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Working as an expat for a Company in Saudi Arabia
Working in Saudi Arabia
There are many opportunities for working as an expat for a company in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East, but working in Saudi Arabia as an expatriate is very different from any experience I have ever had anywhere else in the world. Finding employment in Saudi Arabia was relatively straight forward as quite frankly not a lot of people really want to go there!
This hub will inform you as to what it is really like to work in Saudi Arabia as both a western expat and also what it is like for those expatriates who hail from less affluent regions of the world such as many parts of Asia.
I am originally from the UK, in my early 40s with a fairly broad background, having worked in a number of different industries in management positions as well as some consulting and advisory work. I am reasonably well educated with a Masters Degree and heaps of training courses attended and so on. I have had the opportunity as a consultant in the UK to visit many hundreds of companies and during my previous positions I have worked for both US and German based companies and had the opportunity to work in these countries for several weeks at a time during my career.
I first came to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to work with a consultancy, I was actually interviewed for a different job which I was originally going to be employed in but the Arabic boss of the guy that interviewed me “stole” me! I came on a business visa, allowing me to work with the business for 3 months, during which time they were to sort me out with a work visa for Saudi Arabia.
Visa to work in Saudi Arabia
This essential guide to getting your Saudi work visa should be read before you consider traveling to KSA, learn the difference between a work visa and a business visa and which type you should have.
Arriving in Saudi Arabia to Work
I arrived in the kingdom early evening, was taken to my Saudi compound and was drunk before bedtime! A great introduction to the kingdom and compound life. The following day I was driven from the compound and introduced to everyone and given plenty of helpful advice about what to do and what not to do (Including staying clear of the illegal home made alcohol)!
Work was not exactly pressured, and I had the opportunity to visit a number of different companies in the kingdom doing both consultancy and various training courses. This allowed me to see how people worked and behaved in a number of different companies first hand as well as the stories that I was told by others.
Working in Saudi Arabia as an Executioner
Finding work in Saudi Arabia
If you want to work in Saudi Arabia there are many positions available for you to fill in many different industries. This guide to finding work in KSA will help you in your search for work.
Working in Saudi Arabia
Why do Companies Employ Expats in Saudi Arabia
Most companies in Saudi Arabia employ a large number of expats who do the work, but the government is trying to reduce the number of expats by making many jobs Saudi only due to high Saudi unemployment, forcing the companies to employ Saudis. Companies that do not employ enough Saudis being “blacklisted” when it comes to getting more visas for additional staff. This Nitaqat law gives each company a rating, with those companies in the red having to shed foreign labor and being unable to recruit more.
Most unskilled labor is performed by expats as it is very much seen as being beneath a Saudi, you will be hard pressed to find a Saudi working in any area that requires them to get their hands dirty or raise a sweat.
You will also find many management and engineering positions filled with expats, especially where those positions are vital to the functioning of the company. This is due to the fact that there are few Saudis who are either qualified or experienced to fill these positions. Some positions are always filled with Saudis such as HR as these positions are only available by law to Saudis.
Why Don't Companies Want Saudi Workers?
Saudi workers are “different”, that is about as polite as I will be about them, the Saudi society is not set up to create hard working well educated individuals. Whilst there are some real gems out there the majority are not what you would want within a company in the west!
Now there is a reason that most companies want to employ expats rather than Saudis. That reason is that they want someone who is both able and willing to do the job; the majority of Saudis failing on both counts! I have said in another of my pages (expatriates in Saudi Arabia) that most Saudis behave like teenagers, one minute they are helpful and friendly the next minute their mood changes and they are difficult and lazy! Trying to get a Saudi to do some work is like asking your teenager to clean their room, some will get on and do it, others will try to find any excuse possible not to. You have to keep on them constantly and it still may never be done!
The company that I work for currently is not a pure Saudi company, it pays above the average and is very selective as to who it employs, most of the people are hard working individuals who are very good at their job, however, there are still a number of individuals who will turn up hours late in the morning, disappear for a long lunch break, then go home early (if they came back from lunch). The work ethic is also sadly lacking.
