Kristine wanders

The musings of a wanderer......

So You Want to Work in Saudi Arabia? Part 1 (The Good)

People are endlessly curious about what being an ex-pat in Saudi Arabia is like and what it entails. Often I get contacted regarding what it’s like to live in the Middle East and how to go about getting a job here, so I thought I would discuss the pros and cons to living in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. My perspective is that of a western woman. If you’ve been reading my blog for anytime you likely know that I’m a Canadian educated nurse and that I’ve spent most of my career working in large U.S. hospitals. I’m currently working in Riyadh the capitol of Saudi Arabia in a large teaching hospital. So here are my top 10 reasons why you should consider working in the Kingdom:

1. You will most likely save money. Money is the #1 reason most people come to the Middle East. The income you make is most likely tax free depending on your residency status and tax laws in your home country. For many ex-pats housing is included with their hiring package, so no rent=more money in your pocket. Also the cost of living is WAY lower than any western country, which also makes it easy to save money assuming you’re not blowing it on designer shoes and first class plane tickets. I should note that at least for most western nurses the myth that “you’re making huge money in Saudi Arabia” is a flat out lie. What I make tax free is pretty darn close to what I made in Canada or the U.S. taxed. But I don’t pay rent or have a car payment, so at the end of the day I come out ahead. But I’m required to work about 32hrs more a month than I would back home so essentially hourly I’m actually making less, although monthly I’m making more.

2. You will meet many awesome people. Ex-pats are super fun, and also maybe a little bit crazy. I’m sure there are studies proving this. You will make friends from all over the world. New Zealand. Australia. Malaysia. The Philippines. You have to be a bit of an adventurer to want to uproot your life and move to Saudi Arabia. You will also meet people who are extremely passionate about traveling. Or salsa if that’s your thing. Or running. Or tennis. Whatever you’re into, rest assured you will find people with similar interests here.

3. You can travel the world. I get 54 vacation days per contract. Yes. 54. No joke. That’s a lot of vacation time. In fact in the year I’ve been here I’ve already visited Qatar, Cyprus, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, the UAE, the Maldives, Bahrain, Morocco, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia and Germany. The last time I worked here I traveled to Hungry, Austria, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Portugal, Oman, India, Turkey and Greece. You can pack a lot in in a one-year contract. Trust me. I’m a professional at it. And depending on where you’re from it’s so much cheaper to travel from Saudi Arabia than it will ever be back home. For $500 the only place I can get to from the west coast of Canada is the U.S. and maybe Mexico if I found a great deal. From Riyadh I can get to Europe, the Indian subcontinent, Africa as well as Asia.

4. This is the only way you will get to see Saudi Arabia. Unless of course you’re Muslim. Cause they aren’t issuing tourist visas. So it’s quite a privilege to get to see a country and culture so vastly different than your western one. Working here gives you a perspective on a country and culture that is separate from what western media leads us to believe. Not every local you meet wants to kill you or convert you. Did you know that Saudi’s are actually very funny people? Granted sometimes they don’t get my sense of humor, but if I’m honest I laugh a lot at work. Many of my Saudi co-workers are very light-hearted. In fact, I refer to most of our male Saudi co-workers as my “brothers.” Also, being in Saudi Arabia allows you to see parts of the country that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Did you know that the famous site of Petra in Jordan has a sister site in northwestern Saudi Arabia? Have you ever been to a camel race? Did you know that camel beauty pageants are actually a thing? Take a job in Saudi Arabia and see for yourself.

5. Your life will be anything but dull. Especially if you happen to be a blond western woman like me. Trip to the grocery store=marriage proposals. Go to the bank to deposit money= getting offered tea and cookies by the male teller. Going out for dinner could turn into a full-on photo shoot with a group of local girls. Earlier this week I walked into my patients room and the patients mother held up her hands and yelled “beautiful” and then pinched my cheeks. Trust me. This kindof stuff never happened to me in North America. It’s pretty entertaining how the most seemingly easy thing can turn into some strange encounter. I personally live for this type of daily entertainment.

