Wishful Wednesday: Saudi Aramco Expatriate Schools

Sunrise at Al Khobar, KSA

Sunrise at Al Khobar, KSA photo cred 

Not too long ago someone left a comment on my blog suggesting that I think about working at the Saudi Aramco Expatriate Schools (SAES).  If you have been an international teacher for a couple of years (or you’re in your sixth year like me) then you have heard about SAES.  I had previously not given it too much thought beyond the high pay its famous for because it is known as being an ideal spot for families. Being a single lady, I didn’t consider it until someone pointed it out to me as an option. So lets take a look at it together!

SAES is like a school district and has six schools on various camps (Dhahran, Abqaiq, Ras Tanura, and Udhailiyah) and over 4000 students! I will focus on the Dhahran camp in this post because it is the largest with the biggest elementary school.

Grade: 9.5/10

1. What type of school is it?

US Accredited, K-9

2. Student population:

Their website states that there are 60 nationalities at the school, but I can’t find a break down of the nationalities.

3. Class size:

Class size is pretty average for most international schools I’ve looked at, 20 students according to the SAES website. Also, many classes have teaching assistants and other volunteers making for fantastic ratios!

4. Technology:

I can’t find info about the technology in the classroom other than projectors being in every classroom as well as computers (mentioned in a video on their website). However, I have also read and heard that these schools are some of the best resourced schools in the world, so I imagine that if teachers wanted to have a class ipad set that they could easily get one (note: a poster below said they don’t have a class ipad set).  Also, according to Wikipedia (never sure about the accuracy though!) each classroom has a smartboard.  Anyone have confirmation on this?

5. Retirement:

15-17% retirement plan is perhaps the highest plan I’ve ever seen!

6. Overall package:

After many hours of searching online and reading forums it is hard to find any definite salary scale, but it seems like an average US teacher with a masters degree and a few years of experience is said to make about $5000-$7000USD per month. On top of that are some of the best benefits I’ve seen in the world! Their website says common benefits include, “retirement/insurance plan worth 15-17% of base salary, a performance-based incentive plan, annual travel home, and dependent education.” However, from what I’ve read it seems like this is only the beginning!

According to this blog written by a man in 2008 the benefits included, “…income will be tax free, housing is included, all basic furniture and appliances are included, all utilities, travel allowance each year, 401k and a separate pension, zero deductible health insurance including $0 for prescriptions anywhere in the world, interest free car/golf cart loan, free doctoral tuition, settling in allowance, shipping and storage allowance, $ for unused sick days each year, COLA each year, new laptop computer for personal use, repatriation travel allowance each year to leave the country for 2 weeks. They will give you $9000 to either sell your house or rent it out with a real estate property management company.” I don’t know how out of date this is now, but I feel like SAES deserves a double point for this category!

7. City Profile:

From what I gather, you can get about everything you need on the actual Aramco compounds. The biggest school and the biggest compound is found in Dhahran. The population of the compound is 11,400 which is bigger than the town where my family owns property in Oregon, lol, off topic!  According to their website, “Al-Khobar is a 20 minute drive from Dhahran, where you’ll find shops and restaurants.” I don’t think I would ever get bored in a community that is said to feature, “… one of the Middle East’s most challenging golf courses, and has three recreational centers with swimming pools, tennis and squash courts, a bowling alley, library and movie theater. Other activities include horseback riding at the community’s farm, exercising on hike-and-bike paths, and soccer and rugby on the company fields.”

This kind of compound living is not unfamiliar to me because I once worked on the US Navy base in Yokosuka, Japan where it took 20 minutes to get from my room to the gate.  It is also similar (but a million times better) than the residential compound I lived on for two years in Venezuela sponsored by another oil company.  However, this compound (and the other Aramco compounds that I’ve read about) sound way better!

Of course, there are the very real concerns with life outside of the Aramco compound bubble: not being able to drive a car (you CAN drive on the compounds), not being able to date in public, needing to wear an abaya covering you from shoulders to toe, and giving up wine with my dinner.

The King Fahd Causeway connecting Saudi Arabia and Bahrain photo cred https://www.flickr.com/photos/26116471@N03/6795178417/in/photolist-bmt4Nz-dUgQDq-8Xm4VR-82N9pJ-9t1YhT-aFKaLP-48XpBh-5TmDcP-7fDy7u-7fDBrb-3H3Snb

In case you want to let your hair down and maybe go salsa dancing you can cross the King Fahd Causeway connecting Saudi Arabia and Bahrain photo cred 

8. Salsa Dancing:

I think I might have to take a point off for this one. Clearly salsa dancing can’t be popular in a country where women can’t be seen speaking with men (let alone standing in closed position).  I was told by someone who works there that there is a big Latino presence in the Dhahran camp and that salsa dancing happens there… but that doesn’t sound like a sure thing.

