Living in Saudi Arabia
At work, nurses wear uniform. If you are in a position that does not require uniform, you will wear business dress (likely with a lab coat). Your business wear should be modest and non-figure hugging. Ask your recruiter for advice if you are unsure what to pack.
Uniform is provided by the hospital but you should bring your own shoes. Most nurses wear comfortable athletic shoes, likely similar to what you wear at home.
At home and in your free time
On the compound and in Western-only areas, you can dress normally. You can exercise in
women-only gyms and recreational facilities.
If you are in an area that is not Western-only, it may be that an abaya is not necessary but you should ensure that your clothing is modest (covering shoulders, knees, elbows). In general, the best rule is to ask your friends/colleagues - everyone was new once and they will be more than happy to make sure you know what is expected.
Most expats find themselves attending parties and balls at the various Embassies, so don't leave your party clothes/nice suits at home. If you find you want something new, there is no shortage of opportunities for shopping.
You will likely have access to a pool so make sure you have your swimwear with you.
In public, women must wear an abaya. This is a black, lightweight cloak that drapes over your clothing. If you don't have one before travelling to Saudi Arabia, you can buy one during orientation.Just like any clothing, there is plenty of choice - from plain black to intricately embroidered.
It is not typically required that you cover your hair however, you should have a scarf with you at all times and cover your hair when asked. Most abayas are sold with a matching scarf so this is no problem.
Men should wear conservative clothing in public (long sleeves, no shorts). It is wise to have some suits for special occasions and events. Jewellery should also be worn conservatively (i.e. wedding ring and a watch is enough).
Saudi Arabia is hot - should I only bring summer clothes?
For a good portion of the year it is hot, so keep this in mind. Light, breathable clothing will keep you comfortable. Indoors, however, the air conditioning is very good so you should also pack light sweaters and a jacket.
Can I wear jewellery?
Of course! Shopping for gold jewellery in the souqs is a lot of fun.
How do I open a bank account? Can I transfer money home?
Banking is as sophisticated and easy as it is in your home country. Opening a bank account in Saudi Arabia is very straightforward.
Once you have your iqama (residence permit), you can go to the bank to open an account. It can take a few weeks to get the iqama and the first appointment at the bank can be time consuming, but once you have your account set up, you can transfer money easily online or using the an ATM.
Can I use a credit card in Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia is generally a cash society, but some major department stores and hotel restaurants accept credit cards.
Will I need to find my own accommodation?
No - generally speaking, the hospital provides furnished accommodation including free utilities.
The accommodation is usually within a secure compound. Normally, this will be located close to the hospital with free transportation to and from work. It is not unusual for hospitals to provide free transport to the city and/or commerical areas also.
See some videos here.
Do I have to share accommodation?
Normally, yes. You will always have your own bedroom and the spacious accommodation means you won't feel cramped. Generally, having a housemate eases the settling-in process and most of our recruits find that it works out very well.
If you would prefer to live alone, you can put your name on a waiting list for single accommodation.
How much annual leave am I entitled to?
Each hospital has a slightly different contract. You could have up to 61 days leave per year, depending on the hospital.
How soon can I take a holiday?
During the initial 90-day probationary period, you would only be granted leave for emergency purposes.
After you have passed your probationary period, it's just like any other working environment. You will arrange your leave with the ward manager, as the ward schedule allows.
Can I take my family?
Typically, no. Married status contracts are only awarded to senior nursing, administrative staff and medical consultants.
Can my family and friends visit me?
Yes, it's easy to secure visit visas and the hospital can help you arrange these. However, note that you are responsible for all costs associated with the visit. The hospital will not provide accommodation for your visitors.
Keeping in touch
Keeping in touch with friends and family is just as easy as you're used to. Shortly after arrival, you will be up and running with a SIM card and Wi-fi and be just as connected as you were before you left.
As a woman, can I move around freely?
Yes, you are free to go out on your own at any time. You will typically use taxis or hospital-arranged transport to get around.
Since June 2018, women have been permitted to drive in Saudi Arabia however, most of our candidates continue to use transport and taxis. Both Riyadh and Jeddah are very congested, so driving and parking is very difficult.
Using a taxi is very cheap and easy. There is no shortage of drivers and most speak some English.
What social activities are available for expats?
It's a common misconception that working in Saudi Arabia will mean no social life. This couldn't be further from the truth.
You can do almost anything that you can do at home - shopping, eating out, going to the beach, dinner parties, concerts and much more. Most new staff join the Employee Social Club, as this is a great way to find out what's going on and meet new people.
If you are into sports, you'll find a team to suit you. Due to the long-established expat community in Saudi Arabia, there are plenty of amateur sports clubs. You'll find basketball, cricket, football, sailing, fishing, tennis, golf, horse-riding and much more. If team sports aren't so much your thing, you'll also find communities for other sporting activities like aerobics, dancing, weightlifting and running.
Other clubs include drama, book clubs and billiards. The list is endless. Many of our candidates tell us their social lives were busier than ever during their time in Saudi Arabia.
What is the shopping like? Can I find everything I need in the stores there?
Most things that are available in North America and Europe are available in Saudi Arabia, with the exception of items that are prohibited, such as alcohol, material with explicit content, and pork products.
The main things you need to know are:
- Grocery stores are open at convenient times and will stock most of the items that you would expect.
- Pharmacies are easily accessible. A lot of medicines can be purchased over-the-counter.
