Saudi Arabia > Moving

How To Move To Saudi Arabia - The Definitive Guide

Click a link to go directly to a specific section:

Apply For A Visa
Find A Job
Rent Property
Buy Property
Register For Healthcare
Open A Bank Account
Learn The Language
Choose A School



Apply For A Visa

[back to top]

The movement of expats is strongly controlled Saudi Arabia, so permits and visas have strict bureaucratic procedures. Therefore, there is little to no chance for an appeal if you are denied entry. However, one upside is that expats do not have to deal with the bureaucracy. Companies, both large and small, have an employee whose job is to help international workers and their families gain work and residence visas. This person also takes the role of a guide for you when you arrive in the country.

To be eligible for entry into Saudi Arabia, you will require several passport size photos, a valid passport, a birth certificate for every family member, a medical certificate and a marriage certificate if you want to enter with your spouse, or join them in the country. Any migrant working in Saudi Arabia needs to have a certificate that indicates a clean bill of health. Tests are usually done locally, and your sponsor can advise on what is required. You will be denied entry into the country if you have any connections with Israel, such as an Israeli entry stamp or passport.

You are required to keep your identification document as well as your entry and residence visas on your person during your stay in Saudi Arabia. It is standard procedure for customs officials to do spot checks on businesses to look for illegal workers.

The country is conservative, as it strictly adheres to the Sharia law. It is the birthplace of the Islam religion, and Saudis consider this an honor which has been rewarded by the abundant natural oil resources. Ignoring the strict Islamic laws and culture in the country can get you into serious trouble.

Similarly, trying to enter the country without authorization is not advised. In fact, you will not even get past the check-in desk without proper authorization. You will be quickly and probably aggressively turned back if you arrive at any one of the land border points without authorization. It is much easier for Muslims to gain entry into the Kingdom, since visas for religious purposes (the hajj and umrah visas) are a well-administered process. Since the volume of people wishing to visit the holy places is enormous, the government has established stringent national quotas for each country.

You must be especially careful with the dates shown on the Saudi visas, which mostly conform to the Islamic calendar. If you overstay your visa by even 24 hours, you can be heavily fined and subjected to further delays.

Note that there are no shortcuts for circumventing immigration and visa application rules. Refusals and rejections can be permanent. Remember, Saudi Arabia is the only state in the Gulf where passengers, whether in transit by air or land, are required to have a transit visa.

Transit Visa

When you are changing planes at a Saudi airport and have no option but to temporarily stop in the country, you will require a 24 or 48-hour transit visa. You will be required to surrender your passport to the immigration authorities, who will then return it to you during departure.

Individuals driving to the neighboring countries of Saudi Arabia through the country are usually granted a transit visa, which is eligible for three days only. When traveling through the Saudi border, it is important that you make sure that all your papers are in order and your itinerary is clear. Check all the procedures with the Saudi consulate or embassy in your country of origin, and seek permission from the destination country. Although transit regulations are written down, you should know that they are occasionally subject to local interpretation, especially at border points, so it is essential that you are well-prepared.

To apply for a transit visa, you are required to fill an online application from the Enjaz website and then pay the application fees. In addition to filling the application, you will require a valid passport, confirmed travel itinerary, permission letter to enter the country, two passport size photographs, resident permit of your home country and a signed declaration.

Visitor Visa

The tourism industry in Saudi Arabia is low, so few tourist visas are issued. To get a visitor visa, you need to be invited by an individual or company, who will stand in as your sponsor and be responsible for you during your stay. The sponsor is the one who applies for the visa and then gets a serial number. Afterwards you will go to a Saudi embassy, where you will get a visa stamp on your passport. There is a small fee to be paid for the visa stamp. There are a few cases where a visitor visa can be changed into a residence visa while you are still in the kingdom. Unless your sponsor has plenty of clout, you are required to return to your country of domicile to wait out the official process.

It is difficult for single women to enter the country unless they are closely related to expat workers. Businesswomen often encounter problems during entry unless they are sponsored by powerful Saudi nationals or are members of a Saudi family.

Work Or Residence Visa

The process of applying for a work or residence visa is long, and can take a couple of months, with plenty of paperwork involved. Once you have a contract of employment, you are required to produce your academic or professional qualifications and full medical examination results to the consulate in your home country. You will receive a visa number, which you will submit to the Saudi embassy to get a stamped residence visa, which will become your residence permit once you get to the Kingdom. Your passport will be retained by your sponsor, although you will have to carry your residence permit everywhere.

Exit Visa

If you need to go on leave or on a business trip outside the Kingdom, your sponsor will get you an exit visa, which is often in the form of a stamp in your passport. Your residence permit will be temporarily withdrawn. If you have completed your stay or ended your contract, you will be given an exit-only stamp, and will be required to surrender your residence permit.


