Frequently Asked Questions

Saudi Arabia FAQs

Living in Saudi Arabia

Where will I live?

Housing is provided free to all employees. Most westerners live in housing on the hospital grounds in large resort-like compounds. Life inside the compound is like being back in the States or Western Europe. Even though expatriates have the renting option but many expatriates prefer these compounds in Saudi Arabia over the renting options. Most compounds have small convenience stores, libraries, gyms, several swimming pools, beauty shops, recreation centers, and other amenities. Some compounds have villas with their own swimming pools along with the large community pools dotting the compounds. You are free to come and go as you please (some limitations may apply).

How safe is it to live in Saudi Arabia?

The crime rate in Saudi Arabia is relatively low. The most important reasons are, firstly, any foreigner found committing a crime is deported immediately. Secondly, unemployment rate is very low. Almost Everybody has a job, a salary and a place to live. Thirdly, severe punishment is imposed on local people for committing crime. Saudi Arabia is one of few countries where a female is safe to walk in the streets alone, even in the evenings, without the fear of being bothered.

In Saudi Arabia you are likely to live on a compound which will consist of mostly foreigners anyway so it will be like living in the States.

For more information, please visit the website for U.S. Department of State for Travel Related Information for Saudi Arabia .

You can also visit the page Country Specific Information to see travel information for any country

How should I dress when I am in Saudi Arabia?

The dress code for foreign residents of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stresses proper dress for females, although it touches upon male attire as well. Women may not, for instance, wear shorts or short dresses in public, nor may the female figure be emphasized or delineated. Long loose fitting clothes for females are a compulsory requirement. This is best achieved with the Abaya, a big black cloak which covers you from head to toe and conforms to the requirements of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Although some Saudi women choose to wear a face veil, expatriate women are not expected to do so.  Abayas can be purchased throughout Saudi Arabia. During orientation period at most of the hospitals, women are taken Abaya shopping. 

Proper attire is important for men as well. Tight trousers and shirts and any type of shorts are discouraged. Remember, in this climate, loose is cool and comfortable; tight is hot and uncomfortable.

Private dress within the confines of the home of compound is more relaxed and the dress for social occasions may vary. Similarly, dress for recreation or sports is as informal and relaxed as it would be in the West.

Children dress as they would in their home country. Older children visiting their families on vacation should be advised to dress in the same conventional manner as their parents.

What languages are spoken in Saudi Arabia?

Arabic is the official language of the Kingdom but English is also widely spoken. Among the non-Saudi population, many people speak Urdu, the official language of Pakistan, and other Asian languages such as Farsi and Turkish.

English is the common operational language of all hospitals. For employees wishing to learn Arabic, there are a number of Arabic teachers/classes available both within the hospital and outside.

Do I need to wear Abaya upon arrival at the airport?

No, you will not need an Abaya upon arrival at the airport. However, you should be modestly dressed.

Can I drive in Saudi Arabia?

Expatriate men can drive but women are not permitted to drive in Saudi Arabia. Registered limousine service or free shuttle buses are available to and from your residence to common shopping destinations throughout the city. The limos are very reasonably priced. The hospital also provides routine bus services to a number of local shopping centers and attractions.

Both new and second hand vehicles are available to purchase at a good price. A Saudi driver’s license will be issued only to males holding a valid driver’s license from their country of origin. All applicants are required to take a blood test and an eye test. In Saudi Arabia, driving is on the right-hand side of the road.

What kind of food is available in Saudi Arabia?

In cities like Riyadh and Jeddah, you will find spacious, well-stocked local supermarkets and European hypermarkets carry fresh and prepared foods from around the world. Products stocked are similar to those found back home and you can expect to find anything from weight watchers meals to an international range of cheeses in any store.

Eating forms a large part of the social scene in Saudi Arabia and it is therefore not surprising that there are over four hundred registered restaurants across Riyadh. Some of authentic Middle Eastern cuisines are Fatir, Falafel, Kapsa, Shawarma, Tabbouleh, Hummus, Pita, Baba Ghanoush. There are number of Italian, French, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Filipino, Mexican, Turkish, and Pakistani/Indian restaurants all over the cities like Riyadh and Jeddah.

