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Working Conditions in Riyadh

Working in Riyadh may promise the lure of generous, 100% tax-free salaries for well-qualified expat employees. Before you hop onto the next plane to Riyadh, though, you should familiarize yourself with the local economy and working conditions. Find more details in our Expat Guide below.
Before you take a job in Riyadh, familiarize yourself with the local working conditions.

Saudisation and the Job Market

As previously mentioned in our introduction to working in Riyadh, most expats in the city work for the diplomatic service or have come via intra-company transfer to a Saudi branch office. If you are interested in finding a job on your own, there are a couple of options.

It’s probably easiest if you join a foreign business association based in the Saudi capital or contact a foreign chamber of commerce. These organizations often have member directories of international companies in Saudi Arabia that they make available to paying customers. You will thus have access to a comprehensive list of businesses from your home country, complete with contact details, and you can select your field of employment from those. Of course, if your business travels occasionally bring you to the Middle East, you could use this opportunity to join business events for networking. For instance, Riyadh is a popular location for trade fairs in Saudi Arabia.

Expat women, however, might have trouble securing employment opportunities outside healthcare and education. To explore the labor market in these fields, it is advisable to regularly check the websites of private and international schools, universities, and hospitals in Riyadh. As women working in retail is a fairly new concept, and because there is a new push towards total Saudisation in this sector, it is virtually impossible for expat women to find work in the retail industry.

Things to Keep in Mind

If you move to Riyadh as part of a foreign assignment or if you apply to a multinational company, it is very likely that you will have an English job contract. In the case that you want to work for a Saudi employer and are not fluent in written Arabic, make sure to get a certified translation of your employment contract. Before the Saudi law courts, it is the Arabic version that is going to count in any dispute, so you should know what exactly your contract stipulates.

Several years ago, medical insurance became mandatory for expatriates living and working in Saudi Arabia. Since the public healthcare system is off limits to foreign residents, ask your new employer if they have a company healthcare plan. Even if they do, you should always take the time to read the small print. This applies especially to expats with a history of chronic illnesses, pre-existing conditions, or are susceptible particular health risks. In those cases, it may become necessary to take out an additional insurance policy and pay for it from your own pocket.

The cost of living in Riyadh is quite reasonable (see our moving to Riyadh guide), but expats with children might consider making some extra demands during salary negotiations. Apart from accommodation in a luxury compound, the tuition fees for international schools are the costliest part of an expat budget in Riyadh.

Stay on the Good Side of Your Sponsor

Please be aware that your employer in Riyadh is likely to be your visa sponsor for your stay in Riyadh. This means that they will apply for a labor license on your behalf. Moreover, they may get to keep your passport, and they need to approve of an exit visa whenever you want to leave the country. Since bureaucracy and justice in Saudi Arabia tend to move slowly when settling disputes, you should take care to stay on good terms with your employer/sponsor.

If you don’t have a temporary contract, but want to return home anyway, you must give notice at least 30 days before your final departure. There are even stories about foreign employees who apparently wanted to go home at all costs. They left with an exit-reentry visa under some pretense, like that of a family emergency, and then sent an email from overseas, saying they would never come back. If you don’t mind being blacklisted by your ex-employer and by the Saudi authorities for having departed without a final exit visa, that might just work. It’s definitely neither courteous nor recommended.

Planning Your Pension

Since the 1960s, Saudi Arabia has developed a social security system to dispense old-age pensions as well as survivors’ and disability benefits. Current regulations are based on a law passed in 2000. However, they only cover Saudis working in the private sector and certain public sector employees. Self-employed Saudi citizens can make voluntary contributions to the social security fund, and there are separate pension plans for civil servants and military staff. Foreign employees, though, are explicitly excluded. The only insurance cover they have is compensation for work accidents and occupational diseases.

The time you spend working in Riyadh will affect your pension plan. However, Saudi Arabia has no personal income tax. Therefore, your net income will probably be higher than your salary back home. Use this extra income wisely and keep funneling it into the government pension funds of your home country and/or your private retirement provisions.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.

Juan Garcia

"Making business in Riyadh was easy. But meeting true friends is hard. I found them on InterNations, where the global minds meet."

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