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Weather in Saudi Arabia

Expats will find the weather in Saudi Arabia a challenging factor to contend with. Except for the province of Asir on the western coast, the country is mostly desert. Rainfall is sparse, days are incredibly hot and temperatures can drop drastically at night.

Variation in climate in Saudi Arabia largely occurs between the interior and the coastal regions – temperatures inland can get extremely high. Expats will most likely have a difficult time adjusting to highs that regularly soar above 104°F (40°C) during the day. Summers are long and dry. On the other hand, winter temperatures can dip below freezing. Saudi Arabia also experiences dust storms, which can make outdoor activities difficult.

Expats should be wary of the possibility of heatstroke and exhaustion, especially from May to September.


Diversity and inclusion in Saudi Arabia

For centuries, the region now known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been a meeting point for different cultures and civilisations, thanks to its geographical location at the crossroads of Africa, Asia and Europe. Moreover, as the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia has centuries of experience welcoming tens of thousands to millions of international pilgrims annually for Hajj and Umrah, contributing to the Kingdom's cultural and ethnic diversity.

On the other hand, the Kingdom has traditionally been more conservative regarding social policies and legal inclusivity. The changes seen today in aspects of accessibility, gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights and other facets of diversity and inclusion represent a recent and radical shift in the societal and political landscape of Saudi Arabia.

From driving its Vision 2030 – a strategic framework for a prosperous future – to enacting meaningful reforms and initiatives, the country is gradually transforming its narrative on inclusion and diversity. This progress has not come easily though, and many activists who have campaigned for better treatment for women or minorities are currently imprisoned or under travel bans.

Freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is a nation deeply rooted in Islamic principles and traditions, forming the backbone of its legal and societal structures. The Kingdom is unique in that it hosts the two holiest sites of Islam, Mecca and Medina, and thus holds a special place in the hearts of millions of Muslims worldwide.

However, this deep-rooted religious belief translates into a governance system where religious freedom is strictly limited, particularly for non-Muslims and those who follow different interpretations of Islam. Public displays of non-Islamic religious symbols are not allowed, and conversion from Islam to another religion is considered apostasy, which can attract severe legal penalties.

Freedom of expression is also highly regulated in Saudi Arabia. The government exercises significant control over the media and online communication, which are closely monitored for content deemed critical of the state, Islam or the royal family.

This has created a restrictive environment for journalists and activists, who often face considerable risks in pursuing free speech. It is essential to note that the interpretation of these laws can vary and is often influenced by broader political dynamics.

There have been signs of a gradual shift towards a more open society. Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 includes objectives related to enhancing cultural expression and promoting a vibrant society. The advent of social media has also provided a new platform for Saudis to voice their opinions and engage in public discourse. That said, it is clear that the journey towards greater freedom in Saudi Arabia is a complex and ongoing process, and much work is yet to be done.

Further reading

Human Rights Watch World Report 2022: Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia Vision 2030: Creating a Vision for All

Accessibility in Saudi Arabia

In line with its mission of inclusivity, Saudi Arabia has been implementing significant policy changes to improve accessibility for all, particularly those with disabilities. Additional support is granted to individuals with disabilities and their families through financial assistance and facilitation services. The government offers an amount of SAR 150,000 as a substitute for insuring a car designed for people with disabilities, and a reduction card for passenger fees is provided, giving a 50-percent discount on government transportation. Furthermore, a traffic facilities card allows easy access to public utility parking lots and unrestricted parking in designated spots throughout the Kingdom.

Major cities such as Riyadh and Jeddah have seen considerable improvements in their public transport systems, with features such as ramps and tactile paving aiding those with mobility and visual impairments. Many public parks, shopping centres and government facilities have similarly become more accessible. Taxi services, in keeping with these upgrades, are also becoming more accessible for people with disabilities, as mandated by national regulations.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has ratified various international conventions and enacted national laws like the Disability Act, updated in 2018, to strengthen the rights of people with disabilities. This mandates accessible services and facilities in public spaces and new buildings, and reserves a certain quota of jobs in both public and private sectors for people with disabilities. An electronic service also enables people with disabilities registered with the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development to request a letter of support for an exemption from visa fees.

Further reading

Disability:IN Country Profile: Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia Unified National Platform: Rights of People with Disabilities

Saudi Arabia Human Resources and Social Development: Empowering People with Special Needs

LGBTQ+ in Saudi Arabia

Addressing LGBTQ+ rights in Saudi Arabia is undeniably challenging. Currently, the Kingdom enforces laws that effectively criminalise and severely punish homosexual activity and transgender expression, making life considerably difficult for individuals in the LGBTQ+ community. Because extramarital sex and same-sex marriage are illegal, homosexuality is effectively prohibited and is punished severely. Transgender identity is also punished under vague laws against cross-dressing and laws against public expression that may impinge on public morals, religious values and privacy.

Despite this, Saudi Arabia claims to welcome LGBTQ+ visitors as tourists. In May 2023, the official Saudi Tourism Authority (STA) added a question to their FAQ section, asking if LGBT tourists are welcome to visit Saudi Arabia. The response reads, "Everyone is welcome to visit Saudi Arabia and visitors are not asked to disclose such personal details." Regardless of these claims, we encourage any LGBTQ+ tourists or expats to take extreme caution when in Saudi Arabia, as there's still no guarantee of safety.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, among other international bodies, emphasise the need for change, highlighting the harsh legal penalties, repression, persecution and social stigma endured by LGBTQ+ individuals in the Kingdom.

Despite the challenging socio-legal context, there are discreet and primarily online-based initiatives that offer some semblance of community and support. These covert networks provide resources, dialogue and a shared space for individuals who may otherwise feel isolated. However, caution is necessary due to the severe legal penalties associated with LGBTQ+ identities. The risks are high, but these communities offer solace and solidarity in an isolating society.

Awareness of the challenging socio-legal context, being mindful of public behaviour, and knowing about potential resources for help are crucial for the safety and well-being of LGBTQ+ people in Saudi Arabia.

Further reading

Human Dignity Trust: Saudi Arabia Country Profile

Rainbow Railroad: Helping LGBTQI people escape state-sponsored violence

Gender equality in Saudi Arabia

The past decade has seen Saudi Arabia undergo a profound societal shift, with women's rights and gender equality at the forefront of this change. In 2020, the World Bank named Saudi Arabia the top reformer of the year for expanding women's economic participation and freedom to travel. On the other hand, the codification of male guardianship, whereby a woman requires a male relative's consent for almost everything – including marriage, inheritance and family matters – has concretised a tradition of misogyny.

Saudi Arabia was ranked 127th out of 153 countries in the World Economic Forum's 2022 Global Gender Gap Report, but the country is making strides towards improvement. The Vision 2030 plan sets further goals for empowering women and reducing the wage gap. The Saudi Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (HRSD) and its Women Empowerment initiative is an example of the government's efforts to improve women's participation in the economy, and women now comprise over one-third of the workforce.

While the Saudi workforce has traditionally seen an under-representation of women, the government has proposed several initiatives to address this and the wage gap, although their implementation and effectiveness are yet to be seen. One of the recent changes includes the introduction of a 2022 law that grants ten weeks of maternity leave, extendable for health reasons, and one week of paternity leave.

Despite these advances, the United Nations Women's Report indicates that significant challenges remain. These include the male guardianship system, societal discrimination against women and the detention of women's rights activists, signalling a need for further societal acceptance of gender equality.

Further reading

National Unified Portal: Women Empowerment in Saudi Arabia

Human Resources and Social Development: Women's Empowerment in Saudi Arabia

UN Women: Saudi Arabia Summary

UN Women: Saudi Arabia Snapshot

Women in leadership in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has seen a rise in women occupying high-ranking positions in recent years, an essential aspect of gender equality.

In 2019, Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan was appointed the country's ambassador to the United States, becoming the first Saudi woman to hold such a significant diplomatic position. As of 2022, approximately 20 percent of seats in the Saudi Arabian Parliament are occupied by women, signifying an increase in their political participation. A similar if more limited development is seen in the corporate sector, where women now occupy around 7 percent of board positions in the Kingdom's listed companies.

Despite societal norms and expectations hindering women's advancement in leadership roles, Saudi initiatives like those by Women20 Saudi Arabia continue to advocate for women's participation in decision-making positions. These efforts are pivotal for fostering a leadership culture that is representative of both genders.

Further reading

Saudi Embassy: Factsheet on Progress for Women in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Ministry of Commerce: Initiatives and Services for Women

Mental health awareness in Saudi Arabia

Mental health awareness is increasingly significant in Saudi Arabia, and although the government is taking steps to address mental health, there are many barriers to overcome. In 2022, PwC reported that 80 percent of Saudis with severe mental disorders do not seek treatment, showing that destigmatisation is a key requirement for improving access to mental healthcare. PwC also found that about 15 percent of the Kingdom's population suffers from mental illnesses, with only 2.85 psychiatrists per 100,000 residents in the region.

For expats, transitioning to a new country can be challenging, possibly increasing susceptibility to disorders such as depression and anxiety. Factors like work stress, societal expectations and unfamiliarity with new surroundings can intensify these issues. In cities like Riyadh and Jeddah, long work hours due to competitive job markets contribute to these mental health concerns.

In recent decades, there has been a shift from a centralised system to community-based services, with increased investment in mental health centres.

Further reading

PwC Middle East: The Socioeconomic Impact of Mental Illness

WHO Mental Health Atlas 2020: Saudi Arabia Profile

Unconscious bias education in Saudi Arabia

Understanding unconscious bias is paramount in Saudi Arabia's rapidly changing social landscape. Unconscious bias refers to unintentional assumptions or stereotypes of individuals towards groups that are different from their own. These biases are not consciously adopted but evolve subtly over time and can significantly affect interpersonal dynamics and decision-making processes.

Historically, societal norms in Saudi Arabia have created biases that can limit full inclusion and equality, particularly in the context of gender and age. These unconscious biases can significantly impact workplace dynamics, potentially influencing hiring decisions, promotion practices and employee engagement, impacting a company's talent acquisition and retention strategies.

