As Dubai becomes a more tolerant city, moving to Riyadh can seem like a downgrade for most expats (2023)

The new initiatives in Saudi Arabia are aimed at attracting foreign investment and workers.

Bloomberg: Will Brown, a global risk manager based in Dubai who has been commuting to Riyadh for work for nearly seven years, is starting to notice a change on his two-hour flight to the Saudi capital.

Instead of the usual group of men who make up the overwhelming demographic of professionals moving to Saudi Arabia, women and children are now on board.

"The plane isn't just middle-aged white guys arriving on Sundays, you're starting to see people moving in with their families," says Brown, 49, who usually travels to Riyadh to work Sunday-Thursday.

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Brown and his family will soon move full-time to Riyadh as his employer Control Risks, a global risk consultancy, establishes its regional headquarters there.

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The company wants to comply with recent Saudi rules that prevent state-owned entities from doing business with international companies that do not have regional headquarters in the country by January 2024, even though it could mean a setback in terms of personal quality of life.

The new initiatives aim to attract foreign investment and workers. They are part of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's ambition to open the country to international markets, making the capital one of the world's 10 largest urban economies and doubling its population to at least 15 million by 2030 – despite many traditional obstacles, who are bound by strict rules for the kingdom. interpretation of Islamic law.

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The push has not gone unnoticed in Dubai, the Middle East's main business and tourism hub, which has long been the default choice for expats.

By the end of 2022, nearly 80 companies have applied for permission to move their headquarters to Riyadh, Saudi Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih said in a recent interview, adding that the city will become "the great capital of the Middle East, politics and policy . financially.”

But the big question is whether Riyadh is ready for an influx of foreign workers and their families from an infrastructure, housing, lifestyle and even administrative point of view. Likewise, it remains doubtful whether people will be willing to leave the relatively freer and more cosmopolitan – albeit more expensive – Dubai to move there.

Saudi Arabia lags behind Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates as a desirable destination for expats, according to HSBC's rankings.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia certainly does not have the money to make the necessary changes, but so far there are signs that there is still a long way to go. Despite the recent relaxation of some rules, alcohol, extramarital affairs and homosexuality are punishable "moral crimes" and options are limited when it comes to Western housing estates and international schools.

And while soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo was allowed to live with his girlfriend Georgina Rodriguez after joining a Saudi Arabian soccer team last year, few others have the same privilege. Foreigners also complain about the long time it takes to get a work visa, even though tourist cards are easier to get.

"There are infrastructure challenges and that's where the issues will be, making sure there's enough housing available, water, whether the road network can handle it and so on," says Metin Mitchell, head of a recruitment firm who has worked in Saudi Arabia. Arabia. Arabia since 1995.

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Glitzy and futuristic real estate projects in and around Riyadh, such as Mukaab - billed as "the world's first immersive, experiential destination" that will house commercial, residential, retail and cultural spaces - have been announced this year, but the long-awaited masterplan for the extension from Riyadh has been delayed several times.

A subway system expected to be completed in 2019 has yet to open. Signs of discomfort are also visible in the recent resignation of the head of the Royal Commission for the City of Riyadh, the entity responsible for implementing the master plan, signaling frustration on the part of the Crown Prince at the lack of progress.

The RCRC did not respond to multiple requests for comment, although Economy and Planning Minister Faisal Alibrahim told Bloomberg TV: "Riyadh is ready today and will be ready tomorrow if more people come."

In practice, the looming housing shortage in Riyadh has significantly increased rental costs. Annual payments for a two-bedroom apartment in one of Riyadh's exclusive neighborhoods have risen nearly 12 percent over the past year to about SAR 181,000 ($48,260), according to Faisal Durrani, partner and head of Middle East research at Knight Frank, a global real . real estate agency and consultancy.

He explained that this is due to a number of factors: more foreign professionals moving to Riyadh, limited availability of housing complexes preferred by Westerners due to loose-fitting clothes, gyms and swimming pools, and a growing trend among young Saudis to move to occupation.

