How To Move To Saudi Arabia
The complete guide!

Find A Job

The prosperous, oil-rich Gulf state of Saudi Arabia has long been an attractive prospect for expats seeking employment, particularly in the oil and gas sectors. However, in recent years this has started to change and there has been something of an exodus of foreign workers from the country.

The Saudi government – like those of many nations – has been attempting to prioritize the country’s own workforce over foreign personnel. In addition, it has also recognized that it needs to expand its economy past the current limited fuel sectors. It has thus restricted the posts for which expats can apply and introduced a fee for dependents.

Unless you already have a residence permit (lqama), you will need to apply for a work permit and this can be a complex process. To do this, you will first need a sponsorship letter from a company which has permission from the Saudi Ministry of Labor to hire overseas personnel. You/your employer will then need to submit the following information:

• passport (valid for the length of the employment contract. This should have at least two (2) visa pages adjacent to each other)
• separate Electronic Authorization for each speciality
• 1 x recent passport size color photograph with a white background
• application form filled-out in capital letters with a black ink pen or printed
reference note showing the number and the date of the employment visa issued from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
• original sponsorship letter from your employer, certified both by the Saudi Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This must indicate the block visa number, date, position and your name. If such a letter is submitted through a visa service agency, then the letter should include an authorization from the company allowing the agency to finish all the requirements to get the visa, block visa number and date
• certified and notarized copy of your university degree/diploma: this must be validated by the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission
• a copy of the employment contract signed by both the sponsor and the applicant
• 3 x copies of a medical report and 2 x copies of lab reports with 3 x copies passport size color photographs with white background. The medical report must be issued by a licensed physician certifying that the applicant is free of any contagious diseases. The physician must sign each copy of the medical report. The physician’s license number and address should appear on each copy of the medical form. Medical reports should be used within three (3) months from the date of issuance. Children under the age of sixteen (16) do not need a medical report
• a police report issued within six (6) months with detailed information about your criminal record, if any.

Jobs in 12 private sectors have recently been restricted to Saudi nationals and expat workers will no longer be able to apply. These include lower-wage construction jobs and retail. It should be noted that this policy – to reduce a high unemployment rate and attract Saudi workers into these sectors – has not been particularly successful, as Saudis tend to regard such work as degrading.

However, if you have specialist skills, particularly in areas such as engineering, you should still find that jobs are available.

Saudi working hours are typically 7.30 – 8 a.m. until noon, then from 3.30 – 4 p.m. until 7 – 8 p.m. Weekends are Friday/Saturday. Saudi has a 48 hour working week (with reduced working hours during Ramadan).

The minimum wage in Saudi is set at US$7,585.00 per annum. However, the minimum wage situation is somewhat unclear because expats and Saudi nationals have different rates of pay.

You will be entitled to an annual leave of not less than 21 days. If you have spent 5 consecutive years with one employer you will be entitled to an annual leave of not less than 30 days.

If you are pregnant, you will be eligible for maternity leave for the 4 weeks immediately preceding the expected date of delivery and the subsequent 6 weeks afterwards. You will be paid half your wage if you have been in the service of a company for a year or more, and a full wage for 3 years or more.

Women on a Family Visit visa are not permitted to work on their husband’s residence permit and will need to apply for a separate work permit, but the visa may also restrict the time that you are allowed to spend in the country as a dependent: in practice, working is unlikely to be possible.

 

Job Vacancies

There are a number of job boards and recruitment agencies which apply to Saudi, and given the complexity of the visa application process plus recent restrictions, it might be advisable to apply via a recruitment agency unless you already have contacts in the region. You can also make speculative applications.

 

Applying For A Job

It is advisable to have any headings on your CV translated into Arabic.

Saudi Arabia notoriously does not cohere to Western conceptions of human rights and this may affect employment law also. Women are particularly likely to be affected by a lack of equality although the government has been working towards the establishment of greater gender equality over the last few years.

 

Qualifications And Training

A certified and notarized copy of the training or technical diploma must be authenticated by the U.S. Department of State and diplomas will need to be notarized by a Saudi Arabian Consulate in the United States if you are coming from the USA. There is a fee of US $8.00 (eight dollars) per page, payable to the Embassy of Saudi Arabia.

Diplomas issued by institutions outside the United States must be certified by the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission and the Saudi Arabian Embassy in the issuing country.

 

Apply For A Visa/Permit

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.