Another example of unconscious bias is the traditional social stratification in Saudi Arabia. This places Saudis at the top of the social structure, followed by other Arabs, then white expats, with a large Asian population who perform manual labour under inhumane working conditions.

Nepotism can also influence workplace equality, with colleagues from one's family or tribe seen as more trustworthy and deserving of preferential treatment.

Diversification of the workforce in Saudi Arabia

With its rich cultural heritage and significant expat population, Saudi Arabia has a diverse social landscape that's increasingly reflected in its labour market. According to the Saudi General Authority for Statistics, there were 12.9 million workers in 2019, of which 3.1 million were Saudi Arabian. The workforce is becoming more heterogeneous, comprising individuals of various nationalities and skill sets. While Saudis have always been hospitable to foreigners, the individual experience can vary depending on cultural and social factors.

Workforce diversification, a central tenet of the Saudi Vision 2030 strategy, seeks to build an inclusive and dynamic labour market. Despite the progress, certain groups, mainly non-Arab expats, sometimes encounter challenges due to cultural differences and language barriers. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development has devised strategies to enhance labour market diversification, hoping this will lead to a more robust and resilient economy.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has also highlighted the importance of migrant workers in enhancing workforce diversity in Saudi Arabia, finding that migrant workers make up approximately one-third of the workforce in the Kingdom. Although these workers play a vital role in Saudi Arabia's construction, healthcare, domestic work and hospitality sectors, they have also been subjected to unfair labour practices and unfit living conditions. Much more must be done to ensure that all workers are protected by labour laws and have access to decent work opportunities.

Further reading

International Labour Organisation: Labour Market Survey in KSA

UNDP: Arab Human Development Report Summary

Safety in Saudi Arabia

As per the 2022 Global Peace Index, Saudi Arabia is ranked 119th among the countries assessed, indicating that while it maintains a level of security, there are several countries which score higher in terms of peace and safety. It's always advisable for newcomers and residents to exercise vigilance and keep personal belongings secure, particularly in crowded areas.

Travel advisories from the US Department of State emphasise that, despite a moderate peace ranking, Saudi Arabia generally maintains a high level of security. Some of this security, however, is due to the elevated risk of terror attacks from Iranian and Yemeni militants.

Road safety is another crucial concern in Saudi Arabia. The driving culture can be aggressive and unpredictable, particularly during peak traffic hours. Newcomers may initially find the driving environment challenging. Therefore, public transport, particularly in larger cities like Riyadh and Jeddah, could be a safer and more convenient option for expats.

Further reading

US State Department: Saudi Arabia Travel Advisory

Calendar initiatives in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia, in its commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion, acknowledges a variety of awareness days and months as well as national celebrations. These events offer golden opportunities for residents and expats alike to join dialogues, learn more about various causes and express solidarity:

  • February: World Cancer Month
  • 2 April: World Autism Awareness Day
  • 23 September: National Day of Saudi Arabia
  • October: Breast Cancer Awareness Month
  • 14 November: World Diabetes Day
  • 3 December: International Day of Persons with Disabilities
  • December: Human Rights Month

Doing Business in Saudi Arabia

Expats anticipating doing business in Saudi Arabia should prepare themselves for a unique experience. The Saudi corporate world is perhaps the most unfamiliar out of the Gulf countries for most Western expats. New arrivals will have to remain flexible and learn new skills in order to make a real success of their time in the country.

Fast facts

Business language

The official language of Saudi Arabia is Arabic, but English is widely spoken and understood in the business world and is the lingua franca between expats. While it's always a good idea to learn at least basic Arabic, many Saudis speak good English.

Hours of business

Saudis generally work from Sunday to Thursday, with Friday and Saturday being weekend days. Business typically operates from 8am to 12pm and then 4pm to 8pm, with a long midday break to beat the heat.

Business dress

Business attire in Saudi Arabia is strictly smart and conservative. Men typically wear suits and ties for business meetings, despite the heat. Women should wear clothing that covers at least the shoulders and knees, but further coverage down to the ankles and wrists is better. Clothing should not be tight.

Although it's no longer legally required for expat women to wear an abaya, many businesswomen still prefer to bring one or two along on Saudi business trips. Abayas are always appropriate, so it takes the guesswork out of dressing. A headscarf can also be helpful for blending in.


It is not obligatory to exchange gifts when meeting Saudi business associates for the first time – though it might be appreciated. Gifts should be wrapped and of high quality. Alcohol, knives and pork products should be avoided.

Gender equality

In recent years, the Saudi Arabian government has started taking steps to increase the percentage of women in the workplace. However, women in Saudi Arabia still play a very small role in public life, and even less so in the corporate world. Female expats looking to do business in Saudi Arabia are warned that, over and above potential difficulties in getting work visas, they may be seen as lesser in the business world in Saudi Arabia. This can make it hard to forge the kind of connections that are essential to successful business practice in the region.

Business culture in Saudi Arabia

Importance of Islam

Saudi society is underpinned by the tenets of Islam. Expats, therefore, need to familiarise themselves with the basic guidelines for how to conduct themselves appropriately within Islamic society so as not to cause offence. Those who take the time to understand the values behind some Islamic traditions may also find them more tolerable. Unlike in Western countries, where secularism is generally encouraged, the Islamic faith directly informs social, political, legal and economic institutions in Saudi Arabia.


The business culture of Saudi Arabia is prototypically Arabic. Great emphasis is placed on personal relationships between associates. Saudi businessmen will always prefer to do business with people they are familiar with and who they feel they can trust. For this reason, nepotism is prevalent in the Saudi business world and is viewed as both natural and advantageous.

Establishing personal connections

Expats will also have to remain patient during their first business meetings with new Saudi partners. A significant amount of time will be devoted to getting to know each other before any actual business is conducted. The forging of long-term, personal business relationships in Saudi Arabia shouldn't be rushed and is best considered an investment.


The management style that predominates in Saudi Arabia is paternalistic and strictly hierarchical. Decisions are made at the top level, and clear, direct instructions are then filtered down.

Business etiquette in Saudi Arabia reflects an intimate relationship between spiritual, personal and professional life. When greeting new associates, handshakes are common among men. To show the necessary respect, expats should start with the most senior person present. Physical contact between unrelated men and women in public is frowned upon.

Eye contact is also extremely important in Saudi Arabia and is often considered an indicator of sincerity. However, women should avoid direct eye contact with men they are unfamiliar with.

Attitude to foreigners in Saudi Arabia

There are many differences between Islamic culture and Western culture, but as long as expats conduct themselves appropriately and respect the beliefs and traditions of their hosts, they are likely to be treated warmly and with genuine hospitality while in Saudi Arabia.

Dos and don'ts of doing business in Saudi Arabia

  • Do remain respectful and observant of Islamic culture and traditions at all times

  • Do look to cement long-term, personal relationships with Saudi business associates

  • Do make an effort to engage with the culture – learn some Arabic words and learn about the religion

  • Don't avoid eye contact with Saudi colleagues when speaking to them

  • Don't forget that in Saudi Arabia, the line between spiritual, professional and private life is blurry – try to remain sensitive to this in all professional capacities

Safety in Saudi Arabia

The country’s strict interpretation of Sharia law and harsh punishments for illegal activity mean that safety in Saudi Arabia is not a major concern. There is normally tight security in and around expat compounds, leaving residents feeling quite protected.

Although terrorism is an ongoing concern in the wider region, there have been no recent attacks in Saudi Arabia, and no incidents that would warrant any concerns for the short term. Protests have taken place on occasion, but Saudi Arabia has not witnessed the level of protests experienced by other Middle Eastern countries in recent times.

Crime in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has harsh punishments for criminal activity. Executions by beheading, stoning or firing squad are common for crimes such as murder, rape and armed robbery. Apostasy, adultery and homosexuality are also subject to harsh punishment, which may seem archaic by Western standards.

Most expats live in expat compounds where security is tight, and burglary and armed robbery are not a concern. Nevertheless, petty theft does occur on the streets of Saudi towns and cities, and opportunistic theft from vehicles also occurs. Expats should always be alert when walking in the street and keep all valuables out of sight.

Terrorism in Saudi Arabia

Many governments warn their citizens about the risk of possible terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, particularly against Western targets and Saudi oil infrastructure.

Saudi Arabia has a history of terrorist attacks. The Saudi government takes the threat of terrorism seriously and has carried out a number of arrests of suspected militant groups in recent years. Expats should ensure that they stay in secure accommodation, and if in a compound, that adequate security is in place.

Protests in Saudi Arabia

Public demonstrations are illegal in Saudi Arabia. The government has invested heavily in employment and education programmes, which has gone a long way to alleviating dissent among the local population, and protests and demonstrations in the Kingdom are uncommon.

Any demonstrations that do take place in the Kingdom are usually in the Eastern Province, which has the largest concentration of Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority.

Road safety in Saudi Arabia

Road conditions vary considerably between cities and rural areas. Larger cities have well-constructed roads, while those in rural areas are often unpaved. Road safety is potentially one of the greatest safety concerns for expats in Saudi Arabia; traffic accidents are a frequent occurrence, aggressive driving and road rage are common, and traffic congestion in Riyadh is an ongoing problem. Expats should drive defensively or, if possible, arrange for a driver who is familiar with the local conditions.

Moving to Saudi Arabia

Situated in the heart of the Middle East on the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia's vast and seemingly endless desert plains, coupled with a conservative society strictly governed by Sharia law, can make the country seem intimidating for many expats.

Though there are certain perks to moving to Saudi Arabia, expats seldom do so for the lifestyle, the weather, the food or any of the enticements other expat destinations may offer. Rather, Westerners tend to move to the Kingdom for financial reasons and remain sequestered in Western-style compounds, far removed from real Saudi life while earning their tax-free salaries.

Living in Saudi Arabia as an expat

Most expats in Saudi Arabia live in Jeddah and Riyadh, both of which have the full range of Western amenities, a good selection of accommodation, and most of the Kingdom’s employers. Some expats may also find themselves drawn to Saudi's Eastern Province, pulled by lucrative job offers in the hydrocarbon sector.

