Moving to Saudi Arabia

In Moving Guides by Steven Kane

Capital City: Riyadh
Population: 33 Million
Language(s): Arabic
Currency: Saudi Riyal (SAR)
GDP per capita: USD 21,100 (2017)
Drives on the: Right
Time: GMT +3
Internet domain: .sa
International dialling code: +966

We are pleased to provide you with our guide on moving to Saudi Arabia from Dubai, UAE.

The kingdom of Saudi Arabia makes up the majority (around 80%) of the Arabian peninsula. It is the worlds 12th largest country with a total area of 2,150,000 square kilometers. It shares borders with Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait to the north, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE and Oman to the East and Yemen to the South. It has a coastline of over 2600 km and is the only country with coasts on the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf.

Modern-day Saudi Arabia was formed in 1932 when the kingdoms of Nejd and Hejaz were united to form the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Six years later oil was discovered in the Al Ahsa area and oil fields went into full production by 1941. Since then oil has become the major economy and as Saudi Arabia became the number one oil producer in the world, so its prosperity and international political leverage has grown.

With less than 1% of its land suitable for cultivation, many of the population live in coastal areas or a few densely populated interior oasis cities and towns including Riyadh, Jeddah, Al Khobar, Yanbu and Dammam.

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, governed along strict Islamic lines inspired heavily by the ultra-conservative Wahhabi form of Islam. Saudi Arabia is often referred to as “the Land of the Two Holy Mosques” which refers to the two holiest shrines of Islam located in Mecca and Medina.

Expats in Saudi Arabia
Approximately 30% of the population are expats, the majority of which are employed in the service and manual labour sectors, although the Saudi authorities are keen to reduce this number in future by diversifying and implementing better education and training for Saudi nationals.

Daily living in the Kingdom is heavily influenced by the laws of Sharia Islam. The religious police, (Mutaween), enforce laws relating to dress code, public codes of conduct, preventing non-Islamic activities, etc.

Whilst progress toward some form of gender equality is slowly taking place in the Kingdom, life for women is still particularly restrictive and may come as a major culture shock to many. Women are expected to wear the cloak and veil if they are in public. Driving is still forbidden for women, although there are positive signs this may change in future.

Drinking alcohol and consuming pork are forbidden in Saudi Arabia. It is an offense to criticize the regime or Islam, even unknowingly, and no exceptions are applied to expatriates, who may be imprisoned, deported or even executed if they do so.

Many expats live in large gated communities known as compounds where the strict Saudi social regime is not as stringently enforced and things are much more relaxed. Living on a compound can be very sociable and a lot of fun.

Cost of living (Riyadh)
A meal at a standard restaurant is likely to cost roughly USD 15-20 per person. A soft drink costs around USD 0.70 per can.  A coffee typically sets you back around USD 3. At the local supermarkets a loaf of bread is priced around USD 1.00, a liter of milk approximately USD 1.40 and a dozen eggs roughly USD 2.20. Beef is relatively expensive and of course, pork is not available.

Public transport is limited, however complimentary shuttle buses are laid on in many expat compounds. Otherwise, taxis are the only practical form of transport, especially for women. Taxis start around is USD 4 and then around USD 0.50 per kilometer thereafter. Petrol is extremely cheap at around USD 0.30 per liter.

Accommodation can be expensive. A typical 1-2 bedroom apartment in a good area would be approximately USD 1,500  per month. A typical house in a gated community with leisure facilities on site would cost around USD 3,500 per month.

Basic utilities for an average two-bedroom apartment will be around USD 80-100.  Prepaid mobile phone charges are approximately USD 0.14 per minutes and fast broadband internet is roughly USD 55 per month.

Locals and naturalized Arabs only are allowed to attend public schools so expat children need to be enrolled in International schools. Whilst these are plentiful, the large expat communities mean the best schools are generally oversubscribed and consequently expensive, and in some cases, very expensive. It is important to start the enrolment process as early as you can as this could heavily influence any decision you make when moving to Saudi Arabia.

Some schools follow their home countries curriculum, such as British, American, Indian etc. and preference can be afforded to nationals. Many International schools provide pre-school, primary and secondary education under one roof.

Most schools run from September through June with 2 or 3 terms. This means holidays are taken during the oppressively hot summer months of July and August. School hours are normally 7:00 – 15:30 Sunday to Thursday (Friday and Saturday is the weekend). School hours are reduced during the holy month of Ramadan.

Unlike public schools in Saudi Arabia, most international schools do not separate the students by gender.

Generally, healthcare in Saudi Arabia is of a high standard, but it can get very expensive. All major cities and large towns have public and private facilities which are well staffed and equipped. Waiting lists are generally fairly short even at public establishments and English is widely spoken since a large proportion of staff are expats.

Although public healthcare is available either free or at a very minimal cost to all Saudi citizens, more affluent locals and the vast majority of expats elect private healthcare plans which provides immediate attention and opulent, state of the art clinics and hospitals. Expats need to ensure adequate medical cover is in place. It has become compulsory for expats to have private medical cover and so make sure this is part of your compensation package.

Pharmacies are plentiful and generally well stocked. However, you should not assume that pharmacies will necessarily carry or provide medication you can get at home. Sleeping pills, tranquilizers, and anti-depressants are restricted and in some cases prohibited by the government so assuming the medication is for personal use, bring the medication with you and ensure you are in possession of a doctor’s certificate confirming you require the medication.

Moving Documents Required
When moving to Saudi Arabia from Dubai, importation of Household Goods and Personal Effects

  • Passport copy with entry visa page included
  • Detailed Packing list in English
  • Copy of work permit / Letter of employment
  • Receipts for electrical appliances
  • Copies of Saudi National’s ID (Bataqa) or residence permit (Iqama)
  • Bill of lading / AWB

The owner of the goods must be present in Saudi Arabia at the time the goods are imported

All shipments are subject to a rigorous physical examination

Useful link(s);

Note: This document is provided as a guide for people moving to Saudi Arabia from Dubai, UAE and for information purposes only. Customs regulations can and do change at any time, usually without notice. Your mover will provide you with more information.