 

Get Health Insurance

Many expats take out private medical insurance, even if this is not a requirement of residence, because healthcare is expensive in their destination country or because certain treatments and procedures are not available.

When taking out health insurance, be sure to check factors such as the annual and lifetime policy limits, whether there are any exclusions which are likely to affect you, whether you are limited to treatment from specific types of healthcare providers, and whether the policy covers emergency evacuation for medical treatment.

Too frequently, potential buyers of health insurance look only for the lowest cost of premiums before really considering the specific benefits and areas of cover they may actually need. Some plans are cheaper for a reason. Often they include large voluntary deductibles on any claim you might make in the future and may severely cap the benefits received under the plan. Clients should define their needs first, establish the particular area of cover they need, then determine their annual healthcare insurance budget. Only then should they look to premium comparisons, last of all.

Do not buy a plan without studying the policy wording carefully. If in doubt, ask, and only when completely satisfied complete all application forms fully, to the best of your ability.

Important questions to ask the insurance provider:

1. Does the plan allow for cooling off periods, cancellation and then repayment of premium in full?

2. Does the plan offer “Moratorium” or is it “Full underwriting” and do you need to have a medical examination before joining?

3. Does the insurer offer a 24 hour help line, 7 days a week, available from anywhere in the world (freephone)? Most insurers now offer this facility.

4. Are pre-existing conditions excluded when joining and if so, for how long are such conditions excluded?

5. Are all and any nationalities accepted or are there restrictions which apply to local nationals? Some insurers will only take expatriates abroad and not local nationals into an overseas plan.

6. Does the plan allow you to continue cover unbroken through your lifetime? In most cases insurers will continue to offer existing clients cover year on year, irrespective of age or claims history, although premium rates charged can increase dramatically with age.

7. Does the insurer allow for any doctor or consultant or hospital within the plan? Are there any restrictions in this respect? Most international plans do not place restrictions on either hospitals or doctors, but almost all demand that their help lines are called first, prior to approval of any inpatient care.

8. Does the insurer provide for the direct settlement of bills presented by hospitals worldwide, regardless of location (or do you have to pay first)?

9. What are the insurers procedures for outpatient claims? Do these require any pre-authorization or if stated in the plan can you just pay and claim? How long before you get money back from the insurer? 14 days? 28 days?.

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Rent Or Buy Property

 

Renting Property

Although there are no concrete statistics, it is estimated that about half of the population rent their homes in Saudi Arabia. Many expats cite volatile geopolitical conditions as one of the reasons why they are not so keen to invest in property there. The most popular types of accommodation among expats are compound properties on gated premises, with security and amenities close at hand. It is worth noting that many of the gated compounds come with stringent rules. For example, guests will have to present their ID at security checkpoints, and unmarried members of the opposite sex will not be allowed to visit you, unless they can prove that you are an immediate relation.

The average cost of rent in Saudi Arabia is relatively cheap compared to in some of the other Middle Eastern countries, such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. More often than not, utilities are included in this cost. Contracts are usually conducted on an annual renewable basis. If you are renting privately, you will need to pay a year’s rent in advance through post-dated cheques. The landlord can ask for two checks or for quarterly cheques; this is usually negotiable.

You will also need to pay a refundable security deposit, which is typically the equivalent of a month’s rent. All rental agreements in Saudi Arabia must be registered on the Ejar electronic system. Ejar is an online portal that monitors your rental space. Failure to comply and register on Ejar as a tenant could lead to your work permit not getting renewed.

In many cases, an expat’s employer will sort out their accommodation, and rent is deducted from their monthly salary. If, however, accommodation is not included in your contract, and you are looking to rent privately, you can either use a local estate agent or a property website, such as:

Bayut
Property Finder / Esimsar
Just Property
Zaahib

Most skilled expat workers tend to be based in either Damman, Jeddah, or Riyadh. According to data statistics website Numbeo, the average rent for a one-bedroom city centre apartment works out to be 1,419.06 Saudi riyal (SAR) per month. This is equivalent to roughly £303.55 (GBP) or $377.36 (USD). An apartment of the same size in a less central location could cost as little as 1,007.77 SAR (£215.42 or $268.06). A larger apartment with three bedrooms in a desirable location costs around 2,425.88 SAR (£518.85 or $645.17) per month in rent.

It is highly likely that all agreements and negotiations will be conducted in Arabic, and all the documentation pertaining to your tenancy contract will also likely be in Arabic. If you do not speak the language, it may be worth hiring a translator. It may also be a good idea to get an English version of your tenancy agreement drawn up.