Expat life in Saudi Arabia is surprisingly social, as fellow immigrants develop strong bonds. Weekends are often centred on compound get-togethers, trips into the desert and diving excursions. The camaraderie and parties make up for a lack of other liberties and luxuries, but the artificial lifestyle can be difficult to sustain over long periods.

Saudi Arabia is governed by Sharia law, and Islam is closely interwoven with daily life. Although foreigners are allowed to practise their own religion in private, proselytising is strictly forbidden. For the most harmonious and peaceful experience possible, expats are advised to respect Islamic laws and customs, bearing in mind that they are guests in the Kingdom.

Expat women in Saudi Arabia

Expat women, in particular, may struggle to adjust to life in Saudi Arabia, especially if moving there as a trailing spouse. Many of the freedoms they enjoyed back home are far more limited in Saudi Arabia. The best way to blend in when out in public is to wear an abaya (a long, flowing black robe) over clothes. Women aren't obligated to wear an abaya by law, but public decency laws do specify that knees and shoulders should be covered in public.

If living in Saudi as a dependant on their husband’s visa, women aren't automatically granted the right to work and will need to obtain their own sponsor and work visa to do so.

Cost of living in Saudi Arabia

The cost of living in Saudi Arabia for expats can vary depending on their lifestyle and the city they reside in. Generally, housing and food are relatively affordable, while luxury items and imported goods can be expensive. The country offers a range of accommodations, from simple apartments to lavish villas, to suit different budgets.

Expats can enjoy a variety of local cuisine at affordable prices, especially if they opt for street food or local restaurants. However, imported food items and dining at high-end restaurants can be quite costly. The cost of utilities such as electricity, water, and gas is relatively low, while transport costs can vary depending on the mode of travel and distance. The low price of petrol and of buying a car in the Kingdom makes driving and taxis surprisingly affordable, which is good considering that Saudi's public transport still has a way to improve.

Expat families and children in Saudi Arabia

Foreign children don't often attend Saudi public schools due to language and cultural barriers, but there are several international schools that cater to the international community. The standard of education at these schools is generally high. Due to the high demand, space is limited and parents should consider applying as early as possible to get a place for their child in their school of choice. Fees are typically high. Expats should factor these costs into their contract negotiations when considering a move to Saudi Arabia.

Healthcare in Saudi Arabia is of a high standard, and expats will benefit from excellent medical facilities in both the private and public sectors. For the most part, there's no need to worry about delays or waiting lists, but having adequate health insurance is a must to cover the costs involved.

Climate in Saudi Arabia

The climate in Saudi Arabia is desert climate with extremely hot summers and mild winters. The country receives very little rainfall throughout the year. The climate in Riyadh is characterised by hot summers and cool winters. The city is known for its dry climate and low humidity, which can make the heat more bearable. Jeddah, located on the Red Sea coast, has a more tropical climate with high humidity and mild winters. The Eastern Province, meanwhile, has a subtropical desert climate. This region receives more rainfall than other parts of the country and also greater variance in temperature between the seasons.

Working and living in Saudi Arabia can be a unique and exciting opportunity for expats. It is an adventure that can broaden horizons, deepen cultural awareness and provide the chance for personal growth. Embracing the move to Saudi Arabia as a chance to gain a new perspective can also make the transition smoother and more rewarding. While the country's conservative culture may take some getting used to, it can also be a valuable and enlightening experience, and with the country's booming economy and growing job market, there are a wealth of opportunities for those looking to make a move.

Fast facts

Population: 35 million

Capital city: Riyadh (also largest city)

Other major cities: Jeddah, Dammam, Mecca

Neighbouring countries: Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen

Political system: Unitary Islamic absolute monarchy

Geography: Saudi Arabia is made up mostly of desert. The population is distributed in the eastern and western coastal towns as well as the interior oases, but much of the country remains empty desert.

Main languages: Arabic is the official language, although English is widely spoken and understood in business.

Major religions: Saudi Arabia is a strict Islamic country governed by Sharia law. Although other religions can be practised in private, proselytising and public practice of those religions is strictly forbidden.

Money: The official currency is the Saudi riyal (SAR), divided into 100 halalas. The country has a well-established banking system and expats are able to open a local bank account in Saudi Arabia.

Tipping: 10 percent

Time: GMT+3

Electricity: 110V, 50Hz in main cities, but expats in remote areas may encounter 220V, 60Hz.

International dialling code: +966

Internet domain: .sa

Emergency numbers: 999 (police); 997 (ambulance); 998 (fire)

Transport and driving: Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road in Saudi Arabia. Most expats get around in their own vehicles or with a personal driver.

Education and Schools in Saudi Arabia

For most expat parents, education and schooling options in Saudi Arabia largely consist of the country's private international schools. Though public schooling is available for expat children, the cultural and language barriers make this a difficult path. Most expat families opt to avoid the extra stress and instead send their children to a school that has a familiar curriculum and teaches in the family's home language.

There is a wide selection of international schools in Saudi Arabia, spread across numerous cities and offering diverse curricula. If expats prefer not to uproot children or if they are at a particularly crucial point in their school career, such as their final year, boarding school back in their home country is another option to consider.

International schools in Saudi Arabia

A portion of the international schools in Saudi Arabia are governed by embassies. Others are privately organised and host multiple curricula under a single roof. It is not necessary for expat children to attend the school sponsored by their country of origin, although the logistical transition between the old and new education systems tend to be the easiest in this situation. For the most part, international schools are not selective regarding nationality, though in some cases, embassy-run institutions do give preference to children from their respective countries.

The large expat community in Saudi Arabia ensures demand for these schools is high. It's therefore best to make an application for admission as early as possible to obtain a suitable slot. All schools will charge a non-refundable application fee. Admission requirements vary between schools, and parents are advised to contact the school of their choice directly for clarity on what is required.

Expat families in Saudi Arabia should consider cost, curriculum and convenience when weighing the pros and cons of schools in their city of choice.

Fees can range from the pricey American and British international schools to cheaper, smaller organisations. In addition to basic fees, parents will be expected to cover other costs such as uniforms, textbooks and extra-curricular activities. Though fees can be on the expensive side, international schools generally have excellent facilities and a high quality of education.

The school year in Saudi Arabia runs from September to June and is normally divided into two or three semesters, depending on the school. The school week is Sunday to Thursday, with Friday and Saturday being the weekend. School days are shortened during the month of Ramadan.

To find out about specific institutions, see our pages on the best international schools in Riyadh and the best international schools in Jeddah.

Special-needs education in Saudi Arabia

As expats are largely reliant on international schools, there aren't standard policies across the board, and special-needs provisions can vary significantly between schools. Some schools are better equipped than others to provide support for students with special educational needs – networking with fellow expat families and researching schools in depth can help determine which school is most suitable. In the case that an international school does offer special-needs education services, this generally comes at an extra cost.

Tutors in Saudi Arabia

Local families frequently employ tutors to help children become proficient in English as a second language. Non-English-speaking expat families in Saudi Arabia, especially those with children in international English-speaking schools, can benefit from doing the same. Those looking to learn or improve their Arabic should opt for a local Arabic tutor. Major upcoming exams and trouble subjects are also well served by tutors.

Banking, Money and Taxes in Saudi Arabia

The banking system in Saudi Arabia is robust and expats can be fully confident in the banking aspect of their transition to the Kingdom.

Money in Saudi Arabia

The currency in Saudi Arabia is the Saudi Arabian Riyal (SAR), which is divided into 100 halalas.

  • Notes: 1 SAR, 5 SAR, 10 SAR, 20 SAR, 50 SAR, 100 SAR, 200 SAR and 500 SAR

  • Coins: 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 halalas and 1 SAR and 2 SAR

Banking in Saudi Arabia

Expats can choose between local and international banks. Mobile and internet banking is standard, and facilities are advanced.

Banking hours are usually Sunday to Thursday, from 9.30am to 4.30pm.

Opening a bank account

Expats can open a bank account in Saudi Arabia with a work permit and a letter from their employer. It's worth doing this to avoid paying international transfer fees.

Due to Islamic law, banks don't pay interest on balances, don't lend at high interest rates and don't let account holders accumulate debt. Non-payment of debt is a criminal offence that can get expats imprisoned – and this doesn't discharge the debt.

Expats' salaries will be secure in local banks. However, if they want to earn interest on their income, it's best to periodically transfer earnings to an offshore account.

ATMs and credit cards in Saudi Arabia

Major credit cards are accepted at most shops, hotels and restaurants throughout the country. ATMs are freely available and some permit foreign remittances. Cash is still used for many transactions.

Taxes in Saudi Arabia

Expats won't be taxed on their salaries, as there is no personal income tax in Saudi Arabia. However, they should check whether they are liable for paying taxes in their home country.

Shipping and Removals in Saudi Arabia

Shipping goods to Saudi Arabia can be expensive. The price is affected by shipping method (sea, air or combined shipping), the size of the load, and how well insured it is. Since compounds often provide furnished accommodation and plenty of amenities, expats should think carefully about what needs to be shipped out – it may be very little indeed.

Additionally, Saudi Arabia has plenty of shopping opportunities to purchase goods, so one can easily and cheaply purchase goods that may prove troublesome to ship over.

Customs regulations in Saudi Arabia

All shipped items must pass through customs, and the appropriate forms should be completed by the sender. In Saudi Arabia, customs clearance depends on whether goods are either classified as documents with no commercial value or dutiable goods. Dutiable goods are taxed if they are valued over a certain amount.

The customs list of prohibited items includes but is not limited to alcohol and pork. Contrary to popular belief, religious texts may be brought into the country as long as they are for personal use only.

There are restriction on what medications may be brought into the country, and how much. Expats who take chronic medication can bring up to a month's supply as long as they carry their prescription and obtain clearance in advance by applying to the Saudi Drug and Food Authority.

To ship a pet over, one requires an import permit, vaccination certificate and health certificate.

