The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), once an underdeveloped desert country, is now the fifteenth largest global economy thanks to substantial oil and gas reserves and its place as the world’s leading producer of oil.
The Kingdom was placed 62nd out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2020. The country ranked particularly highly in protecting minority investors (3rd) and registering property (19th). The Kingdom didn’t fare as well in categories such as resolving insolvency (168th) and trading across borders (86th).
Saudi Arabia is considered one of the most conservative countries in the world. Nevertheless, there ar emany reasons that make it a perfect place for living. It is worth having deeper knowledge about the country before labeling it as „no go place”. Here you can find some important informations about expats’ life in Saudi Arabia.
One of the major differences living in Saudi Arabia is the restriction on alcohol. It is strictly forbidden. Many foreigners consider it as an advantage though. The country is safe and lacking of alcoholand drugs, which makes it a perfect place to bring up children.
The month of Ramadan is a feature of life in the Middle East. During this month, eating, drinking and smoking are not permitted in public, from sunrise to sunset. This is strictly adhered to and even as a non-Muslim it is unacceptable to partake in any of the above.
There is no personal income tax in Saudi Arabia.
According to the new visa law (issued in the last quarter of 2019), the private Saudi companies are able to get permanent working visa for their wpatriate workers through a special online service. It facilitates a lot theprocess, which previously used to take around 8 months.
The same legal changes brought the possibility of obtaining the permanent residence permit (cost of 800 riyals, while the one-year residence permit cost is 100 riyals).
Saudi Arabia ha salso launched tourist visas, previously accessible only for pilgrims to Mecca. The new, 90-days tourist visa application form is available online.
Life in Saudi Arabia
Life in Saudi Arabia means enjoying amenities which some expatriates may not have in their home countries.
The mobile phone and Internet system is excellent (except for deep deserts areas) and the modern buildings are equipped with air conditioning.
Newspapers, Radio stations and TV broadcasters are available in Arabic, English and a few other languages to cater to the needs of foreigners living in Saudi Arabia. Since lifting the ban in 2017 the country’s residents are able to use all the social media and internet communicators, including Skype and WhatsApp.
Despite its progressive flair, modern infrastructure and booming economy, religious traditions are an essential aspect of life in Saudi Arabia. Thus living in the country may mean for foreigners having to adhere to a different etiquette, dress more modestly and deal with some limitations in their daily lives.
All Saudis practice Islam, which provides guidance and rules for their personal, economic, political, legal and social lives. Religious obligations such as prayer times are embedded into public and business life and are not considered flexible, and most businesses will close on a Friday, the Muslim holy day.
Many foreigners new to the country will have to adapt to significant limits to public interaction and contact between men and women, even in business environments. Saudi Arabia is the most gender-segregated country in the world and public places such as shopping malls, restaurants and the workplace have entire areas which are female-only.
Female businesswomen meeting male counterparts in public locations are expected to be accompanied by another male.
Appropriate dress is taken very seriously in Saudi society and is an aspect which foreign visitors should familiarise themselves with to avoid giving offence. In public Saudis and visitors alike are expected to dress conservatively and foreign men should always wear long trousers, not shorts, and long-sleeved shirts. There are specific rules for female dress outside the home including covering the hair and wearing the abaya , a traditional black over garment.
Although non-Saudi, non-Muslim women are not expected to wear a veil, it is advisable for foreign women to wear the abaya and to carry a headscarf for occasions where covering of the hair is appropriate. Adapting clothing and behaviours to the local circumstances is critical, particularly for women, and can help in establishing new business relationships.
Hands and feet also feature prominently within Saudi etiquette and are linked to specific customs. When shaking hands or
accepting refreshment, for example, the right hand should always be used, as the left is considered unclean. In the same way the soles of the shoes or feet should never be shown as this is perceived as insulting to the host, and highly offensive. Therefore feet should be kept flat on the ground or extreme care should be taken when crossing legs.
Healthcare in Saudi Arabia is highly regarded around the world and in many cases offers facilities comparable to those in the USA and Western Europe. There are three types of hospitals in KSA: public, university and private hospitals. The last ones divide into four categories from A (the most expensive and luxurious) to D class.
Health insurance is mandatory for all non-nationals entering the country in order to help maintain the existing healthcare
infrastructure. The provision of health insurance is generally a necessity before visas or work permits will be granted. There are generally two forms of insurance enjoyed by foreigners: employer-provided care and/or private expat health insurance.
Many expatriates moving to Saudi Arabia for work will be provided with a health insurance policy by their employer. This is generally accepted as being the most cost-effective solution, however there are a few caveats to be aware of. Firstly, the care provided by many Saudi hospitals is best described as a co-payment system meaning that even with employer-provided insurance the individual will still normally need to pay a subsidized fee for care or prescriptions. Secondly, one should carefully inspect the fine-print of any employer-provided health insurance policy for Saudi Arabia. The reason for this is that you should be certain to understand what procedures are, and are not, covered by such a policy.
Private health insurrance policy is certainly more expensive, but obviously provides wider range of services. Such insurrances often include medical repatriation, entry to the private medical facilities and dental care (which is costly and thus usually absent in the first type of insurrances).
There are 30 banks in Saudi Arabia, of which 13 are local and 17 are international. Thus banking is easily accessible in the KSA’s territory with ATMs (interfaces available in English) to be found in bank branches, shopping malls and on the streets.
Banks are modern and up-to-date, with branches in every town across the country. Nearly every bank offers internet banking and phone banking services alike. Consequently, customers can choose how to manage their finances; whether over the counter at a branch or remotely via the internet when banking in Saudi Arabia.
Expatriates generally prefer living in “Western compounds”, which are self-contained, walled townships, insulated from the
mainstream. Here you can dress how you like and move around without restrictions; but only within the premises of the compound. You will have access to a host of facilities like swimming pools, community parks, restaurants, convenience stores etc. Other popular types of accommodation in KSA are villas, townhouses and appartments. In all cases the air conditioning is provided.
There are strict rules you need to know – even within compounds. Pets, for instance, are frowned upon in most places. External guests will have to show their ID at various checkpoints. And if you are a man, single women cannot visit you
Renting a property in Saudi is cheaper compared to countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. In addition, utilities and maintenance are often included in the rent.
Public transport in Saudi Arabia is not popular and thus rather not available.Due to the very low prices of gasoline and well-maintained network of roads and highways, it is very convenient to own a car.
Cost of Living
One of the biggest expenses is education. Expats’ children cannot attend public schools in Saudi Arabia. Therefore the parents need to pay international schools’ fees, which are relatively high.
Electronic goods, groceries and tobacco products are reasonably priced. However, imported food and eating out can be costly.
Foreigners moving to Saudi Arabia usually have lucrative work contracts with attractive benefit packages, including private health insurance, house or housing allowance etc. Thus, their standard of living es much higher than it could have been in their home countries.