There is no question that expats love living in Saudi Arabia. They love the Saudi people, making friends with other nationalities, the weather (in winter), the lifestyle, the work opportunities and spending time in an awesome desert environment.
But of course, you will hear complaints. They are mostly about the lack of freedoms, the discrimination and the inequality they experience in Saudi society.
It is quite true that abuses do occur and in many cases, complaints may be quite real and justified.
However, the focus of this article are the main upsides and benefits of living an expat life in the kingdom.
The following are the six main reasons why expats love living in the wonderful Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
- Complete Safety and Security
- Warm, Friendly Saudi People
- Great Tax-Free Lifestyle
- Freedom of Islam
- Booming Opportunities for Development
- Unexplored Natural Wonders
There are close to 10 million foreign workers out of a population of 23 million Saudis. This is a sizable minority of about 38%. Most are Asian and Arab nationals with a very small number of Europeans and Westerners.
Most expats live and work in the urban cities of Riyadh, Mecca, Madinah, Hofuf, Taif, Al Khobar, Fahran and Dammam.
In spite of the big differences in pay, benefits, and treatment at work between the nationalities most appreciate having a better-paid job, the opportunities and the possibilities that living and working in Saudi Arabia will afford them in the future when back in their home countries or after immigrating to a new western country.
1. Complete Safety and Security
Safety appears to be the number one concern for foreign commentators and visitors to the kingdom. For these people, lack of safety is very often confused with a lack of freedom to speak or to act.
Whilst people in Saudi Arabia are not free to speak openly on all issues nor enjoy the same freedoms they might have in a more open, liberal country, there is no doubt that Saudi Arabia is one of the safest countries in the world to live in.
There is crime, but the levels of crime are very low compared with other developed nations. In cities, you will experience some cases of petty, opportunistic thieving, drug possession, and selling, occasional acts of terrorism and murder, but day to day such crimes are not very apparent.
However, the figures do show that crime rates are still very low indeed. They range between .10 and .50 out of every 100,000 people. In principle, this is because Sharia Law is implemented in the kingdom and strict punishments are imposed for instances of both immoral or illegal behavior.
Safe to Walk the Streets
Expats love living in Saudi Arabia because they feel very safe. Streets and neighborhoods are virtually crime-free. It is safe to let children play together on the street.
You can keep your doors open at night and not get robbed. Women and children can walk around even at night without experiencing problems.
You do not see alcohol, drugs nor people who are drunk. There are few, if any, instances of sexual predators, sexual harassment, molestations, rapes, and physical assaults.
I am sure that they exist somewhere, but the numbers are so small that the probability of becoming a victim of crime is easily -99.9%.
Women expats are especially appreciative of the levels of safety they experience when going about their day to day business.
Not only that, because they are women, they receive respect and preferential treatment in Malls, shops, and supermarkets.
Muslims love children, so even in public, the safety and well being of children are utmost. Saudis are very family orientated and welcoming of children and tolerance for them is very high.
The following story of my own experience involving a little Saudi girl called Liyane illustrates this point very well.
2.Warm, Friendly Saudi People
In general, the character of Saudi men/women is traditional, warm, proud, trusting, welcoming and caring. They have some beautiful qualities, indeed.
For example, if you are a guest in his house, you get the best food, drinks, and the most welcoming attention.
In a shop or a restaurant, a Saudi friend is very likely to pay for your meal or purchase. They always pull out their wallets/purses and insist to pay.
However, there is also a kind of impulsiveness, aggression, and hotness of temper in the Saudi male character. You notice this in their driving habits.
They speed unnecessarily, cut in front of you, zig-zag across the lanes and fight for every cm of road space. It is so weird to watch.
Generally, I think expats experience Saudis as usually being very polite, friendly, peaceful and quite laid back.
They are tolerant of others, not especially racists, but they can be rough and dismissive towards nationalities that they see as lower than their own. This usually means Asians and other Arab nationals.
Americans, Westerners in general and Europeans mostly receive preferential treatment. I think this is because most westerners are highly educated, skilled doctors, engineers, and teachers and have better-paid jobs.
The Saudi Family
Saudi families are large and tribal in nature. This means that they tend to socialize, do business and relate mostly to members of the same family.