Healthcare in Saudi Arabia

Healthcare in Saudi Arabia is of a high standard, and expats will benefit from excellent medical facilities in both the private and public sectors. For the most part, patients don't need to worry about delays or waiting lists, but having adequate health insurance is a must to cover the costs involved.

Health insurance in Saudi Arabia

While expats working in the public sector have access to state-sponsored healthcare coverage, it is compulsory for all non-Saudi nationals to have private medical insurance. It's usually the sponsoring employer's responsibility to provide their expat employees with medical cover. Expats should try to negotiate this into their contract if it isn't included.

It's also important for expats to ensure that any coverage provided to them by their workplace is comprehensive. If not, it is advisable to top up with an additional policy.

Public healthcare in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has a well-developed healthcare system that includes a network of government-run hospitals, clinics, and health centres.

Expats in Saudi Arabia have access to public healthcare services, which are free for citizens but may require a fee for expatriates. The quality of public healthcare in Saudi Arabia is generally good, with well-equipped hospitals and clinics, and a highly trained workforce. The country is also a hub for medical tourism, attracting patients from around the world for specialized medical procedures and treatments.

However, it's essential to note that some public healthcare facilities in Saudi Arabia may have long wait times and may not have the latest medical technologies available. For these reasons, some expats prefer to opt for private healthcare options.

Private healthcare in Saudi Arabia

Most expats use private hospitals and clinics, but these come with a hefty price tag, so it's important to be well covered by health insurance. Private healthcare in Saudi Arabia is known for its high standard of care, with modern facilities, advanced medical technologies, and highly trained medical staff. Patients in private healthcare facilities can expect shorter wait times, more privacy, and a more personalised level of care compared to public healthcare facilities.

Many of the staff at private hospitals in Saudi Arabia are expats themselves, and numerous hospitals are affiliated with well-known foreign facilities, so the language gap shouldn't be an issue.

Medicines and pharmacies in Saudi Arabia

Medicines are widely available at pharmacies in Saudi Arabia. Expats should however be aware of customs regulations before bringing medication into the country. For example, anti-depressants and sleeping pills are heavily controlled in the Kingdom, and drug laws are strict.

Anyone entering the country is allowed to bring in approved prescription medication for personal use. The quantity of each medication is limited to either a month's supply or enough to cover the length of the traveller's stay in Saudi Arabia, whichever is shortest.

Approval from the Saudi Food and Drug Authority must be obtained prior to the trip. A doctor's prescription or recent medical report must be submitted as part of this process. On the trip to Saudi Arabia, it's best to carry these documents, along with an official Arabic translation. Expats who take chronic medication should ensure they visit a local doctor as soon as possible to get a local prescription well before their initial supply runs out.

Pharmacies are generally well stocked. 24-hour pharmacies, and pharmacies operating with extended hours, are fairly common.

Health hazards in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is mostly desert, and expats usually struggle to adapt to extreme temperatures that can soar above 113°F (45°C). Heatstroke and exhaustion are common, especially during the summer months. To avoid this, expats are advised to stay out of the sun during the hottest hours of the day and ensure they are well hydrated.

Emergency services in Saudi Arabia

Ambulances in Saudi Arabia are usually operated by police and government hospitals. For medical emergencies, expats can call 997.

Cost of Living in Saudi Arabia

The cost of living in Saudi Arabia is generally on par with other destinations in the Middle East, though this varies greatly between cities. Mercer’s 2023 Cost of Living Survey ranked the city of Jeddah as 101st out of 227 cities, indicating the city is more affordable than several popular Middle Eastern expat destinations.

The capital, Riyadh, ranked as the 85th most expensive city, showing its cost of living is much lower than Abu Dhabi but more expensive than Doha.

Fortunately, many expats move to the Kingdom on lucrative relocation packages with allowances for housing, transport, medical insurance and their children's education. Expats who have these costs covered by their employers usually find living expenses in Saudi Arabia to be reasonable and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle.

Cost of accommodation in Saudi Arabia

Expat housing in Saudi Arabia is expensive. High demand for property in expat compounds has resulted in high prices. The most popular compounds can have long waiting lists. Living outside the compounds often proves cheaper.

Villas and apartments in Saudi Arabia range in cost depending on size, location and the amenities present. Expats working in the Kingdom may be able to negotiate a housing allowance as part of their employment contract, which would be a major saving.

Cost of education in Saudi Arabia

Schooling is another key expense for expat families, most of whom will opt for private or international schools rather than local public schools. Tuition costs at these schools can be prohibitively expensive and will often exclude the cost of books, uniforms or excursion fees. Expat parents are advised to plan a budget for prospective schooling expenses.

Cost of transport in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia doesn't have a comprehensive public transport system. This means many expats choose to rather buy or rent a private car. Given its position in the oil sector, petrol is cheap in Saudi Arabia. Expats can also often afford to buy a more luxurious car in Saudi Arabia than they could back home. Car insurance is compulsory and is an extra expense expats should keep in mind.

Cost of goods and entertainment in Saudi Arabia

Electronic goods, groceries and tobacco products are reasonably priced, but imported food and eating out can be costly.

Entertainment options in Saudi Arabia are somewhat limited, as there are no bars or nightclubs for Western expats. Instead, money is spent in compounds or on luxury items in the country’s many malls.

Cost of living in Saudi Arabia chart

Note that prices may vary depending on location and service provider. The table below is based on the average prices in Riyadh in February 2023.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Three-bedroom apartment in the city centre

SAR 4,200

Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centre

SAR 3,000

One-bedroom apartment in the city centre

SAR 3,200

One-bedroom apartment outside the city centre

SAR 1,950

Food and drink

Dozen eggs

SAR 14

Milk (1 litre)


Rice (1kg)

SAR 8.29

Loaf of white bread

SAR 3.11

Chicken breasts (1kg)

SAR 30

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

SAR 27

Eating out

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

SAR 200

Big Mac meal

SAR 28

Coca-Cola (330ml)



SAR 14.68


Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

SAR 0.55

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

SAR 250

Basic utilities (average per month for a standard household)

SAR 690


Taxi rate/km


City-centre public transport fare


Gasoline (per litre)

SAR 2.23

Frequently Asked Questions about Saudi Arabia

From the conservative culture and the question of women's rights to compound life and Saudi Arabia's complex visa system, expats are sure to have many questions about living and working in the Kingdom. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about expat life in Saudi Arabia.

Where do expats live in Saudi Arabia?

Expats moving to Saudi Arabia will most likely settle in the city that their job designates. Once here, most live in one of the many expat compounds. These are closed and secure communities that provide expats with a number of on-site amenities and a sense of camaraderie among like-minded individuals. They tend to have long waiting lists, though the right sponsor or employer can generally circumvent this.

Are visas necessary to enter and exit Saudi Arabia?

Yes, visas and residence permits are an absolute necessity in Saudi Arabia. Depending on the type of visa needed (business, residence, work, transit), the appropriate documentation will need to be arranged with the help of a local sponsor. It's commonplace for employers to ask to keep the passports of their employees upon entry. However, this is illegal and a finable offence.

What standard of healthcare can be expected?

The level of healthcare in Saudi Arabia is largely similar to that of the US and Europe. It is now mandatory to have some form of healthcare in order to obtain an iqama (work permit). While the Ministry of Health offers universal coverage for locals and public sector expat workers, those in the private sector should organise appropriate insurance with their sponsor.

Are international schools the best option for education in Saudi Arabia?

Yes, especially since there are significant language and cultural barriers for expat children when it comes to public schooling in Saudi Arabia. There is an assortment of international schools available in the country that caters to a variety of languages and curricula. Expats should consider cost, convenience and standard when selecting a school for their children.

What job sectors provide working opportunities in Saudi Arabia?

Historically, the oil and gas industry sectors have been primary areas for job opportunities in Saudi Arabia. However, in addition to these cornerstones, logistics as well as the retail and consumer goods sector are increasingly sharing the limelight with their fossil-fuel counterparts. Nurses, doctors and English-speaking teachers are also actively recruited in Saudi Arabia.

How should expats dress in Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia is a country governed by Islamic law, and expats should do their best to respect the prescribed behaviours. The dress code is conservative.

For many years, it was compulsory for all women in Saudi Arabia to wear an abaya (a dark full-length cloak that covers clothing). This law was recently lifted for foreign women in order to encourage tourism, though some prefer to continue to wear an abaya, sometimes paired with a headscarf, to blend in.

Today, the requirement is 'modest dress' – meaning loose-fitting clothes that cover the knees and shoulders. Men should follow this standard too. Within expat compounds, Westerners can dress in the manner familiar to their country of origin.

What rights do women have in Saudi Arabia?

Perhaps the most striking discerning factor between the Western world and Saudi Arabia is the disparity in women’s rights that exists. In Saudi Arabia, society is strictly gender segregated as per Islamic law. Until recently, women were forbidden to drive or enter/exit the country without a male sponsor. Oftentimes they are expected to use separate entrances and isolated areas of public spaces, shops and shopfronts. Although there have been slight reforms in recent years, women in Saudi Arabia are traditionally expected to defer to men and can expect little in the way of independent rights.

Embassy Contacts for Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabian embassies

  • Saudi Arabian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 342 3800

  • Saudi Arabian Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7917 3000

  • Saudi Arabian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 237 4100

  • Saudi Arabian Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6250 7000

  • Saudi Arabian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 362 4230

  • Consulate General of Saudi Arabia, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 472 3655

Foreign embassies in Saudi Arabia

  • United States Embassy, Riyadh: +966 11 488 3800

  • British Embassy, Riyadh: +966 11 481 9100

  • Embassy of Canada, Riyadh: +966 11 202 3288

  • Australian Embassy, Riyadh: +966 11 250 0900

  • South African Embassy, Riyadh: +966 11 482 8515

  • Embassy of Ireland, Riyadh: +966 11 407 1530

  • New Zealand Embassy, Riyadh: +966 11 488 7988

Culture Shock in Saudi Arabia

Moving to Saudi Arabia can be daunting for even the most seasoned of expats. Expats unused to life in the Middle East are likely to experience culture shock in Saudi Arabia. This sense of cultural dislocation can take a long time to wear off. It’s vital that expats maintain a positive outlook and an open mind during this time.