If you only want a quick snack, the city is dotted with fast food outlets including McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Kenny Rogers Restaurants and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Most restaurants have two sections - ‘men only’ and a ‘family section’. Single women and married couples with or without children eat together in the family section.

Restaurants generally close during prayer times. However, if you are in a restaurant when a prayer call occurs, you are usually allowed to stay but you will not be able to place any additional food or beverage orders until after the prayer has finished.

What about education?

Adult education: 
Since only Saudi citizens are permitted to enroll in post-secondary institutions in the Kingdom, foreign residents usually enroll in distance education or online courses at institutions in their own country.

Children education:
Married-Status contracts cover educational expenses up to a certain number of eligible dependents/children per contract. Your Offer Letter or Contract will state the amount of coverage. Also, coverage is only from grade one to 12. Pre-school and kindergarten classes are available but are not covered by most contracts. Expatriates either enroll their children in private schools in the Kingdom or send them to boarding schools abroad.

The majority of private schools are managed by and run for English-speaking western expatriates, although many local families choose to send their children to these schools. Some private establishments restrict enrolment to children of the relevant nationality. In general, standards at private schools are high, with small class sizes and modern facilities.

International Schools in Riyadh

The American International School Riyadh 
Curriculum: American

British International School Riyadh
Curriculum: Basic British Curriculum fused with International Agenda

King Abdul Aziz International School
Curriculum: Continental – neither distinctly British nor American

International Schools in Jeddah

The American International School of Jeddah
Curriculum: American

The British International School Of Jeddah
Curriculum: Basic British Curriculum fused with International Agenda

Al Waha International School
Curriculum: Basic British Curriculum fused with International Agenda

Green Hills International School
Curriculum: American and British Curriculum

You may want to visit the website Directory of International and English Schools Worldwide for a complete listing of international schools in Saudi Arabia.

Do I need to register with my country's embassy or consulate in Saudi Arabia?

Travel registration is a free service provided by the U.S. Government to U.S. citizens who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country.

Registration allows you to record information about your upcoming trip abroad that the Department of State can use to assist you in case of an emergency. Americans residing abroad can also get routine information from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

U.S. citizens without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

Please see the Travel Registration page on the website for U.S. Department of State.

Registration Service is offered by the Canadian Government for all Canadians travelling or living abroad.

This service is provided so that the government can contact and assist you in an emergency in a foreign country, such as a natural disaster or civil unrest, or inform you of a family emergency at home.

Please see the Registration of Canadians Abroad page on the website for Government of Canada.

How's the social life like in Saudi Arabia?

Like anywhere else in the world, your social life is what you make of it. Saudi Arabia offers diverse terrain and plenty of open space for enjoyment. Local sightseeing excursions are very popular, especially trips to the desert.

You can camp under the moon and the stars, explore a wadi, climb to the top of a red sand dune, examine desert flora or hunt for desert diamonds.The more adventurous might even want to check out quad biking through the huge sand dunes.

There are many aspects of Arabic life to discover in cities and villages around Riyadh and in neighboring regions. The choices are really endless!

Several golf courses, both sand and grass are within easy reach of the hospital. In fact there is a nine-hole golf club just around the corner from the hospital where you can play a roundor just practice your technique at the driving range.

Diving in the Red Sea, one of the most beautiful underwater locations in the world is another favorite pastime.

Located off the west coast, the Red Sea offers many ways to relax and enjoy abreak away from city life. Diving classes are available in Riyadh and organized diving trips are a regular occurrence.

For the serious joggers and power walkers, the Diplomatic Quarter has excellent running and walking trails. Horseback riding lessons are also available.

The National Museum is located in Riyadh. There are many festivities and national sites worth visiting including the National Museum, Dira Square, Musmak Fortress, Murabba Palace, Dir’iyyah, Janadriyah Festival, Camel Races, Horse Races and the Riyadh Zoo. The hospital’s Social Club arranges visits to a number of these sites and events.

If you are interested in participating in any of the above recreational activities you should bring the necessary sports equipment and clothing. Otherwise you can purchase sports equipment and clothing locally if preferred.