I think I will have to give it a half point just because while I’ve been living in Venezuela and haven’t been going to dance clubs, I have gone to some fantastic house parties hosted by dance crazy Latino friends!

9. Teachers:

I can’t find an exact breakdown of teacher nationality or ages, but I am guessing that since they want a minimum of seven years of experience that most teachers would be at least thirty years old. I have read that there are many married couples but that SAES is hiring more singles in the past few years.  It sounds like I would fit in!

10. Food:

I looooovvveee Middle Eastern food- especially schawarma and hummus (which I typically make at home). Mezze and kababs are also delicious options.  Check out the Saudi Tourism site for more specific dishes for each province of Saudi Arabia.

The one downside is that you wont find any bars or stores selling wine to go with your lamb kabab.  I keep telling my personal trainer that I will stop drinking so I can get fit faster… this place just might ensure that I would actually go through with it! Some people also might be bummed about the lack of bacon in Saudi Arabia, but I’ve heard that it can be had with only a short 30 minute drive to Bahrain!

Here are some extra links in case you are like me and you are obsessed with researching places you may or may not ever actually go to:

http://forum.aramcoexpats.com/ HUGE forum with tons of Q&A

http://www.blueabaya.com/ beautifully written website by a Finnish woman married to a Saudi local

http://www.bankerinthesun.com/ a bit more business focused which appeals to my business background

This website has tons of info: http://saudiscenes.blogspot.com/ and now https://www.facebook.com/pages/Saudi-Scenes/170080493090423 with lots of pictures

Please comment! Have you been to any of the Aramco compounds/Saudi Arabia, or know somebody who has? Would you want to work there? Have you or someone you know worked at the Saudi Aramco Expatriate Schools? Can you add any info to what I’ve listed above? 

A couple times a month I check out schools that I would love to work at one day and rate them based on my own crazy rubric. Check out all of these posts by following this link.


22 responses to “Wishful Wednesday: Saudi Aramco Expatriate Schools

  1. Wow, that place sounds amazing!
    Myself and my husband just moved to America after 5 years of teaching English in Korea. We have decided that the “American dream” probably isn’t for us so are going to spend the next 2 years getting our teaching certificates and then hopefully apply for International schools after that.
    I’m so glad that I found your blog 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Teaching in Saudi carries serious concerns for American women.
    Sexual assault laws are biased and rarely enforced. Your status will be under intense scrutiny upon returning to the USA. Saudi Arabia wealth group has a history of saying one thing and looking the other way on other things; e.g. Bin Laden, funding terrorist groups, bribing Hillary Clinton by making huge $millions donated to the Clinton Foundation for her not speak out against their horrific civil rights abuse of women.
    Teaching in Saudi should be no more desired than teaching in Yemen or Iran, not as long as you are an American that values your country.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I understand where you are coming from. There are some scary things that happen in KSA, but you would be a bit more protected from the scary stuff by working for such a large company and living on compound. I’m also the type of person who would work in other middle eastern countries because I’m just a curious person.


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  4. Hello,
    Thank you so much for the information about working at Saudi Aramco. Im currently been working in Abu Dhabi for 4 years and I’m ready for a change. Could you please tell me the best way to get an interview with Saudi Aramco. I’m from Birmingham, Alabama where I have 14 years of elementary teacher experience and 4 years of School counseling. I have a 10 year old son and my desire is to work for a company that is on an American curriculum for my son. If you have any information to help me with this process, it would be greatly appreciated

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Shawna! Like you, this is a company that I would love to work for, but I’ve never worked there myself so I can’t say what the best method would be. I always see them listed for Search Associates and that they require a face to face interview. I would start your application with Search now if you are going that route.


      • Hi, Heather. I ended up taking a job with another one of my Wishful Wednesday schools (RVIS), but I might apply to Aramco in a few years. Good luck on the interview!


  5. Thanks for posting such great information about Aramco! I’ve been curious but always written it off as Saudi scared me bc I didn’t think I would be able to have a decent life there. I’ve been teaching internationally for 12 years now. I’ve worked in Egypt, Madagascar, China and the Philippines. I’m a single, female special ed teacher. I’ve asked a lot of expats who have lived there about life on the compound. I’m more intrigued than scared now 😃


    • My current director used to work at Aramco and he fully encourages anyone to work there, even young single ladies like myself. If someone offered me a job there I think I would have to take it!


  6. I live in KSA and am a teacher at Aramco. We do have several female single teachers and, although it can be tricky, they get along fine. Most of what you’ve outlined above is pretty accurate. We do not have class sets of iPads, nor is getting a set all that easy. All teachers must be North American certified. I also live in one of the smaller camps and love it. The small compound doesn’t bother me one bit. I love working here and would highly recommend it to experienced teachers looking to work internationally.


