Pages of the Oasis

Sunday, May 12, 2013

How did you find a job in Saudi Arabia?

This is a question I’m often asked.

 In fact, I found my job teaching in Saudi Arabia very easily. 

I just posted my resume to Dave’s ESLCafe and recruiters flocked within hours.

I also browsed the list of jobs posted on Dave’s ESL cafe and read up on the forum postings and on blogs about teaching in various countries in the world . I applied for 2 positions but didn’t receive a response from either.

After receiving emails from recruiters and agreeing to an interview by one by Skype, I sent my resume and scans of my original certificates (degrees, CELTA designation) to the recruiter.

I had as many questions for the recruiter as he did for me, I think. While he didn’t answer any questions about what it was really like to live in Saudi Arabia or culture type questions, he readily referred me on to other people who were teaching in the middle east, and one who was currently working in Saudi Arabia.

I was wary because I had read that people currently working for the company would not be in a position to give any negative comments, in case they lost their job over it, but the people I talked to still gave me useful information, which turned out to be accurate, although a rosy spin on the situation. 

For example,I remember talking to one teacher currently working in Saudi who told me, in a very thick southern USA accent that she actually loved wearing the hijab because she she never had to worry about what her hair looked like. She just wrapped her hair up in it in a minute, and went out the door. Wardrobe decisions are quick and easy in such a conservative environment. Once I arrived, I discovered the same thing. Except for how hot they made feel, I didn`t mind wearing the abaya or a hijab much at all.

I had also asked to speak to people who had worked for that company who had finished their contracts already, but was never given any names of people not currently working for the recruiting company.

As a result, I found my own sources of information as well as what the recruiting company offered me. The best sources of information I encountered were people who had lived for years in the Middle East, usually working for oil companies, not as teachers, who had returned back to Canada. They gave a really accurate portrayal of the cultural living scene, but of course, since they weren’t teaching English, they couldn’t give me insights into that aspect of the culture and work situation.

(Check out my eBook on this topic,  ‘’Teaching English in Saudi Arabia: Strategies and Class Activities’’ for more information on this particular topic).

Although no one said they had a negative experience that I talked to, all cautioned me that it was a hard place to live, and everything they told me turned out to be true.

In retrospect, I was glad I talked to as many people as I did  because I seemed to have been well prepared and wasn’t shocked by anything. I had also lived abroad before, and knew how to adapt to living in a new country. As a result, I seemed to adapt better than a lot of my teaching colleagues. (I was only surprised by how things went with the recruiting company and at work. Everything about the culture turned out to be exactly as I expected.)

If I were to do it again, I’d read more about the muslim culture ahead of time and try to meet with Saudis living and studying within my own home country.  

As an aside,  you might also appreciate reading Sarah Ali’s eBook (link on the homepage of this blog) called ‘’Teaching in the Middle East Through Understanding Culture’’ and others on this topic.
So, basically, after I kept hearing the same things and advice over and over again, did some soul searching and decided I could live with it all, I decided to sign the contract. 

The recruiter said he would pass his recommendation to hire me and my application package on to the headquarters of the recruiting company in Saudi Arabia, who would then contact me directly and send me a copy of the contract they were prepared to offer me.

I received an email and a copy of the contract within a week. The recruiter told me he was annoyed that it had taken so long, and said he had contacted them on my behalf. He had hoped I would get a contract offer within 48 hours apparently.

I had no idea, really, what to think or what to look for once I received the contract.  It seemed quite straightforward and thorough, but not overly complicated or difficult to understand in terms of the language used. It seemed reasonable and above -board. I still felt like I was going in blind. I asked for the opinion and confirmations of the visa expediting agency , I went through to get my visa 
  (who didn`t raise any  red flags, but weren`t really in a position to anyway), and the Saudi Embassy in my country, who outright laughed at some of my questions.(It wasn´t that my questions were that far off base, just that I was asking the wrong people, people who weren´t in a position to comment, or who were men that weren´t interested in my concerns as a woman. )

I learned a lot after I arrived and worked there for a few months, and discovered the reality of how the contract worked in the 'real world'. In general, things were as stated in the contract i signed. I was grateful for this after I heard stories (often horror stories) from people working for other companies that sounded like they treated their employees quite poorly.

Still, there were things I would do differently when negotiating a contract, if I were to do it again. So I’d like to recommend that you read my post on contract negotiating tips for more advice about my experience and what I learned and can recommend to others as a result so you don’t feel this way too.

Please also read my post about work visa options (pros and cons of each type) since this can form a part of your contract agreement.

Some of the Things I Learned

One thing I hadn’t realized was that my contract was only with the recruiting company, so I would always be working for the recruiting company for the duration of my contract, not for a University directly.

This had implications. At times this led to some tension and discrepancies between what the company was willing to do, and what the university wanted teachers to do. 

It also meant that the recruiting company was 100% responsible for you and your living situation, not the university. This had plusses (they provided paid accommodation and some transportation options for shopping and social activities outside of work hours) and minuses (for example, they controlled paydays, wages, holidays,required that you ask for permission to travel on holiday, and could require you to move to a different institution than the one you want to work at, and you had limited choices of accommodation, depending on when you arrived and what was available; the company I worked for did not have a big compound living situation for expats like some big companies provide for employees, which could be an advantage or disadvantage depending on your personality).

The company website had photos of the accommodation included with the contract and other information about the company and what new teachers could expect from the company. Only the married couples I met were given this option. The 'singletons' wound up living in hotels ( made over to be 'apartment hotels'). Check out the accommodation options thoroughly and ask a lot of questions, and compare with other companies, to make sure you are comfortable with the situation before signing the contract. Once you are there, your options are limited to what you agreed to beforehand. Switching companies once you are there is a hard thing to do.

Once I had a signed and counter signed contract, it was a done deal. Next came the application process and waiting game to get my Visa arranged and then my flights booked.

A day after I signed my contract, I received nice welcome emails from the recruiting company headquarters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with lists of next steps to take to get my work Visa, flight booking instructions (to be paid for by the company), and what to buy to prepare to live in Saudi Arabia (with special notes and links about the culture and special instructions for women about buying abayas, such as the Canadian Muslim online store ). 

They didn’t give much information about what to bring to help prepare you to teach so I highly recommend that you get and read my eBook ‘’Teaching English in Saudi Arabia: Strategies and Class Activities’’ to help you know what to expect, in order to help you prepare to teach in this part of the world.

Also, please read my upcoming posts about what to bring with you that your recruiting company may not mention, or that you might not otherwise hear about, that will make a big difference to your quality of life in Saudi Arabia in the short and long term.


  1. Hi Marianne, it was nice to read what you've been through. I would like to make a suggestion also: I am a Turkish guy who wants to move and work in Middle East (especially in SA)... I am using a web site called CareerJet... There are lots of high quality and most recent job offers. It is very good way to find exactly what are you looking for... Regards...

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