You’ve heard from other people, maybe friends, or read articles online of the glorious adventures of traveling to and working overseas teaching English, or maybe some other job, for a year of two. It sounds so exciting; the pay is good, some schools provide housing, and many other benefits, so how do I go about this? I hear the Middle East region of the world pays extremely well to teach English. What countries are the best ones to go to? There are so many more questions, but not enough answers. Now you’ll find the answers to these burning questions about the myths and realities to travel and work in the Middle East.
Yes, you can make a great deal of money teaching English in the Middle East simply because it is dangerous and many countries have strict laws that are not conducive for some to live in. Needless to say, the reason the money is extremely good in the Middle East it’s not the top destination to work and travel in, unlike Asia, which is the most popular of all the destinations.
Countries in the Middle East:
By far, the most popular and well-paid countries to consider, first and foremost, to travel and work in are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. However, as of this writing Yemen is not recommended at all due to their very high threat level of terrorist attacks, kidnappings, tribal violence and general lawlessness. Travel in the Saada region of northern Yemen is strongly discouraged, because of unpredictable violent civil unrest. Therefore, Yemen is not a considered destination for the time being.
Travel to Egypt is easy and accessible since it is a major tourist destination whose economy is very dependent on tourism. Egypt is relatively easy to enter and to obtain visas if necessary. On the flip side, Saudi Arabia has some of the most restrictive travel policies in the world. Advance visas are required for all foreigners who wish to enter the country. Saudis prefer not to grant visas to unaccompanied women. Also, make sure that you have no Israeli stamps or visas in your passport, as you are likely to be refused entry. Nationals of Israel and those who are about to visit Israel will be denied visas. However, being Jewish in and of itself is not a disqualifying factor, in theory that is.
Teaching in the Middle East countries:
Teaching in Egypt – It is highly recommended you come first on a Tourist Visa. An Egyptian Tourist Visa is valid for a period of up to and not to exceed three months. This way you can take your time looking for a teaching job, because it is a bit more difficult now than in times past. Egyptian private schools from K-12 now teach English where graduates speak both Arabic and English fluently upon graduation. As a result, there are plenty of adult students who want to learn more English for business and computer skills. If you specialize in these two fields you have a greater chance to find a teaching position.
However, plenty of jobs do exist in Egypt, but your opportunities are greater if you’re already in the country and have enough money to help you through for at least two or three months. Another great benefit to this approach is you get a feel for the country as a whole to see if it’s the right match for you. By experiencing first hand the intense heat, barren landscape, dry desert conditions, cultural differences, diet, cost of living, housing conditions, and safety will be up to your standards. Also, you can easily find other foreigners presently living and working there for inside advice and information on teaching positions, schools, companies, etc. if they are legitimate places to work for.
Cairo American College is a private K-12 school that is American based in its educational system. The qualifications for its teachers are like any other school system in the U.S. This school caters to children of diplomats and other expatriates living in Egypt. Teachers are paid in U.S. dollars.
The Center for Adult and Continuing Education (CACE) of the American University in Cairo hires a limited number of teachers, five applicants a month, to teach English as a second language (TESL). Only teachers with extensive experience or who hold an internationally-recognized certificate in teaching English to adults are considered. For more information about the CACE: CACEstudent.aucegypt.edu or at www.aucegypt.edu.
Amideast, www.amideast.org hires only very qualified teachers with vast teaching experience. This company promotes intercultural understanding between the U.S. and countries of the Middle East. Many nursery schools in and around Cairo are always looking for native speakers of English to work with preschoolers. A love of children is considered a stronger requirement than degrees and certifications.
Other ancillary employment can be found from these sources when you first arrive in Egypt such as the very useful publication, Maadi Messenger that is available in districts with expatriate communities, such as Maadi, Zamalek, and Heliopolis. Babysitting jobs and tutoring American children are oftentimes listed. The Middle East Times also lists jobs from time to time. The Cairo Yellow Pages lists many businesses both in the capital and in Alexandria at www.egyptyellowpages.com.eg. Listed under “Schools” and “Language Training”.
In order to teach English abroad in any country a bachelors degree in any field is the standard prerequisite, though some employers may require a degree specializing in Education. Also, another common requirement many of the prestigious schools, companies, and other employers look for is a TESL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification. There are numerous courses online, specialty schools, and universities that offer TEFL certification.
Teaching in Saudi Arabia – There is a significant demand for teachers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for men only. If you are a male and want to teach in the Kingdom you will need to secure a job before going over there. They do not issue tourist visas for Saudi Arabia. The bad news is you won’t be able to get a chance to visit beforehand to see for yourself if you’ll like it over there. Nevertheless, if that is not of any concern you can find plenty of teaching jobs in Saudi Arabia online. An excellent place to start is Dave’s ESL Cafe www.eslcafe.com and other related web sites who frequently list positions for the Kingdom. Employers are always looking for well-educated males who have at least a couple of years’ experience. Once you have gained employment you will eventually need to obtain a work visa from the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C.
What to expect from a teaching position and living conditions in the Middle East:
Egypt – Lodging, the length of an assignment, the students, and employer expectations may vary with each employer who hires you on as a teacher of English. Your employer becomes your sponsor while living in Egypt. They may provide you with lodging or expect you to find it on your own, but more than likely lodging may be offered in such ways as an apartment or house shared with other teachers or by yourself. It is a good idea to learn some Arabic to make life easier, especially when dealing with taxi drivers and store employees who don’t usually speak English. You can even take Arabic classes from your employer at a reduced cost. Best of all, many tourists and teachers residing in Egypt report that Egyptians are the friendliest people they have ever met. You’ll constantly find them helping friends, acquaintances, and even total strangers. If you decide to visit Egypt for an extended period of time to look for work, you won’t ever feel alone or isolated.
Saudi Arabia – Since the demand for native-speaking English male teachers is very high, college and language institutes offer generous tax-free salaries, paid transportation, accommodations, and other perks. Contract lengths for teaching may be as long as two years. That’s the positive aspect of working and teaching in Saudi Arabia. However, Saudi Arabia, at times, isn’t the world’s safest country for Westerners. The U.S. State Department has warned U.S. citizens to avoid non-essential travel there due to a greater risk of terrorism.
Most likely you will be confined to live in fortress-like compounds, where the vast majority of expatriates live. These compounds are behind high walls and guarded gates. There is an excellent film about living and working in Saudi Arabia titled appropriately enough, “The Kingdom”. You’ll get an exact idea of what living in these compounds is like. They are like living on military bases. After a while, it can feel like a cultural prison, because many residents have little desire to socialize with the locals.
Even though you are well taken care of and paid phenomenal salaries, many expatriates have a hard time adjusting to life in Saudi Arabia. The polarizing cultures between their homelands and Saudi Arabia are too severe. Be aware that the entire country observes five prayer times a day, every day. During these times stores and restaurants are closed, which make shopping and dining out challenging. The climate can be extremely hot. Most of all, censorship is widely practiced and enforced on the Internet, films, television, and in print media. My father lived in Saudi Arabia for a time as well as some people I’ve known. Of course alcohol is absolutely forbidden. That didn’t stop my friends from making their own beer and wine concoctions in absolute secret. This is a definite way of life there that is both challenging and unnerving.
Two countries in the same region that is extreme in their opportunities to travel and work in, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. With all this information and all your questions finally answered you can make a better decision if teaching in the Middle East is right for you.