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Saudi Arabia - Employment

The Western expatriates who work in Saudi Arabia are mostly employed either by Saudi Aramco, the national oil company, on foreign military bases, or by foreign companies engaged in infrastructure development or other projects in the Kingdom. There are also fairly large numbers of expatriates employed in healthcare, education, IT, telecommunications and banking. In general, you will only be able to find a job in Saudi Arabia if you have specialist or technical skills that are in demand here.

Many expatriates are posted to Saudi Arabia by their existing employers. However, some job vacancies are advertised in the daily Saudi newspapers and on websites. A drawback for western job-seekers is that most of the newspapers are in Arabic, but the English language paper Arab News does have a small classifieds section which includes job vacancies, mainly in Jeddah. There are a small number of recruitment agencies which post vacancies online, but agency websites only allow jobseekers to post their CVs for consideration by employers.

It is very difficult for women to obtain jobs in Saudi Arabia, although not impossible. Most expatriate women in Saudi are medical staff or teachers, or work in all-female organizations such as women's banks and women's retail stores.

If you are successful in obtaining a job in Saudi Arabia, you are likely to benefit from a relatively high tax-free salary and a wide range of benefits and perks such as subsidized housing, healthcare and educational costs, and free trips home. However, salaries have fallen in relative terms in recent years. Most postings are fixed-term, usually for two or three years. All foreign nationals are required to have a Saudi sponsor and must obtain a work permit before entering the Kingdom. Employment permits are issued for a maximum of two years, but can often be extended. They are exchanged for a residence permit (Igama) once the employee arrives in the country.

The working week in Saudi Arabia is from Saturday to Wednesday, with some businesses also operating on Thursday mornings. Working hours in private business are usually 8 a.m. to 12 noon and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., and Government offices are open from 7.30 a.m. to 2.30 p.m. When scheduling business appointments, it is important to take into account the five daily prayer times, as well as the religious holidays of Hajj and Ramadan.

Appointment times should be regarded as approximate rather than fixed, as there is a relaxed approach to business which often results in delays. A very personal approach to business is taken, and face-to-face meetings are generally preferred to telephone conversations or written communications when negotiating deals. All deals are regulated by Sharia or Islamic law, which has many similarities with western law. A big difference between the two is that Sharia law does not make reference to precedents, and rulings made on one case are therefore not applicable to others.

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