ESL Jobs in Saudi Arabia

Barirai in Saudi Arabia

Teaching ESL in Saudi Arabia: Barira

I am from London and I currently teach at a university in Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia. I have been teaching and living in Saudi Arabia for three years. Prior to teaching in Saudi Arabia I taught in London. I also taught briefly in the United Arab Emirates.

Living in Saudi Arabia

I love the weather, aspects of the culture, the work–life balance and general hospitality of the Saudi people. The things I like the least are the lack of places to walk and the bureaucracy.

Women in Saudi Arabia cannot drive, so you have to depend on taxis or company transport. Depending on where you live and how often you go out this can really add up financially. A lot of expat women are able to find reliable taxi drivers to get them around from friends or having had a good taxi driver. In more remote areas of Saudi Arabia transport is more of a challenge.

The driving in Saudi Arabia is crazy and very erratic – drivers cutting up each other and mounting pavements to escape the traffic. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of accidents. Saudi Arabia has one of the highest rates of road traffic accidents in the world.

Saudi Arabia is very safe and has a low crime rate. I am not afraid to go out at night.

The healthcare varies depending on the clinic/hospital, but is generally quite good. It is standard in Saudi Arabia for employers to provide medical insurance.

Housing is almost always provided by your employer. You could be housed in company accommodation or provided with a housing allowance.

The cost of living in Saudi Arabia is quite low and is even lower outside of the big cities. Fruit, vegetables, local cheese, bottled water and petrol (obviously) are very cheap. Eating out is also cheap. It’s not as dirt cheap as places such as Thailand, but you can save a significant amount of your salary. I like to dine out and shop, but I still manage to save about half my salary.

The teaching salaries here are great. The average starting salary if working in a university is 3,000 dollars or more. If you have a related master’s degree, such as in TESOL or linguistics and significant experience you can command a lot more. Private language institutes and language schools may pay less.

In universities the teaching hours do not generally exceed 20 hours a week. In a private language school you would likely be teaching 30 hours a week and the holiday entitlement is not as good as universities.

You can very easily supplement your salary with private tuition. I have been approached many times by Saudis after hearing my English accent to privately tutor them or their children. You can also find private tuition by word of mouth.

The holidays at universities are great. You generally get 30 to 60 days holiday in summer, a January and Spring break of about a week each and the Eid holidays, all of which are fully paid. In private language schools you also get the Eid holidays, in addition to 30 days holiday a year.

Teaching in Saudi Arabia

The sexes in Saudi Arabia are segregated, so males teach males and females teach females. Universities are also segregated according to the sexes, so you get all male and female universities.

Teaching in Saudi Arabia is rewarding and challenging. Some students are not motivated and can cause some problems in class, but there are also those who are very motivated and hard-working and they are a pleasure to teach. Class sizes range from 20+. It really depends on where you teach. The work culture very much depends on where you teach. Some places are easy-going and relaxed, other places micromanage their teachers.

In order to apply for the work visa you have to be in your home country. Your prospective employer sends the paperwork to the embassy and you must do a medical, which includes a HIV test and other tests. Once done you get the visa in your passport. Once you get to Saudi Arabia you give your passport with the visa to your employer and they apply for the iqama(residency permit). You also have to do another medical once you get to Saudi Arabia. The process of getting the visa varies slightly in different countries. Americans are required to have a police check. The iqama is very important. Without it you can’t open a bank account, get a phone line, etc.

Getting a teaching job is easy in Saudi Arabia if you have a degree and CELTA/TESOL/TEFL and/or Masters plus experience. It is possible to find a position without experience, if you have the required credentials. It is almost impossible to find a position without a degree. The Saudi embassies generally won’t grant the work visa without a degree. You can find jobs for Saudi Arabia on EFL Sensei, as well as TEFL jobsites such as Dave’s ESL Café, tefl.com and teachsaudi.com

Recommendations & Concerns

My recommendation is to come to Saudi Arabia with an open mind and not expect too much.

Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam. As a result of this Saudi Arabia is ruled according to Islamic law. Anyone coming here needs to be aware of that. There are no night clubs or the like and alcohol is banned. Being caught with alcohol will likely get you deported.

It is also a patriarchal society. This can be very difficult for some people to swallow.

The sexes are also segregated. You can see this in banks, restaurants, etc. There are singles, women and family sections in these places. For example in restaurants the singles section are for men only. The family section for women and families (husband, wife and children, brothers and sisters, closely related relatives.) and the women section for women of course. By law all women must wear the abaya when outside. It is not obligatory to wear the headscarf, but the mutawwa (religious police) who sometimes patrol malls will tell you to put the headscarf on if your head is uncovered.

In spite of all this Saudi Arabia is not the hell hole it is portrayed to be. There are many mixed gatherings at embassies and compounds where you can network and make friends. Many expats join Internations which is an expat community. You can find out more about them online.

At the weekends you can dine out (there are plenty of international restaurants in Riyadh), explore the city, go out into the desert with tour groups, visit old forts, and go to the souq.

