Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the Middle East and has built great wealth in recent decades due to its abundance of oil. The country is one of contrasts: cosmopolitan cities like Riyadh, sprawling desert landscapes, and historic cultural attractions like Al Masjid Al Haram mosque, known for the Hajj pilgrimage.
Many different nationalities reside in Saudi Arabia. There is a well-established expat community in the country, but the number of Westerners is relatively low, especially compared to the number of expats from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Most expats live in communities away from the areas dominated by Saudi nationals.
With the low cost of living and the potential to earn high wages in industries like oil, Saudi Arabia is an attractive prospect for many people. But the strict laws and potential for harsh punishments have stopped many from living in the country.
A number of legal reforms aim to redress concerns. One example is women being permitted to drive from June 2018. Having said that, it still makes sense to be aware of the rules to stay safe when living in Saudi Arabia.
Laws and culture
Saudi Arabia’s legal system follows a strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law. Many Westerns see laws in Saudi Arabia as regressive and excessively harsh. Even so, it is important to be aware of the rules when in the country to avoid severe punishment.
Crimes like the possession of drugs, homosexuality, prostitution, and consumption of alcohol can result in fines, corporal punishment, imprisonment, or worse. People considering living in Saudi should examine the laws in full before travelling.
Be aware that women have a less equal role in society than men in the country. Gender segregation laws apply in many circumstances. Female expats have slightly more freedom than Saudi nationals, such as being able to travel alone, check into a hotel, and perform other activities. Saudi women usually require a male companion
Immodest dressing, such as showing large amounts of skin, is frowned upon. Always dress modestly and be respectful to others. Although tourists and expats no longer need to wear traditional Islamic clothing, outfits must cover the shoulders and knees. Head coverings are no longer a requirement for non-Saudi women.
Taxis are arguably the best way to get around the cities. But buses and trains are equally popular as modes of public transport. It is worth being aware that taxis do not operate meters like in Western countries. It is best to arrange a fare in advance to avoid any surprise fees. Having an Arabic translator is a major advantage.
It is important to have private health insurance before living in Saudi Arabia. Although the level of healthcare in the country is excellent and delivered through a network of public and private hospitals, the cost can be exceptionally high. Private healthcare insurance is a necessity for expats from all countries.
Saudi Arabia provides many benefits, especially financially through work in the lucrative oil industry. But the traditional culture and legal system can come as a shock. Being aware of the rules is the best way to ensure safety and enjoyment when moving to live in this fascinating country.