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Moving to Saudi Arabia

Moving to Saudi Arabia

Moving to Saudi Arabia from Dubai in 2021 takes careful planning and attention to details and documentation. We provide everything you need to know before moving from Dubai to Saudi Arabia. Start your move today by obtaining up to 6 competitive moving to Saudi Arabia quotations FREE.

Moving to Saudi Arabia conjures up thoughts of a fast-changing country with an incredible tax-free earning potential set against the backdrop of a vast desert landscape. But what are the key challenges people face when relocating to Saudi Arabia?

The key when relocating to Saudi Arabia is research and preparation. The country's sights seem firmly set on a progressive future. The hot and dusty climate takes some adjustment and then, of course, there's the language barrier. Healthcare, housing and finances are all notable considerations ahead of your move to this mysterious country. 

Fortunately, we cover all this and much more in our ultimate moving to Saudi Arabia guide.


Modern-day Saudi Arabia was formed in 1932 when the kingdoms of Nejd and Hejaz were united to form the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Six years later oil was discovered in the Al Ahsa area, and oil fields went into full production by 1941.

Since then, oil has become the dominant economy and as Saudi Arabia became the number one oil producer in the world, so its prosperity and international political leverage have grown

With less than 1% of its land suitable for cultivation, many of the population live in coastal areas or a few densely populated interior oasis cities and towns including Riyadh, Jeddah, Al Khobar, Yanbu and Dammam.

According to the latest ex-pat data, 30% of the total population of Saudi Arabia are ex-pats. This means that out of the 34.14 million population, 10.2 million are foreign nationals. You can't blame these people for moving to the country. For one, the salaries you will earn while working here are tax-free. Saving money becomes much easier if you're spared about 40-50% of taxed income every month.

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, governed along strict Islamic lines inspired heavily by the ultra-conservative Wahhabi form of Islam. Saudi Arabia is often referred to as “the Land of the Two Holy Mosques” which refers to the two holiest shrines of Islam located in Mecca and Medina.

If you in the early stages of planning to move to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, it is advisable to familliarise yourself with the country's culture, tradition, practices, customs, and laws.

Saudi Arabia is a conservative country, any form of disrespect towards their country, religion, and culture, willfully or because of ignorance, are dealt with sternly.

Lifestyle in Saudi Arabia

When relocating to an entirely new country, it's crucial to understand the social etiquette and cultural norms observed by the people there. If you don't know about these social taboos, it's highly likely that you'll find yourself in an awkward, potentially embarrassing situation.

This is unlikely to lead to serious consequences. Nevertheless, it would still be better if you know of the country's cultural and social expectations. Through this, you can easily fit and adapt to your new community.

Country Facts

Capital City: Riyadh
Population: 34 Million
Languages: Arabic
Currency: Saudi Riyal (SAR)
Time: GMT +3
Driving Lane: Left Hand Side
Domain: .sa
Dialing Code: +966

How different is life in Saudi Arabia?

Daily living in the Kingdom is heavily influenced by the laws of Sharia Islam. The religious police, (Mutaween), enforce laws relating to dress code, public codes of conduct, preventing non-Islamic activities, etc. 

Drinking alcohol and consuming pork are forbidden in Saudi Arabia. It is an offence to criticise the regime or Islam, even unknowingly, and no exceptions are applied to expatriates, who may be imprisoned, deported or even executed if they do so.

Moving to Saudi Arabia - Prophet Muhammed Mosque

How is daily life in Saudi Arabia as a woman?

While progress toward some form of gender equality is slowly taking place in the Kingdom, life for women is still particularly restrictive and may come as a significant culture shock to many. 

However, since 2018, women are now starting to drive and some women are starting to go out in public without wearing the abaya (Loose fitting robe-like cloak, which prior to 2018 was mandatory for all women to wear in public). It is still a requirement to dress conservatively, nothing off the shoulder or above the knee that’s for sure.

Is life tough for ex-pats in Saudi Arabia?

Many ex-pats live in large gated communities known as compounds where the strict Saudi social regime is not as stringently enforced, and things are much more relaxed. Living on a compound can be very sociable and a lot of fun.

The dress code for women seems to be relaxing a little especially in places like shopping malls and social areas which are not government-owned of religious. 

Then there is the income tax-free salary of course, so it’s not too bad!

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Cost of Living in Saudi Arabia

Besides the laws, customs, and practices in the country, another element you need to pay particular attention to is the cost of living. Regardless of your tax-free salary, if it costs a vast amount of money to live then that can alter the picture dramatically. 

In fact whilst things like accommodation are comparatively high and a new car and vehicle running costs relatively low, the general cost of living is comparable to most European countries. Let's take a closer look.