Saudi Arabia is a deeply conservative Islamic state, and Islam dominates all aspects of life in the Kingdom. Expats will find that many of the freedoms they enjoyed back home are strictly regulated. That said, the feeling of culture shock in Saudi Arabia may be tempered somewhat for those living in a Western compound. Many Western food franchises also thrive here, the shopping malls are similar to Western malls, and satellite television can provide favourite shows from home. Although more familiar, life in a compound is also often insular and gives few opportunities to authentically interact with Saudi Arabian culture.

Still, the best method for stifling cynicism and countering culture shock is for expats to educate themselves as much as possible regarding the daily rhythms of life in Saudi Arabia.

Religion in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is characterised by a deeply conservative Islamic culture that governs virtually all facets of life. Sharia is the religious law that provides the basis for judicial law in Saudi Arabia. Its adaptations and interpretations extend to affect politics, economics, family life, business, sexuality and even hygiene.

In Saudi Arabia, religious courts have jurisdiction over a wide range of criminal and civil cases, and they play a significant role in the administration of justice and the interpretation of Sharia law. To understand and stay on the right side of the law in Saudi Arabia, expats will find it helpful to understand the tenets of Islam.


The Mutaween (religious police) are the keepers of social compliance. They once held the same power as the police force and, though they can no longer detain or question someone suspected of a crime, they continue to act as a local authority and should be respected.

Call to prayer

The Islamic call to prayer is sounded five times a day in Saudi Arabia. Daily life tends to revolve around prayer times, which are determined by the position of the sun. During this time, most activities come to a standstill and businesses may close.

Carrying out simple daily tasks and scheduling meetings and appointments can therefore be frustrating, but it’s something expats soon adjust to as they get used to the timing. To keep track of the exact times each prayer will occur, expats can make use of any one of numerous websites and mobile applications designed for this exact purpose.

Other religions

While non-Muslims are allowed to practise their religion in the privacy of their own homes, proselytising is strictly forbidden. Those caught trying to spread any other religion will be harshly dealt with, so it's generally best to avoid speaking openly about other religions.

Women in Saudi Arabia

Saudi culture imposes distinct roles based on gender in society. Women may struggle to adapt to what they perceive to be misogynistic expectations that, for instance, they cover their clothes with an abaya (long, flowing black or dark-coloured robe). This used to be required by law for all women in the Kingdom – today, non-Muslim women are no longer obligated to wear an abaya, but some expat women find it a good way to blend in. Women are still required to wear clothes that are deemed 'respectful', so clothing should be loose-fitting and cover shoulders and knees.

It should be noted that there have been some positive changes for women in the Kingdom in recent times. New legislation has been passed that allows women to drive, and thousands of women are now getting their driving licences for the first time.

Saudi women still fall under the guardianship of a male relative – usually their father or husband – and require permission for a number of activities. In recent years some of these restrictions have been lifted for women,. Women over the age of 18 can marry without the permission of a male relative, and women over the age of 21 are allowed to apply for a passport and travel. Other restrictions remain, however, and there is no indication that the male guardianship system as a whole will be removed.

Read Women in Saudi Arabia to find out more.

Homosexuality in Saudi Arabia

One of the perplexing aspects about living in Saudi Arabia is that, while homosexual acts are, in theory, punishable by death, gay life flourishes just beneath the surface of everyday life. As long as LGBTQ+ individuals in the country maintain a public front of respect for the strict Wahhabist rules, they are generally left to do what they want in private.

Compound living in Saudi Arabia

Most Western expats living in Saudi Arabia reside in expat compounds, which have full amenities and are often isolated from real Saudi society. Life within the Western compounds can also help dispel the initial glum, grim perception of a society that greatly limits individual freedoms. Behind the high walls and firm security of these complexes, expats have the opportunity to indulge in many of the activities reminiscent of their homelands. Nevertheless, it does limit the interaction expats have with locals and friendships there can be transient as families continually move in and out for their next expat assignment.

Censorship in Saudi Arabia

Many aspects of life are controlled in Saudi Arabia, and censorship is widespread. Although movie theatres, once banned, are making a comeback, many movies and television shows are censored for immorality or causing political offence. Freedom of the press and free speech are also not rights recognised by the government.

Food and alcohol in Saudi Arabia

Islamic law forbids the consumption of pork, so expats fond of this protein will have to find an alternative. Alcoholic beverages are also illegal throughout Saudi Arabia; in practice, however, alcohol is consumed inside Western compounds, with many expats having taken to brewing their own alcohol. The penalty for importing alcohol into the country, however, is severe.

Cultural etiquette tips for Saudi Arabia

  • The left hand is considered unclean. Only shake hands or receive a gift with the right hand, and avoid eating with the left hand.

  • Never make physical contact in public with a woman who is not a relative

  • Public displays of affection should definitely be avoided. Eye contact between a man and a woman is discouraged in public.

  • Alcohol is banned and should never be consumed in public

  • During the holy month of Ramadan all religious customs should be respected; do not eat, drink or smoke in public during this time

Public Holidays in Saudi Arabia




Founding Day

22 February

22 February

Eid al-Fitr

22–25 April

10–12 April

Eid al-Adha

27–30 June

15–18 June

National Day

23, 24 September

23 September

*Islamic holidays are subject to change based on sightings of the moon.

The number of public holiday days allocated for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha may vary.

Accommodation in Saudi Arabia

Most people move to Saudi Arabia on lucrative employment contracts that include free or heavily subsidised housing, furniture and utilities.

Traditionally, expat housing in Saudi Arabia takes the form of Western-style compound living. With high demand for spots in these compounds, however, more foreigners have started renting housing from the local market.

Navigating the rental markets in Saudi Arabian cities is not easy. Even though agents and landlords generally communicate well in English, most of the documents remain in Arabic. For this reason, it is always best for expats to enlist the help of their employer, an agent or a property lawyer when looking to rent property in the Kingdom.

Types of accommodation in Saudi Arabia

Expat compounds

Saudi Arabian expat compounds first emerged in the early 1980s as a way for the expat community to maintain the lifestyle they were familiar with, despite the country’s conservative Islamic law.

Complexes can vary in size from small groupings of houses to sprawling collections of villas. These residences are walled and guarded, and lauded by expats for their ability to provide an assortment of amenities within, while largely keeping out the mutaween (Saudi Arabian religious police).

The compounds rate anywhere from three to five stars. This type of housing can come furnished and fully equipped for residents to move in and out with ease. On-site facilities can include swimming pools, tennis courts, libraries, shopping centres, restaurants, bars and even schools.

In addition to the creature comforts that the self-contained space allows, the neighbourhoods also cultivate opportunities for expats to meet people who share their culture and language, and to create relationships that ease their transition into new communities.

As these compounds are in increasingly high demand, accommodation in a compound can be hard to attain – waiting lists can stretch anywhere from six to 18 months. Additionally, a full year's rent must typically be paid upfront before tenants are able to move in.

Most expats moving to Saudi Arabia for work will have some kind of accommodation benefit included in their contract. Many companies keep a number of houses in a particular compound for their own employees and in some cases, rent is entirely paid for and organised by the employer. The downside of this is less choice, but it certainly eases the process.

In other cases, companies may be willing to pay the year's rent upfront on behalf of the employee, with the understanding that the money will be paid back through a monthly salary deduction. Expats should make sure they know the full details of any accommodation benefits offered by their employer.

Housing in local neighbourhoods

Beyond the high walls of the expat compounds, new arrivals will find the hustle and bustle of Saudi Arabian residential areas. Expats who don't want to live in a compound have the option of renting in a local neighbourhood. Typically, expats would then rent an apartment or villa.

First, expats should decide which neighbourhood will best suit their needs. Then they should spend time driving through the area and looking for 'For Rent' signs outside villas. Property owners will often advertise a vacancy in this manner rather than listing with local realtors. Consulting with local merchants in the area is also a good way to identify availability and get the best deal possible.

Expats should make sure to inspect their potential new home carefully. It is wise to hire an engineer to inspect electrical wiring and plumbing. While this may appear to be an unnecessary hassle, landlords in Saudi Arabia can be neglectful once they’ve received their annual payment upfront.

Villas and apartments in Saudi Arabia vary in price depending on size, location and amenities. When looking for housing in Saudi Arabia, expats should bring a native Arabic speaker along to help field enquiries and establish trust between all the negotiating parties.

Accommodation in Saudi Arabia is generally furnished. However, the definition of 'furnished' can differ greatly – it can simply include some basic items of furniture or have a full provision of items including bedding, cutlery and crockery.

Finding accommodation in Saudi Arabia

In most cases, the stress of finding accommodation is not an issue for expats in Saudi Arabia, as their employer will handle it. In rare cases where an expat is looking for a place on their own steam, they can begin their search online. Online portals will give expats an idea of what is available and what facilities are provided by each complex.

The best option, though, is to enlist the services of a real estate agent. These professionals are knowledgable about the property market of the given city and can advise on which complexes are most suitable. Some compounds are highly popular and operate waiting lists. The advantage of using an estate agent is that they may have connections that enable their clients to find out about available spots in such places.

Renting accommodation in Saudi Arabia

Signing a lease

To be valid in court, all leases in Saudi Arabia must be registered on Ejar, an electronic services network created by the Ministry of Housing (MOH). The network is designed to streamline communication between tenants, agents and owners. The MOH has also issued a standard lease template known as the Ejar Unified Contract – to register a lease on the platform, users are required to make use of this standard lease format.

Terminating a lease

In Saudi Arabia, tenants are typically required to give at least one month's notice before terminating a lease agreement. Additionally, landlords may have the right to terminate the lease in certain situations, such as if the tenant fails to pay rent on time or damages the property.


Rent is typically paid either annually, twice a year or once every two months. In addition to paying a determined amount of rent upfront, tenants are normally required to provide a refundable deposit that is equal to one or two months' rent. In the event of damage to the property, furniture or appliances, the landlord will be entitled to use this security deposit for repairs.


