Thanks to a robust economy, tax-free earnings, and expat compensation packages that typically include housing, transportation, and travel, Saudi Arabia holds a lot of appeal for professionals with a sense of adventure.
While the Saudi economy is still highly dependent on the oil industry, there are also opportunities for highly skilled individuals in industries like IT, engineering, healthcare, banking, financial services, teaching, telecommunications, and construction. While there are many job opportunities, there’s not a labor shortage, so the more skills you have and the more in demand those skills are, the better your chances of finding employment.
Where to Start
You can’t just show up in Saudi Arabia and hope to find work. In fact, it’s almost impossible to travel there if you don’t have a job already lined up. So you have to do your legwork from home.
- Newspapers: Many Saudi companies still run newspaper ads for open positions. In addition, you can find a lot of information through the news itself, as there are a lot of articles about what different companies are doing and what’s happening in the economy.
- Local offices of international companies: If an international company with offices in Saudi Arabia has regional offices where you live, that might be your best option. GE, for example, has been doing business in Saudi Arabia since 1942 and currently has over 600 employees in the country, working in healthcare, oil, water, and aviation. Proctor& Gamble also has a Saudi presence. British company BAE Systems has established long-term partnerships in the Kingdom. This simplifies the process quite a bit, as you can accomplish a good chunk of the interview process at home and in person.
- Job boards: Job boards are a great way of seeing many available opportunities in one location. Examples include:
- Recruiting agencies: If you don’t have a local connection with an international company, a recruiting agency may be just what you need. They operate on behalf of some of the biggest companies in Saudi Arabia. Some of them include:
What you Need to Know
- To work in Saudi Arabia, you need a sponsor, typically your employer. They’ll arrange all necessary work permits.
- Do your research. Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country with strict rules for both citizens and expats. While your employer will almost certainly provide an orientation, it’s important to learn all you can before you go. What may seem like no big deal to you could earn you imprisonment in Saudi Arabia.
- Always carry your ID -- it’s the law.
- Most expats live in gated communities (usually referred to as “compounds”) with other expat families. Many compounds have amenities like pools, tennis courts, and shopping. However, many also have nightly curfews, so it’s important to know the rules for your community.
- Men are expected to dress in conservative business attire when out in public – no shorts, no sleeveless shirts, etc.
- Women are required to wear an abaya (a lightweight black cloak worn over your clothing) and head covering when out in public. At home in your compound, however, you can wear whatever you wish. There are also private beaches and clubs for westerners where clothing rules are less restrictive.
- Unmarried men and women aren’t allowed to travel or dine in public together unless they’re with a married couple.
- Women are not allowed to drive.
- Women are discouraged from going out alone (you may be suspected of prostitution). Either travel with a male relative or in a group of other women.
- Saudi Arabia is largely a cash society. Some major stores accept credit and debit cards, but the popular outdoor souks (markets) don’t.
- Alcohol is illegal in Saudi Arabia. Smoking is legal, but women can’t smoke in public.
Saudi Arabia offers a lot of opportunity, especially for highly skilled professionals. And it’s hard to beat it for adventure. It’s true that life there is more restrictive than most westerners are used to, especially for women. But if you know what to expect and go there with an open mind, you could wind up having the time of your life.
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