Saudi Arabia has become one of the popular destinations for international students due to its fast-improving higher education systems in the last couple of decades. With numerous world-class universities and colleges, Saudi Arabia is now considered among the top locations for high-quality education, research, and innovation.

One of the advantageous sides of studying in Saudi Arabia for international students is the fact that many Saudi Arabian universities have significant global partnerships, which allow their students to have access to the most privileged opportunities during their education. Moreover, student life in Saudi Arabia is always exciting and dynamic since the international student population is pretty high for most Saudi Arabian universities, making it easier to adapt to the country and socialize with other students.

To be an international student in Saudi Arabia means a richness of network, top-quality academic facilities, diverse social life, and luxury due to the impact of the country’s fast-growing economy and international prestige. This article explains every detail you need to know about studying in Saudi Arabia.

How to Plan for Your Studies in Saudi Arabia

International students must carefully research the education system in Saudi Arabia to choose the right university and program in the country. Below is an overview of the education system at Saudi Arabian universities and colleges.

Education System in Saudi Arabia

The higher education system in Saudi Arabia is similar to many countries in that it offers undergraduate and graduate programs usually lasting four years, two or three years, respectively. However, university admissions can slightly differ in that some universities have female-only enrollments. According to the latest reports, more than half of the student population in Saudi Arabia consists of female students.

The international student population is quite high in Saudi Arabia, encompassing over 40% of the overall student population. The Saudi Arabian government aims to increase the foreign student rate even more by creating and offering internationally recognized programs each year.

There are government and private higher education institutions in Saudi Arabia. These are categorized under universities, colleges, and technical schools. Below are the number of Saudi Arabian schools under the following categories:

  • Total number of universities: 45; 28 public and 17 private universities
  • Total number of colleges: 32
  • Total number of technical colleges: 34

Choosing University in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabian government offers a wide variety of universities and programs for students from all around to world to find their best program from humanities to engineering, business, or applied sciences.

Choosing the best university can be a challenge if international students are not sure of what they want to pursue in their academics. Luckily, Saudi Arabian universities provide numerous study options for any degree to ensure international students can plan their studies wisely.

Saudi Arabian government proudly claims to host 23 of the best 100 universities in the Arab region in the QS Arab Region University Rankings. Some of the top universities in Saudi Arabia are as follows:

Choosing a Study Program in Saudi Arabia

There are plenty of study programs international students can choose from, yet the most popular programs typically include business, engineering, computer science, and medicine. The majority of Saudi Arabian universities and colleges offer study subjects in all three levels, including bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D.

Saudi Arabian universities, colleges, and academies usually offer four-year bachelor’s programs in humanities and social science studies; however, the duration of the program can go up to six years for studies such as medicine and engineering. Graduate programs differ according to the program-specific requirements, yet an average graduate program takes two to three years to complete.

Here’s a breakdown of degree levels in higher education in Saudi Arabia:

  • Associate degrees: usually take 2 years to complete at a technical college
  • Bachelor’s degrees: usually take 4 years for programs in humanities and social sciences and can take between 5 to 6 years for programs in engineering, medicine, pharmacology, and applied sciences
  • Master’s degrees: usually take 2 years to complete and may require a dissertation, depending on the program
  • Ph.D. degrees: usually take 3 years to complete, and require completion of a dissertation following research

How to Finance Your Education in Saudi Arabia

Below is the information for international students planning to study in Saudi Arabia on how to finance their education with an average cost of tuition fees and living costs in the country.

Tuition fees in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is not a cheap country to live and study; this is why tuition fees can exceed some international students’ budgets. However, one advantage for international students in Saudi Arabia is that public and private universities can have considerable differences in tuition fees.

Tuition fees can differ greatly for each public university or college in Saudi Arabia, as the range is heavily dependent on the type of degree or program. As for private universities and colleges, the fees can be fairly expensive. Some of the affordable universities include King Abdulaziz University, King Saud University, and Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University.

Saudi Arabian universities and colleges usually follow a yearly paid system for the tuition fees, yet some schools can apply the credit system as it is for the U.S. colleges. Below is an approximate range of the tuition fees at Saudi Arabian colleges and universities for international students.