In general, pets are not allowed in apartments in Saudi Arabia, although some landlords may make exceptions. It's a good idea to ask beforehand. Additionally, although many Saudis keep dogs, they are considered unclean in Islamic culture and are generally not allowed in public.

Short lets

Short-term lets for a few weeks or months are not common in Saudi Arabia, and most rental agreements are for longer periods. However, some furnished apartments may be available for shorter-term leases, particularly in larger cities and tourist destinations.


Landlords or property management companies may require expats to provide references from previous landlords or their employers. Additionally, some landlords may conduct background checks to ensure that tenants have a clean criminal record.


Generally, most rental prices in Saudi Arabia will be inclusive of all basic utilities such as water, gas, electricity, telephone line rental and internet. Rent for compound properties will normally include all service charges such as cleaning and maintenance of communal areas of the complex.

In case tenants have to set up and pay their own utilities, they will have to coordinate with a few different suppliers, most of them state-run public companies. The Saudi government has streamlined this process through their online portal, Hesabi ('my account' in Arabic). Here, they can view and pay their water and electricity bills and access information related to other utilities, such as local gas providers, waste management and recycling and environmental initiatives.

Visas for Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia offers a wealth of opportunities for expat jobseekers and companies. It's crucial for expats to understand the entry requirements attached to visas for Saudi Arabia.

Everyone entering Saudi Arabia requires a visa, except for nationals of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. Holders of a re-entry permit issued by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Foreign Affairs are also exempted.

It is important to remember that the majority of visas require an individual or company to act as a sponsor. The sponsor is someone who will vouch for the individual’s conduct while in the country.

Visit visas for Saudi Arabia

Tourist visas

Nationals of certain countries, including the UK, the US and all EU states, can either obtain an eVisa online before their trip or obtain a Visa on Arrival upon entry to Saudi Arabia. Those not covered under this will need to apply for a tourist visa in advance from a Saudi embassy or consulate in their home country.

This visa allows visitors to attend business meetings and practice tourist activities. It will also allow Muslim visitors to perform Umrah.

Tourist visas are valid for one year and can be used for multiple entries. The maximum stay in Saudi Arabia is 90 days per year.

Business visit visa

A business visitor visa allows representatives of a foreign company to travel to Saudi Arabia for business purposes. Applicants must present verification of their employment at such a company and must also submit an invitation from an individual or company sponsor in Saudi Arabia.

Like the tourist visa, business visit visas are valid for multiple entries over the course of one year, with the total stay adding up to 90 days or less.

Expats should note that the business visa is quite restricted and is intended for short business trips only. Those intent on working and living in Saudi Arabia long term should consider applying for a work visa instead.

Family visit visas

This visa is issued to the immediate relatives of expats currently working in Saudi Arabia. In order to obtain a family visit visa, proof of relationship, such as marriage or birth certificates, should be produced.

Work visas for Saudi Arabia

If a person intends to work in Saudi Arabia, they are required to apply for a work visa. The employment contract should be accompanied by academic or professional credential documents, as well as the results of a comprehensive medical examination.

These documents must be presented to the Saudi embassy or consulate in the applicant’s home country or to the authorities in Saudi Arabia via their sponsor (i.e their employer). This will ultimately lead to a visa number, allowing the applicant to be issued their visa. The visa is valid for two years.

Residency in Saudi Arabia

Residence permits

All expats living and working in Saudi Arabia need to apply for an iqama or residence permit. A sponsor, usually the employer, needs to handle the application for this permit. The iqama needs to be carried with foreign residents wherever they go to prove they are permitted to be there.

Iqama holders can also apply for a residence permit for their immediate family. They then have to act as a sponsor for the family member’s permit application.

The iqama is only valid for one year and needs to be renewed annually. The approval of this visa can only be obtained from the Department of Foreign Affairs in Saudi Arabia.

Permanent residency for Saudi Arabia

In the past, expats were normally sponsored by a Saudi employer. They also required visas to enter and leave the country. However, in a landmark decision, Saudi Arabia launched its first permanent residency programme in 2019. This allows certain expats to reside in the Kingdom with their families without a Saudi sponsor.

Applications can be made through the Premium Residency Card (PRC) online application platform. There are two types of residency offered: permanent residency and a renewable temporary residency. Permanent residency requires a one-time fee payment only, while temporary residency must be renewed and paid for each year.

Applicants need to be at least 21 years old. They need to submit a valid passport, prove financial stability and have a clean criminal record and clear bill of health. Permanent residency cardholders will enjoy privileges such as travelling in and out of the country without restrictions or extra visas. They will also be able to own real estate and private means of transportation.

*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice, and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Working in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has a healthy economy. Job prospects for foreigners remain positive across a broad spectrum of industries.

The oil and gas sectors are the cornerstones of Saudi Arabia’s economic foundations, but expansion in the logistics sector, as well as retail and consumer goods, provide expats with a larger variety of opportunities to pursue. Additionally, engineering, construction, IT and telecommunications have been historically active areas of employment. English teachers are always in demand and can earn quite well working in Saudi Arabia. Nurses and doctors are also actively recruited.

Job market in Saudi Arabia

Remuneration packages in Saudi Arabia for highly skilled workers are competitive when compared to those offered in the wider Gulf region. Added to the incentive of a tax-free salary, benefits can also include accommodation, health insurance, transport and education allowances, and annual flight tickets home. Expats will also find that their hard-earned salaries will go further, as the Kingdom offers a lower cost of living than many of its regional neighbours.

Discrimination is widespread when it comes to wages and benefits in Saudi Arabia, though. Western expats generally earn higher salaries than their Asian counterparts, even with similar qualifications and experience.

Finding a job in Saudi Arabia

Most expats moving to Saudi Arabia arrive with a job already in hand, either through a transfer in a multinational company or after being headhunted and hired for a specialised skillset. Today, these are the two most likely scenarios for finding work, though there may be a small chance of finding work via a recruitment agency, networking or an online job portal.

Though foreigners were once hired in droves for both skilled and unskilled work in Saudi Arabia, the government now operates under a policy called 'Saudisation' to encourage the employment of locals over foreigners, thereby decreasing unemployment among Saudi nationals. The government has also implemented restrictions on hiring foreign labour, with Saudi companies facing penalties for hiring too many foreigners.

Foreigners wanting to work in Saudi Arabia are required to apply for a work visa. This visa can't be obtained without a confirmed job offer and sponsorship from an employer. It is therefore not possible to arrive in Saudi Arabia in order to look for work. The process of obtaining a work visa can be a long and convoluted one. Expats should be prepared to have patience and persistence.

Work culture in Saudi Arabia

Expats working in Saudi Arabia may find themselves in a working environment radically different to what they are used to. Islamic customs and values are deeply ingrained in all aspects of life in Saudi Arabia, and business is no exception. For example, work may be interrupted during calls to prayer several times a day, and work hours are often reduced during the holy month of Ramadan.

Arabic is the official language in Saudi Arabia, but English is widely spoken and understood in business circles. Nevertheless, expats would do well to learn Arabic if seeking to fully establish themselves in the Saudi working world.

Keeping in Touch in Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom can feel isolated and restrictive much of the time, and staying in contact with family and friends is an important part of expat life in Saudi Arabia. The telecommunications sector has seen much improvement and diversification in recent years, and with a competitive market, expats will have a variety of options when it comes to keeping in touch in Saudi Arabia.

Internet in Saudi Arabia

Expats have access to fixed-line and wireless broadband, and mobile internet. WiFi is widely available in cities, and mobile broadband is increasingly common. However, fixed-line connections are often the cheapest and most reliable option.

The most prominent internet service providers are STC, Mobily and Zain. Expats generally only need their Iqama (residence permit) to open an account.

VoIP and instant messaging applications such as Skype and WhatsApp are currently easy to access, but have been subject to bans in the past.

Mobile phones in Saudi Arabia

Mobile services in Saudi Arabia are extensive, even in remote areas of the country. Pre- and postpaid packages are available. Many expats opt for prepaid SIM cards, which can be bought at provider outlets or the airport. Postpaid accounts can also be set up at provider outlets. As with the internet, the most popular mobile service providers are STC, Mobily and Zain.

Censorship in Saudi Arabia

Despite the ease of accessing communications in Saudi Arabia, content is heavily restricted. Anyone accessing or publishing information can't be seen to criticise or contradict the values of Islam and the state.

Numerous pages relating to health, religion, education, humour and even entertainment have been banned, but the most aggressive censorship is reserved for content relating to pornography, drug use, gambling and religious conversion of Muslims.

English-language media in Saudi Arabia

Keeping up to date with news back home is also a good way to stay connected. Most English-language media is based on local and international hard news. Electronic and print publications like Arab News also offer information and advice aimed at the expat community.

Relocation Companies in Saudi Arabia

Expats moving to Saudi Arabia will likely have many questions, and finding the answers to them can be tricky and time consuming.

Relocation businesses provide companies and individuals with a full suite of services including both pre-departure and neighbourhood orientation, home-finding services, lease negotiation and utilities hook-ups, as well as school selection, visits and registration assistance. Expats can have all their moving needs, including shipping and transporting, met through the help of a relocation firm. It may be an expensive route to take, but it takes all the stress off of one's shoulders. Removals companies, on the other hand, offer a more limited range of services that tend to focus on just the transportation of goods.

Here is a list of some relocation businesses to consider when moving to Saudi Arabia.

Relocation companies in Saudi Arabia

Local companies

HelpXpat Relocation

HelpXpat is an award-winning, locally based relocation company that can help with all your relocation needs when moving to Saudi Arabia (including the cities of Riyadh, Jeddah, Jubail, Al Khobar and Dammam). Their team can help with immigration paperwork and work permit applications, along with finding suitable accommodation and school searches. Moving to Saudi Arabia can be a bureaucratic experience, and using an experienced relocation company like HelpXpat can ease the relocation process.


