Choosing the Right Education for Expat Children in Saudi Arabia

As the expat community in Saudi Arabia continues to grow, one of the primary concerns for parents is providing the best education for their children. Selecting the right education system and school that caters to …

Choosing the Right Education for Expat Children in Saudi Arabia

As the expat community in Saudi Arabia continues to grow, one of the primary concerns for parents is providing the best education for their children. Selecting the right education system and school that caters to the unique needs of expat children is of utmost importance.

In this article, we will explore the key factors to consider while choosing the ideal education for expat children in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabian Education System

The education system in Saudi Arabia is constantly evolving, aiming to meet the needs of its growing population. It follows a comprehensive structure that encompasses various stages, from early childhood education to higher education.

The primary goals of the Saudi Arabian education system are to promote Islamic values, provide quality education, and prepare students to contribute effectively to society.

The education system in Saudi Arabia is segregated by gender, with separate schools for boys and girls at all levels. It is important to note that religious education plays a significant role in the curriculum, reflecting the country’s adherence to Islamic principles.

Levels of Education in Saudi Arabia:

  1. Preschool Education: Preschool education is offered to children between the ages of 3 and 5 years. It focuses on early childhood development and prepares children for formal schooling.
  2. Primary Education: Primary education is mandatory for all Saudi citizens and expat children residing in the country. It spans from Grades 1 to 6 and provides a foundation in Arabic, Islamic studies, mathematics, science, and other subjects.
  3. Intermediate Education: Intermediate education comprises Grades 7 to 9. Students continue to study core subjects, and additional subjects, such as social studies, are introduced.
  4. Secondary Education: Secondary education, Grades 10 to 12, is a critical stage as it prepares students for higher education or vocational training. Students can choose between academic and vocational streams.
  5. Higher Education: Saudi Arabia has numerous universities and colleges offering various degree programs. Higher education institutions focus on diverse fields such as medicine, engineering, humanities, and sciences.

Differences in Comparison to Other Countries

The Saudi Arabian education system exhibits some distinctive features and differences when compared to education systems in other countries:

  1. Emphasis on Islamic Education: The Saudi Arabian education system places significant importance on Islamic studies, which are integrated into the curriculum from primary to higher education levels. This is a unique feature compared to many other countries’ education systems.
  2. Gender Segregation: Saudi Arabia practices gender segregation in schools and universities. This separation extends to classrooms, libraries, and other educational facilities, with separate entrances for male and female students.
  3. Language of Instruction: Arabic is the primary language of instruction in all schools in Saudi Arabia, including international schools. This can pose a challenge for expat children who are not fluent in Arabic.
  4. Public vs. Private Schools: Saudi Arabia has both public and private schools. Public schools are mainly for Saudi citizens, while private schools cater to the expat community. Private schools often offer international curricula, providing a diverse educational experience.

Expat children in Saudi Arabia face specific legal requirements and regulations when it comes to their education:

  1. Residency and Iqama: To enroll in schools, expat children must have a valid residence permit (Iqama). Without a valid Iqama, they may face difficulties in accessing education.
  2. School Fees: Expat children attending private schools are required to pay tuition fees, which vary based on the school’s reputation, facilities, and curriculum.
  3. Curriculum and Language Proficiency: Depending on the school, expat children may have the option to choose from various international curricula, such as British, American, or IB programs. However, Arabic remains a compulsory subject, and expat children are expected to develop basic proficiency in the language.
  4. Document Verification: Parents of expat children must provide verified documents, including the child’s birth certificate, academic records, and health certificates, to secure admission to schools.

Overall, the Saudi Arabian education system strives to provide a well-rounded and culturally relevant education to both Saudi citizens and the expat community, contributing to the country’s socio-economic development.

Education for Expat Children in Saudi Arabia

Expat Children in Saudi Arabia
Expat Children in Saudi Arabia

International Schools

Advantages and Benefits

International schools in Saudi Arabia offer a range of advantages and benefits for expat children:

a. Global Curriculum: International schools often follow well-established global curricula, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB), Cambridge International, or American-based programs. These curricula provide a broader perspective and cater to the needs of a diverse student body.

b. English Language Instruction: English is the primary language of instruction in most international schools. For expat children whose first language is not Arabic, this facilitates a smoother transition and ensures a better grasp of subjects.

c. Cultural Diversity: International schools attract students from various nationalities, creating a culturally diverse environment. Expat children have the opportunity to interact with peers from different backgrounds, fostering tolerance and global awareness.

d. Quality of Education: International schools often maintain high educational standards. They employ well-qualified and experienced teachers, providing a supportive learning environment.

e. Extracurricular Activities: International schools emphasize extracurricular activities, including sports, arts, and community service, promoting holistic development and skill-building.

a. British International School of Jeddah (BISJ): Located in Jeddah, BISJ follows the British curriculum and offers a diverse range of subjects and extracurricular activities.

b. American International School Riyadh (AISR): AISR, in Riyadh, provides an American-based education with Advanced Placement (AP) courses and a strong focus on college readiness.

c. Dhahran British Grammar School (DBGS): Situated in Dhahran, DBGS follows the British curriculum and is well-regarded for its academic excellence and co-curricular programs.

Local Schools


  • Cultural Immersion: Enrolling expat children in local schools exposes them to Saudi Arabian culture, language, and traditions, promoting a deeper understanding and integration into the local community.
  • Affordability: Local schools generally have lower tuition fees compared to international schools, making them a more budget-friendly option for some expat families.
  • Access to Arabic Language: Attending local schools can significantly improve expat children’s Arabic language skills, which can be beneficial in everyday life and future career opportunities.