Public universities and colleges: $4,000 to $5,000 per year for undergraduate programs and $10,000 to $11,000 for graduate programs

Private universities and colleges: $15,000 to $20,000 per year for undergraduate programs, around $15,000 for graduate programs

Cost of Living in Saudi Arabia

It is without a doubt a fact that Saudi Arabia is one of the most expensive countries to live in, which is reasonable considering the country’s fast-growing economy. Therefore, international students must plan their budget carefully with the awareness of the living costs of studying in Saudi Arabia.

Student life in Saudi Arabia will provide one of the most unique experiences international students can have, yet it is also dependent on how affordable they are for you. When planning the cost of living in a different country, it is best to calculate the basic spending first, such as accommodation, food, transportation, and more. Below you can find the average cost of essential costs of living in Saudi Arabia for international students.

  • Accommodation: SAR 1,500 ($400) per month for a one-bedroom private apartment, SAR 800-1000 ($200-250) for on-campus dormitory options
  • Food and groceries: SAR 1,800 ($500) per month; with a two-people meal at an inexpensive restaurant around SAR 5 ($20), one coffee around SAR 37 ($10), and one loaf of bread around SAR 10 ($3)
  • Transportation: SAR 375 ($100) for a regular monthly pass, one-way ticket for SAR 15 ($4)
  • Books and other school-related expenses: SAR 260 ($70) per month
  • Miscellaneous expenses: SAR 187 ($50) per month for limitless internet, SAR 150 ($40) for a pair of jeans, SAR 300 ($85) for a monthly fitness center membership

Based on the basic expenses, the average annual cost of living in Saudi Arabia is approximately SAR 5,250 ($14,000), yet it is important to note that the cost of living can differ greatly for each international student’s choice of spending.

Is health insurance required for international students? The answer is no. The Saudi Arabian government advises that every international student planning to study in Saudi Arabia should pay for a health insurance plan, yet it is not required. The annual health insurance for international students in Saudi Arabia depends on the insurance company and the duration of the student’s stay. For more information, please visit the governmental website.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Student life in Saudi Arabia is not the cheapest among other countries, yet one of the biggest advantages of studying in Saudi Arabia is that there are great fully funded scholarship options available for international students.

Public universities are usually free for Saudi residents, yet it is also possible for international students to study in Saudi Arabia for free if they can earn a scholarship that covers the total tuition fees. The types of scholarships, student waivers, and financial aid vary in quantity and requirement, and below, you can find some of the most common scholarships in Saudi Arabia for international students.

1. IsDB Islamic Development Bank Scholarships

  • Level of study: undergraduate and postgraduate
  • Scholarship amount: fully funded scholarship, including accommodation and allowances

2. King Abdullah University Scholarships

  • Level of study: master’s and Ph.D. programs
  • Scholarship amount: fully funded scholarship with a monthly allowance, on-campus accommodation, and medical coverage

3. King Abdulaziz University Scholarships

  • Level of study: undergraduate and postgraduate
  • Scholarship amount: fully funded scholarship with a monthly allowance, accommodation, healthcare, and travel tickets

4. King Fahd University Scholarships

  • Level of study: master’s and Ph.D. programs
  • Scholarship amount: fully funded scholarship with a monthly allowance and accommodation

5. Islamic University of Madinah Scholarships

  • Level of study: undergraduate and postgraduate
  • Scholarship amount: fully funded scholarship with a monthly allowance, accommodation, and health care

How to Apply to Saudi Arabian Universities

Below is a guide to applying to Saudi Arabian Universities for international students with admission requirements, deadlines, and general admission steps.

Admission Requirements

Admission requirements can greatly depend on the university, degree, or program. However, listing down the overall requirements is important for international students before their application to Saudi Arabian universities or colleges.

Each Saudi Arabian higher education institution has its own system to accept students, and the procedures can be especially different for international students. Below is a list of the estimated admission requirements Saudi Arabian universities and colleges can demand:

  • Holding a high school/bachelor’s/master’s degree
  • Proof of English language proficiency (for English-medium programs)
  • Record of the previously completed courses
  • Eligibility to the Saudi Arabian student visa
  • Portfolios, writing samples, previously completed projects or research

For program-specific requirements, we advise you to find the details from the desired university’s program.

