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Saudi Arabia is a Middle East destination that has become a hub for global expats, with lower living costs than many neighbouring countries. Foreign nationals enjoy an excellent quality of life, generous employment packages and a tax-free system.
The low-tax regime is a key element in an industrialised economy which means many professionals can earn more than double the equivalent salary back home. However, understanding the culture, laws and realities of living in Saudi Arabia is essential before you pack your bags.
Table of contents
- Saudi Arabia – Quick Facts
- Visas And Residency
- Safety And Security
- Cost Of Living
- Buying Or Renting A Home
- Where Do British Expats Live In Saudi Arabia?
- Working In Saudi Arabia
- Local Laws And Customs
- Education And Schooling
- Living In Saudi Arabia FAQ
- Related Information
Saudi Arabia – Quick Facts
- The flag of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: علم المملكة العربية السعودية
- Population: 35.95 million
- UK expat population: 30,000
- Capital: Riyadh
- Main cities: Jeddah, Mecca, Medina, Dammam and Al-Mubarraz
Visas And Residency
All foreign nationals will need a visa or work permit to travel and live in the country, with visa eligibility and conditions managed by the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There are varied routes to residency depending on your reasons for relocating.
One option is the Premium Residency Visa or Saudi Green Card. This residency permit allows expats to live and work in Saudi Arabia, buy a property or own a business without requiring a local sponsor.
To apply for a long-term residency visa, expats must have a valid passport with at least six months of validity and need a visa referral from the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Those travelling as a family must be able to provide evidence of their kinships, such as birth or marriage certificates, and can only relocate with daughters if they are unmarried.
Other requirements include a medical report issued by an accredited medical professional showing that the individual has no contagious diseases, although this does not apply to children under 16.
Expats can apply for most visa categories online, although employment visas are usually managed by the business acting as the sponsor on behalf of the applicant.
British nationals living in Saudi Arabia must have a re-entry or exit permit from the Ministry of the Interior to leave and return. Female expats travelling on a residency visa must be met on arrival by their sponsor. Women married to Saudi nationals must also have a re-entry or exit permit issued by their husbands to be allowed to leave.
Proof of vaccination
There are no longer any requirements to provide a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination when arriving in Saudi Arabia. However, travellers must have medical insurance which covers costs linked to potential COVID-19 treatments, including hospitalisation.
Foreign nationals must have at least six months of validity remaining on their passports from their arrival date in Saudi Arabia.
Taking medicines to Saudi Arabia
Travellers can bring prescription medication to Saudi Arabia up to a maximum of one month’s supply or medicines that will last the duration of their visit – whichever is shorter.
Prescriptions must be accompanied by a doctor’s medical report, including the individual’s details, diagnosis, treatment plan, recommendations and information about the medication, dosage and contents. More information about applying for clearance to travel with medicines is available through the Saudi Embassy.
Visa applicants must provide a police certificate from the Criminal Records Office dated within 30 days of the application. If the certificate shows ‘no live trace,’ you will need to provide a Subject Access Report, also available to apply for through the ACRO website.
Safety And Security
Terrorist attacks and violence are possible, and expats living in Saudi Arabia should follow advisory notices when disturbances or conflicts are anticipated. Demonstrations are illegal, but civil disruption can occur, with the police and authorities normally taking swift action to break up protests and arrest participants.
Violence between protestors and the security forces primarily occurs in the Eastern Province, within the Qatif area.
The 20-kilometre area around the northern border of Saudi Arabia and in the Eastern Province from the borders in Khafji to Hafr Al-Batin is out of bounds. Trespassing can result in a fine of SAR 25,000 (£5,453) and a 30-month prison sentence.
British nationals are advised against travel within ten kilometres of the Yemeni border, with potential air strikes and military clashes. IEDs, drones and missiles are launched into Saudi Arabia periodically, and Saudi air defence systems are active.
Expats can drive with a British driving licence for up to three months from their arrival date and will then need to exchange their permit for a local licence. Foreign nationals are advised to stick to major roads, avoid travelling to rural areas, and only drive during the day.
