Saudi Arabia’s population of around 28 million people includes a large minority of non- Saudi nationals who comprise over a fifth of the total, with around five and a half million expatriates in the country.
As is often pointed out, though, people don’t often move to Saudi Arabia simply for its weather or for the expat experience and tend to live there in compounds with other westerners, having moved to the country for work.
Given the country’s different culture from that of, say, Europe or North America, it’s important for expats to find out about the country’s customs before moving there. In 2012 the Saudi authorities went as far as to issue a warning notice to alert foreigners to the rules regarding Ramadan. Importantly, there’s no expectation for expatriates to take part in Ramadan, but it’s essential that they observe the rules – which meant that during fasting hours, nobody can eat, drink or smoke during the fasting hours in public. Anyone who’s seen doing so faces the threat of expulsion from the country.
Hot weather! The Saudi climate
And it’s not just culturally different – the climate of Saudi Arabia is hot, and in some areas the mercury can actually go up into the 40s Celsius during summer. And if you’re from a rainy part of the world and thought thunderstorms were an inconvenience, then spare a thought for anyone caught up in a sandstorm – the weather phenomenon that causes all sorts of problems, not least lack of visibility during the course of the storm.
The healthcare facilities of this nation are highly regarded, with the country gaining a good place in the World Health Organisation’s rankings in 2000, above Canada, Australia, Denmark and the States.
The UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises that those travelling to Saudi should have an adequate level of health cover, and this should also include medical evacuation or repatriation.
Saudi and expatriates
With its large numbers of expatriates, Saudi Arabia is a well-worn path for those seeking an international assignment in what is undoubtedly about as different a country as you could imagine – with its desert terrain, contrasted by the gleaming skyscrapers of Jeddah and Riyadh, with the hot sun beating down and the horizon aglimmer with the heat.
In recent months, though, there has been talk of reducing the number of Saudi non-nationals within the country. Saudi’s neighbour Kuwait also has plans to reduce expat numbers by a million within the next decade. However, it remains to be seen the impact this type of initiative will have on skilled jobs within industries such as oil production and technology – and we may well see the Western compounds as a feature of the country for some time yet.