Find A Job

[back to top]

There are plenty of job opportunities for skilled and experienced expats moving to Saudi Arabia. The only downside is how restrictive the Saudi job market is in terms of offering migrants work. Here is what you should know about employment in Saudi Arabia and whether it is the right move for you.

The government of Saudi Arabia controls how many jobs go to international workers who are seeking greener pastures. Saudi Arabia currently gives priority to local people who completed their studies in a local university, or Saudi citizens coming from abroad for studies. As an expat looking to work in the country, it is important to realize that the best paying jobs are often filled up by Saudi people before an expat is considered.

However, expats with a unique set of skills and qualifications may be considered for the high paying jobs. Over the years, the Saudi Arabian economy has become more lenient to expats coming in with a skill set that is not available locally. Nevertheless, the only way for an expat to be sure of work is to do their research before traveling to Saudi Arabia.

Employment Sectors

Saudi Arabia is completing its last area of development, which is heavily focused on the private sector and industry. The financial sector is also thriving, with banking institutions forming a large portion of the Saudi commercial sector.

Expats seeking work can be absorbed in companies owned jointly by the Saudi government and a private company. The Saudi Basic Industries Corporation or (SBIC) is one such company. SBIC is one of the chief suppliers of petrochemical products, fertilizers and plastics in the Gulf states and abroad.

The mining industry in Saudi Arabia has also picked up over the years. Many of the Gulf States are now major suppliers of copper, phosphates and gold ore. Economic experts predict that the mining industry will grow to become the second stronghold for economic stability in Saudi Arabia. Besides mining, Saudi Arabia is also a chief manufacturer of cement, steel, iron ore and processed foods.

Employment in Saudi Arabia for an expat will mainly focus on with construction, government services or industry. Traveling through the Gulf States, you will quickly notice the industrial expansions happening in notable cities such as Jubail and Yanbu. Another vibrant sector in Saudi Arabia is that of agriculture, since the Gulf States are increasingly looking for ways to become self-sufficient in terms of food production.

Finding A Job

It is advisable for expats to be assured of a job offer before moving to Saudi Arabia. Given the strict control the Saudi government has on the job market, getting work after landing in the country can be quite difficult. There are also certain regulations that migrants will have to follow if they want to stay employed in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi Arabian government only allows migrants to work on short-term contracts. Therefore, you can never be employed permanently in Saudi Arabia. If you would like to start a business in the country, the business must be a partnership with a Saudi national, who must be the major shareholder of the business.

The Saudi labor market is controlled by the ministry of labor and social services. This ministry regulates the number of work permits or visas issued to migrants. By doing this, the Saudi government is able to control the number of jobs going to international workers, as well as the number of people coming into the country. The government also controls immigration by introducing sponsorship of expats into the country.

Every expat moving to Gulf States to advance their career will require a sponsor. A sponsor is a person, company, or institution that will be your guardian and contact while you are in the country. The sponsor is responsible for arranging all the paperwork required on your behalf. Sponsors are also charged with the task of applying or reapplying for expat visas, signing rental contracts, opening bank accounts and applying for new jobs.

Expats employed in Saudi Arabia will have their employer as the main sponsor. Those arriving on holiday as tourists will be sponsored by the hotel or travel agency that welcomed them into the country. Students are sponsored by schools, colleges or the educational mentors accommodating them. If you want to establish a business in one of the Gulf States, your Saudi business partner automatically becomes your sponsor.

Recruitment Agencies

Recruitment agencies act as the link between the outside world and the labor market in Saudi Arabia. These agencies are normally located outside Saudi Arabia and source for the right talent to fill up advertised positions.

Through the years, recruitment agencies have been specializing on the kind of workforce they bring to Saudi Arabia. Agencies from regions such as America and the UK supply qualified staff to fill managerial posts and any other position of leadership in the commercial sector. Agencies from Asian countries such as India, Thailand and Sri Lanka bring in ample supply of manual labor for the construction and manufacturing industries. Some recruitment agencies supply qualified individuals who come to Saudi Arabia to work as nurses, accountants, computer specialists and engineers.

Once an agency has successfully found a job for you, the consultancy and agency fees go directly to the employer. Saudi employers often transfer this cost to the employee in the form of salary cuts. Expect to receive a deduction of 20 to 40 percent on your salary for getting a job via an agency. Fortunately, the fees charged are lower for top tier jobs such as company managers or certified engineers.

Freelancing And Temporary Work

For expats coming into Saudi Arabia without a job offer, freelancing is the next possible option. Freelancers provide professional services in various industries such as shipbuilding and repair, offshore installations, oil sector or construction. Again, all freelance job opportunities are advertised outside the country and qualified candidates are flown in. Expats hoping to freelance and arriving in the country without work are extremely rare.

