Advice for Female Teachers in Saudi Arabia

Like a great many teachers, my application to teach in Saudi Arabia was made on a whim.  Facing another year of professional uncertainty, my credo was: ‘apply and see what happens’.  I was more than a little surprised when within a week, and without any ‘official’ interview I’d been offered a teaching post at the largest female only university in the world on the edge of Riyadh. A year on, after circumnavigating my way through the extensive highs and lows as life as a single woman in KSA I feel that it is time to pass on my experiences, especially as Saudi related advice can be thin on the ground, and rarely constructive; in this area of EFL horror stories abound.  Indeed, once I made my decision to go, I struggled to find a single constructive anecdote to guide me, which only added to my anxiety; the reality, however, was not exactly as I’d imagined.

The application: Agency vs Direct Hire

Unbeknown to me, my application to work in Saudi was made through a teaching agency.  I had no idea at the time that the random click I made on the best worded vacancy offering ‘exotic adventures in the desert’ was in fact the same offer being advertised not only directly through the university, but also through at least four other agencies on the same job site (www.tefl.com).

Being employed through such an agency was a decision I came to regret. Given that Saudi is now a vast employer of English teachers, particularly of single females, wide ranging salaries and conditions abound. The best offers are, almost certainly, directly from the universities and schools; agencies swallow up wages given directly to them from the institutions, calling it ‘administrative fees’, this was up to a thousand pounds a month of difference between myself as an agency employee, and a ‘direct hire’ co-worker: hugely frustrating, especially as co-workers could be newly qualified teachers, and sometimes even those with no formal teaching qualifications whatsoever.

As always, the British Council is a safer option regarding employment, but if there are no vacancies, the universities and state run schools are a close second. Neither are perfect, and both can be stressful and frustrating, but on the whole they require a certain standard from their teachers, and are more likely to hire legally and provide Iqamas. I encountered teachers from a variety of backgrounds and qualifications in Saudi, but for the best salaries and university positions, 3 years plus experience is preferable, as is a degree in English and a CELTA, particularly for North American teachers.

Wages:

The average teaching salary in Saudi varies enormously from 10,000 to 18,000 SAR ($2,600 – $4,800) per month. With eight years of experience, I was still at the lower end of this range, in which qualifications and work history are supposed to count, again the repercussions of agency employment. Amazingly, nationality was also involved in the process of allocating wage, with Brits and Americans receiving the most, and South Africans a more paltry sum by comparison. Again direct employment with your institution leaves much more room for negotiation.  Of course, any income you earn is always tax free whilst in the Kingdom, but research needs to be undertaken in order to ascertain whether or not you will be taxed on anything you earn back home.  Taking everything into consideration, however, KSA is still one of the only countries where teachers can make enough money to save.  In reality, your only expenses will be food costs, taxi costs or any travelling or personal shopping which are fair, and not dissimilar to back home.  If you can last, it is a place where you can make enough money to put a deposit down on a property back home, or pay off tuition fees in a relatively short period of time.

The whole package:

Besides wages, the employment package on a whole is something which influenced my decision to take up work in Riyadh, as such, it should be mulled over, and considered with care.  Institutions and agencies will try to hurry candidates: don’t be rushed.  It is difficult to source staff willing to transfer to the Kingdom, so you do have time to negotiate and think it through.  My own university was recruiting non-stop, and was always chronically short staffed.  Packages should normally include: first class medical/dental insurance (for you and a number of your dependants should they be accompanying you), free accommodation (if you are lucky this will be in a secure compound, but alternatives include hotels and apartments, or a contribution to rent your own (note: in Saudi rents are paid a year at a time, so it is difficult, unless you have vast reserves of cash, to pay up front for a year, also, given the life you will have there, you may be hesitant to pay for a year, especially if you are unsure as to whether or not you are staying that long).  Employers should also offer a return air fare for you and your dependants; school fees are an additional offer to those coming with children, and transport to and from work each day (or a small contribution to taxi fares). There is no public transport in Saudi Arabia so if you come without a husband brave enough to tackle the roads, a taxi will be a daily occurrence.

Visas:

The visa process to enter Saudi is neither short nor simple, but should be initiated by the employer.  One of the primary tasks candidates face is sourcing and taking part in a medical which includes chest x rays, and giving blood and urine samples. Normally the teacher in question is required to pay for the testing on the day (between £700 -£1000) of which they are supposed to be reimbursed upon arrival in Saudi in the first pay cheque. However in my case, due to an administrative mishap, and as a show of faith, my agency agreed to pay for my medical. Although initially this seemed generous, it in fact meant a long wait for an appointment to be organised, paying for a 400 mile trip to London (with a day’s notice) plus accommodation expenses, and enduring  an unpleasant face-to-face medical experience which in theory could have been undertaken by my own doctor. If you have to organise this yourself (as a British citizen), Harley Street Visas in London offer a professional service, a female doctor (request this) and the option to ‘rush’ the administering of the visa to one week; the standard wait post medical could be up to a month.  American citizens have to source the testing of their own blood, urine, and stool samples (the latter not required for candidates coming from the UK) according to their own pocket.  Upon arrival in KSA, make sure you have your x rays and medical certificates to hand, they may be requested, especially if arriving around Hajj time in the autumn.

Having the right kind of visa is of the utmost importance.  Before accepting a contract, ensure your employer will be providing you with an employment visa with the possibility to obtain an Iqama (work permit/I.D card).  You will need your Iqama for everything, from buying a sim card to entering a compound.  As of spring this year, the Saudi government began a major crackdown on visa fraud and any workers found without valid visas or Iqamas were imprisoned, or if they were lucky, deported.  A large majority of illegal workers went into hiding, before making their way to their embassy for help.  Given the size of Saudi’s expat community (30% of the population) this affected businesses significantly.  As such, if you are coming into the country under the sponsorship of a spouse, legally you are not permitted to work, and would need sponsorship, visa and Iqama under your employer’s banner: be aware.

A final word on the issuing of legal documents.  My decision to take up work in Riyadh was based on a specific request to my recruiters; I would not come if my passport was taken from me (this does happen), and unless I was given a multi entry visa (giving me the legal ability to leave and enter the Kingdom at will for a 6 month period). Whilst they assured me both of these conditions would be met, the latter did not materialise. I kept my passport other than for five anxious weeks waiting for my Iqama to be processed, but I was not issued a multi entry visa. In fact I had no exit visa at all, meaning I was stuck in the country unless my agency gave in and relinquished said magic piece of paper.  Again, this is not uncommon.  It wasn’t really until this moment that it dawned on me that my liberty had been curtailed.  I couldn’t leave the country without someone else’s permission; accepting this was a challenge and my own coping method was complete denial. I shut my ears to the stories of friends begging to leave, having to pay enormous amounts of money to buy themselves out of their contracts, and others running away in the middle of the night after receiving a visa for weekend travel – just enough to get them to Dubai or Bahrain where they hopped onto the nearest plane out of the Middle East. Should something bad happen at home, you have to accept that you are at the mercy of your sponsor. Therefore if things pre Saudi are turbulent for you you may want to defer your travel plans until a more settled period of time, if that’s not possible a multi entry visa should be a high priority, make sure it is written into your contract.

Where to go?

Most jobs in Saudi are centred in its capital, Riyadh, or on the red sea cost city of Jeddah, and the two are renowned for being quite different in terms of lifestyle. In a conservative country, Riyadh is known as being one of the most stringent in its enforcing of Sharia law. This means the Hai’a (more commonly known as the Muttawa or Religious Police – employees of The Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue) are often out in force, usually hunting down women who are not sufficiently covered, or with men who are not blood relatives.  Usually they are content to bark at foreign women for showing their hair or a little too much skin (neck or face), but occasions do arise when they go beyond the call of duty, hounding women out of shops, malls and restaurants, even detaining and holding them for several hours for being in a car with an unrelated male driver. Strangely, their favourite locales seem to be malls, so when shopping it is always best to be aware.  Men, surprisingly, are not completely free from this unwanted attention, and those in shorts, or wearing certain colours, or having certain haircuts could also face the wrath of the Mutawa.

Jeddah on the other hand is well known for being more international and relaxed given its history as a busy port over the centuries, and as such, being home to a bigger variety of cultures. Teaching colleagues there often remarked on their being able to walk about in merely an Abaya, with no need to cover their hair or face. Jeddah is also famous for its diving and snorkelling, and the coast has access to private beach resorts where you can swim and sunbathe, at a price of course. The temperature is less forgiving than Riyadh however, with extremes of humidity along with its high temperatures. Riyadh is, by contrast, located in the middle of the desert, and therefore has humidity generally around 6 -10% making the hot weather more bearable.

A final location option nowadays seems to be the cities of Al Khobar and Damman on the Persian Gulf, neighbouring Bahrain. If for you the adage of location, location, location is apt, being close to the Bahrain border may be a more suitable option. Bahrain, although just a 30 minute drive from these two cities, has a much more ‘normal’ way of life if you are a westerner.  Free to walk about without an Abaya, you can socialise with male friends, drink alcohol and drive. Of course, caution must still be taken, it is under Sharia law like the Emirates, but in comparison to Saudi, particularly in terms of rules and sanctions on women, it’s Disneyland.

Dress:

Another area which causes significant anxiety among women travelling to KSA is of course the dress code. It is the law in Saudi to wear an Abaya in public, this is a long, loose fitting black cloak covering from neck to ankles. If you leave your house without this and are caught, you face imprisonment, and embassies are in no rush to break out their fellow countrymen and women if you are caught blatantly breaking the law.  However, if you come from a cold climate, the putting on of an Abaya before leaving the house is as familiar as putting on a long coat, the length probably being its biggest hindrance.   Under your Abaya you can wear whatever you want, although work will confine you to a long skirt or dress and long sleeved blouse or top.  Do not bring a work wardrobe of trouser suits, you will get next to no wear from them.

If in a conservative town like Riyadh, a hijab will also be a daily encumbrance, again there being a law meaning women must cover their hair to enter government buildings such as universities or schools.  Most women cover their hair with scarves, normally black, but more coloured ones seem to be acceptable if worn by a foreign woman.  You do see non Saudi women out without their hair covered, but, in my own experience, this seemed to attract negative attention, and I personally felt more vulnerable. You are open to criticism from Saudis both male and female, and on more than one occasion I was targeted by the Mutawa. In the end I felt it was simply not worth the anxiety, and I submitted to wearing the scarf, despite the discomfort it brings in the heat of the summer.

The Niqab, or face veil which leaves just the eyes uncovered, is the final piece of modest outer clothing worn by Saudi women.  If you are non-Muslim and a foreigner you do not have to wear this, it is perfectly acceptable and legal to be bare faced. However be warned, if you have the physical characteristics shared by Saudi women, particularly the skin tone or hair colour, you may be more vulnerable to the Mutawa who will take you for a Saudi and therefore Muslim, and could come down all the more harshly upon you.  The Niqab does have its benefits: appearing in public incognito and stopping relentless questions from taxi drivers, but that of course is not its purpose in the eyes of the Saudis, and most will question your need to wear it if you do decide to don it in public unnecessarily.