In your holidays you can easily travel to other countries and with the high salaries it is affordable. Many teachers go to Dubai or Bahrain. Travelling to neighbouring countries is relatively cheap. One can easily holiday two or three times a year.

Barira Hassan

Barira Hassan

Barira is from London and currently teaches at a university in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She has been teaching and living in Saudi Arabia for three years. She also has prior teaching experience in both London and the United Arab Emirates.
Barira Hassan

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10 replies
  1. Viktor VolksPrater
    Viktor VolksPrater says:

    American here — Living in China I’m working with QHEC for a position in Abha. I’m excited to go, but it will be mid Oktober; is it unusual to start a month late??? Also, I have asked my recruiter several times for a current teacher to contact me to discuss small things such as school culture, weather (yes I looked on a search engine ut better to hear from a living person), clothing to bring, Dress Code…..he responds it is warm in Abha but the best climate in KSA. Is he correct about the weather down south??? I suppose my question is Dress Code for the men………….what to expect…what to pack… XieXie (ThanX) Barira Viktor

    • Barira
      Barira says:

      Dear Victor It is not unusual to start a month after the semester has started. Teachers can start at different times depending on the needs of the employer. Unfortunately, I don’t know about the weather in Abha. The dress code for men would likely be formal work wear – smart shirt and trousers and possibly a tie. Winter will be coming soon, so I would advise you to bring some warm clothing. Outside of work you could wear your normal clothing. I would advise against wearing shorts and ripped jeans.

  2. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    Hi Barira I have been offered a job to teach at a Girls school in Riyadh. I got interviewed by the principal and I am currently going through the visa process. I just have concerns about the credibility of the offer. I cannot find the girls school on Google, but the Boys schools has the pictures and even videos. Could this be due to them protecting the privacy of the girls? I am going to call the school and enquire further about the existence of said principal.

    • Barira
      Barira says:

      Hello Amanda It may be that the Girls school is newly established and that may be why you cannot find the school on Google. I assume that the Girls are over the age of 10. If that is the case then it is likely as you mentioned that they will not feature pictures and videos of the girls for cultural and religious reasons. Have you tried looking for the school on Facebook? Some schools in Saudi Arabia have a Facebook page. Since you are going through the visa process it is unlikely that the school is a scam. Saudi Arabia does not generally have such scams. You could also ask the school if you could contact a teacher that works at the Girls’ school. I hope that this helps and wish you the best.

  3. Vanessa
    Vanessa says:

    Hi! Thanks for your advice. I plan to do exactly as you say, have the qualifications, and also have a question for you: Do you know which universities and/or recruiters are dependable and which are not–either from your experience or what you have heard? I had been offered a few int’l contracts before that fell through and other’s have been shady; this did not happen to me with Saudi, but a few blogs describe similar situations at, for example, PMU and somewhere up north. I would love to hear from you!

    • Barira
      Barira says:

      Hello Vanessa I would say if you find that many blogs/forums are saying to avoid a place, then I would heed that advice. Dependable good recruiting agencies that I know of are Chase Resourcing, Red Chair Recruitment and Teach Away. As for universities this is something subjective – one person could have a good experience and another have a bad experience in the same institution, so I am not able to really recommend universities

  4. Maxine Rita Phillips-Smith
    Maxine Rita Phillips-Smith says:

    I am a certified TEFL teachers 800 teaching practice. I have no degree, but have uk primary school experience as a Teachers Aid and am a mature teacher (50 years)

    Do you think I would find it hard to mix in in an ex pat group. Are they people from all walks of life. Unfortunately I found I was left out of the socialising my fellow teacher trainees did in Spain and I am a social person. I am used to a very mixed age social group and found this disheartening and lonely.

    Any idea how much the school offer. 2,000 2,500? Its important as I still have a home to maintain in the UK and other family responsibilities.

    Thank you for your kind help and assistance.

    Max

    • Barira
      Barira says:

      Hello Maxine
      I would firstly like to make you aware that it is extremely difficult to find a teaching position in Saudi Arabia without a degree, but that is not to say it is not possible. The majority of positions advertised require a degree, but there are occasional positions advertised that don’t require a degree.

      In big cities such as Riyadh and Jeddah there are many Western expats, so it is fairly easy to make friends. Most expats make friends at work – I have made many friends at work. There are also get togethers at embassies and compounds – this is another way to make friends with expats from all over the world. You will find people from all walks of life and age ranges. The expat community organisation Internations has a strong presence in Saudi Arabia. You can find them online.

      Teaching salaries in Saudi Arabia start at about £2000 for someone with a degree, CELTA/TEFL/TESOL certificate and experience. For someone without a degree it would likely be lower than that. I am not sure how much someone without a degree would get.

    • Barira
      Barira says:

      Hello Tallie

      Saudi Arabian institutions almost always have a set curriculum, so teaching materials are mostly provided.

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