Some of the most lucrative English teaching positions in the world can be found in the Middle East and Saudi Arabia represents the most common entry point. Although English as a second language is a required subject in the Saudi national curriculum, cultural differences dictate that native-English speakers are rarely hired by state schools. However, competency in English is essential for locals to secure almost any desirable employment which means that there is a constant demand for native-English teachers in Universities and private language schools. In addition to attractive salaries, teachers are provided with apartments and amenities far superior to those found in countries like Japan or Korea, and generally benefit from a much lighter working schedule. Of course, some people will be put off by the threat of terrorism in the region, but teachers generally live on University campuses or in Western housing compounds that benefit from a very high level of security and excellent facilities.
December is the prime hiring season, although some positions are advertised throughout the year. MA TESOL holders may want to attend the TESOL Arabia job fair in Dubai, which takes place every March. Here you will be able to sit for interviews for posts that start the following August or September.
There are opportunities for any qualified native-English speaking teachers, although it has to be said that some institutions express a preference for US, Canadian or British citizens, and often prefer them to be resident in those countries. This is largely due to the fact that many schools and universities have networks in these countries to facilitate the interview and hiring process.
You should be aware that there is a mandatory age ceiling of 55 for English teachers in Saudi Arabia. It is also very difficult for female teachers to secure positions from outside the kingdom, particularly if they are single. Women’s colleges do hire female teachers from time to time, as do some large corporations, but these positions are generally filled by the spouses of men who are either teaching themselves, or employed in some other industry.
It is possible to land a teaching position with a bare minimum of a first degree, a recognized TESOL qualification and at least two years experience. More lucrative or senior positions would also require a relevant post-graduate qualification and at least five years teaching, which in some cases should include managerial experience.
Salaries are dependent on qualifications and experience but will generally be in the region of SAR 6,375-11,250 (US$1,700-3,000). There is also high demand for private tutors and students will pay anywhere between SAR 100-150 (US$27-40) for a one-hour lesson. While, at first glance, salaries may seem to be inferior to those found in Japan or Korea, it should be noted that English teachers in Saudi Arabia pay no income tax and receive a number of other benefits not usually found in Asia:
High grade, furnished apartments are provided free of charge. This includes an internet connection and all utilities other than long-distance telephone calls.
Flight tickets for you (and co-dependents) are provided to and from your country of origin at the beginning and end of your contract.
Additional return flights are normally paid for once a year, usually during the summer vacation.
You and you family will receive at least basic medical insurance and subsidized schooling.
End-of-contract bonuses equal to 20 days of basic pay per year of employment for the first three years, and thereafter a month’s salary per year of employment.
Contact teaching hours are generally more favorable than those normally found in east Asia, which means you will have more free time to teach private classes. In addition, goods and services are extremely cheap, so that your net remuneration, even for entry-level positions, will far exceed that which you might expect in Japan or Korea. You can also expect to receive more paid holidays, at least five weeks per year.
Although state schools rarely hire non-native teachers there are many private schools that cater mainly to the large expatriate community, and almost all classes are conducted in English. A teaching degree and/or experience of teaching K-12 students is beneficial for such positions.
Several well-known foreign language schools, such as Berlitz and Linguarama, have branches throughout Saudi Arabia. These are popular not only with Saudi nationals, but are also often used by expatriate workers from other countries looking to improve their English. However, unlike regular schools and universities, classes usually continue late into the evening and involve more contact teaching hours.
The British Council also has a strong presence in Saudi Arabia, and can be considered a highly desirable employer. Working conditions are good and they are well-respected as an institution.
There are opportunities to teach in universities throughout the kingdom. Many are owned and operated by oil companies, grooming future employees who will need to have a high degree of competency in English. Students are usually very hard working and respectful of their tutors, however it certainly helps to have a strong personality and good classroom management skills.
Private English lessons are popular in Saudi Arabia and a lucrative way to supplement your regular income. The demand for private English lessons is to some extent seasonal, more people wanting them in the run-up to the examination season. There’s another peak of demand when exam results are published, from those who have failed and need to improve their skills for exam retakes.