Try to pick up an Abaya before arriving in KSA for peace of mind.  A huge range is available online, on Ebay, and in local Middle Eastern shops and communities. Shukr is also a great website for good quality, modest clothing.  The airport in Riyadh and Jeddah are international, therefore you can fly in without one, but to exit you must be covered.  If this is not possible long, loose fitting skirts or dresses which cover the skin, or a long jacket or cardigan will do until you can obtain one.

Gender segregation:

As a woman in Saudi Arabia I had very little contact with Saudi men other than on the occasional official capacity such as at the airport.  Gender segregation exists everywhere, some malls will not allow entrance to single males, and seating areas in restaurants are arranged into ‘family’ for women and families (including men if part of a family group), and singles, i.e. bachelors. Women should ALWAYS go to the family section, many of these will have private booths enabling women to uncover their hair or faces while eating with their husbands and children.  Queues are also gender specific, if waiting for a coffee at Starbucks the same rule applies, girls are in the family line, boys without wives, mothers or sisters must go to the singles counter.  Shops and banks may also have separate entrances for men and women, or even separate branches.  I banked using a female only branch (Al Rhaji) and found it enormously professional, and peaceful.  Gender segregation can, on occasion, lead to unpleasant experiences, therefore it is often easier to adhere to it to avoid potentially upsetting circumstances and unnecessary stress.

Many people, particularly those who are single or in their twenties and thirties worry that there will be no opportunities to socialise or interact with the opposite sex at all in KSA. This is not the case! The expat community is booming in cities such as Riyadh, and mixed gender social occasions and parties are numerous and go on, naturally, behind the closed doors and high walls of secure compounds.

Entertainment:

Saudis are big on family and spend significant amounts of time with relatives and friends, or out in the desert having barbecues and picnics. Other than this, shopping and eating out seem to be the two national pastimes and in cities such as Riyadh it is easy to be overwhelmed with the amount of malls and restaurants, all with familiar brands and branches from home.  However, as mentioned above, if you are looking for more interaction, compound parties are a weekly occurrence and with a bit of networking can be located and invites sourced.  I was prepared for boredom in Saudi and came with ample amounts of dvds, books and activities to keep me entertained.  In the end my friends and I were often hitting two parties a weekend, and we made great contacts enabling us to visit different compounds, many of which were the epitome of luxury having restaurants, bars, bowling alleys and even cinemas and theatres.

Outside of this, determined expats have created their own clubs and societies; you can join the local amateur dramatics, be part of the Cineclub, join the choir, go off roading, or become a member of a private gym.  Embassies also organise expat friendly nights such as film screenings, party nights and celebrations (such as New Year), and cultural exhibits and bazaars.  In truth, there is no end of things to do in a big city like Riyadh or Jeddah, but the key is how determined you are to find them.  Networking is the key to making your ‘wasta’ or connections.  Once you have established connections within the different nationality groups your inbox will always be full of invites. If upon arrival you are unsure where to start, Internations are a great organisation who have regular mixed meet ups in restaurants, organise trips to the desert or places of local interest, and provide a forum promoting community interaction. Social networking sites such as Facebook are also a great place to source local ex-pat groups.  The Hash is another alternative, and in Riyadh was the place to socialise and make friends. Internationally the Hash is a running club, but in Saudi it was more a weekly desert hiking club. All kinds of people join in given the easy, medium and difficult level optional routes, and many stayed around for barbecues and post hike socialising round a desert campfire.  There are some precautions to socialising in Saudi, however. If you are caught with Saudi nationals at a party where there is alcohol or any other compromising materials, you will face instant imprisonment or if lucky, deportation. Nationals are not permitted entry into most compounds and even some embassy events, and they are forbidden from joining the hash given that it is an event which allows men and women to interact, and women do not have to wear abayas.

Getting around:

There is no public transport in Saudi and next to no pavements or useable walkways, it is a country built for camels and cars.  Riyadh is a city of vast highways which seem to endlessly streak across the desert, meaning having access to a driver is a necessity.  Of course, women with husbands willing to drive are at an immediate advantage. However, if in Saudi as a lone female, a reliable and above all, trustworthy driver is worth his weight in gold.  Again, this is a ‘wasta’ situation where having varied connections can help you find a suitable driver.  In my own social group, we shared three drivers and called them up whenever necessary.  The drivers in turn had reliable friends and family members also in need of work, who would be available should one be busy.  Hailing a cab, although sometimes a necessity is not ideal and if I ever had the choice to use a trusted driver, I did.

In retrospect, I feel truly privileged to have been able to enter Saudi as it is only a select few who manage to gain permission to see inside the magic Kingdom.  It is a fascinating culture to observe, and despite the challenges that occur, if you are prepared for all eventualities it is possible to work, save and make friends in an almost normal fashion. It is also a great base from which to explore the Middle East, and what adventurous EFL teacher could refuse?

By Gemma Archer

If you have any questions for Gemma or have worked in Saudi Arabia and would like to add some additional advice for prospective teachers please leave your reply in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

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143 comments on “Advice for Female Teachers in Saudi Arabia

  1. raeesa

    Hi Gemma,

    I found your article quite interesting. My husband is at the point of deciding on a job in Bahrain. We are south africans and both have a BSc in chemical engineering. I currently have 5 years experience as an engineer with no teaching experience. What will be the minimum requirement for me to lecture/teach maths and physics?

    Reply
      1. Gemma

        Hi Chaz,

        I’m not in KSA any more, so I’m unable to report back on the current situation from a first person perspective! Sadly, I won’t be there to see Saudi women driving, which is a shame! Lots of change going on in Saudi right now, I’m still seeing a lot of teaching vacancies though …

        Reply
        1. Sarah

          Hi Gemma. Thanks for the information. If you have time, I have two questions.

          1. I have middle eastern ancestry, but have about as an American a name as you can get, and the only accent I have is a slight twinge of redneck. Would I face difficulties going into expat areas/engaging in activities?

          2. My degree is in art education . Would you know there would be openings in the visual arts, or would I be pigeonholed as a language teacher?

          Reply
  2. Tanya B.

    I am hold a Bachelors Degree in Liberal Arts with only part time volunteer teaching experience. I will be in my late 50s if applying in the Summer. What is the minimum Teaching requirement?

    Reply
  3. Iman

    Hi Gemma! Thank u for worth sharing …please help me to find out the answers for my queries about to start a career in Saudi Arabia
    Em an expat Muslim female in KSA on family visa since 1 year, I was a teacher in my home country & having experience of 2 years
    I’ve a degree (bs) & now I want to get an online CELTA certificate from a UK institute although em not Uk citizen or English Native
    Is it a right descion to go for CELTA to get a good job in KSA school?
    Can I find job in a well reputed english school where only female staff work ?
    Note: em not English native nor a European or american citizen

    Reply
  4. Jacqueline Farmer

    Your article was most informative and helped me to make my decision to move forward. My name is Jackie from the US and I am currently completing my second year of my contract as an expat in Kuwait. I am contemplating applying for positions in Saudi and I have a few questions for you: 1) How much salary should I request with 18 years teaching experience with a Bachelors degree? 2) As an African American female, do you anticipate I may encounter any problems due to my race? 3) Are there any areas that might be better than others for African American single females.

    Reply
  5. emine tuylu

    Hi,

    I am non native but I have CELTA and ten years of teaching experience abroad. I am interested in working in Saudi but because of being non native it is like pie in the sky for me. I am Muslim by the way. Do you think it is an advantage?

    thx

    Reply
  6. Monica Murphy

    Dear Gemma,

    I am a 70 year old Canadian woman who has just been offered a job in Dammam. I taught in Oman for seven years ending in 2012, and I’m currently in Cambodia tired of the starvation wages here.

    I have very mixed feelings about going to Saudi. I appreciate your taking the time to talk about your experiences. It helped me a lot.

    Reply
  7. Kelly Ishmael

    Hi Gemma,

    In light of the recent bombings in Saudi Arabia,what advice might you be willing to offer my daughter, who is set to teach in Rihayd on 2 yr. contract, no less. The school is a project of The Prince, and offers a sweet deal-basically free everything living on heavily-protected compound, with a bus picking up the teachers. Salary is 64k/yr. Everything is in place for her to go on August 8th but as you can imagine we are understandably quite shaken by the uptick in bombing attempts. Under these present circumstances, if she backs out she would by contract owe upwards of 2k+. What would you do if you were in her shoes? She owes 98k student loans also, which was a driving factor in her going. BTW thanks for all the useful info.

    Reply
    1. Kieran

      Hi Kelly,
      I am starting to look into positions in Saudi Arabia. I’m just wondering where your daughter aplplied for her job. Did she end up going? If she did, how has the experience been with the current political climate?

      Reply
  8. Shireen

    I am an American ESL teacher and I applied through QEHC for s job in Dammam University. The pay is on 1185 SR. This seem low to me. I would appreciate any feed back

    Shireen

    Reply
    1. Kate

      I have received the same offer from QEHC for Dammam. I’m guessing you mean 11850, including housing and transportation? It does seem a little low in comparison with what some websites suggested is a typical salary range, especially as I have over 30 years’ teaching experience, plus plenty of qualifications. I’m looking elsewhere before signing an agreement.

      Reply
        1. Andrea Harries

          Hello again – I haven’t made a final decision yet. I just got the contract through and it says it’s for a 6 day working week. I’m trying to negotiate a 5 day week – the only thing I like about this contract really is that the location is Dammam, so close to Bahrain and they give us a multiple entry visa, so if life in Saudi is hard to adjust to at first, there’s the possibility of getting away from it all.
          I’ll let you know what I end up doing 🙂

          Reply
    2. Humza

      have got a similar offer from them as written above, but at Hafr al Batin University.

      How do you verify if you will be getting a single or multiple entry visa?

      Also, I was told the 6 day work week simply means that when necessary, you may have to come in on weekends for exams, but isn’t the norm. Can anyone who’s actually worked with them verify this?

      Thanks!

      Reply
    3. Karrie

      My husband is Saudi and has been watching the ESL market for me the last few months. We have noticed that salaries have decreased in the last year or so, probably due to the low oil prices. There is usually room to negotiate a salary with the company (wouldn’t be a surprise for them since Saudis are negotiating champs), but the highest salary I’ve seen is around 12,000 SAR/month instead of what used to be 15-18k/month.

      Reply
  9. Stephaniee Hartman

    This is the most amazing & helpful piece I have read. I have acquired much information about Saudi from my fellow colleagues which are all men from Saudi so their perspective was not very helpful. I cannot thank you enough for this insight. This really has helped me with my decision.

    Reply
  10. Izzy

    Gemma,

    Are online MA TESOL degrees from accredited, reputable universities accepted? I already have an MA in learning Technologies with some teaching experience. If I must go back and get an MA TESOL in residence, will my previous teaching experience still count? Thanks.

