Saudi Arabia has a fascinating history, culture, and a myriad of beautiful landscapes; however, the Kingdom's rich heritage is not the primary attraction for ESL teachers. Excellent salaries and travel allowances, generous vacations, and low cost of living combined with a manageable work load drive interest in working in this land.
, the state-owned and privately held petroleum corporation, is already the largest company in the world, dwarfing Microsoft, and its revenues trickle down to every facet of society. As Saudi Arabia's other international business concern grow, command of English is a prerequisite for continued success for Saudis.
Saudi Arabia is definitely an enigma in the ESL world. Despite financial benefits, relatively few English teachers wish to navigate the preconceptions, some unfair, that Saudi laws and attitudes make living and working there too difficult and complicated to contemplate. The resulting imbalance of supply and demand favors the willing ESL candidate, and to the adventurer the country offers fantastic scenery, mountains, deserts, ancient architecture, oases and wadis, and excellent diving in the Red Sea, as well as a magical and exotic taste of Arabian society.
As the country moves forward into the 21st century the Saudi Arabian approach to education is changing dramatically, and due to that fact many Saudis in the labor force are educated overseas, mainly in English-speaking countries. That said, Saudi Arabia is not a country where the traveler can waltz in, hang out at a hostel, pick a job from a bulletin board, and find work. The job must be arranged outside the country, and the seeker must be proactive, visiting job boards, university postings, and consulting with ESL schools.
Unlike many ESL jobs, being a native speaker is also not sufficient criteria for a work visa, and an appropriate degree is usually required - a four year degree in English, Linguistics, Education, or ESL, or a graduate degree will open more doors. Low end salaries are about 8,000 Riyals a month (the current exchange rate as of November, 2010, is 100 Riyals to US $26.77), and can exceed double that at universities. It is also possible to teach privately, and depending on circumstances the hourly wage can range from 100 Riyals to twice that or more.
Salaries are not taxed, benefits often include accommodations with paid utilities, reimbursed airline tickets, and transportation to and from work. Living expenses generally do not exceed 2,000 Riyals a month. Unless you have extravagant tastes and/or decide to spend all your money in Monte Carlo, Tokyo, or Paris on vacation, you can pay off a lot of debt or accumulate a sizable savings account balance.
There are restrictions that should be considered, for example, permission must be secured to travel to certain areas of the country, and Mecca and Medina are off limits to non-Muslims. Alcohol is haram, or forbidden, and reading material is vetted for inappropriate material. Though it goes without saying, to avoid trouble know, respect, and obey the laws.
Some expatriates live with other foreigners on compounds that offer a Western enclave. Other teachers make their homes a barrier, venturing rarely from school, home, and shopping centers. Within a compound much of Saudi culture remains on the outside and Western lifestyles are replicated, including swimming pools where western attire is permitted, and baseball fields. However, many teachers live in a city such as Riyadh or Jeddah, immerse themselves to the culture, and come away with positive experiences. Saudis are proud, hospitable, and friendly, and have been known to welcome the foreigner. Of course, if you are already Muslim, or willing to convert, you will have greater access to Saudi society.
Due to gender segregated education, where female teachers are required to teach female students, the demand for female teachers is especially high both at the government and private schools. However, single women cannot travel to Saudi Arabia, and even married women inside Saudi Arabia need permission from a husband or family member to travel. Thus, married couples wishing to teach in Saudi Arabia are more than welcome.
Horror stories, excessive punishments for minor offenses, the unequal treatment of women, or the threat of terrorists that often taint the Western perception of the Middle East are exaggerated or out of proportion and may fuel bias. I lived in the emirate of Abu Dhabi for a year, and my sister lived with her husband and son on a compound in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, since 2001. The crime rate, when compared to the United States, is practically zero, and the restrictions are very manageable.
Saudi Arabia is a country of around 25,000,000 inhabitants, most live peaceful lives, and fearing the negative would be similar to a traveling to North America and worrying about urban violence based on Hollywood depictions. For the teacher willing to give the country a look, Saudi Arabia can be not only a lucrative career opportunity, but a fulfilling and well-rounded experience.
Below are links with information on Saudi Arabia for the English teacher. Sala'am!
TEFL Schools in Saudi Arabia: