Moving to Saudi Arabia can be quite intimidating for anyone who has spent most of their life in a Western or liberal democratic country. It’s important that you understand the reasons behind the conservative laws and culture before you move to the country however. Being the birthplace of Islam, with its holiest sites, the nation is extremely strict when it comes to religious traditions and practices. The draconian laws and harsh punishments meted out for any violation can deter most expats, but the fact is most expats don’t visit the kingdom for its vibrant night life or for the welcoming culture! The oil-rich nation offers expats an opportunity to make a fortune with hefty salaries that are tax-free. Most expats moving to Saudi understand that they must trade off civil and personal liberties for huge financial gains, and in so doing accept the responsibilities of life in the kingdom.To better prepare yourself for a move to Saudi Arabia, here are some aspects of life that you should familiarize yourself with:
Most expats, especially westerners, live in gated compounds and colonies that have high security. These compounds house apartments and villas that have all of the luxuries that one is accustomed to, and life within these compounds is also a lot freer. You can dress more comfortably, consume alcohol, and will have plenty of other expats to socialize with. Weekend barbecues and parties within such colonies will make you feel quite at home. On the downside, accommodation in such communities can be extremely expensive, so try and find employment with companies that have provisions for rent allowance.
Saudi Arabia is dominated by a dessert landscape, so be prepared for the extreme heat. The change in climate can be particularly hard to cope with if you come from a region with colder climates like Canada or one of the Scandinavian countries. The weather can be extremely hot and humid, with summer temperatures in the day soaring as high as 122° F or 50° C. Keep in mind that you can’t beat the heat by stripping down to your undergarments and diving into the public pool!
Your social life will be governed by local cultural norms and traditions, as these traditions are codified into the law of the land and failure to comply can get you fined, jailed or even lashed. If you are single, you can forget about having a romantic life and going out on dates. People of the opposite sex cannot socialize in public or be seen together, that is unless you have a marriage license. Religious police can stop you and demand to see your marriage license. Unmarried couples who are caught fraternizing can be jailed or worse.
Adjust to the local religious practices and schedule your activities taking into account the prayer timings. Prayers occur 5 times during a day and shops and businesses have to remain shut during these prayers. This includes any and all kinds of business establishments, whether banks and malls or gyms and restaurants. Customers or establishment owners found to be in violation of the law can be jailed. Fortunately, hospitals aren’t forced to shut during prayer timings! If you are a Muslim expat, keep in mind that prayers are mandatory and if you are found engaging in any other activity or not praying during prayer time you can be hauled off to prison.
Saudi Arabia has some of the heaviest censorship in the world and you will find that plenty of sites are blocked in the country as they are deemed immoral. This doesn’t just include porn sites, but it also includes dating sites and any sites that are seen as promoting values incompatible with Islam or against the Saudi monarchy. While you can get around the censorship by using a VPN to access blocked content, make sure that you exercise caution and censor yourself a bit. Avoid posting or writing anything even mildly critical of the kingdom or life in the kingdom while living in the country.
Life in Saudi Arabia is especially challenging for women because of the severe restrictions that impede movement and socialization. The constant scrutiny and surveillance from religious police can also be disconcerting, but most expats get through their stay without much trouble simply by abiding by the laws. If you can get past the restrictions and limitations of life in Saudi Arabia it truly can be a land of opportunity.