6thMove relocation

6thMove Relocations

6thMove Relocations, a corporation with local roots, is headquartered in the UAE and specialises in helping expats moving to Saudi Arabia and other countries within the Middle East. Moving to Saudi Arabia can be a challenging and stressful experience, and a local relocation company like 6thMove can ease the move, helping to sort out visas and work permits, finding accommodation, setting up accounts with utility companies, liaising with landlords and opening bank accounts. Their school consultants can recommend suitable schools for children and help with admission. 6thMove recommends local dentists and doctors, gyms, and expat clubs and also assists with intercultural training.


International companies



SIRVA is a leading international relocation company, providing the full suite of international relocation services for employee relocation globally, nationally and regionally. Leading corporations, government agencies, employees and families expanding, transferring and moving to Saudi Arabia will have all their relocation needs met with SIRVA.


Women in Saudi Arabia

At first, some women may find the thought of moving to Saudi Arabia daunting. Questions about personal freedoms immediately come to mind, such as whether women may drive, whether they have to 'cover up' and whether it's safe for them.

These are valid concerns, and in many instances restrictions can be frustrating and cause feelings of helplessness and homesickness. With some time, patience and practice, though, life as a woman in Saudi Arabia can start to feel less strange, and in some cases, expat women may not have to follow all the regulations that a local Muslim woman would be bound to.

Restrictions on women in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabian women were only granted the right to vote in 2015, and the right to obtain a driver's licence in 2018. This has allowed some freedom of movement, though other regulations maintain male control over female life.

Broadly speaking, life for Saudi women remains largely restrictive in terms of what they can wear and how they should behave. With laws gradually becoming more permissive, restrictions are not always based in the legal system, but rather are enshrined in cultural and social norms, especially for expats.

Restrictions on expat women

Public decency laws state that clothing must cover knees and shoulders, but there is no legal requirement for non-Muslim women to wear a headscarf or an abaya (a loose-fitting black or dark robe covering the clothes) in public. However, doing so can make it easier to blend in and avoid unwanted attention, especially in more conservative cities such as Riyadh.

This is less of a concern in more liberal cities such as Jeddah. At times, expats may be asked by strangers to cover their hair. Again, while not required by law, it is a sign of respect to oblige.

Restrictions on Saudi women

Saudi Arabian law dictates that Saudi females are always under the guardianship of a male relative. Under this system, women are required to obtain the permission of their male guardian, usually a father, husband or brother, to perform certain activities, such as studying, working and getting medical treatment. Although the male guardianship system is deeply rooted in Saudi Arabian society and culture, this system has been criticised for curtailing women's human rights and limiting their autonomy and freedom.

The Saudi Arabian government has made some reforms in recent years, such as allowing women to drive and participate in sports and entertainment events. Women over the age of 18 may marry and, from the age of 21 and up, women can apply for passports and travel abroad without a male guardian's permission. Though these are good signs of progress, women's rights still have a long way to go before Saudi Arabia reaches gender equality.

Trailing spouses in Saudi Arabia

Trailing spouses who worked before arriving in Saudi Arabia may find their days suddenly filled with long hours of boredom. In patriarchal Saudi society, it's generally the women who stay at home.

Sometimes, there’s a lack of understanding from the working partner. Settling in is often easier for the working spouse as they’re preoccupied with the workplace and continually meeting new people. At the same time, they may assume their partner has an  because they get to stay home, despite the isolation and boredom oftinvolved.

These elements of culture shock can be unsettling, but many women enjoy living in Saudi Arabia despite the difficulties. Locals are generally friendly and hospitable, and for the most part, Saudi Arabia is a safe country. Getting involved in the community – whether through volunteering, joining an expat club or participating in group events – is a sure way to ease the transition and often provides a much-needed break from the home.

Overcoming culture shock as a woman in Saudi Arabia

Living in large company-sponsored compounds can make life much easier and more enjoyable for expat women than staying in an individual apartment or villa. It’s generally easier to meet people in compounds, and it doesn't take expat wives long before they find themselves making new friends and acquaintances.

Compounds have everything on site including, for example, restaurants, bowling alleys, dry cleaners, grocery stores, golf courses, salons, soccer fields and gyms. There are various activities to choose from that closely mirror what’s available in the Western world and, for the most part, people wear what they like.

Living outside the compounds among the locals, women may find themselves feeling isolated and void of all sources of entertainment. Saudis are quite private, and tend to spend their time with family and close friends rather than inviting new people into their circles. It isn't impossible to make local friends, but it's often difficult.

Regardless of their housing situation, though, it’s important for expat women to get out and meet new friends with common interests. Leave the compound, walk among the locals, and start living life. Women who join expat social groups and expand on existing hobbies will be one step ahead in getting through the adjustment phase. Not to mention, once they're settled in and over the initial shock, women often find that they have a different kind of freedom here with plenty of time to pursue almost anything they'd like.

Articles about Saudi Arabia

Buying a Car in Saudi Arabia

As public transport in Saudi Arabia is limited, most expats opt to drive themselves or hire a driver. Many have cars provided by their employer, but for those who don't, the process of buying a car in Saudi Arabia can be daunting. Fortunately, it can be greatly simplified with the right guidance and resources.

Factors to consider when car buying in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has some of the cheapest petrol in the world, so gas mileage is less of a factor than in other locations when deciding whether to buy a car. Expats interested in exploring the desert should consider a four-wheel-drive vehicle, as standard cars don’t have the ground clearance or power to go over rocks and drive in the sand. Buyers should also consider the price and availability of spare parts.

Buying a new car in Saudi Arabia

Expats purchase new vehicles while in Saudi Arabia for many reasons. Some prefer having a car they feel they can rely on in the severe weather conditions. Air conditioning is a necessity, and good tyres are important because the heat often compromises their lifespan.

Dealerships usually have English-speaking staff. Cars bought from them have the advantage of being under warranty. Also, the dealership will take care of the majority of the paperwork involved in buying a car.

Buying a used car in Saudi Arabia

There are various options for expats who'd prefer to buy a used vehicle. There's always a risk involved when buying a used car. Expats should negotiate with the seller to have the vehicle inspected by a mechanic of their choice and ask for maintenance records.

Cars don't rust with age in the arid climate, but underneath their shiny bodies, the heat takes its toll on less visible parts, like gaskets, hoses and belts. It's essential to find a trustworthy, competent mechanic – ask friends and colleagues for referrals.

Saudi Arabia doesn't have a standardised way of calculating car values, so second-hand cars are sold for market rates. Potential buyers should get an idea of a car's base asking price by searching the internet.

Renting a car in Saudi Arabia

Expats have the option of renting a car if they aren't sure how long they will be in the Kingdom or would prefer not to buy one. Car rental companies are plentiful, usually have a good selection and work on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

Expats should ensure insurance is included in the rental price and read the policy to find out what their liabilities would be if they’re involved in an accident.

Car insurance in Saudi Arabia

Car insurance is mandatory in Saudi Arabia, and comes in two basic forms.  Expats will need one of these before finalising their purchase.

Third-party insurance

Mandatory or third-party insurance covers the damage someone causes to other people or property but not their own vehicle. It's reasonably priced, but coverage differs between companies, so it's best to shop around.

Comprehensive insurance

Comprehensive insurance covers all damage, including to the policyholder's vehicle. This form of coverage is recommended. Each company's products and prices differ, so expats should consider the options and ask friends and colleagues for referrals.

Domestic help in Saudi Arabia

Expats in Saudi Arabia can hire domestic workers for a variety of tasks such as cooking, cleaning, childcare and driving. The demand for domestic help has increased over the years due to the rising number of working parents. Expats can hire domestic workers in Saudi Arabia through licensed agencies, referrals from friends or by advertising in local newspapers. It is advisable to conduct thorough background checks and ask for references before hiring a domestic worker to ensure their reliability and trustworthiness.

Some downsides and challenges of hiring domestic help include possible language barriers, cultural differences and potential conflicts with the worker that can cause a strained working relationship. Hiring domestic help in Saudi Arabia can be a convenient and valuable addition to an expat's lifestyle, but it is crucial to take the necessary precautions and legal requirements into consideration to ensure a positive and fair working relationship. By doing so, expats can enjoy the benefits of having domestic help while also being responsible and respectful employers.

Finding a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia

There are two main ways to find a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia: using an agency or employing directly. Expats who decide to use an agency should be aware that there are multiple companies that provide domestic services, and each company operates differently. On the other hand, employing directly can be time-consuming and may require the use of classified websites or word-of-mouth networks. Regardless of the method, it is important to proceed with caution and carefully consider the salary or fee and working conditions one is willing to offer.

Using an agency

Using an agency to find domestic help in Saudi Arabia can be a convenient option for expats. That said, it is essential to be cautious and do thorough research before hiring an agency. It is advisable to use only licensed and reputable agencies to avoid any legal or financial issues. Expats can check the Saudi Arabian government's official website to verify the agency's licence and registration.

When expats reach out to a prospective agency, they'll be asked about their expectations, requirements and budget. They should also inquire about the agency's policies regarding replacements, refunds and complaints. It is critical to understand that agencies may have different processes and fees depending on the type of service and the domestic worker's nationality.

If expats opt for a full-time live-in domestic worker, they should be aware of the sponsorship system in Saudi Arabia. The sponsor is the legal employer and is responsible for providing the domestic worker with accommodation, food, medical insurance and a salary per the country's labour laws. The sponsor must also cover the worker's sponsorship and visa fees, which can be costly. Some agencies may offer to sponsor the domestic worker on behalf of the employer.

Expats should also be prepared for cultural differences and potential language barriers when hiring a domestic worker through an agency. Some agencies may provide domestic workers from specific countries, such as the Philippines or India, who may have different customs and communication styles than the employer. It is important to have realistic expectations and patience while building a working relationship with both the agency and the worker.

Employing directly

Employing domestic help directly is possible, but it can be a challenging process. Expats may need to post a listing for a position and sift through numerous CVs or use classified websites to find the right candidate. Word-of-mouth networks can also be useful in finding a trustworthy domestic worker.

