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Teaching English in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia (or officially, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) is often touted as one of the highest paying destinations for English teachers.

This article looks at what it’s like to teach there, how to get work, what you need and what the conditions and rewards are like.

Pay in Saudi for Teachers

Saudi is one of the few countries where teachers can make good money. There are jobs available in schools or through teaching private lessons. Although in the past there has been some resistance to teaching English‏‎ in primary schools, the Saudi government announced in June 2011 that it was reducing the age at which English teaching would be taught in state schools from 11 to 9.

In an elementary school working hours are generally 7am to 3pm. In a private school or university the hours are mainly in the evening. Most schools are sex segregated with female teachers teaching women and girls and male teachers teaching men and boys.

The usual contracts are either 1 or 2 years long. Pay varies but can be anything from $3000 USD (€2374, £1909) to $6000 USD (€4748, £3818) per month. Many schools will provide airfare, a good apartment, paid vacations and a tax free salary to their teachers on top of this with additional bonuses. It’s quite possible to live well on less than half this amount in Saudi and save the rest.

(Note that if you work as an employee your salary can be made tax free; if you set up on your own then tax runs at about 20%. In addition, if you are American then you will theoretically have to complete a tax return with the IRS back home and tax on your Saudi income in the US.)

Typically transport for teachers to and from the school will be organized by the school. Accommodation will be arranged and is likely to be in “compounds” with other foreign employees.

What is the Teaching Like?

There tend to be no serious problems with the students but firm discipline‏‎ needs to be shown from day one. In addition, teaching needs to steer well clear of anything like “Western Culture” and teachers should not even contemplate bringing sensitive subjects‏‎ like sex equality or sexual orientation, religion or politics into the classroom.

Many classes are taught by non-native teachers of varying ability and much of the class is devoted to reading‏‎ and writing‏‎ rather than speaking‏‎ and listening‏‎. Rote learning‏‎ is common.

What Qualifications do I need?

High standards are expected from teachers. Standard jobs require a degree and a TEFL certificate plus several years experience although to teach in higher positions a Masters Degree is preferred. All teachers must be native English speakers or at least extremely fluent.

Hiring takes place January – August and the school year typically starts in September.

Most westerners will require a visa for work in Saudi which will only be issued when you have a firm job offer. Note that there is no tourist visa available for Saudi so you cannot use this to enter the country and then look for work.

Interestingly with recent laws lowering the age at which English is taught at state schools there is a high demand for English teachers which is often filled by non-native speakers.

What is it like to Live in Saudi for Teachers?

Saudi culture is strongly centered around Islam and values highly dignity, respect, modesty, and self-control.

There is little nightlife and alcohol is not drunk as Saudi is home to some of the most conservative forms of Islam. Theaters, for example, do not exist. (If you are in the east however you can easily go over the border to Bahrain‏‎ which is more open to night clubs, bars and theaters, etc.)

Many foreigners live in compounds. These vary from place to place with some being extremely luxurious and others being very basic. Some will have facilities inside including shops, swimming pools, bowling alleys, and suchlike. Here you may well find some good friends and some alcohol (although discretion is the watchword). Compounds vary with some being very relaxed and others highly controlled. They can be very insular.

Drugs are strictly forbidden and should be avoided at all costs since the penalty for possession can be death. Likewise, public sex (or strong displays of affection) can also be punished harshly.

Many westerners find it hard to adjust to living conditions in the country. Prayers are said 5 times a day when cafes and restaurants and shops close; the climate can be difficult and censorship of the media and internet is rife.

Often concerns are raised about safety in Saudi and the Middle East in general. This is often unfounded; Saudi is not involved in any wars, relations with its neighbors are generally good and Westerners are generally welcomed. It has good diplomatic relations with most Western countries.

The Saudi government imposes certain restrictions on web surfing and there have been cases of users not being able to access various discussion sites which relate to Saudi. A useful precaution is to have your email based outside Saudi. You may also want to consider using a VPN to access sites which are freely available outside the country.

What’s it like as a Female Teacher in Saudi?

Women cannot drive in Saudi and need to be chaperoned when they go out. As mentioned above, school classes are segregated so there is a demand for female teachers but living conditions can often prove very stifling for western women.

As for clothes these should veer very much on the conservative side with nothing too revealing or shapely. A scarf to cover the head is useful. However, it also depends where you are; in the main cities there is more freedom when it comes to what to wear than in smaller towns.

In many public places don’t be surprised if you are not allowed to sit with a man. Some mall cafes have mixed dining areas (hidden away) but in many cases sexes are segregated.

Background to Saudi

Saudi Arabia is the largest country on the Arab Peninsula. It is the world’s leading petroleum exporter with 25% of the world’s oil reserves, a fast growing economy, mostly uninhabited and contains two of the holiest sites in Islam: Mecca and Medinah. The language or Saudi is Arabic‏‎.

The commercial capital is Jeddah on the Red Sea. It is over 3,000 years old and home to more than 2 million people. Mecca is nearby and home to annual Hajj when an additional 1 million people arrive each year to pay homage (see picture here).

Approximately six million foreigners live in Saudi. Many are low skilled manual laborers from Asia and the Middle East with a significant number of professionals from North America and Europe.

Turbulence in the region during the past few years has meant in reduction in the number of teachers willing to go there to work, however this also means that there is a high demand for teachers and there are jobs available to the right kind of candidate.

As mentioned before, it’s a high-paying destination for TEFL teachers and there’s the chance to make good money here.

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