Required Documents

Based on the admission requirements, Saudi Arabian colleges and universities have their own regulations for international students to document their mandatory qualifications. Below is an overall list of the required documents international students should provide within the application process:

  1. Application form (online or hardcopy)
  2. Academic transcript for each completed degree (e.g., high school transcript for bachelor’s application, bachelor’s program transcript for postgraduate applications, etc.)
  3. Diploma of the recently completed degree
  4. A scan of the passport
  5. Biometric photo of the applicant
  6. Curriculum Vitae (CV)
  7. Letter of Intent
  8. Letters of recommendation
  9. Receipt of the application fee

When planning to apply to Saudi Arabian universities, it is important to make a checklist of the required documents beforehand in case some of them may take longer time to obtain.

Application Deadlines

One of the most important issues every international student must notice is the application dates for the Saudi Arabian universities they wish to apply. Although each university can follow a different timeline for international student applications, below is an overall timetable for the application start dates and deadlines.

  • Autumn
    • Application deadline: February
    • Enrollment: September (same year)
  • Spring
    • Application deadline: September
    • Enrollment: January (next year)

It is important to emphasize that each university’s application deadlines can differ; especially some universities can follow an entirely different timeline. For instance, King Abdullah University accepts applications any time of the year for the September intake, whereas Kind Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals requires international students to apply before July for the August intake.

General Admission Steps

The best way to lead a successful application to Saudi Arabian universities and colleges is to organize your application with certain steps. The admission steps should be planned based on the university and program’s specific admission requirements, yet below you can find the general admission steps in most Saudi Arabian universities:

  1. Find the best Saudi Arabian university and program for your academic interests
  2. Make sure you meet the program requirements
  3. Provide the required documents
  4. Start the online application
  5. Pay for your application fee (if required)
  6. Confirm your admission letter
  7. Apply for scholarships and grants

How to Obtain a Student Visa in Saudi Arabia

The Saudi Arabian government mandates international students to obtain a student visa to pursue their academics. The Student Visa allows students to stay in the country until they complete their education.

A student visa is given to international students after receiving an acceptance letter from one of the Saudi Arabian higher education institutions. This is why it’s important for international students to check their eligibility for a student visa before even applying to study programs in the country.

Student visa requirements for studying in Saudi Arabia are as follows:

  • Valid passport and photo
  • Letter of Approval from the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Education
  • Application fee of $80

Usually, an acceptance letter from a Saudi Arabian university or college covers many procedures for international students as they do not need to collect numerous materials for the visa application. The steps to obtain Student Visa for international students in Saudi Arabia are as follows:

  1. Obtain the Letter of Approval /Acceptance Letter
  2. Go to the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  3. Fill in the online application form for the Student Visa
  4. Pay for the Visa fee of SAR 300 ($80)
  5. Submit your documents with the application form

For more information, kindly visit the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

How to Prepare for Your Arrival in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has unique regulations, lifestyles, and social dynamics, which can be challenging for some international students if they don’t take the necessary action before arriving in the country. Below we state some of the essential preparations international students should take for their arrival in Saudi Arabia.

Arrange the accommodation

When moving to Saudi Arabia, it is important to secure your accommodation before arriving in the country to avoid any inconveniences. Usually, Saudi Arabian universities and colleges assist international students in finding suitable accommodation before enrollment, yet for students wishing to stay in a private apartment or dormitory, it should be arranged earlier to make sure the place is reliable and comfortable.

Pack your essentials

Saudi Arabia has a large international resident population, which means international students will not have difficulty finding what they need. However, it is advised for international students studying in Saudi Arabia to bring their essentials with them to make sure they don’t have difficulty finding what they are looking for.

Additionally, when packing their essentials, international students must be aware of the dress code applied in Saudi Arabia as well as considering the very hot climate. Our advice is to bring modest yet light clothes with you to enjoy your stay in the country in comfort.

