Post COVID-19 changes in Saudi Arabia

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Updated 2020-07-17 09:50

With a fragile economy coupled with the expat exodus, Saudi Arabia is taking drastic measures to contain the COVID-19 crisis. If you are planning to settle there when border restrictions are lifted, learn about what's changing in terms of visas, employment, housing, cost of living and lifestyle, etc.

What are the current regulations for entering Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia has temporarily closed its borders until further notice. Neither the citizens of the country nor residents and tourists are allowed to enter. However, some exceptions exist for Saudi citizens and residents. They are directly quarantined for 14 days from their arrival in Saudi Arabia. Besides, the Awdah system has been set up to facilitate the repatriation of tourists and expatriates residing who are legally residing in the country. Find out more on the Visit Saudi website.

Have there been visa changes recently?

Saudi Arabia will not issue any type of visa until further notice. Even expat residents who are currently abroad are not allowed to return to Saudi Arabia until border restrictions have been lifted. Residence permit (Iqama) holders seeking repatriation are required to apply for an exit permit. The application is free of charge and can be made either on the Absher app or with your sponsor's help. Note that the validity of residence and exit permits, as well as that of entry and visitor visas having expired during the COVID-19 pandemic has been extended. For the latest updates, have a look at the Ministry of Interior website.

Is it easy to find work in Saudi Arabia following the crisis?

Middle East countries are currently facing an expat exodus, and Saudi Arabia hasn't been spared. At least 1.2 million foreign workers are expected to leave the country by the end of 2020, according to a recent study by the Jadwa Investment Company. More than 300,000 expat workers have already left the country since the start of the year. Add to that nearly 445,000 expats who have left in 2019. The COVID-19 crisis resulted in an unemployment rate of 12%. It's worth noting, however, that Saudi Arabia has been looking to nationalise its labour market. Local businesses are, therefore, required to hire a quota of Saudis. The Saudi government is likely to take advantage of the situation to accelerate the "Saudisation" strategy. You are perhaps aware that the population of 34.5 million comprises some 10 million expats. The petroleum industry, wholesale and retail, transport, hotels and restaurants, as well as industries manufacturing and entertainment are the most affected sectors. After the crisis, it will also be difficult to find jobs in sectors like education, administration and public service. Small and medium-sized enterprises also got a heavy blow, some of which may not be able to rise again after the crisis.

How did the Saudi healthcare system perform in light of the crisis?

The Saudi government was quick to implement strategies to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ministry of Health designated 25 hospitals with a total of 80,000 beds, including 2,200 for suspected cases of COVID-19 and quarantine. Some 8,000 beds were also dedicated to intensive care. Also, entry points are being controlled, and screening tests are being carried out on suspected cases. Confirmed cases are immediately quarantined. Besides, awareness and education campaigns have been launched on various platforms. The Saudi Ministry of Health is relying on technology to provide adequate care to the population, with mobile apps, telemedicine, online medical consultations, and virtual clinics. Even medication is delivered at your doorstep! All public and private hospitals in Saudi Arabia are providing free COVID-19-related care for all, including residents and visitors. For more information, check the Mawid app or call on 937. The Mawid service provides for booking, cancellation and rescheduling of medical appointments in primary health centres, and manages them all.

Has anything changed regarding universities and schools?

Most schools switched to distance learning since the beginning of the pandemic. No specific date has yet been communicated regarding the reopening of schools. However, the Ministry of Education is looking into the possibility of extending distance learning over the 2020-2021 academic year. Some twenty channels have been dedicated to national education. Content is also provided to university students on social media. Also, some 1.4 million students have taken more than 223,000 distance exams. The Saudi Ministry of Education also announced that all classes, from kindergarten to high school, will be advanced by one year, and the results for the first semester will account for the second semester. Regarding higher education in the UAE, the next semester is starting on September 28, 2020. Those who cannot attend classes can still opt for distance learning. Face-to-face courses will take place in small groups. For more information, visit your university's website.

How is the real estate market following the crisis?

The COVID-19 crisis had a considerable impact on the Saudi real estate market. While many homes are available, sale prices dropped by 2.1% in the first quarter of 2020. A more substantial drop is expected by the end of 2020, given current travel restrictions. A study by Cavendish Maxwell reports a 2.6% drop in prices of villas but a 2.2% increase in apartment prices in Saudi Arabia. In Riyadh, for example, the average price of a two-bedroom apartment is around 575,000 rials, while in Jeddah, you will need at least 1.2 million rials. For a three-bedroom villa, count around 2.5 million rials in Jeddah and 2.8 million rials in Riyadh. Rent prices also dropped, taking into account the expat exodus. Today, a two-bedroom apartment costs around 88,000 rials per year in Jeddah and 17,000 rials per year in Dammam. To rent a three-bedroom villa, count around 85,000 rials in Riyadh and 62,500 rials in Al-Khobar, for example.

Has the cost of living changed because of the crisis in Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia is very likely to become one of the world's most expensive destinations for expats. As of July 1, 2020, value-added tax went from 5% to 15%! This rise also applies to essential goods. According to the Saudi government, this measure aims at mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on its economy. Besides, the cost of living allowance granted to Saudis since 2018 has been suspended. However, low-income households are still receiving a monthly allowance of around $ 240.

How about lifestyle? Have there been major changes in habits following the sanitary crisis?

Since the end of lockdown in Saudi Arabia, businesses, offices, as well as mosques have reopened. Although Saudis can now move freely, the wearing of masks and social distancing have become the new norm. Habits have also changed. Many Saudis now prefer to pray at home instead of going to the mosque. However, people have got used to temperature checks, sanitising of hands and social distancing in mosques. Eating habits have also changed, with fewer people eating out. Things are improving slowly in Saudi Arabia, but local authorities are playing it safe by keeping borders closed, so holiday travel isn't an option for now.

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