6. Arabic to English translations are funny. And vice versa. Quite often when I attempt to speak Arabic my patient or their family will start giggling and then clapping like they are congratulating a toddler for using the toilet. I’m not joking. It’s ridiculous. Also accents and poor language skills can lead to some pretty funny misunderstandings. The first time I was in Saudi I worked with a Finnish girl who with a thick accent would say she needed to go “shart” when she was saying she needed to chart. Trust me for 15 months this was never, not funny. Every time she said it my kiwi-sidekick and I would laugh. She probably hated to work with us. Another time an Arabic doctor came up to me and asked me a question. What I heard was him asking me “Do you have painful urination?” That’s seriously what I thought he said. I must’ve replied “what?” to him 3 times because I couldn’t believe he was asking me that. Turns out on the 4th time when he spoke v e r y   s l o w l y, that he was actually asking me “Do you have pen for donation?” I’m quite certain he never asked to borrow a pen from a western nurse like that again.

7. Ladies. You will grow to love your abaya. So yes it is true that anytime you leave your housing compound you will need to don your little black dress aka your abaya. The only exception to this is if by some amazing stroke of luck you find yourself living on the DQ (Diplomatic Quarters.) If you do then I’m super jealous, and can we please be friends. Stat. Anyways, back to the abaya. It literally takes humming and hawing over what to wear out of the picture. Going for dinner with friends and not sure what to wear under your abaya? Ummm PJs. Or yoga pants. Or nothing at all. Cause who’s going to know- you’re covered in a head to toe black dress anyways. Going shopping. Same outfit. No one but you will ever know.

8 Learning Arabic will become your party trick when you return back home. After you’ve lived in Saudi and you get asked that stupid question during an interview “Tell us one unique thing about you?” I speak Arabic bitches. That’s what. BOOM. No one will be expecting that. After I left Saudi the first time I returned to my previous job at a large hospital in Seattle. We got a lot of Somali patients, and often we would get Saudi English students from the university in the ER. One time they couldn’t find an Arabic interpreter. So I was all casually like “I can try and help.” And the doctor was like “What now?” Yep. Basic medical Arabic is my party trick.

9. Embassy Parties. When was the last time you went to a Ball or Gala? Never. Work in Saudi Arabia and that will likely change. All those bridesmaids dresses you were led to believe you could wear again. Well pack one and some dancing shoes because you’ll likely need em. Also it’s fun to have the chance to celebrate 4th of July at the U.S. embassy, or St Pats at the Irish, or Bastille Day at the French.

10. Bragging Rights. How many people can look back on their lives and say “Remember that one time I lived in Saudi Arabia…..” You, that’s who if you take an adventure as an ex-pat in Saudi. The downside is that when you are old and in a nursing home chances are people will just think you have dementia, not that you actually did live in Saudi Arabia. But either way you’ll be entertaining someone with your tales.

UPDATE August 2017: Here’s a recent link to a blog post I wrote about working as a nurse in Saudi Arabia.

 

42 Comments

  1. I LOVE this post! I am seriously considering moving
    to Saudi in 2016 and I have been looking all over the
    web for western women with blogs. This is great.
    Please keep up the good work. I am interested!

    • kristinewanders

      October 10, 2015 at 2:22 pm

      Candace, I’m so glad you’re enjoying my blog! Keep me posted on whether you’re moving this way!!

      • Hi
        I have 2 interviews for Saudi, I’m a British nurse qualified for 12 yrs with experience in medical, surgical and orthopaedic nursing I’m praying I get a job there soon, I have been reading what it’s like for western nurses and your blog has excited me even more

        • kristinewanders

          April 27, 2017 at 7:22 am

          Kelly- what hospital did you apply to?

        • Sandra Horton

          June 16, 2017 at 8:21 am

          My daughter is very concerned about letting her daughter a second year midwife go to Saudi, to do elective ,have you any offers of advice.
          Do you know Brits out there.many thanks,
          Grandma

          • kristinewanders

            June 17, 2017 at 8:27 pm

            Sandra, I’d love to offer advice but I’d need a clearer idea of exactly what the concerns are so please send me an email and I can address the concerns. A lot of people are concerned about safety related to working in Saudi Arabia. As a woman I feel safer here than I did living in several large North American cities if that helps. Kristine

  2. I think this is your best ever. Where can I sign up. Your biggest fan!!

    Daddio

  3. i like your post, it has a lot of positive energy that surely reflect your nice soul 🙂
    i am glad that you are enjoying your life in Riyadh!

    keep it up..

