As Saudi Arabia's formal centre of commerce and diplomacy, Riyadh has historically had a large expat community. As such, the city has a good selection of international schools to serve the needs of its foreign population.
While foreigners have access to Saudi government schools, the language and cultural barriers leave few expat families willing to brave the switch. This increases demand at international schools, resulting in limited places and often hefty fees. It's therefore important that expats apply to several schools as early as possible.
International schools in Riyadh
The requirements for securing a place at an international school in Riyadh vary from one institution to the next. Some schools may need written references from a child's previous schools, while others require students to sit an entrance examination. While most international schools in Riyadh are not selective, others, such as the British and American schools, give preference to students according to their nationality. Although it is not necessary for children to attend a school sponsored by their country of origin, the logistical transition between systems tends to be easiest in this sort of situation.
A non-refundable application fee is standard procedure. Some schools also require parents to pay an extra seat deposit. In addition, parents often have to sort out uniforms, textbooks and extracurricular activities. While international schools can be pricey, expat parents will be delighted to know that the facilities and teaching standards at these schools are often top-tier. Nevertheless, it is advisable for expats to negotiate a schooling allowance into their expat relocation packages wherever possible.
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 holy month of Ramadan.
See our reviews of the best International Schools in Riyadh
Homeschooling in Riyadh
Homeschooling is not generally recognised in Saudi Arabia, and expats living in Riyadh may struggle to find resources. It's not illegal though, so many expats do take this option, even just temporarily until they manage to secure a place for their child at an international school or during a short-term assignment before going back home.
Special-needs education in Riyadh
With expats being largely reliant on international schools, there isn't one standard policy across schools, with the result being that 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.
Although most expats choose to go the international school route, Saudi Arabia's Department of Education aims to provide inclusive education as far as possible. This means developing programmes and availing support services to ensure children with special needs are included in the mainstream classroom.
Tutors in Riyadh
Local families frequently employ tutors to help children become proficient in English as a second language. Non-English-speaking expat families in Saudi Arabia can benefit from doing the same, while those looking to learn or improve their Arabic should opt for a local Arabic tutor. Major upcoming exams and trouble subjects are also areas tutors can service well.
►For more about schooling options, see Education and Schools in Saudi Arabia
"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 Riyadh?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Riyadh. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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