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Moving to Saudi Arabia

Your guide to expat life in Saudi Arabia. The heart of Islamic culture

Want to move to Saudi Arabia?

The oil-rich Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is home to a growing expat population drawn to exciting job opportunities and tax-free salaries. The sense of community among expats in Saudi Arabia is strong. But assignments don’t tend to last more than a couple of years, so life can feel transient.

Expats mostly move to Saudi Arabia for financial reasons and tend to congregate in Western-style compounds, while earning tax-free salaries.

Saudi society is based on Islamic traditions. Because most locals speak English, there’s no language barrier for many expats. Getting used to the extreme heat may take time, though. To make the most of your stay in the country, it’s best to treat it as an adventure and a unique cultural experience.

Basic info about Saudi Arabia

  • Population: About 35 million
  • Capital city: Riyadh (also the largest city)
  • Political system: Islamic absolute monarchy
  • Main languages: Arabic is the official language, but English is widely used in business
  • Main religion: Islam. Other religions can be practised in private, but proselytising is strictly forbidden
  • Time: GMT+3
  • Electricity: 125 or 220V, 50Hz. A number of different plugs are used, including ones with two round pins, two or three flat blades, and two flat blades and a round pin
  • Currency: Saudi riyal (SAR)
  • International dialling code: +966
  • Internet domain: .sa
  • Emergency numbers: 999 (police), 998 (fire), 997 (ambulance)
  • Road traffic: Drives on the right

Weather in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is mostly desert, which means rainfall is sparse and daytime temperatures are incredibly high, dropping drastically at night. With temperatures soaring above 45°C (113°F), summers in central regions are long and dry. Temperatures dip below freezing in winter and there are frequent dust storms all year round. It’s slightly cooler, but humid, along the coast where temperatures rarely rise above 38°C (100°F).

Key phrases in Arabic

  • Hello Salam
  • Good evening Masaa el kheer
  • Goodbye Maa as-salaama
  • How are you? Kaifa haloka (male), Kaifa haloki (female)
  • Thank you Shukran
  • Yes Na’am
  • No La
  • Do you speak English? Hal tatakallam ingliziya?
  • Can you help me? Hal beemkanek mosa dati?
  • Sorry Ana a’asef

Shipping to Saudi Arabia

To ship goods to Saudi Arabia, you have to provide an authorisation letter signed and stamped by your employer, a certificate from your sponsor, a shipment declaration, a copy of your Iqama (work permit) and a copy of your passport.

Air vs sea

Air freight is quicker but more expensive than sending goods by sea. Because properties in Western compounds are usually fully furnished, you may not need to take much with you.

Banned items

Banned items include weapons, alcohol, narcotics and pork products. Customs regulations change frequently – an international removals company can advise on what you can and can’t take.


Saudi Arabia isn’t a particularly pet-friendly country. You can take cats, but if you have a dog, you’ll need to prove they’re going to be used as a guard or guide dog – and you’ll have to get an import permit from the Saudi embassy in your home country. All pets must have up-to-date vaccination records and a health certificate signed by a vet.

Top tips for Saudi Arabia

See what people responding to our Expat Explorer Survey think about living in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is a wonderful place to stay. Keep your 'ID' card always with you. Transport of your own is a must. Let it be your first priority. Always keep some cash at home.
Know the rules of the Middle East, particularly of Saudi Arabia, which is nothing like Dubai or Bahrain.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in September 2021. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information is purely for orientation and to inspire further research, it does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Always remember to ensure you're aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.

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