Travel & Teach - Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has the largest reserves of petroleum in the world (26% of the proved reserves), and ranks as the largest exporter of petroleum. The petroleum sector accounts for roughly 75% of budget revenues and roughly 4 million foreign workers play an important role in the Saudi economy, particularly in the oil and service sectors. However Saudi Arabia has an increasing population, aquifer depletion, and an economy largely dependent on petroleum output. These are all major governmental concerns.
Teachers generally come to Saudi Arabia for one of two reasons: either they are attracted by the prospect of lucrative pay and benefits or they are accompanying a partner who is working in the region. Although the benefits have declined rather than increased over recent years, Saudi Arabia still has some of the most enviable contracts on offer in the world. Positions are numerous within private schools, petrochemical industries and the army and air force. Return airfare, 2 year contracts, paid accommodation and generous holidays are not uncommon.
In terms of where you live and work, there is a significant difference between the main centres. The coastal climate, both Dhahran and Dammam in the Eastern Province and in Jeddah on the Red Sea, is warm even in midwinter, and hot and humid from June to September. The interior, Riyadh especially, is hot but dry in summer and much cooler in winter, with even occasional early-morning frost.
The main city centres are astonishingly modern in appearance, but you will not find the lush shopping centres matched by western-style entertainments. Smaller towns are more interestingly traditional, and Saudis can be very welcoming. In some areas though, people are wary of strangers, so it’s advisable to take advice before travelling in country.
Those that succeed in securing a contract in Saudi Arabia will need to be able to live within the strict laws that govern everyday social interaction. Some limitation on one’s freedom of movement also has to be accepted – permission is needed to leave the Kingdom, for example, as well as to enter it. As long as you are aware of the potential pitfalls, the financial rewards are definitely there, allowing you to save money and live comfortably.
British Council http://www.britishcouncil.org/
British Council in Saudi Arabia: http://www.britishcouncil.org/saudiarabia.htm
Saudi Arabian Embassy UK: http://saudiarabia.embassyhomepage.com/
Saudi Arabian Embassy USA: http://www.saudiembassy.net/
Saudi Arabian National Tourist Office: http://www.sauditourism.gov.sa/
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My work in Saudi involved something of a contrast, with tightly regulated conditions in the military and a more laid-back life in civilian teaching. TEFL in the Air Force under British Aerospace was highly programmed, ‘by the book’ and exam-oriented. There was little scope for creativity, and the routine was quite strenuous for both teachers and students, so a dedicated TEFLer is likely to find the work frustrating.
In Jeddah, a more relaxed environment, I taught ground staff for the civil aviation authority. There was scope for a more personal and creative contribution here, with materials writing and an early (for me) foray into the world of materials for ESP (English for Specific Purposes).
It just goes to show – there can be substantial variation in circumstances within a single area, even one country. It’s as well to keep an open mind about ‘where to go’, because jobs (and employers) do vary, and there may be both interest value and useful experience in some unpromising situations, even if one does not in the end stay on too long.
Travel and Teach
Unless you reside amongst the growing expat community and are able to pick up work
locally, such benefits are not open to just anyone. You will normally need to be exceptionally well qualified (usually up to diploma level and beyond) and experienced (often 5 years or more). Adverts will also probably specify that you need to be male, sometimes that you must be under 50 or 55. Most EFL teachers are likely to fall short of at least one of these requirements.
Many expats find Jeddah the most congenial centre, more relaxed and cosmopolitan than many Saudi towns and centres. As on the East Coast, there are swimming and other water sports to enjoy. The Jeddah area does have particular advantages though. First there’s the Red Sea’s coral reef – diving or just snorkelling here is a real treat. Then there’s the cool ‘resort’ of Taif, high up on the Hijaz escarpment – the spectacular views, as well as the fresh air, are well worth the drive.
If applying from abroad, try the EL Gazette (monthly, generally by subscription - see http://www.elgazette.com/) and the Times Educational Supplement (Fridays). Larger agencies that recruit on behalf of Saudi companies can also be found in the Guardian (Tuesdays). As previously mentioned, if you are a spouse of an expat worker, it should not be too difficult to pick up some local work. Qualifications are rarely looked at by parents who would like their children to learn English from a native speaker and this practice is well established. But you must always be culturally sensitive in terms of the content of your teaching material as it can be easy to unwittingly offend. But the good news is that people are very keen to learn English and so enthusiastic students are often the norm.
It is not advisable to travel to the country and find work on spec and there are no tourist visas. The company who employs you will make the necessary application for visas and work permits. Contact your local health centre for up to date advice on any inoculations necessary.
Whatever the pay and benefits, living in an alcohol free Islamic state with a lot of expats could prove a challenge for many in the long term. Saudi Arabia is one of the stricter Middle Eastern countries, particularly for women who are not allowed to drive and should be chaperoned when they go out. For this reason, those with the necessary qualifications who still want the financial rewards often try for Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates, both of which offer a comparatively liberal way of life. There are also stories of teachers arriving in Saudi Arabia to find that the salary and benefits are not as good as originally promised. If applying from abroad, ensure everything is absolutely secured in writing before leaving.
However, if you do decide that Saudi Arabia is for you, then there is considerable financial compensation. You can expect a tax free salary of around £20,000 - £26,000. To avoid a large tax bill on return to the UK, obtain a ‘working overseas’ form from the tax office. Accommodation often comes with the job and can be luxurious. If you have secured work as a married couple, the contract will often provide free health care and school fees, otherwise you will need to make sure you have some form of health cover before you go.