Frequently Asked Questions about Saudi Arabia
From the conservative culture to women's rights, compound life and the complex visa system, expats will certainly have many questions about living and working in the Saudi Kingdom. Here are answers to some of the most common questions about expat life in Saudi Arabia.
Where should I live as an expat in Saudi Arabia?
As an expat moving to Saudi Arabia you most likely will settle in the city that your job designates. Once here, it is recommended to live in one of the many expat compounds. These are closed and secure communities that provide expats with a number of on-site amenities and a sturdy sense of camaraderie among like-minded individuals. They tend to have long waiting lists, however, so it is best to have your sponsor/employer organise for you.
Do I need visas to both enter and exit Saudi Arabia?
Yes, you will need both. Visas are an absolute in Saudi Arabia, to the point where tourist visas don’t formally exist. Depending on what type of visa you need (business, residence, work, transit) you’ll have to arrange the appropriate documentation with the help of a local sponsor. Upon entry into the country your passport will be held by your employer. To exit/re-enter the country once working and living there you will need to obtain authorisation in the form of an exit stamp from your sponsor. This can make leaving the country for emergency reasons difficult on some occasions.
Is it difficult to open a bank account in Saudi Arabia?
No, Saudi Arabia has a respectable and reliable banking climate that is easily accessible to expats and locals alike. In most cases you will only need a letter from your sponsor and your identification (residence/work permit). While the local Saudi banks are incredibly secure, they do not pay interest on your earnings, thus it is worthwhile to maintain offshore accounts for saving purposes.
What standard of healthcare can I expect?
The level of healthcare in Saudi Arabia is largely similar to that of the US and Europe. It is now mandatory to have some form of healthcare in order to obtain your iqama (work permit). While the Ministry of Health offers universal coverage for locals and public sector expats, private sector expats should organise with their sponsor for appropriate insurance.
Are international schools the best option for education in Saudi Arabia?
Yes, especially since non-Saudis and non-Arab expats don't have access to state-sponsored institutions. There is an assortment of international schools available in the country that caters to a variety of languages and curricula. Expats should consider cost, convenience and standard when selecting a school for their children.
What job sectors provide working opportunities in Saudi Arabia?
Historically, the oil and gas industry sectors have been primary areas for job opportunities in Saudi Arabia. However, in addition to these cornerstones, logistics as well as the retail and consumer goods sector are increasingly sharing the limelight with their fossil fuel counterparts. Nurses, doctors and English-speaking teachers are also actively recruited in Saudi Arabia.
How should I dress in Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia is a country governed by Islamic law and thus requires expats to respect the prescribed behaviours. Men should dress conservatively – no shorts, sleeveless shirts or ostentatious accessories. Women are required to wear an abaya, a full-length cloak that covers clothing, and a headscarf. Both of these items should be black or dark in colour. In the expat compounds Westerners can dress in the manner familiar to their country of origin.
What language is spoken in Saudi Arabia?
The official language of the Kingdom is Arabic, but English is widely spoken and is even the language of operation in major hospitals. Hindi and Urdu are also spoken frequently by many expats.
What rights do I have as a woman in Saudi Arabia?
Perhaps the most striking discerning factor between the Western world and Saudi Arabia is the disparity in women’s rights that exists. In Saudi Arabia, society is strictly gender-segregated as per Islamic law – women are relegated to covering themselves from head to toe, they are forbidden to drive (although this is changing), they cannot enter/exit the country without a male sponsor, and oftentimes they are forced to use separate entrances and isolated areas of public spaces, shops and storefronts. Although there have been slight reforms in recent years, women in Saudi Arabia are expected to be subservient to men and have little in the way of independent rights.