As a former English teacher in Thailand, but one still very involved in the teaching community here, I know many teachers who have decided to accept a job teaching English in Saudi Arabia. Their decisions have primarily been because of money, as Saudi Arabian schools pay far more than do schools in Thailand, but other factors have also come into play.
With Saudi Arabia having both pros and cons when it comes to teaching English, here are a few things you should consider before you decide to accept a teaching job there, as well as some of the things the teachers I know have learned once they took the plunge. For me being female, when I looked into teaching in Saudi Arabia, the cons far outweighed the pros. You, however, may think differently.
Pros of teaching English in Saudi Arabia
a) The salary – Of course. While in many areas of the world, a native English speaking teacher might make between $1,000 and $1,500 a month, in Saudi Arabia many teaching jobs pay $3,000 to $3,500 a month or more. When you factor in much of the teacher’s living expenses are also paid, it’s easy to save $2,500 a month or more. Salaries are also tax-free. No wonder so many teachers want to teach there.
b) Paid airfares – If you teach in countries like Spain, Italy, Thailand, Peru, Argentina or Vietnam, it’s highly unlikely any school would ever pay your airfare. Accept a job in Saudi Arabia, however, and it’s almost a given. Considering that can be $1,500 round-trip or more, depending on where you’re flying from, and it’s just another great perk of the job.
c) Paid apartments – All of the teachers I currently know teaching in Saudi Arabia accepted the job not only because of the high salary but also because a paid apartment came with it. They all live in expat compounds in nice western-style apartments, and the only thing they are expected to pay for every month is their electricity bill.
d) The culture is interesting – The area that is now Saudi Arabia has a fascinating history going back several thousand years. Muhammad was born in Mecca almost 1500 years ago, which makes it a destination for millions of Muslims around the world every year. Football, camel racing and basketball are all popular pastimes, and Saudi Arabian food is excellent. Depending on which city you teach in, you should have easy access to museums, markets and souqs, as well as extremely extravagant shopping malls, restaurants and cafes.
Interestingly, however, all the teachers I know who teach in Saudi Arabia leave the country during their vacation time and don’t spend it in Saudi Arabia seeing the sights, as they find the country very restrictive and prefer to vacation elsewhere.
Negatives of teaching English in Saudi Arabia
a) Women teachers will likely find it restrictive – Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most restrictive countries for women, and is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. If you are a female teacher, you could very well find it too confining living in Saudi Arabia, as you will be expected to adhere to many of the country’s customs pertaining to women, even though you are not Muslim.
One female friend teaching there found it extremely upsetting that most of her female students were controlled so strictly by male members of their family, having to get permission to even study, and didn’t like the restrictions she herself experienced on a daily basis just shopping, eating in restaurants and being able to move freely around the city.
b) Alcohol ban – Some teachers find it difficult to adjust to life in a society where alcohol is completely banned and where going out for a friendly drink with colleagues after work is not possible.
c) No movie theaters or evening entertainment – Don’t expect to be able to spend your free time at the movies seeing an American or European movie, as all movie theaters are banned in Saudi Arabia. Evening entertainment is also usually limited, with most western teachers spending time at friend’s homes in expat compounds as there are few other things to do.
d) The hot weather – If you like extreme heat all year round with hardly any rain, you will love Saudi Arabia. If you prefer seasons and some cooler weather, chances are you will not. Friends teaching there say they find the weather the most oppressive thing about the country. Even more repressive than the strict Islamic laws.
e) Saudi students – While Saudi students are usually well-behaved and hard-working, the level of education they have received in the past is often low compared to most western standards. That’s because much of their education is taken up by Islamic teachings and learning the Qur’an by heart, meaning many Saudi students even at the university level are far behind their western counterparts and with a distinct lack of critical thinking skills.
All of this can be frustrating for an English teacher, particularly one that has taught in other countries.
Overall, while male teachers might find living in Saudi Arabia for a year or two beneficial when it comes to earning money and the extra perks that come along with the lifestyle, few western females would likely enjoy teaching there.
Whether you are male or female, however, I would think carefully about teaching in Saudi Arabia, do your research, speak to people online who have done it and take into consideration the pros and the cons before you make a decision.