Learn about the country

Saudi Arabia is ruled by a monarchy, which is not very common for the majority of countries and cultures. Foreigners should show respect for their norms, values, and religion to be able to integrate with their society.

Learning about Saudi Arabian culture and diversity will allow international students to take many steps ahead when adapting to this new environment. Our advice is to contact an international student who is experienced in studying Saudi Arabia to learn details about everyday life in the country.

How to Study and Live in Saudi Arabia

No matter where you go, there are always challenges of moving to another country, especially when you are on your own. Therefore, it is important for international students to set realistic expectations about student life in Saudi Arabia to avoid any serious effects of culture shock.

Studying in Saudi Arabia is a great experience in many aspects; unique customs, diverse communities, adventurous entertainment options, and many more opportunities await international students to be discovered. Nevertheless, some challenges are to be faced, and below we indicate some of the most common challenges of studying in Saudi Arabia with tips to overcome them.

Challenge 1: Finance your budget carefully

As mentioned earlier in this article, everyday life in Saudi Arabia can be more costly than your expectations. Transportation and digital services are among the most expensive spending in the country, and it is a good start if international students learn about the Saudi Arabian market beforehand to make sure they won’t have to spend their money on overpriced options.

Challenge 2: Respect Saudi Arabian culture and religion

Saudi Arabia has a strict moral code due to its highly conservative Islamic rule, which means there are certain behaviors international students should avoid to be able to interact with society. It is crucial for international students to learn about the moral codes in Saudi Arabia before their arrival, such as avoiding public acts of affection, preferring to wear modest clothes, and, overall, respecting the Islamic religion.

Challenge 3: Get ready with Saudi Arabian Climate

International students should be ready for the desert climate when arriving in Saudi Arabia. The temperature can go up to crazy rates during the summer season, making it difficult to socialize with outdoor activities for international students. One solution can be preferring indoor activities during the hottest seasons.

Challenge 4: Familiarize with the language

Saudi Arabia has a high foreign population due to its business opportunities, education, and tourism. This means English is a dominant language that will be useful for international students throughout their stay. However, for students studying in cities far from the urban areas of Saudi Arabia, it can be more difficult to use only English since locals are mostly familiar with Arabic, their native language. Overall, learning the official and local language of Saudi Arabia will always have profits on international students’ behalf.

Challenge 5: Contact your family and friends

Homesickness can be an issue for some international students; after all, living alone in a completely unfamiliar country is never easy. The best way to cope with this challenge is to constantly contact your family members and friends to ensure you are motivated to pursue your studies in Saudi Arabia.

Can You Work in Saudi Arabia After Graduation

Saudi Arabia has a growing economy, which is leading to many upcoming work opportunities in the country for international students after graduation. Working in Saudi Arabia is attractive for many international graduates in that it promises one of the highest salaries in the global industry and provides a strong network with world-class business people.

One of the most in-demand industries in Saudi Arabia is oil and petroleum due to the country’s abundant oil reserves. The Saudi Arabian government prospects the enhancement of the oil industry by offering study programs and work opportunities for international students after graduation.

Saudi Arabia prioritizes diversifying its economy with numerous work options for international communities. Besides the oil industry, other industries providing employment opportunities for international students in Saudi Arabia are healthcare, education, business, and IT.

International graduates must obtain a work permit to continue their stay in Saudi Arabia, as the Student Visa expires after completing a study program in the country. The Employment Visa can be applied after receiving an acceptance letter from any Saudi employer and providing additional required documentation. For details about the Employment Visa, kindly visit the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s website.

Conclusion

Studying in Saudi Arabia will bring numerous opportunities for international students during and after their program, thanks to the country’s promising vision for economic growth, diversity, and innovation. If you believe that studying in Saudi Arabia is the right choice, start today to find the most suitable study program for you.

About the Author: Hyun Lee

Hyun is the founder at Global Scholarships. He has received a full-tuition scholarship at Birmingham-Southern College as well as $1,000 Burger King Scholarship for his undergraduate degree and has been offered a fully funded scholarship consisting of tuition, living stipend, and health insurance for computer science Ph.D. program at North Carolina State University. Read more about his scholarship journey here.

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