It has also become more difficult for job seekers in Saudi Arabia to demand exorbitant salaries in exchange for moving, reducing the incentive to leave. The global economic slowdown and massive layoffs at some global companies are strengthening both Saudi and multinational employers, said Chris Rea, associate director of Michael Page's Saudi recruitment practice.

"It's no longer about 'I want a 50% raise to move' - anyone who says that is pretty much 'no' at this point," Rea said, adding that workers moving to Riyadh from Dubai, can still receive 20%-25% salary increases.

A senior producer at Saudi media company MBC Group, which plans to move most of its staff from Dubai to its new headquarters in Riyadh by 2024, said he and others would receive pay rises of at least 35 percent to 40 percent and guarantees that they will keep their jobs for five years – yet many fear the move.

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In Dubai you are an expatriate like most people, but in Riyadh you have to deal with a local mentality, said the producer, who declined to be named to speak freely about his concerns.

Most expats won't be ready for the lifestyle Riyadh brings, said a European recruiter for the kingdom's growing hospitality market. He moved to the Saudi capital from Dubai a year ago, citing the fact that he cannot freely practice Christianity and the total ban on alcohol as factors.

However, much has changed in Saudi Arabia. Women entered the workforce in droves after Crown Prince Mohammed abolished strict dress codes, gender segregation and restrictions on driving and travel. It also limited the power of the ultra-conservative religious establishment, which sought to force its edicts on everyone, citizens and non-citizens alike.

But at the same time, foreigners coming to Saudi Arabia should remember that any criticism of the leadership and the system can lead to deportation, imprisonment or worse. The United Arab Emirates imposes similar restrictions on freedom of expression, but has decriminalized cohabitation, allowed civil marriage and stopped liquor license fees.

As Dubai becomes a more tolerant city, moving to Riyadh may seem like a downgrade.

For others, there are complications of a different kind.

Brown, the Control Risks manager who plans to move there within the next year, is trying to find a way to bring his dogs: a husky, a saluki and a mixed breed.

Taking pets in Riyadh is much more restrictive than in Dubai.

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How is Riyadh for expats? ›

Expat Life in the Compounds

Pools, gyms, and various sports grounds are frequently standard features. As the mutawwa (Saudi Arabia's religious police) cannot enter these areas, expat women living in Riyadh's foreign residential areas do not have to adhere to the strict local standards there.

Are there expats in Riyadh? ›

With lots of luxury complexes, Al-Nakheel is another popular expat neighbourhood in Riyadh, particularly among families. This is due to the presence of a fair few international schools. Most complexes in Al-Nakheel have many housing options suitable for families, with larger properties with gardens.

Where do expats live in Riyadh? ›

Most Western expats live in residential compounds in the northern and eastern suburbs of Riyadh. In some of them, life is more liberal than the general situation might suggest.

How is life in Riyadh? ›

Riyadh offers expats a relatively high standard of living. The expat communities get access to numerous amenities and facilities. These neighborhoods' heavily secured gates conceal a wealth of recreational activities. Standard facilities often include swimming pools, gyms, and different sports fields.

How safe is Riyadh for Americans? ›

Overall the rate of crime in Saudi Arabia is low. Theft can occur, especially in crowded places and from vehicles. Carry only what you need. Leave other valuables in a secure place.

What are the disadvantages of living in Riyadh? ›

On the other hand, the cons of living in Saudi Arabia include strict laws and regulations, a lack of freedom of speech, and a lack of religious freedom. Additionally, the country is known for its conservative culture and gender roles, which can be difficult for some to adjust to.

What is a good expat salary in Riyadh? ›

Average Asian expat salaries in Saudi Arabia rose 8.3 per cent, reaching $11,066 from $10,214 from last year. Western expats saw slightly slower salary growth of 7.7 per cent, reaching $14,302 in 2015 from $13,274 in 2014. While Arab pay packets saw growth of four per cent, rising from $13,042 to $13,567.

Can expat buy house in Riyadh? ›

What should I know about purchasing property in Saudi Arabia? Price is negotiated between buyer and seller or through facilitators such as real estate brokers or lawyers. Foreigners are allowed to own real estate, but are subject to approval of the licensing authority.

