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Teaching English in Saudi Arabia (The Country Guide)

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Do you dream of camels, deserts, and ancient holy sites? 

Or are your imaginations more concerned with making oodles of cash?

Whether your head’s in the clouds or your wallet, you’ll find all you dream of and more teaching English in Saudi Arabia. 

This article breaks down what it’s like to be an ESL teacher and live here as well as how to get a visa, where to find jobs and more.

Quick Info: TEFL Jobs in Saudi Arabia
Available JobsUniversities; International schools; Workplace teacher
Visa RequirementsNative English speaker; Bachelor’s degree; TEFL certificate; Two years of experience or a relevant degree preferred
Monthly Teacher Salary$3,000-$5,000
Monthly Living Cost$700-$1,400
Peak Hiring MonthsMay-July

Introduction to Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is a country worth taking note of: it’s the largest country in the Middle East and the only one in the Arab world that’s part of the G-20. 

People here are really friendly, and there are a ton of expats living here, drawn by high salaries and no taxes. In fact, a full third of the population of Saudi Arabia is foreign!

Saudi Arabia is also home to Mecca and Medina, two of the holiest sites in the Muslim faith.

And while the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is extremely conservative, it’s been taking some steps in recent years that may be indicative of a changing landscape here.

Yes, schools are still gender-segregated here, but women recently gained the ability to drive in Saudi Arabia. Visa regulations have also recently changed to make the country more accessible to tourists.

If camel festivals, ancient rock carvings and palaces, and some of the most sacred places in the world sound interesting to you — and if you’re willing to put up with some regressive laws to see those things — then Saudi Arabia just might be the teaching destination for you.

Muslim pilgrims praying at the Kaaba in Mecca

Basic Requirements to Teach English in Saudi Arabia

Right off the bat, we’ll tell you: the requirements for teaching ESL in Saudi Arabia are pretty strict. 

You’ll need a bachelor’s degree to teach here, and you’ll also definitely need a TEFL certificate.

Some schools want their teachers to have a CELTA to teach in the Kingdom, but you’ll be able to find work with any TEFL certificate.

Additionally, many schools here require teachers to have at least two years of classroom experience. Without experience at all, it’s very hard if not impossible finding a job teaching English in Saudi Arabia.

And you must be a native English speaker with a passport from an English-speaking country to teach in Saudi Arabia.

If you have an English degree (or a teaching degree or something similar) you’ll be better positioned to teach in Saudi Arabia.

Quick Info: Requirements to Teach English in Saudi Arabia

  • Native English speaker
  • Bachelor’s degree
  • TEFL certificate (sometimes CELTA)
  • Two years of experience or a relevant degree preferred

If you are new to the idea of teaching English abroad, read our starter guide.

TEFL Courses in Saudi Arabia

There are schools in Saudi Arabia that want all their teachers to have CELTA certification, which is a specific TEFL certification that uses a University of Cambridge-derived curriculum and focuses more heavily on grammar than some other courses. 

However, lots of people find work in Saudi Arabia with normal TEFL courses, too. 

There are fewer TEFL courses in Saudi Arabia than in other countries because the visa requirements are strict, making it hard for people to enter the country before obtaining a work visa. 

Of course, you can totally get TEFL certified in your home country or online before you apply for ESL teaching jobs in Saudi Arabia.

Check our guide on TEFL certification to find a suitable training course.

However, we’ve found two legitimate TEFL courses in the country that help teachers find job placement upon completion of the course: 

Job Opportunities and Salaries

You can make $3,000-$5,000 per month teaching ESL in Saudi Arabia.  On top of that, you’ll probably also get benefits like accommodation, airfare, and more. 

And schools here often provide airfare for your spouse and dependents, too.

Most schools in Saudi Arabia also provide contract completion bonuses. Seriously: you can get some pretty generous teaching packages here. 

Make sure, of course, to triple-check your contract before making any assumptions about what your school does and doesn’t provide.

