Saudi Arabia is a land of stark contradictions, widely misunderstood and often misrepresented. While a lot that you’ve heard about Saudi Arabia is probably true, most of it needs to be taken in context to the cultural and religious identity of the nation. No one would make the move to Saudi Arabia for greater freedom or to feel safe, the driving force is always monetary gain, and Saudi is a great place to get rich pretty quick. If you wish to further your career goals through a move to the Kingdom, be prepared to forego most of those aspects of life that we hold so dear in secular democratic societies.A little bit of common sense and respect for the local culture never hurts, and in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia this will go a long way to ensuring that you have trouble free stay.
Crime and Safety
Crime in Saudi is not nonexistent, but crime rates are very low, because of the harsh sentences meted out even for crimes that may seem like small misdemeanors. As the laws are based on cultural mores and religious interpretations, acts of drunkenness, adultery and homosexuality can also incur harsh punishments. Petty theft is not uncommon and you should be wary when travelling, but life within gated expat compounds is rather safe and not as restrictive. Women should be especially wary of regional customs and attitudes towards women, as it is not uncommon for women to be harassed and stalked.
Health care infrastructure and medical facilities in a state are an important consideration when gauging safety and wellbeing. The corona virus outbreak was a wakeup call to the administration and steps have been taken to ensure that such incidents do not recur. Health care facilities at public hospitals and clinics leave much to be desired, but the health sector has been rapidly modernizing. If your employer provides you with Class A health insurance, you can rest assured you will have access to world class health care.
Travelling in Saudi Arabia can be safe, provided you exercise some amount of caution. Always keep a low profile, and if you’re traveling outside of your familiar surroundings try to travel with a local. Always keep abreast of regional news and avoid areas that are unstable. The eastern region and southern border with Yemen are best avoided because of problems with Shi’ite insurgency and Islamic militancy respectively.
Expat safety is a very valid concern, especially after the bombing of a western housing compound in 2007. This said, Saudi has a good track record for ensuring the safety of its expat population, and security has been beefed up since then. The country is always on high alert and security is tight because of threats to both the local and expat population.
Most expats live in western compounds that have strict security, and are also protected by the Saudi Arabian National Guard.
Insurgency and Terrorism
Contrary to popular belief, Saudi Arabia is not some kind of terrorist haven. The country is in fact threatened by terrorist activities because of the volatile geopolitical situation in the region and its proximity to states that have fanatical groups. You are unlikely to encounter any such radical elements within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but it’s always best to be cautious, so restrict your activities to areas with major roads and heavy policing.
Saudi Arabia does not have constitutional laws and there is no guarantee of equality in the eyes of the law. The courts follow Shariah law, and verdicts are based on the interpretation of religious texts. In addition, there is a lot of corruption and inefficiency within the legal system. Try not to break any laws or antagonize any officials, as you will find that you can’t leave the country without an exit visa! The monarchy has a tight grip over the country and big brother is always watching and listening, so avoid making any comments about the monarchy or country that could be construed as critical.
This is probably the most valid concern for anyone planning to live in Saudi as an expat! Saudi Arabia has among the highest road fatality rates in the world, which should be no surprise to anyone living in the country, youngsters in particular, often drive recklessly, speeding and drifting in open traffic. You will always have to be alert when driving, as you may be cut off unexpectedly or have oncoming traffic swerve towards you. Drive slowly and carefully or hire a driver with experience driving in Saudi.
Some of these conditions may seem almost intolerably restrictive and archaic, but if you must move to the kingdom as an expat, it would be wise to look at your losses and gains the same way you’d treat an investment. The higher the risk, the higher the gains – when moving to Saudi, be prepared to trade most of your personal freedoms and liberties (that we normally take for granted) for, at times, obscenely high, tax-free earnings!