Saudi Arabia is the biggest economy in the Middle East and every year many foreigners move to the country for business purposes.
But Saudi Arabia is a country governed by rather strict rules and observances and adjusting to its culture and lifestyle may take some time. However there are benefits for the many expats who live there, such as tax-free salaries, good housing and a low cost of living. If you’re an expat thinking about moving to Saudi Arabia, here are 5 things you should know.Climate
Expats may be in for quite a temperature shock as the climate in Saudi Arabia is vastly different from what they may be used to in America or European countries. Here, the daytime temperatures can soar to almost 50 degrees Celsius during the peak of the summer season. This can take a toll on one’s health, especially for people who have always been used to colder temperatures. Being a desert region, there is barely any rain throughout the year, except for the Asir region in the southwest, which receives some rainfall. Since there are strict rules about how men and women should dress, one cannot simply dress as they please, except within the confines of their compound houses, which is where many foreigners live.
Those who want to enter the country must abide by several essential restrictions enforced by the Saudi Arabian government. These restrictions are usually established by religious law – for instance, it is forbidden to import pork products or alcohol into the country. Carrying religious material is also disallowed, as it may be seen as an attempt to spread a certain religion. There is also punishment stipulated for those who attempt to bring in synthetic or herbal drugs and weapons. It is advisable to carry along your doctor’s prescription if you are on any type of medication.
Saudi Arabia is an Islamic country, and shops and businesses are duty-bound to down their shutters during the prayer times, which take place five times a day at dawn, noon, afternoon, after sunset and after dusk. The exact timings of these prayers change according to the Islamic calendar and the time of the year. The call to prayer is sounded through loudspeakers, and this lets Muslims know that it is time to pray. Many shopkeepers switch off the lights to let people know that they should either leave or wait outside. The bigger stores usually allow people to continue with their shopping, but payments can only be made after the prayer time is over.
Nowadays, there are apps that indicate the prayer times, so you can be prepared.
Different rules for women
Women in Saudi Arabia are not permitted to drive. This is sometimes the most difficult change for expats. It is possible for women to take a taxi or have a personal driver to take them from place to place. Otherwise, a male relative must accompany them. Women must also abide by the rules regarding dress. They need to wear an abaya when out in public.
Women must wear their abayas even when in designated family sections at restaurants or events. This is a long robe-like covering worn over the clothes. Most women wear black abayas, but colors like dark grey or dark purple are also permitted. There are several shops that make and sell abayas, and it is quite easy to find out what fits and suits you well. It is also advisable to keep a scarf with you, in case you are asked to cover your head.
Segregation of singles and family
Restaurants have different sections for single men and families, each with separate entrances. The ‘singles’ section admits only men, whether single or not. Women are not permitted inside these areas. They can, however, go into the ‘families’ section, which also admits groups of women and families with or without children. Some shopping malls also actively discourage single men from entering on specific days or at specific times. Some shops are even designated as ‘family only’.
Since there are strict observances regarding the mixing of men and women, those who wish to host mixed public events need to first seek permission from the local government. There are established regulations about what separate facilities have to be created for women.