Cinemas, discos, dancing halls and bars are not allowed within the Kingdom.

The above information is taken from the "Nursing Recruitment Manual" for King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Center. Please contact us if you need a complete copy of the Manual.

Moving to Saudi Arabia

Should I do Foreign Exchange before I leave for Saudi Arabia?

Yes you should.

The local currency is the Saudi Riyal (SR) which is pegged to the U.S. dollar at a rate of US$1 to SR3.745. You should bring enough cash with you to last for at least three to four weeks. If possible, it is advisable to have your money changed into Saudi Riyals prior to traveling. Otherwise, it is best to bring US Dollars.

Is there any restricted material I should not bring with me?

Do not bring PIRATED CD's or DVD's or computer software.
Do not bring books which are critical of Saudi government/culture or which are politically controversial.
Do not bring sex toys of any kind.
Do not bring any pornographic material.
DO NOT bring any drugs.

Can I bring my pet to Saudi Arabia?

If you are going to live on a hospital owned or leased housing unit, please note that some employers may allow only small pets. KFSH&RC do not allow cats, dogs and other large animals. People on single-status contracts who are in shared accommodations cannot bring any pets.  People on married-status contracts who are not in shared housing may be able to bring one pet.

Please do a thorough research to get the up-to-date information about the import procedure for pets. A lot of information is available on the web.

For general information about shipping your pet, visit the website for International Air Transport Association (IATA) and see the page Traveler's Pet Corner - Shipping your dog or cat

If you wish to take your pets with you to Saudi Arabia, the following procedures should be followed:
Dogs, regardless of their breed, may only enter Saudi Arabia if their paperwork describes them as watch dogs, hunting dogs, or seeing-eye dogs for the blind and hearing dogs for deaf persons. Cats and dogs that enter Saudi Arabia require a Veterinary Health Certificate and a letter from their veterinarian that is dated and addressed to the Director of Customs, Saudi Arabia.
Birds generally require a prior import permit issued by the Saudi National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD).

You need to:
Obtain a Veterinary Health Certificate with an accompanying letter from your vet, and addressed to the Director of Customs, Saudi Arabia. The Certificate must confirm that the animal is up-to-date on vaccinations, and is free from rabies and other diseases.
The Certificate must be attested by the relevant government ministry of the exporting country:
If you are exporting from USA:
United States Department of Agriculture – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

If you are exporting from Canada:
Canada Food Inspection Agency – Dog and Cat Exports

Obtain Import Permit, the most important document to import your pet to the Kingdom. This necessary permit may be obtained through the following address:
The National Authority for the Protection of Wildlife and Development
P.O. Box 61681
Riyadh 11575
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Tel: 01-441-8700
Fax: 01-441-8413

All documents must be authenticated by the Department of Agriculture Veterinary Service Office and the State Department Authentications Office and attested by the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia.

If you are arranging for your pet to fly with you it should be noted that pets can often travel free on Saudi Arabian Airlines if their owners are traveling on the same flight.

On arrival in Saudi Arabia, animals have to be collected from the Saudi Cargo depot, where a customs declaration must be completed.

Please visit the website for Saudi Airlines , and from their Travel section, go to the "Special Travel Needs" page to review the article "Transport of Domestic Animals and Pets".

Can I use my mobile phone/cell phone in Saudi Arabia?

Contact your cell phone provider to make sure that they offer phone coverage in Saudi Arabia. Ask to be upgraded to international roaming.
You can rent a cell phone or SIM card to use with your personal cell phone if your cellular company does not offer coverage in Saudi Arabia.
You can use your own phone if it meets the following criteria:
 1.  Uses GSM  (Global System for Mobile Communications)(AT&T, T-Mobile, purchased abroad, etc.).
 2.  "unlocked" to accept any SIM card from any carrier.

GSM phones have a SIM card slot.
All phones from AT&T and T-Mobile have this slot.
SIM cards, only valid for a month, are available over the counter in most phone shops in cities like Riyadh, Jeddah, Makkah, and Madinah.
Before leaving your home country, make sure your phone can accept any SIM card, as opposed to being tied to a network.
Buy the correct plug adaptors from an electronics store before you leave home so that you can charge your cell phone while in Saudi Arabia.