  • A meal at a standard restaurant is likely to cost roughly USD 15-20 per person. A soft drink costs around USD 0.70 per can. A coffee typically sets you back around USD 3.
  • At the local supermarkets a loaf of bread is priced around USD 1.00, a liter of milk approximately USD 1.40 and a dozen eggs roughly USD 2.20. Beef is relatively expensive, and of course, pork is not available.
  • Public transport is limited, however complimentary shuttle buses are laid on in many ex-pat compounds. Otherwise, taxis are the only practical form of transport, especially for women.
  • Taxis start around is USD 4 and then around USD 0.50 per kilometer thereafter. Cars incur little if any import duty and so are very affordable. Petrol is extremely cheap at around USD 0.30 per liter.
  • Accommodation can be expensive. A typical 1-2 bedroom apartment in a good area would be approximately USD 1,500 per month. A typical house in a gated community with leisure facilities on-site would cost around USD 3,500 per month.
  • Basic utilities for an average two-bedroom apartment will be around USD 80-100. Prepaid mobile phone charges are approximately USD 0.14 per minutes, and fast broadband internet is roughly USD 55 per month.


Tax laws FAVORABLE to employees and businesses
Higher cost of living compared to some other countries 
A culturally rich and diverse country with great landscapes
certain areas of the Healthcare system not free for all
Offers more employment opportunities for skilled workers
certain areas of society can be Strict and conservative 
Higher salary for skilled workers and employees
There are taboos that you need to be mindful of
Easy for TRAVELERS to access other American and European countries
Stricter policies for visa and work permit from non-EU/EEA nationals

Relatively low crime rate throughout the country
Dreary weather for lengthy periods of the year

Moving to Saudi Arabia - Requirements

Moving you belongings to Saudi Arabia?

It is important to emphasise the following. Unlike many countries in the world who randomly select shipments for a physical inspection, every 'moving' shipment is physically inspected by Saudi Arabia, and it can be very thorough and the punishments for non-compliance are severe.

Currently, the country has a zero-tolerance policy imposed on the importation of pork and alcohol products. It's also forbidden for foreign visitors to carry religious pamphlets and scriptures as they enter the country.

If you're caught carrying more than one Bible, such an act might be interpreted as an attempt to convert people into believers of Christianity; you might be banned permanently from coming in the country.

If you're discovered smuggling synthetic drugs or herbal drugs to the country, you can also be severely punished.

Any kind of weapon is also not allowed to be imported to the country. And if you have to take medicines as you travel, make sure to bring your doctor's prescription to avoid any kind of hassle.

When moving to Saudi Arabia from Dubai, the following documentation is required in order to import used Household Goods and Personal Effects

  • Passport copy with entry visa page included.
  • Detailed Packing list in English
  • Copy of work permit / Letter of employment
  • Receipts for electrical appliances
  • Copies of Saudi National’s ID (Bataqa) or residence permit (Iqama)
  • Bill of lading / AWB
  • The owner of the goods must be present in Saudi Arabia at the time the goods are imported.
  • All shipments are subject to a rigorous physical examination.

For a more in-depth look at the documentation, please check the International Association of Movers.

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Visas / Legal

There are plenty of ways for you to enter the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Currently, the country supports 14 types of visas any traveller can choose from if they wish to visit the country.

The requirements needed for these visas vary depending on your purpose of visit, country of origin, and duration of stay. Here are the visa types applicable to ex-pats who intend to stay in the country for an extended period, along with a short description as to what these visas are for.

  • Government visa: This is the type of visa that you should get if you have been duly invited to the Saudi government to visit their country. To get approved for this visa, you need to secure an authorization letter from their Foreign Ministry.
  •  Diplomatic and Official visa: To get this kind of visa, a diplomatic passport is a prerequisite. Aside from that, you also need to secure an authorization letter from the country's Foreign Ministry.
  • Tourist visa: Since last year, Saudi Arabia started granting electronic tourist visas to citizens from 51 selected countries for tourism purposes. This visa is given upon the tourist's arrival in the country.
  • Business visit visa: To be granted this visa, the Saudi Arabian company or institution that you're visiting needs to get you a visa authorization or invitation letter from their country's Foreign Ministry. If you are a director, manager, or somebody who holds an administrative position in your company, your Saudi Arabian sponsor should apply for a commercial visa on your behalf. If, on the other hand, you're a professional doctor, teacher, or engineer who wishes to work in the country for a short time, your Saudi sponsor has to apply for a work visa visit on your behalf.
  •  Employment visa: If you want to work in the country full-time, you need to secure a job offer from your Saudi employer. Aside from that, you will also be asked to submit your employment contract, medical information, and official invitation. This allows you to work and live in the country. The moment you arrive in the country, you will be required to apply for the iqama.
  • Family residence visa: If you want to live in Saudi with your family, this is the visa that you should apply for. To qualify for this visa, you have to provide an authorization letter from the country's Foreign Ministry. You might also be required to submit the iqama of your family members.

