Are you considering relocating to Saudi Arabia? Working and living in this country can be a great experience, with attractive benefits such as tax-free salaries, career development prospects, and opportunities to travel. You'll benefit from hot weather throughout the year and generous employment packages.
But it isn't all sunshine and roses. You may also find the culture restrictive and accommodation hard to come by.
In this blog article, we will explore all aspects of life as an expat in Saudi Arabia, from high living standards to business culture. We will also discuss how to make the most of your life in Saudi Arabia while avoiding some of the more challenging aspects of life here. Read on if you want to learn more about what it's really like to work and live in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Why Are Expats Moving to Saudi Arabia from the UK for work?
With around 30,000 UK expats in Saudi Arabia, let’s explore what makes it an appealing place to move to.
1. High earning potential
Tax-free salaries, high wages, and generous benefits make Saudi Arabia an invaluable place for those looking to maximise their earning potential.
With average middle management salaries estimated at around $188,000 per year (approx. £155,000), that's a substantial increase compared to the UK salary averages of around £35,000.
For those searching for financial stability, there's no better choice than setting up shop in Saudi Arabia, with its deep-rooted culture, wealth of career opportunities and stable economy.
2. Career prospects
Many are attracted to the career prospects that Saudi Arabia can offer. Working in Saudi Arabia provides the chance to work in a globally renowned market, with high-quality jobs across many different industries.
It also presents the opportunity to gain valuable international experience and employment credentials that can open doors for advancement into more senior roles.
3. Good weather
The climate in Saudi Arabia offers a unique combination of sun, sand and sea, making it a desirable destination for those looking to live and work in an exotic location.
For more than half the year, temperatures remain stable. There are many opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities such as swimming, hiking, walking and cycling. The long hours of sunlight all year round create a pleasant atmosphere, especially compared to the UK climate.
4. High standard of living
The high standard of living and lifestyle are attractive benefits that should not be overlooked. The combination of a lower living cost of living in Saudi Arabia and much higher wages than in the UK can create a great financial and lifestyle balance. Expats can save money while still enjoying luxuries and high-quality services such as drivers, maids, nannies, and gardeners.
Furthermore, with its modern infrastructure, secure environment, warm temperatures all year round, and access to some of the best beaches in the world, it is no wonder that more British people are increasingly choosing Saudi Arabia as their home away from home.
5. Local culture
As a culturally rich country, Saudi Arabia offers a unique blend of Islamic heritage, ancient trading history, and Bedouin traditions, providing interesting experiences for those looking to move there. Various cultural attractions, such as minarets, calligraphy artworks, and well-preserved archaeological artefacts, can be explored throughout the nation.
However, as Saudi Arabia has deep-rooted Islamic traditions, it is important to understand the cultural customs and sensitivities to successfully transition into Saudi Arabia life. We explore these in more detail below.
6. Food culture
Living and working in Saudi Arabia allows expats to experience a wide range of culinary cultures. From traditional Middle Eastern fare, like tabbouleh and hummus, to global cuisines, such as Italian, French, and Indian, the country offers something for every palate. Supermarkets also offer familiar foods from home. Although alcohol is not permitted.
Fresh produce can be found at local fruit and vegetable souqs (markets). These diverse food experiences open up a unique window into the culture of Saudi Arabia.
Accommodation in Saudi Arabia is a major reason people choose to live and work there. Most compounds provide a range of comfortable, fully furnished apartments and villas with added benefits such as swimming pools, tennis courts, libraries, shopping centres and restaurants to enhance their lifestyle.
Rents are high, but employers often include a housing allowance in their benefits package, giving expats peace of mind that they have everything they need for an enjoyable stay.
Living in Saudi Arabia as an Expat: What Is It Really Like?
Living in Saudi Arabia is very different from life in the UK. Here we delve into some of the key aspects of expat life in Saudi Arabia.
The political situation
Expats living and working in Saudi Arabia are subject to the country’s political system, which is a monarchy ruled by an absolute monarchy. Expats must adhere to the Sharia Law in civil and criminal matters, with the king having ultimate power.
Women have gained limited rights, such as voting and driving, but they still face restrictions when it comes to certain activities.