My current company in my opinion is one of the better ones, a good friend of mine here has a group of Saudi managers at his company that turn up at 10 or 11 in the morning, switch on their play stations in their offices, play till lunch time then go home!
Most do not want to work, and there is little a company can do about it! It is almost impossible for a company here to sack a Saudi worker, the rights all belong to the Saudi! Some actually employ Saudis that never attend just to make up their required numbers, these Saudis being paid to do absolutely nothing, purely an overhead for the company to maintain!
Where in Saudi Arabia will you work?
Working for a Saudi Company
The Phrase Insha'Allah in the workplace
You can almost always tell when something is not going to be done, when the Saudi promises you when they will do it; they will say “Insha’Allah” which means “God willing”(Pronounced in-shar-laa or not-a-chance-mate). This seems to be the get out clause to most people here! When you are working for a company in Saudi Arabia you will hear this phrase often and will as a westerner become quickly sick of it due to the hypocritical way that it is used!
Another of my friends in a senior position started to make a little note against every action to which a member of staff said “Insha’Allah” to, he then charted every action that was not completed or was completed VERY late. He did this for 3 months before presenting back his findings.
100% of the items that the people had said “Insha’Allah” for either did not happen or happened so late that they may just have well not been done at all, whereas all other actions generally got done, some failures but not too many – he then banned anyone from using it!
What Happens if You Challenge "The Way Things are Done Here"?
He barely hung onto his job and was moved sideways within the company for doing this!
In general thing are done at a very much slower pace than you would expect or hope, this is frustrating and annoying at best, if you cannot control your frustrations and your temper do not come to Saudi Arabia!
Can Women Work in Saudi Arabia
Women working for a company in Saudi Arabia
While I was in Riyadh for my first 9 months here in the kingdom I saw zero women in any business that I went into except the nurses in some hospitals that I visited. I saw no women in retail or food outlets; I saw no women working at all for 9 months! None, zero, not one!
The company that I work for is the first that I have seen in the Kingdom that has women working for it, but it's not a pure Saudi company and is run from Dubai. The Saudi Arabian women in general are better motivated than the men and often better qualified! There are others that employ women, but I have not been into them!
Women working in Saudi Arabia
If you would like to learn more about women working in Saudi Arabia and the many rules and restrictions that are placed upon them read this article about women in Saudi Arabia.
Working Conditions for Women in KSA
Women here are not allowed to work in the same general area as the men, they are separated, have their own office space, their own area to relax and so on.
The company is inspected on a regular basis to ensure that this separation is in place as well as how they are dressed and treated in the workplace.The law here is that women are not allowed to be alone in private with a man who is not her husband or a direct blood relative (brother, son, father). Many argue that the workplace is not in private as most areas are open with other people about, but there is still huge amounts of trouble regarding this!
They claim relatively high levels of employment for Saudi women but quite frankly I do not see it!
They have made moves to increase the number of women employed by making some jobs available to women only, this includes working in places such as lingerie stores.
Working in the Saudi Oil Industry
Getting Paid when working in Saudi Arabia
I have no problem with this aspect of my employment with my current employer, however for some it is a major issue. The bigger, better organized companies pay by direct bank transfer, which means zero problems. Some, however pay by check which can cause some severe problems and delays.
There is a real trust issue with Saudi management, and often things like checks are only signed by the guy at the very head of the company and maybe one or two others. So if these are on vacation or out of the country on business, there is no one to sign the checks, this has happened to me twice in my previous company delaying payments by a week or more.
Some others report to me about delays that take months and having had to threaten to quit, leave work unfinished and make other threats before they are paid. Thankfully, this is not a massive problem with westerners, but it does happen!
Salary Issues in Saudi Arabia
If you are not a westerner and you have come here from the Philippines or India or some other “poor” country, then beware, especially if you are working “house”! Many families will give you a contract with one wage and conditions and then pay you less and give no time off! Sometimes wages are not paid for months at a time. This is a VERY common practice and is why so many maids and drivers run away from their employers here, along with the bad treatment!
I have some friends (Filipino) that work for a group of hospitals here, they have not been paid for six months, they survive by doing part time work and borrowing from friends. They cannot officially work for anyone else as they can only legally work for their sponsor and they cannot leave as they need to get a visa through their sponsor! This case does not affect a few workers, I am talking about hundreds of workers for this one company all in the same situation! This is now being tackled by the embassies and the labor office due to the scale of the problem, but there are many smaller problems that go unseen for many months before the staff just leave helpless and work illegally to support themselves and their families.
How Saudis treat expats
For a fuller discussion regarding this subject you can follow the link to read about how expats are treated by Saudis.
Working as a Domestic in Saudi Arabia
Treatment of Expat Workers in Saudi Arabia
I know of few westerners with real complaints about treatment, but again if you are further down the ladder in the working world you can have real problems. Treatment of expat workers in Saudi Arabia is a real issue for those from less wealthy nations!
I have often witnessed Indians, Filipinos, Indonesians being shouted at and even struck by their employers over minor problems! If you follow the link to the hub about how workers are treated you will find a poll conducted there; some 65% of non-western expats report having been physically or verbally abused by Saudis.
I have also heard from many women (Filipino and Indonesian) about sexual assaults and rape at the hands of male members of the families that they have worked for, they have had to endure this treatment as they are literally locked up and have no contact with the outside world. Many of the other female workers feel very pressured into a “relationship” with male household members, they do not call it rape but in my mind it is. The men are using their position of authority to pressure these girls into doing what they want as they fear losing their jobs and income etc.
Runaway Workers in KSA
Many of these women suffering abuse try to run away the first chance they get when they are on the outside and join the many illegal workers or camps of people waiting to be deported!
In one area of Jeddah there are thousands of workers living rough waiting to be deported by the authorities, the embassies arranging flights as often as they can to send them back home.
These people really have few rights, most cases will never come to light as the workers are too scared to report them or if they do, they are dismissed by the police as the Saudis can do no wrong!
Termination of Employment in Saudi Arabia
I have mentioned earlier in this article about the process of making more jobs Saudi only to improve the rate of unemployment within the country and also the fact that it is almost impossible to get rid of a Saudi worker no matter how poor they may be at their jobs!
I have now fallen foul of these rules and found my employment terminated! The company refused to give me the notification period stated within my employment contract and the related pay, and took no notice of my lawyer letters who pointed out my true entitlements through Saudi Labor Laws.
Worse than this, the first lawyer that I attended turned out to be on retainer to the company that I worked for and gave all paperwork and other information that I shared with him directly to my employer!
Taking Your Employer to The Saudi Labor Court
My employer's attitude was very much along the following lines; "take us to court if you like, your case will not be heard for several months, during this time we will not pay you, you cannot work for anyone else, you cannot leave, we will not give you a car, we will not pay your housing! If you accept our offer, we will give you a reference and let you transfer your employment."
In the few months prior to this the CEO had me redesign the whole company structure and was telling me how my role was to be expanded, after my letter he just refused to see me! They also waited just 1 day after I completed a major piece of work that no one else could have done before giving me my notice.
The guy in the Saudi Labor office confirmed it could take a year for my case to be heard, and the company would not have to pay me during this period and that I would not be allowed to work for anyone else! It also transpired that the guys in labor office were also regular dinner guests for one of our senior directors!
My lawyer's response to all this was to sue, as I would win, but I would have to pay him the equivalent of 2 months salary in advance, and still have no income for the next year!
Needless to say I had zero choice but to give in and accept what I could get from the company or face losing a year of my life! During this time I was intimidated and threatened by various people in the company, never have I ever been treated so badly!
How to Survive Working in Saudi Arabia
Read the whole of my series on Working as an Expat in Saudi Arabia to fully understand exactly what you are letting yourself in for when you consider working in this inhospitable country. Deciding to work for a company in KSA is not a decision that you should take lightly, do as much research as you can and fully prepare yourself.