Relocation Fact File: Saudi Arabia
Holding roughly 17% of the world’s proven petroleum reserves, it is unsurprising that the Kingdom’s key industries are heavily based on oil. The service sector generates roughly one third of the GDP; this makes it the second most important for the national economy.
Recent diversification 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.
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.
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.
Public transport in Saudi Arabia is underdeveloped and not a popular means of getting around the country. Therefore, it is critical to acquire a permanent means of transport once in-country. However, this is typically cheaper than what expats may find in their native country. Those with children will find that schooling costs are another key relocation cost.
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.
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. Those who are single may be disappointed at the lack of opportunities to mingle with those of the other sex.
However, one’s feeling of culture shock may be tempered t 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.
Private 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.
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 from, there are between eight and nine million foreign nationals living in Saudi Arabia. The vast majority of these workers are from Southeast Asia; these are predominantly Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and Filipinos. There are 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.
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 unenjoyable place. You must undergo self-reflection to fully recognize the potential Saudi Arabia has for you.