Working in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia's oil and gas industry is a major employer and the most likely area for UK graduates to find work. Jobs may also be available in IT, banking and telecommunications. The current focus on diversifying the economy and reducing ownership restrictions on foreign firms may also open up opportunities in healthcare, education, tourism and engineering. Most jobs will be found in Riyadh, the capital city, or Jeddah, the second-largest city.
There are opportunities in Saudi Arabia for those with the expertise that it seeks, but it is not easy to get a job there straight after university. You will also find it incredibly difficult to secure a job that could be filled by a citizen of Saudi Arabia due to the country's focus on 'Saudization' in a drive to increase national employment rates.
Your best chance is to get a job with an international company that has offices in Saudi Arabia. It would be easier still to join the company in the UK and transfer to a position in Saudi Arabia once you have gained some specialist skills and knowledge.
Arabic is the main business language, so having an understanding of it and the ability to speak it will boost your chances of getting a job offer.
Where could you work in Saudi Arabia?
As expected, the majority of job opportunities are in Saudi Arabia's oil and gas industry. However, as part of its 'Vision 2030', efforts are being made to develop other industries in order to diversify its economy and reduce its reliance on oil.
Apart from the oil and gas industry, other prominent industries are:
Looking at the industries that Saudi Arabia is hoping to develop as part of 'Vision 2030' gives a good idea of the range of areas that graduates may find work in. These include defence, renewable energy and tourism.
Aramco, a state-owned oil and gas company is, unsurprisingly, one of the largest Saudi employers. Others include:
- STC (Saudi Telecom Company) – offers landline, mobile, internet services and computer networks.
- Saudi Electricity Company – has a monopoly over the generation, transmission and distribution of electric power in Saudi Arabia.
- SABIC (Saudi Basic Industries Corporation) – a chemicals, fertilisers, industrial polymers and metals manufacturing company.
- Mobily – another telecommunications company, founded in 2004.
- SABB – the Saudi British Bank is an associated company of the HSBC Group and also has a branch in London.
UK graduates may, however, find it easier to secure jobs with international companies that have offices in the country. These include: BAE Systems, Cisco, EY, IBM, J.P. Morgan, Nestle, Procter & Gamble, PwC, Schlumberger and Siemens.
Skills in demand
It can be difficult to land a job in Saudi Arabia straight after you graduate, as its policy is only to permit recruitment of foreign nationals who bring in specialist skills where there is a shortage. Skills in demand include engineering, IT, teaching, healthcare and construction professionals, so graduates in these areas stand the best chance.
Specialists in water resource management and transport infrastructure are particularly needed, while the introduction of VAT in 2018 has created a call for tax professionals.
Arabic is the language used across Saudi Arabia and it will be a significant help to have some understanding of it. As well as learning while still in the UK, you could attend a private language school in Saudi Arabia.
English is widely spoken and understood, especially in business.
Are UK qualifications recognised?
Employers in Saudi Arabia generally recognise UK qualifications (especially the large, international companies), but you should check with your prospective employer or the relevant professional body.
Teaching English as a foreign language in Saudi Arabia
The British Council 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.
If you have a teaching degree and experience, you could look for full-time work at one of the privately-run international schools based in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.
What's it like to work in Saudi Arabia?
Working hours: You can expect to work from Sunday through to Thursday, with the weekend falling on Friday and Saturday. Employees are legally not allowed to work for more than eight hours a day. Many businesses stop working during prayer times.
Working hours are reduced to six hours a day during Ramadan.
Holidays: Your holiday allowance will depend on your employer but the law states that employees should be given annual leave of no less than 21 days after completing one year of employment.
Employees in Saudi Arabia are given time off for the three public holidays each year: Saudi National Day, Eid al-Fitr (celebrates the end of Ramadan) and Eid al-Adha (celebrates the sacrifice during the pilgrimage to Mecca).
Christmas is not recognised in Saudi Arabia and most expatriates are expected to work on Christmas Day unless they book it off.
Income tax: Overseas workers are not required to pay income tax in Saudi Arabia. Remember to check your UK tax and national insurance position with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to make sure you're not losing any UK pensions rights.
Where to find jobs
You'll need to have a job offer before you leave for Saudi Arabia. As well as using online job websites such as AlJazeera Jobs, Bayt and Gulf Talent, you could sign up with recruitment agencies that operate in Saudi Arabia. Holden Knight and Regent Personnel, for example, both recruit for healthcare jobs in the Middle East. You can find more recruitment agencies in the Saudian Yellow Pages.
- Browse the international vacancies currently open for applications on TARGETjobs
Newspapers with vacancies
- Arab News – in English
- The Telegraph (includes a section on jobs in oil and gas in the Middle East) – in English
You can find a list of newspapers and whether or not they are in English at onlinenewspapers.com.
