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Saudi Arabia has a healthy economy. Job prospects for foreigners remain positive across a broad spectrum of industries.
The oil and gas sectors are the cornerstones of Saudi Arabia’s economic foundations, but expansion in the logistics sector, as well as retail and consumer goods, provide expats with a larger variety of opportunities to pursue.
Additionally, engineering, construction, IT and telecommunications have been historically active areas of employment. English teachers are always in demand and can earn quite well working in Saudi Arabia. Nurses and doctors are also actively recruited.
Job market in Saudi Arabia
Remuneration packages in Saudi Arabia for highly skilled workers are competitive when compared to those offered in the wider Gulf region. Added to the incentive of a tax-free salary, benefits usually include accommodation, health insurance, transport and education allowances, and annual flight tickets home. Expats will also find that their hard-earned salaries will go further, as the Kingdom offers a lower cost of living than many of its regional neighbours.
Discrimination is widespread when it comes to wages and benefits in Saudi Arabia, though. Western expats generally earn much higher salaries than their Asian counterparts, even with similar qualifications and experience.
Female workers also experience discrimination. Though recent law reforms allow Saudi women to work without the permission of their male guardian, employers often still insist on confirming this.
Finding a job in Saudi Arabia
Most expats moving to Saudi Arabia arrive with a job already in hand, either through a transfer in a multinational company or after being headhunted and hired for a specialised skillset. Today, these are the two most likely scenarios for finding work, though there may be a small chance of finding work via a recruitment agency, networking or an online job portal.
Though foreigners were once hired in droves for both skilled and unskilled work in Saudi Arabia, the government now operates under a policy called 'Saudisation' to encourage the employment of locals over foreigners, thereby decreasing unemployment among Saudi nationals. The government has also implemented restrictions on hiring foreign labour, with Saudi companies facing penalties for hiring too many foreigners.
Foreigners wanting to work in Saudi Arabia are required to apply for a work visa. This visa can't be obtained without a confirmed job offer and sponsorship from an employer. It is therefore not possible to arrive in Saudi Arabia in order to look for work. The process of obtaining a work visa can be a long and convoluted one. Expats should be prepared to have patience and persistence.
Work culture in Saudi Arabia
Expats working in Saudi Arabia may find themselves in a working environment radically different to what they are used to. The culture and customs of Saudi Arabia are essentially Arabic. Islam dominates all facets of life, including business. A central aspect of Saudi life is prayer. Muslims pray five times a day. Work days will therefore be disrupted several times to make provisions for this. Working hours will also be reduced during the holy month of Ramadan.
Arabic is the official language in Saudi Arabia, but English is widely spoken and understood in business circles. Nevertheless, expats would do well to learn Arabic if seeking to fully establish themselves in the Saudi working world.
►For more on what to expect of Saudi business culture, read Modern Business, the Ancient Way.
"My husband had, and still has, challenges at work as it’s not like working back in Canada; policies and procedures are different here for him at work."
Read more of Brenda's interview about expat life in Saudi Arabia.
Are you an expat living in Saudi Arabia?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Saudi Arabia. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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