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The Guide To Teaching English In Saudi Arabia


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Whether you are already teaching English or entertaining the idea, it doesn’t take long to realize that there isn’t much money to be made in this industry. Most teachers around the world are content with just being able to pay their bills, save a little and have enough free time outside of world to explore a new culture and engage in a little adventure. After all, teaching English abroad is more about the opportunity to live overseas.

However, there are a few spots and situations around the globe where one can earn a decent salary teaching English and save a good chunk of change. One of those places is Saudi Arabia. You may not have thought about the possibility to teach in Saudi Arabia, but the reality is that it is a country that has developed quickly on all fronts during the past thirty years and the Saudi government continues to invest huge amounts of money into education each year.

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Most of the universities that exist throughout the country have been built in recent years and more are on the way. For a country and culture that has been predominately dominated by men, woman’s education has recently become a top priority, resulting in additional schools and institutes to accommodate a gender-segregated educational system. This equates to more jobs and opportunities for Westerners who wish to teach there. But teaching in Saudi Arabia is not just about the chance to save money.

Despite some of the negative stereotypes in the West,  Saudis are some of the friendliest and hospitable people in the world. I had the pleasure of teaching many wonderful individuals from the KSA as an instructor in Washington DC. On top of that, teaching and living in Saudi Arabia is sure to be memorable cultural experience and a chance to experience something unique in contrast to Western culture. With this in mind, the rest of the article will hopefully answer some questions that you may have about teaching there.

Qualifications to teach English in Saudi Arabia

It is no wonder that Saudi Arabia has become one of the most coveted places to teach considering that school there offer some of the highest TEFL salaries in the world. However, the Saudi government has strict restrictions on who can qualify for a visa. If you are recent graduate with no teaching experience, then you will most likely NOT find a job teaching English in Saudi Arabia. If you are a recent graduate with a CELTA or 120 hours TESOL or TEFL, you still will most likely not find a position there.

On average, most schools in Saudi Arabia require teachers to have at least 2 years of classroom experience. In addition, a bachelor’s degree is an absolute must with no exceptions and a degree in English, TESOL, linguistics o related field is preferred by most institutes. While there are positions available that only require 6 months classroom teaching experience plus a CELTA/TESOL or TEFL, but these aren’t the norm.

Keep in mind that a number of schools in Saudi Arabia only accept a CELTA. If you want to make $50,000 or more a year, you will need at least 3 years classroom teaching experience, a four-year degree in English, linguistics or TESOL and a 120-hour TEFL, TESOL or CELTA. You may be able to sidestep not having a degree in English, linguistics or TESOL if you have over ten years of classroom teaching Experience.

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I get emails almost on a daily basis from potential teachers fresh out of university who want to teach in Saudi Arabia to pay off student loans. Unfortunately, such an opportunity doesn’t exist there. If you do not possess classroom teaching experience, but want to teach in Saudi Arabia, I advise spending a year or two teaching in Asia or your home country, getting a CELTA and building a professional looking resume. It should also be noted that only teachers from English speaking countries can get a working visa to teach English in Saudi Arabia. These include the United States, the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. I am not exactly sure why, but the Saudi government can be a bit finicky about granting working visas to Canadian applicants. From my experience, Canadian applicants must have a degree in English, TESOL, linguistics or related field.

How much money can I make if I teach in Saudi Arabia and what kind of benefits are involved?

Now that you’ve figured out whether or not you are qualified to teach in the KSA, you probably want to know what salary you can expect teaching there. Generally speaking, instructors can expect to make between $3,500 to $5,000 per month teaching English in Saudi Arabia. First-time teachers in Saudi who just meet the minimal requirements generally make between $3000 to $3500 per month. These numbers become much more attractive when housing, taxes, and airfare reimbursement are factored in.

Most if not all schools will provide free accommodation for the teacher. Depending on the school and location, this could be a luxurious apartment or a studio. Do not sign a contract with any school without knowing what kind of housing they provide. Second, there are no taxes in Saudi Arabia. Yes! It’s like Christmas in July every day in the Kingdom. So if you make $4,000 a month, you take home that same amount without spending a dime on rent or tax.