CV, application and interview tips
You should follow the CV format used in the UK. Some Saudi employers may request more personal details than employers in the UK, such as your marital status, number of children and religion. It is unlikely that you will be expected to submit your application in Arabic, particularly for vacancies with international companies. Job interviews are usually held in the UK rather than Saudi Arabia.
Throughout the recruitment process, focus on all of the skills, experience and qualifications that you can offer and why you want to work in Saudi Arabia in particular.
Work experience, internships and exchanges
Work experience, internships, volunteering opportunities and casual work are not usually open to non-Saudi nationals. The focus is very much on increasing the employability of Saudi nationals.
Do you need a visa to work in Saudi Arabia?
There are different types of visa, including a tourist visa, but you will need an employment visa if you want to work in Saudi Arabia.
You will need to get a job offer beforehand as you cannot get a work visa without one and your sponsor (your employer) has to apply for the visa on your behalf. You will get your employment contract in both Arabic (the official contract) and English (the translation), so it is worth getting somebody who can read Arabic to check that it is all OK.
Your passport needs to be valid for a minimum of six months from the date of entry into Saudi Arabia in order for you to be granted a visa. You will be refused a visa if your passport indicates that you have been to Israel recently or if it is your place of birth.
You must complete a medical test as part of your application for a visa, which will need to include confirmation that you are free from contagious diseases including HIV/AIDS. If you do have a contagious disease, you will not be allowed to move to Saudi Arabia.
You should also be aware that:
- Foreign nationals' fingerprints are routinely taken at the airport and linked to their visas. They will be re-taken when you exit the country to check that there are no outstanding legal issues.
- Women visitors and residents must be met by their sponsor upon arrival at the airport in Saudi Arabia.
- You will also need to gain a final exit visa from the Saudi Ministry of Interior to leave the country permanently.
- Be careful not to overstay your visa; you will face a fine of 10,000 Saudi Riyals and could be given a prison sentence. Dates are calculated in accordance with the Hijri calendar, which is 10 or 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar used in the UK. Request clarification from Saudi immigration authorities if you're unsure.
- The majority of jobs for expatriates will be for a fixed term (work visas are issued for one or two years) and it is not usually possible to gain permanent resident status.
The Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in London will be able to tell you more about how to obtain a visa.
Living in Saudi Arabia
Cost of living: The cost of living is on par with or lower than other countries in the Middle East and similar to in the UK. However, no income tax will mean you have more cash to save – or spend! It is common for an employment package to include your return journey to and from Saudi Arabia, furnished accommodation and transport – or allowances for these – and a year-end bonus. Your employer will also cover your visa expenses.
Expatriates who complete two years' service or more are also eligible for end-of-service benefits (ESB) – half of your monthly wage for each of the first five years and one month's wage for the rest.
Currency: Saudi Riyal
Healthcare: Healthcare is of a high standard in Saudi Arabia and it is compulsory for non-Saudi nationals to have medical insurance. Your employer is usually responsible for providing this.
Once you have a job offer, you should make an appointment with your doctor to ask about vaccinations and arrange for these before you go. Relevant vaccinations include hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningitis, polio, TB and tetanus. Precautions should also be taken against malaria.
Laws and customs to be aware of
The culture and laws of Saudi Arabia are very different to the UK. It is important to familiarise yourself with its rules and traditions to avoid causing offence or unintentionally breaking a law. There is up-to-date guidance on laws and customs in Saudi Arabia on GOV.UK.
Laws and moral standards are much stricter and punishments are far more severe than in the UK, including the death penalty. Drug dealing and possession are serious criminal offences. There are laws against homosexuality, common-law relationships, adultery and apostasy (in this case, the abandonment or renunciation of Islam). Alcohol and pork are both banned.
Men are not allowed to be in the company of women who are not their close relatives and the segregation of sexes is still common in many public places including banks, restaurants, schools and swimming pools. You should refrain from dating in public as well as physical contact such as holding hands.
You will need to dress conservatively when out in public. For men, this means covering up your legs and shoulders and no shorts. Women will need to wear clothes that are loose-fitting, cover up to their ankles and wrists and show no cleavage.
Saudi women wear an abaya over their clothes, which is a long, usually black, cloak, although more women are donning colourful abayas and open abayas over long skirts or jeans are becoming more common. The GOV.UK website advises women who go to Saudi Arabia to wear an abaya and headscarf.
Most foreign workers live in western compounds with fellow expatriates. The dress code is significantly more relaxed while on the compound: men can wear shorts and women do not need to cover up quite as much. Bikinis are not allowed, though, and you need to wear shoes when entering buildings.
Saudi Arabia is currently experiencing some social change. This includes lifting bans on female drivers in 2018.
Major religion: Islam. Prayers are observed five times a day. Ramadan is observed. Expatriates are not required to fast during Ramadan, but must not eat, drink, smoke or chew gum in public. Music and dancing are also not allowed.
It is illegal to practise any other religion in public, which includes wearing religious jewellery.
Type of government: Monarchy, with the Al-Saud dynasty holding power.