If you are looking for a party atmosphere and enjoy clubbing until the early hours then Saudi Arabia is probably not the place for you. It is home to Mecca, the birthplace of Islam, and the Saudi people’s strict adherence to Sharia law makes it the most conservative state in the region. Although many non-Islamic foreigners live and work quite happily in the kingdom, you should be aware that ignoring the strict application of religious and cultural rules can have serious consequences. You will find no alcohol for sale in shops or restaurants and unmarried couples should not dine together in public. The country is patrolled by ‘muttawa’, or religious police, whose job is to ensure that such laws are strictly enforced. Having said that, within the confines of foreign housing compounds, alcohol does exist and a degree of western-style socializing is possible, though somewhat sedate. It should also be borne in mind that you will have both the resources and opportunity to make trips to less strict neighboring states if you do fancy a ‘wild’ weekend.
New arrivals will soon become immersed in the expatriate circuit and there’s plenty to do in your free time. You’ll find yourself making trips to the desert, diving in the Gulf or the Red Sea, exploring historic ruins, shopping in malls or local markets, and there are a variety of sporting activities to suit most tastes. If you are lucky enough to make Saudi friends, you’ll find them to be charming, hospitable, and generous people who will be proud and willing to share their culture with you. Teaching private classes can lead to such acquaintances.
The highest concentration of job opportunities can be found in the capital, Riyadh. It’s a very modern city although there are some traces of the old town such as Masmak Fort and the traditional Najdi palaces near Deara Square. The King’s Camel Races are also held near the city in April or May. Jeddah is another city where many foreign teachers are based and, despite its more cosmopolitan feel, has retained large parts of the ancient city which are of historical interest. There are a number of leisure activities including an amusement park and a lake that allows both sailing and snorkeling. The holy cities of Mecca and Medina are, unfortunately, forbidden to non-Muslims. The Asir region, in the south, is a range of coastal mountains and the only part of the kingdom where there is significant wild vegetation, mostly palms and evergreen bushes. Significant wildlife can be spotted in the more remote regions such as baboons, gazelles, leopards and mongooses. The Asi region is also home to the ancient, phallus-shaped gasaba towers, the original purpose of which remains unknown. The ancient, and recently excavated caravan city of Qaryat-al-Fau is well worth a visit as is the great dam and temple at Najran.
Saudi Arabia has a dry climate with high temperatures in most of the country. Riyadh, which is inland, is hotter in summer and colder in winter, when occasional heavy rainstorms occur. In Jeddah it is warm for most of the year.
Although there are plenty of foreign restaurants serving top-class Western, Asian and Persian cuisine, Saudi Arabia has it’s own sumptuous range of culinary delights. One of Saudi Arabia’s most famous dishes is Al-Kabsa, which consists of rice cooked in a pot with red or white meat and to which a variety of spices and salads may be added. Mufallaq is a kind of richly flavored wheat pilaf with chunks of meat, chopped onion and tomato. Aysh Abu Laham is a kind of Arabian pizza, with leavened dough topped with fried mutton, chopped kurrath or spring onion, and a sauce made from tahinah. Kubbat Maraq is balls of rice spiced with turmeric, pepper, cumin and dried lime filled with fried ground meat, onion and parsley and set to simmer in a sauce flavored with tomato. During a Saudi Arabian feast you might be treated to the luxurious Kharuf Mahshi, baby lamb stuffed with rice, nuts and raisins, rubbed outside with a paste of onion crushed with cinnamon, cloves and cardamom and browned all over in bubbling sawn, clarified cow or goat butter, before roasting.
Bazaars or souks are great places to get beautiful items without too much strain on the wallet. Don’t be afraid to bargain hard, it’s quite expected in Saudi culture. The big shopping malls are not only exquisitely designed but are filled with designer brands ranging from the high-end to the very affordable. It is likely that you will be able to satisfy every imaginable shopping need in these places.
There is a huge expatriate community in Saudi Arabia and most people thoroughly enjoy their stay in the kingdom. If you are content to live a quiet, peaceful life, love food and outdoor activities or simply have the desire to save money, then Saudi Arabia could be the perfect destination.
TEFL English teaching job listings in Saudi Arabia
Detailed living costs for teaching English in Saudi Arabia
Information on visa requirements to teach English in Saudi Arabia