this is officially frowned upon so best to avoid it). Ideally you should also have your head covered with a piece of cloth called a hijab. This isn’t usually enforced for Westerners (unless visiting a mosque or holy site) but you may feel more comfortable observing it when around lots of other people.
- Interaction with the opposite sex: Most official places will have separate entrances for men and women so that interaction with the opposite sex outside of the home/family is kept to an absolute minimum. Interacting with the opposite sex is heavily frowned upon and can incur harsh punishments for both parties (often harsher for women) so it should be avoided where possible.
- Swimming in public: If you want to cool off with a swim it will have to be in a private women-only pool or spa and not in a public pool, hotel pool or the sea, as these locations are available to men as well. This will probably be changing soon though, as the current Crown Prince wants to increase tourism to the country so plans to make things more integrated and ‘Westerner friendly’ on the Red Sea coastline.
- Driving: The law was previously that women were not allowed to drive and, although this has been changed this year, many women are still dependent on male drivers to get around.
For both men and women, it’s important to bear in mind that affection between members of the opposite sex, even between a married couple, is frowned upon in public and should be avoided.
For single men, it’s important to know that there are certain areas that will be reserved for families (this term applies to any man with a female relative/spouse, whether they have children or not, or a group of females) and that as a single man you will not be allowed to sit alone in these areas and any attempt to do so will result in a reprimand from one of the locals. These areas tend to be seen most often in restaurants (including food courts in malls) and with supermarket check out lines.
A more general challenge may be the lack of social life or entertainment available for those of a more sociable nature. Saudi Arabia doesn’t really have anything aimed at the entertainment of young people and this is unlikely to change in the near future. Compounds may have some activities available (e.g. bowling) but this isn’t always guaranteed.
Cost of living in Saudi Arabia
Like many countries, the cost of living tends to depend on what you are looking to buy! Most Western food and branded food from the USA, Canada or the UK tend to be more expensive, whereas local food and produce tend to be very cheap.
Even if you do prefer to opt for the Western foods, a typical employment package consists of a very good salary (tax free for contracts of 12 months and over), subsidised airfare, free or subsidised accommodation and a driver/transport to and from the school for you. With all of this included, and the fact that there isn’t lots of entertainment or alcohol to spend your wages on, your outgoings should be relatively small. Most people find they are able to save the equivalent of at least $800 per month (roughly half of a basic salary).
About Saudi Arabia
A surprising country, Saudi Arabia is constantly modernising and adapting, while still trying to retain its cultural identity. The push to modernise has been driven by the Crown Prince – and backed by a youthful population – who has decided that the country shouldn’t be relying on oil as the only source of income. Foreign investment and even tourism (with a Saudi Arabian version of Dubai being planned for the west coast, with more relaxed rules for visitors) are now the main focus for those in charge and both will bring about major changes in the country.
The people of Saudi Arabia are reserved and traditional but very welcoming and friendly and more than happy to help, should you find yourself in difficulties.
The official name of Saudi Arabia is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, so it is often referred to locally as KSA; useful to know so you don’t wonder what people are talking about when they refer to it this way!
Saudi Arabian culture
Although the country has been modernising at a very rapid rate over the past ten years, Saudi Arabian culture is very traditional and strongly linked to Islamic teachings and practices. Given the massive modernisation that the country has been undergoing and the very youthful population, there have been institutions and festivals set up all over the country to try and preserve traditional cultural practices. Janadriyah is one such festival and it’s held every year in the capital, Riyadh. It attracts a big crowd (so get ready for increased traffic around this time), runs for a number of weeks and highlights all the best aspects of Saudi Arabian and Middle Eastern culture, from dance and art to food and drink.
Hospitality and generosity are key aspects of the culture so you will generally find the Saudi Arabian people very welcoming to strangers. The pace of life in Saudi Arabia is also much more relaxed than most places, so be prepared for things like paperwork to take longer than you’re may be used to in Western countries! It is also important to remember that the working week adheres to Islamic holy days, running from Sunday to Thursday (rather than Monday to Friday), so make sure to get any paperwork in or sorted on the right days – don’t wait until Friday!
Fun fact: Saudi Arabia is abundant in camels and they are very well cared for and loved by their owners – and there are festivals and shows to attest to this. Additionally, which may be surprising to those that haven’t visited the Middle East before, they come in a variety of colours including black, brown and white; not just the traditional beige!
Saudi Arabian cuisine
The foods that are mainly eaten in Saudi Arabia don’t seem to have changed much from the nomadic tribes of the past. Typical dishes tend to centre around hummus, flatbread, rice and some sort of meat (usually lamb or chicken) in a sauce. Dates are also a big part of the Saudi Arabian diet, either included in dishes or eaten as a snack, and there are a wide array of different types available. According to Islamic law, neither pork or alcohol is consumed in Saudi Arabia.
Accommodation in Saudi Arabia
Accommodation is usually provided for you by your employer and tends to be a house/apartment on a secure compound near your place of work, generally with other foreigners. Saudi Arabian law is generally suspended inside these compounds, so the wearing of the abaya/hijab is not compulsory, and you are able to wear whatever clothing/swimwear you prefer. You will also be able to interact with members of the opposite sex in integrated gyms, pools and restaurants, without any risk of sanctions.
For those wishing to find their own accommodation, outside of these compounds, your employer will generally provide you with a housing subsidy to cover the costs of rent and bills.
Weather in Saudi Arabia
Although Saudi Arabia primarily has a desert climate, the weather can be surprisingly variable. The summer consists of extremely hot days with a drop in temperature at night, and the winters can get be mild or cold – you’ll even find snow in northern locations like Tabuk!
Locations on the western coast, like Jeddah, also experience quite a bit of rain and thunder in the autumn through to early spring, as they are influenced by the Indian Ocean monsoons.
Dust storms are also a feature throughout the year (think Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) and it’s best to stay indoors when one of them is whirling, to avoid too much getting into your lungs! If you do have to brave it for any reason, it’s probably best to invest in a face mask and sunglasses so you can still see and breathe easily.
Please note: The information in this guide is accurate as of the time of writing. However, the laws and requirements to teach abroad can often change. Make sure to check the latest advice from the local authority of the country you plan to work in.