Rory’s Story: An Expat’s Life in KSA at a College of Excellence College in Saudi Arabia


Mobilization can take a few weeks after you have found a provider to take you onboard. New rulings in the Middle East now mean that before a proper work visa can be issued your qualifications need to be checked and verified as many are false in Kingdom this can take up to 10 weeks and dramatically slows the process down so if you are thinking of trying for a position in the Middle East please consider doing this before you apply. Once achieved it will be verified in Kingdom again by the Ministry of Labor.

Consider carefully what you are taking with you! do you homework if you are in the centre of the country it gets very cold in winter in January Riyadh is cold where as Jeddah and Jizan have all year round heat, so choose your clothing wisely. Having said that every clothes item and toiletries are readily available at good prices so don’t go mad with the packing, the shopping malls are very impressive and on par with UK.

Go prepared with an off shore isle of man Dollar or Sterling accounts these can be set up easily through Lloyds bank online, and may well save you from problems with the UK tax system. Many British cards don’t work well in KSA and  can cost a small fortune for one transaction so be warned. So when negotiating your contract try to go on a proper work visa with a full medical in the UK rather than a business visa,this will mean you will get your residency Iqama quicker and enable you to get a bank account easily.

SABB is the Saudi Version of HSBC and easy to use anywhere. Please note without residency you cannot open a bank account which means you will be paid cash in local Saudi Royal currency or probably have to cover bank costs from your salary to send to a UK or International account this can workout expensive over the year.

Think what to take? a hard drive full of TV series or DVDs and a good laptop with skype keeps communication back to UK and entertainment flowing.

A kindle or Ipad with a good selection of reading e books a must. Saudi is a closed society no Cinema, Alcohol, engaging in relationships with women and very limited books and English reading material, so go prepared.

Look carefully where you are going there are currently 37 Colleges of Excellence in Kingdom many of them have remote locations where there are very limited shopping experiences and resources. Where possible try for the bigger cities Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam, lots more to do there and the added advantage of quicker demobilization time on trips back to the UK.

Often at remote locations an internal Domestic flight from a remote location to one of the major cities takes 1.5 hours to 3 hours with a normal 5 to 9 hour sit over to get on an international flight which means 16 to 20 hours travelling back to the UK. If you are lucky enough to be based in the 3 major cities with international airports you can be back to the UK in  6 to 8 hours.

Choosing a Provider

Again think carefully there are providers from England, Germany, Canada, USA, Holland, Spain and New Zealand. Which one is right for you? look at the package, holiday entitlement varies from 21 days the minimum in country to 45 days. Look at the bonus at the end of each year most providers have stopped these but a few still exist.  Look at the salary these vary some pay better than others but salaries on the whole are dropping and being standardised as providers struggle to become sustainable.

Ask will you be in company provided accommodation this varies dramatically and Saudi standard accommodation is like 1 or 2 star in UK. Some locations are so remote accommodation is in portacabins up near the Iraqi border. Transportation normally only Directors, Principals, Deans get Company transport this means you are bused to work. how long is your travelling time? some commutes are 2 hours each way, this can be very draining and means an early start. Most Colleges working hours 8am to 3-30pm which means you will be on site from 7pm to 4pm as an average.

What Vocational specialities are the provider offering?  many are steering away from expensive to run subjects like engineering as the cost of buy equipment and set up is down to the western provider. So ask to see photos of the workshops and try to talk with other instructors before agreeing to go, many have poor facilities and this can make teaching very challenging and frustrating for both instructors and students.

Working Sunday to Thursday with Friday and Saturday off. Fridays are like UK Sundays in the Seventies nothing is open, supermarkets open until 11am in the morning for the early risers and most things food and malls tend to not open until after 4pm but a good religious rest day. Saturdays are a normal shopping day.

What you need to succeed in KSA?

  • An open strong minded approach.
  • Well organised.
  • Able to look after and care for yourself.
  • Good project management skills as well as FE management Skills.
  • Being content to spend long weekends and evenings in isolation so you need to be good in your own company.
  • Opened minded and prepared for change.
  • Driven, determined and focussed on success, being able to think fast on your feet.
  • Patient things take time to achieve and get in KSA.
  • Work through the pain barrier the first three months are hard once through these you will be fine.
  • A regular break out of country to Bahrain or Dubai once every three months to charge the batteries.
  • A regular treat a western breakfast at the Marriott.
  • Regular contact with loved ones and family for moral support.

How does the teaching differ from the UK?

It varies dramatically you will only be teaching Young Saudi nationals who need to learn English as a second language for the first year they study toward a Cambridge university KET or PET qualification with Maths IT and Careers training alongside.  Many western providers are piloting new themed first trimesters  programmes to try to attain a better  attendance and study skills pattern from the students. Once the students graduate from year 1 with a minimum of A2 on the PET or KET , a selection can be made as to what they want to study for year 2 or 3. In lots of Colleges only around 2% to 5% of students are attaining A2 and graduating to year 2 and 3 many students get stuck in year 1 having a fourth trimester and 2 more attempts to try and attain their KET or PET at A2 to progress, subsequently some pull out and try for University again some drop out  finding basic labor market employment.

Western providers have had to shelve their own Diplomas in favor of the new Saudi Skill Standard SSS suite of qualifications that came in 18 months ago. These work similar to NVQs in UK with an E portfolio and online multiple choice test administered at level 2. These are offered at Associate Diploma over 1 Year and Full Diploma over 2 years. Attainment on these qualifications has been low and again western providers have struggled to find revenue to kit out the workshops to offer full Diplomas the equipment expectations to deliver full Diplomas is very high and expensive as a start up cost.

Teaching however with class sizes of between 18 to 24 for year 1 and 12 to 16 for year 2 is enjoyable the Saudi students are very pleasant. Once there work effort and study skills and attendance issues have been addressed the working week is a joy with many of these young saudis trying to improve themselves and find employment or move on to teacher training college in Riyadh or University.

Cost of Living

Here you are on a winner food is very cheap if you shop around and use the local markets you can comfortably survive on around 1200sar a month 200 GBP. Petrol is dirt cheap 3p or 4p per litre infact its more expensive to buy bottled water. Taxis you need to haggle and agree the price before you get in, In the large Cities make sure the driver has a thorough understanding of your destination before you set off otherwise you can drive around forever.

The Saudis are a supportive friendly people who go the extra mile to swap business cards with you, offer you lifts, make you feel at home and encourage you to speak with their children and improve their English. Often when you are out walking on the cornish they will call you, speak with you and invite you to eat an outdoor supper with them on their rugs a thoroughly enjoyable experience, they love the British.


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