Hello everyone, and welcome back to my blog, the best place to learn about expat life, intercultural skills, and business abroad. You may have seen my YouTube videos 10 Questions about Saudi Arabia: Answered and 10 Reasons Why I loved Living in Saudi. Now it’s time to answer 10 more questions about life in the Kingdom. Keep reading to find out even more info that you always wanted to know about Saudi Arabia!
As you may know from my previous articles, I lived in Saudi Arabia for 4 years from 2016-2020. For the last 2 years, I continue going back for my own business activities, so my experience spans over a total of 6 years. I really hope that this article helps you understand in depth about what life is like in Saudi Arabia.
I personally had an extremely positive, and in fact, life-changing experience. I encourage others to open their mind and see what Saudi Arabia has to offer.
10 MORE Questions about Saudi Arabia: Answered!
1. What is driving all the changes in Saudi society at the moment?
If you guessed the Vision 2030, you were right. The Vision 2030, which came out in 2016 is the government’s plan to diversify the economy away from dependence on oil revenues.
The result is that there is massive development happening in many sectors, and many mega projects, including NEOM, a completely new city being built in the Tabuk region of northwest Saudi.
In addition to the development, you also see a lot of positive reforms for example in terms of women’s rights and labor law. And the way I see it, the Vision 2030 is also something that has kind of united the country and instilled a lot of hope in people, by asserting that the country’s best resource is not oil, but its people.
70% of Saudi’s population is under age 30!
So as a result you see many new initiatives in training and education as well as opportunities for entrepreneurs to develop themselves and compete for funding for their businesses. And the Vision 2030 is also the reason why there are so many opportunities for expats like you and me, right now.
2. What is it like to work there as an expat?
You will find that office culture is quite similar to the US or in Europe, with a regular schedule of usually 8-5. The difference is the workweek is Sunday-Thursday in Saudi which takes some getting used to, but it’s not a big deal.
About the work environment, you will find a positive, easy-going and generally non-competitive atmosphere. Saudis are easy to work with, extremely flexible, and will always go out of their way to help you.
Also, if you’re wondering about the conditions, Saudi has really strong Labor Law in place, which applies to Saudis and expats alike. Then even go as far as to prohibit certain behaviors specifically, so as to prevent any sort of workplace abuses.
Have a look at this amendment to Saudi Labor Law which came out on October 20, 2019: The Protection Against Behavioral Abuses.
I was working in Saudi during the pandemic, and my employer was quick at responding to all of the needs that the pandemic created. They quickly put into place a remote working policy and once travel became possible again, people were allowed to take their remote working period in another country. By the way, Saudi was number 2 in the world for their handling of the pandemic.
Saudi was #2 in the world for their handling of the pandemic!
(The UAE was #1.)
3. How can I find a job there?
The best way to find a job in Saudi Arabia is through LinkedIn.
Click on “jobs” then enter the type of role you’re looking for. I put corporate trainer, and the location. I put Saudi Arabia, but you can also enter the specific city, like Riyadh. All the jobs of that type will come out, and then click on the toggle for “set alert.”
You can also search on the following websites:
And don’t forget to apply to work in the giga projects:
Most of the interviews for jobs in Saudi Arabia are conducted online. Once in a while you’ll find an employer who wants to fly you in to the country for your interviews, or maybe meet you in a major city, but most of the time it’s done online.
4. How do I get a visa?
Once you have a job offer, the employer will process some documents there in Saudi Arabia and send them to you. Then, you have to take those documents, and your passport and whatever other required documents, and visit the nearest “VFS Tasheel” Visa Processing Center, which is the official agency accepting Saudi visa applications around the world.
The Saudi Embassies and Consulates generally do not accept visa applications directly, so most likely you will go through VFS Tasheel Center. Keep in mind that you will probably have to obtain a “degree attestation” so please plan for the extra time that might take. I think that for me, the whole process, including degree attestation and visa issuance, took around 8 weeks. However, I have heard of it taking several months for some of my expat friends, so the processing time can vary significantly.
Please note that degree attestation and long processing times are part of the employment visa process. Business visit visas generally take only 1-3 business days.
