An Expat’s Comprehensive Relocation Guide: Riyadh

An Expat’s Comprehensive Relocation Guide: Riyadh

With such a large amount of the worlds global oil supply, it is no surprise The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s key industry is oil. However, they have tried to diversify their investment away from the oil industry to help drive economic growth in other sectors, stabilising the economy and reducing its dependency on oil (especially in times we see ourselves in where the price dramatically drops). This has created job opportunities for many expatriate workers.

Job Opportunities

Their efforts to reduce the economic dependency on oil exports have created new areas of employment for those working in Saudi Arabia’s other industrial sectors. In addition to the local petrochemical industry, particular attention has been given to power generation, telecommunications, natural gas exploration, banking/finance, food processing, and water resource management, with an eye for sustainable processes for all.

Saudi Kingdom TowerIncome Tax Rates:

There is no personal income tax in Saudi Arabia. Expatriates, however, should anticipate a flat income tax rate of 20% to be applied to the tax-adjusted profits of resident non-Saudi and non-GCC individuals.

Visa Information:

In order to be granted a visa, you need to be in possession of a passport that is valid for at least six months or the entire period of your stay-whichever is longer. The passport must have two blank visa pages facing each other.

Saudi Arabia does not recognize dual citizenship. Therefore you should avoid carrying two passports with you at any time. For example, there have been cases where UK-Saudi nationals have had one of their passports confiscated when it was discovered. It is also important to note that if your passport in any way indicates that you have recently visited Israel, you might be refused a visa to enter the country. 

Costs of Living:

The cost of living in Saudi Arabia currently places the country middle of the road globally. Regionally speaking, Saudi Arabian cities generally rank lower than most Middle Eastern cities in terms of international cost of living surveys. Considering that housing and transportation costs are typically incorporated into an expat’s salary package, very little money needs to be spent to live here. Further, goods such as tobacco, groceries, and electronics are all generally cheap due to lower import duties and the lack of taxation.

A three bedroom apartment in the middle of Riyadh will set you back approximately $966 USD per month and $655 per month for a similar apartment outside of the city center.

Living costs are not expensive either, a three-course dinner for two at a mid-range restaurant will cost an average of $26.65 USD, a regular cappuccino costing $2.82 USD and a packet of cigarettes (Marlboro) costing an average of $2.67 USD.

With Gasoline costing 14c per litre, the cost of running a car is very cheap, however if you do decide to use public transport, a regular pass for a monthly ticket will cost around $40 USD.

Lifestyle Synopsis:

Saudi Arabia is a deeply conservative Islamic state. Islam dominates all aspects of life in the Kingdom. Many expats will discover that many of the liberties they enjoyed back home are strictly regulated. As such, there are no bars, movie theatres, night clubs, or other gathering venues that many expats may be accustomed to. Restrictions are strict for females in Saudi Arabia and can make it difficult to meet people of the opposite sex away from the expat communities.

The Middle East has several famous tourist destinations, particularly for religious purposes. Of course there are Mecca and Medina, the country’s two holy cities, which are on the top of the list for all Muslim expats bring millions of tourists in through the Saudi Arabian immigration.

However, one’s feeling of culture shock may be tempered if living among the expat community within a Western compound. Many Western franchises thrive here, and satellite television is easily obtainable to watch the same entertainment seen in your homeland.

Expat Community:

With millions of foreigners working in the biggest economy in the Middle East, expatriates will find that they are in good company in the “Land of the Two Holy Mosques”. According to estimates, there are between eight and nine million foreign nationals living in Saudi Arabia.

The vast majority of these workers are from Southeast Asia, with roughly 100,000 North Americans and European foreign nationals.

With a significant foreign population, Saudi Arabia- particularly the capital of Riyadh- provides ample opportunity to live and thrive in a diverse community, where cross-cultural traditions can be discovered and appreciated.

Children in schoolPrivate Schooling Fees:

Foreign children are not allowed to attend local public schools. There are, however, a number of international schools in Saudi Arabia that offer diverse curricula. Fees can range from the frighteningly expensive American and British international schools (US$ 20,000 annually) to the cheap, less prestigious options (US$2,130 per year).

In addition to basic fees, parents will be expected to cover other costs such as uniforms, text books and extracurricular functions which are similarly very cheap compared to other European and American costs.


Life in Saudi Arabia can be a life-changing adventure for the good or the bad: it’s all about how you make the most out of the experience. For those willing and able to adjust their lifestyle to this more conservative culture, you can enjoy a rich experience where you can accumulate great wealth and immerse yourself in a new way of life. For those who aren’t willing to adjust several aspects of their lifestyle, Saudi Arabia can feel like an oppressive and unenjoyably place. You must undergo self-reflection to fully recognize the potential Saudi Arabia has for you.

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