Expat Living in Saudi Arabia
This website (Living in Saudi Arabia) is dedicated to all of those expatriates working and living in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A land of many opportunities and at the same time many disappointments.
Why work in Saudi Arabia? Most of us expats have come to Saudi Arabia for one reason, Money, the root of all evil as some would say, and something that some would say the Saudi’s have more than their fair share of due to the Oil found beneath their sands.
But this wealth has led to an opportunity for many of us to come and work in this ultra-religious and very private society. For some this is an adventure and a chance to mix with people with a very different background and culture whilst for others it is a chore of immense proportions.
Life in Saudi Arabia
If you are living in Saudi Arabia and from the west then you are probably living in a comfortable villa on a western compound with the facilities that would normally be found on a small holiday camp in the Costa Del Sol. You probably have a salary that you would have only dreamed of if you were back home and to cap it all you have zero tax to pay and are enjoying free accommodation and schooling also as part of your package.
At the other end of the scale you could be from a poor part of India and have managed to scrape together and borrow enough to get yourself a job in Saudi Arabia as a domestic in some large subcontracting company in KSA. You may have found yourself thrown into an untidy and overcrowded dormitory where you are locked away at night to protect yourself from yourself, woken in the morning to be bused to work and escorted everywhere you go. Your salary although large for back home is totally inadequate for you to do anything beyond your dormitory and at times your salary may be months late!
You may also be a maid working for a wealth family in Saudi Arabia with spacious living quarters, a friendly and helpful family who value you and treat you with respect, conversely you may have to share a room akin to a cupboard with another maid, sexually abused and threatened that you will be arrested if you try to run away and your family will cease to get your valuable wages that they rely on to survive!
Working in Saudi Arabia can be a real gamble if you are not familiar with who you are going to work for, less so for people from the west, but those from less affluent countries can find themselves in a situation akin to being in prison!How expats are treated in Saudi Arabia very much depends on where they have come from in the world, if you look Asian rather than western you will be treated fairly poorly as most Saudis will think you are the tea boy or the driver.
Westerners who come to live in KSA have a number of different attitudes, there are those who wish to explore the local culture and try to mix with the locals and visit historical sites (those that are open to non-Muslims), and there are others like a couple of American friends of mine who refuse to leave the safety of their compound!
I am one of those that likes to mix and explore where ever I go, I have spent about half of my time in the kingdom living on compound and the other half living in apartments as if I were a local (something that I have been advised is not strictly allowed for a foreigner from the west – but what the hell) During my time I have been threatened with violence as a “victim” of road rage and have been verbally abused by youths and once spat at, incidents that on reflection were just as likely (if not more so) to have happened at home – and certainly would be far worst if I were an Arab back home! In general living in Saudi Arabia I have felt safer on the streets than in any other country I have lived in or visited.
Getting to Saudi Arabia
Finding work in Saudi Arabia is not too difficult, getting your Saudi Visa however may be a bit of a chore. I have had both a Saudi Business Visa and a Work Visa for Saudi, each has given me problems, even to the point where I was thrown out of the Saudi Embassy in the UK and even worse I had to risk paying someone to help me leave Saudi Arabia illegally as my visa had expired.
Women living in Saudi Arabia
However If I were a woman working in Saudi Arabia; the story I am sure would be totally different, freedoms for women are severely restricted. A woman cannot drive, they must wear an Abaya in public, cannot mix with men unless they are married to them or a direct blood relative. Being alone on the street would leave them in danger of being stopped as a prostitute! It is also not safe to walk alone as a woman, I often see cars stop to harass women walking alone in the hope that the woman may be a prostitute (some are) and at times the men can be overly forceful and abduct and rape women – something the woman is unlikely to be able to complain about if they are not a Saudi woman! My wife has been dragged into a car and had to use a knife to escape, a friend was grabbed outside our building (a nice neighborhood) by a man who tried to drag her into his car causing severe bruising before she managed to escape; the police did nothing because she was a Filipina!
Living by the Rules in KSA
If you are living within Saudi Arabia you will be aware of the many rules that you have to abide by, restrictions that would be challenged in any court in the west. But this is Saudi Arabia, the birth place of the Muslim religion and the Saudi interpretation of the rules is extreme. Prayers are observed 5 times per day and everything stops, I mean everything; stores close, businesses stop and everyone goes to pray in the mosque, in the office or even in the street. If you time your visit to the supermarket wrongly you will find yourself with a full trolley and a 30 to 40 minute wait before the checkout staff return.
But despite the rules, the heat (sometimes 50 degrees), Saudi working practices and the frequent encounters with people you want to strangle; I have found living in Saudi Arabia to be one of the best experiences of my life (after all I met my wife here!)