When choosing your ideal expat destination, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) might not be the first place that pops into your mind. The culture and lifestyle in this conservative Middle Eastern nation is completely different from that of many Western countries. The constitution in the birthplace of Islam is based on religious beliefs and the authorities are rather strict. Officials ensure that the residents, locals and foreigners follow the laws that have been laid down at all times.Moreover, Saudi Arabia is one of the places that have a different set of rules for women (for example dressing, socializing and driving). The climate can also be very harsh for those who are not used to high temperatures. Many expats from the US, UK, Canada, Australia and other parts of Asia are therefore a bit apprehensive about relocating to this Gulf nation.
However, living in this country could actually be beneficial for foreigners in a number of ways, especially in terms of finances. It has one of the biggest, most stable economies across the globe. Businesspeople, entrepreneurs and professionals from different countries move to the Kingdom to take advantage of its career prospects, tax-free salaries and low cost of living.
According to a recent Expat Explorer survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of HSBC, expats living in Saudi Arabia tend to progress towards their financial goals faster than any other region. This nation was ranked number 1 in this index, above other places like Qatar, Oman, Singapore and Switzerland. Moreover, around 70% of its expat population own property in their home countries. You can find the full survey results here.
It is therefore hardly a surprise to know that the Land of the Two Holy Mosques is home to around 10 million foreign residents, making up around 33% of its total population. The key to living happily in this place is acknowledging, respecting and accepting its culture.
A huge number of expats in Saudi Arabia settle down in Western-style colonies that are considerably removed from the reality of the rest of the nation. These transient private compounds have everything on site, including restaurants, bowling alleys, golf courses, salons and fitness centers. They tend to replicate a major part of the lifestyle Americans and Europeans lead back home as the residents mainly socialize with other immigrants. While some may consider this lifestyle artificial, others believe it helps them lead a luxurious life, one they probably would not be able to afford back home, and save a considerable amount for a better future.
So should you also consider moving to this country in order to achieve your financial goals? Keep these aspects in mind before you make any kind of decision.
Most of the Western expats working in the Kingdom are employed by foreign companies in the IT, healthcare, education, construction, telecommunication, and banking sectors. Some get posted to this country by their existing employers. Expatriate men can easily find a job as long as they have specialist or technical skills. They are therefore likely to draw high packages, which include a salary, sponsorship, housing allowance, car allowance, children’s education, healthcare, domestic help allowance, and return trips home.
According to a survey conducted by Gulf Business in 2015, Saudi Arabia pays higher than average salaries for most positions, especially westerners. The median pay has risen by around 7% to reach Saudi Riyal or SAR 48,688 (US $ 12,980; £ 10,507; € 12,259) per month.
A Western expat earns at least 29% more than Asians and almost 8% more than Arabs. A North American / European / Australian at a CEO / Managing Director level in a multinational company is likely to draw around SAR 176,146 (US $ 46,960; £ 38,012; € 44,350) per month, which is much higher than what their Arab and Asian counterparts make. Discrepancies in income on the basis of nationality are very evident across this region.
In fact, that amount is probably the highest a professional can earn in this country. A foreigner at CEO/ Managing Director level in a local company makes around SAR 94,056 (US $ 25,075; £ 5,411; € 6,314) each month. The average monthly salaries for other expats (Western, Arab and Asian) managers are:
– Information Technology: SAR 48,103 (US $ 12,824; £ 10,380; € 12,111)
– Banking (Treasury Manager): SAR 56,508 (US $ 15,065; £ 12,194; € 14,228)
– Banking (Branch Manager): SAR 44,520 (US $ 11,869; £ 9,607; € 11,209)
– Construction (Project Manager): SAR 49,847 (US $ 13,289; £ 10,756; € 12,550)
– Real Estate: SAR 45,428 (US $ 12,111; £ 9,803; € 11,437)
– Healthcare: SAR 45,214 (US $ 12,054; £ 9,757; € 11,384)
Female expats, including those who are on a dependent visa, may find it very difficult to get a job in Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, they may come across a suitable opening in the field of education or in establishments that cater mainly to female customers. In the recent past, a number of women have also set up their own businesses. Unfortunately, like in most other nations, professional women earn a lot less than men.
To know more about the salaries and packages for different professions in this country, click here. This site also lists down the ranges for professionals with different degrees and experiences.
Making Extra Money
Most households in Saudi Arabia, including expat families, have only one source of income, since women can’t find employment easily. Many of them have a lot of time on their hands and can actually explore different avenues to keep themselves occupied and at the same time make an additional amount of money. Most of the local women supplement their family income by considering work-from-home options. Expats too, can make a significant amount of money through these activities. Some suggestions follow.
