Monday, August 31, 2009

Women in the Kingdom: Life as an Expat Woman in Saudi Arabia

By Betsy Burlingame

Expat women in Saudi Arabia face a much different experience than their male counterparts. For some, wearing an abaya and headscarf, not being allowed to drive and abiding by the rules that govern interaction among the sexes are just a formality. For others, they turn out to be a source of great frustration... even deal breakers. Any woman considering a move to Saudi Arabia, should really do her research, talk with other women in the cities where she may be living, and, if married, discuss the positives and negatives at length with your husband (Note: unmarried couples are not allowed to live together in Saudi Arabia).

In recent months, several women considering moves to Saudi Arabia have used ExpatExchange's Saudi Arabia forum to network with expats living there (and a few who have repatriated). Here is some advice and insight that we gleaned from their wonderfully open and honest discussions:

Look at the positive side -- black is very slimming. Okay, all joking aside, most expat women wear a black abaya, and often a headscarf, in public. Here's the scoop, "When you arrive, you can buy an abaya at any shopping mall and even the larger grocery stores. Wear dark colors (black is best) and something loose fitting; if you have a head-scarf, that will be appreciated by the locals as well. Dammam and Jeddah are most tolerant of westerners; Riyadh is the most conservative. And in the current environment here, you are well advised to be conservative as well."

On the topic of security, an expat advised, "Yes, Saudi Arabia is a security conscious country. This country is not at war but as long as you abide to their rules and regulations for foreign females, no worries you will be ok.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Saudi Arabian Culture....

As is commonly known, Arabia's culture derives from writings of the Holy Book. The richness of its language is without comparison and it is the fountainhead of Arabia's culture and faith. One direct manifestation of this heritage is the art of calligraphy of all Arabic art forms of this artistic expression. Craftsmanship of a high order is evident in the beautiful workmanship in precious metals. The ancient Arab tradition of hospitality continues unchanged to the present day.

Traditions and craftsmanship :The interlinking spheres of mathematics and astronomy are equally important aspects of the Arabian culture heritage. The word "algebra" is derived from Arabic word "Algebra". Navigation and cartography were direct developments of these numerate skills.

Similar attributes of outstanding craftsmanship are shown in the development of intricate workmanship in precious metals and even in household goods. It was in the settled communities such as Jeddah, Makkah that these skills flourished.

Both town dwellers and bedouins, however, shared one ancient Arab tradition: That of hospitality. Even today, in the home, or on Saudi flight, drinking Arab coffee. The method of preparation is traditional, each step is an almost ritually observed process.

The poetic tradition of the bedouin is a further example of complex and beautiful art form. Poetry promulgated the virtues and merits of their tribes such as the obligation to respect social values. Generosity, hospitality and courage were, to them, a matter of honor and failure to adhere to this unwritten code was regarded as a great insult.
Despite the great pace of growth the Kingdom has witnessed over the last two decades, traditional culture and social values have been maintained steadfastly and the rich heritage of the Kingdom protected and enhanced.

The strict observance of religious and moral values adopted by all Saudis will ensure that the continuity of their cultural heritage will not be diminished in the future

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Saudi Arabia to Grant Citizenship to Expats

by Rob Corder

Saudi Arabia has reaffirmed its commitment to grant citizenship to expatriates that have qualifications in hi-tech professions.

A naturalisation programme was first discussed in October 2004 when it was announced that expats with degrees in medicine, computer science, and other branches of science and technology would be given priority for citizenship.

A requirement for expatriates to have spent 10 years living in Saudi Arabia was relaxed at that time.
Applications for citizenship have been accepted since May 2005.
It is thought that up to one million of the seven million expatriates estimated to be living in the Kingdom might be eligibile.

Citizenship will not deliver the same rights of a Saudi Arabian national, but is expected to remove the requirement for a migrrant worker to be tied to a sponsor; a rule that greatly restricts freedom to switch jobs.

Citizens would also be able to travel freely in and out of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia's Interior Minister, Prince Nayef Bin Abdel Aziz, reaffirmed yesterday that King Abdullah had agreed to grant citizenship to foreign residents with scientific qualifications, but gave no further details.

It is expected that citizenship will be dependent on a points system that was first announced in 2005. At that time, it was stated that applicants must accumulate a minimum of 23 points to qualify in the first stage of the process based on the length of stay in the country, the number of family members dependent on the applicant, and the level of qualification.

An applicant was to be given 13 points for a doctorate in medicine or engineering, 10 points for those holding doctorates in other sciences and eight points for a master's degree.Applicants were also required to present a certificate from the Imam of their local mosque stating that they regularly attended for prayers.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS (Specially for the U.S.)

A passport valid for at least six months and a visa are required for entry. Visas are issued for business and work, to visit close relatives, and for transit and religious visits. Visas for tourism are issued only for approved tour groups following organized itineraries. Airport and seaport visas are not available. All visas require a sponsor, can take several months to process, and must be obtained prior to arrival. In the past, American citizens have reported they were refused a Saudi visa because their passports reflected travel to Israel or indicated they were born in Israel , although this has not happened recently. Women visitors and residents are required to be met by their sponsor upon arrival. Women traveling alone, who are not met by sponsors, have experienced delays before being allowed to enter the country or to continue on other flights.

