Comparing teaching in Thailand v Saudi Arabia
What happens when you leave for the big bucks.
How is teaching in Saudi compared to Thailand?
Money, money, money
Well let's cut to the chase and get to the big issue; money. This month I will collect approximately 10,000 tax free United States dollars from my employer here in Saudi Arabia. It breaks down to rounded figures of 4,800 dollars monthly salary, 4,000 yearly bonus, and a 1,100 dollar reimbursement for my flight to Ghana, where I spent my 7 week paid summer vacation.
I have 11 weeks paid holiday as it stands now, and thanks to the way Ramadan falls in relationship to our academic calendar, it appears that we may have as much as a 3 and a half month break for summer this academic year.
I have excellent medical and dental insurance. I saved approximately 40,000 dollars my first year here in Saudi. It would have been a few thousand more, but I gave a few grand away to a family member to help him expand his export business. In fact next year I will probably save around 45k due to my annual raise which I just received. That is a hell of a lot of Tom Yam Goong. More than I ate in my 10 plus years teaching in Thailand for sure.
So what do I have to do for this money? Well, I teach 25 hours a week at a vocational college in Jeddah, on the Red Sea in the middle of the west coast between Mecca and Medina.
The teaching, for me at least, is fun. The students (all male classes) require a lot of classroom management. However, Power Teaching has turned a difficult situation into a rather easy, very rewarding one. (You can read some blogs I wrote for Phil on "Whole Brain" or "Power Teaching" here on Ajarn).
I will be quick to add that in spite of the students being somewhat unruly, immature and lazy, they are very respectful towards western teachers and appreciative of our presence. Basically they are good kids, but they have no work ethic thanks to being born into the ultimate nanny state.
The King just doles out the petro dollars to keep the peace. Even "poor" Saudis, like many of the students I teach at vocational college, don't really struggle to survive. Nevertheless, for them to get enough money to get a dowry for a wife, a new Audi, and to buy a decent home to start a family is difficult, if they aren't well connected. The idea that all Saudis are running around in Ferraris is a big misconception.
The college I work in is part of Saudi Arabia's "Colleges of Excellence" program. The main goal of the colleges, apart from English and technical education, is preparing young Saudis to enter the private sector, a process called Saudiazation.
Something like 40 per cent of the population of Saudi Arabia are foreigners. Currently the Saudi private sector is comprised of only 500,000 workers. Unemployment is high and the rest are government workers that make American bureaucrats look like real go getter workaholics.
Most of these foreign workers are from underdeveloped Asian countries like Bangladesh , India, Pakistan and the Philippines. The rest come from Western nations and surrounding Middle Eastern countries. If all the Egyptians left tomorrow there would be no doctors. If all the Philippine workers left there would be no nurses and all restaurants would close. If all the Indians left there would be no internet. If all the Lebanese left there would be a tremendous shortage of teachers. If all the Bangladeshis and Pakistanis left there would be no taxis or trash service.
When the day comes that something changes in the oil market, which it eventually will, all these people will leave, and Saudi Arabia will be in a deep pile of camel caca if the status quo doesn't change. Thus there is a real need for Saudi to diversify its economy and prepare Saudi youth to get a job and actually be productive.
Saudi Arabians, unlike Iran, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt jumped off the camel's back right into the 20th century. The King himself was born in a tent in the desert. They are only a couple of generations removed from being the roaming nomadic warring clansmen that inhabited the inhospitable Arabian peninsula that King Abdulaziz bin Saud untied into a country in the 1920's.
You want to come face to face with the Middle Ages? Come to Saudi. This is the context that education takes place in, in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Life here can be a bit boring. To compare Bangkok to Jeddah in terms of "fun things to do" is like comparing Hussein Bolt to your average bloke in line at an all you can eat breakfast buffet in Pattaya in terms of "fast runners."
Obviously there are no pubs, much less something as over the top as Nana Plaza. Live music is banned, everything is segregated by gender, there are no movie theaters, no golf courses in Jeddah (ouch), and beaches cost about 50 bucks to enter.
There are however options to break up the monotony. First and foremost are the vacations. As I said before, this past year I had 11 weeks paid holiday. This year I have plans to spend 10 days in the States, a week in Bangkok, a week in Paris and then the long summer break in Africa and Thailand.
In addition there is an underground music scene, compound parties, and an abundance of American theme restaurants, as well as authentic Italian, French, Chinese and Turkish places to eat.
Also people do become quite adept at making their grape and apple juice a bit more.... zesty... shall we say. Also Mamana, the capital Bahrain, is a only 2 hour plane ride away from Jeddah where you can take a weekend trip and brush up on your Thai with some nong sows that have relocated to a city which was ranked number 2 worldwide as a single man's best destination, behind...........you guessed it........Pattaya. (As a disclaimer I endorse neither zesty grape juice or flights to Bahrain to visit the "museums," the euphemism used here among Saudis for red light activities).