- The malls are huge - you'll have no difficulty with clothes shopping.
- Electronics are as easy to find as they are at home.
- Jewellery shopping in the gold souqs is popular among expats and locals alike.
- In some malls, where the sales clerks are male, there may not be fitting rooms. You can either try clothes on at home and return them if necessary, or you can try them on in the restrooms - many have fitting room sections. This is a quirk that you will soon get used to!
What about food? What is it like?
Due to the large expatriate community, there is a wide variety of food available and much of the food in the supermarket will be familiar to you. Fresh produce is available in the supermarkets but it's more fun to go shopping for your produce in the vegetable souqs (markets).
Don't get too stuck on your native cuisine just because it's available! Authentic Middle Eastern food is fantastic - hummus and pita bread, baba ghanoush and tabouleh, to name a few. Take the opportunity while living in Riyadh to expand your tastes and enjoy the range of choices!
What is the restaurant scene like?
You will find lots of recognisable names like Pizza Hut, McDonald's, Starbucks and their Arabic equivalents.
Restaurants range from local fast food kiosks selling delicious shawarma sandwiches to fine dining. As you might expect in a country with a large expatriate community, you can find almost any national cuisine in Saudi Arabia.
Where can I go at weekends?
The first thing you will realise about living in the Middle East is that the travel opportunities are limitless. It's one of the main reasons people choose to travel to Saudi Arabia and one of the main reasons that they stay for longer than planned!
There are many options within Saudi Arabia for long weekend trips. Popular destinations include:
- The Nabatean tombs in Madein Salah (500 km north of Jeddah)
- The Hijaz Railway (made famous by Lawrence of Arabia)
- The mountainous Asir region south of Jeddah
- Desert or beach camping (the Red Sea coastline extends over 1800 km)
- Diving off the Jeddah coast
In addition to local areas of interest, the neighbouring countries are only an hour or two away by plane, so you'll suddenly find yourself with access to a whole range of destinations for a quick weekend trip. You can expect to be hopping over to Dubai or Abu Dhabi or even Egypt fairly regularly.
Further afield, you will have easy access to Africa, Asia, the Far East and Europe, so there will be no difficulty in finding ways to spend your generous annual leave allowance.
Can I purchase alcohol?
No. Alcohol and products containing alcohol are strictly prohibited.
Can I smoke?
Yes - smoking is legal in Saudi Arabia and cigarettes are widely available. However, women should not smoke in public.
Can I get prescription medication or should I bring a supply with me?
Most prescription medications are available in Saudi Arabia. If you have a specific requirement, it is worth asking your recruiter to ask about availability ahead of time.
If you choose to bring medication, keep your prescriptions in the original container from the pharmacy which states your name and the name of the medication.
Can women wear makeup?
Absolutely - so don't leave those make-up brushes at home!
Are there spas in Saudi Arabia?
Yes, and the good news is spa treatments are often cheaper than they are back home. A spa day is a popular treat among expatriates.
As you would expect, religion is an extremely complex topic so our comments below should be considered as a brief overview. If you are interested in this topic, there are many good books you can read to learn more.
Religion means so many different things to everyone - faith, community, history, power, family, and even understanding the universe. It is all too easy to think of Islam as a scary or threatening religion when lots of Western media depict mostly images of Islamic terrorists killing and being killed.
In fact, religion - Islam or any other - often provides an enormous sense of comfort, understanding and community to people. Islam teaches peace, personal freedom, tolerance and charity - the same basic principles taught by Christianity and Judaism.
It is true - religion plays a larger role in Saudi Arabia than almost anywhere in the world. Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Mohammed and of Islam, and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina are off limits to non-Muslims. Islam is the official and only religion of the country. It is common to see people in places such as the hospital waiting rooms and at the airport reading the Quran.
Religion definitely plays a large role in the daily lives of Muslim citizens and expatriates, but also to a certain extent, in the daily lives of non-Muslim expatriates as well. For example, prayer call is one of the five pillars of Islam. You hear it 5 times per day, and faithful worshipers often head to a mosque or prayer room each time the call is heard. If you are a non-Muslim, you just need to be sensitive and understand that if you are in a restaurant or shopping, you will not be served during prayer time. Certainly, it takes a little getting used to, but this doesn't take long.
Unlike the US and many other countries where the topic of religion is considered a personal question, you will almost assuredly be asked about your religion both on applications and during the visa application forms. If you apply for a visa to enter Saudi Arabia, and do not wish to disclose your religion, you will not be issued a visa. In most cases you do not have to specify your particular sect (e.g., Methodist, Episcopalian, Catholic, Lutheran or Baptist,), but you do have to state "Christian," "Muslim," etc.
Visas are not granted to individuals who list their religion as "Agnostic" or "Atheist" for the simple reason that most people in Saudi Arabia believe having some religion is good. Additionally, "Jewish" is another complex area. In a demonstration of solidarity with Palestine, Saudi Arabia does not grant visas to people who list their religion as Jewish.
It is very important to understand that taking a job in Saudi Arabia does NOT mean you are expected to become Muslim. Although non-Muslims cannot openly practice their religion, what you do in private (e.g., private prayer) is your own business.
We hope this goes some way to helping you to understand what to expect in terms of religious life in Saudi Arabia, but do not be afraid to ask questions during the process. It is our job to make sure you feel comfortable.
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