They generally live in larger groupings rather than in a modern nuclear family set up.
Saudis very respect the elders within the tribal families, usually the ones with some clout who can win positions for their family members due to having influence and good connections to the world of business and work.
Socializing between men and women who are not related is strictly prohibited by law and punishable. For this reason, other than family and married couples, men and women do not socialize together in private or in public.
What Saudi Men like to do
For men, most socialization takes place after 6 pm (Magrib) in the home or the majlis, a large traditional meeting room set up outside the home. Here, men will meet, greet, chat, have a coffee, form and strengthen bonds.
Men also love to meet in restaurants, cafes, watch big-screen football, picnic by the sea, at desert camps and drive around together in their cars.
Saudi men, like all Arabs, enjoy meeting up in groups, chatting, drinking coffee, going to the desert camp, enjoying and living in the moment, a custom rarely witnessed in Western-type countries.
For women, most social meetings happen in the home, the kitchen, shopping Malls, restaurants, cafes and in ladies’ only venues.
Meeting and Making Friends with Expat Workers
The largest groups of expats are Indians and Pakistanis. After that, there are many non-Saudi Arabs. Outside the housing compound, you meet a few European or western nationals.
If you live on a family compound your social circle is limited to the people who live in that community such as work colleagues.
To make friends outside of these groups, you need to be active and outgoing, join clubs and special interest groups.
You can be a member of sports clubs, participate in community activities and go to meetups. I really appreciate seeing and mixing with a huge variety of nationalities.
You can get to hear other languages, know other cultures and make new friends across the world. This is truly a wonderful aspect of life in the kingdom.
3.Great Tax-Free Lifestyle
Expats love a lot of things about their lives in Saudi Arabia, but nothing excites them more than the idea of living a tax-free lifestyle. Most goods in the markets are relatively cheap and the cost of living is still quite low.
There are no compulsory government taxes other than the new 5% VAT. Salaries are tax-free. Driving a car is tax-free. Housing is tax-free. Many imported goods are tax-free.
However, since 2018, VAT of 5% is charged on all goods and purchases in shops and supermarkets, etc. In spite of the VAT charge, prices for goods are still quite low compared to many other countries.
Click here to read the Simplified Guide To VAT Un Saudi Arabia.
In most towns and cities there are many hotels, great restaurants, and eateries selling all kinds of foods. Popular takeaways in the kingdom are falafel, egg and chicken sandwiches, Capsa (traditional rice and chicken), shawarmas, pizza, deep-fried chicken, spicy Indian foods and traditional Arab cuisine.
The tastiest is chicken sandwich/burger can be had at ‘Al Baik’ in Jeddah and the Western region. Arab restaurants are easily the most popular takeaway options, but equally young people love to buy fast foods.
In areas populated with Indians and Pakistanis, you find great Tandooris, rice, and hot, spicy meats.
Every house, office, shop, car, Mall or public building has air conditioning. For six months of the year, May-Nov the weather is extremely hot, 30-50 degrees C. For this reason, life without an AC system would very quickly become unbearable.
There are a number of AC systems. The most basic is the box AC used to cool individual rooms. It is the cheapest to run but too noisy. You do get used to it.
To install, simply punch a rectangular hole through your room wall, mount, insulate gaps, stick on a nice frame and plug in to start cooling.
The second is a split system that sits outside the house/apartment sending cool air from the outside into a fan unit which then cools individual room (s). It is quiet, cheap to run and very effective in one or more rooms.
The third is called a central system, This unit cools the entire house and is controlled by a remote and thermostat. The monster-sized unit sits on the (flat) roof or outside the building on the ground floor sending cold air to the vents in each room of the house or apartment.
It is the most effective cooling system but is the most expensive to run. It cools the entire house quickly, but the downside is that you cannot use it just to cool one or two rooms only, sadly!
Ridiculously Low Gas Prices
For many years, petrol prices were very low indeed, $.10, or one-tenth of a dollar per liter. However, in 2017, petrol prices at the pump jumped from .35 Halal to 1.5 SR per liter which is $.40 almost half a dollar per liter.
This means that for a long time I was able to do a weekly fill in my Ford Crown Victoria for about 25 SR on normal usage which is about $6.6.
