Saudi Arabia: Expat Expectations

Saudi Arabia: Expat Expectations

Are you ready for a style of living totally different from that lived in the United States or the United Kingdom? Do you desire a return to the basics of work and living? If this is your calling, opportunities can await you in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Key expat industries

As the country with the largest oil reserves in the world, it should come as no surprise that professionals in the energy sector have the most opportunities within the Kingdom.

For those without experience in this sector, there is no need for concern. In recent years, diversification efforts have been undertaken in an attempt to reduce the nation’s economic dependency on oil exports. These efforts have created new areas of employment for those working in Saudi Arabia’s other industries. In addition to the petrochemical industry, particular attention has been given to:

  • Power generation
  • Telecommunications
  • Natural gas exploration
  • Banking/finance
  • Urban planning
  • Food processing
  • Water resource management


Most Western expats come to Saudi Arabia for one reason: money. Landing a position here as an experienced and educated professional typically comes with perks that positions back in the West don’t offer. Generous tax-free salaries, palatial housing, paid education for your children, and the minimum standard of thirty days paid vacation are all benefits regularly offered to Western expatriates working for the multinational corporations found in Saudi Arabia.

Cost of living

The cost of living is also relatively reasonable aspect of life.  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. As is regularly known, gasoline is extraordinarily cheap; it is actually cheaper than water. However, you may be surprised to know that food, entertainment, and shopping are also affordable.

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 from 2013, there are between eight and nine million non-foreign residents living in the 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.

Travel and Tourism

The Middle East has several famous tourist destinations. However, tourism probably isn’t the first thing to spring to mind when one thinks of Saudi Arabia. While it’s true that the Kingdom doesn’t have a booming tourist industry like other countries in the region, this can be advantageous for those who become expats. They will be able to take advantage of the rich cultural history that the Kingdom has to offer without the negative aspects of the commercialized tourism industry.

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. There are several other sites worth seeing as well. Dir’iya, the original home of the Al Saud family, offers a glimpse into what life was like when the Kingdom was first established. Mada’in Saleh, an ancient city of buildings carved into cliffs is another destination. This is a city similar to Petra, which provides a look back in time to the country’s pre-Islamic history. Saudi Arabia also offers spectacular scenery when you venture out into the deserts beyond Riyadh, the mountains of Abha, or the beaches along the coast of the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.