    • Thanks for the confirmation! I felt like a detective when I wrote this post because I didn’t even have access to the big recruiting databases at the time.

      After living in Venezuela for so long, the safety of a compound sounds really nice to me. I can see how it would be a good post for someone with more international experience (I can’t imagine that they would hire you without much experience anyway).


  7. Absolutely love love love your little research on aramco schools. Excellent thoughts and views!! Thank you so much for taking the time to inform us all.


  8. I’m a teacher here and wanted to firm up your points above. Salary would start around 8-9K per month with allowances. You get roughly 7-9K per dependent per year for travel payment so family of four, you can times that by four. You pay rent for company housing which is roughly 150 a month for single accommodation or 4-500 for family house. Your income is subject to US tax although you get the 100k exemption from the IRS obviously for Foreign Income. You get a company incentive payment which is a bonus of roughly 1 1/2 months salary.

    You get worldwide health insurance for roughly 100 or so bucks a month for families. You get free schooling til 9th grade and then can send kids to boarding school anywhere in the world where they pay 90% approximately. Professional development money has dried up quite a bit although some has come back about 1-1500 bucks a year for a conference. Online coursework money has gone away.

    Now for the real incentive the retirement package. I’m talking US employees here (Canadian is less for sure by roughly half). There is a Pension and a 401K, yes both. You are vested after 5 years in the pension and after aged 50 you can retire early at roughly half what you would get when you have mandatory retirement at 60. If you put in 20 years til 60 let’s say you would get approx. a lump sum of $1.2-5 million. Or you could take the annuity obviously for probably 8-9k a month or maybe a little more. That is an estimate.

    For the 401k the company matches up to 9% of your contribution and you can contibute up to 49% of your salary to it, up to the US limit of 53k a year total. They have the Roth option as well so you can do pretax or postax Roth which is new as of a couple years ago. After 20 years and say 15 % your own plus 9% company match and you are looking at approximately another 1-1.3 million dollars.

    Another perk but not to be overlooked is the lifetime health insurance when you have 10 years of service and 50 years of age attained. This isn’t free but VERY reasonable premium and can be your secondary from medicare even once you reach that age. Great benefit and allows you to rest easy.

    If you are a teaching couple the man is the dollar hire and the female is the “casual”. The casual will NOT get the retirement benefits only one per household meaning the dollar hire will get it. The casual will still get the generous monthly salary for sure however.

    You get 42 vacation days a year and roughly 12 extra off days for Ramadan and 3 day weekends. Although they have a weird way of calculating vacation days basically take a week off that to 35 days to make it simple.

    Admin is good, classroom discipline is like a holiday from any school in the states, and honestly there isn’t much to complain about other than for those who are Type A regardless and want to complain. Who knows how long the school will be Saudi Aramco and not outsourced to ISG or GEMS etc. so get in while the getting is good. Really have enjoyed our time here and recommend it to try for anyone. If you can make 5-10 years here it is equivalent to 15 -20 years elsewhere in terms of saving potential. I hope that helps.

    BTW it is safe here and have NEVER felt unsafe during our time here in KSA. All this talk of Yemen and terrorism simply isn’t felt by us at all and thank God for that.


    • Hi Saudi Guy,

      Thank you for sharing this fantastic information! I know I would work there if I were ever offered a job. Sure the vacation time is not the same as most international schools, but when you compare it to what most average employers give in the US it is more than made up for with the benefits package. Thanks again for sharing!


    • Saudi guy: Is there a way I could contact you to ask some questions? I had an interview and it went well. I just want to have some ideas of things.


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  10. Hello Amanda, I lived in Saudi for over 20 years working for Aramco. We raised 3 kids who went from K thru 8th grade in the Dhahran school system and it was a blessing. We loved living in the Dhahran compound and the kids all loved the freedom and the schooling there. Usually a full class size was under 20 students plus the teacher had a assistant teacher in the class for support. Aramco was an excellent lifestyle. We had many friends who were single women, mostly teachers, working for Aramco and they had a great time inside the Aramco camp. The prime restriction for western women was when they went traveling outside of camp or shopping in AL-Khobar where they had to dress according to Saudi norms (head scarf, legs covered and long sleeves). Financially the Aramco benefit package and other perks can’t be beat anywhere. However, I would caution women from considering other non-Aramco employment. The hiring approach is to contact the Aramco Services Company, located in Houston, Texas. Check out their website, you’ll find lots of useful information. Good luck.


    • Thanks for the great response! Nowadays I am a solo parent without any other parent involved so I doubt I could sponsor a family visa for my son and I. Aramco still seems like a great option for other singles and families though.


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