How many Americans live in Riyadh? ›

There is a sizable community of around 80,000 Americans living in Saudi Arabia, one of the largest population of the United States nationals in the Arab world.

Are there slums in Riyadh? ›

They live in neglected provinces such as Asir, Jizan and Najran; but also in the big cities. Al-Suwaidi, al-Jarradiyah and al-Shimaisi (in Riyadh) and al-Karantina, al-Rowais and al-Salamah (in Jeddah) are slums that rival each other in notoriety, inhabited not just by extremely poor Saudis but also by foreign workers.

Where's the best place for Americans to live in Saudi Arabia? ›

Living in Saudi Arabia as an expat

Most expats in Saudi Arabia live in Jeddah and Riyadh, both of which have the full range of Western amenities, a good selection of accommodation, and most of the Kingdom's employers.

How much money do you need to live comfortably in Riyadh? ›

Summary about cost of living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Family of four estimated monthly costs are 2,925.0$ (10,975.8﷼) without rent. A single person estimated monthly costs are 814.1$ (3,055.0﷼) without rent. Riyadh is 46.4% less expensive than New York (without rent).

Can you drink alcohol in Riyadh? ›

Consuming alcoholic beverages is strictly prohibited in Saudi Arabia. Therefore, the short answer to your question is no. Due to the fact that Islamic law forbids the manufacture, distribution, and use of alcoholic beverages, drinking alcoholic beverages is against the law in this country.

What is the average life expectancy in Riyadh? ›

The current life expectancy for Saudi Arabia in 2023 is 75.69 years, a 0.21% increase from 2022. The life expectancy for Saudi Arabia in 2022 was 75.53 years, a 0.21% increase from 2021.

Why is Riyadh so popular? ›

Riyadh is known as the cultural capital of Saudi Arabia due to its numerous cultural centres. Among them are the King ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Historical Centre, the National Museum, and the National Library.

Are Americans welcome in Saudi Arabia? ›

Saudi Arabia - Level 3: Reconsider Travel. Last Update: Reissued with updates to health information. Reconsider travel to Saudi Arabia due to the threat of missile and drone attacks on civilian facilities. Exercise increased caution in Saudi Arabia due to terrorism.

Are Christians allowed in Riyadh? ›

Saudi Arabia allows Christians to enter the country as foreign workers for work or tourism, but does not allow them to practice their faith openly.

Are non Muslims allowed in Riyadh? ›

The public practice of any form of religion other than Islam is illegal; as is an intention to convert others. However, the Saudi authorities accept the private practice of religions other than Islam, and you can bring a religious text into the country as long as it is for your personal use.

What is it like living in Saudi Arabia as an American? ›

Saudi Arabia has a lower cost of living than many other Middle Eastern destinations. Most expats enjoy a luxurious lifestyle, especially if their employment package includes housing, transport and education allowances. Compound accommodation is expensive and international school fees are high.

Can I live with my girlfriend in Riyadh? ›

Saudi Arabia, like many other Muslim-majority countries, does not allow men and women to live together unless they are “mahram” — an Arabic term referring to close family members or spouses. The rule is rooted in Islamic law.

Is Riyadh tax free? ›

There is no personal income tax in Saudi Arabia. A flat income tax rate of 20% is applied to the tax-adjusted profit of resident non-Saudi and non-GCC individuals.

What is the average income in Saudi Arabia in US dollars? ›

In Qatar, the average per capita income is $129,700 a year; in Saudi Arabia, it is $54,100.

Which is more expensive Riyadh or Dubai? ›

Cost of Living Comparison Between Dubai and Riyadh

You would need around 12,805.0AED (13,079.3﷼) in Riyadh to maintain the same standard of life that you can have with 19,000.0AED in Dubai (assuming you rent in both cities). This calculation uses our Cost of Living Plus Rent Index to compare cost of living.

Which profession is best in Saudi Arabia for expats? ›

The 7 Best Jobs for Foreigners in Saudi Arabia
  1. Treasury Manager Jobs in Saudi Arabia. ...
  2. Construction Project Manager. ...
  3. Information Technology Manager Jobs in Saudi Arabia. ...
  4. Saudi Arabian Doctor or General Practitioner. ...
  5. Real Estate Agent, Broker or Manager. ...
  6. Human Resource Manager. ...
  7. Saudi Arabian Lawyer.

