Working in Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia: Benefits and Business Culture
Expat spouses need their own work visa if they want to take up employment in Saudi Arabia. Female expat spouses who accompany their husbands to Saudi Arabia don’t have it easy. It is, however, possible for foreign women to find temporary work in fields like healthcare, teaching (with the right qualifications), or real estate. A local recruitment agent may be able to help you find a job and sort out your work permit. Please note that you always need your guardian’s (read: husband’s) official permission to take up employment.
If you are a native English speaker and have relevant qualifications, you can apply for work as an English teacher in a private school or a language school. Once you have a work visa, you can also give private English tuition, for which there is great demand. The British Council in Saudi Arabia also recruits and employs English teachers and may be able to give you further advice on the subject.
Big Salary, Big Bonus: The Benefits of Being an Expat
Working in Saudi Arabia comes with some considerable financial benefits. Not only may salaries be higher than for the same kind of work in Europe or in the US, but your net income receives a significant boost through the absence of personal income tax.
As there is no social security system, either (at least not for foreigners), there will be virtually no deductions from your monthly salary. However, you may want to make good use of your high income: Not only do you have to take out private health insurance, but you should also contribute to a personal or corporate pension plan during your time working in Saudi Arabia.
Another perk awaiting expat employees upon conclusion of their contract is the “end of contract” bonus, which they are usually entitled to after two or more years of working for the same employer. This indemnity can amount to a significant sum. However, Arab companies are slowly moving away from employing expats for limited periods of one or two years only and are beginning to offer long-term contracts instead.
Business Culture: Keeping it in the Family
Non-Muslim expats working in Saudi Arabia must accept that religion is the underlying principle in all aspects of life. Allah and his Prophet are everywhere, even in business meetings. There is no strict division between religion and other areas of life. Religious rituals are to be observed, never mind if you’re in the middle of important business negotiations. If Allah wills it, the deal will be concluded. If it doesn’t work out, it simply wasn’t meant to be.
The other characteristic of doing business in Saudi Arabia that Westerners often fail to appreciate is the importance of family ties. Nepotism is not a sign of corruption but of a healthy business structure. After all, why wouldn’t you give a responsible position in your company to someone you can trust, and who can you trust if not a member of your family?
This policy is aided by the fact that many businesses are built around family units, with senior positions often being held by senior family members. The importance of maintaining a wide network of connections and contacts can therefore not be stressed enough. You never know whose favorite nephew you are talking to! On a similar note, entertaining is an important part of Saudi business culture. You need to invest time into the relationship between you and your business partners.
Give Generously, Receive Graciously
If you are in a senior position and need to give instructions to your team, make sure you do so in an unambiguous manner. Subordinates may not be used to showing initiative, nor may they be willing to interpret incomplete directions given to them.
Even if you do not converse in Arabic with your business partners, try to mimic its characteristics. Arabic is sometimes a very flowery language, so don’t shy away from compliments and flattery that may seem exaggerated in your own language or culture. The rule of thumb is: Give generously and receive graciously!
For similar reasons, people in Saudi Arabia are often reluctant to be the bearer of bad news. It is important that you learn to read between the lines and keep a sense of perspective on overly positive reactions.
Saudi business meetings can seem like a shambolic affair, with no clearly defined agenda or time limit. Sometimes, several meetings take place in the same location at the same time. You can raise your voice in one of those meetings to show interest and engagement, but not indignation. Always make sure to establish strong eye contact when talking to people to indicate your interest in them and what they have to say.
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