Expats in Saudi Arabia are expected to dress conservatively in public. While it is neither necessary nor recommended for men to wear traditional Saudi dress, women are advised to wear the abaya, a loose black dress covering the whole body. Wearing a veil is not required for non-Saudi, non-Muslim women, but you might want to carry a head scarf with you in case you are asked to cover your hair.
Foreign women arriving in Saudi Arabia who do not have an abaya to call their own may be able to borrow one at their hotel for a limited period. If your stay exceeds a couple of weeks, though, it’s probably worthwhile buying one.
Western men should always wear long trousers and shirts, unless they’re engaged in some sporting activity. In a business environment, a full suit is certainly the best choice, despite the scorching heat.
Before coming to Saudi Arabia, foreigners should be aware that behavior which is perfectly acceptable in their country of origin may be a punishable offence in Saudi Arabia. This includes homosexual acts and the public consumption of alcohol, even if you are a non-believer. Sodomy, adultery, drug possession, and prostitution may incur the death penalty. Moreover, you should avoid anything that could be interpreted as missionary activity for religions other than Islam.
Despite recent reforms introduced by the king, the Saudi justice system is still largely based on Wahhabism’s version of Sharia law, which accounts for the many forms of corporal punishment, from flogging to beheading. Suspects can be held without charge and access to legal representation. Please note that, if you are involved in an ongoing commercial dispute with a Saudi company or individual, you may be prevented from leaving the country until the issue is resolved.
Healthcare is generally of a rather high standard in Saudi Arabia. Every major city has both public and private clinics with plenty of well-trained staff and state-of-the-art equipment. English is widely spoken, especially in the private sector: Many doctors and medical personnel are foreigners profiting from the high salaries in Saudi Arabia, or Saudis who received some of their training abroad. Your country’s embassy or consulate should be able to provide you with contact details of local doctors or dentists who speak your language.
Saudi Arabia has a good public healthcare system providing free or low-cost treatments to all Saudi citizens. High-earning Saudis often opt for private healthcare, and all expats need to take out private insurance plans. The perks that private care offers, such as luxurious hospital accommodation and virtually no waiting times, do, however, come at a hefty price. Expats should therefore check with their health insurance to find out whether it covers some or all of the costs incurred.
Waiting times in general are low, even in the public sector. You can expect to be seen by a doctor within 24 to 72 hours of requesting an appointment. In emergencies, you will be seen to immediately.
Most hospitals have an Accidents and Emergencies department. If you’re new to the country, make sure you know where your nearest hospital is. This is particularly important, seeing as ambulance services are not always as fast and efficient as they should be. You may therefore need to arrange for your own transportation when going to the hospital.
If you don’t know the number of the ambulance service, or if the operator can’t give you a satisfactory time of arrival, your best option is to call a taxi. Make sure the urgency of the situation is clear to everyone concerned.
You should be able to get most medications you require in pharmacies. However, don’t automatically assume that drugs which are prescription-free in your home country can be obtained without a prescription in Saudi Arabia. Conversely, antibiotics, for example, are freely available over the counter. Pharmacies are usually open in the morning and in the afternoon, and most parts of town have one pharmacy on night duty.
Drugs such as anti-depressants and sleeping pills, among others, have been banned by the government and are therefore not available in Saudi Arabia. If you need to import them (for personal use only!), make sure you always carry your doctor’s prescription with you, and if possible a note certifying that you are in need of medication.
We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.