It is important to keep in mind that Saudi Arabia is governed by strict Islamic laws and is quite different from the more ‘globalised’ markets, such as the United Arab Emirates or Qatar. For example, same-sex relationships are illegal and can be punished by public floggings or even the death penalty. Even engaging in such relationships online can carry severe punishments.

Strict dress codes must also be observed. For example, women must be covered, and it is illegal for men to “behave like women” or to wear women’s clothes – this also applies vice versa. Unmarried socialising, relationships and cohabiting are all prohibited, except between immediate family members or chaperoned by family members.

 

Buying Property

Laws have been relaxed on foreign ownership in recent years, but there are still various restrictions in place. Essentially, foreigners are allowed to own real estate in Saudi Arabia, subject to approval of the licensing authority. Geographical restrictions apply, including in Mecca and Medina, where foreign ownership is forbidden unless the property is inherited.

It is worth noting that eligible foreigners who are purchasing property can apply for an indefinite stay or a one-year renewable residency.

The negotiations and documentation are likely to be in Arabic, so it is highly advisable that you hire a translator and lawyer during the buying process. The price will usually be negotiated between yourself, the seller, and any facilitators.

You will then need to conduct a title search on the property through the First Notary Public Department. This is in order to verify that the details of the property deed provided by the seller match those in the records of the agency. In order to do this, you will require authorisation from the seller.

Once everything is in order, you and the seller can reserve an appointment with a notary. In order to request a transfer, parties should request an appointment online here. The appointment reservation is immediate.

On the scheduled day, you will both attend the appointment at the First Notary Public Department. The notary employees will check that all necessary documents are present and correct.

The necessary documents are as follows:

• Identification cards
• Certified check
• Deed/proof of ownership
• Original copies of the articles of association, if applicable
• Original copy of the Certificate of Registration
• Proof of power of attorney, if applicable

The notary will issue the deed and both parties will be required to sign before the notary.

You can then check in at the front desk, where you will be given a room number, which is where the transfer will take place. The notary will retrieve any necessary documents and conduct a final check that everything is in order. The notary can then approve the transaction and the change of owner’s name. A new deed with the notary’s signature will be given to you, and a copy containing both parties’ signatures will be archived by the notary.

In the instance of purchasing land, once you have come to an agreement, you will need to go to the local Sharia Court to ensure that the land in question is really owned by the seller. You must also ensure the transfer of title is recorded. The Court will stamp the title document to indicate the legal transfer of ownership.

Expats can choose to work with a reputable agent, or can conduct a private search using property portals and websites, such as:

Aqarcity.com
Bezaat.com
Mstaml.com
Opensooq.com

Theoretically, both local people and expats can get home loans in Saudi Arabia. That being said, it is still a fairly new concept and the market is still developing. This means that many banks will not be eager (or may outright refuse) to offer a home loan, or approve a mortgage, to foreign buyers.

Instead of taking out mortgages, many Saudi nationals use long-term loans from the Saudi Real Estate Refinance Company (SRC). The SRC’s Real Estate Development Fund has existed since 1974 and offers interest-free loans to Saudi nationals.

Direct (murabaha) and fixed-rate mortgages are often only available to locals. You may find it easier to obtain a mortgage from an international bank or from a lender in your home country. However, before doing this, you should seek professional financial advice, and try to avoid currency fluctuations.

 

Move Your Belongings

Consider if you want (or are able) to transport your belongings yourself or whether you will need the services of a removals company that deals with international moves. Unless you are travelling very light, or making a fairly short move by road, you will probably need professional help to ship your possessions. Ask for quotes from several companies first, ensuring that they visit your home to carry out a survey of your requirements. It may be worth paying extra for the removals firm to pack your possessions for you, particularly if they are going to be transported to a distant country and need special protection for the long journey. Make sure you bring to their attention anything fragile or precious that needs particularly careful wrapping and packing.

Before agreeing to a quotation, ensure that you are fully aware of exactly what is covered in the price, and that the service to be provided meets all of your requirements. For example, does the service include both packing and unpacking of your household effects? What about disassembling and reassembling of furniture? If you are planning to put anything into storage in your destination country while you find accommodation, does the price include final delivery and unpacking at your home, or will you need to arrange collection of the items? Obtain a firm estimate of the likely arrival date of your items and obtain contact details for any agents that will be dealing with the removal in your destination country. Ensure that the removals company is aware in advance of any practical considerations such as the lack of an elevator to your apartment, or likely parking problems.

