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Working in Saudi Arabia?

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Juan Garcia

Living in Saudi Arabia, from Venezuela

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

Marie Troisonne

Living in Saudi Arabia, from France

"Without the help of all the expats on InterNations it would not have been able to settle in Riyadh that fast. Thanks to the community."

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Saudi Arabia at a Glance

Working in Saudi Arabia

Are you planning on working in Saudi Arabia? To get everything right the first time, read the InterNations Guide on this topic. We provide information about the economy, the job market, permits, financial benefits, and valuable tips on business culture and etiquette.

There are more than eight million foreigners based in the Desert Kingdom. Most of them are from South East Asia and find employment as manual laborers. 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, by investing in the education system and introducing quotas to regulate the number of expats in Saudi businesses. 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.

Economic Overview

Holding about 17% of the world’s proven petroleum reserves, it is unsurprising that the kingdom’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 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 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 increasing investment 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 working in Saudi Arabia 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 anyone interested in working in Saudi Arabia would be to contact their country’s chamber of commerce.

Work Permits and Sponsors

You cannot secure a work permit unless you have a concrete employment offer. 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 during their time working in Saudi Arabia. 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 will probably be your main contact in the kingdom, and can help you with many of the issues you may encounter, from getting your visa to helping you find accommodation. At the same time, they are responsible for you and thus have 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.


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

InterNations Expat Magazine