The following comments are from English teachers who have taught, or are currently teaching English in Saudi Arabia.
One thing that needs to be highlighted and emphasized is that in most cases your employer will “retain your passport for safekeeping”. They will tell you that you can ask for the passport at any time, but in practice this also relies on the “insh’allah” principal.
You will also need an exit/entry visa from your employer, and he can deny you this without explanation. You cannot leave the country without this visa. In some cases, your employer will demand that you either find a sponsor who will stand as surety for your return to the KSA, or you will have to put up one month or more of your salary as surety. In some cases the sponsor has to commit 3 months’ salary as a deposit. If you do not return that person will forfeit the 3 months’ salary.
Another thing is that your “contract” is not worth the paper it’s written on. When push comes to shove your employer will use it defend himself and will find every excuse to validate the contract to his advantage. Your requests for meetings will be ignored, and you might just get a letter of warning that you are not operating within the company’s regulations, or get salary deductions for being a nuisance. Do not accept a contract for more than one year. Your circumstances might change and you won’t be able to get out of the “contract”. Although Saudi Arabia is a signatory to international labour conventions, the regulations are not always applied. However, the Saudis are friendly people and although much of what is said elsewhere on this page is true, it has been a good experience as far as I am concerned.
It is an interesting country, although a difficult one at times for an expat. But, ask about the passport, the availability an exit visa and the legitimacy of the contract. Then don’t be surprised that what was said at the interview changes by the time you get to the KSA.
I’m a single female from the UK who has been teaching in Saudi Arabia for a year. I really enjoy it here and love Saudi Arabia.
I teach at a university in Riyadh and teach young women. I would say about half of the girls are not motivated and are not interested in learning English and can give you problems in class, but those that are are absolutely lovely – they are the ones that keep me going when I feel like giving up. In my university the curriculum I feel personally is not very good and does not benefit the girls which is why I supplement with my own materials. The advantage of teaching here is that you are provided with materials, so you don’t have to spend too much time planning. I only teach 20 hours a week which is standard in universities here.
The standard of accommodation here ranges from not so good to very good. The apartment my company have placed me in is good. The downside is that depending on the company you work for you could be placed in a not so nice studio flat. The universities and companies generally have single women share accommodation. Most employers offer you a housing allowance if you don’t want to stay in company accommodation.
I work for a company and not directly for the university I work in. The company place me there. A lot of people say that ‘direct hire’ (that is when you are employed directly by the university and not a contracting company) is better but that is not always the case. The benefits are generally the same, the companies and universities all offer free accommodation, flights, transportation and medical insurance. The only differences being that the quality of accommodation from the universities is a little better and you get slightly better holiday entitlement.
I find the Saudis a good people. They are kind, generous and hospitable. A lot of people, especially expats like to put down and excessively criticize the Saudis but a lot of that is down to jealously and the fact that they do not have Saudi friends. Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and the Saudis put Islam first, which some people can’t get over.
When going out a woman must wear the abaya and it is recommended that she should also cover her hair. The mutawwa(religious police) sometimes patrol shopping malls. They may ask you to cover your hair if it is uncovered.
The country is very well developed and the standard of living is high. All creature comforts are available. The supermarkets are good and a lot of the goods that you can find in the west are available here. In the traditional markets, goods are a lot cheaper and you can haggle – in fact it is expected that you haggle. The shopping malls are good and have the usual western clothes shops. The downside of these shops is that they are expensive and the range limited. Designer labels are also available.
Restaurants are plentiful in Riyadh and the cost of eating out is very reasonable – there are Lebanese, Chinese, Turkish etc restaurants here.
Alcohol and pork are prohibited. If caught drinking or with alcohol the punishment can be severe.
The salaries here are tax-free and very good. You can easily save half your monthly salary or more if you budget. You can easily supplement your income with private tuition. Saudis once hearing your native English accent may approach you for private tuition – this has happened to me a few times. Some employers do not allow this. A lot of teachers do this and do not tell their employers or anyone else.
In Riyadh a lot of places do not have paving which makes walking quite difficult. Also as a woman be aware that the men here are quite forward, they behave the same ways as men in other places behave. It is not uncommon when walking for cars to slow down to have a good look at you. Guys will ask for your number and may even attempt to follow you.
There are not as many gyms for women as there are for men and they are very expensive. It is very easy to put on weight due to the food and lack of exercise.
There is no public transport here. Women can not drive here and have to rely on taxis. Taxis are plentiful and cheap. A woman should sit in the back seat and never at the front next to the driver.
Everything depends on the employer aka the recruitment agency.
Will you have decent accommodation?
Will you get an Iqama?
Will you have transportation and food allowance?
Will you be able to go on shopping runs once a week?
Will you be paid on time ?
Because the Saudi Kingdom is a unique Muslim country, I strongly suggest 1-2 years working in another Muslim country (perhaps the UAE or Turkey) before coming here. It will make the adjustment easier. Good luck!
Teaching in Saudi is very difficult. Research the company you will work for very carefully. Will they provide transport, accommodation etc? Many companies will say anything they can to get teachers to work in the kingdom. Once you are in KSA don’t be surprised if promises aren’t kept. Another thing to bear in mind is the labor laws in the Gulf favor the employer over the employee hugely. If you get into any dispute with your employer there may be little that your embassy can do to assist you. Remember that you also need an exit visa to leave KSA. I was lucky as I had a nice boss who would give me an exit visa whenever I needed it. However, this isn’t always the case so make sure you do your research BEFORE you get to KSA. Once you are in the country you are in your employer’s hands.
The bureaucracy in Saudi is exhausting too. A procedure that would take 5 minutes in a Western country can take a month in Saudi. You need to be very patient and don’t have high expectations.
Day to day life in Saudi can be boring too. There is little entertainment and all you can do in your spare time is smoke a sheesha, watch a soccer match or eat at a restaurant. (Riyadh does have a great variety of restaurants though). You need to entertain yourself here and that is difficult in such a restricted country. One highlight of the country is camping in the desert. This is popular with Saudis and the deserts around Riyadh are beautiful. Luckily as an American I could attend the (pricey!) embassy parties where you could drink legally. Don’t even think about brewing your own alcohol here. Penalties are severe if caught and it really is not worth the risk. Remember that the climate is brutal in KSA too and dictates your life. I am from California myself but found the heat very hard to cope with. You need to be careful as sunstroke could set in if you ain’t sensible.
As a teacher you also need to be very careful as to what you say in lessons. You shouldn’t criticize the Royal family in any way or discuss women’s rights, democracy etc. Bear in mind that Saudi isn’t a democratic country.