Today, it is closer to 50-70 SR, or $16 -a massive amount by Saudi Standards. Shocking, chuckle!
Use this handy currency convertor to see prices in your country.
Of course, relatively speaking, this is not a huge amount, but do remember that cars in the kingdom are big and people need to travel long distances to get places.
However, diesel prices have remained the same. This fuel is only used in vans and large trucks. So, increased fuel prices so far have not affected the transport industry. There are no diesel cars in the Kingdom that I am aware of. Time to get one, I think!
Low Living Costs
Most expats who are employed get free accommodation and sometimes free utilities. This means that they do not have to pay a large chunk of their salaries on rent and energy bills. This leads to substantial savings in salary money which can be used to buy other things.
Numbeo reports that living in Saudi Arabia is 31.82% lower cheaper than in the United States and rents are 71.98% lower.
See Numbeo website for costs of purchases in Saudi Arabia and for comparisons with other countries.
In spite of this, prices have risen considerably in the last few years. Foodstuffs that were once subsidized, no longer are. In ten years, prices of supermarket goods have risen by 20-40%.
However, due to the mass exodus of expatriate workers and their families, the supermarket chains are competing by offering very heavily discounted volumes.
Today, prices for some food items, like tuna, beans and pasta are the same as they were in the year 2000.
Buying higher-priced items such as TVs, mobiles and gadgets is considerably cheaper in the kingdom due to the fact that taxes are much lower.
For example, today a new smartphone in Saudi Arabia is 30%-40% cheaper than in the UK due in great part to much lower VAT charges.
In spite of the increase in prices, it is still possible to save money. Salaries are not only tax-free, but they will also include a travel allowance and benefits such as free housing, hospital treatment and schooling for kids if you get employed on a family visa.
Salaries are sometimes higher than those offered in Asian and Western countries. The difference, of course, is that taxes and the cost of living are much lower and that can make all the difference in savings.
European, Western and professional Asians and Arabs have the added benefit of living on compounds. They can have maids to look after children and help considerably to do the household chores.
Drivers with cars and minibusses are also made available to transport workers and their families in and around the city.
Learning and Practicing the English Language
Though Arabic is the main language spoken in the kingdom, people in the world of work really need to know English. There are many nationalities and of course English is the lingua franca.
In cities and in the professional work environment, most Saudis know English and some very well indeed. It is still possible though to learn and practice Arabic.
However, people are so keen to speak and use their English so it will be hard.
Learning and practicing English has a great advantage for Asians and Arab expat workers who wish to become better in the language due to the fact that in the future many will use Saudi Arabia as a convenient base from which to attempt to emigrate to either Canada, Australia or Europe.
Many thankfully, succeed and leave Saudi Arabia to live in Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand or the UK.
4.Freedom of Islam
Expats, especially from Asia and the Arab nations, love to come to Saudi Arabia for Islam. They appreciate the fact that many aspects of Sharia law are applied in the legal system.
They also deeply appreciate being able to easily visit the Holy Mosques in Mecca and Madinah.
Click Here to Read 10 Heartwarming Reasons Why Muslims Adore Mecca
In spite of the many changes that are currently taking place, the practice and application of Islam are still very strong. At the time of prayer, shops, businesses, and offices close.
People make their way to the mosques for the five daily prayers. Also, many workplaces have special prayer areas that workers can use.
Everyone really appreciates the abundance of mosques to be found throughout all the towns and cities Each area of a town will have the main mosque in all the residential sectors that offer the 5 daily prayers at 5 am, 12 pm, 3 pm, 6 pm, and 8 pm.
The mosques are large and very clean spaces, with soft plush carpeting and very comfortable.
The local Muaazzin (prayer callers) also offer Quranic memorization classes for free to local children each evening during the hour between 6-8 pm at the Magrib prayer and Isha prayer times.
Unity and Brotherhood in Islam
Islam strongly encourages a value system that increases the sense of unity, brotherhood, safety and trust between Muslims. This is one of the beautiful aspects of the faith that attracted me to become a Muslim many years ago.
As a Muslim, it is easy to approach and to talk to other Muslims because there are so few psychological barriers to negotiate before you get to know the person.