Money & Taxes

Saudi Arabia Income Tax

For anyone who is fed up of paying income tax, Saudi Arabia is a safe haven! Like some of the other Arabian Gulf region, any money earned directly from your employer - the State will not take anything - you keep it all!. Furthermore you will not be taxed on any capital gains, through shares, investments etc.

Other Taxes in Saudi Arabia

Besides income tax, there is zero inheritance or capital gains tax in Saudi Arabia and until recently there was no VAT (Value Added Tax) applied to any purchases by consumers in the Kingdom. However at the start of 2018 VAT was introduced in several GCC countries including Saudi Arabia. So now all goods and services are subject to a 5% tax.

What's required for opening a Saudi Arabian bank account?

The requirements for opening a bank account in Saudi Arabia is pretty similar to the provisions in other countries. Since there are many well-established banks in the country, you'll have a plethora of options. In general, you'll need to submit the following documents:

  • A letter issued by your Saudi Arabia employer, detailing your
    • Name
    • Salary
    • Iqama or residence permit
  • Iqama
  • Original passport
  • Active mobile number

In addition to these documents, you also need to register through your bank's web page or Absher registration. Absher is a mobile phone app that allows Saudi Arabia residents and citizens to access different government services. It's also good to know that your mobile banking app is linked directly to your phone number. All notifications about your banking activities and security codes are sent to your phone via SMS.

How do credit/debit cards work in Saudi Arabia

Credit cards are offered by all banks in Saudi Arabia and offer access to credit up to a normally fairly sizeable limit and you are charged interest on the basis of the monthly balance.

A charge card generally operates on the understanding you will repay anything you spend within one month.

Haggling is not only common in the Middle East, it’s expected. However producing your credit card after some skillful negotiation will not be met with many smiles. On the contrary you will almost certainly incur a surcharge of 2-3%. This will certainly apply with any smaller merchants/traders.

On the other hand, credit cards can be invaluable and pretty much irreplaceable when it comes to booking hotels, car hire, etc. Some establishments simply will not entertain doing business with you without one.

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Are there many ATMs in Saudi Arabia

Anyone moving to Saudi Arabia, will notice ATMs are located everywhere: supermarkets, shopping malls, car parks, airports, and on the interior and exterior of banks of course. Machines normally have a daily limit of between USD 500 - 750.

The majority of machines operate in Arabic and English (and possibly other languages). However, it’s important to note - ATM’s have an annoying habit of retaining your card, or your cash (or both) if not removed quickly from the ATM. They seem to initiate this ‘safety’ feature much quicker than other ATMs you might be used to.

What if I lose my card?

If your card does get retained by an ATM, or if you happen to lose it or worse still, it is stolen, notify the bank by phone immediately note the name and email address of the person you speak with and then follow this up with an email. A new card will be issued quickly and you will be able to collect it from your branch.

You may be subject to a limited liability if there is any delay in reporting this. Once you do report it though you are free from any accountability or liability. You should also notify the police in the case of theft.


When you move to Saudi Arabia, you have to brace yourself for the temperature shock. In some areas, the day time temperature can be as high as 50-degrees Celsius in summer. If you're from colder parts of the globe, you need to prepare ahead of time as to how the hot temperature can affect your health and overall well-being.

And since the vast majority of the Arabian Peninsula is composed of semi-desert or desert shrubland, you can never expect to experience rain at any time of the year. However, if you choose to live in the Asir region, that's the only time you can expect to see rainfall. This region is influenced by the Indian Ocean's monsoon season.


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Housing - Rent/Buy

In recent years supply has begun to outstrip demand and the main cities in Saudi Arabia have seen residential rates reduce by around 4-6% since 2018. This is good news for renters, however, the prices are still above many European and North American cities.

Monthly Rent ($)

Accommodation type



1-bedroom apartment

800 - 1000

1000 - 1200

2-bedroom apartment

1100 - 1500

1350 - 11750

3-bedroom apartment

1500 - 1900

1800- 2200

2/3-bedroom villa

1900 - 2200

2200- 2500

4+-bedroom villa



Can foreigners buy property in Saudi Arabia?

Foreign residents are not allowed to buy real estate or land in Saudi Arabia. This explains why ex-pats in the country live in rented properties. The most sensible way to handle housing is to hire the services of a relocation consultant who can help you with several areas of settling into the country and this will include housing and finding a suitable place to live.

Alternatively, you can take this role on your self, but since timeframes are difficult to nail down, it's probably a good idea to leave your family at home until the essential elements of the things are set up.

Apartments in major cities are one good option particularly if work and school are close by. However many people decide to take up residency in a villa compound.