    Izzy

    Reply
  11. binte zain

    very informative article, good job. i want to ask can foreign females get jobs in saudi arabia other than than teaching jobs? like managerial and administrative jobs etc.

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi there,

      Yes, I believe so but unfortunately I have no idea re the logistics of how to go about getting that kind of job. The admin for my agency were Lebanese, Saudi, but also some Americans too.

      Good luck!

      Reply
  12. Sana

    Hi Gemma,
    Excellent info….!!! Thanks.
    i live in Jeddah and my sister is hired for PNU. she is scheduled to arrive on this week. i have 2 queries
    1) Can i meet her at riyadh airport on arrival?
    2) and later on, can i vist her at PNU guest house (this is where she will be put up time being) with my husband and take my sister out for few hours after she arrives?
    Thanks…..

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi Sana,
      So to answer your question, I don’t personally know of any reason why you couldn’t meet her at the airport, unless some kind of new law was invented in the last couple of years preventing you from doing so! The arrival gate at the airport in Riyadh is like any other, lots of family members and drivers wait to greet their loved ones and customers.
      Regarding visiting her on her compound, if she is staying on the campus for single females, you could enter but not your husband. However if she’s staying in the quarter for married members of staff, I presume that showing your iqama/ passport would allow both you and your husband to do so. Sorry I can’t be of more help, I didn’t live on the PNU new compound, I just worked there and commuted in, so I don’t know their specific rules!

      Reply
      1. Marina Robinson

        Hi Gemma,

        great insightful information. I am in the last stages of obtaining visa but getting some shocking information from PNU which has never been disclosed in the earlier stages. The HR manager is saying to bring enough money to support myself for at least 3 months as I will not be getting my salary for this long. They said I can apply for advance though but still it doesn’t sound right and raises a big red flag. Is it something you had to go through when you first started or is it something new and connected to the probation period somehow? I believe even during the probation period teachers or anyone should get paid. I appreciate your insight on that. Thank you in advance. Marina

        Reply
        1. Gemma

          Hi Marina,

          I’m not surprised you’re worried, this would be MAJOR red flags to me too. I mean, if people had enough money to live on for 3 months, would they be coming to Saudi in the first place?!

          This absolutely did not happen to me, however I worked through the Saudi British Centre, an agency. I was always paid on time, and received an advance on arrival too; friends of mine who were direct hire at PNU were paid every month also. If it were me, I would not commit to such a contract. It may even be illegal.
          There has been a change in management since I left – when I was there the program at PNU was run by the University of Auckland, but that’s not the case anymore, I believe it’s run internally by PNU themselves.
          I’d look elsewhere, personally, there are FAR better offers out there right now.

          Good luck!
          Gemma

          Reply
  13. Virginia

    Hey Gemma,
    Thanks so much for such an informative article! So I guess my main question is – if you could do it again, would you? I am seriously considering teaching English in SA but quite nervous after reading many horror stories. Did you feel fearful (more than you would in your hometown) of sexual violence? The fact that you technically couldn’t leave the country is terrifying to me. Also, how much were you able to save over the year? Was there opportunity to make additional money giving private lessons? My main motivation is to save several thousand dollars to be able to pay for my masters in the US, and to learn Arabic to be able to work with refugees.
    Thank you in advance!!
    Virginia

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi Virginia,
      So yes would be my answer, should a situation arise in my life again whereby I would need to, I would go back – however I am aware that experience is subjective, and that what works for one person and one time in their life, may not be the same for others!

      At the point where I applied for Saudi I was completely broke after years of crappy hourly paid contracts in the UK. For me, going to Saudi brought equal amounts of good as bad – I could go on holiday for the first time in 7 years, I got to socialise (a lot) with people from all over the world, and attend events and experiences at cultural embassies – something which would likely never have happened had I not taken the leap and gone to Saudi. I didn’t drive back home, so the whole not driving thing was not a huge problem for me. The work, luckily, was not dissimilar to home, and I was again lucky to have great students and heads of department for that moment in time. Speaking to colleagues and friends who were there with me, they did not all have this experience. It depends on what your life is like before, a good dose of luck, and, of course, your expectations, you have to take the rough with the smooth.

      In terms of fear, I found that Saudi was an environment that perpetuated anxiety and rumour mongering – you know, hearing other bad things that have/ are happening to others and the fact that you cannot remove yourself should something bad happen to you: I witnessed people being denied visas and hysterical because they were unable to leave the country, I heard about teachers being sent off to far flung locations hundreds of miles from where they were recruited for and against their will, I heard of expats being assaulted, and of course, women being imprisoned by the religious police – you hear this all the time in Saudi, it never stops. It is the environment, it perpetuates it. Fear and the unknown – it does weird things to people. As I said in the article, denial and distraction and hope – that was my method of getting through it. These things happen every day in our own countries and we don’t think twice about it, but yes, because we can’t just get up and walk off in KSA, it really affects you more.

      In terms of sexual violence, as with the above, I heard and experienced it more in terms of exposure – men exposing themselves or touching themselves indecently. If this is something you are worried about, simply run your errands with friends rather than alone. In company are unlikely to encounter anything untoward. But I and my friends went about our daily lives alone if we had to and no, after I got used to everything I don’t think I felt fearful. Getting contacts for trusted drivers is important, and on a compound you will get that from simply talking to people.

      In terms of saving I wasn’t able to save much – unfortunately as I was employed through an agency my salary was not huge, in fact, I earn more in the UK now per month even after tax than I did in Saudi! However, at the time I was penniless, and had debts to pay off, so I came home with a modest sum of a few thousand pounds. With the right contact and salary, however, you could save a lot and many of my colleagues did, exactly as you plan to, and saved enough to pay for master’s programs and even deposits on houses. There is definitely opportunity to earn and save additional money though – largely under the table of course! I taught private IELTS lessons in my spare time, and worked as an examiner also.

      Good luck with your decision!
      Gemma

      Reply
  14. NALINI INDIRAN

    Awesome input for the proposed employees. I really appreciate your care in taking consideration of all the areas of jobs / life in a foreign country especially KSA like rigid places. Thank you so much.

    I am a 43 years old woman having more than 16 years of collegiate teaching interested in knowing the employment potentials for Management Educators such as FACULTY IN BUSINESS SCHOOLS.

    Kindly share the possibility for taking 14 years old female child along and continuing her education in KSA.

    As I am proceeding with an interview for such position in a University, it would be of great help for me to decide.

    Awaiting for your valuable inputs…

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi Nalini,

      I’m sorry, I don’t have children, therefore I have no idea about the system of childcare or child visas or anything in Saudi.

      There are many international schools following the British and American systems, however, and of course, loads of expat families with kids in tow.

      Gemma

      Reply
      1. tariq shah

        dear gemma

        i am amazed and thankful for your information about saudi life. i am taking a career change and i have commenced higher education for the first time in my life. i am studying at Warwick university, social studies 2+2 program, a four year course, where within the first two years you are studying various disciplines. after two years i can choose to major in a variety of subjects like politics, health social policy, research, lifelong learning (based around teaching adults and people with learning needs) and business studies.
        my first question is – which subject from the above list is in demand ? i like all the subjects and i am looking for the shortest route to saudi or similar country
        secondly, my course also has a built in masters option, is this a good option to take or is just a degree enough ? i am looking for the shortest route but i am looking to teach permanently abroad and i want to have qualifications that put me in a good position.
        thirdly, is a PGCE something that is valued abroad ? i do not mind teaching young children or adults, english or a specific subject like business studies. as a PGCE is equivalent to a masters, which is the more valued qualification ?
        fourthly, if you have a masters or a PGCE do you still need a tefl or equivalent ? and what is the difference between tefl,celta,petl etc
        fifthly, must i have teaching experince ? or a qualification like QTS ? or can i just complete a degree/masters/PGCE and apply for work ?
        and finally, if i do need experience is it sufficient that i volunteer at local schools as a teacher assistance or must i undertake a proper teaching in school route ?

        i am sorry for so many questions. please let me explain i am a UK muslim looking for a change of direction in my life. i have been abroad to Egypt and Dubai as well as Saudi Arabia and i want to teach in that part of the world.
        i am 41 years old,i don’t know if they have age limits on teachers and i am just begining my studies. i just don’t know if i am taking the correct route.
        i hope you will be able to point me in the right direction!
        i thank you for all your help
        tariq shah
        saabireen@gmail.com

        Reply
  15. Shi921

    Hi Gemma!

    Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. I am considering moving abroad and teaching English, but there is one thing that I have not yet seen addressed in this forum. I am very much aware of the laws and restrictions of the land, but I am wondering what life is like as a gay (lesbian) person in the KSU. Do you know any gay people? And have you heard of their experiences? I thank you for for any input, in advance.

    Shila

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi Shila,

      Good question. So I can only answer based on what I observed and the friends that I knew. I had several teacher friends who were gay/lesbian. Of course, this was kept quiet, as such, and as far as I know, they didn’t have any negative repercussions. Being openly ‘out’ in Saudi would be pretty dangerous, but I felt that gay and lesbian expats were able to conduct a pretty normal life for themselves within the western expat community. The things that go on behind compound walls. I shan’t say any more 😉
      Homosexuality exists in the Saudi community as well, of course, but every care is taken to hide it given that it is illegal.

      Good luck!
      Gemma

      Reply
      1. Diane

        Thanks for a fab article Gemma!
        Im lesbaian and would love the experience and the money but as my girlfriend says you can tell im gay “from a helicopter”!
        Do you have contact info for gay co-teachers that Shila and I could contact?
        Also is the wearing of trousers to class a total no-no?

        Thanks

        Diane x

        Reply
    2. Diane

      You took the words out of my mouth Shila! Im totally drawn to having the experience and the money! but dont want to end up dead for being queer! As my girlfriend answered when I asked her if people would tell Im gay…”From a helicopter!” And as for wearing a dress!!!!! I look like a drag queen!

      Reply
      1. Gemma

        Hi Diane,

        Unfortunately a couple of years have passed now and I’m not in touch with those particular teachers, so I can’t be of any help, I’m afraid.
        With regards to ‘looking gay’, well, as long as you’re not expressly caught doing something considered illegal in KSA, I don’t presume there would be any issue (unless you’re wearing a Gay Pride t shirt or something that is!). If there is no proof …?

        Re: trousers, nup, total no no i’m afraid. You won’t even be allowed into the university. For us to enter the university itself we had to pass through a security office, and the security ladies obviously kept an eye out to make sure everyone, staff and students, were correctly dressed. Also you couldn’t wear your abaya inside the school, so hiding trousers wasn’t a possibility either. Outside of work however, you can wear whatever you want under your abaya. It seems weird at first, but it becomes very normal.

        If Saudi seems a bit too extreme for you, I know Abu Dhabi are recruiting right now – might be a better alternative for you if you’re concerned.