Can a woman own a house in Saudi Arabia? ›

She even keeps her own maiden name after marriage. A Saudi woman also has rights of ownership and disposal of property and wealth before and after marriage. She may inherit from her father, husband, brother and son.

How much does a house maid earn in Riyadh? ›

Salary Recap

The average salary range for a Maid is between SAR 45,603 and SAR 68,139. On average, a High School Degree is the highest level of education for a Maid. This compensation analysis is based on salary survey data collected directly from employers and anonymous employees in Saudi Arabia.

Can an expat marry a Saudi? ›

This service allows the Saudi male to request permission for marrying a non-Saudi female born outside Saudi Arabia. The applicant should include in his application letter the country name of the non-Saudi female that he want to get married with her.

Do expats pay tax in Saudi Arabia? ›

The tax rate for foreigners in Saudi Arabia is zero. This holds whether you've established residency or not. That doesn't mean you're exempt from all income taxes, though. As a US citizen, you must file a tax return with the IRS and, if necessary, pay income taxes.

Does US immigration happen in Riyadh? ›

If your immigrant visa will be processed under the new MIV system, the National Visa Center (NVC) will provide you instructions on how to electronically upload required documents. Immigrant visas to the United States for citizens and residents of Saudi Arabia are only processed at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh.

How long can a US citizen stay in Saudi Arabia? ›

The Department strongly recommends that U.S. citizens enter Saudi Arabia on a U.S. passport and Saudi visa, and not a laissez-passer. Length of Stay: Bearers of tourist visas are generally admitted for a 90-day stay and may not remain in the Kingdom more than 180 days in a twelve month period.

Does Riyadh get cold? ›

Winter months of December-February is somewhat cold, and the temperature highs are 79.9°F (26.6°C) and 64.9°F (18.3°C). This place is scorching, and it's almost impossible to travel there during the summer months of April-July. The temperature in summer often gets up to 50 degrees Celsius.

What is the richest street in Riyadh? ›

Tahlia street its real name is mohammed bin abdulaziz it's located near the city center and it is a great choice for those who are looking for the international restaurants and coffee shops. But it's crowded from 12pm till 12am!

What is the crime rate in Riyadh? ›

Crime rates in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Level of crime20.69Low
Problem people using or dealing drugs25.16Low
Problem property crimes such as vandalism and theft25.26Low
Problem violent crimes such as assault and armed robbery21.27Low
Problem corruption and bribery41.04Moderate
8 more rows

Where do the rich live in Saudi Arabia? ›

Erga Palace, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

King Salman is so rich, he has several overflow palaces where he can retreat and receive guests. Located in central Riyadh and completed relatively recently, Erga Palace is one such residence.

Which city is safest in Saudi Arabia? ›

Medina. The safest city in the world is Saudi Arabia's Medina, according to experts from InsureMyTrip. The city's overall safety score was 9.29, with a rank of 9.3 out of 10 for “absence of worry about attacks based on gender” and a score of 82.75 for “feeling safe walking alone at night.”

What is a high salary in Riyadh? ›

In Saudi Arabia, a rich person is defined as someone who has a monthly income of SAR 260,562 or more. Average salaries differ quite a bit between men and women, too. For men, the average salary was SAR 267,568 per month. For women, it was only SAR 203,509.

How can I move to Saudi Arabia from USA? ›

How To Move To Saudi Arabia The complete guide!
  1. Find A Job. ...
  2. Apply For A Visa/Permit. ...
  3. Get Health Insurance. ...
  4. Rent Or Buy Property. ...
  5. Move Your Belongings. ...
  6. Register For Healthcare. ...
  7. Open A Bank Account. ...
  8. Transfer Money.

What is a good expat salary in Saudi Arabia? ›

More similar to the US than to Europe, Saudi salaries vary greatly by industry and position level. Most monthly incomes fall in the range of SAR 8,000 and 15,000, but director-level positions can pay closer to SAR 50,000. For more information, browse by sector and job title on GulfTalent.