If using a removals company, you may be required to take out their insurance cover for your possessions. Whether or not this is the case, ensure that you have adequate insurance for anything of actual or sentimental value that could get lost or damaged during the move. Take the time to accurately complete or check an inventory of your possessions to be moved, as this will form the basis for any insurance claim for losses or damages. Find out if insurance is included in the price quoted by the removals company, or whether you are required to pay extra for this.

The removals company should arrange any customs and importation documents on your behalf, but if you are arranging the move independently you will need to find out what documents are required and what import duties and taxes are payable (and whether you are eligible for exemption from these).

Make sure that you set aside the important documents you will need for the journey, such as passports and air tickets, and keep these easily accessible in your hand luggage.

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Register For Healthcare

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

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.

 

Transfer Money

There are many ways of sending money from one country to another. As always, expats can save themselves a lot of trouble and expense if they do a little research and shop around for the best deal.

International Bank Transfers

For most expats, currency transfer involves transferring small to medium sized amounts regularly from an existing bank account back home into a new overseas bank account in the local currency. These may be pension payments, benefits, or any other form of income.

Your home bank will usually be glad to oblige. You can set up facilities with them “on demand” whereby you fax or call them on the phone, provide a secret code or two, tell them the amount in question, and they will transfer it to your new bank, automatically converting it into the relevant local currency. Some banks also allow you to make international payments online. Whatever method you choose, transfers normally take between 3-7 days although 1-2 day transfers are often available but be prepared to pay more for these.

You can also set up regular transactions that are processed automatically on a fixed day of each month. Many state pensions and benefits can be paid directly into your new bank abroad without going through your home bank at all. Some private pension organisations may also offer the same facility.

When you first set up a transfer of funds abroad, the sending bank or institution will ask you for various codes that identify the destination bank. Often they will ask for IBAN (International Bank Account Number), BIC (Bank Identifier Code) or SWIFT codes but don?t panic – your new bank will give these to you and they may even already be listed in your new chequebook or bank statements.

As far as charges are concerned, you will probably be required to pay a flat fee per transaction. Additionally a percentage fee is often charged for the currency conversion itself. You may also find that your receiving bank charges you for receiving the transfer. Charges vary by bank but can quickly add up – ask your bank(s) for an indication of the fees involved.

As a general rule, transferring larger sums less frequently usually works out cheaper than transferring smaller amounts more often. However, if you need to transfer regular amounts of at least a few hundred pounds/dollars or need to make a larger one-off payment (e.g. for a house purchase) you should consider the services of a currency broker.

Cash Machine/ATM Withdrawals

Thanks to modern technology, most people abroad can go to a cash machine/ATM and withdraw local currency funds directly from their home bank account. This is a useful option to have for expats but exercise caution – many banks make hefty charges for using this type of facility. You may also find that withdrawal limits are in place (as a security measure) even if you significant funds in your account back home.

You can also use VISA or Mastercard credit cards to obtain cash in this fashion and if you pay the amount off quickly and avoid interest charges then fine – but once again credit card charges for cash withdrawals can be high. Check the rates carefully.

Currency Brokers

Currency brokers (also called foreign exchange brokers) offer significant advantages over traditional banks. Firstly, brokers will often be able to offer you a better rate than your bank. Secondly, the entire process is more transparent – many banks require you to accept the exchange rate available on the day they process your transaction, whatever and whenever that may be, but a specialist broker will offer greater flexibility, even allowing you to specify the rate you want in advance.

Currency brokers are smaller companies than major banks so always check their background carefully. Ask existing expats for their own experiences and recommendations before choosing a firm to handle your own foreign exchange requirements.

A good broker will discuss all the options with you and enable you to make the best decision for your circumstances. Using a broker will typically off the following advantages:

1) Currency brokers generally provide superior exchange rates to the high street banks. The currency brokers have access to the interbank rate and do not have the high costs that the banks have. This means that they can usually offer better exchange rates.

2) Use of a free Market Watch/Order Service: This allows you to tell your currency broker your target or budget exchange rate and they will ring you if that exchange rate level is reached. As the rate moves every few seconds, currency brokers can act as your eyes and ears on the market.

