Published 6th June 2019
The Middle East is a sticky topic in the TEFL world. On the one hand teaching in the Middle East is known to offer amazing salaries with incredible perks. On the other hand the Middle East is an unknown entity for most people and it has a reputation for being unfriendly to foreigners and especially harsh to women. Read on to find out about teaching English in Saudi Arabia.
But it’s unfair to paint a region or a country with a brush without finding out what it’s really like. The Middle East has a lot to offer in the way of TEFL and it’s definitely worth a consideration on your TEFL search. But, if you’re a woman, you might be a little hesitant. So to cut through all the gossip, this is what it’s really like teaching English in Saudi Arabia as a woman.
Teaching in Saudi Arabia
It goes without saying that you are expected to follow the laws of the country. This is standard no matter which country you are in. The challenge in Saudi Arabia comes in when we realise that there are many laws for women which we may consider restrictive. However, laws are laws and if you make the decision to teach in Saudi Arabia you have to follow them.
In Saudi Arabia, the laws women need to be aware of relate mostly to men. As a woman, you cannot speak to a man in public and cannot be in a men-only area (and vice-versa). Many public institutions will have separate areas for men and women, including restaurants.
Women will teach only at all-female institutions while men will teach only at all-male institutions. You will most likely be teaching at a language school, international school or a university.
Your salary will be higher than in many other countries – and it’s tax-free – plus you will enjoy the added benefits of housing, healthcare and compensation for your flight.
Women are required to wear an abaya – a loose-fitting garment which covers your entire outfit. Some cities will be stricter with their dress code than others. You are not expected to cover up when in your compound.
By and large TEFL teachers are provided with accommodation. This accommodation is typically within a compound. While this might sound strange it is very normal in Middle Eastern countries. In a compound, there are not only houses but also shops, restaurants, gyms, sports facilities and more. Foreigners are usually housed within the same compound, meaning that many of the laws of the outside society will be more relaxed within in the compound.
Alcohol is prohibited by law. There are no bars, clubs or cinemas in Saudi Arabia. However, there are endless shopping malls and deserts!
Saudi Arabia is an extremely safe country, with crime rates significantly lower than many Western countries.
This may sound like a lot to consider, but there is so much more to Saudi Arabia than you might think. It is the birthplace of Islam and home to the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina. It is a very influential country, not only in the Middle East but on a global level too.
And it’s changing. The Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is making reforms to a number of laws which could see the country changing in a big way. As a result of his reforms, women are now allowed to drive and can access medical care and education without the need for a guardian.
So if you’re on the hunt for a TEFL job, don’t let the thought of the Middle East prevent you from considering Saudi Arabia. It will most certainly be a very different experience to anywhere else in the world and the fact that you’re a woman shouldn’t dissuade you in any way.