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International Schools

If you’re a certified teacher, you can make $3,000-$4,000 per month teaching at an international school. And remember that all your money is completely tax-free!

A typical week in an international school is Saturday-Wednesday with Thursdays and Fridays off. Go figure. 

Looking for work at an international school in Saudi Arabia? These resources should help you find a job in no time:

Teacher job openings from Saudi Aramco (apply.aramco.jobs)

Universities

You’ll need a master’s degree if you want to teach at a university in Saudi Arabia, but if you qualify for a university job you’ll receive a higher paycheck than you would at a private international school.

You’ll also have access to cutting-edge technologies and good supplies and support, and you may even get to help create the curriculum!

Use The Saudi Network’s list of universities in Saudi Arabia to research which schools are hiring, and don’t be afraid to contact schools directly to see if they’re in need of an ESL teacher!

Workplace

In Saudi Arabia, there are many business people, members of the armed forces, people in the oil industry, and other adults who need to learn English so they can excel professionally.

You can earn quite a bit of money teaching business English to adults: around $3,000- $5,500 depending on your experience and situation.

You’ll also probably get free housing and other nice benefits with this job.

Learn4good.com’s job listings tend toward business English opportunities. 

Hiring and Application Process

The visa and interview process can take 2-4 months, so start applying well before you’d like to actually leave for Saudi Arabia.

The school year starts in August here, so most schools spend the months leading up to August looking for teachers. However, it’s possible to find work in Saudi Arabia year-round. 

Schools most often hire teachers through recruiting companies here.

The following websites all have lists of ESL job openings in Saudi Arabia:

Visa Requirements for Teaching in Saudi Arabia

Did we mention they’re strict?

If you’re a US citizen, review the State Department’s fact sheet about teaching English in Saudi Arabia for more information about the visa process and more.

You can’t just fly in here on a tourist visa — you need to be invited by a Saudi citizen (or school). 

Visa application information from the Saudi Arabian Embassy (saudiembassy.net)

After going through the whole application process, getting hired, and getting your documentation together, you’ll buy a plane ticket and set off for your adventure teaching ESL in Saudi Arabia!

It’s common to get a 90-day work visa initially, which you can then parlay into a longer work visa.

You’ll need the following documents for your work visa:

Required Visa Documents

  • A completed visa application form
  • Notarized copies of your diploma and transcript
  • A copy of your work contract that’s been signed by both parties
  • A letter of invitation from the Saudi Chamber of Commerce
  • An FBI Criminal Background Check
  • A medical report including an HIV test
  • 3 passport-sized photos of yourself

Note that if you stop working for one company, you’ll probably need to exit and reenter the country on a new work visa unless you get an OK and a transfer-of-sponsorship from your first employer.

Your sponsor also controls the issuance of your exit visa.

Accommodation

Schools in Saudi Arabia almost always provide housing for their teachers. 

If you do end up having to take care of your own housing, expect to spend around $250-$600 per month on rent and another $50 on the Internet. 

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Unmarried couples can’t live together in Saudi Arabia, so consider whether you’re willing to live separately from your significant other if you’re moving abroad to teach together. 

Expat.com and Expatriates.com both have listings for accommodations for expats living in Saudi Arabia, and you can also search Facebook forums like Riyadh Expats – Classified and ask friends to find housing in whatever city you end up in.

Can You Save Money Teaching in Saudi Arabia?

Heck yes!

How much can you save?

Well, it depends on your salary, benefits, and lifestyle, but it’s entirely possible to save $20,000 to $40,000 a year on a teacher’s salary in Saudi Arabia without doing any special budgeting or coupon cutting.

How?

Even though the cost of living is relatively high here, you’ll be able to save a lot of money because salaries are so high and there are no taxes, so you keep all your income. 

Average costs for everyday items in Saudi Arabia (Numbeo.com)

Additionally, because drinking, movies, and other activities that you might usually spend your extra income on are prohibited here, you might find yourself saving a lot more than you would if you lived somewhere else. 