        Good luck!

        Reply
  16. Hiba

    Hi Gemma,

    Thank you for your article it was very helpful.

    I would like to ask about the visa situation. My husband and I are both ESL teacher and have been offered a job at Dammam university, through an agency. The agency has asked us to pay for our own visa fees and medical about 850 GBP each. it entails a multiple re entry and after doing our research this seemed like worth paying for considering the support wee would get from the agency. I want to know what you think of this situation? should we pay? since so many other people have been offered visa assistance or is it better to go ahead and be responsible for ourselves and have the freedom of having our own multiple entry visa. Also do you know of anyone who has worked at Dammam?
    thanks again for your help. this is amazing.

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      A multiple entry visa is worth its weight in gold, i’d have bought one in a heart beat if i’d had the opportunity (as would a great many i’d imagine)!
      If you’re being offered this freedom, (and I were in your shoes) i’d have grabbed it with both hands. You never know how your experience in KSA is going to pan out, it will bring you peace of mind to know you can get up and walk out the door at any point (should you need to).
      Also, as I mentioned in the article, most people have to source and pay for their own medical. That’s pretty standard. Some employers reimburse you, but i’ve heard that it’s become normal given that so many people apply for jobs in Saudi and then back out at the last minute.

      Dammam is a good location for the fact that it gives you easy access to Bahrain should you need a break! Also the airport in Bahrain has some pretty decent travel routes.

      Good luck!
      Gemma

      Reply
  17. Alice Cha

    Thank you so much for the awesome information. 🙂

    I am a single lady, and I want to teach in Saudi Arabia; however, I will be going alone. Because I am going to be traveling to Saudi Arabia alone, I do have some questions for you.

    1. Do I need to get a guardian once I get to Saudi Arabia since a male relative is not going with me? If yes, where do I find one?

    2. I am traveling alone, how do I get from place to place if I am not with a male relate/guardian? (Isn’t it against the law if I speak and go in a taxi with a random hired man who is not my relative?)

    3. I heard to enter the country and to leave the country, my guardian will have to grant me permission and esort me. Is this true? If yes, who gets to make the calls for us single ladies without a guardian?

    4. Am I allow to walk outside alone to a beach if it’s within walking distance if I have my gown on properly?

    It seems like I got all the information down except the guardian part. Thank you for your time in advance, and thank you again for this amazing article. 🙂

    Alice

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi Alice,

      So, to answer your question, no, you do not need a guardian. If you need to go anywhere you can hail a taxi, or use the driver connections of friends. You can, of course, talk to these drivers, tell them where you want to go etc…. Most taxi drivers in Saudi are not Saudi, so even for them, ignoring women entirely is a strange concept. Many are Pakistani and can converse competently in English. It becomes illegal when you are in a private car with an unrelated male who is not a driver. It happens, and I did it, but it is not legal to my knowledge, so take care. In the cities you will have no trouble travelling around from shop to shop or compound by yourself, relying entirely on a driver.

      You do not need a guardian to enter the country, your sponsor is, in theory, your guardian as they bring you here and provide you with a permit to stay. Your sponsor will be informed any time you enter or leave the country, just as a Saudi woman’s guardian would be. You can arrive at the airport by yourself, jump in a cab and go where you need to go without a man to escort you – or at least that was my experience as a white, Western female.

      In theory you could walk to a beach or a mall if within walking distance, however this is unusual due to the lack of pavements/ pedestrian friendly routes, and due to Saudi women not being able to do this without arousing suspicion/ issues with guardianship. We used to walk from our compound to the nearest mall – less than 10 minutes, but we did it in groups and had no problems, but everywhere and everyone is different. If you choose to do this, it’s probably best to do so with friends. Women walking on their own, especially foreign women, could attract unwanted attention – so be on guard.

      As I said in the article, I think a lot of my experience is due to the privilege of being a clearly white, outwardly western looking woman – this affected my experiences I have no doubt. But, in summary, in my experience, there was not a single occasion where I or my friends, needed the physical presence of a ‘guardian’. I had a few friends whose driver could accompany them for various things,and one who had a Saudi in-law helping out, but if someone had asked me for that, I presume it would have been my agency acting in that role.

      Hope that helps!
      Gemma

      4. Am I allow to walk outside alone to a beach if it’s within walking distance if I have my gown on properly?

      It seems like I got all the information down except the guardian part. Thank you for your time in advance, and thank you again for this amazing article. 🙂

      – See more at: https://www.tefljobsworld.com/country-guides-and-advice/middle-east/advice-for-female-teachers-in-saudi-arabia/#sthash.RG8Ldb3M.dpuf

      Reply
  18. Suzanne

    Hi Gemma,

    Thank you very much for posting such useful information.

    I am a certified Canadian ESL teacher and a native English speaker. I have a B.Ed. in TESL and a B.A. in Anthropology. I have been teaching ESL at the high school level in both the public curriculum and IB MYP for 14 years and recently have wanted to combine travel and teaching. I have always been fascinated by the Middle East and am focusing my efforts there. I am a single, divorced mother of two boys. My eldest is off to cegep (college) but my youngest who is 13 would be coming with me. Do you think I would have difficulties finding employment with a dependent who would require schooling, accommodation, medical insurance and flight? I do have a B.Ed. in TESL but no CELTA. Do you think I would still be able to find stable, well-paying employment without the CELTA since TESL is teaching English as a second language?

    I’ve read a lot on the culture and feel that I would be able to spend a couple of years in KSA or any other country in the Middle East since I don’t go out often here in Canada. My activities are teaching, raising my sons, hiking the mountains, and walking. I would also be very interested in visiting the various antiquities located throughout the KSA.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Best regards,
    Suzanne

    Reply
  19. SHAMIYA AMREEN

    Good day everyone. I am a married female with a child of 4yr. My husband suddenly got a job in dammam he will leave with in 10 days. But my actual problem is that I and daughter want to go to dammam. I am searching for jobs in dammam school as a primary English teacher. I have 2yrs of experience in teaching I am currently working as a English teacher and 4yr of experience as academic counsellor in an animation institution. I have finished my MA English literature. Can I and my daughter come to dammam.

    Reply
  20. Mimi

    I am a divorced female living in U.S. and have received a job offer to work in elementary school in Dammam; however, I have been told that the school hiring me will not issue a visa for my daughter (whose 17) to live there with me.

    Would it be easy for me to get a visa for her to visit me there or in Bahrain being that I am divorced and that her father rarely has contact with her?

    Since the school year is 10 months, I am hoping that if I take the job that it would be easy to arrange visits.

    Reply
  21. Denise Haugh

    Thank you Gemma

    What a wonderfully informative blog. If I should decide to go to Saudi Abrabia, I will definitely apply directly to the institutions. Having worked at universities and colleges in Japan for eight years, making direct contact is the way to go.

    Denise

    Reply
  22. Havilahkabosh

    I was just wondering, I read that Saudi Arabia is very much into racism and black slavery. Have you met any black female teachers in Saudi Arabia. I am trying to find out before committing myself to anything, so your advice will be greately appreciated.

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi there,

      I can say I saw no evidence of ‘black slavery’ whatsoever. My colleagues were from all over the world, many of whom being African American and Somali British. To the extent of my knowledge, they were treated with respect from the students – but that is based on the fact that they never communicated any ill treatment to me directly. However, that is not to say racism does not exist in KSA. There is certainly a lot of mal treatment occurring, especially in workers coming from countries such as Ethiopia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Nepal. Sadly, there are many accounts of ‘slavery’ within these sections, and workers are often severely over worked and underpaid. I would even caution teachers of such heritages coming to Saudi that they may encounter some racism due to their ethnicity.

      Reply
  23. Shabs

    Hi Gemma

    my background is legal but i want to get a suitable job in Saudi Arabia preferably teaching. I am going to start the CELTA course but currently do not have any teaching experience.

    Can i get a job without the experience? if so where would you recommend I apply. do you have any contact details etc.

    many thanks for your kind assistance in this matter

    Reply
  24. Donna

    Fantastic insight n thank you for your journey.

    If you could advise maybe, I have an old caution which in the u.k does not appear on my Crb/Dbs

    For the police part on a visa, I think this will show. How strict would they be. Im 34 n my caution was at uni

    Thank u n good luck with your next journey x

    Reply
  25. Nadjerah

    Hi Gemma! I am a Muslim from Philippines. Thank you so much for the very informative article. It gave me a lot of things to know first before applying.

    I hope you could help me on my problems. 1) Do they hire Filipino English teachers? I’ve just earned my AB English Degree (Lit & Lang) but still have no experience in teaching except of course my exposure during our practicum — it was over a semester teaching minor English subjects and Humanities to first year college students in our university.

    2) I have a C-section scar. Do they allow this kind of case during medical exam?

    3) My husband’s already working on his passport and papers and has just been accepted in a company at Makkah. Our problem is we’ve just been wedded on May 2014 and we still haven’t worked on our marriage contract here in our country (you see marriage is different among Muslims, we have been living together without any papers, just a ceremony is enough) so my husband’s papers state his civil status as “single”..now what if I happen to be accepted also in Makkah (or anywhere in neighboring cities,) as single woman too, how can we live together abroad legally?

    Thank you so much! 🙂

    Reply
  26. Mariya

    Hi,

    I found your post really informative and gave a balanced view on teaching in Saudi.

    I have a few things I would like some help with please:
    – 25, Muslim Brit-Kashmiri – slightly concerned with treatment in Saudi not have a great reputation for treating South Asians
    – CELTA qualified but with very little experience in EFL (1-2 months) – are there any companies/institutions you can recommend based on this? I also do not have a degree in English (LLB (Hons Law). A lot of the ‘official’ and more reputable employers are asking for at least 2-5 years of experience, English at undergraduate level and also a masters – all of which I do not have under my belt. In your experience as a TEFL teacher, what is the best way to start out? Naturally, I am extremely reluctant leaving my current employment to work voluntarily in the UK to get this experience. With university-debt to pay off though and trying to at least to meet the requirements of overseas posts (2 years experience) it seems the only way forward? Please help 🙁
    Starting off my EFL career, seems more difficult than I originally anticipated and I really do not know where to start. Everywhere i have looked thus far seems to ask for A LOT of experience and qualification list that seems endless.
    – Given the fact it is soon difficult to earn decent wage in the UK AND get experience in EFL,are there any other places in the MiddleEast you would recommend?
    – What are the opportunities of learning Arabic like in places like Jeddah/Riyadh from your experiences (if you are able to comment, that is)

    I really look forward to a response, sorry for rambling or making literally no sense in this post.

    Thank you!!!!

    Mariya

    Reply
  27. Susan Dunn

    HEllo Gemma,

    Thank you for all this information. I am seriously thinking of going to Saudi to teach as I need the money and I enjoy the Saudi people. I have taught many students over the years from Saudi. I am a 45 yr old divorced woman and very liberal thinking. I know I could not last in Riyadh, and the heat will get me in Jeddah, so I am thinking of Damaan as you mentioned. Here’s my serious question. I want to find an Arab husband while I am there. Is it impossible to find an educated, liberal thinking Muslim man who will marry a divorced Christian woman? Will the region even allow me to date there? I am not looking for wealth from a Saudi, but a loving relationship as I have seen in many who are devout Muslims.

