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Guide to Living and Working in Saudi Arabia

  • by: Norma Dysangco
  • On: 21, Feb 2018
4 min read

Thousands of expat workers come to live and work in Saudi Arabia every year, with many expats enjoying successful and rewarding careers.

Here is everything you need to know about living and working in Saudi Arabia:

1. Economy

Saudi Arabia has the largest economy of all 22 Arab states. The country is considered an ‘energy superpower’ for owning the third highest total estimated value of natural resources in the world, including oil and gas, valued at $34.4 trillion in 2016. Petroleum makes up the majority of export earnings and 50% of the total GDP, highlighting why Saudi Arabia is one of the few high-income countries with a very strong industrial sector. A growing economy is one persuasive reason for living and working in Saudi Arabia.

2. Culture

Islam is the official religion of Saudi Arabia. Although expats and migrant workers are granted freedom of religion, Islam is the only religion that may be celebrated in public. Saudi Arabia’s religious customs include:

  • Regulation – Religious police, called mutawwa’in, actively enforce religious standards
  • Prayer fives time a day – All businesses are required to close during prayer calls
  • Religious festivals – For the holy month of Ramadan, the working day is reduced to 6 hours (or 36 hours per week) to accommodate those who are fasting. It is forbidden to eat, drink or smoke in public in daylight hours during Ramadan.
  • Pilgrimage – Saudi Arabia is home to Islam’s two most sacred cities, Mecca and Medina, which are reserved for Muslims; non-Muslims are not permitted to enter them.

Of a general population of 32million, around 10million expats currently live in Saudi Arabia, with Western expats making up the majority of non-manual labourers. The large number of expat workers from all over the world contributes to Saudi Arabia’s rich and diverse culture.

3. Working in Saudi Arabia: Salaries & Benefits

Like much of the UAE, Saudi Arabia is tax-free, however with a lower cost of living. The absence of personal income tax and social security tax combined with the low costs of food and utilities make Saudi Arabia an appealing career prospect, although education and private healthcare are additional costs. Tax-free salaries that allow the opportunity to build savings and provide a good quality of life are one of the best reasons to live and work in Saudi Arabia.

4. Laws

Saudi laws and moral standards are considerably stricter than those of the UK and Western Europe, with notable differing laws including:

  • The Saudi legal system is stricter than the systems of other countries. Suspects can be held without charge, sometimes without swift access to legal representation, and witnesses and victims of crimes have previously been detained. Expats in Saudi Arabia may require the assistance of their Embassy in legal matters.
  • Alcohol is illegal – producing, importing or consuming alcohol can result in harsh punishments.
  • Women generally enjoy fewer rights than men in Saudi Arabia and gender segregation is a popular policy, however the reign of current King Salman has seen the emergence of female suffrage and the right to run in municipal elections. Although women are not currently allowed to drive, a recent Royal Decree means that Saudi Arabia will issue driving licenses to women from 24th June 2018.
  • Capital punishment is a legal penalty in Saudi Arabia, for offences including murder, terrorism, drug trafficking and adultery.

Expats must be careful to respect all laws and customs, in order to protect their safety and wellbeing and pursue a successful career whilst working in Saudi Arabia.

Find out more about the Laws of Saudi Arabia.

5. Job Opportunities

A strong and growing economy generates increased opportunities for employment. At the end of 2017, the number of professional jobs in Saudi Arabia rose by 35% year-on-year. The jobs market in Saudi Arabia is set to continue to grow in 2018, offering new jobs and careers for thousands of skilled expats wanting to work in Saudi Arabia.

6. Moving to Saudi Arabia from Abroad

All visitors and expats will need a visa to enter Saudi Arabia. You can apply for a visa through visa agencies accredited to the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, including the Saudi Able Link or Visa Central. British expats working in Saudi Arabia will need a valid exit or re-entry permit from the Saudi Ministry of Interior to leave the country.
Expats must also have a minimum of 6 months validity left on their passport, from the date of entry into the country, to work in Saudi Arabia.

Unsure about working in Saudi Arabia, but interested in working in the Middle East? Read our 7 Reasons to Live and Work in Abu Dhabi

Need help with finding an engineering job? Read our Top 8 Interview Tips.

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