The weather in Jeddah is beautiful 9 months out of the year with highs around 25 and lows around 18. Riyadh on the other hand is an oven. The biggest downside is the crazy traffic, not traffic jam crazy like Bangkok, but crazy like life threatening crazy. Forget terrorism, your odds of dying an untimely death in a car accident are infinitely greater than being killed in a terrorist incident.
That is my biggest beef with Saudis. In general they are welcoming, friendly people but they are absolute suicidal/homicidal maniacs behind the wheel of a car. Most roads are designed to make head on collisions unlikely. In spite of that I have seen a good bit of gore on the streets. You even see children driving here occasionally. I once had a 13 year old taxi driver.
The trade off
So is it worth trading the "good life" in Thailand for the money to be earned in Saudi?
For me it is a no brainer. The cash here is just too good to pass up.
Thailand had run its course for me. I enjoyed it for years but the shine eventually wore off. I plan to return for a visit here and there. You just don't live in a place for 10 years and forget it.
As I said I am planning to visit for a week in December and, most likely spend a month or more visiting friends in Bangkok and playing golf around Pattaya next summer. I make 6000 baht a day, every day of the year, whether I am working or not. I spend a whopping 23,000 baht a month here in Saudi the months I am working, so 2000 baht hotel rooms and 1500 baht rounds of golf sound like a bargain vacation to me nowadays.
My next trip to Thailand will be a different kind of experience for sure. I made 30-60 thousand baht a month when I worked in Thailand, enough to enjoy my time, but money was always a consideration. It is much, much less of one now.
In addition, given my enhanced financial situation I have a very strong suspicion that on touching down at Suvaranabumi I will be magically transformed to even more of a handsome man at age 55 than when I first landed at Don Mueang at age 41.
Saudi has a lot of advantages, but not the magic of Thailand that is for sure. Every place has its own special pluses and minuses.
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What sort of teaching job (if any) could I get in Saudi? I'm about to graduate with a possible first-class honours in Education (non-QTS BA). I also have a 120 hour TESOL certificate and a couple of years experience of teaching in Thailand. I'm male, English, in good health and in my mid 40s.
By Neil, UK (14th April 2016)
Cheers Tom. Tons of good places to start there. Not in a big hurry to get over there but when the right position becomes available...... Goodbye Thailand. See you on Ramadan.
By Ron, Rangsit, Pathumthani (15th March 2016)
I just sent you an email with a list of names, links, job sites and contact info for working in Saudi. You might wanna check your junk folder as well!
cheers and good luck!
By Tom Tuohy, Bahrain (15th March 2016)
Thanks for the great article. I am in the process of applying for a few jobs in KSA now after teaching in Thailand for nearly 8 years. If you or any experienced teacher in KSA has any time to steer me in the right direction or answer a few questions it would be greatly appreciated. My email is email@example.com.
Thanks again for the article.
By Ron, Rangsit, Pathumthani (15th March 2016)
Thank you Lee for the article and to all the other comments. Definitely food for thought. Looking towards teaching in UAE in the future.
By Nigel Quinn, Thailand (7th March 2016)
ask Phil to forward my email address to you. I'll answer any of your questions questions if I can.
I am here to offer advice and to help anyone who writes positive and respectful posts.
Deadbeats (after their fourth Chang or Leo) need not apply.
By Thomas Tuohy, Saudi Arabia (4th September 2015)
Thanks for the info, Lee. I am considering a move to Saudi Arabia soon and I would love to contact both Lee and Thomas by email or something to get some more details. Would that be ok with you, guys?
By Dave Chisholm, Chonburi (3rd September 2015)
I've deleted all the comments that turn this section into an expat forum pissing contest. Please keep comments and questions on the topic of Saudi v Thailand comparisons. Thanks.
By philip, Samut Prakarn (2nd September 2015)
Much like Thailand it all depends on the relationship that your employer has with immigration. Get a job offer and let their visa agent in your home country tell you what they need. I wasted money on getting an apostilled copy because I read on the Saudi embassy website it was required...it wasn't. Same for the extensive physical that I had. As far as type of degree needed it will state in the job ad you are responding to. However I would not let that deter me from applying. I would say you need these things absolutely: B.A. or B.S. (not online), TEFL certificate-120 hours(not online), negative HIV and hepatitis tests, and a clear TB test lung x ray.