This breakdown of different everyday expenses in Saudi Arabia will help you figure out what your monthly budget might look like based on your spending habits and lifestyle.

The Best Cities to Teach English in Saudi Arabia

Riyadh

Riyadh by night (Photo: apriltan18, Pixabay)

As the largest city in Saudi Arabia with 6.9 million people, Riyadh is definitely the most popular destination for expats in Saudi Arabia. 

And if you end up here, you’ll probably find yourself living in a Western compound where you can mix with people of the opposite gender, wear shorts, go swimming, and more!

You’ll find lots to do here, whether you love shopping, going to the zoo, or seeing historical ruins. 

If you’re not a veteran teacher, beware that you might find it tough to teach here because the competition can be pretty stiff. If you do get a job in Riyadh, though, you’ll find yourself with generous benefits and a well-paying job.

Jeddah

The Jeddah Corniche (Photo: Aditya Prabaswara, License CC BY 2.0)

This western coastal city lies on the Red Sea, making it an ideal destination for anyone who loves beaches, diving, or anything else aquatic. 

While Jeddah is much smaller than Riyadh, it has a good expat community, lots to do, and more than enough ESL jobs to go around.

Jeddah is also the gateway to Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest sites, so whether you’re interested in Islam or just massive monuments you’ll be happy here.

Dammam

Shopping center in Dammam (Photo: Black Zero, License CC BY 2.0)

This city of 1 million is much more low-key than Saudi Arabia’s more metropolitan destinations, but it’s close to Bahrain and has a good expat scene. It also has the biggest airport in the world! 

If you love Seaworld-style attractions you’ll love Dammam’s Dolphin Village, and many people also are attracted to the castles, heritage, and architecture. 

You’ll find a number of good teaching jobs in Dammam, and you’ll love the lifestyle in this city.

To look beyond Saudi Arabia, find the best places to teach English abroad in this post.

Saudi Arabia’s Classroom and Work Culture

Saudi Arabia has a strict, conservative culture, which some teachers find initially jarring.

Some schools have strict policies that may include disallowing music or teaching certain subjects. Make sure to review your school’s rules before you start teaching to make sure you don’t accidentally violate them and get yourself in trouble!

In Saudi Arabia, lessons are often lecture-based, with the students copying down information that the teacher tells them. Students do sometimes work on projects individually, but group projects are relatively rare here.

Dress Code

While you don’t need to cover your head if you’re a Western woman living in Saudi Arabia, everyone should dress conservatively here. That means calf- or ankle-length hemlines, long-sleeve shirts, and nothing too low-cut, tight, or revealing. 

Men in Saudi Arabia should wear long pants — not shorts. Short-sleeved shirts should be fine generally, but it’s advisable to dress up a little and wear a jacket when you’re having a meeting or teaching adults or business people. 

In general, just remember to dress modestly and in a way that’s respectful of the culture you’re in while you’re in Saudi Arabia.

Gender Issues

Most schools in Saudi Arabia are gender-segregated, meaning that women teach girls and men teach boys. Also, Western women must conform to Saudi customs and laws in Saudi Arabia, which means no hanging out with men in public and no immodest dress. 

However, women can drive themselves around and travel more freely than before in Saudi Arabia than ever before thanks to recent laws. Who knows what else will change here in the near future! 

Final Notes on Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is a conservative country, but that doesn’t mean that life here is a total bore. You can explore religious sites of importance, see deserts and ruins, and ride a camel here! And you’ll meet tons of nice expats and locals here, too. 

Saudi Arabia is a great destination for teachers already have a little teaching experience and want to save up a sizeable amount of money while teaching. 

What sounds most exciting about living in Saudi Arabia to you? And what questions do you have about living here?

Let us know in the comments — we can’t wait to hear from you!

Or did you finish this article and decide that Saudi Arabia isn’t the destination for you? 

If so, tell us why in the comments, and read our breakdown of the countries paying the highest salaries for teaching English abroad to find the best teaching destination for you.

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