Generally, this is not the case when dealing with Western or non-Muslims. Depending on the individual you are usually faced with many belief systems and psychological complexes that are often difficult to deal with and to fathom.
If he/she is Muslim, you already know and share many of his/her core principles and values. That makes getting to know someone simply a matter of character and personality because the trust and confidence have already been established.
It is because of Islam that friendships, trust, and acceptance are quickly established and easy to maintain.
5.Booming Opportunities for Development
There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia is fast changing at every level imaginable. Investment in construction and new businesses is high. The cities are expanding very quickly together with the new infrastructure.
Once only a desert, the cities are now connected by amazing US styled road systems and links within towns and cities have improved tremendously over the years.
There is a very profitable construction industry. New houses, apartment blocks, public buildings, and industrial units are appearing everywhere.
Jobs are plentiful and expats really appreciate having the chance to come to the kingdom to work and earn good salaries.
Compared to Western and European salaries, Asians and Arabs are paid less.
However, their salaries plus benefits are usually considerably more than they would receive in their home countries if they were even able to find work at all.
Many professionals get the chance to travel abroad out of the kingdom for business or professional training.
Getting visas to travel is also easier when applying from Saudi Arabia since most people are employed on decent salaries and not a risk to the host nations.
There is huge competition for jobs in Asian and Arab countries and salaries are generally very low. So, such people very much appreciate having the chance to be employed in Saudi Arabia with improved salaries, good work opportunities and hopes for emigration to Western nations.
To know exactly what expats are paid in Saudi Arabia click the following link to read the article ‘What Are The Actual Salaries For Expats?’
End of Service Benefits
There is no national system of retirement for expat workers. Employers in Saudi Arabia are legally obliged to pay End of Service benefit (ESO).
It is a lump of the sum of money that is paid to employees once work contracts have expired and just before the employee returns home.
6.Unexplored Natural Wonders
Today, Saudi Arabia is known as the last frontier that has yet to be explored by outsiders. For so long, there has been virtually no international tourism whatsoever.
However, it is a fact that every year, 15 million Muslims come to the kingdom for purposes of religious tourism. However, after the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimage ends many simply leave and return back to their home countries without exploring further.
Few have seen the amazing natural wonders, historical sites and the awesome beaches that exist in the kingdom. The Western and Southern regions of the kingdom are lush, green, mountainous and unexplored volcanoes.
They contain a wealth of ancient archaeological sites never before accessible to tourists.
That is all about to change. Now, you can get a tourist visa in 24hrs or less and easily travel to the kingdom to see these unexplored attractions.
Massive tourism projects are currently under development and the kingdom hopes to increase the number to a further 15-20 million visitors by the year 2030.
For Saudi Arabia, tourism is a much-needed source of income that is not crude oil.
Click this link to see Umluj, Tabuk and the many visitor sites in the Western region of Saudi Arabia.
You have not seen Saudi Arabia until you have visited a desert camp. Once the permanent home of the Bedouin is today for weekend entertainment and relaxation.
The camps are located in isolated sandy, environments. They are large fenced enclosures containing tents, huts, camel and animal shelters.
Here, men, women, and families meet to enjoy the cool, quiet vastness of the desert camps with the hospitable company.
Food is cooked and served. Coffee, tea and soft drinks are always available. You can play sports, have fun riding beach buggies or drive up and down the sand dunes in SUVs and off-road vehicles.
WARNING! Drink untreated camel milk at your own risk. The Bedouin swears by its benefits, but his/her stomach got accustomed to drinking this milk long ago.
When you go, take lots of water to drink, a flashlight, a warm blanket, comfortable clothes to use sitting on the floor and a camera.
Try to relax, enjoy and appreciate the desert environment and just let yourself be yourself.
In conclusion, these are the 5 main reasons why expats love to work and live in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Recent changes and Saudization has meant that many expat jobs are now being taken by Saudi nationals and no longer available for foreign workers.
Dependence on labor from abroad is fast ending and employment opportunities are becoming less and less each day.
In the future, there will still be working expats in the kingdom, but perhaps only for short contracts and to provide certain expertise on the job.
Saudi Arabia is investing heavily in tourism and in the future, there will be many more foreign tourists than ever.