Expat Guide for Living and Working in Saudi Arabia

Life in the Middle East

Moving to a Middle Eastern country will certainly be a culture shock for someone from a Western society, especially with the gender segregation and traditional culture. However, as long as you are respectful and have some understanding of their way of life you will fit in soon enough.

A move to the country may be more challenging for a woman due to the variance in culture. For example, it is the law in Saudi Arabia that women wear an abaya in public places. An abaya is a full length, black robe-like dress. It is currently illegal for women to drive in the county however from June 2018 women will be able to drive in the kingdom. Men and women are only ever seen together in a family setting or context and men have more legal rights than women. A website that will prove useful for women moving to Saudi Arabia is Expat Women.

There is a well-established expat community across Saudi Arabia. You can discover these groups on websites such as InterNations and Meetup.com. This will allow you to join the international community within the country and feel more at home.

The most popular and safest way of getting around Saudi Arabia is by private car and taxi and it is advised to do so. There are no metres in Saudi taxis therefore the price must be agreed in advance. It is essential that you get an Arabic speaker to do this for you to avoid any miscommunications and problems. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia still has a public transport system. The front two rows on buses are reserved for women and children and unaccompanied foreign women may travel on intercity buses if they have an iqama (residence permit) or a passport. Buses do not run to any of the neighbouring countries of Saudi Arabia and the only mean of international travel is via plane. Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport is the country’s busiest airport served by the majority of major airlines.

Saudi Arabians feel comfortable standing close to one another. Therefore, personal space is not common in the country unless it is between sexes. It is also common for men to walk holding hands as it shows a strong degree of kinship, solidarity and has no sexual connotations. It is also a cultural taboo to point at people or point with one finger in the country. Instead, it is common for your hand to be kept flat and gestures to be used instead.

What to do in Saudi Arabia

The culture in Saudi Arabia is a rich one which has been shaped by their Islamic heritage. The country has a number of museums and historical sites which are open for tourists. The National Museum is a must see in Riyadh and follows the story of Islam and has beautiful gardens. There are four mosques within the country which foreign individuals are allowed to visit: Al Rahma mosque, Al-Taqwa mosque, King Saud mosque and the King Fahd mosque. Visiting any of these will allow you to become acquainted with Islamic civilisation. Popular in Dhahran is the Prince Saud Bin Naif Park which is a popular area to meet with friends outside of work and school. Alternatively, the Aramco Community has space which allows young people to BMX and skateboard. The Mall of Dhahran offers a generous selection of well-known brands which is very popular among locals and expats alike. Or if you are interested in a more relaxed day out in Dhahran then hit up the beaches! The Half Moon Bay is a popular, relaxed area or take the family to Sunset Beach which also has a waterpark, bowling alley and eating facilities.

The official language of Saudi Arabia is Arabic. However, English is also an important language and is widely spoken as a second language by educated Saudis.

Introduction of VAT

In 2018 Saudi Arabia among other Middle Eastern countries will introduce VAT for the first time at a lower rate compared to the OECD average of 19%. This is encouraging widespread interest and attracting tax professionals into the country.

Religious culture

Saudi Arabia was the birthplace of the Muslim religion and there are some must-know facts for internationals regarding religious times.

  • Prayers are observed 5 times per day and everything stops: stores close, businesses stop and everyone goes to pray in the mosque, in the office or even in the street
  • Friday is the Muslim holy day.
  • During the holy month of Ramadan, all Muslims must fast from dawn to dusk and are only permitted to work six hours per day. Expatriates are not required to fast but they must not eat, drink, smoke or chew gum in public.
  • Islam is the only religion that can be publicly practised.
  • Muslims don’t drink alcohol and only eat halal meat.

Schooling

International children are not permitted to attend Saudi Arabian public school but there are several international schools available to you. However, spaces are limited so it is advised to register your child as quickly as possible to guarantee a space in the school of your choice. Some popular international schools are the International American School- Riyadh, the British International School of Jeddah, the Multinational School- Riyadh and the Dhahran British Grammar School.

FAQs

Do I need a VISA?

Yes, if you are moving to work in the country then you will need a residency permit. When applying for residency in Saudi Arabia it is essential that you already have a firm job offer. Your invitation to stay in the country must be sent by the employer, therefore it is them who begin the immigration process as a sponsor. More information regarding the residency permit and FAQs can be found on the PwC website.

What is the cost of living in Saudi Arabia?

The cost of living in Saudi Arabia is on par or lower than the other expat friendly locations in the Middle East. Accommodation in expat compounds can be expensive as they are in high demand and few to come by. You can view the range of compounds available on Right Compound.

Is there a wide expat community in Saudi Arabia?

There is an established expat community across Saudi Arabia, especially in Riyadh and Dhahran. You can get in touch with current expats using Facebook groups such as Expats in Saudi Arabia- Living and Working and Expats in Saudi Arabia. There are also community forums available online which will answer popular questions you may have during the decision-making process. Furthermore, there have been a number of interviews with current expats living in Saudi Arabia which will offer a valuable insight into life in the kingdom.

What is the working culture in Saudi Arabia like?

The typical work week is from Sunday-Thursday with their weekends being Friday and Saturdays. Working hours should not exceed more than 48 a week and 8 hours per day.


If you are interested in a move to Saudi Arabia or anywhere else in the world and would like to speak to Kingpin International about International Tax Opportunities, please contact a member of the team. Alternatively, please browse our current International Tax vacancies.

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