Expats living in Saudi Arabia are allowed to find temporary or casual work before moving to something permanent. Temporary jobs available in the country include secretarial positions, retail in the tourism industry, driving for tourism companies or positions in bars and nightclubs.

Working Conditions

The Gulf States are considered some of the safest places to work as an expat. Another perk of working in Saudi Arabia is that no income tax is charged on your salary. Therefore, net income for most jobs advertised is often higher, another reason why migrants are eager to find employment in Saudi Arabia.


Rent Property

[back to top]

Expats have plenty of options when it comes to renting property in Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, finding the right accommodation can be daunting, especially with the rising number of migrants settling in the country. Here are some tips to help you find the right accommodation in Saudi Arabia for an individual or a family.

The Saudi real estate market has been booming since oil became the largest gross domestic product of the Gulf States. Most of the housing structures are owned by wealthy Arab families who compete with each other in establishing modern and luxurious mega structures. There has also been a need to boost the number of housing options in the Gulf States due to the rising demand of accommodation for expats coming in to the country.

Saudi Arabia is a vast desert area with plenty of uninhabited areas. Most of the available housing options are located in the cities, while the wilderness is left to nomadic Arabs in camel caravans. As an expat, there are several types of housing you can consider for rent.

Expat Compounds

Compound houses are some of the best properties for rent in Saudi Arabia. These housing options were the first to be erected in Saudi Arabia to cater to the new group of expats arriving in the country. Stylish compound houses that have been furnished to meet the demands of expats are available.

Compound houses are large and spacious. They tend to be fully furnished and equipped with all the necessary amenities including kitchenware, washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, Wi-Fi and so on. You can also expect to find libraries, swimming pools, in-house gymnasiums, restaurants, bars, shopping malls and even education centers located within the compound.

Compound houses can also come as partially furnished. This will mean they have a partially equipped kitchen with basic amenities such as a gas stove, dish racks and kitchenware. The rest of the house will be empty and left to you to furnish.

Thanks to the increasing numbers of expats moving in to the country, compound houses are becoming harder to find. It is not uncommon to be on a waiting list of up to 18 months before you can get such a house. This will mean having to consider other housing options.

Villas And Apartments

Saudi apartment complexes are on the rise. Apartments are more spacious and have more privacy than compound houses. They are suited for the expat moving in with a family.

Rent for apartment units is high. Many expats who cannot find compound houses prefer sharing an apartment with others.

Villas are lavish houses, usually reserved for the elite group of wealthy Arab families. These luxurious housing units are concentrated in the suburban areas, in the form of gated communities. Villas come fully furnished and stocked with state of the art equipment for ostentatious living. Round-the-clock security is provided, and you can also find gyms, restaurants and even malls within these gated communities.

Rich Arab families often occupy entire clusters of villas, as they live in large extended families. If you want to rent a villa, you might be able to find one in an expat community neighborhood.

Old Town Houses

Old town houses fall at the bottom of the chain in terms of rental costs and amenities provided. If you rent one of these, you will be moving to a completely empty house. Amenities are rare, and property owners rarely see the need to renovate the houses.

Expats who cannot find immediate accommodation may temporarily rent standard houses, especially those who are on a waiting list for a compound house.

Finding Rentals In Saudi Arabia

Expats looking for houses to rent can use local real estate consultants. Real estate agents have the knowledge of the market and are in a good position to help you find what you want. Some realtors will drive around with you looking at prospective rental units. Property owners also prefer dealing with local real estate agents during property negotiations. Your realtor can help strike the best deal on your behalf.

You can also rely on the knowledge of fellow expats to get recommendations for housing options. Since most expats live in the same area, they can be helpful by alerting you of vacant houses within that area. Word of mouth is often the best tool for finding the right property for rent faster.

Rental Contracts

All rental contracts are drafted between a property owner and an expat tenant in the presence of a sponsor from Saudi Arabia. Rental contracts are either short-term or long-term. Short-term contracts can last between two to six months, while long-term contracts can last a whole year.

It is often difficult to break a contract with a property owner and move house early. Therefore, ensure you are comfortable with the house you pick before settling in. Property owners usually ask for advance payments when signing the tenancy contract and agreement. The advance payment is often the first month’s rent, although this depends on how long you will be staying.

Some employers provide housing for their expat employees, while others help them to find the right property for rent. Some even make the advance payment, which they deduct later from employee’s salary. It is possible for expat tenants to terminate their contract before the end of stipulated period. However, it is best that your sponsor handles the termination, as local property owners are not too happy about tenants who switch houses between contracts.