Poor driving standards are common, and serious accidents occur frequently. Drivers should always wear a seatbelt and adhere to the automated traffic system where drivers need to pay fines issued before they are allowed to leave.
Cost Of Living
Living costs in Saudi are lower than in the UK, with general consumer costs around 18.9 per cent more affordable and rental prices 60.1 per cent less expensive.
Salaries tend to be high, and the absence of income tax means workers can earn considerably more than elsewhere. Saudi living costs are around 35 per cent cheaper than in Dubai and 38 per cent less than in Doha.
However, average wages are higher in Qatar and the UAE, with an average Saudi salary of SAR 277,500 (£60,533) in Riyadh. Wage laws introduced over the last few years impose minimum salaries of SAR 4,000 (£873) monthly for Saudi nationals and SAR 2,500 (£545) for expats.
A family of four would need a rough budget of SAR 10,214 (£2,228) a month, excluding rent, and an individual would need approximately SAR 2,877 (£628).
Buying Or Renting A Home
Rental costs in Saudi Arabia are less expensive than in other Middle Eastern countries. Utilities are normally included in the price, and contracts run for one year. If you rent privately, you will be expected to pay a full year’s rent in advance via post-dated cheques, and some landlords will ask for quarterly rather than monthly payments.
Expats renting a Saudi property must pay a deposit worth around one month’s rent, and agreements must be registered electronically through the Ejar system. Renting a home without having the agreement registered can mean your work permit is no longer renewable.
Foreign nationals moving to Saudi to work usually find their employer will allocate accommodation and include the rental costs in their salary – or pay the landlord directly and deduct the cost. You can also search for properties through any of the larger sites, including Bayut, Property Finder and Zaahib.
There are rules that dictate where and how expats can purchase property in Saudi. Foreign nationals are normally allowed to buy a home provided they have advance permission from the relevant local licensing authority, and expats cannot purchase homes in Medina or Mecca.
Cost of renting and buying a home
|Property Type||Average Monthly Rent|
|One-bedroom city centre apartment||SAR 1,706 / £372|
|One-bedroom apartment elsewhere||SAR 1,301 / £284|
|Three-bedroom city centre apartment||SAR 2,884 / £629|
|Three-bedroom apartment elsewhere||SAR 2,091 / £456|
|Property Type||Average Purchase Cost Per Square Metre|
|City centre apartment||SAR 5,060 / £1,104|
|Apartment elsewhere||SAR 3,657 / £798|
Where Do British Expats Live In Saudi Arabia?
Most British nationals live in Riyadh, the Saudi capital city, or Jeddah.
Healthcare facilities in Saudi Arabia are of a high standard, and most towns have at least a small hospital or health centre. Expats must have comprehensive health insurance and need to contact their insurance provider as quickly as possible if they have an accident or become unwell and require emergency treatment.
Prescriptions must be issued by a licensed, registered doctor authorised by the Saudi Commission for Health Specialities, and pharmacies are commonly found in bigger cities and adjacent to hospitals and clinics.
UK prescriptions are not valid in Saudi, and you should register with a local practitioner and bring copies of your medical documentation and a doctor’s letter.
Working In Saudi Arabia
Foreign nationals must have an employment visa to work in Saudi Arabia and need to apply in advance with evidence of a job offer. The employer acts as the sponsor and manages most of the application process on your behalf.
Working culture varies considerably from the UK, and while Arabic is the official language, English is widely used. Companies operate from 8 am until 6 pm, Sunday to Thursday, with a three-hour lunch break, and conservative dress is mandatory.
Men must avoid making physical contact with women, including handshakes. It is uncommon to see women working in Saudi businesses, but not unheard of, and foreign national women can apply for work permits.
Expats can search for jobs online through popular sites such as Bayt, Expatriates, Naukri Gulf, Gulf Talent and Career Jet.
