- Download our Moving to Saudi Arabia Guide (PDF)
For most expat parents, education and schooling options in Saudi Arabia largely consist of the country's private international schools. Though public schooling is available for expat children, the cultural and language barriers make this a difficult path. Most expat families opt to avoid the extra stress and instead send their children to a school that has a familiar curriculum and teaches in the family's home language.
There is a wide selection of international schools in Saudi Arabia, spread across numerous cities and offering diverse curricula. If expats prefer not to uproot children or if they are at a particularly crucial point in their school career, such as their final year, boarding school back in their home country is another option to consider.
International schools in Saudi Arabia
A portion of the international schools in Saudi Arabia are governed by embassies. Others are privately organised and host multiple curricula under a single roof. It is not necessary for expat children to attend the school sponsored by their country of origin, although the logistical transition between the old and new education systems tend to be the easiest in this situation. For the most part, international schools are not selective regarding nationality, though in some cases, embassy-run institutions do give preference to children from their respective countries.
The large expat community in Saudi Arabia ensures demand for these schools is high. It's therefore best to make an application for admission as early as possible to obtain a suitable slot. All schools will charge a non-refundable application fee. Admission requirements vary between schools, and parents are advised to contact the school of their choice directly for clarity on what is required.
Expat families in Saudi Arabia should consider cost, curriculum and convenience when weighing the pros and cons of schools in their city of choice.
Fees can range from the pricey American and British international schools to cheaper, smaller organisations. In addition to basic fees, parents will be expected to cover other costs such as uniforms, textbooks and extra-curricular activities. Though fees can be on the expensive side, international schools generally have excellent facilities and a high quality of education.
The school year in Saudi Arabia runs from September to June and is normally divided into two or three semesters, depending on the school. The school week is Sunday to Thursday, with Friday and Saturday being the weekend. School days are shortened during the month of Ramadan.
Special-needs education in Saudi Arabia
As expats are largely reliant on international schools, there aren't standard policies across the board, and special-needs provisions can vary significantly between schools. Some schools are better equipped than others to provide support for students with special educational needs – networking with fellow expat families and researching schools in depth can help determine which school is most suitable. In the case that an international school does offer special-needs education services, this generally comes at an extra cost.
Tutors in Saudi Arabia
Local families frequently employ tutors to help children become proficient in English as a second language. Non-English-speaking expat families in Saudi Arabia, especially those with children in international English-speaking schools, can benefit from doing the same. Those looking to learn or improve their Arabic should opt for a local Arabic tutor. Major upcoming exams and trouble subjects are also well served by tutors.
"You have lots of options for schools here. Many people don’t know that. You can put your child in any curriculum and most schools are multicultural. There are lots of English-speaking, or international, schools as they are called here. Your child will learn at least two if not more languages. Almost all the embassies here have their own school. So you can put your child in a school from your own country."
To learn more, read Aysh's expat interview.
Are you an expat living in Saudi Arabia?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Saudi Arabia. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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