3) Ability to fix the exchange rate in advance using a Forward Contract. If you know you need to convert/move funds in the future but don?t yet have the money you can reserve a rate in advance using a Forward Contract. During this period, you are exposed to exchange rate movements and therefore, a forward contract is ideal if, for example, you have agreed to buy a house and want to fix the rate now but will not be making payment for a couple of months.

Savings from currency brokers can vary from between 1 and 4 per cent on the exchange rate alone, and specialists do not typically charge any fees for transmitting the funds abroad, unlike banks which often levy expensive fees or charges. If you are emigrating and transferring a large sum of money – such as the proceeds of a property – a foreign exchange company could potentially save you thousands.

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Learn The Language

If you are coming out to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to work, you might be wondering how easy it will be for you to communicate in English. Will you have to learn the local language, and what is it? We will look at some of your options below.

The official language of Saudi Arabia is Arabic, but other languages are spoken in the country, too, due to the number of expats working in the kingdom. Many people speak Urdu, the official language of Pakistan, and you will also hear other Asian languages, such as Farsi and Turkish, Iranian Persian, Sudanese Arabic, Korean, Chinese, Indonesian, Tagalog, and also Italian, French, and Bengali.

Arabic itself takes various forms and is spoken by almost 200 million people in more than 22 countries. It is the official language of the other 21 countries that along with Saudi Arabia make up the Arab League. Classical Arabic has remained unchanged for centuries: it is the language in which the Quran, the Holy Book of Islam, and Arab literature is written.

Spoken Arabic varies from country to country and you will find variations across the Gulf, such as Qatari Arabic. In Saudi, too, you will find differences between the dialects spoken in urban areas and those spoken in rural areas. These dialects are divided into Najdi Arabic (around 8 million speakers), Hejazi Arabic (6 million speakers) and Khaliji or Gulf Arabic (200,000 speakers). These in turn are divided into sub-dialects, which should give you some idea of the linguistic complexity of this ancient country.

Classical Arabic is more commonly used as a written rather than a spoken language; most people in Saudi Arabia will speak Modern Standard Arabic, which is a lingua franca across the Gulf states.

English is widely spoken in the country. It is taught in Saudi schools as a second language and is used in hospitals, in business, and is the language of commerce: if you are working for an international company here, the in-house language is likely to be English, particularly if your colleagues are from other countries. English is also a compulsory second language in schools.

You will find plenty of language training opportunities on the ground in Saudi Arabia. The Jeddah Cultural Exchange Company runs an Arabic for Non-Arabic Speakers Language Program. This introduces the written script, invaluable for daily activities such as shopping and using public transport: remember that if you are intending to learn Arabic, you will need to master a completely different alphabet first. King Abdulaziz University runs an Arabic Language Short Courses program and so does the Al-Faisal Institute.

You may also choose a private language centre and there are a number of these across the country, including in Riyadh and Jeddah. These are designed for all levels of Arabic from beginners to advanced, and for different purposes from Arabic for children to business Arabic. You can choose your course length and your course time: for instance, you will be able to sign up for evening classes if you are working. You will find some online material and resources if you want to get up to speed in the language before you land.

There is a substantial demand for English language training and Saudi Arabia is the biggest market in the region. It is always easier to get work in international education if you have at least a certificate in either TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages).

It is also preferable if you have experience in teaching schemes such as the Cambridge English exams or IELTS (International English Language Testing System): the English test for study, migration or work. Some teaching experience in the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) will also be helpful. This assesses analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills in written English for use in admission to graduate management programs, such as the MBA. You may also find work more easily if you are experienced in teaching English for particular sectors, such as tourism and hospitality, or business and finance.

It will also be helpful to have at least a Bachelor’s degree as most language schools prefer this: basically, the rule of thumb is that the more qualifications you have, both in TEFL and in academic subjects, the easier you will find it to get work. Average salaries are from US$1500 – 3000 per month. You are likely to find work in language schools and international schools in the cities.

Note that Saudi Arabia is a conservative Islamic state with a strictly enforced moral code: there will be behavioural expectations, such as not drinking alcohol, and classes will be segregated by gender. However, some language hiring organisations counsel that because of the difficulty of recruiting enough teachers to this very restrictive country, Saudi language schools may not insist on the same level of qualifications as those in more competitive international markets.

Unless you already have a residence permit (lqama), you will need to apply for a work permit and this can be a complex process. Women are particularly likely to be affected by a lack of equality in the workplace and although the government has been working towards the establishment of greater gender equality over the last few years, Saudi can be a daunting place to work as a female teacher.

