Saudi Arabia at a Glance
Working in Saudi Arabia
There are more than eight million foreigners based in the Desert Kingdom, most of them manual laborers from South Asia. Roughly 100,000 foreign residents from Western nations are estimated to be working in Saudi Arabia as well.
These numbers are unlikely to decline in the near future, although the government is busy improving job prospects for its own people, e.g. by investing in the education system and introducing quotas to regulate the number of foreign workers and employees. From November 2012 onwards, employers hiring too many foreigners, instead of Saudis, also have to pay heavy fines. In the long term, these labor laws might have negative consequences for expatriates.
Not surprisingly for a country holding over 20% of the world’s proven petroleum reserves, the national economy is heavily based on oil. To be precise, petroleum accounts for 90 % of export earnings, 80 % of budget revenues, and 45 % of the GDP. This partly explains why Saudi Arabia is one of the few high-income countries with a very strong industrial sector (nearly 65 % of the GDP in 2013).
The service sector generates roughly one third of the GDP, thus making the tertiary sector the second-most important for the national economy. Given the climate and topography, agriculture doesn’t stand a great chance of playing a major role, although there have been some government efforts to make the populace less dependent on food imports.
Recent diversification efforts to reduce the economic dependency on oil exports have created new areas of employment for those working in Saudi Arabia’s secondary and tertiary sectors. In addition to the local petrochemical industry, particular attention has been given to power generation, telecommunications, and natural gas exploration.
The Expat Job Market
While it 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 have jobs in engineering (particularly in the oil industry), IT, healthcare and medicine, banking and financial services, teaching (especially women), telecommunications, or construction. Since Saudi Arabia is also increasingly investing in urban planning, transport infrastructure, food processing, and water resource management, foreign specialists with experience in such jobs might also have good chances.
Most expats were contracted while still in their previous city of residence. It is very rare, indeed almost impossible, for foreigners to come to, say, Riyadh or Jeddah without an offer in order to start looking for work there.
The recruitment for managerial positions is mainly done by private consultants or agents representing Saudi employers in big cities across the globe. Intra-company transfers within multi-national corporations also account for a considerable share of assignees from abroad. A good first step for everyone interested in working in Saudi Arabia would be to contact their country’s chamber of commerce.
Work Permits and Sponsors
You cannot get a work permit unless you have a concrete offer of employment. In fact, individuals cannot apply for a permit themselves; their sponsor must apply for one on their behalf. Every expat 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, from getting your 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 living and working in Saudi Arabia may reflect badly upon your sponsor.