What are compounds in Saudi Arabia?

A lot of ex-pats live in ‘compounds’ in Saudi Arabia. This general term tends to apply to a group of residential villas and sometimes apartment buildings which are housed within a perimeter walled area - almost like an enclosed estate.

Why are compounds popular in Saudi Arabia?

These compounds offer security but more importantly allows a more relaxed, informal environment, much different to the more conservative and strict community found beyond its walls.

Some compounds are huge, and have a host of facilities including swimming pools (yes some have more than one), tennis courts, convenience stores, children's play areas, running tracks, a gym, you name it.

Expats in Saudi tend to spend more time socialising and spending leisure time within their compounds and so choosing the right location is very important.

Moving to Saudi Arabia - Villas

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Healthcare in Saudi Arabia

The two most important facts you should know about Saudi Arabia healthcare is that it's excellent but expensive. Here, each major city has private and public clinics full of state-of-the-art medical equipment and professionally-trained staff.

There is also no problem in communicating with these healthcare professionals because most of them are English-speaking, or foreigners who are profiting from the high tax-free salaries offered in Saudi Arabia medical facilities.

What is Saudi Arabia's public healthcare system like?

The country has a good public healthcare system that provides low-cost or free treatments to all citizens of their country. Even in public hospitals, waiting time is generally quite low. You can expect to see your doctor only within 24 to 48 hours after booking their services and scheduling your appointment. When you are in a medical emergency, expect to be seen by your doctor immediately.

High-earning citizens go for private healthcare, while all ex-pats are required to use their private insurance plans. If you are looking for better health care offers, no waiting times, or luxurious hospital accommodations, you must be prepared to pay its hefty price tag. For ex-pats, you must talk to your healthcare insurance provider to determine the extent of your coverage.

What should be done in health emergencies?

The good thing about hospitals in Saudi Arabia is, even if it's a public or private hospital, they have Emergencies and Accidents departments. For ex-pats who are new to Saudi Arabia, make sure to know where and how to get to the nearest hospital. 

The downside, however, is you might have to drive yourself to the hospital instead of being collected by the ambulance. Unfortunately, ambulance services in the country, just like in other countries, are not as fast and efficient as they used to be. If you can't drive yourself to the nearest hospital, it's best to call a taxi.

Is it easy to access prescription drugs from the pharmacy?

Generally, getting the most medication you need is easy. Then again, this doesn't mean that the prescription-free drugs in your country can easily be obtained without a doctor's prescription in Saudi Arabia. If you need antibiotics, know that this drug is freely accessible over the counter.

The Saudi Arabia government banned sleeping pills, antidepressants, and other similar drugs. This means that you cannot get it in the country. If you need any of these drugs for personal use, you can import them. 

Provided, however, that you carry your doctor's prescription for the said imported drug all the time. A note that would certify your need for such medication can also save you from sanctions.

Moving to Saudi Arabia - Schooling

Moving to Saudi Arabia with Kids

What about public school in Saudi Arabia?

If you're moving to the country with kids, you will be happy to know that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia provides free schooling. The schools are gender-segregated, starting for elementary, intermediate, and secondary. For students at the secondary level, they have the option of pursuing a technical, vocational, or religious track. Studying Islam, however, is a practice that dominates all levels of education in the country. It's also a compulsory university subject.

Arabic is the medium of instruction in these schools. English-speakers need not worry since the language is widely used and taught as the country's second language.

The Saudi education system has been widely criticized for its failure to equip the young Saudi learners with marketable and technical skills necessary to thrive in the modern world. In response to these criticisms, the current government invested a considerable amount of money in improving the country's education system.

Where do ex-pats enrol their kids?

Foreign children are not usually enrolled in local state schools. Instead, their parents opt to enrol them in private schools that cater to well-to-do locals and ex-pat communities. Though private educational institutions, these schools are still partly controlled by the Saudi government. Such control is imposed to maintain the standards and curriculum of education match those of the state-operated schools.

Children from ex-pat families are usually admitted to international schools. There are quite a few of these schools in Al-Khobar, Riyadh, and Jeddah. These schools follow the national curriculum (like Pakistani, Indian, American, and British).

Check out this extensive list of International schools

Final Thoughts

Moving to a different country can be daunting, and if you don’t get on top of things it can become quite stressful. Moving to Saudi Arabia presents its own set of unique challenges, but if you follow the guidelines we have provided, we feel certain you can experience a smooth relocation to Saudi Arabia.

You can start the ball rolling by completing our simple form, allowing international movers to get started on your quotation, today!

Note: This document is provided as a guide for people moving to Saudi Arabia and for information purposes only. Customs regulations can and do change at any time, usually without notice. Your mover will provide you with more information.