Saudi Arabia does not have an income tax system, and provided expats do not work elsewhere; they will not pay any individual taxes. Income outside of employment is taxed as business earnings.
Non-residents will normally be subject to withholding taxes, and those with dual residency or who remain liable for UK taxes may need to submit returns to HMRC.
There are no HMRC-approved Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes in Saudi Arabia. British nationals can draw a State Pension but will not be entitled to annual increases.
Local Laws And Customs
- Saudi Arabia operates according to Islamic law. Expats must understand the culture and respect customs, particularly during holy festivals. During Ramadan, expats are advised not to eat or drink in public.
- Public conduct regulations mean you must avoid swearing, making rude gestures, being affectionate, or taking photos and videos without permission.
- Women have been allowed to apply for a driving licence since June 2018.
- Homosexuality and relationships outside of marriage are illegal. Being transgender is also unlawful. Unmarried couples cannot live together, and offences can result in prison sentences, fines and deportation.
- Women who become pregnant in Saudi Arabia and are unmarried can be arrested, imprisoned or deported. Doctors will require proof of marriage to provide treatments and checks.
- It is illegal to import pork, weapons, drugs and alcohol alongside any materials considered pornographic or used to make alcohol. Books, magazines, electronic devices and videos may be screened on arrival.
- Expats must apply for formal approval according to the Saudi Standards to import seeds, books, movies, tapes, some medications, radio-controlled models, archaeological artefacts and any wireless equipment.
- Drug offences are not tolerated in Saudi Arabia, the penalties are severe, including death.
- It is an offence to drink alcohol or to be drunk in a public place.
- Publicly practising any religion aside from Islam is illegal.
- Modesty laws mean you should not show your shoulders or knees, wear tight clothing, or any clothing with images or language perceived as obscene. Female travellers do not have to wear an abaya if they choose not to.
- Holding two passports is illegal, and immigration authorities will confiscate a second passport.
Education And Schooling
There are varied education options in Saudi Arabia, depending on your visa terms, length of stay, passport and religion. Government schools are only accessible to citizens and residents. Non-resident children can potentially only enrol, but only if they are Muslim. These schools are segregated by gender and focus primarily on Islamic studies.
Private schools are obliged to follow the Saudi curriculum and teach in Arabic. Expats tend to send their children to international schools, which are allowed to teach in English and follow a national curriculum or the international baccalaureate.
Fees range from SAR 15,000 to SAR 100,000 (£3,272 to £21,814) a year. School begins with nursery and primary education before splitting into intermediate schools for ages 13 to 16, followed by secondary schools for ages 17 to 19. Education is not mandatory from age 13 upward but is recommended.
Government schools are free, but quality standards depend on the area. Most schools teach science, literature, maths, history, Islamic studies, Arabic and English.
More information about the schooling system is available from the Saudi Embassy.
Living In Saudi Arabia FAQ
The currency is the Saudi Arabian Riyal, shortened to SAR or written with the symbol ﷼. One SAR is worth approximately £0.22.
Saudi Arabia has several areas that are out of bounds, subject to conflicts or military control, and where missile strikes and IEDs are common. Before departure, check the travel guidance of any area you intend to visit, live in or work in.
Drone attacks are more likely to affect these zones but can also affect civilian facilities and government buildings, and there is a considerable threat of terrorism. Generally, if you live in a major city, crime rates are low, but you must understand which areas are not accessible or are considered dangerous for foreign nationals.
Yes, Saudi Arabia has no income tax system, so you will not pay any deductions from your payslip if you work there. There is no income tax, regardless of whether you are a resident.
However, income from anything other than employment, such as investment, may be liable for business taxes. Foreign nationals may also remain subject to taxes in their home country, depending on their citizenship or residency position and tax status.
The official language is Arabic, but English is widely used in business. English is taught as a compulsory topic in all Saudi schools.
The climate in Saudi Arabia is hot, and outside of the semi-arid conditions in the southwest, it is made up of desert. Summers in central Saudi Arabia can reach as high as 43°C during the day.
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