    Thank you for your response.

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi Susan

      Well, that’s an unusual question that I am not particularly qualified to answer, I’m afraid. However I can tell you that you would have to convert to marry a Muslim Saudi man which is not without its bureaucratic difficulties. Have a look at the Blue Abaya blog, it’s written by a Finnish nurse in Saudi who met and married a Saudi man. She writes fantastic articles about living there:

      http://www.blueabaya.com/2015/02/how-i-met-my-saudi-prince.html

      http://www.blueabaya.com/2013/02/we-found-love-in-hopeless-place.html

      People definitely do date in Saudi – the expat community is vast and there are lots of people who meet and begin relationships, and i have even known a few to marry having met out there. However you should be careful in public, as technically you can’t be out in the company of a man if you are not married to him. Best to stick to compounds/ embassies etc … to conduct your affairs (of which there are MANY going on!)

      Good luck on your unusual quest 😉

      Reply
      1. Umm Abdurahman

        Hello, I am usually not one to comment but I just wanted to make a correction. A CHRISTIAN women DOES NOT have to convert to ISLAM to marry a muslim man. It would be good thing of course but she is not obliged to convert. Muslim men are allowed to marry women of the book( christians and Jews) ONLY, however other religions such as Hinduism or Buddism must convert because they are not people of the book. And to add on the flip side a muslim women is NOT allowed to marry a non muslim man even if he is people of the book, because of the tremendous amount of attachment women have towards men and influence that men have over women. So the man must convert to ISLAM before he marries her.

        Reply
        1. Umm Abdurahman

          And one more thing, some men( maybe even Saudi men) may prefer MUSLIM women but it is not a requirement in ISLAM.

          Reply
  28. Lia

    Hello! Is it true that once you have touched down on Saudi soil you have to take a medical exam IN Saudi Arabia? Or do you only have to take it once in the country that you are from?

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi Lia

      Unfortunately the laws do seem to change on a regular basis. All I can tell you is that most people, if not everyone, has to have a medical to obtain a visa to enter the country. It used to be that you had to have a second one on arrival, but that stopped just before I arrived (autumn, 2012). I’m unaware if it has been re-established, but i’ve heard that it’s nothing scary, just the norm: blood test, bloody pressure etc…

      Sorry I can’t be of more help. A recruiter should be able to advise you more on the current regulations.

      Reply
  29. Janet

    Hello and thank you for sharing your travels in Saudi, I am trying to decide between wintec college in Al wajh and lincoln college in qatief and would appreciate any feedback as I have already done a lot of research but as I’m unfamiliar with the areas I was wondering which would be the better choice

    Thanks

    Reply
  30. Hatice

    Dear Gemma,
    Thanks a lot for all the useful information. My question is whether I will be able to work and live alone in Jeddah as I am a married woman and my husband does not want to live in Saudi Arabia. What about travelling? I will be a married woman who has no guardians there as all my family live in Turkey. Can I hire a chauffer who has no biological relation to me? Thanks a lot.

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi Hattice,

      Some teachers do get their own accommodation, so yes, if you are lucky enough to be given your own accommodation nothing is stopping you from living there independently, regardless of whether you are married or not.

      With regards to travelling, if you mean travelling around the city to work, to the shops etc… it’s fine. You don’t need an escort. Yes you can hire a driver who is not related to you, or you can hail cabs in the street. It’s not a problem, or certainly, never was for us. Women who are there without a husband/ partner/ family (the majority of women) all rely heavily on drivers who are not related to us – it’s the only way to travel.

      Reply
  31. Richard

    Hello Everyone,

    I’m conducting a very quick survey to get a snapshot of the working conditions for TEFL teachers in Saudi Arabia. The aim is to build up an accurate picture of TEFL teacher salaries from country to country.

    The survey is completely anonymous, contains two very simple questions and will take about 30 seconds to complete.

    http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/1888678/TEFL-teacher-work-conditions-in-Saudi-Arabia

    I’d be forever grateful if you took a moment to complete it, many thanks in advance!

    Richard

    Reply
  32. Kendy

    Hi Gemma,

    Thank you very much for all your comments.

    I am a French native teacher from France. I am searching for a teaching position in Saudi Arabia.

    I would like to work at PNU and any other university or school. Can you help me please?

    Thanks

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Sorry – i no longer have any connections to schools/universities in Riyadh as most of my former employers/heads of department have moved on.

      Check out tefl.com or any other teaching job page for vacancies.

      Reply
  33. Deeksha

    Hey Gemma,
    I am 18 and about to graduate. I hail from India. Do they hire people from here? If they do what qualifications are required?
    Do reply soon so I apply for the course before deadline. 🙂
    Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi Deeksha

      Sorry if this is too late, i don’t always get notifications of new comments – i didn’t for this.
      So if you refer to the qualifications section of the text it lists exactly what you need to have education wise to work in Saudi.
      I taught with teachers from all over the world in Riyadh, Indian teachers included. As long as you are proficient (language wise), can prove it, and have the right qualifications,and experience (most companies want at least 2 years teaching experience) i don’t see why not!
      Good luck!

      Reply
  34. San

    Hello Gemma !
    Thanks for that interesting post !
    I’m 18 and from France and i applied at PNU as a student there for September 2015 ! Do you know if PNU hardly accept students ?

    Thanks in advance

    Reply
  35. Madison

    Hi, this was such a useful post. Thank you so much! I am looking into a job with the Quality Education Holding Company. I can’t find many reviews for them so I do worry a bit. Have you heard anything?

    Thanks!

    Madison

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      So sorry, there are so many companies, it’s just impossible for me to know all of them, alas this is one i haven’t heard of. Apologies and good luck!

      Reply
  36. Alwisal

    Hi Gemma. Thanks for the wealth of information you have provided. I would like to ask if you have heard or know of any expat english teachers at Prince Sultan Uni? Any experiences? I am looking to move there with my husband and 2 sons. How are the schools in Riyadh? I would like a good British medium school for my son who is 10 and will probably be in year 7/ 7th grade by the time I go out there.

    Any comments would be useful.

    Alwisal

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi Alwisal,

      As it happens a very good friend of mine taught at Prince Sultan while I was in Riyadh.
      Generally she had good things to say about it, and had a reasonably good schedule and time off. She also got an excellent wage, and great accomodation in the Diplomatic quarters so well done you!
      Unfortunately I really have no experience or information on children’s schools although many of my colleagues had their kids in British and American medium schools nearby. Having no children, I really can’t provide you with any knowledge on the subject. Apologies!

      Reply
  37. Amal

    Hi Gemma,

    Thanks so much for the information you’ve
    shared. This is the most helpful information for women I’ve come across on the web. Currently I’m waiting to hear back from a job that is based in Mecca but I would live in Jeddah. The school would provide some type of shuttle service or driver. I have some questions I’m hoping you can answer. I hear back about the position in 2 weeks. Btw I applied through an American agency and did a phone interview.

    1) how is the housing on the compound? Is it a house or apartment? What kind of amenities are available? Is it in good condition (clean, safe…)
    2) what kind of orientation or training did you receive before you began teaching? I imagine everyone school is different but overall do you know anyone who was thrown in to it? I have 2 yrs experience but I’m still worried about the adjustment process.
    3) do you get paid the first month? Or is there a delay on payment and you have to use your own funds?
    4) a female friend would like to visit me for a few days. Is it possible for her to enter the country or compound as my guest?
    5) do you know of anyone who taught in mecca or had to commute for work? I want to live in Jeddah but I’m worried about traveling to such a holy city. Have you been there?
    6) how many days off do you get? My contract allows 30 days paid vacation upon completion of 11 months. What are the other holidays and how long do you get off?

    Thank you in advance.

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi Amal

      Glad you’ve found it useful.

      So, with regards to compounds, to be honest, i think ours was pretty basic compared with some others I saw, and it was ok-ish, but certainly not luxurious, it was simple and standard, but very spacious. I shared a 2 story villa with one roommate. We each had our own bedroom with linens provided and a basic en suite bathroom. We had a basic kitchen – enough to get by, but we did have to buy some implements and cutlery etc… There was a basic living room with a tv. We had air con in all the rooms. The compound was small, i think only 80 properties, but we did have a little pool in the center to swim. I knew all my neighbors, our doors were always open so we could walk in and out of each others houses, that was the exact opposite of my accommodation in the UK!

      However, everyone else i knew who worked at different organisations/institutions had better accommodation than us (those who were in compounds that is), bigger, more modern, better quality, etc… The men/married couples seem to have better accommodation too, as do the oil workers, military staff, nurses and medical staff, but again, that’s just what i saw myself.

      We had security on the gates, but again, other compounds were better. I didn’t feel unsafe though, or at least i tried to ignore my worst case scenario imaginings! No amenities, but we very very central and there was a few convenience shops at the end of our road, and a shopping centre less than 10 minutes away that we could walk to if we wanted. Some compounds which are further out have little shops and better facilities.

      Re: orientation, it was fairly standard for me, and pretty similar to what i’ve received in the UK. My head of dept. called me in and talked me through everything, and then i met my co-teacher, observed her teaching the classes i was to share with her and we discussed the syllabus. Now, i don’t know if this is the norm, i know people that got this treatment, and others that didn’t, but i imagine that they have to provide something similar! Don’t quote me on it though, anything goes out there!

      Payment: yes, i got paid in my first month, and i received a little money in advance to help with arrival costs. I actually can’t fault my employers on this, i always got paid and on time. Again, this is not always the case.

      With your friend, sure she can enter your compound (if she’s already a resident in Saudi). As long as she has ID with her, an iqama or passport, she can enter and stay with you.

      Re: holidays, they were again, fairly standard. All the Saudi national holidays, plus 10 days/ 2 weeks in January, 10 days/ 2 weeks in March, both in between semesters, and then 6 weeks over the summer.

      I think living in Jeddah would be great, i’ve heard good things about it, but it’s quite a distance to travel every day to Mecca! I have never been there – i was unsure, given that I am not Muslim, whether it was permitted or not. Look into it. I’m sure there is plenty on the web.

      Good luck!

      4) a female friend would like to visit me for a few days. Is it possible for her to enter the country or compound as my guest?
      5) do you know of anyone who taught in mecca or had to commute for work? I want to live in Jeddah but I’m worried about traveling to such a holy city. Have you been there?
      6) how many days off do you get? My contract allows 30 days paid vacation upon completion of 11 months. What are the other holidays and how long do you get off?

      Thank you in advance.