On top of that, most schools reimburse teachers for airfare to and from the KSA assuming that the teacher will complete the minimum one-year contract. You can expect to receive quality and free healthcare as well and it’s also not uncommon to get a contract completion bonus. However, MAKE SURE THAT THIS IS ALL SPELLED OUT IN THE CONTRACT BY BOTH THE SCHOOL AND RECRUITER!

What is the cost of living in Saudi Arabia and can I save a lot of money if I teach English there?

The cost of living is not cheap like parts of Asia, but it is certainly somewhat less than the United States. A typical one-bedroom apartment goes for about $400 per month. A cheap meal can be had for around $4 and a nice dinner for two cost around $25. Expect to pay around $50 a month for internet service and a cappuccino cost $2 or $3.

It should also be considered that the typical Westerner is probably going to spend less money in Saudi Arabia due to the lack of nightlife and a strict ban on alcohol. On the other hand, Bahrain is only a stone’s throw away and you are likely going to travel during holidays and vacation time. I am sure you can find ways to spend a good chunk of changes in its many bars, cafes, and nightclubs.

How much money one can save really depends on one’s lifestyle and spending habits. With that being said, it is reasonable to believe that a teacher there can save somewhere between $20,000 to $40,000 in one year depending on salary, living conditions and lifestyle. Remember that your salary is completed tax-free in Saudi Arabia.

It should also be noted, that you will probably enjoy yourself more if you also take an interest in the culture, customs, food, and language. Making money is great, but you shouldn’t lose sight of the world around you.

How to find a job teaching English in Saudi Arabia

Unlike parts of Asia and Latin America, you can’t just fly into the Kingdom and find a job. In fact, you cannot fly into Saudi Arabia on a tourist visa even just for the heck of it. To do that, you would have to be personally invited there by a Saudi citizen. Getting a job teaching English in Saudi Arabia requires diligence, patience and having all the required documents in orders. In other words, the Saudi government doesn’t mess around and exceptions aren’t made despite how charming or attractive you may be. A contract with a school must be secured before leaving your home country and immigration in Saudi Arabia can be strict.

As a result, most teachers go through a recruiter. A quick Google search will reveal several recruiters. However, do your homework first when dealing with a recruiter for any country and always avoid a company called Education First. To teach in Saudi Arabia, you will need a TESOL. TEFL or CELTA in addition to at least a bachelor’s degree. It also helps to have prior teaching experience at schools and institutes prefer to hire experienced individuals with either teaching or professional experience.  You should also be prepared to follow through and complete the minimum one-year contract. If you are looking to teach English in Saudi Arabia, I would begin with Dave’s ESL Cafe.

Is teaching English in Saudi Arabia possible for women?

While it is true that the KSA  is a male-dominated society, there is a high demand for Western female teachers. Saudi Education, for the most part, is segregated, including educational system. If you are a male teacher, you will only teach male students and female teachers only teach female students. If you are a female teacher, keep in mind that Western women are expected to follow the same rules in public as Saudi women. In other words, you are not allowed to casually hang out with men in public places and you must remain covered. If you are a hard-core feminist, Saudi Arabia might be a tough pill to swallow. Riyadh, the capital, is quite conservative in some parts. In contrast, Jeddah, a popular city on the Red Sea, is more open and there are parts where women dress in Western fashion.

Despite the cultural contrast between the West and Saudi Arabia, native-English instructors should not rule out the possibility of working there. It is a country of rich history and extremely hospitable people.  If you cannot live without an occasional night out on the town, keep in mind that Bahrain, the Las Vegas of the Middle East, is nearby. Many teachers make it their weekend destination. On the other hand, If you can go a year or two without much nightlife, then you will certainly save heaps of money teaching English in Saudi Arabia. Keep in mind that the process of getting a visa can take 2 to 4 months, so plan ahead accordingly.

About James Soller

James Soller taught English for four years in Japan and traveled throughout Asia and South America. These days, he spends most of his time building Wordpress sites, blogging and teaching others the nuances of digital marketing.

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