If you are seeking work in translation or interpreting, you will obviously need to be highly proficient in Modern Standard Arabic, and will also need the relevant qualifications.

 

Choose A School

The official language of Saudi Arabia is Arabic, but other languages are spoken in the country, too, due to the number of expats working in the Kingdom. English is widely spoken in the country and is also a compulsory second language in schools.

General education in the Kingdom consists of:

• kindergarten (optional)
• six years of primary school
• three years each of intermediate and high school

State primary schools are day schools and will be single sex.

Following elementary and primary education, students can choose whether to attend a high school with programs in commerce, the arts and sciences, or one of the vocational schools. They will take comprehensive exams twice a year, regulated by the Ministry of Education.

Public sector curriculums are overseen by the Ministry of Education and include maths, science, literature, history, Arabic and Islam.

Note that there is a strong religious component to public education in this country. Saudi Arabia is a strict Islamic state and this is reflected in its attiude towards women and girls.

Organisations such as the World Education News and Reviews (WENR) report that education in the country has been subject to substantial improvements in recent decades and note that the Saudi government is currently pursuing extensive educational reforms, including the rollout of modernized school curricula that move away from traditional norms in focusing on critical thinking, teacher re-training, and the construction of new schools.

Tatweer Educational Technologies (TETCO) has implemented the Future Gate initiative on the instructions of the Saudi government and is bringing in smart classrooms and digital education management systems.

In 2005, Saudi Arabia launched one of the largest government scholarship programs initiated by a government, the multi-billion dollar King Abdullah Scholarship Program (KASP), allowing more than 200,000 Saudi citizens to earn degrees in more than 30 countries during its first decade.

The Saudi government has developed the National Transformation Program 2020 to fulfill some of the objectives of he country development plan, named Vision 2030. The Ministry of Education has been tasked with eight key objectives to transform education in Saudi Arabia.

The public sector is thus making considerable strides, but the country still scores below global educational averages, due partly to outdated curriculums and a low quality of teachers. According to the World Economic Forum, Saudi Arabia’s overall quality of education scores 4.3 out of 7 on the global index scale: this is significantly lower than the GCC benchmark of 5.7 and much lower than the international benchmark of 6.1.

Many expats thus choose to enrol their children in international schools in the country. Over a million Saudi students are currently enrolled in private education and it is estimated that around 900 new private schools will be needed by 2025.

Most international schools are in Riyadh but it has a below-average amount of private provision compared with other Gulf states. The country in general has a relatively low number of international schools: much of the expatriate non-Western population is of a low income level and Saudi citizens were not allowed to attend international schools until recently. Overall, school fees are lower in Saudi Arabia than in other countries.

You can consult the British Council for information about schools which offer the English national curriculum. In addition, you will find schools focused on tuition on other models, such as the French or Indian educational systems.

As an example, the Khaled International School teaches students from 3-18 at an annual fee range of US$4K – 5K per annum. It has an American curriculum.

The Al Forsan school offers both an American and an international curriculum for students of 3-18 years, at a cost of US$5K-8K per year.

The Bright Future School offers a British curriculum at primary level for a cost of around US$6K – 8K per year.

The British International School Riyadh also offers a British curriculum leading to IGCSE/A Level at around US$11K – 25K per annum.

The Jawahir Al Riyadh International School also offers a British curriculum for sudents from 3–18 (you will need to contact the school directly in relation to their fees).

The Multinational School Riyadh offers a British or Australian curriculum to students from 3-18 at an annual fee range from US$11K- 22K.

The Al Hussan International School Riyadh offers the International Baccalaureate to students from 3-18 at an annual cost of US$4K – 9K. This is only one of the schools offering an IB curriculum in the country.

You will need to contact your selected school directly for a full range of fees. Check not only for tuition costs, but also for one-off maintenance/capitalisation payments, registration and admission fees. Check whether you are entitled to a sibling discount. Enrolment policies will vary between establishments but you may need to provide previous school reports as well as supporting documentation relating to your residency. Your child may also be assessed, for instance in English language proficiency.

There is no legislation in Saudi Arabia relating to homeschooling and you may therefore choose to go down this route if you are unable or unwilling to enrol your child in an international school. There are homeschooling groups in the expat community which can give you advice about methodology and resources. Alternative pedagogical methods are also available, for instance in Montessori schools.