      Reply
  38. Amna

    Hi Gemma,

    Thank you for the article, I’ve been thinking about teaching in Saudi Arabia for quite some time and I’ve nearly completed my TEFL course. I didn’t think about agencies taking a cut from salaries, so to prevent that, what is the best way to find out which institutions are hiring for TEFL teachers so you can apply to them directly and not through an agency?

    Thanks in advance for your response.

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hello
      Well, simply look at the name of the organisation hiring you – is it governmental? Is it a university? Or is it a business? If it’s a business it’s likely to be either an agency, or using an agency to source its teachers. For example, I was recruited through a British agency to be an employee of a Saudi agency, supplying teachers to a university! The Saudi agency was called The Saudi British Centre (definitely not a university of governmental organisation!)

      Look at tefl.com – it lists everyone hiring in KSA, check each posting to see if you meet the requirements and if it meets yours. Also, before you put time and effort into your application, be aware that not all institutions in Saudi will accept newly qualified teachers. They seem to be getting stricter. It should state that in the advert however.
      Good luck.

      Reply
  39. Farhee

    I am a Canadian Muslim female recently signed a teaching job offer from KSA( some place 60km from Bahrain) . Visa process still has to start, once employer send invitation letter, then visa process will start.

    I am writing you with two main concerns. 1. how much time it takes to process visa stamp? Does it matter which country one apply from?
    2. can i negotiate at this stage about medical and accommodation, they are gonna provide partial medical(bronze level) and shared(kitchen or restroom) accommodation. Please advice me anything else i should take care at this stage. i look like and with accent like brown people (as their local women) 🙁 your article has raised my anxiety level on these aspects.
    Thanks in advance for your time and valuable insight into female teaching in KSA. .

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi Farehee

      First of all, the issuing of the visa, well, mine took a month, others less, and some more, i don’t think there is an actual official processing time. Sorry, it’s typical bureaucracy and form filling!
      I don’t think the country of application matters – i heard, back when i was in Saudi (2012 +13), that there were some issues getting visas for Canadians, but i don’t think that’s the case anymore. Check the information with the Saudi or Canadian embassy – maybe they can shed some light on the subject.

      If you’ve already signed the contract i imagine it’s too late to start negotiating which is a shame, check what bronze level medical insurance entitles you to in your contract. If it’s not much, make sure you have some decent travel insurance before you go too just in case.

      You don’t need to be nervous about going to Saudi if you resemble local Saudi girls – if you stick to the rules, you wont have any problems. Plus i’m saying ‘might’ not ‘will’ in my advice. You’ll be fine. If you want some more info check out http://www.blueabaya.com it’s a fabulous blog about a Finnish woman living in Saudi – i forgot to mention it in my article. It was a great source of info for me before i went and during my stay.

      Reply
  40. Ursula

    Hi! I would like to know whether the CELTA or Grad cert in TESOL is more preferable ? I’m in the process of enrolling to keep my options open if I decide to move to Saudi With my partner. I’m from Australia.

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi there

      Do you mean CELTA versus Cert Tesol?

      If yes, no difference. It’s the same with the DELTA / Dip Tesol – both the standard 2 educational providers in the industry. Either or 🙂

      Reply
  41. aida

    Dear Gemma, I’ve been offered a job at KAU/ELI I signed the job offer and I’m wondering about ther next procedures. When shall I sign the contract?which neighborhood is closer to ELI/KAU
    thank you

    Reply
  42. Deborah

    Thanks Gemma for all information here and its very helpful, clearest information I’ve found, very much appreciated.

    Reply
  43. Fatma

    Hi Gemma,
    first thank you for your article, it was very informative and interesting to read.

    I hope you are doing well and you have got time to answer me.
    I am living in Germany and I am 18 years old. Next year i will graduate from school and I am interested in studying American Studies in Frankfurt. Now my english is not the best but I am trying hard to improve it and I think I will, if I don’t lose my motivation.
    My dream is to teach English in the PNU in Saudi Arabia or any other university there which can offer me a position as a female teacher. And I will enjoy living in Saudi Arabia because I am a Muslima and I appreciate its benefits of dressing and everyhting else.
    So my question to you is: What is your advice and which qualifications do I need?

    Thanks, Fatma

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi Fatma

      A degree, preferably in English lang or lit
      A certificate in English language teaching (CELTA or Cert TESOL)
      Most employers also want at least 2 years teaching experience (but this varies depending where you are/what you are applying for)

      Good luck. I hope it meets your expectations 🙂

      Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi yes, of course!

      Native speakers are hired from all countries/nationalities/ethnicities/backgrounds! It is very diverse in terms of nationality.

      Reply
  44. Maryanne

    Hi Gemma, thanks for the postings. I have just gotten a TEFL certificate and am thinking of applying for positions in Saudi. My questions: if I have it put into my contract that I wish to retain my own passport, do I have to give it up to get that lqama? In other words, can you retain your own passport from the day you get onto Saudi soil until you leave? If I get the multi entry visa/exit for 6 months, how do I get this visa renewed after 6 months? And can I still leave at will with this visa, or only with my employer’s permission? Also, is an exit visa the same as a final exit visa? I would be grateful for any light you could shed on this. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi Maryanne

      Congrats on the CELTA.

      So re your question, i don’t know how flexible employers are re passports; it’s their method of control. I don’t know how open they would be to negotiate it, but you can always try.
      For me, i kept my passport other than for the 5 weeks it took to get my iqama. Take/make colour photocopies (of your passport) with you and you can use that as ID while you wait for your passport/iqama to come back to you. Sometimes it only takes a week to get your iqama made, so it may not be for long.
      Now, in saying that, i met people in Riyadh working for different companies whose passport was retained by the employer and they didn’t get it back till they left. Obviously, due to circumstances, there are often runaways in Saudi – people get a visa saying they are going to Dubai for the weekend, and in fact take off home. The passport thing is some organisations way of ‘protecting their investment’ i.e the money they paid out to get you there and pay you in wages and insurance :S
      Examine your contract, and ask questions about this issue to ensure you are prepared.
      Your visa normally comes through your employer (who is usually your sponsor). Any visa you have, be it single entry or multi entry, needs to be stamped by your sponsor before you can leave the country. So even with a 6 month multi entry, you can’t just walk out the country. If you try this your sponsor will be contacted and will come and collect you.
      I applied for mine through the HR dept. in my work. I always got one when requested, but this was not the same for everyone.
      When one runs out, you can apply for another (and pay) it was about 200 riyals if i remember rightly.
      An exit visa is not the same as a final exit, no. There will be a date limit on a visa if you are permitted to re-enter. For e.g. a 30 day limit.
      Hope this helps!

      Reply
  45. Lia

    Hi Gemma, Thank to you and to the others for your helpful comments.

    Like you said: “Facing another year of professional uncertainty” is just too much to handle right now, so I’ve made up my mind and I applied for a position at University in Muscat, Oman.

    I’m a single woman and I defo look foreigner, this is one of the main reason preventing me for going to the Middle-East.
    However the idea to teach in a University meant only for girls, in a way, makes me more comfy. By the time they accept me (I wanna stay positive and be optimistic :)I’ll have a zillion questions to ask, but right now from the top of my head I just have a banal question: Are gyms separated by gender? am I entitled to wear sweat pants and a sweatshirt when I work out? My question may appear silly but over the years in my life, exercising has played a crucial role for stress management.

    Thanks again for your precious comments.

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hey Lia

      Good luck – i’d love to go to Oman, everyone I know who has been raves about how beautiful it is. And i think certainly less restrictive than KSA!

      Everything in Saudi is gender segregated – but i don’t know if that’s the case in Oman – i imagine there is some restriction, but I couldn’t say if it was as strict as Saudi.

      Gyms are very common in Saudi (well in the cities anyway) – there’s a big health education drive going on right now, lots of private gender separate gyms and trainers. At my university there was a ladies only gym, swimming pool etc….

      Decent compounds usually have their own facilities. Ours was basic, but there were a few treadmills/ exercise bikes and a pool. It was enough!

      Reply
  46. Margie

    Hello Gemma and thank you for a very helpful article.

    I’ve been doing research about teaching in Saudi for quite a while now – just as one of those things to possibly do in the future. I have a master’s (not English-related) and three years experience, but not tefl/tesol. From a previous comment I take it I would definitely have to do a tefl? Is this true for both universities and private language schools (I have uni experience)? I was wondering if they make exceptions…

    I was also wondering about censorship: You mentioned you took a lot of dvds and books with you. Do they search luggage/laptops to check what you’re bringing? I’m a prolific reader, so I’m a bit concerned about that. Also, from what I can gather the Internet is not restricted in any way?

    Thank you in advance if you find the time to answer my questions!
    Margie

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi Margie

      As far as i’m aware you need an English teaching certificate to teach English language. I have never seen a Saudi job advertised without stipulating this – however, i’m not saying don’t try – just because I haven’t come across it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist!

      Re the checking of bags, i was told this too – that my bags would be searched: never happened to me, or anyone I know, and i went in and out of the country quite a few times.
      I think it can happen, but i never even saw it at the airport, and sometimes you’re in there for quite a while!
      As long as you don’t have anything ‘x-rated’ i reckon you’d be absolutely fine 🙂
      Alternatively put everything on USB!That’s what everyone else did.

      Good luck!
      Gemma.

      Reply
    2. Gemma

      And no, i didn’t find the internet restricted in any way – you can download books from amazon, just as you would back home, music, movies etc….

      The only thing i saw that was restricted were some music videos.

      Reply
  47. Lucy

    Hi Gemma,

    Thank you for the very detailed post, It was very helpful. I’ve just completed my CELTA and prior to the course, I had no teaching experience. I’m currently looking for jobs in Jeddah (mostly down to hearing how relaxed it is compared to other cities like Riyadh). Have you got any recommendations on where a CELTA qualified teacher with no prior teaching experience can apply to?

    Thanks,

    Lucy

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi Lucy
      Congrats on the CELTA.

      I honestly don’t know of any places, as when I was looking for work myself that was never an issue.

      I can tell you that I do think they are getting stricter – certainly the universities weren’t so keen on teachers with less than 2 years experience, but keep looking around. There are plenty of Saudi jobs advertised, you may find one that suits.
      Sorry I can’t be of more help!

      Reply
  48. Anna

    You obviously picked the wrong job…. I had everything paid for me.. visa, flights, medical, multiple exit-re entry etc… nice hotel accom, personal driver… everything.. and to be honest, I don’t know many people who have had a different experience to mine…

    Sorry.. you picked a bad recruiter

    Reply
    1. Gemma Archer

      Got it in one, Anna. I picked the wrong recruiter. I had no knowledge of how to go about choosing the right recruiter for somewhere like Saudi as all you read on the Internet is horror stories.

      I did work for the British Council in Riyadh as an examiner as well, and I agree, their staff had a great deal. Accommodation in the DQ (altogether a wholly different and more relaxed environment where some women don’t even wear abayas) and multi entry visas, you name it. However … they were not recruiting for female teachers the whole time I was there. If they had been, I would certainly have applied.