By Lee Lepper, KSA (1st September 2015)
Hi I just want to know more about the education required there in Ksa.They looking for a specific bachelor type, need to be appostilled?I have exp Thailand but will consider Ksa in the future or other reliable job market.The Usa market is very competitive and Europe has low compensation.Let me know about specific requirements for Ksa and how to legalise or apply for visa.thanks
By Christian Lazar, Vancouver (1st September 2015)
From my perspective, if I was going to live abroad I would choose Thailand for what it is....reduced pay but better QUALITY of life. Money is just money. If I wanted JUST to make money I would just stay in the USA which is a lot better place to stay than Saudi or anywhere in the middle east. Maybe its my past military experience but I just don't see myself doing ANYTHING in the Middle East.
By MorPhan, Las Vegas (31st August 2015)
Thanks for your replies Lee and Thomas. I'll look into it.
By Bart, Netherlands (30th August 2015)
yes there are non-native speakers teaching English in Saudi Arabia (KSA) , but they are mostly Indians or bi-lingual Arabs, the latter of whom come from places like Egypt.
As you are Dutch, you could try CINOP who are a Dutch company that run a college in Al Kharj, a 2-hour drive south east of Riyadh.
It is a dairy farming and husbandry college with about 1000 students. They also hire Egyptians to teach English or did previously.
By Thomas Tuohy, Thailand (30th August 2015)
I'll email you soon.
By Thomas Tuohy, Thailand (30th August 2015)
Bart from what I have seen you need to have a passport from UK, USA, Britian ect. I think it is a visa issue. However, I would apply and with enough tenacity something may turn up. I know KSA is like Thailand in that there are really no rules that can't be gotten around. Good Luck
By Lee Lepper, KSA (30th August 2015)
Thanks for the detailed reply , it is certainly something to ponder.
By Big Bad B, Bangkok (30th August 2015)
Thomas, I am very curious about who you will be teaching in Bahrain and for what kind of organization....for obvious reasons. Any chance I could get your e mail? Mine is firstname.lastname@example.org
By Lee Lepper, KSA (29th August 2015)
Can I ask you if you know of any non-native speakers around? I am a certified secondary school teacher here in the Netherlands, and I have a Master in Special Educational Needs. I am however, not a native speaker.
Looking at job requirements, a native speaker is always required. Surely there must be a few Europeans teaching English?
By Bart , Europe (29th August 2015)
yes, you are spot on with the differences in living in KSA and Thailand.
I lived and worked in Thailand for more than 10 years before heading off to KSA 5.5 years ago. I wrote blogs for ajarn.com about it too and also in my book "Watching the Thais".
I too have gotten used to the oil money and since I made the move have bought 4 condos in cash, some land, travelled all over the world and still have a bank balance and disposable income that I once used to only dream about.
Yes, it's not a bed of roses living and working in KSA. My Thai wife found it hard to adapt at first what with always having to wear an abaya and not being able to drive herself around. Women having to rely on Asian male drivers can be very frustrating in a country already frustrating for most. A case in point is the 5 prayer times where everything stops and closes so you become quite adept at timing it so you can both shop AND eat during one period without prayer!
And yes, the students are by and large easy to teach and quite respectful towards foreign teachers. It's just a shame that they are not more independent as learners as they could easily get a lot more out of their learning experience if this was the case.
I am about to start a new job in Bahrain for similar cash and benefits and that will be a welcome break from 5.5 years at a CoE in Riyadh. Being able to buy alcohol from a shop and take it home, go to a bar and restaurant and order a beer, see live music and watch a movie are all things my wife and I are looking forward to. The direct flight to Bkk is only 6 hours as well so that's another added plus.
And yes, I am also looking forward to driving on Bahraini roads and I don't know how I have survived till now to tell the tale driving in Riyadh! Someone must've been watching over me!
By Thomas Tuohy, Thailand (29th August 2015)
Most jobs will ask for a BA, TESOL cert on line NOT accepted, and a few years experience. In addition you will find that most jobs are going to pay 40% less than what I make. Although I have a friend that makes double what I do with the same qualifications! My first job offer was with a big uni in Riyadh. Less working hours and less vacation time. The base salary was about the same, around 3200 USD a month. The school provided housing, and transportation to work and same bennies. My school doesn't provide housing or transportation but kicks in an additional 40 per cent over your base salary for living those things. I make out on that deal big time. I pay approx 120 bucks a month in transportation to and from work and 400 dollars rent. There really isn't any different requirements for the higher paying jobs. I do have a roommate. We split a fairly large 2 bedroom apartment. If I had a car and my own place which many teachers do, I would save less obviously. I was a bit off on the 23,000 baht, it is probably closer to 30,000 baht a month I spend. I was thinking in terms of the exchange rate when I left Thailand.
By Lee Lepper, KSA (29th August 2015)
This was a good read, Lee. Thanks for the insight. What is required in the way of qualifications to land a job like that?
By Big Bad B, Bangkok (29th August 2015)