Saudi Arabia is the largest oil-producing nation in the world and the largest country on the Arab peninsula. It is categorized as a high-income nation by the world bank with a large number of high paying opportunities for experienced ESL teachers.
Overview of Saudi Arabia
Major Cities: Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Khobar
Capital City: Riyadh
Primary Language(s): Arabic
Official Currency: Saudi Riyal (SR)
Primary Religion: Sunni Muslim (Wahhabi dominate)
Working in Saudi Arabia
Language schools in Saudi Arabia are very similar to their counterparts in the rest of the world in that they provide extra learning opportunities for students wishing to study English. These schools have received a large boost in part due to government-sponsored initiatives encouraging the populace to learn English. Schools are both public as well as private and teachers can be in large cities such as Riyadh or smaller rural areas. Teachers at language schools will be expected to help in curriculum development as well as helping with the course structure. Unlike many other language schools in the world, knowledge of Arabic is strongly encouraged but not required and can help you to more easily land a job if you do have speaking abilities.
- Teachers at language schools in Saudi Arabia will be expected to have a 120-hour TEFL certificate at a minimum or a CELTA. The TEFL certificate should be either blended or on-site as strictly online certifications will not be accepted. All teachers are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university and many language schools will only hire teachers who have a teaching certification with prior experience.
- The typical work week at a language school in Saudi Arabia will consist of 25-30 hours of in-class time as well as extra time for working on lesson plans and course curriculum.
- Salaries at language schools in Saudi Arabia are typically higher than in other parts of the world with pay ranging from $3,200-$4,000 per month. Salaries will be dependent on teaching experience and will typically include a number of extra benefits. Some of the benefits of teaching in Saudi Arabia include tax-free salary, provided accommodations, health insurance, airfare reimbursement, and more depending on experience as well as the school. It is advised that teachers ensure any promised benefits are clearly written in the contract. Contracts in Saudi Arabia are written in Arabic so an independent translator will be needed for teachers who cannot read Arabic.
University teaching positions in Saudi Arabia, like in many places in the world, are the highest paying and thus also the most competitive. Students at Saudi universities are required to take an English language proficiency exam and, for this reason, there is a strong demand for experienced teachers at the university level. On top of this, many students will be looking to study abroad in an English-speaking country so most will take extra English classes to help gain proficiency. Teachers at Saudi universities will be required to create course material.
- All teachers will be required to have multiple years of experience teaching ESL at a higher level and almost all universities will require candidates to have a teaching certificate. Most universities will require teachers to have a masters in English at a minimum and all teachers will be required to hold a 120-hour TEFL certificate or a CELTA certificate.
- Working hours will vary greatly depending on the university you are teaching at. University teachers can expect to teach between 20 and 30 hours each week including the extra time for material preparation.
- Salaries at Saudi universities are some of the highest in the world for ESL teachers and start out at around 4,000 US Dollars and increase depending on the level of experience that a teacher has. This is in addition to the many benefits including airfare reimbursement, provided accommodations, health insurance, and as mentioned before completely tax-free salaries.
Increasing Your Chances of Securing a Job
Many schools in Saudi Arabia are going to be looking for teachers that have past experience at the level they are applying to teach. While this isn’t true everywhere, especially when it comes to private language schools, it is going to hold true for the public school system as well as universities. Aside from past experience having a teaching certificate is going to go a long way in helping you to secure a more desirable position. One of the best things you can do to ensure you have an edge over the competition is to become TEFL certified. But, you will need to make sure you get the right certification. For most jobs in Saudi Arabia, an online TEFL certification isn’t going to cut it. Most schools, and especially the higher paying schools, will be looking for you to have at the very least a 120-hour blended learning or on-site TEFL certification from a reputable institution. Some schools will require a certification but the ones that don’t will certainly look more favorably on you if you do have one. Lastly, you want to make sure that you have everything in order in terms of reference letters, crafting a solid resume, and proper presentation. Remember that appearance is extremely important in Saudi Arabia so appearing at your interview wearing a t-shirt and jeans, whether it is in person or through video conference, will almost certainly guarantee you will not have a successful outcome. Also, be aware that reference letters go a long way in Saudi Arabia so make sure if you have any past experience teaching that is applicable to what you want to do that you request reference letters from those schools. If you make sure all of these things are in order then you will most certainly have a leg up over the competition assuming they have not made the same preparations.
In almost all cases, the company or school that you are hired to work with will handle securing the work visa for you. This is because in order to receive a work visa for Saudi Arabia you must first have an invitation from an employer. It is impossible to travel to the country and find a job after landing. In order to secure the permit, teachers must be able to prove that they are healthy, have no prior criminal record, and have the proper qualifications in the way of a bachelor’s degree or higher and a teaching permit. The work visa will permit a teacher to enter the country for a period of 14 to 90 days. During this time you will be required to apply for a residence permit, called an Iqama, which will allow you to stay long-term in Saudi Arabia. Be warned that the country has very strict laws surrounding work visas and as such you will need to make sure you can provide all of the documentation required in order to receive employment and secure a visa.
Standard of Living
The standard of living is quite high for foreign employees in Saudi Arabia. Because the country is a major oil-producing nation there is a great deal of money which gets spent bringing in foreign workers and this includes in the ESL industry. As mentioned above the country is extremely conservative and because of this the norms and rules which govern the daily lives of Saudi citizens vary greatly from those many westerners may be used to. Most recently, the Saudi government has promised to open up the country to tourism and a lot of money has been pledged by other countries for the development of a tourism sector.
ESL Teacher Salaries
|Riyadh||12,100 - 15,100+||$3,200 - $4,000+|
Typical Cost of Living
|Riyadh||2,500 - 3,500*||$660 - $925*|
*Most schools will provide accommodation as well as generous travel per diems and insurance coverage so expenses may be much less than this depending on your lifestyle. Also, as alcohol is banned in the country, nightlife expenses are removed from this cost.
Living in Saudi Arabia
Things to Do
Saudi Arabia is an extremely conservative country and because of this has very strict laws governing what is and isn’t allowed. Alcohol is strictly forbidden throughout the entire country as well as public celebrations such as concerts. Movie theaters are also forbidden though movies which have been deemed appropriate can be seen on cable television and there are some DVD stores. There is a very strict gender divide and males are heavily segregated from females. Laws in Saudi Arabia are strictly enforced and it is wise to understand these laws before entering the country so that you do not run afoul of them as leniency will not be given just because you are a foreigner.
The first world heritage site in Saudi Arabia, Mada’in Saleh is an ancient example of Nabatean rock-cut architectures similar to Petra in Jordan. The site itself dates back to the 1st century AD and is widely considered to be a cursed place due to its history in Islāmic culture, something the Saudi government has been trying to change in order to attract tourism to the site. The site achieved UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008 and includes four necropoleis’ as well as an example of a residential area with some of the residential structures still standing. The site is located in western Saudi Arabia near the city of Al-‘Ula.
The Farasan Islands are a series of islands off the southwest coast of Saudi Arabia in the Red Sea. At the moment, the islands are largely unsettled outside of the town of Farasan on the largest island. There are plans to turn the islands into a tourist destination as the Saudi government begins to issue tourist visas for the first time later in 2018. The islands are great for diving and robust with reefs and aquatic life. Ferries between the mainland city of Jizan and Farasan city operate daily and are free of charge. Smaller local boats can be hired for a faster trip between the mainland and the island