Home to over 32 million people, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is the largest country on the Arabian Peninsula. The birthplace of Islam, KSA is home to the oldest mosques in the world, as well as Mecca, the most sacred of all Islamic sites.
Famous for the vast oil reserves hidden beneath its even vaster deserts, Saudi Arabia will appeal to you if you love the heat. It’s not all desert though -- pristine beaches stretch along both the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf coasts.
Saudi Arabia’s official language is Arabic, making this kingdom an ideal place to truly immerse yourself in the language and culture, and join the over 293 million Arabic-speakers in the world.
In Saudi Arabia you’ll find Arabic courses that run from a few weeks to several months. Choose from group courses, one-on-one tutoring, or university programs. Depending on your skill level and interest, there’s definitely a course for you.
Several universities in Saudi Arabia offer Arabic language classes to non-native speakers. Saudi Arabia’s universities are some of the top-ranked in the Arab world.
These types of organizations provide a varying number of classes per week so you can choose whether to attend during the day, evening, or weekend. Expect group classes for beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. Some centers offer one-on-one tutoring.
Before starting with a tutor, be sure to set expectations such as learning to speak, read, or both so you can choose a tutor with the appropriate skills. For example, you may want to find a tutor who specializes in conversational Arabic to help with your everyday communication skills.
Why Learn Arabic Abroad?
Learning a second language is not only a valuable skill for your future career, but it also increases your cultural understanding. Become a global citizen and consider living and working in an Arabic country. Go overseas to learn Arabic to take advantage of immersion –- living in Saudi Arabia where you’ll see and hear Arabic every day boosts your learning.
For classes at language centers or with freelance tutors, the only qualifications you need to learn Arabic are curiosity, dedication, and a willingness to learn. For a course at a university, you’ll need to take a placement test to secure admission, so prior language study is required.
Popular Locations to Learn Arabic in Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom’s capital, Riyadh is its most modern and populous city. Riyadh is known as a business center where many of the country’s foreigners live, but still boasts many museums and historical sites. Here, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to learn Arabic, from universities to language centers, to freelance tutors.
Located on the Red Sea, Jeddah is KSA’s second-largest city. Known for its beautifully preserved old town and seaside coastline, Jeddah also boasts an area of beach resorts where the strict Islamic behavior laws are slightly relaxed. Learn Arabic in the country's historical and cultural center.
Choosing an Arabic Learning Program in Saudi Arabia
If you’re an advanced speaker looking to refine your skills, a university course is the best choice. At a language center or institute, you’ll find flexible class schedules. Some classes are for women only, so make sure you sign up for the correct one! For dedicated one-on-one instruction, try a private Arabic tutor.
Cultural Immersion in Saudi Arabia
There are four UNESCO world heritage sites in KSA, including the ancient, carved-rock city Mada’in Saleh. Visiting Mada’in Saleh is like visiting Petra in Jordan but without all the tourists, since Saudi allows very few tourists.
Speaking of tourists, visitors to KSA should be aware that the strict Islamic law within the country applies to tourists too. Drinking alcohol is illegal, as is eating pork and smoking indoors. Women should conform to Islamic dress codes.
The only religion in KSA is Islam, which requires five prayer times a day. Everyone observes the national religion, well, religiously. That means when prayer times comes around everything and everyone stops. Stores and offices even close briefly at prayer times. Be prepared to admire and respect a very different way of life.
Average Arabic Language School Tuition in Saudi Arabia
At a language center, an eight-week course with two classes per week can cost $450. A longer, six-month course can cost up to $16,000. Private tutors in Saudi Arabia charge around $40 per hour. In a big city like Riyadh, competition means you can find tutors for less. You may be able to negotiate a discount the longer you stay with your teacher. A tutor’s price depends on his or her credentials in the Arabic language, so a highly-trained teacher will cost you more.
Scholarships for Learning Arabic in Saudi Arabia
Scholarships are available from U.S. universities for studying Arabic abroad. Some of these include Portland State University, the University of Arkansas, and Chatham University. Most programs require you to maintain academic standards in a program focused on middle eastern studies.
Cost of Living in Saudi Arabia
Rent in Saudi Arabia can be $200-300 per month for a cheap studio apartment or as much as $1,500 per month for a Western-style luxury apartment in a gated compound. Food is cheap -– a shawarma will usually cost only $2. Vegetables cost around half of what they would in a U.S. supermarket.
You aren’t expected to tip in Saudi Arabia, but restaurant staff and taxi drivers will appreciate it. At a restaurant tipping around 10% of your bill is reasonable. If you find a “service charge” included on your restaurant bill, ask to have it removed. It’s illegal for a restaurant to charge you for service.
Visas & Other Relevant Information
In 2018, for the first time ever, Saudi Arabia plans to issue tourist visas. This is a big step for a country that’s been practically a closed door for tourists for years. For now, you need to apply for any type of visa to Saudi Arabia in advance (unless you’re from a Gulf Cooperation Council nation). Under the new tourist visa program, you may be eligible for a convenient eVisa.
Saudi Arabia has strict laws restricting where you can go and what you can do as a visitor. Consuming alcohol is illegal, as is smoking in public places such as malls. Men and women are usually separated, so keep a close eye on whether a line at the bank is for women or men. If you’re a single guy, watch for a “family” sign in a restaurant –- you aren’t welcome there without a wife or kids in tow.
Single women should be careful about traveling alone –- women should bring along a male “guardian” in public, like your husband or your brother. Bring a headscarf with you. Although non-Muslim visitors aren’t technically required to wear it, having one handy will help you fit in and make people more comfortable around you.