Expat Diaries: An Insight into the Saudi Way of Life

Posted on 09/03/2014 ~ Categorized as Work
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Devika writes for Naukrigulf.com.

Expat Diaries: An Insight into the Saudi Way of Life

If you are planning to relocate to Saudi Arabia to take up a job, then the information in the following article is going to be of use to you. Before shifting base, it is vital for you to know what it’s like to live and work in this Arab ‘kingdom.’ So let us take a look at the scope of opportunities this country can offer an expat and how a person can find his way through complex formalities like the application of sponsorship and work permit.

Introducing Saudi Arabia

Lots of oil and lots of money, a layman would be able to say this little about this fascinating country.  And indeed, it is true that Saudi Arabia holds more than 20% of the world’s petroleum reserves and that its national economy is based majorly on the oil industry. Earnings from petroleum constitute 45 % of the GDP, 80% of the budget revenues and 90% of the export earnings. However, there is more than meets the eye. Lately, the country has been actively making diversification efforts to decrease its economic dependence on oil and its export. This has led to the creation of new areas of employment for those seeking to work in the secondary and tertiary sectors. Industries like petrochemical, power generation, natural gas exploration and telecommunications are fast gaining traction and offer lucrative prospects for job seekers.

Job Market for Expats

While it is a bold step to move bag and baggage to another country for work, rest assured Saudi Arabia offers plenty of job opportunities to professionals with experience and expertise. Expats can easily seek jobs in engineering (mainly in the oil industry), Information Technology, healthcare, medicine, financial services, construction, telecommunication and teaching (ideal for women). And now that Saudi Arabia is majorly investing in transport infrastructure, urban planning, water resource management and food processing, great opportunities are being created for foreign specialists with related skills and necessary experience. Hiring for managerial positions is done through private consultants representing Saudi employers in major cities around the world. Intra-company transfers within MNCs also account for a significant share of assignees from overseas. To find a job in Saudi Arabia, it is advisable to first contact your country’s Chamber of Commerce.

Work Permits and Sponsors

An expat won’t receive a work permit till he has the official letter of appointment and that won’t be possible until your potential employer is ready to sponsor you. Your sponsor will process the residency permit or Iqama within three months from the date of your entry into Saudi Arabia. Being your sponsor, the employer is expected to help you with the application process of your work permit. The role of a sponsor can be held by individuals, companies or institutions, such as your country’s Chamber of Commerce in Saudi Arabia or a business associate. Apart from this, employers also serve as guarantors and guardians. Certain individuals may expect payment for their services.

Sponsors also help you get your visa and find accommodation. Your sponsor is accountable for you and therefore is interested in your well-being and good behavior. The offences made by you during your stay in Saudi Arabia would reflect poorly upon your sponsor. So be careful. Sponsors can be fined if you are found breaking the terms of your visa. And since you are responsible for it, your sponsor may pass those fines on to you.

Expats may hold one of the different types of visas – a residency permit or Iqama, a business visa or a visitor visa and stay in Saudi Arabia on a permanent or temporary basis. Once you have the visa, you can then sponsor your spouse and children. However, make sure you don’t overstay your welcome; else there will be heavy fines or even prison sentences for overstaying your visa or not holding the right type of visa.

A foreign citizen must not try to quit his job before the end of the probation period. If he wishes to do so, he should first seek legal advice and refer to the employment contract. In case you wish to switch jobs, you can’t transfer your sponsorship without the consent of your current sponsor.

Life in Saudi Arabia

Life here can be different than what it is in the West. Riyadh is the capital and largest city of Saudi Arabia. It is located in the central region and is considered to be conservative. Saudis here usually keep to themselves and you will seldom receive invitations to the homes of the natives. Even if you are lucky enough to be invited by a native, remember that the social gathering will be limited to the menfolk as women won’t be part of it. Women love shopping but will always be found modestly dressed with full clothing and veils.

The second-largest city of Saudi Arabia, Jeddah is home to the Saudis who have lived here for centuries. Many of them have come and settled from different parts of the world, introducing a different and relaxed sense of living than you would find in other areas of the country. Jeddah comes alive in the evenings and people enjoy socializing at dinner. Here, invitations are sent to people’s homes and addressed as Mr and Mrs. Irrespective of whether the rendezvous takes place for official purpose or not, most people come with families and spend time barbecuing and picnicking at the Jeddah Corniche.

Expats must familiarize themselves with the laws and customs that prevail so that they don’t end up offending anyone or unknowingly break the laws.

A Word of Caution for Expats

If in Saudi Arabia, make sure you don’t do the following:

  • Criticism of the royal family or Islam is strictly prohibited by Saudi authorities and can lead to severe punishment.
  • People must not be photographed without their consent.
  • It is prohibited to photograph holy sites and official buildings, such as military and government institutions.
  • There is zero tolerance towards drugs (soft or hard). The use or trafficking of it makes you a drug offender, forcing Saudi Arabian authorities to give you death sentence.
  • You will be penalized for the import, possession, manufacture and consumption of pork, alcohol and illegal drugs.
  • The importation, possession or use of items considered against the tenets of Islam is also forbidden. Example, weapons and pornographic material.
  • Make sure you don’t get involved in public display of affection. This includes holding hands.
  • Homosexuality, prostitution and adultery are illegal. Punishment may include death penalty.

Even though Saudi Arabia’s moral standards and laws are considerably strict, there are several positives about staying in this kingdom. For instance, the crime rate is almost negligible. Also, there is no major risk to health or any sort of disease scare.

Shopping is a pleasurable for both men and women. In Jeddah, Riyadh and the Eastern Province, there are numerous supermarkets that carry a vast range of goods that are available in western supermarkets. The shopping complexes and malls house popular brand names like IKEA, Next, Habitat, BHS, DKNY, Harvey Nichols and some Italian fashion brands. And then of course, you have a plethora of job opportunities waiting to be tapped! So come and explore the enigmatic land of Saudi Arabia and re-discover life.


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