Women considering relocating to Saudi Arabia should be keenly aware that women and children residing in Saudi Arabia as members of a Saudi household (including adult American-citizen women married to Saudi men, adult American-citizen women who are the unmarried daughters of Saudi fathers, and American-citizen boys under the age of 21 who are the sons of Saudi fathers) are considered household property and require the permission of the Saudi male head of their household to leave the country. Married women require their husband’s permission to depart the country, while unmarried women and children require the permission of their father or male guardian. The U.S. Embassy can intercede with the Saudi government to request exit permission for an adult American woman (wife or daughter of a Saudi citizen), but there is no guarantee of success, or even of timely response. Mothers are not able to obtain permission for the departure of minor children without the father’s agreement. Americans entering Saudi Arabia on visitor visas normally do not need an exit permit but may be prevented from departing the country if they are involved in a legal dispute. American citizens involved in labor disputes or employment dismissal will not be granted an exit permit prior to court resolution or abandonment of the case by the American citizen. Saudi sponsors have substantial leverage in the negotiations and may block departure or bar future employment in the country.
As of June 2007, all travelers to and from the Kingdom carrying cash amounts, transferable monetary instruments, or precious metals exceeding 60,000 Saudi Riyals (or $16,000) are required to declare them to Saudi Customs. Customs forms are available at all Saudi ports, or downloadable on

Failure to declare or provide accurate information can lead to prosecution, legal penalties, and confiscation.

Visitors to Saudi Arabia should generally obtain a meningitis vaccination prior to arrival. A medical report or physical examination is required to obtain work and residence permits.
Residents in Saudi Arabia who are departing the country must obtain an exit permit prior to leaving and an exit/reentry permit if they intend to return to Saudi Arabia . The Saudi sponsor’s approval is required for exit permits.

NOTE FOR DUAL NATIONALS: Several American citizens of Saudi descent have encountered difficulty leaving the Kingdom after entering on a Laissez Passer rather than a Saudi or U.S. passport. As a Saudi exit visa in a U.S. passport or a new Saudi passport and U.S. visa may take months to obtain, Saudi missions abroad sometimes propose to issue a Laissez Passer to Saudi passport applicants, rather than a Saudi passport. This, however, only leads to difficulties when the traveler wishes to depart the Kingdom to return to the U.S.

In particular, American citizens of Saudi descent should be aware that the Saudi government may refuse to recognize a U.S. passport presented by a Saudi passport applicant as valid for travel out of Saudi Arabia , if it was not used to enter Saudi Arabia . Also, American citizens of Saudi descent should understand that Saudi nationality is not confirmed quickly or easily, and documentary requirements encountered in Saudi Arabia may differ from those described by Saudi missions abroad.

We strongly recommend that American citizens who also have Saudi nationality enter Saudi Arabia with either a Saudi passport or U.S. passport and Saudi visa, but not with a Laissez Passer.

For further information on entry/exit requirements, travelers may contact the following Saudi government offices in the U.S. :
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia , 601 New Hampshire Avenue NW , Washington , DC 20037 , telephone (202) 342-3800. The Embassy's home page is Consulate General in Houston : 5718 Westheimer, Suite 1500 , Houston , TX 77057 , tel: (713) 785-5577
Saudi Consulate General in Los Angeles : Sawtelle Courtyard Building , 2045 Sawtelle Blvd. , Los Angeles , CA 90025 , tel: (310) 479-6000
Saudi Consulate General in New York : 866 United Nations Plaza , Suite 480 , New York , NY 10017 , tel: (212) 752-2740
Visit the Embassy of Saudi Arabia web site at for the most current visa information.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


The Ka'aba is an oblong stone building located approximately in the center of the quadrangle of the Grand Mosque in the Holy City of Makkah. The front and back walls are 40 feet in length; the side walls are 35 feet long; the height of the walls is 50 feet.

Set in a silver surround in the east corner of the Ka'aba, some four feet above ground level, is the Black Stone. This sacred Stone, the focal point of the Hajj, is the only remnant of the shrine which Abraham built when it was given to Abraham by the angel Gabriel.
The Stone (which may be of meteoric origin) is believed to go back still further, to the time of the first man, Adam.


Location and Size of the Kingdom

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia comprises about four-fifths of the Arabian Peninsula, a land mass constituting a distinct geographical entity, bordered on the west by the Red Sea, on the south by the Indian Ocean and on the east by the Arabian Gulf.

The Kingdom itself, which occupies approximately 2,250,000 square kilometers (868,730 square miles) is bounded on the north by Jordan, Iraq and Kuwait; on the east by the Gulf, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates; on the south by the Sultanate of Oman and Yemen; and on the west by the Red Sea.

Between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait there are two adjacent areas of neutral territory (the Neutral Zone) which, since 1966 (1385/86 AH), have been divided between the two countries, each administering its own portion. Another Neutral Zone, between the Kingdom and Iraq, existed until 1975 (1394/95 AH) when it was agreed that the zone should be equally divided between the two parties.

Located between Africa and mainland Asia, with long frontiers on the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf and with the Suez Canal near to its north-west border, the Kingdom lies in a strategically important position.

Before Islam......

Before the birth of Islam, there was no political unity in the Arabian peninsula. The nomadic tribes of the region subscribed to a primitive religion of naturism, whereby they attributed spirits to inanimate objects such as stones and trees. They had no formal priesthood but, when in need of advice, consulted soothsayers who would respond with brief, enigmatic oracular utterances.

Within Makkah itself tribes worshipped idols placed around and over the Ka'aba. As the trade routes of the Arabian peninsula grew in importance in the fourth century AD, towns developed, especially along the west and east coasts. Among these towns was Makkah, made up of a number of tribal groups, the most important of which was the Quraysh tribe. It was from the Quraysh that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was descended.

For full information on the Hajj and Umrah, click on the link immediately below:

Saudi Arabian Ministry of Hajj website