Saudi Arabia at a Glance
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Not surprisingly, many expats in Saudi Arabia work in the oil industry.
There are more than eight million foreigners based in the Desert Kingdom, most of them manual laborers from South Asia. Roughly 200,000 Western expats are estimated to be working in Saudi Arabia as well.
These numbers are unlikely to decline in the near future, although the Saudi government is busy working hard at improving job prospects for its own citizens, e.g. by investing in the education system and introducing quotas to regulate the number of foreigners working in Saudi Arabia. From November 2012 onwards, employers hiring too many foreigners also have to pay heavy fines. In the long term, these labor laws might have negative consequences for expats working in Saudi Arabia.
Working in Saudi Arabia: Economic Overview
Not surprisingly for a country holding roughly ¼ of the world’s proven petroleum reserves, Saudi Arabia’s economy is heavily based on oil. To be precise, petroleum accounts for 90 % of export earnings, 80 % of budget revenues, and 45 % of the country’s GDP. This partly explains why Saudi Arabia is one of the few high-income countries with a very strong industrial sector (nearly 68 % of GDP).
People working in Saudi Arabia’s services sector generate roughly 31 % of the country’s GDP, thus making the tertiary sector the second-most important for Saudi Arabia’s economy. Given Saudi Arabia’s climate and topography, agriculture doesn’t stand a great chance of playing a major role, although there have been some government efforts to make Saudi Arabia a self-sufficient country.
Recent diversification efforts to reduce the country’s dependency on oil exports have created new areas of employment for those working in Saudi Arabia’s secondary and tertiary sectors. Particular attention has been given to power generation, telecommunications, natural gas exploration and the petrochemical industry.
Working in Saudi Arabia: The Expat Job Market
While Saudi Arabia is not the easiest country to find work in, there are plenty of opportunities for working in Saudi Arabia if you can offer a high level of expertise and experience. Large numbers of expats working in Saudi Arabia have jobs in engineering (particularly in the oil industry), IT, healthcare and medicine, banking and financial services, teaching and education, telecommunications or construction.
Most expats working in Saudi Arabia were contracted while still in their previous country of residence. It is very rare, indeed almost impossible, for foreigners to come to Saudi Arabia without a job offer in order to look for work.
The recruitment for managerial positions is mainly done by private consultants or agents working for Saudi Arabian employers in big cities across the globe. Intra-company transfers within multi-national corporations also account for a considerable share of expats working in Saudi Arabia. A good first step for everyone interested in working in Saudi Arabia would be to contact their country’s chamber of commerce.
Working in Saudi Arabia: Work Permits and Sponsors
You cannot get a permit for working in Saudi Arabia unless you have a concrete job offer. In fact, individuals cannot apply for a work permit themselves; their sponsor must apply for one on their behalf. Every expat working in Saudi Arabia has a sponsor – usually their employer – who acts both as a guardian and a guarantor. The function of a sponsor can be held by individuals, companies or institutions, such as your chamber of commerce in Saudi Arabia, or a business associate or partner. Some individuals may expect remuneration for their services.
Your sponsor can help you with many of the issues you may encounter while working in Saudi Arabia, from getting your work visa to helping you find accommodation. At the same time, the sponsor is responsible for you and thus has a strong interest in both your well-being and your good behavior. Any offence you cause while working in Saudi Arabia may reflect badly upon your sponsor.