Working in Saudi Arabia
The job market
What are your chances of getting a job?
Jobs for new UK graduates in Saudi Arabia are not abundant but opportunities may be available for those with specific professional qualifications, experience and skills. The oil industry accounts for a major part of the country's economy and is the most likely area in which to find work. Jobs may also be available in IT, healthcare, banking, teaching, telecommunications and construction.
The government in Saudi Arabia has introduced quotas for the number of foreign nationals that can be employed in the country. If employers are found to be hiring too many overseas citizens they can face big fines. This may limit the amount of jobs available to UK nationals and one of the easiest ways to find employment in Saudi Arabia may be with an international company that has offices in the country.
Arabic is the main business language used, although English is also widely spoken. It can be a significant help to have some understanding of Arabic and private language schools are available in Saudi Arabia.
Where can you work?
- Major industries: oil is the main industry in Saudi Arabia (detection, extraction, refinement, production and distribution). It has around a fifth of the world’s petroleum reserves and the petroleum sector accounts for 90% of the country’s exports. Other significant industries include telecommunications, healthcare, IT and the services sector.
- Recent growth areas: attempts to diversify the Saudi economy have led to developments in the financial and manufacturing sectors as well as in power generation and natural gas exploration.
- Shortage occupations: engineering, IT, education, healthcare and construction professionals are in most demand.
- Major companies: the oil company Saudi Aramco is the largest Saudi employer. Others include STC (Saudi Telecom Company), Saudi Electricity Company and SABIC (Saudi Basic Industries Corporation) – a manufacturer of chemicals, fertilisers, plastics and metals. Many major multinational companies have operations in Saudi Arabia, including BAE Systems, Cisco Systems, Procter & Gamble, Schlumberger, Nestlé and Siemens.
What’s it like working in Saudi Arabia?
- Average working hours: typically eight hours per day. The exception to this is during Ramadan when hours may not exceed six per day. The working week begins on Sunday and runs to Thursday, with Friday and Saturday as the weekend.
- Holidays: there are three public holidays in Saudi Arabia each year. Remaining holiday entitlement varies depending on individual employers and contracts.
- Tax rates: most overseas workers are not required to pay income tax in Saudi Arabia. Don't forget to check your UK tax and National Insurance position with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to ensure that you're not losing any UK pensions rights.
Applying for jobs
Job applications by foreign citizens are made outside of Saudi Arabia and you'll need to secure a job before you go. Your employer will then usually be your sponsor for entering the country and will help to make the necessary arrangements, including getting the correct visa.
There isn't a specific style of CV for Saudi Arabia so you can follow the format used in a CV in the UK. Focus on relevant skills, experience and qualifications as well as your motivation for seeking a career in Saudi Arabia. Some Saudi employers may request additional details such as marital status, number of children and religion. Get more applications and CV advice.
Interviews for jobs in Saudi Arabia are typically held outside of the country. Large companies have recruitment networks around the world that are responsible for the recruitment of non-Saudi workers. Larger employers may also run orientation events to help successful applicants prepare for the changes they are likely to encounter once working in Saudi Arabia.
Will your UK qualifications be recognised?
UK qualifications are generally well recognised around the world, but check with the employer or the relevant professional body before applying for work.
Use the Saudian Yellow Pages to search for recruitment agencies.
- Arab News
- Gulf News
- The Daily Telegraph – includes a section on jobs in the oil and gas sectors in the Middle East
- onlinenewspapers.com lists newspapers in Saudi Arabia, specifying which ones are in English
As you're required to have a job offer and a sponsor prior to entering the country, it's hard to make speculative applications for Saudi jobs. Some Saudi organisations that employ foreign workers allow CVs to be submitted on their website and will contact you if they're interested in your application.
Getting work experience
Work placements and internships
It's extremely difficult for non-Saudi nationals to gain any work experience or internships in the country. The Labour and Social Development Ministry in Saudi Arabia focuses on helping its nationals to gain employment but there's no equivalent for foreigners in the country.
Native English speakers are required for posts in the language schools in Saudi Arabia. It's possible to get work in private language schools which cater for Saudi nationals and expatriates from other countries. Many of the classes at these schools are delivered in the evening when the pupils aren't working.
It's also possible to get work as a private tutor, especially in the run up to language exams or for re-sits after the results have been published. Posts are often advertised in the local press or yellow pages.
The British Council also employs English language teachers in its centres. Candidates need a relevant qualification such as the Cambridge CELTA or Trinity Certificate in TESOL (CertTESOL) and around two years of experience in teaching.
It's not normally possible for non-Saudi nationals to volunteer or do casual work in Saudi Arabia. Most expatriates are on fixed-term contracts which are established before they enter the country. It may be possible for those who are fluent in both English and Arabic to find work as a translator or interpreter and these positions are usually short-term. However, you shouldn't move to the country expecting to find this type of work; it’s best to regard it as a potential addition to any other work you have already set up.
Do you need a visa?
All visitors to Saudi Arabia need a visa to enter the country. The type of visa you get depends on the nature of your trip. If you want to work there you need to get a job before travelling, which will allow you to get an employment visa.
You'll need to have a sponsor to enter the country, which is usually your employer but can also be a personal contact in Saudi Arabia. Your sponsor will then apply for the visa on your behalf and make sure all the correct forms are completed. Some large employers have people specifically assigned to carry out this role.
To be granted a visa your passport needs to be valid for a minimum of six months from the date of entry into Saudi Arabia. You also need to have a valid exit permit from the Saudi Ministry of Interior to leave the country.
If your passport shows that you've been to Israel recently you may be denied a visa for Saudi Arabia.
If you're not a UK national, contact the Saudi embassy in the country where you're currently residing about how to obtain visas and work permits. If you're living in the UK, go to the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in London.
How do you become a permanent resident?
The majority of career opportunities for non-Saudi nationals will be fixed term for a number of years and permanent residency is not usually available.
Living in Saudi Arabia
- Cost of living: many employers include fully paid and serviced accommodation for overseas staff. General cost of living is similar to the UK but low taxation makes some items much cheaper.
- Internet domain: .sa
- Currency: Saudi Riyal
- Health: major cities have healthcare of a high standard. Emergency cases in smaller towns may require transfer to a larger hospital in another city. It is a legal requirement for expatriates to have adequate medical insurance but, if you're working in the country, this is usually provided by your employer. You should consult your doctor about relevant vaccinations before you go, which include meningitis, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, TB, tetanus and polio. Jizan in south-western Saudi Arabia is potentially malarial so precautions should be taken. To live or work in Saudi Arabia you must undergo a medical exam and present a medical report confirming that you are free from contagious diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
- Type of government: monarchy, with the Al-Saud dynasty holding a monopoly of power.
- Laws and customs: it's important to take the time to understand the laws and culture of Saudi Arabia before accepting a job offer. Laws and moral standards are stricter in Saudi Arabia than in the UK. Offences in the country include women driving, men being in the company of women who are not their close relatives, ‘indiscreet dress’, practising a religion other than Islam, blasphemy and homosexual acts. Alcohol is banned. Drug dealing and possession is a serious offence with capital punishment carried out for those caught dealing. Saudis will not usually take offence from a social mistake made in ignorance, but ignorance of the law is not accepted as an excuse. Punishments are far more severe than in the UK.
- Emergency numbers: the British Embassy in Saudi Arabia has offices in Riyadh and Jeddah and is a good point of contact for UK nationals who need assistance while in Saudi Arabia. Emergency contact numbers in Saudi Arabia are: 999 police, 997 ambulance, 998 fire department.
- People: Arab 90%, Afro-Asian 10%
- Major religion: Islam