      Soooo, to cut a long story short, i wrote down my experience, because i felt there was a lack of constructive information available out there. Especially for those of us who can’t apply to somewhere like the BC. There are far more companies, colleges, and universities recruiting than BC institutes.

      On the other hand, living in a completely Saudi community as we were, was quite the experience – the DQ was a real luxury visit for us!

      Unfortunately the great and varied circle of friends I had (and still have in Saudi) do not have experiences like yours. Quite the opposite in fact; i feel very strongly that I was lucky to have had such a positive experience. All the more reason for our teaching community to share our experiences. With knowledge we can prepare ourselves as best we can.

      Reply
    2. Hannah Woodward

      Hi Anna,

      Which recruiter did you go though? I am looking to head over for the next academic year and would be good to go through a recruiter with some positive feedback.

      Cheers,
      Hannah

      Reply
  49. Susan

    Hi Gemma

    How do I go about finding the address for Princess Nora for direct hire? Couldn’t find it on the internet. Also, I am 56, will there be a problem with obtaining a visa? Where can I find out? I am South African.

    Thanks

    Sue

    Reply
  50. Saba

    Dear Gemma! Greetings.

    I am from Pakistan. I have done MA English and also enrolled in MA TEFL. I had a skype interview with Jazan University ELC dept and now they will send me an offer letter by the end of this week hopefully.

    I’m married with 2 kids. I have over 10 years of teaching experience as a professional trainer and lecturer. Please let me what you know of Jazan University and what shall I need to keep in mind during the process.

    Best Regards!

    Reply
    1. Gemma Archer

      So sorry, I have no knowledge of conditions at Jazan University. But it is supposed to be a very green and beautiful area. I know people who go down there for diving and snorkeling etc…

      Good luck!

      Reply
  51. Justina

    Thank you for your helpful writing. I am in the process of applying to hopefully land a job in Riyadh! I just want to thank you!!!!

    Reply
  52. Urooj

    Hi Gemma
    I am Pakistani. My husband work in Saudi and I want to go there. I am doing Bsc; B.ed and MSC in Geography. Is any chance for me? How can I go there and get some job please help me.

    Reply
  53. ifra

    Dear Gemma,
    I am Ifra from Pakistan, my husband is working in Riyadh KSA but he is on Labour Visa, i came to know that a labour cant get family visa. I have BSc, B.ed qualification and my MIT study is continue. I want to know that can I get a work visa in KSA so that it will be possible for me to work there and also live with my husband. Please reply.. And please can i get your personal email i.d or contact number to ask more about it because i am much tense now a days..

    Reply
  54. Jessica

    Dear Gemma
    Thanks for the great advice! I’m writing to you from New Zealand and am looking for work teaching TESOL in Saudi.
    I’ve got my CELTA cert and am also a qualified secondary school teacher. Ive also worked in Health Promotion/Community Education teaching at risk youth.
    I don’t really know where to start other than googling female universities in Saudi. Is this a good way to go about finding a job?
    Also if I do get hired can I travel in my holidays? I want to see Egypt and Jordan. Is this possible?

    Thanks so much for your help and advice! Viva las Saudi 🙂

    Jess

    Reply
  55. Yasmin

    Hello Gemma;

    I hope you are doing well.

    I live in Riyadh with my husband and kids. I want some advice from you. Which is the best way to apply for university jobs in Riyadh? Should I go personally to give my resume? After reading your blog I don’t feel like approaching any recruiting agencies. I have got a masters degree in political science and Celta too. I am not a native speaker so do they hire non natives as esl instructors?

    Reply
  56. Egwolo

    Hi Gemma,

    I just wanted to thank you and share my appreciation for your very detailed advice on Saudi.

    I have been offered a position there and have been struggling with whether or not I should take the plunge and just head out.

    The time and effort you’ve spent on this piece has answered all my concerns, opened my eyes to other factors I need to consider and enlightened me on issues I thought were set in stone.

    I hope you continue the good work and reach out to as many more women in similar situations in the future.

    Take care and God bless,

    Egwolo

    Reply
    1. Gemma Archer

      Many thanks! 🙂
      I received a lot of help and support in Saudi from others, i’m happy to pass it on when and if i can.
      Good luck!

      Reply
  57. Maria

    Hi Gemma

    I am leaving for Saudi Arabia this September inshallah, the job is direct hire which is good.

    My employer told me that I will be able to bring my husband after 3 months or I can bring my husband and kids but I have to pay for everything. I don’t mind but I don’t know where to start and do you know how long it will take for my husband and kids to join in Riyadh?

    My employer said he will give me a letter [sponsorship].

    Many thanks

    Reply
    1. Gemma Archer

      Hi Maria

      First of all, ensure that it stipulates in your contract that you can bring husband and family. If you contract is written in Arabic, I would also get it checked to make sure. Not to alarm you, but often employers say family can come later, and then deny this claim was ever made, or say it is not possible. I have seen it with my own eyes on many many occasions from friends and colleagues. If it is written into your contract you will have a stronger position should things change at a later date.
      Saudi Bureaucracy is pretty daunting, if you’re not familiar with it i’d be leaving it to my employer or sponsor to sort out. I wouldn’t and don’t have the first idea where one would start to get the ball rolling.
      Regarding time, I would imagine, although i don’t know, that as soon as you got your iqama (identity card) you would be able to get your dependents over. This process is supposed to take on average about a month, but i’ve heard it be as little as 3 days, to 8 weeks.
      Get everything in writing from your employer and then take it from there – sorry i can’t be of more help!

      Reply
  58. Claire Barnard

    Hello Gemma,

    Thank you so much for your informative article! I’m an American woman, thinking about applying to Princess Nora University as I’ve got some serious student loan debt to pay off. I’ve got four years experience, a Bachelor’s Degree in English Lit, and a TEFL certification.

    My boyfriend also has a degree, a CELTA, and four years of teaching experience.

    So I have two questions:

    1) If my boyfriend and I get married, will we be able to live together on a compound or are there separate compounds for men and women? I know that we’ll be teaching at different universities. It’s surprisingly difficult to find an answer to this question on the web, hoping you can help!

    2) Secondly, with my qualifications do you think I will be offered a salary in the 3500-4000 dollar range, or are those salaries reserved for people with MA’s?

    Thank you kindly for your time!

    Reply
    1. Gemma Archer

      Hi Claire
      So if you and your boyfriend get marries and bring along all the documentation to prove it there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to live together. If i were you, i’d apply to universities that have both male and female campuses such as Prince Sultan, the British Council, or King Saud. If you’re employed by the same institution i would imagine that the process of you sharing a house would be more simple!?
      Alternatively, if, for example, one of you got a job and accommodation, simply request married accommodation, and both of you stay there. The other can simply inform their employer they would rather have the accommodation money paid to them -usually there is the alternative to take the money that would normally go towards a compound/hotel/flat etc…

      Re wages, you certainly have the right credentials. However, i’ve heard on the grapevine that salaries in Saudi are becoming less flexible, given the hard times (financially) in the West, meaning that more teachers are willing to go out there. I reckon the average is between 12 and 15 thousand riyal, which is not bad, but not exactly what they were offering a few years ago. Still, with the right employer you could get the higher end of the scale. Good luck!

      Reply
  59. Linda

    Hi Gemma, Please advise. I just got a job in Riyadh. It is not direct hire as I had an interview with a man from International Institute for Languages (have you heard of them). The do not provide accommodation in compound (it is a flat and it is somewhere) and I think they are trying to hurry me in making a decision as they only gave me one week to email all necessary documents), What question should I ask before I commit? I have a good job in Japan now. Also I have a British passport but I am not native. Is that an issue there. I have M.A from U.K. Thank you so much.

    Reply
    1. Gemma Archer

      Hi Linda
      I know it’s been a few months since your question so i don’t know if you’ve already made a decision or not.
      If not, i would explore other options in Saudi – of which there are loads!
      It will give you a bargaining chip with the current offer, and to be fair, you could get a lot more than what they are offering.
      I did meet non native teachers, so they certainly exist. I think the passport, qualifications and experience are more what they consider.
      Hope this helps!

      Reply
      1. linda

        Thanks Gemma. I did not accept the offer I wrote you about. Now I am in the process of negotiation with another company (through UK agent) so hopefully I will get better conditions. Keep you posted…

        Reply
  60. M

    Hi,

    I’ve accepted a job with the National Company for Learning&Education. I was wondering if you have heard of them? I was also wondering about the medical. It’s quite extensive and costlly, will I have to get another medical once I’m there and is it as extensive?

    Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi
      I actually don’t recall that particular company myself – there are so many different educational providers. Is it an agency? If yes, do find out first if there are other direct positions available with institutions and compare and contrast their offers. Some are better than others.
      Re: the medical, my experience was not so positive, but i largely hear from everyone else that it is a breeze. I had exceptional circumstances because my agency made an administrative error, thus they offered to pay for my medical up front as a token gesture. Normally you pay for your own medical, and usually your employer will reimburse you on arrival (different with different companies).
      As far as I’m aware, the medical is just blood pressure, breathing, a few x rays of the lungs – not a big deal. Mine wasn’t, but that was exceptional circumstances. In the UK a company took care of everything for me all at once; the agency put me in touch with them. My American colleagues, however, had to source centres for the blood tests etc.. by themselves which is obviously more complicated.
      When I arrived in Saudi they had just changed the law saying once you arrived you didn’t need to have a second medical, so i only ever had one, pre departure. However, things do change regularly, so bare that in mind. From colleagues that had a second one in KSA, they said it was all very straight forward.

      Reply
  61. Pamela Quiney Collins

    Hi,
    first of all I want to thank you so very much for you vivid description of living and working in KSA. All of you info is great and is just what one needs to make an informed decision.

    I am considering a teaching position at Princess Nora University, how can I go about being hired directly by PNU? I want to receive the best possible salary for my effort of going all the way to KSA. I have 10+ years of experience teaching ESL, with a MA in TESOL. Also, I am Christian and African American. I was told there is bias there. Could you please comment by telling me what you think based on your experience there.

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi Pamela
      Please excuse the delay, i didn’t receive any notification of comments.
      I worked for PNU. I have found that they advertise on http://www.tefl.com pretty consistently. Given my own experience and that of those around me, your qualifications sound exactly what they are looking for so please push to get the best salary – they will negotiate if you stress your experience and qualifications, so don’t accept a pittance! Teachers of your qualifications and experience regularly get up to (and over) 16,000 riyals per month.
      Regarding being African American, I didn’t witness any issues, there are many many African American teachers in Saudi, and certainly at PNU.
      If you are a native speaker, you will be given respect for that, and they seem to like American English a lot over there. The teaching community is vastly varied in KSA, it’s really quite incredible the nationality/ ethnicity mix out there. I liked that part, it was quite fascinating.

      Hope this helps!

      Reply
  62. Ola

    Hi Gemma, thank you for writing this post, I’ve been scouring the internet for days and this has been the clearest, most helpful one for women teaching in the KSA.