Rental Costs

Cost of renting property in Saudi Arabia will depend on the type of house, its size, condition, location and amenities provided. Thanks to the growing number of housing options, rental cost is usually low for expats. Your sponsor can also help bargain on your behalf so that you can get the best deal.


Buy Property

[back to top]

Property laws in Saudi Arabia are relaxed, allowing expats to buy property. Buying a home in Saudi Arabia is considered a good investment, as there is shortage of homes on the market to meet the needs of the increasing population. The shortage is felt keenly in Riyadh, where more than half of the population rent instead of buying.

The government has set up incentives to boost the real estate market in Saudi Arabia. Money is currently being invested in building more homes to cater to the demand. In the next few years, it is expected that 500,000 new units will be built. In addition, mortgage laws are being adjusted to encourage residents to access loans so that they can invest in the real estate industry.

Another solution to this problem is the relaxing of real estate laws so that expats can buy property in Saudi Arabia. Expats are allowed to purchase property for commercial or residential purposes. They can also invest in private land, which they can develop as long as they have approval from authorities. Mecca and Medina, considered by many Muslims to be holy cities, are the only places expats cannot purchase real estate, as the country is trying to keep Saudi religion and culture intact. However, a migrant can own property in either city through inheritance.

To be able to buy property, you need approval from the ministry of interior. Factors considered before you get approval include your profession and financial background. There are a few factors you might want to consider before you decide whether renting or buying is the best option. If you crave flexibility, then renting is an ideal option for you. The duration of your stay should also be considered. If you intend to stay in Saudi Arabia for a long time, then buying could save you lots of hassle. Buying property can be an investment, but be ready to take into account how much you will need. Costs such as mortgage processing fees, maintenance, settlement cost, down payments and building insurance should be considered.

You can make a final decision regarding buying property in Saudi Arabia once you have weighed the pros and cons. The cost of owning property in Saudi Arabia includes the cost of land and the total value of the land where the property will be developed. The price is usually negotiated between the buyer, seller and a facilitator. You might need a lawyer to arrange a private estate sale or draw up a contract. Once the agreement has been negotiated, the buyer is required to go to the local sharia court to confirm the land is owned by the seller. The court will record a transfer of title and the title document will be stamped to confirm the same. The process takes about six days to complete.

When it comes to the mortgage market in Saudi Arabia, the country has the lowest penetration globally, making the rates of mortgage quite low. The reason for the severe shortage of housing is as a result of lack of home finance. The majority of the homes are paid for with cash, and it is only recently that banks have aggressively marketed home finance. In addition, most of the financial institutions do not offer mortgage services or financing to expats looking to own property. There are two main options when it comes to property financing: fixed rate, known as murabaha, and variable rate, known as ijarah. The ijarah financing is a rate that adjusts after two years and comes with a prepayment penalty.

Most modern homes in Saudi Arabia are built close together to save space. A wall separating properties is usually raised to enhance privacy. Town house models are becoming increasingly popular because they often have large living spaces and are quite affordable. Many Saudis like to build homes with communal living spaces.

When it comes to buying a house in Saudi Arabia, there is the salary transfer or no salary transfer concept. In other parts of the world, payments are made voluntarily, while in Saudi Arabia, most banks will expect you to set up a direct debit. This means that once your mortgage is approved, you will sign a form that allows the property financing institution to make automatic deductions from your income. You will not able to move your income to a different bank without the approval of the mortgage firm.

Other banks allow no salary transfer. This is where you are expected to make a specific payment, and are given a deadline of when it should be issued. The disadvantage with this method of property financing is that its interest rate tends to be a bit higher. Most expats are expected to use the salary transfer option, while the no salary transfer is reserved for Saudi Arabian citizens.

When buying a house through home finance, the paperwork is sharia compliant, meaning you will not be charged interest. Instead, it will be referred to as profit. The contract complies with the Islamic law and therefore, you will not be charged unrealistic late payment fees. Another feature of the sharia compliance is that an individual cannot be foreclosed unless this is the last resort.

Sellers prefer cash buyers, and this sometimes means people lose bids on houses that they had already put a down payment on. Therefore, once you sign a contract on a home, make sure the financing has been approved to prevent the seller from selling the house even after signing a sales contract. It is important to get pre-approval before beginning your house hunting process because property cases in courts often take a long time to resolve.

The process of buying a home for expats can be long and convoluted because you need permission from the ministry of housing. Getting the permission can take up to a year. That is why most people prefer ijarah financing. Ijarah is more like renting the house from the bank as the house belongs to the bank until you have completed your payments. However, there is one financial institution that offers a flexible program to expats.


Register For Healthcare

[back to top]

QUICK LINK: Saudi Arabia health insurance

The health service in Saudi Arabia is well-established, and is available to expats. There are plenty of good hospitals in both cities and rural areas, with qualified medical staff and state-of-the-art equipment. Here are vital tips to help you plan for medical care as an expat living in Saudi Arabia.