  4. Hi Kristine,

    It is great to read this because no 10 most definitely applies to me!

    I lived and worked in Riyadh between 2000 and 2001 and have many, many memories of the place. I was living in the Al-Hamra compound and got a great social life with expats at the Riyadh Rugby Club (I hope it is still going?).

    As for the holidays, yes I got loads of them too. It got me so into global travel that I’m still doing it to this day.

    Great to read of a fellow Westerner in the Saudi lifestyle.

    • kristinewanders

      October 21, 2015 at 6:04 pm

      Yes- living here is bragging rights for sure!! And the travel days are so addictive that even though it’s frustrating at times living here it’s hard to give them up!

  5. I’m so glad I found your blog! I really enjoyed this post. Thanks for sharing. Do you happen to have any Nurse Midwives in your group of friends? I’m currently applying for jobs and I’ve been combing the web trying to find any western midwives who are currently working in Saudi Arabia… just to get first hand experience questions answered.

  6. Great post some of our clients have given similar feedback so we can totally relate to this

  7. I have an interview in London the 7th April to work as a Nurse king Frazier hospital . Salary less than what I get UK but it’s the experience. I am blonde and I don’t speak Arabic any advise please? I did want dubai and a shorter contact but the contact is 12months

  8. It all sounds good, but I’m still afraid of the MERS situation and getting sick, dying there, or not being able to make it back home. It’s just a fear.

    • kristinewanders

      August 15, 2016 at 5:34 am

      Fair enough! I remember when I flew over 2 years ago I was worried about Ebola. Now the latest thing is Zika. For me it came down to feeling a pull towards a real adventure and to test myself in what seemed like (and sometimes still does) an extreme cultural situation. I guess the thing is to not let fear stop you from doing what you yearn to do!

  9. Great post! Thank you for sharing. I am considering taking a contract myself but still have some reservations. One being that 1 month days/ 1 month nights rotation, plus the more hours that are required. It’s like working overtime without being paid for it (22 shifts in a 6 week period, I am used to 18). I still feel there’s so much positive to consider as well. And the more I look into it, the more I feel like, if I don’t do it now then when? Or if I don’t do it, how much I’d miss out on and look back regretfully.

    Still praying on it. I told the recruiter, I’d decide by December.

    • kristinewanders

      October 14, 2016 at 9:49 am

      Yes it did often feel like working overtime for free that’s for sure, and if they introduce tax it will be financially pointless for westerners to go. But for travel purposes it is still a great base to travel from (although there are rumors that they are cutting the number of holiday days) so I’m waiting to see what happens!

  10. Is it true that the employers keep your passport after granting the ighama even though it is against the law?

    • kristinewanders

      May 20, 2017 at 3:11 pm

      Yes that is true. My hospital keeps either your passport or Igama. I leave my Igama there and always have my passport with me. But technically that aren’t supposed to be able to do that!

      • From what I read, you cannot travel within saudi even on the streets without igama so how are you able to do without?

        • kristinewanders

          May 21, 2017 at 8:18 pm

          I just carry a stamped copy. In 4 years here I’ve never been asked to show my Igama but a copy would suffice if I had to!