Catering and packed lunch services: The number of single men living in the Kingdom as expats is huge and many of them don’t have the time or expertise to prepare healthy and tasty meals. You could therefore take on catering orders for parties, family functions and other events. At the same time, providing a daily packed lunch service to a smaller group of people will ensure that you have a steady source of income.
Tuition: Education is given a lot of importance across the country and children are under constant pressure to perform well academically. It is therefore quite common for kids to go for extra classes after school. There is a huge demand for good home tutors, especially for the higher grades.
Day care and child services: If you are well-experienced in taking care of children, you may want to consider helping other professionals and at the same time make a fair amount of money. Most working mothers look for a day care center that also acts as a private playgroup, so that their children can learn something while they are being looked after by others.
Fashion designing and tailoring: Many local women in this country are willing to pay a huge sum of money on clothes. In addition to designing their outfits, you could provide them the material at a fair mark up. You can earn even more if you can offer embroidery and stitching services.
Beauty and skincare: Saudi Arabian women are extremely beauty conscious and they spend a lot of time as well as money on their personal grooming. Getting an appointment at a beauty parlor, especially during the wedding season, can be a challenge. Any woman can earn a lot by offering beauty services from home.
Other easy ways to make additional money in the Kingdom include photography, jewelry designing and content writing. Many of the women in this country are also quite keen on taking up specialized courses, where they get to learn a skill such as baking, making chocolates, cooking and makeup application, to name a few. Do keep in mind that it isn’t possible to get these work-from-home activities licensed, registered or legalized.
The cost of living in the Kingdom is on par with, if not lower than, other expat friendly destinations in the Middle East. According to a recent Cost of Living Survey conducted by Mercer, Jeddah ranked 151 out of the 207 participating cities. Riyadh came in at 72, which is a bit closer to the regional average. In fact, the country’s capital is regarded as the most expensive city in Saudi Arabia, but its cost of living is 58% cheaper than London, 30% lower than Dubai and 24% less than Barcelona.
More often than not, expats move to this nation because their packages include allowances for housing, travel, children’s education and medical insurance. These are expenses they generally pay for on their own when they work in their home countries. If these expenses are covered by your employers, you too will be able to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle.
Expat housing in this country is exorbitant. There is a huge demand for residential properties in expat colonies, which has resulted in high rents and long waiting lists. Of course, it is possible to live in buildings that are outside of a compound at a cheaper price, but the whole experience may be a bit isolating for a Westerner. People can choose to pay anywhere between SAR 20,000 (US $ 5,332; £ 4,315; € 5,036) and SAR 300,000 (US $ 79,978; £ 64,739; € 75,533) for accommodation per month, depending on the area.
Since foreign kids are not allowed to attend public schools in the Kingdom, education is another huge expense for a majority of expats. You will have no choice but to send your child to an International School, which may charge up to SAR 75,000 (US $ 19,995; £ 16,185; € 18,883) per year for a senior student.
Those who cook at home on a regular basis don’t really find Saudi Arabia expensive when it comes to food. The local produce is quite economical and of good quality. Moreover, you can find a number of reasonably-priced international fast food chains and local restaurants across the country. Unfortunately, imported food items cost a lot more and can increase your monthly expenditure considerably.
Given its position in the oil sector, petrol is quite cheap in this nation. You therefore aren’t likely to spend much on traveling if you drive. Some expats purchase luxurious cars as they are fairly economical too. However, commuting expenses are higher for women, as they usually travel by taxis when not accompanied by a male family member.
In terms of leisure and entertainment, there isn’t too much to do for expats as there are no bars, clubs, theaters, or cinemas in Saudi Arabia. Most of the foreigners therefore have private gatherings at home or in their compounds on the weekends. Entertainment expenses are therefore very low in the Kingdom.
Those who enjoy shopping will be delighted by the number of malls and stores all over country. Prices of branded items are on par with the US and Europe.
It is important to remember that while some expats have seen significant financial gains by moving to Saudi Arabia, there are some who have spent years in this nation and have returned home with next to nothing. This is because no matter how much you make and spend, your financial position will eventually improve with the right investments. Just living in this Middle Eastern country does not guarantee that you achieve your financial goals.
Fortunately, it is quite easy for working immigrants to seek financial advice from professional entities (both local to Saudi Arabia and from their home countries) to increase their overall monetary gains. The services offered generally include direct access to economic developments or products in the region, along with their underlying risks and returns as well as tips on investments, pensions, savings and benefits.