Most ailments contracted by expats in Saudi Arabia are caused by the abrupt change of environment. Summers can be extremely hot and cause sunburn or heat stroke. Dehydration is another potential problem which, if prolonged, may cause other health issues. High humidity topped with the heat may also increase stress levels, which lowers one’s immune system. Dusty winds from sandstorms can also cause respiratory problems.

The Saudi Arabian government has invested extensively in the healthcare system of its region. Public medical care is available to all local people, including expats. Public hospitals are either military owned, government-funded or run by non-profits such as religious organizations.

All migrants moving to Saudi Arabia for work or pleasure are advised to have health insurance. You are required by law to have medical cover even when public hospitals are at your disposal. This will come in handy if you require special medical attention that cannot be offered in the any of the Saudi Arabian Hospitals.

Public Hospitals

Fortunately, public hospitals in Saudi Arabia are well-equipped and have highly trained staff. You can receive treatment in public health facilities as long as you work in the public sector. Tourists can also receive treatment in public hospitals.

All public hospitals in the major cities provide medical treatment that matches the standards of Western hospitals. Every hospital you go to will have professional staff operating state-of-the-art equipment to diagnose and treat patients. Saudi public hospitals have doctors and nurses who speak both Arabic and English. Therefore, you should be able to explain to a doctor how you are feeling and even buy the required medication without experiencing any problem.

Public hospitals treat patients on a first-come-first-served basis. If you want to make an appointment to see a specific doctor, you have to do so 24 to 72 hours in advance. Appointments made via phone calls can take a while to be approved. Wherever you can, go to a hospital in person to ensure you are booked for a session.

Most established hospitals in the big cities have medical services that match international standards. Here is a list of hospitals that provide top-notch healthcare service to both locals and expats.

• King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital in Riyadh. Hotline number is 966-1-482-1234
• Maternity and Children’s Hospital in Jeddah. Hotline number is 966-2-665-2600
• King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Riyadh. Hotline number is 966-1-464-7272
• King Fahad National Guard Hospital in Riyadh. Hotline number is 966-1-252-008
• King Fahad Hospital in Jeddah. Hotline number is 966-2-665-6436
• King Khaled University Hospital in Guraiger, South West Saudi Arabia. Hotline number is 966-1-467-0011
• Security Forces Hospital in Riyadh. Hotline number is 966-1-477-4480

All public hospitals are required to register their numbers in public telephone directories like the Yellow Pages. You can also ask for recommendations from relatives or fellow expats living in Saudi Arabia.

Private Hospitals

The private health service in Saudi Arabia is run by international organizations, often from English speaking nations. Private hospitals provide quality medical care. However, they also go a notch higher by providing special treatment you may not find in a government-funded hospital.

Patients can make appointments whenever they need, or walk in and see a doctor when necessary. You can also change doctors to a more qualified one, or one who specializes in your specific ailment. Private hospitals also have more advanced facilities, including airlifting choppers and ambulances with fast response to emergencies.

The only downside of private hospitals is their high costs. It is only advisable to receive treatment in a private hospital if you have medical cover. Otherwise, the public hospitals in Saudi Arabia will suffice for day-to-day medical attention.

Clinics

Clinics are mainly run by general practitioners. They can be found everywhere from big cities to remote villages. Saudi clinics are also staffed by professional, English speaking doctors and feature top-notch equipment. Clinics only handle general procedures such as checkups and minor surgeries that do not require high-tech equipment.

Mission Hospitals

Mission hospitals were the first to be established in Saudi Arabia. These hospitals are the most subsidized, provide quality care, and cater to everyone. The current mission hospitals available in the Gulf State are American-owned. They used to provide free health care. Although they now charge, the rates are reasonably low compared to other hospitals.

Military Hospitals

Military hospitals are established to cater to the military personnel in Saudi Arabia. These hospitals are also well-equipped and have medical personnel that are qualified and certified by the ministry of health in Saudi Arabia. Today, Saudi military hospitals also welcome non-military patients to receive treatment at an affordable cost

Pharmacies

As at home, you will be able to buy medication from pharmacies in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government has put in place strict regulations that ban the importation of certain drugs including anti-depressants, tranquillizers or sleeping pills into the country. Anyone caught with these items at the airport faces serious consequences, so collect your prescriptions in the country.

Pharmacies in Saudi Arabia are privately owned and well-stocked. Most pharmacies open from 9.30am and close at 1pm every weekday. Other pharmacies will open at 4.30pm and close later, around 10.30pm. Hospital pharmacies often remain open for 24 hours.

