Is it really as harsh as it sounds? