What to expect while teaching English in Kuwait

Kuwait city cityscape

By M ALATTAR ALATTAR (originally posted to Flickr as عَمار ياكويت) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Typical working conditions

Kuwait is a Gulf Arab country at the western edge of the Persian Gulf. Known for the Persian Gulf War I of 1991, it is a member of OPEC and has one of the highest wealth per capita of any country. You might think that there is a great deal of money to be made in Kuwait, but this country is very selective about whom it permits to work and you must do some homework before you apply for your visa. This country is famous for its partnerships with American universities as they attempt to recreate higher education institutions similar to those in the U.S.

For a long time, private universities were banned in Kuwait, but a baby boom of sorts required the opening of several universities and Kuwait turned to the private sector to fill the need for higher education. The governing council for foreign universities and their Kuwaiti counterparts is the Private Universities Council. It licenses and accredits all private universities and promulgates minimum standards for operating in Kuwait. American University in Kuwait is perhaps the best example of a Kuwaiti university and its partner is Dartmouth. The American academics are considered consultants and provide help for establishing curriculum, department hierarchy, standards for student advancement, and so on. The key is the establishment of a general education program for students at the freshman and sophomore levels. All the private universities have had different levels of success, which may be linked to student motivation.1

Working conditions are the same as Western universities: faculty teaches in classrooms and prepares lessons and grades in air-conditioned buildings. There is a computer and a media projector for Powerpoint presentations. Faculty reports to one department chairperson and various roles may be delegated to high ranking faculty who specialize in curriculum, testing, student relations, and faculty relations. Regular faculty will be responsible for one or more classes and may team teach one or more classes with another teacher. An email system is provided for teachers and a laptop computer is often provided for teachers. Department chairpersons will report to various deans and there is a trend toward vocational education with respect to business, engineering, aviation, and health professions. These professions require a certain level of English competence and you may find motivated students who want to learn English. On the other hand, you may not. Kuwaiti students have a reputation for being demanding students.

The universities will provide housing for teachers, usually in the form of an apartment and rent will be deducted from the teacher’s paycheck. Your own housing is something that you can arrange between you and the landlord. Most landlords speak English, but it’s a good idea to bring an interpreter to clear misunderstandings about what is included in the rent. Transportation is not normally included, so teachers frequently share cab rides to and from the university. This is why an advance of Kuwaiti dinars is given to teachers upon arrival in Kuwait City. Again, it is deducted from the first paycheck.

Options

The standard contract is for one year of teaching during which the teacher may choose to provide advance notice and quit. The probation period is usually for 90 days which will include at least one lesson observation and written notes for improvement. After 90 days’ successful teaching, the teacher will qualify for a Civil Identification card, which grants permanent resident status. Opening bank accounts and signing lease agreements can be done which will make life in Kuwait easier. You will need copies of your degree(s), original transcripts, and a current police report clearance form to process your Civil Identification.

Qualifications

Contrary to what you may read on some web sites, you won’t need a Ph.d to land a job in Kuwait. A BA in English subject (such as Literature) or an MA in TEFL or TESL will do just fine. A BA in a non-language field will probably not get you a job in Kuwait. The minimum requirement would be a BA in English language in addition to an ESL certificate (CELTA or Trinity). Doctorates are welcome in fields such as Math, Science, Engineering, and Health Sciences. These professionals often go on to teach more advanced Kuwaiti students. However, student levels are often way below their American counterparts. If the job situation in America continues to worsen, expect the Ph.d to become more important as a qualification.

Where to look:

The better paying jobs will be found in higher education websites like, HigherEdjobs.com, Chronicle of Education, and TESOL.org. Just be advised that even though you may find the jobs in these sites, it does not mean that you will be treated like a higher education professional. Generally, colleges and universities in the Middle East like to have teachers with prior experience in that area. The geographic specific web sites include: Bayt.com, Mideastteachers.com, teachSaudi.com, seekteachers.com and Naukrigulf.com. There might be others, so keep searching those web sites.

Base of operations

Fortunately, Kuwait is a small country and the capital is the base of operations. There are no distant universities in remote corners, so you will always have an urban area as your home. There are many shopping malls, restaurants, and cinemas in Kuwait City, so buying a car would be a good idea once you have settled in and received your Civil Identification card.