In all cases, you must give your fingerprints in the VFS Tasheel Center.
5. Is there any long-term visa option?
Yes, in 2021 the Premium Residency Visa came out, which costs 100,000 Saudi riyals ($26,666) per year for residence. And if you want to have the right to live and work there forever, you can pay 800,000 Saudi riyals ($213,333) for a lifetime Premium Residency visa.
The Premium Residency Visa gives you the right to live, work, and do business in Saudi without a sponsor.
Cost: 100,000 SAR ($26,666) per year
800,000 SAR ($213,000) lifetime
6. What are the living conditions like for expats?
Most expats live in a compound, which is a kind of tiny village isolated from the rest of Saudi society. If you want my personal opinion, I would suggest not living in a compound, so that you can be fully integrated into Saudi society and have a true cultural experience.
If you do live on a compound, it’s possible that that accommodation will be arranged by the employer as part of your package, and in other cases you may have to arrange your own housing.
Just keep in mind that compounds vary in quality and the facilities they offer, but many are super-nice like resorts, with their own swimming pools, gyms, sports facilities, 24-7 gated security, and people to assist you with things like maintenance on your house, etc.
If you’ve received a job offer and you need to arrange your own housing, just ask around about the different compounds so that you can choose one that suits your preferences.
7. Can I bring my pets?
Yes, you may bring companion animals like cats and dogs with you to Saudi Arabia.
I recommend consulting the Facebook group “Pet Imports Saudi Arabia” for more information on import procedures and documentation required.
8. Can I open a business?
Yes, it is now possible to open a 100% expat-owned business in many sectors. Some sectors still require partnership with a local. Keep in mind that Saudi corporate tax will be higher without a Saudi partner.
Also, you must have an already-established business abroad to be eligible to be a partner in a Saudi-based business. This includes having been a sole proprietor or freelancer. In any case, you need to produce 2 years of audited financial statements for your foreign business.
By the way, now is a great time to open a business in Saudi Arabia. Many sectors are rapidly developing and opening up many opportunities in:
- Food and Beverage
- Education and Training
- Health Care
If you need help with the logistics of opening a business, like obtaining a business license or finding a potential Saudi partner, or business visit visa support, or just any other information, I recommend contacting AEI Saudi, and don’t forget to tell them that Cheryl sent you.
9. Will I be bored?
No, you will not be bored, because there are plenty of things to do in Saudi. I know that the general perception is it’s all desert and camels. Well, even if I’ve seen many of these cheeky fellows wandering around, Saudi is much more than desert and camels.
There are cinemas, spas, resorts, sports centers, wonderful restaurants and cafes, and plenty of outdoor activities like desert hikes, and a wealth of amazing historic sites to discover. Some of the most beautiful places include:
By the way, the Red Sea is one of the best places in the world to learn scuba diving, due to the following reasons:
- It’s stunningly beautiful
- It’s inexpensive to get certified
- Not as many dangerous sea creatures that can harm you, like in an ocean
- Warm weather year-round means you can go diving whenever you want
If you want to find activities and meet Saudis as well as other expats, I recommend joining the following three websites and checking out the events in your area:
10. Can I find the food I like there?
First of all, I encourage you to try Arabic food, as it is delicious. But if you’re having a hankering for foods from back home, don’t worry.
Saudi has giant supermarket chains that import international foods from all over the world. You can find just about everything you have back home, even ethnic foods, and foods for special dietary requirements like gluten-free and vegan.
I myself eat a vegan, gluten-free diet, and I never had any problems finding many varieties of all the foods I needed, both in supermarkets and in restaurants. And don’t forget besides the amazing Arabic food restaurants, you can find all the international restaurant chains that you know and love, TGIFridays, Applebee’s, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and many more.
So that’s it for this article on 10 More Questions About Saudi Arabia: Answered! Thank you for reading, hope you found it useful, and hope you will also give Saudi a chance!
Founder of Cheryl Obal & Associates
Cheryl Obal & Associates is a cross-cultural training and consulting company that helps businesses improve their cross-cultural competence.
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