    • Language Barrier: The language of instruction in local schools is primarily Arabic. Expats may initially struggle with language comprehension and face challenges in academic performance.
    • Cultural Adjustment: Adapting to local customs and educational practices may be overwhelming for some expat children, leading to feelings of isolation and disconnection.
    • Curriculum Differences: The curriculum in local schools may differ from what expat children are accustomed to, potentially leading to gaps in knowledge or curriculum misalignment.

Support and Adaptation Strategies

a. Language Support Programs: Local schools can implement language support programs to help expat children improve their Arabic language skills. These programs may include additional language classes or peer language buddies.

b. Cultural Orientation: Providing cultural orientation sessions or workshops for expat children can help them understand Saudi Arabian traditions, norms, and customs, facilitating a smoother cultural adjustment.

c. Extra Support for Academics: Local schools can offer extra academic support, such as tutoring or remedial classes, to help expat children bridge any knowledge gaps and adapt to the curriculum.

d. Buddy Systems: Implementing buddy systems where expat children are paired with local students can foster friendships and provide valuable support during the adjustment period.

e. Parental Involvement: Encouraging parental involvement in the school community helps expat parents stay informed about their children’s progress and builds a support network for the entire family.

Both international and local schools in Saudi Arabia offer unique advantages and challenges for expat children. The decision depends on the specific needs, preferences, and cultural aspirations of each expat family.

Providing the right support and adaptation strategies can ensure a successful educational journey for expat children in Saudi Arabia.

School Selection Criteria

Selecting the right school for expat children in Saudi Arabia is a crucial decision that requires careful consideration. The following criteria can help expat parents make an informed choice:

Identifying the Specific Needs of Expat Children

  1. Language Proficiency: Consider the language abilities of your children. If Arabic is not their first language, opt for schools with strong language support programs or those that offer bilingual education.
  2. Curriculum Compatibility: Assess the compatibility of the school’s curriculum with your child’s previous education. Check if the school follows an international curriculum that aligns with the educational system in your home country.
  3. Extracurricular Activities: Identify schools that offer a wide range of extracurricular activities, such as sports, arts, and clubs. These activities contribute to a well-rounded education and foster the development of various skills.
  4. Learning Style: Understand your child’s learning style and preferences. Some children thrive in structured environments, while others may prefer more experiential or hands-on learning approaches.
  5. Special Educational Needs: If your child has special educational needs, ensure that the school can provide appropriate support and accommodations to meet those needs.
  6. Social and Emotional Well-being: Look for schools that prioritize the social and emotional well-being of students, fostering a positive and supportive learning environment.

Considerations for Choosing the Right School

  1. Location: Consider the proximity of the school to your residence or workplace. A school located nearby can reduce commuting time and enhance the child’s school-life balance.
  2. Reputation and Accreditation: Research the school’s reputation and accreditation status. Accredited schools adhere to high educational standards and are subject to regular evaluations.
  3. Teacher Qualifications: Review the qualifications and experience of the teaching staff. Well-qualified and experienced teachers can significantly impact your child’s learning experience.
  4. Class Size: Smaller class sizes often allow for more personalized attention and a better teacher-student ratio, enhancing the learning experience.
  5. Facilities and Resources: Visit the school and assess its facilities, such as libraries, laboratories, and technology resources. Adequate resources can enrich the learning process.
  6. Parental Involvement: Consider the school’s approach to parental involvement. Schools that encourage parental engagement often have a stronger support network for students.

Visiting Schools and Evaluating Their Facilities and Programs

  1. Schedule School Visits: Schedule visits to shortlisted schools to get a feel of the campus environment and observe classes in action.
  2. Meet School Administrators and Teachers: Arrange meetings with school administrators and teachers to discuss the school’s values, philosophy, and approach to education.
  3. Observe Classrooms: Observe classrooms to gauge the teaching methodologies and student engagement. Look for interactive and engaging teaching practices.
  4. Talk to Students and Parents: Interact with current students and their parents to gather insights into their experiences and satisfaction with the school.
  5. Inspect Facilities: Inspect the school’s facilities, including classrooms, libraries, sports facilities, and technology resources, to ensure they meet the required standards.
  6. Assess Extracurricular Programs: Inquire about the extracurricular programs offered by the school and assess their quality and variety.

By considering the specific needs of expat children, evaluating key factors, and visiting schools personally, expat parents can make a well-informed decision and choose a school that best suits their child’s academic and personal development needs in Saudi Arabia.


In conclusion, selecting the right education for expat children in Saudi Arabia is a pivotal decision that can shape their future. Understanding the Saudi Arabian education system, exploring various options, and considering individual needs are all essential steps in making an informed choice.

Empowering parents with this knowledge equips them to provide their children with the best possible education, regardless of their cultural background.


Are expat children eligible for free education in Saudi Arabia?

Expat children are generally not eligible for free education in Saudi Arabia. They are required to pay tuition fees, which can vary depending on the type of school and the curriculum.

How can expat parents find language support programs for their children in local schools?

Expat parents can inquire with the local school administration or the Ministry of Education about language support programs available for non-Arabic speaking students.

Are there any restrictions on expat children attending local Saudi Arabian schools?

Generally, there are no restrictions on expat children attending local schools in Saudi Arabia. However, they must meet the required documentation and residency criteria.

Can expat children pursue higher education in Saudi Arabia after completing their schooling?

Yes, expat children who have completed their schooling in Saudi Arabia can pursue higher education in the country. They may need to meet specific admission requirements of the university or college they wish to attend.

What are the common challenges faced by expat children in international schools?

Some common challenges faced by expat children in international schools include adapting to a new curriculum, dealing with cultural differences, and making friends in a diverse environment. However, these challenges can often be overcome with time and support from teachers and peers.

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