Ambulance Services

Ambulance services are provided by the Saudi police or government hospitals. The hotline number for hospital ambulances is 997 anywhere in the Gulf State. There are plenty of ambulances in the big cities as well as the rural regions, and the response time is relatively fast.


Open A Bank Account

[back to top]

The banking system in Saudi Arabia is favorable to both Saudi people and international customers. Banks provide most basic services to expats, and are willing to provide more on request. However, there are certain dos and don’ts that every migrant needs to know about banking in Saudi Arabia.

Currency Of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Riyal is the official currency of Saudi Arabia and is abbreviated as SR. The Riyal is based on the US dollar, so is affected by the ups and downs of the American currency. The Halala is the smallest denomination of Saudi money; a hundred of these make up one Saudi Riyal.

Halalas are issued in the form of 5, 10, 25, and 100 coins, while SR notes are issued in denominations of 1, 4, 50, 100, and 500. Ensure you have enough riyals to make payments at local stores, to roadside vendors, or for paying for your taxi. This is more convenient as payments in foreign currencies or via bankers’ checks are usually not accepted in Saudi Arabia.

Banking Institutions In Saudi Arabia

The banking system in Saudi Arabia is a well-established, thriving one. There are plenty of big Saudi banks in the major cities, while regional banks and smaller financial institutions can be found in more rural villages. International banks such as CitiBank, Standard Chartered and the British Bank of the Middle East have branches in many of the Gulf States as well.

The Central Bank of Saudi Arabia controls all monetary and fiscal policies of the Gulf State. It also acts as a clearing bank for anyone in need of financial services. An Islamic banking system is also available, although non-Muslim expats may not find this service useful.

Saudi banks offer all the standard financial services provided by international banks. Opening an account with a Saudi bank grants you convenient services such as standing orders, check clearance, direct debits, credit card payments and loan services. Saudi banks are constantly competing with international banks for the growing number of expat customers.

International money transfer is by far the most lucrative service provided by most banks in Saudi Arabia. In addition, the Saudi government has reduced restrictions on moving money in and out of Saudi Arabia. As an expat customer, there are plenty of options to choose from when you want to send money back to your loved ones or receive payments from abroad.

Banking institutions have distinct procedures and charges for sending or receiving money from Saudi Arabia. Avoid making international money transfers with local banks. Banks have the poorest rates compared to competitors like private exchange bureaus. Bank exchange rates are often lower as they take a cut out of the transaction. In addition, some banks charge a commission for international transfers. Banks may choose to attract customers with enticing exchange rates, but will then charge very high commissions.

Private foreign exchange bureaus in the Gulf state are often owned by established trading families. These families have been in the business for a long time and can give better rates to customers. A private exchange company will give an attractive offer whether you are sending money from one bank to bank, through a postal order, telex, SWIFT or Telegraphic transfer.

Bank Opening Hours

Saudi banks operate differently to Western banks. Banks open at 8am, but then close by 1pm. Some banks may reopen from 4.30pm to 6.30pm. On Thursdays, all banks open at 8am and close at noon. No banking facility are open on Fridays.

Airport banks, on the other hand, remain open 24 hours on any day of the week. Foreign exchange bureaus also work until later in the evening. If you are late to go to the bank, a private financial institution is a good banking option. It is also good to check if any of the international bank branches in Saudi Arabia follow the normal working hours as their counterparts in your home country.

Opening A Bank Account

All expats are required to have a residence visa to open a local bank account. Opening a bank account often involves lots of paperwork. Employed expats are required to present a letter of no objection from their employer. This letter basically details your net salary and how much will be paid to your account each month by your employer.

A copy of your passport will be required, together with four passport photos. You may also be required to present a tenancy agreement or residential address, but the residence visa will do in most cases. Saudi banks will also accept your request to open an account if you have proof of permission from your sponsor. Your sponsor can be your employer, an organization, or your spouse who is a Saudi native.

Expats can open savings, current, or checking accounts with Saudi banks. Note that there are no exclusive loan and credit banks in Saudi Arabia. You also cannot open a checking account with a Saudi bank. Loans and credit are offered by both local and international banks.

Expats working in Saudi Arabia are advised to open accounts with their employer’s bank. This can speed up processing of your money once it is paid by your employer. It can also reduce the paperwork required and earn you privileges offered by banks.

Transactions In Saudi Arabia

It is advisable to make most of your transactions in cash, in the local currency. Card or check payments are also accepted, although only in major establishments such as hotels, major malls and high-ranking casinos. Very few local shops or roadside vendors will accept credit card or check payments.

When making payments via check, ensure your account has the required amount of money to be debited. Writing checks with no money in your account is considered an offense in Saudi Arabia and can attract possible jail time. To be on the safe side, make payments with post dated checks that buy you time for the money to be in your account.