  11. Hey Kristine!
    Love the blog! Thanks!
    I live in Alberta,CAN and I’m very interested in working in Saudi Arabia. I’ve even started learning a bit of Arabic!
    I’m very confused as to how apply though. There are so many groups/businesses/staffers. Which company did you apply to? Or how do I apply? Is it better to go through a specific company or through a hospital?
    Also, do you know of any expats that have brought pets? I have a tiny dog… not sure what I would do with him if I couldn’t bring him….
    Thank you!
    Amanda from Edmonton

    • kristinewanders

      June 11, 2017 at 8:52 pm

      Amanda! Thanks so much for your lovely words! Well done on learning Arabia- it’s definitely not the easiest of languages. I would say that Helen Zeigler is the easiest way for nurses from North America to come to Saudi. They can walk you through the lengthy paperwork process. You can also apply directly with the hospital, but I’m not sure how tedious that process is. If you are thinking of coming to Riyadh shoot me an email and I’ll get you in touch with someone from recruiting at my hospital. Unfortunately, if you come over as a nurse you must take hospital housing and animals are not allowed. I’m not sure what your nursing background is, but you could look at Aramco in Dammam if they have any nursing positions open- they are likely your best option if you want to bring a pet. Let me know if you have any other questions!

    • Amanda, I have a small dog also, a blind Chihuahua. If you want to go, I will foster your dog. I live in Orlando though, so it’s hot! We also have 3 cats, don’t know how your dog is with them. In return, I will send you money to buy me jewelry…😉. Elaine

  12. Shannon Haatvedt

    August 5, 2017 at 2:41 am

    Hi, my name is Shannon and I am living in Calgary, Alberta. I have been looking for past several years at jobs outside of Canada but never really got up the nerve. But, I think I have reached that point now (plus I really am not enjoying the job I have right now). I have approx 6+ years in emergency/acute medical unit. I would like to get away from this floor job though an am wondering if there are any jobs clinic wise or even just in the hospital doing something a bit different than traditional floor nursing. I love hot weather and Saudi Arabia is beautiful. I hope this post is still active and if you could give me any advice 🙂

    Thanks, Shannon from Calgary

    • kristinewanders

      August 10, 2017 at 12:35 am

      Shannon, typically to work in Saudi you are required to have 2 years experience in the area you are being hired into. So if you haven’t worked in a clinic or in education or say research it would be unlikely they would hire you into that role. There is the possibility of applying for a new role after you arrive and have worked a while. Send me an email if you have further questions- I’d be happy to help!

  13. Hi there,I am a Malaysian qualified doctor,do the recruit Malaysian doctors there? I am working as a doctor for 8 years already .can u Please tell me how do I apply for a job there ?

    • kristinewanders

      August 21, 2017 at 8:13 am

      I’m not sure if they recruit Malaysian doctors- I imagine the process of verifying your education will be tedious in order to get licenced in Saudi. Maybe try and contact one of the large hospitals and see what they say!

  14. Hello there does anyone know of anyone who works as a physical therapist in Riyad.i. I got a job offer at King Faisal special hospital and I will like to get an idea of what to expect and how to prepare. I appreciate the information you have provided
    Thanks in advance for your assistance

  15. Thanks Kristen for being a great resource to us.If by chance you work in King Faisal special Hospital will you be able to connect me with the HR to clarify some things about the Contract and my education credentials
    Thanks

    • kristinewanders

      September 4, 2017 at 5:54 pm

      Grace- I think it’s easier to utilize one of the recruiting companies I listed in my post about what it’s like to work as a nurse! They will also recruit for therapists as well!

  16. my husband is going to be working as a diplomat in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia from my birth country Africa but am a naturalize American citizen and I got my nursing degree in the states. Can I work in saudi

    • kristinewanders

      September 4, 2017 at 5:57 pm

      Yes I’m assuming you would be able to work in Saudi but you would be under your husbands residency card so I think there might be a few more steps to it. I would get in touch with Helen Ziegler who recruits for North Americans and see what they can tell you!!

  17. Thank you Kristine for the very positive post! I’ve applied to Riyadh hospital for ICU nurse position and now I’m waiting for work visa and try to prepare for living there. I hope I will not disappoint and will enjoy being there.

  18. Omozee Etin-osa Parskar

    September 30, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    How can I get a job an English speaking job though. I’m a graduate nurse and currently working with federal government of Nigeria. I am a Nigerian. I would love it if you can assist me get a job process by process over there.

    • kristinewanders

      October 8, 2017 at 5:05 am

      Omozee- I’m not sure excatly who recruits for Nigerian nurses. Have you tried googling it?

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