Online Groups

There are a few groups that give you information. They might not have relevant information, so look around for groups that address your needs:

http://www.expatserviceskuwait.com/home.htm

http://www.expatsblog.com/blogs/kuwait

Text by Mark Graff

Mark is an experienced ESL teacher who has taught in Kuwait and is now working in Saudi Arabia.

If you have any questions for Mark or also have experience teaching English in Kuwait 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.

Author

Mark is an experienced ESL teacher who has taught in Kuwait and is now working in Saudi Arabia.

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51 comments

  1. Hello Mark.

    My husband and I are from Iran. I have 3 years of job experience in teaching in different language centers, he has 5 years of experience in teaching English and IELTS. I have studied English translation for my B.A s and TEFL for my masters currently I am working on my master’s dissertation. He studied English literature for his B.A s and TEFL for his master’s and now he is working on his master’s dissertation too.
    Unfortunately, we don’t have a TEFL certificate but we have studied TEFL for our master’s in one the best universities of Iran, Isfahan University. I was hoping you could help us and tell us if we have the chance to teach ( work) in Kuwait or Qatar.

    • Sure, you have a chance as long as it was a brick&mortar university. You should also get an IELTS score to apply for jobs. If you look thru the ads, many employers are willing to hire non-native English speakers with IELTS scores. Their requirements will vary. Kuwaitis will always favor other Kuwaitis for employment. However, many nationalities get hired.
      The CELTA certificate is (kind of) a minimum requirement in addition to a degree. You really need that, but it’s easily obtained if you have money to spend on education and room & board with a host family. It takes about 1 month to get thru it.

  2. Hi Mark
    I have a BA (hons) in English and an M.A. in English Literature as well. I’m from India and I have been a Teaching Assistant at a leading technical education institute in my country for a year and have taught as faculty at a university in India for 9 months. Currently I am a translator in India.

    Am I eligible for a teaching opportunity at a University in Kuwait? Please help.

    • Sure, you can apply. The classier places will advertise on Chronicle of Higher Education, Higher Ed jobs.com, TESOL.org and so on. There will also be tough competition for those jobs. Most employers (tertiary education) are looking for 4 or 5 years experience. There’s a few that will take only one year of experience.
      Hang out at DavesESLcafe.com and you will spot some teachers asking about employers who are hiring. They will ask questions like “what’s it like to teach at XX university?” and they will get stories from people who worked there.
      If you haven’t done so already, take the IELTS exam because employers look for ESL competence from non-native speakers. Required scores can range from 6 to 7.5.

  3. Nathaniel Alford

    Hey Mark my Nathaniel Alford I have A Bachelor of Science in Human Resource management,TESOL/TESL/TEFL from Oxford Seminars i completed 40 hours grammar course on line as well with Oxford i served honorably in The United states Armed force for 21 years plus where i attended a host of experience setting up class room and conducted teaching on many different topic. Can you help me found a position in teaching are give me
    some recommendation

    • Well, start with a web presence. Do you have profiles on Bayt.com? Naukrigulf.com? GotoGulf.com? TESOL.org?
      Start with a search of web sites and put your CV online. You’ll need to scan all docs and put them in your laptop:
      copy of BA, copy of ESL credentials, copy of letters of recommendation.
      Relate any military experience into something in the education field. Then, when you fill in the applications, you’ll have docs to upload to employers.

  4. Hi Mark,

    First, I want to thank you for being kind enough to individually answer similar questions from so many people.

    Two questions please:

    1. I’m trying to determine how rigid the requirement is for an English degree of some type to teach in Kuwait in a job that an experienced person would consider reasonable. In my case, I have a BA (not English), an MBA, a second Master’s in Environmental Studies, and a CELTA. I taught EFL for approximately 10 years in Asia; 5 years at college level and 5 years privately. In your opinion, where does that put me on the scale for jobs teaching adults?

    2. I realize that it may be a big subject, but will you say a little bit about the similarities and differences of teaching in Kuwait versus Saudi Arabia? If you know of specific blog posts or articles on that topic, please mention them.

    Thanks,

    Bill

    • I looked at your quals and at first I was tempted to say “No way,” but the Gulf Arabs are a clannish group and if you can survive a crappy year in the dubious outfits, you might be wanted by other schools. The MBA and MS in Enviro studies are grad degrees, which are signs of scholarly work. They like that.
      You also have a CELTA and a history with colleges and private schools (hopefully adults). Ten years experience is a good thing. Build up your resume and include the “Foreign expert certificate” or whatever you got to teach in Asia. Put that on LinkedIn. Schools salivate over that.
      Then apply for a teaching job at QEC or some other outfit, but insist on a resident permit for work (you cant open a bank account w/o one.).
      The bloom is off the rose in the Gulf and the salaries have gone down. Likewise, the standards for teachers have also gone down. You can survive one bad year in Saudi Arabia and transfer to Kuwait with your experience. However, I would leave KSA with a Letter of No Objection from your last employer. They play games with paperwork here.

      • P.S. you can go to DavesESLcafe.com to get opinions on Saudi Arabia vs. Kuwait. 99.9 percent of teachers prefer Saudis over Kuwaitis.

  5. Hi Mark,

    I am a 31 year old Australian woman with a 13 year old dependent. I have a BA (Hons) with English Literature, and a Master’s in Teaching (primary). I achieved great accolades, including faculty and University medals. I am very interested in teaching internationally and have been recommended to try Kuwait. What would I expect for tuition fees for my son’s education? Would it be a high quality for him? I am a confident teacher with a background in mentoring, tutoring and ESL support. Is the pay worth it? And what are the holidays like?

    Kind regards,
    Erin.

    • Educating a dependent child is not a happy circumstance in a foreign country. I knew of one couple who tried it in Saudi Arabia and it didn’t work out for the child. If you must go to the Middle East, find a contractor who spells out what he will do to educate your dependents. An employer who will pick up part of the education cost is worthwhile.
      If you are a single parent raising a child, that will make hiring you a bit questionable. Schools will welcome a teaching couple but I’m not so sure about a single mom. If you have a PGCE, I would try seekteachers.com. If not, try TESOL.org

  6. Hi Mark
    I am seriously considering looking fir teaching work in the middle east. I have BA, MA and a Tefl and a montessori diploma however I have little to no experience, except a few months in Vietnam two years ago. I get very nervous during demos. Like, extremely. I’m afraid it will hinder any prospects I may have. I know it sounds silly but once I get comfortable with kids I’m great. Is there any way around this?

  7. Hi there! I am RIGHT at the beginning of this venture. I have no teaching accreditations yet. I have a BA Hons in Dramatic Arts from The University of Witwatersrand (English Literature was one of my subject). I want to do an online course + get practical experience with the intention of teaching in Kuwait. Can you or anyone advise on the first stepping stone please? Thank you

    • Well, the 1st thing to do is to see how many credits you can transfer into a BA degree in Teaching English. I got a BA in English and all I could do try to teach English to high school students who were unappreciative (to say the least). Many universities will try to get you to teach secondary school students for free. This will burn you out quickly. Your teaching should focus on Adult Education ESL (and there are many teaching opportunites for this). There was one guy I knew in Kuwait who had a BA and some Arab language ability. This was good enough for ACK and he got the job.

  8. Hi Mark. I’ve obtained a BA degree in Human Resource Management I did a few English modules during my degree. I am currently working at a EF Education first company called pangea, we teach English to foreigners online people from China, Italy, Spain, saudia basically all around the world. My company pays for our TEFL certificate. So how are my odds for getting a teaching job in Kuwait. Please let me know. Special thanks to you for helping us out. God bless

    • Your success in Kuwait (or Gulf Arab countries) depends on how many university credits you can transfer into a BA degree in English or language teaching. If it’s a short time, I would say “go for it.” If not, then see if you can get an online BA degree in language teaching.
      Arab universities prefer the degrees from “brick & mortar” universities and Kuwaitis would probably insist on it. Some might not, but they would not be good places to teach.
      The odds of a Kuwaiti university hiring a teacher with a TEFL certificate (and no degree related to language teaching) are small. I would stay in Asia.

  9. Hi Mark…

    I have a total of 4 years experience of working within 2 secondary school as an Aim Higher Learning Mentor for such students who had fallen behind with their GCSE Art course work.

    I have a BA Hons in Design, as well as BSc in Civil & Environment Engineering.
    I finish my 1st year of my MSc in the next 3 weeks. After which I will be doing the advance 4 weeks TOFL course in Prague.

    Please could you tell me the likelihood of me getting a teaching vacancy to teach primary school aged children from 5 to 10 years old.

    I’m a black female.

    I also hold the part time youth work qualification as well.

    Regards

    Lesley

  10. Hello,

    I’m Looking for some advice. I am graduating this spring with a B.S in Psychology from my local university. I also have a 100hr TEFL/TESOL certificate. I have no real teaching experience apart from some mentoring at a local elementary school. How realistic do you think it would be for me to get a teaching position in Kuwait?

    • Kuwait is a picky country. In order to teach with a BA degree, the major would have to be in English or some type of language teaching degree (and you would probably need Arabic language skills). Did you see the video where the Kuwaiti woman filmed her maid dropping several floors? That is the type of mentality you will find when you teach in Kuwait. Graduating from college and teaching in the Middle East is a “trial by fire” that I would not wish on anyone.
      Teaching with a Psych degree will not be highly regarded in Kuwait, where they have many people with English degrees to choose from. Even if you do get hired, it will most likely be a place that grinds out teachers like so much cannon fodder.

  11. Hi Mark

    Is it totally impossible to get a job teaching English without a degree but just a CELTA qualification. I have a Celta qualification as well a certificate in language advance training? I have been working in the banking sector for the past 24 years and am 52 years old and wish to now pursue a career in TEFL kindly advise or give me some direction.

    Thanking you kindly

    • I never said it would be impossible to get a job without a degree. I said it would be impossible to get a job in the Middle East without a degree (and experience). Why not take all your credits for past work & enroll in an online university? In a few months, you could get a BA degree and do teaching in Asia. On this website there are teaching jobs, but the better ones require a teaching degree. Skip the ones that offer teaching on “volunteer basis”

  12. Hi Mark

    I finished my degree in December 2016. I have however not received my actual degree certificate as yet. In South Africa we get a letter from the department of education that seems as proof that we’re indeed qualified. My question is… would this suffice? I have also completed my TEFL course successfully.

    • In the Middle East, there’s a process called “attestation.” It means having legit documents that have been sealed in an envelope and attest to your quals. A letter would not suffice, since employers want to see grades in the form of transcripts. If SA doesn’t do transcripts, then wait until you get an official form (or letter) and tell your prospective employer that it’s the way SA handles proof of degrees.
      Take a look at this web site and note all the hoops you have to jump thru to get a Saudi work visa:
      http://life-in-saudiarabia.blogspot.com/2015/02/step-by-step-process-of-saudi-working.html
      Now keep in mind that Kuwaiti work visas are just as difficult to get. The fastest visas are processed in less than 4 months. If you are trying to do this process during Ramadan, it will be a lot slower.

  13. Hi mark
    I am an south African and have a b ED degree major subject English. This is my 6th year teaching however I have been teaching grde 2. Please assist I would like to teach in Kuwait

    • Tell me if you want to teach adults or children. It sounds like you want to stay in elementary education. There’s a website called seekteachers.com that really wants qualified elementary teachers. However, you probably need a PGCC certificate (check other sources for what that is). Why limit yourself to just Kuwait?

  14. Hi mark. Im looking for a bit advice. I hold a Montessori diploma, BA in English and Philosophy and MA in screenwriting. Truthfully I’m not very competent in these as I’ve not used them much. I did a TEFL course two years ago and used it briefly in Vietnam. I’m sonoug of practice now though that I’m hesitant about applying for a job. Can you recommend any refreshers, teaching materials that may help me get back in the game so to speak? Do you need to be able to deliver a class right away when you start in Kuwait or is there room for learning? I don’t want to waste my qualifications.

    • If you need to get back into the game, go to China immediately. There are many places that will hire you. Some might even pay your air fare. They will definitely pay your apt. and visa costs. Make sure you come in on a “Z” visa.
      If you want to gain online experience, try working for ETS as a TOEFL speaking rater. It’s easy to get qualified (relatively) and they paid around $15 per hour about 10 years ago.
      Middle East students are very picky and if they sense incompetence, they will sell you out very quickly.

