Expat Life in Saudi Arabia
With significant differences stemming from the strong influence of Islam, many Westerners often face culture shock when moving abroad to Saudi Arabia.
However, expat life in Saudi Arabia doesn’t have to be such a surprise. By taking the time to research and plan ahead, you can ensure a smooth transition to your new environment. You’ll even discover how to make your time abroad a comfortable and rewarding experience. Here are 3 things you should do before you arrive to make your transition into expat life easier in Saudi Arabia.
1. Become Familiar with Islam
First, it is absolutely necessary that you become familiar with Islam, the state religion of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This connection is uniquely strong in Saudi Arabia because it is the only Islamic country to claim the holy text, The Quran, as its constitution. Therefore, religion is more than just a cultural influence: it is a way of life in Saudi society.
Daily life is influenced heavily by Islamic observances. For instance, Muslims are called to prayer five times a day, and these prayers last about thirty minutes. Shops are required to close and sales stop during prayer time. As an expat, you will need to be vigilant of these prayer times.
Islamic observances will also dramatically influence an expat’s daily experiences. As one expat wrote, “Movie theaters are not allowed, and the major recreation in Saudi involves hanging around malls and boating. In some cities football (soccer) stadiums have games, but women are not allowed to attend these games.”
2. Special Considerations for Women
If you’re a woman moving to Saudi Arabia, preparations must be made to wear the abaya at all times outside of your private home. This long, loose-fitting cloak is worn over the entire body with a headscarf. This cloak should cover all of your body, including your ankles. This is done in observance to the Quran. Some expats recommend wearing leggings or pants under the abaya to ensure your ankles are covered.
There is minimal interaction between men and women. In Saudi Arabia, men and women are kept very separate from each other in restaurants, walking down the street, even in cars (women must be seated in the backseat away from the man, who must be related to the women to travel together in a car).
3. Find Western-Style Housing
Finally, to make the transition to Saudi life easier, try to live in a Western Style compound. Compound life can be similar to living an “international country club” lifestyle within a gated community. The amenities will vary from compound to compound but most will include swimming pools, restaurants, laundry services, hair salons, playgrounds, and bus services.
In addition, Western-style housing communities may feature Arabic classes, grocery stores, and golf courses. For many expatriates who have come from a western country to Saudi Arabia, the compound brings a comfortable feeling of home. If you have a personal effects insurance plan, you can feel safe about your belongings, too.
Saudi Arabia is just one of many exotic locations around the world where Westerners have found new careers. To learn more about conducting business and best practices in Saudi Arabia, check out our guide to tips for doing business in Saudi Arabia.
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