With the school week from Sunday to Thursday, expat families may find it difficult to adjust to the local education system.
For non-Arabic-speaking children, international schools are often the best option. These schools require expensive fees and have waiting lists. However, they offer co-educational learning, which is not available in public schools. Private tuition can supplement international school education, but this comes at an additional cost.
Expats living and working in Saudi Arabia may face limitations and repression of their sexuality, as same-sex sexual activity is illegal in the country. The strict laws against homosexuality can also put individuals at risk for arrest, imprisonment or even death - making it difficult for them to be open about their sexuality.
From high-speed tailgating to left-hand drive vehicles, Saudi Arabia driving customs can make it difficult for those from other countries to adjust. Women are now eligible to drive in Saudi Arabia since the law changed in 2018.
To obtain a driving licence, expats must take various tests and translate their foreign licence into Arabic. Driving in this country requires patience and persistence and can be nerve-wracking at first.
Religion has a significant impact on the lives of expats working and living in Saudi Arabia.
- Sharia law is the basis for many laws and regulations, which govern issues such as dress, alcohol, public behaviour and prayer.
- Non-Muslims usually cannot enter mosques and should not disturb those who are praying within them.
- During Ramadan, activities slow or stop until Id-al-Fitr, and it is important to respect the religious customs during this period.
- Calls to prayer five times a day will also be heard throughout the country - businesses must close during these times.
It is, therefore, essential for those considering moving to Saudi Arabia to familiarise themselves with the Islamic faith before entering the country to understand how it will affect everyday life for themselves and their family members.
For those living and working in Saudi Arabia, life may be significantly impacted by the ban on drinking alcohol. Possession or sale of alcohol can lead to heavy punishments, including flogging, imprisonment and fines. There is also a ban on imported goods such as liquor, flavouring extracts, cooking wines and wine-making kits.
Locally brewed black-market liquor may be available on Western company compounds, but raids do occur. Foreigners are not exempt from the ban and risk arrest if they cross the border while intoxicated or even just smelling of alcohol. As a result, you must be extremely careful when it comes to consuming any kind of alcoholic beverage while in Saudi Arabia.
In addition to films and TV shows being heavily censored, there are restrictions on internet access, with some websites being blocked completely. Social media posts must be monitored carefully, and public talks and gatherings that could be seen as politically sensitive are prohibited.
Furthermore, religious symbols, such as the cross or the Star of David, cannot be displayed publicly. For foreigners living in Saudi Arabia, these restrictions can make it difficult to express themselves freely and enjoy their personal freedom.
Working in Saudi Arabia
Expat workers in Saudi Arabia should be aware that the business culture there is highly patriarchal and hierarchical. It is important to gain trust and respect from local contacts by developing strong personal relationships.
Meetings often involve passionate dialogue with raised voices, so it is important to remain courteous and diplomatic even when discussing difficult topics.
Understanding the cultural norms of Saudi society is essential for effective working relationships, so take extra time to research and understand these aspects before starting work in Saudi Arabia.
Customs & cultural practices
Here are some important customs to remember when considering working in Saudi Arabia:
- English is widely spoken in business.
- The dress code is conservative, especially for women, who should wear clothing that is covering and of a moderate length.
- Handshakes and eye contact are common greetings when meeting someone new.
- Exchanging gifts is appreciated, but gifts should not contain alcohol or pork products,
- It is important to address people by their titles and maintain a respectful attitude throughout conversations and interactions.
Pay & additional benefits
Saudi Arabia offers some of the highest salaries available in the region. Salaries are usually based on experience and qualifications and may also be supplemented by additional benefits such as:
- Education allowances covering school fees for local or international schools
- Transportation allowance
- Housing allowances covering rent or mortgage payments.
- Health insurance
Need help finding a job role in Saudi Arabia?
An attractive destination for those looking to benefit from high wages and a lower living costs, Saudi Arabia also offers a unique cultural heritage and delicious local cuisine. With much to explore and gain, it is certainly worth considering living and working in this fascinating kingdom.
If you're looking for a great job opportunity in Saudi Arabia, contact us today. At Oriel Partners, we help high-calibre PA and admin candidates find their perfect job in Saudi Arabia.