Learn The Language

[back to top]

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a huge country in the Arabian Peninsula, well-known for its richness in oil. The area is the second largest Arab state. It shares a border with Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The country has a population of about 27 million, around 8.4 million of whom are international residents. The majority of the residents are employed in the oil industry. The number of expat residents has added to the cultural and ethnic diversity.

Arabic

This is the official language in Saudi Arabia and the first language of all native Saudi Arabian people. Arabic is also the official language in 21 other countries that make up the Arab league. Further, it is the main language used by Muslims all over the world for worship. The Holy Quran is written in Arabic. There is a formal version of the language known as Fus-ha or Classical Arabic. This is the version in which the Quran is written, and the one linguists subscribe to. Classical Arabic is taught in universities and colleges, and used by religious scholars. This is more of a written form than a spoken one.

Modern standard Arabic is more commonly spoken in Saudi Arabia. This form of the language is widely spoken and understood in the Arab world. It is also used by the media in spoken and written print. Modern Arabic literature is written in this format, and the form is taught as a second language in schools. Spoken Arabic has different dialects. An Arabic speaker from Egypt might find it difficult to understand an Arabic speaker from Iran, despite the fact that they are both speaking Arabic. However, they will usually be able to communicate using modern Arabic. Saudi Arabia has three major regional languages, which are Najdi Arabic, Gulf Arabic and Hejazi Arabic.

Najdi Arabic

This a variant of the language is spoken in the central region of Saudi Arabia. With about 8 million speakers, it is the first spoken language of at least a third of the population. It has four major dialects with little variances that set them apart. Northern Najdi is spoken in the Zulfi, Qaseem and Jabal Shammar areas of Saudi Najdi. Southern Najdi is spoken in the south central area and especially in the city of Kharj and the surrounding towns and villages. Central Najdi is spoken in Riyadh, which is the capital city of Saudi Arabia, as well as the neighboring towns and villages. Badawi Najdi is the dialect used by the nomadic tribes in Saudi Arabia. This dialect has a few accents spoken by various tribes. The dialect is also spoken by nomadic tribes in Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Kuwait.

Hejazi Arabic

This variation of Arabic is spoken in the western area of the kingdom. Eight million Saudi people speak this dialect. There are two other distinct dialects spoken in the Hejazi area, one by urban residents, another by the Bedouin population. This variation is also spoken in Mecca, Medina, Yanbu and Jeddah. This dialect is related to those spoken in Upper Egypt and Northern Sudan. Urban Hejazi is sedentary compared to the Bedouin dialect. It sheds most of the classical forms and features present in the latter. The vocabulary of Urban Hejazi differs from the dialects in the Arabian Peninsula. There are few words related to desert life, and more specialized words related to seafaring and fishing. However, the majority of the words from the dialects of Syria, Yemen and Egypt are found in Urban Hejazi.

Gulf Arabic

This dialect is spoken along the Persian Gulf and in the shores of Saudi Arabia by around 200,000 citizens. It is commonly spoken in the Gulf areas of Iraq, Bahrain, Iran, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Qatar. The local name of the dialect is e-Allah-eel-kalijiyya, which loosely translates to the dialect of the gulf.

The oil industry has brought in a large number of international workers and their families. Therefore, the country has plenty of expat communities who keep speaking their native tongue as their primary language. Here are some of most common minority languages spoken in Saudi Arabia.

Tagalog

This is an Austronesian language spoken by the Philippine population. It is a second language for the remaining population. Around 17 million Philippine people speak it as their first language. As the years have gone by, Filipino people have moved to Saudi Arabia to search for employment, and their language has become commonly used by the Philippine community living in Saudi Arabia.

Rohingya

This is a written language used by migrants from Myanmar who are living and working in Saudi Arabia. Initially it was a written language, developed using Arab Scripts. Due to the colonial period under British rule Farsi, English and Urdu were the main language used in Burma. Currently there are about 400,000 people who use Rohingya as their main language.

Urdu

There are many Pakistani people living and working in Saudi Arabia who use Urdu as their first language. Currently, Urdu is spoken by at least 390,000 people who have taken residence in the country. The national language of Pakistan, Urdu came to being in the 1600s in Central Asia. The name derives from the Turkish word urdu, which translates to ‘camp’ or ‘army.’ It was utilized as a unifying communication language between Muslim soldiers during their period of conquest of Ancient India and Eastern Persia. Most of these soldiers came from Persia and Turkey. Although the national language at that time was Farsi, this conflict meant the language eventually changed to Urdu to accommodate other speakers. The grammar of Urdu has some components from Farsi and Arabic, but also has elements that are unique and different from all three of its original mother tongues. Today, Urdu speakers have adopted certain terms from the English and Hindu terms, largely due to the effects of arts including English and Hindu music and films.

