Have You Ever Thought About Teaching in Saudi Arabia?
If you are interested in living and teaching in a modern, large country with the latest technology but at the same time a country holding to its customs and traditions of the seventh-century days of the Prophet Muhammad, then Saudi Arabia may be a good fit for you.
With over 700 international schools mostly in larger cities, there are many teaching possibilities. So what are you waiting for?
A Traditional View of Saudi Arabia
When most people think of Saudi Arabia, they picture a veiled woman and a strict Islamic society. In many ways, the country is the same; it remains largely unseen and mysterious. However, the government has recently embraced Western-style tourism, mainly religious pilgrim visits to the holy cities of Median and Mecca, increased business/work opportunities, and the traveler who wants to find out more about this country’s fascinating, unique culture and history.
Size and Regions
Saudi Arabia covers most of the Arabian peninsula. It is inhabited by approximately 26.5 million people. There are several geographical regions: the Hijaz (northwest Red Sea coast, mountainous), the Nafud (north, desert), the Najd (central, plateau), the Eastern Province (east, along the Gulf), the Rub al Khali (south, desert), and the Asir (southwestern Red Sea Coast, mountainous).
Daily Temperatures and Weather
Temperatures can easily exceed 100 F/ 43 C. The cooler months are October to March. The temperatures can be cold in the mountain areas during the evenings in December through March. Summers are typically very hot and humid, although they can be very dry inland. Sandstorms can occur anytime and last for a few days at a time.
What’s there to see?
The country boasts a high standard of living, largely because of its oil wealth. After all, it is the world’s largest oil producer and exporter with over a quarter of the world’s global oil reserves.
Among the attractions of Saudi Arabia are religious shrines that are only open to Muslims, the Arabic culture, desert scenery, markets, and archaeological sites and ruins. Many spectator sports are seen by men only. Horse-races and camel-races are popular.
There are no taxes in the country so you can expect to pay less for many items. Local and Bedouin handicrafts, dallahs (Arabian coffeepots), gold, pearls, carpets, and Hofuf pots are some popular items to buy. There are also imported items from Pakistan, Iran, China, and Japan offered at reasonable prices. You can spend time at the numerous traditional souks or ultramodern shopping malls.
Foods and Restaurants
Local foods include saliq (lamb in milk with rice), kabsah/kabbza (meat/seafood and rice), yogurt, paella, mutton dishes, and camel. Sheep’s eyes are considered a delicacy. Seafood is available at the coastal areas. Pork is prevented by Islamic beliefs. Typical desserts include baklava and umm all (bread pudding). Beverages include nonalcoholic drinks only (grape juice, cider, buttermilk, and camel’s milk) as alcoholic beverages are illegal in the country. Light cardamom-flavored Saudi coffee is worth trying.
Modern restaurants will feature western-style foods. In any of the local restaurants, you will eat with the first two fingers and the thumb of the right hand – there is no silverware used. After eating, towels with rose water and soap are provided. Westernized fast food restaurants and major chains of most restaurants offer a family section for families and single women and a separate section for single men. Some restaurants may refuse to serve women unless they are with a male relative or husband. You may be asked to show proof of marriage. Most restaurants close during prayer times; the larger ones may allow customers to stay inside.
Hand grasping is common; always shake the right hand. Public telephones are available for local, national, and international calls. Telephone cards are increasing in popularity as are cell phones. Internet access is available at Internet cafes and many other public facilities. You will need a round, two-pin adapter for electrical outlets. Websites that appear to be offensive are blocked by the country’s single internet filter.
Saudis usually stand close to each other when speaking. Don’t talk about politics or women and don’t point at people or use the “thumbs up” gesture as this is offensive. Additionally, don’t show the sole of your shoe or foot when you sit as this is disrespectful. Remove your shoes when going into someone’s house or place of worship.
There are noticeable Saudi security forces and military forces throughout the country, but you should still use caution and not violate any local customs. Pickpockets have been known to frequent larger crowds, but generally pickpocketing and petty theft are not too much of a concern.
Women are expected to dress modestly. Ankle-long dresses that are not tightly fitted with long sleeves are advised with as little exposed skin as possible; avoid slacks in public. Shorts are only worn in private or in closed recreational areas. Because of the heat, lightweight clothing is recommended. Foreigners often wear more casual clothing.