Additionally, it is crucial to conduct thorough background checks and ask for references to ensure the domestic worker's reliability and trustworthiness. Moreover, expats can ask for a written letter of recommendation from previous employers to confirm the worker's qualifications and experience. Employers may also need to provide training and guidance to the domestic worker regarding their expectations and cultural norms. Employing directly can be a more cost-effective option than using an agency, but it requires more effort and responsibility on the employer's part.

Expats can conduct a background check on a domestic worker by searching for any criminal records or legal issues through the Saudi Arabian government's Ministry of Interior website. The website provides a service called Absher which allows users to access various government services, including checking the worker's residency and visa status.

Salaries for domestic help in Saudi Arabia

The minimum salary for domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, as set by the Ministry of Labour, varies depending on the type of work and the worker's nationality. For example, the minimum monthly salary for a full-time live-in maid from Indonesia and the Philippines is SAR 1,500, while for a Ugandan maid, it is SAR 900. It is essential to ensure that a fair wage is negotiated for the domestic worker, taking into account their experience, skills and workload.

Employers should also be aware of the legal obligations related to salaries and benefits for domestic workers in Saudi Arabia. The employer must pay the worker's salary on time, provide medical insurance and cover any necessary expenses related to their work. The domestic worker is also entitled to a weekly day off and annual as well as sick leave as per the country's labour laws. Employers should ensure that the terms and conditions of the employment are clearly stated in the contract and agreed upon by both parties before hiring the domestic worker.

Precautions and legal conditions in Saudi Arabia

The Saudi Arabian government has specific laws regarding the employment of domestic workers. Expats who wish to employ a domestic worker must be residents of Saudi Arabia and meet certain minimum salary requirements.

It's important to note that only certain nationalities are eligible for domestic worker visas, so it is essential to check with local authorities to see if the worker one wishes to hire is eligible. The employer must obtain a valid work visa for the domestic worker and ensure that they have suitable accommodation, medical insurance and a fair salary as per the country's labour laws. The employer is also responsible for the domestic worker's safety and well-being and must provide a clear contract that outlines the terms and conditions of the employment.

It is essential to treat domestic workers with respect and dignity and to respect their cultural background and values. Some compromises may need to be made by both parties. If a domestic worker comes from another country, expats and domestic workers may find themselves negotiating between three different cultural settings. Sensitivity and clear communication are necessary.

By its nature, live-in employment necessitates clear boundaries for both parties. One of these boundaries is personal time: Saudi labour law allows for a minimum of one day off a week and nine hours of uninterrupted rest time per day.

It is important to ensure that the contract is fair and transparent. It should clearly outline the worker's duties, working hours and salary, and the employer should ensure that the employee is aware of all of their rights under Saudi law. Any disagreements or issues that arise should be dealt with in a professional and respectful manner.

Transport and Driving in Saudi Arabia

Although it has improved greatly in recent years, the public transport system in Saudi Arabia is limited, and most people get around in Saudi Arabia with their own vehicles or by taxi. A bus system offers services for both inner- and inter-city transport, and there is a railway line that runs between Riyadh and Damman. However, major improvements are underway with the construction of a metro system in Riyadh and the opening of a new high-speed railway.

Driving in Saudi Arabia

Expats often find they can afford cars they wouldn't have been able to back home. This is thanks to low import duties and cheap petrol.

While the Saudi road network is well maintained, the roads are made dangerous by local drivers who are notorious for driving recklessly, so many new arrivals hire a personal driver. Expats driving in Saudi Arabia should do so defensively.

Historically, women (including female expats) have not been allowed to have driving licences in Saudi Arabia and were therefore unable to drive. But in 2018, the government implemented legislation to change this, and women can now drive in Saudi Arabia.

Expats can drive with a foreign or international driving licence for up to three months, after which they're required to apply for a Saudi licence.

Traffic cameras are increasingly being used to deter running red lights and speeding, and fines can be steep. Expats should check the government website frequently to see if they have any, as it's illegal to leave the country with unpaid fines.

Read Buying a Car in Saudi Arabia for more information.

Public transport in Saudi Arabia


Buses operate in Saudi Arabia’s cities and travel to and from neighbouring countries. They're generally well maintained and air-conditioned, but are mainly used by locals and expats who can't afford their own vehicles. Women are restricted from travelling on some city buses, and some buses have screened-off sections for female passengers.

Most expat compounds offer bus or shuttle services to meet the transport needs of women and children.


The Haramain High Speed Rail (HHR) is a high-speed train that caters to passengers wishing to travel between Mecca and Medinah. The train also connects these holy cities to King Abdullah Economic City, Jeddah and the Jeddah airport. The train is ultra modern and offers a luxurious travel experience.

There are also two major train lines that run between Riyadh and Qurayyat, as well as between Riyadh and Dammam. Trains are air-conditioned and usually offer a good service.

Taxis in Saudi Arabia

Taxis are widely available in Saudi cities. This is usually the safest and most efficient mode of transport for those who do not drive themselves.

Most taxis are metered, and expats should ensure the meter is working and reset before they start a journey. Taxis can't be hailed on the street, and have to be called and booked in advance. Some expats save the contact details of a driver they trust and call them when needed.

Fares can be expensive, and drivers are known to substantially increase their fares during peak holiday times such as Ramadan, Hajj and Eid. It’s best to negotiate a price before entering.

Alternatively, ride-hailing applications such as Uber are available in major cities, which can be particularly useful in overcoming the language barrier.

Air travel in Saudi Arabia

Due to Saudi Arabia's size, cross-country travel is easiest by air. There are several airports, including three major international hubs: King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah and King Fahd International Airport in Dammam. Numerous domestic and international airlines operate in the country, including Saudia, the national carrier.

Brief History of Saudi Arabia

Early History

  • The Arabian Peninsula has a long history of tribal societies, with various groups living in the region for thousands of years.
  • The region was important for trade routes linking Europe, Asia, and Africa, with cities such as Mecca and Medina becoming important centres of commerce.
  • In the 7th century, the Islamic prophet Muhammad was born in Mecca and began preaching a new religion, which would later become known as Islam.
  • In 622, Muhammad and his followers fled from Mecca to Medina in what is known as the Hijra, marking the beginning of the Islamic calendar.
  • After Muhammad's death, his successors, known as the caliphs, expanded the Islamic empire, bringing the Arabian Peninsula under their control.
  • Until the 16th century, the area that is now Saudi Arabia was ruled by various Arab tribes, including the Rashidun, Umayyad, and Abbasid dynasties.
  • The region was known for its trade in spices, textiles, and other goods, with merchants traveling long distances to sell their wares.
  • The pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the Hajj, was a major source of income for the region, with pilgrims from all over the Muslim world traveling to the holy city to perform religious rituals.

Ottoman Era

  • In the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire took control of the region, ruling over it until the 20th century. Ottoman control started with Selim I’s acquisition of Medina and Mecca in 1517, and they soon controlled the regions along the Red Sea and Persian Gulf coasts. They also laid claim to the interior, although this remained a nominal suzerainty. 
  • In 1916, with the encouragement and support of Britain and France (which were fighting the Ottomans, the sharif of Mecca, Hussein bin Ali, led a pan-Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire, with the aim of securing Arab independence and creating a single unified Arab state spanning the Arab territories from Aleppo in Syria to Aden in Yemen.

House of Saud 

  • In 1727, Muhammad ibn Saud, a local tribal leader, established the First Saudi State in the area around Riyadh. The fortunes of the Saud family rose and fell over the next 150 years as they vied for control of region with the Ottoman Empire, Egypt and other Arabian dynasties.
  • In 1744, Muhammad ibn Saud combined forces with Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, a scholar and founder of the Wahhabi religious movement. This alliance formed the ideological basis to the expansion of the House of Saud and Wahhabism remains Saudi Arabia's dominant faith.
  • The Saud family briefly controlled most of the present-day territory of Saudi Arabia, including Mecca and Medina, through conquests made between 1786 and 1816. 
  • Concerned at the growing power of the Saudis, the Ottoman ordered his viceroy in Egypt to reconquer the area, and by 1818 the Saudi forces were routed.
  • In 1824 the Al Saud returned to power, a period which became known as the Second Saudi State, although the area they controlled was limited to the Saudi interior. During this period the Saudis were challenged by the powerful Al Rashid dynasty, and by 1891 were conclusively defeated and driven into exile in Kuwait. 
  • In 1902, Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, leader of the Al Saud, returned from exile to resume the conflict with the Al Rashid. He seized Riyadh, the first of a series of conquests, and created the Third Saudi State which ultimately led to the creation of Saudi Arabia in 1930.
  • Abdul-Aziz is recognised as the founder of modern Saudi Arabia and ruled as king from 1932 to 1953. Since then, six of his sons in succession have reigned over the kingdom.

Modern Saudi Arabia

  • The discovery of oil in 1938 transformed the country's economy and allowed for rapid modernisation.
  • During World War II, Saudi Arabia supported the Allied powers and provided oil to the United States and Great Britain.
  • In 1960, Saudi Arabia was one of the founding members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), giving it significant influence in global oil markets.
  • In 1979, the Grand Mosque in Mecca was seized by Islamic militants, leading to a two-week siege and a crackdown on religious extremism.
  • In the 1980s, Saudi Arabia was a key player in supporting the mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union.
  • In 1990, Saudi Arabia played a leading role in the Gulf War, which expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
  • In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, it was revealed that most of the attackers were of Saudi nationality. This put a strain on the relationship between the two countries.
  • In 2005, King Fahd died and was succeeded by his half-brother, King Abdullah.
  • In 2011, Saudi Arabia sent troops to Bahrain to help quell pro-democracy protests there.
  • In 2015, King Salman ascended to the throne and launched a series of economic and social reforms under the banner of Vision 2030.
  • In 2017, Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Qatar over allegations of support for terrorism.
  • In 2018, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a crackdown on corruption, arresting dozens of high-profile businessmen and officials.
  • In 2019, Saudi Arabia allowed women to drive for the first time.
  • In 2021, Saudi Arabia hosted the G20 summit, showcasing its efforts to diversify its economy and promote cultural openness.