Can I take ibuprofen to Saudi Arabia? ›

Bringing prescription drugs to Saudia Arabia

However, travelers who take prescription medicines such as sleeping pills, painkillers and treatments for ADHD can import these into Saudi Arabia. Most importantly, you must obtain advance clearance, with a medical certificate and a doctor's prescription.

Can you wear jeans in Saudi Arabia? ›

You can wear jeans but you should ensure that whatever you are wearing on your top half is long enough to cover your bum. This is why, in many ways, it is just easier to wear an abaya or long kaftan over your clothes when out in public.

Can you kiss in Riyadh? ›

Delhi High Court lawyer Anand Katiyar said that 'If the car is in a public place and there are people around, then someone kisses in the car, which irritates the people and they consider it obscene, then it is under Section 294 of the IPC. Can come under the category of crime.

What is it like to live in Riyadh as an expat? ›

Owing to strict laws and extremely harsh punishments, expats can feel pretty safe in Riyadh. There are usually strong security measures around compounds, with high walls and guards.

What is the poverty rate in Riyadh? ›

Facts About Poverty in Riyadh

The Saudi family is the richest royal family in the world, with a net worth of around $1.4 trillion due to plentiful oil reserves, yet the country itself can be considered poor, with an estimated 20 percent of its people living in poverty.

Can Westerners visit Riyadh? ›

All visitors, including pilgrims, need a visa to enter Saudi Arabia. See Visas. Public demonstrations are illegal in Saudi Arabia.

How does Riyadh get water? ›

The capital Riyadh, located in the heart of the country, is supplied with desalinated water pumped from the Arabian Gulf over a distance of 467 km. Water is provided almost for free to residential users. Despite improvements, service quality remains poor, for example in terms of continuity of supply.

What is the dating culture in Riyadh? ›

Dating in Saudi Arabia is officially illegal (even though some young people do find their way around the restrictions). Avoid spending time with people of the opposite sex in public. Public displays of affection are not allowed and can have serious consequences.

How much salary is enough to live in Riyadh? ›

Summary about cost of living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Family of four estimated monthly costs are 2,926.8$ (10,978.8﷼) without rent. A single person estimated monthly costs are 814.7$ (3,055.9﷼) without rent. Riyadh is 46.2% less expensive than New York (without rent).

Is Saudi Arabia expat friendly? ›

Saudi Arabia polarizes expat opinion like few other places. While some enjoy living in traditional expat compounds, others struggle to deal with aspects such as gender segregation, human rights issues, and the country's intolerance to alcohol.

Can you speak English in Riyadh? ›

Arabic is the official language of Saudi Arabia, but English is widely spoken. It is used in business and is a compulsory second language in schools. Among the non-Saudi population, many people speak Urdu, the official language of Pakistan, and other Asian languages such as Farsi and Turkish.

Where do most expats live in Saudi Arabia? ›

Living in Saudi Arabia as an expat

Most expats in Saudi Arabia live in Jeddah and Riyadh, both of which have the full range of Western amenities, a good selection of accommodation, and most of the Kingdom's employers.

Can I live in Saudi Arabia as a US citizen? ›

Unlike what many people think, Saudi Arabia is friendly to American expats in the country. The process to move here is easy as long as you send no restricted items. They're also now allowing long term tourism visas in Saudi Arabia, which means you can live long term without a job.

Can Americans live in Saudi? ›

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia offers a unique opportunity for American expats to work in a country without an income tax regime. However, it is important to be aware of other financial complexities that come with being an American expat living in Saudi.

Can you drink in Riyadh? ›

Consuming alcoholic beverages is strictly prohibited in Saudi Arabia. Therefore, the short answer to your question is no. Due to the fact that Islamic law forbids the manufacture, distribution, and use of alcoholic beverages, drinking alcoholic beverages is against the law in this country.

Which Arab country speaks best English? ›

Arab Countries Last in Global Test of English Proficiency
Arab rankArab countriesWorld rank
1United Arab Emirates42
8 more rows
Nov 23, 2015

What dialect is spoken in Riyadh? ›

Najdi Arabic


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