Related Information:
One of the key features of GSM is the Subscriber Identity Module, commonly known as a SIM card. The SIM is a detachable smart card containing the user\'s subscription information and phone book.

Some mobile network operators restrict handsets that they sell for use with their own network only. This is called locking and is implemented by a software feature of the phone. A subscriber may usually contact the provider to remove the lock for a fee, utilize private services to remove the lock, or make use of free or fee-based software and websites to unlock the handset themselves.
In some territories (e.g., Bangladesh, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore) all phones are sold unlocked. In others (e.g., Finland, Singapore) it is unlawful for operators to offer any form of subsidy on a phone\'s price.[citation needed]

Can I take my family to Saudi Arabia?

Employees on a Single-Status Contract are not eligible to sponsor their dependents to Saudi Arabia. That means that if you are on a Single-Status Contract, and even if you are married, your spouse and/or your family members can not accompany you to Saudi Arabia.

On a Single-Status contract, airline ticket, accommodation, and medical insurance coverage are provided only for the employee.

In some rare cases, an employee on a Single-Status contract may be given special permissions to sponsor or bring over his/her family members. But in such cases, the employee will have to be responsible for the family members' airfare, housing, healthcare coverage, and other living expenses.

Only physicians and senior administratives are offered Married-Status contracts.

Contract & Visa Process

What is a visa and do I need one to go to Saudi Arabia?

A visa is a stamp that is affixed to a blank visa page in your passport that is required by foreign countries before you are able to enter their territory.

Yes, you would need a visa to go to Saudi Arabia.  As your recruiting company, Ben Khan & Associates, will process your visa application (as well as for your eligible family members).

Please see our Application & Visa Process section on our Home page for detailed information.

What is an Iqama?

Kingdom regulations state that the employer or sponsor must hold all passports. In place of your passport, you will be issued an Iqama or resident identity card. The Iqama is similar in appearance to a driver’s license – it has an identifying digital photo of you and carries your personal identifying information. The Iqama must be carried at all times while living or traveling in the Kingdom. Dependents (i.e. wife and children) are listed at the back of the husband’s/father’s Iqama. Dependants should carry a photocopy of it with them at all times. Do not worry about giving up your passport since an Iqama is issued to all expatriate employees with valid work permits.

What is a residency visa and how do I get it?

Initially, you will travel to Saudi Arabia on a temporary work visa which is valid for ninety days. Once you have arrived in Saudi Arabia, you must obtain a residency visa in order to stay in Saudi Arabia.  Residency visas are arranged by the hospital, and once you receive your residency visa, you will receive an “Iqama” which is a residency permit. The hospital will ask for your passport to process your Iqama.  The Iqama can take one to two months for the hospital to obtain.

Who will arrange my flight to Saudi Arabia?

Your recruiting company, Ben Khan & Associates, works with the hospital to arrange your flight from your Point-of-Hire to your destination city in Saudi Arabia. The hospital pays for your flight.

What is a Single-Status Contract?

Employees on a Single-Status Contract are not eligible to sponsor their dependents to Saudi Arabia. That means that if you are on a Single-Status Contract, and even if you are married, your spouse and/or your family members can not accompany you to Saudi Arabia.

On a Single-Status contract, airline ticket, accommodation, and medical insurance coverage are provided only for the employee.

In some rare cases, an employee on a Single-Status contract may be given special permissions to sponsor or bring over his/her family members. But in such cases, the employee will have to be responsible for the family members' airfare, housing, healthcare coverage, and other living expenses.

Only physicians and senior administratives are offered Married-Status contracts.

Work Issues

Do I need a license to practice in Saudi Arabia?

All professional staff working in Saudi Arabia must register with the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties (SCFHS). As your recruitment agency, Ben Khan & Associates will provide you a complete registration package.

It is therefore necessary for you to bring your original current practicing license as well as your original certifications. You will be requested to complete the necessary documentation during your orientation period and a small fee is required by the Saudi Council for Health Specialties for processing your registration.

All professional medical staff are required to maintain current licenses from their country of origin.

Please read our article for more details about How to obtain a Saudi Professional License for medical practitioners.