Regarding gift giving, items from your own country will be appreciated. Remember not to give alcohol or any representation of women (photos, sculptures, etc.) which is against Islamic law. Don’t refuse any gifts as it will be seen as offensive; be careful about saying you like a certain item that you see at the host’s house as the host may feel obligated to give it to you. Remember to give and receive gifts only with your right hand.
Medical, Dental, and Health Suggestions
There are adequate medical and dental facilities in Saudi Arabia. It is wise to have your own personal accident, medical, and hospital insurance prior to coming to Saudi Arabia. You are not permitted to bring any over the counter or prescription drugs into the country; if you must have a prescription drug, you should contact the Saudi embassy or consulate prior to departing to Saudi Arabia.
You should peel your fruits and vegetables before eating and ensure your meat is thoroughly cooked. It is advised to drink bottled water or boiled drinks.
Sunscreen and a large brimmed hat are important to shield yourself from the hot sun.
You should consult with your physician about vaccinations before departing.
You need to avoid freshwater streams or ponds as they may be infected with a parasite (bilharzia).
Because of the dryness from the desert, it is difficult to wear contact lenses; make sure you bring a pair of eyeglasses.
Money, Banking, and Tipping
Many banks don’t accept one hundred dollar bills (U.S.) as there have been many counterfeit bills that have been used and discovered in the past. Bring smaller denominations of bills. The local currency is the Saudi riyal (SR or SAR). There are about 3.75 SAR to $1 U.S. The currency is pretty stable and unlikely to change. You can change money at Saudi banks and exchange offices in all larger cities. You will find ATMs in most shopping areas, service stations, airports.
An extra 5-10% tip in restaurants, hotels, and taxis is customary.
Passports, Visas, and Sponsors
When entering the country, you will need a passport, a visa, and sufficient funds. You will also need a local sponsor when entering the country, but your place of employment usually can provide this. Any female visitor must have a sponsor at the airport. In some instances, visas have been denied to Jewish people and to those who have a passport with either an Israeli or Egyptian stamp.
The Riyadhi’s King Khalid International Airport is 22 mi/35 km north of the city center. King Fahd International Airport is 11 mi/18 km north of Jeddah. The national airline, Saudia, flies to about 26 domestic destinations and is a great way to get around this large country.
Taxis, self-driven rental cars, and chauffeured rental cars are the easiest ways to travel locally. Women should not ride in taxis alone. Long-distance taxis take you from one neighboring country to the next for a reasonable rate. If you are going to drive yourself, insurance is mandatory. However, you must be careful when driving; illegal U-turns and other traffic violations may result in steep fines or a short jail term. Bus service connects the major cities; women sit separately from men and also must wait at separate bus stops.
Daily train service between lager cities is another mode of transport.
Ferry service connects Saudi Arabia to Sudan, Somalia, and Egypt.
Thursdays and Fridays are considered weekends; Friday is the official Sabbath day of prayer. You should not walk in front of anyone who is praying.
Additional Facts to Know
Women are often excluded from many activities. This practice may appear sexist to foreigners, but many Saudi men believe this shows respect for women and helps women keep their femininity.
In some areas of the country, men and women are not permitted to mingle in public unless they are relatives or married to each other.
Women are not allowed to drive vehicles or even ride a bicycle on public roads.
Music, dancing, and movies are prohibited in public.
Be careful what you take pictures of; taking photos of royalty, women, airports, ports, industrial facilities, and military facilities is illegal. It is advised to ask permission before taking a picture of a mosque.
Don’t bring Christian or Jewish materials into the country; it is illegal to do so. The Saudis are mostly Sunni Muslims; Shite Muslims are a minority.
For More Information
For more information, you can contact the tourist office in Riyadh at Supreme Commission for Tourism, Kirdi Center, Diplomatic Quarter, P.O. Box 66680, Riyadh 11586. Phone 966-1-480-8855 or go to: http://www.st.gov.sa/english.
There are Saudi Arabian embassies in Canada and the U.S. In addition, there is a Canadian Embassy in Riyadh and a U.S. Embassy in Riyadh as well. There are consulates in Jeddah and Dhahran.