The Pros and Cons of Being an Expat in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Moving abroad is an exciting concept and there are so many reasons to consider taking the step to live in a new country. However, there are many things to consider, including finances, accommodation, healthcare, safety and more. Before making the life-changing move it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons to ensure you will benefit from moving abroad.

If you’re debating moving to Saudi Arabia here are some things you might want to consider.

The capital, Riyadh is a thriving economic hub and although lacking the glamour of its neighbouring emirates, it is swamped with ancient heritage and culture, breathtaking outdoor activities and delicious local food.

Once over the culture shock, expats see the city as an adventure finding that life there can be richly rewarding.

So, what are the pros and cons of moving to Riyadh?


We start with the good news first. Here are some of the advantages of moving to Saudi Arabia.

Attractive Salaries

One of the most appealing things about Riyadh is the healthy salaries with the prospect of no income tax. In addition to this, most contracts also come with company cars, medical cover and education allowances. Some of the sectors that offer opportunities for expats are banking, construction, engineering, medicine, and IT sectors.

Reasonably priced essentials

Essential goods such as groceries, electronic items and petrol are very reasonably priced. It is only imported items that will cost more. There are many indoor and outdoor markets around the city where you can find cheap food and drink.


Safety need not be a concern in Riyadh, because of strict laws and extremely harsh punishments the crime rate is very low and therefore expats can feel safe and at ease in the city. There are many strong security measures in place, such as high walls around living compounds and guards are also prevalent.

Excellent education options

Expats that move to Riyadh with their family and children will be pleasantly surprised with the education options. Due to its large expat population and being the centre of commerce and diplomacy there are many international schools around the city. Even so, there is a high level of competition to gain a place and school fees are on the pricey side.

Comfortable compounds

Generally, all expats in Riyadh live in compounds of apartments and villas that are found in the northern and eastern suburbs of the city. These gated communities offer expats a comforting place to enjoy a relaxed lifestyle. Most of these compounds have all the home comforts that expats would need such as shops, gyms, restaurants and schools meaning they rarely have to leave and experience the estranged streets of Riyadh.


Like with all places there are disadvantages to expat life in Saudi Arabia. Let’s delve deeper.

Unfair hierarchies

Many expats have reported varying degrees of treatment and pay when it comes to working in Riyadh. It has been said that certain roles are given to certain ethnicities. Western expats are usually assigned managerial roles while Indians and expats from the Philippines are hired into the production industry.

Expensive accommodation

Although these expat compounds offer security and comfort, if you want this safety you must pay for it. Rent within these compounds can be expensive, not to mention as well as a 10% deposit you are also expected to pay six -12 months’ rent upfront. There are then the usual utilities on top of that, which can rise considerably during the summer months due to the use of air-con.

Culture shock

Saudi Arabi operates under Sharia law, existing as a strict Islamic state. Expats are expected to respect this and show some understanding of the cultural expectations.

Additionally, the treatment of women in this country can often shock expats. Women must get permission from their fathers to marry or enroll at university. Also, wives of expats may not be able to work on their husband’s visa and must always wear an abaya when outside of their compound.

The intense conservative city can be difficult to adjust to especially as there is no nightlife and alcohol is banned. Not only that but the hot weather can be overwhelming and if you are not willing to venture outside of the gated expat communities into the streets of Riyadh, life can become quite boring and frustrating.

Now it’s time for you to weigh up these pros and cons and decide if Saudi Arabia is the place for you. Find out more about living in Saudi Arabia and if you’re tempted to migrate to Riyadh ensure you’re prepared with international health insurance. Alternatively, take a look at our other expat insurance products, including cashless health insurance.

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