  15. I am a secondary school teacher in Mauritius, my country. I have a B.A in English plus a PGCE. I have 15 years experience teaching English. I would like to work in Kuwait or Oman. I have done the IELTS exam and have got a score of 8. Can you please advise?

    • Go to teachaway.com and click on the link that says: Kuwait.

      There are lots of private schools hiring for the 2017-18 school year. The other place is Bayt.com or Naukrigulf.com. You will need to set up a profile and upload CV and photos. Once it’s done, you will get job offers.

  16. Hi Mark
    I have a BA in Business Management. I will be moving to Kuwait to be with my husband who is a Kuwaiti. I want to teach young kids like pre-K to 2nd grade. Would it require the many years of experience history still? My background is all business Management. any direction would help.

    • so you want to teach in a private school for the lower grades. That would mean getting a PGCE credential, which is a British certificate to teach. If you are in your 20s or 30s, this would be a worthwhile credential. Past 40, not so much. Do a search for the PGCE and find schools that will accept your old degrees and maybe even work experience for partial credit for the PGCE.
      Try this website: http://www.teachaway.com click on link that says: Kuwait. It will give you ideas of what’s available.

  17. Hi Mark,
    I hold a Bachelors degree in History/ Political Science Pre- law and a Masters in EDU focus on English. I hold ESL teaching Licence in USA and have been teaching ESL student for 11 years. How qualified does this make me? What are my chances for employment? I have concerns working in Kuwait because I am a single female. Any concerns or tips?

    • Try reading Dave’s ESL cafe dot com for messages among females who teach in the Middle East. There are whole boards devoted to countries like Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, etc.
      Your experience is a plus. Not having a BA in languages is a minus. Keep your CV on file in sites like TESOL.org or Total ESL and look for the “international” sections. Keep records of every letter of recommendation and evaluation you have. Scan them and keep ’em in your laptop. Sooner or later, a potential employer will want a copy.

  18. Hi Mark. I am a South African teacher with 22 years of teaching experience at a govt school. I have a 4 year Higher Education Diploma Diploma from a teacher training college called Springfield college of education as well as B ED honours specialising in educational psycology. Will I qualify to teach in UAE

  19. Christina Raines

    Hi Mark,

    I am looking for work in Kuwait, and have been offered a job at a language center in Kuwait. I am wondering if I can talk to you about the situation, and get your take on it.

    Cheers,

    • Sure. You can find me on Linked In.com. Kuwaiti employers are sticklers for paperwork and it won’t be a pleasant process. However, once you arrive, you have some job security only because Q8 students are infamous for their behavior.

      • Hello.

        I’m just wondering if you have any information about teaching (or student) standards at Gulf University for Sciences & Technology (GUST)?

        I have an interview scheduled even though I don’t have an MA. I do have a PGCE, CELTA, BA and 11 years’ experience in ESL (five of them teaching 18-22-year-old university students and a further 13 years teaching in UK secondary schools.

  20. Hi mark

    I am a native English speaker and live in Glasgow, Scotland. I have a BA (Hons) degree in accountancy. I would love to start teaching in the Middle East and I am planning on completing the online TEFL course. However, I have no teaching experience. Could you please let me know my chances of gaining employment anywhere in the middle east with no experience.

    Thanks

    • It’s almost impossible to get hired in the Middle East without experience. Once you get the ESL certificate, you would have to start in Asia. Try to get a school with a college prep program. Many students find themselves able to read & write but poor verbal skills. You could also try for an IELTS examiner position (verbal skills) but that might require a minimum IELTS score. No teaching experience is quite a handicap.

  21. Hey Mark

    My names Abubakar Solomon, I’m from Cape Town, South Africa. I completed my Bachelor of Arts Degree and completed the 120 TESOL full time. I have two years experiance part time teaching. Could you please assist me to where I could apply.

    Regards
    Abubakar Solomon

  22. I’ve noticed a few ads (mostly Daves ESL cafe) specifically requiring MA in TESL as a pre-condition. Be advised that, although you may teach in a university, you will feel like it’s continuation school.

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