To be able to live in Saudi Arabia happily it is important to learn the language. This will make communication, interaction and moving around much easier for expats. In addition, this will enhance co-relation and trust between local people and migrants.


Choose A School

[back to top]

One of the biggest decisions to make as an expat is where to educate your child; this is the same in Saudi Arabia as anywhere else. There is a lot to consider when deciding whether to school your child in a public or private Saudi school.

Education is now considered one of the pillars of development by the Saudi Arabian government. In the past, education was not emphasized, and only the rich could educate their children to university level. The reality has changed, and today’s schools in Saudi Arabia enjoy top tier teaching amenities, good staff and a curriculum that matches global standards.

Schools in Saudi Arabia are either public, government-funded institutions or privately owned academic centers. Both private and public schools strive to meet the education standards of the Western world, and qualifications from Saudi schools are recognized outside the country.

Public Schools

Most public schools in Saudi Arabia are funded by the government. Their curricula are comprehensive and include plenty of co-curricular activities as well as exchange programs. Despite this, many expats shy away from public schools for their children, for several reasons.

To begin with, public schools in Saudi Arabia teach their curriculum entirely in Arabic. All subjects, even mathematics, are taught in Arabic, and English is taught as an optional foreign language. Religion also plays a big part in these schools, as every pupil is expected to be a Muslim. In addition, public schools rarely enroll international students apart from those of Arabic descent. The schools also tend to be single-sex, so not ideal for an expat family with sons and daughters.

This does not mean it is impossible to enroll non-Muslim students in public schools. However, children may feel alienated by the system, as special treatment is given to Arab-speaking students. The curriculum will also prove difficult to learn unless the child enrolls for Arabic classes prior to attending school.

Public schools in Saudi Arabia teach Islamic ideologies, so your child may feel pressured to convert to Islam. He or she is likely to feel separated from the familiar expat community they come from. Public schools in Saudi Arabia discourage students from switching schools. The child is expected to enroll from pre-school through to high school learning the curriculum and assimilating to the Arabic culture and language.

Private Schools

Fortunately, Saudi Arabia has a list of private schools which enroll expat students from all over the world. You can expect to find private schools that cater to British, German, French, Japanese, Pakistani, Indian, Filipino and even Egyptian students. Private schools in Saudi Arabia are often run by international organizations from English speaking countries.

The private school curriculum is not as strict as that of public schools. In addition, pupils in private schools can freely interact with their teachers or tutors, adding to the conducive learning environment. The dress code in private schools is relaxed, and most of these schools are co-educational. The curriculum is taught in English, unless the private school caters to a specific nationality which has a different language.

As so many expats are moving to Saudi Arabia, the demand for private school education is on the rise. This means that getting a spot in any of the private or international schools for your children might be difficult. It is not uncommon to see long lists of student waiting for a spot to fill or enroll in the next academic year.

Some private schools experience a high rotation of teachers. Tutors often move to other locations to teach, or change jobs to a different school. Therefore, the teacher-pupil relationship may be disrupted. An additional disadvantage of private schools is their high fees. Private schools may seem affordable during the initial stages of enrollment. However, charges will grow as your child advances to A Level.

Expats working in Saudi Arabia often receive an education allowance from their employer to cover part of the fees for private schooling. Negotiating an education allowance is one of the most important things to consider in your salary package. The alternative would be to first school your child in a public school before moving them to private schools; preferably at the high school or university level.

Enrolling In Private Schools

It is advisable to send in your application to a private school well in advance, before the next academic year. Your child will be asked to submit a completed application form together with academic reports from previous schools. You and your child may also have an interview with a board panel. In other private schools, your child will have to sit for an entrance exam to gauge their academic ability.

Choosing A School

The first thing to consider when choosing a school for your child is how long you are staying in Saudi Arabia. If your work contract is temporary, private schools are a good choice. Those in Saudi Arabia for a longer period may have to juggle between public and private schools if they are on a strict budget.

Do a little research before enrolling your child in any school. If there is a particular school you are considering, how long has it been around? Does it have a great reputation in terms of their curriculum and the school as a whole? Does the school favor a particular nationality of students over others? Are the school examination qualifications accepted globally?

Educating your child in Saudi Arabia is a long-term commitment. Therefore, it is important to think through the fine details before choosing a school for your child.



Expat Health Insurance Partners


Cigna Global

Cigna has worked in international health insurance for more than 30 years. Today, Cigna has over 71 million customer relationships around the world. Looking after them is an international workforce of 31,000 people, plus a network of over 1 million hospitals, physicians, clinics and health and wellness specialists worldwide, meaning you have easy access to treatment.