    I was wondering if you might have any advice for my particular situation.

    I have two years experience teaching at universities (at University of Toronto and Ryerson University), as well as two years at all levels in Japan, and one year in Poland. (So 5 years total, all levels). I have an M.A. in History. I know it’s not an M.A. in education, but I think this still might be enough to get my foot in the door for a teaching job out there. My boyfriend, however, has no teaching experience, and no B.A., either. We were thinking of getting a civil union and applying together as a unit, perhaps getting hired together at a private school: maybe they’d take us as a married couple, for example, despite the fact that he doesn’t have the qualifications. (He is an artist). What are your thoughts on that…is that completely out of touch with reality? I feel it is quite a long shot, but I’m hoping it is within the realm of possibility, if we are tenacious? But perhaps not.

    The other option is for me to go alone, for a year. In this case, would he be able to visit me (if we got married beforehand)? And for how long would he be able to stay?

    Basically I’m looking to do exactly what you described in the beginning of your post: come back and put a downpayment on some land. : ) : )

    Thank you again for sharing this post, it has been extremely informative, and inspiring.

    All the best,
    Ola

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi Ola

      Again, apologies for the late response, i didn’t receive any notification of your comment – hope it’s still useful TO you!

      So first of all, does your experience include an English language teaching qualification? Generally, from what i saw/heard, you must have a degree (preferably English) plus a teaching certificate/diploma e.g. CELTA/cert tesol etc…
      I didn’t come across any teachers that didn’t have some kind of ELT qualification.
      I reckon you could get in with a history degree, rather than language, especially if you have experience of teaching English abroad. Regarding your boyfriend, i’d be surprised if he was offered teaching work. They are becoming quite strict about qualifications now, and i’d be surprised if he was offered something with out experience/qualifications. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news!
      Re: going out there together, more bad news i’m afraid. You must be married, and have copies of your marriage certificate to go out together. If you go separately and are not married, he will not be able to visit you. They are super strict, especially in Riyadh regarding this. However, many many of the female teachers are married with spouses back home, and they meet up over the holidays in different countries, or the spouses come out to visit temporarily – so it’s not all doom and gloom if you go it alone. It can work. The terms are the same length as those we would have in the west, approx 12 weeks in length, and the summer breaks are obviously a good 6 weeks.

      Hope this helps!

      Reply
  63. Nasreen Hanif

    Hi Gemma

    Just two more points I forgot to add:

    Given my request to know about how British Muslims are treated/regarded, are they seen as primarily British and therefore easy access to compounds, parties etc. or Muslim and therefore restricted as if Saudi?

    The post I am looking at is through an agency – how can I ensure that IF I proceed I obtain the full salary – by approaching the institution direct or by raising the issue with the recruiting body?

    Thank you

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      As far as I’m aware, Agencies will not pay the full salary as they take part of it as an administrative cost of having you on their books!
      If you want the full salary, you have to be employed by the university directly.

      Reply
  64. Nasreen Hanif

    Hi Gemma

    It has been a while since you wrote this, so I hope you respond to my e:mail.

    I consider myself to be quite conversant with the Middle East, having both an academic background in that area and language and having worked and lived there. However, the latter has been in relatively liberal countries such as Oman and Egypt.
    I always said to myself I would NEVER work in Saudi, however due to financial reasons, I am now considering it.
    Your article is very comprehensive – what bothers me most is your description of dress. As someone brought up as a Muslim (vacillating in my practice of it), I have pro-actively not worn anything on my head since the hijab became a fashion/political statement.

    The idea of completely covering myself sounds suffocating – even though/especially because I dress conservatively as a rule.
    This brings me to another point that I would like you to comment on. How do Saudis react to/treat British Muslims, and female at that, who are not white?

    I got tired and angry about having my identity questioned in other Middle Eastern countries. I do not like being labelled “Pakistani” because of the colour of my skin because that is not who I am. However I noted that in other Middle Eastern countries that had many expats, this was almost a way of establishing one’s “status” – British: higher; Pakistani/Indian: lower.

    Though your article aims to reassure and be positive, I am seriously questioning any thoughts I had about teaching in KSA.

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Hi Nasreen, sorry for the delay in getting back to you, I had no notification of your comment! Hope this info is still of use to you.

      Your situation sounds like my own/ many other teachers who swore they would not go to Saudi given its reputation. I think 99%, are there purely for financial reasons, the remainder for religious/cultural/family ties. It really is one of the last places in teaching,in my opinion, where you can save a great deal of money.

      Regarding your comment about the dress code, it really depends where you are going. In Riyadh it can be more strict. You mentioned you were Pakistani British? Again, this is only from what i witnessed personally, skin colour can pre determine how you are treated, purely for confusion with Saudi women. I had a Pakistani British friend who was often shouted at by the Mutawa (religious police) because her hijab was not covering all of her hair, or her pony tail had fallen out of the back. They would look at her thinking she was a Saudi girl, hence coming down on her a little more harshly than perhaps other women. This is not always the case, and again, this is just what I saw/heard. In other places, Jeddah for instance, it is less strict.I can understand your hesitation, given your background. Being a white/ non religious Brit it was my first experience of wearing anything like it, and it didn’t bother me so much. In fact, it meant I worried less about what i was wearing/ if it was offensive etc…

      Re treatment of different nationalities, there are many non white muslim women teaching in KSA from different countries: British Pakistani, British Somali, South African Pakistani etc… i found that the students didn’t blink an eye. They seemed to be respectful as long as the teacher was a native speaker of English. I did have students complaining about a teacher with a non native accent, which they felt was not the same.

      I think that perhaps, on occasion, you do hear of things happening to certain nationalities, in particular South East Asians/Ethiopians. Many of the low paid staff in Saudi are Filipino and they get treated abominably. The Pakistani driver I used regularly in Riyadh said, it depends on the strength of the embassy (how some people are treated). If bad employers think they can get away with treating their employees unfairly due to their nationality, they will. However i didn’t see/hear of this in teaching. Many of the British/American Pakistani teachers on my compound (in fact, maybe all of them?)wore a niqab to go out, so their face was completely covered. This could have been due to their beliefs, or their experiences. I’m not sure. But be aware, it may/ may not affect how Saudis treat you when out in public.
      You are right that there is a bit of a hierarchy in the midd. east re nationalities, so yes, sometimes people of Pakistani origin (for example) would be more likely to experience rude behavior.

      Re entry to compounds, SOME do not allow entrance to Muslims or those of a name which would suggest a Muslim background. I witnessed this once with American Algerian/Iraqi friends of mine, and on this night it was because alcohol was on the premises. But again, this only happened once to friends of mine to the best of my knowledge. I don’t think it was a regular occurrence.

      You mentioned you were seriously considering whether it would be a good move for you – good.You really need to consider it carefully. You rarely hear positive stories about Saudi, and for me, I really didn’t expect to have a positive experience; i was incredibly incredibly lucky to meet good people, have good classes, and have a wage coming in every month (which wasn’t happening in the UK).
      Good luck!

      The idea of completely covering myself sounds suffocating – even though/especially because I dress conservatively as a rule.
      This brings me to another point that I would like you to comment on. How do Saudis react to/treat British Muslims, and female at that, who are not white?

      I got tired and angry about having my identity questioned in other Middle Eastern countries. I do not like being labelled “Pakistani” because of the colour of my skin because that is not who I am. However I noted that in other Middle Eastern countries that had many expats, this was almost a way of establishing one’s “status” – British: higher; Pakistani/Indian: lower.

      Though your article aims to reassure and be positive, I am seriously questioning any thoughts I had about teaching in KSA.

      – See more at: https://www.tefljobsworld.com/country-guides-and-advice/middle-east/advice-for-female-teachers-in-saudi-arabia/?replytocom=15086#respond

      Reply
  65. Jenny

    This was very useful article, thank you. A quick question about dress codes – I am about to buy some long black skirts for work but what sort of tops can i wear with them? I know that they need to be long of 3/4 length sleeves but do I have to buy blouses? Are tunics ok? How smart should I aim for?

    Thanks. Jenny.

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      You’re going to be working in an all female environment i take it? Then as long as it’s not a low neckline or bare armed, anything goes. I found that the teachers i encountered wore a mixture of casual and smart casual, depending on their personality, so no need to stick to black, blouses and definitely not suit jackets. I would wear lighter tops with a cardigan, many wear dresses/cardigans of varying colours. Again, if you don’t have any flesh on show you should be fine.

      Reply
  66. Anton Chigurh

    Here’s a tip for male teachers in Saudi Arabia:
    Don’t accept an offer to “go camping” in the Saudi desert with lots of Saudi men. Just don’t.

    Reply
  67. C.H.

    About the housing, for a single female do you have to share or can you stipulate that you won’t? Can you stipulate in your contract that you must live in a compound? Can you bring a small dog? Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Really this depends on the employer. I know that married women with or without husband/family with them get their own accommodation, not shared. I believe (from memory only) that Prince Sultan University, King Saud University, King Saud Al Abdulaziz Medical University, and the British Council (all in Riyadh) offer teachers their own accommodation, no sharing.

      Whilst I think it’s necessary to negotiate your contract, some employers may not provide alternatives. Mine had one ‘compound’ and that was it. There was no alternative. You need to ask and see if there are options and alternatives first. If there are then, by all means, push for your choice. Normally the only alternative if you don’t live on the employers selected compound is to take a housing allowance but this rarely covers fees in any of the better compounds, and as I mentioned in the article, rent is almost always payable a year in advance.

      Re: bringing a dog. Saudi is not an animal friendly country at all (other than horses and camels which can make a lot of money). Cats are minimally accepted, but just barely. I can imagine it wouldn’t be easy(unless you were on a large compound). Best looking into for details but I can tell you, I saw absolutely no dogs, thousands of homeless, starving, badly treated street cats, but dogs were not to be seen.

      Reply
  68. Anton Chigurh

    Overall, a fairly comprehensive assessment of culture and work rules for expats in KSA.
    You needed to mention that expats who wish to leave KSA and return to another employer (as in the case of expired contract or broken contract) need to obtain the No Objection Certificate. Most employers don’t tell employees about this, and anyone who gets a better deal with another Saudi university has to wait 2 years before the NOC limit expires. Basically, you are banned from Saudi employment for 2 years without the NOC.

    Reply
    1. Gemma

      Yes, this is a good point. However the latest is that no objection certificates have now actually been stopped (information I received as of June 2013); allegedly they are no longer necessary. Of course, there will always be one or two employers that will demand it, so it is certainly great if you can obtain one.
      One thing I did forget to mention which is also a new law, again, only just passed, you need a ‘certificate of experience’ from previous employers stating where/how long you worked etc… Without these documents the salary offer can be lower as some institutions will not recognise experience without a valid letter. This is a huge pain. Most employers in the UK and Europe drag their feet over it, preferring instead to give references direct to a new employer…but these are the rules!

      Reply

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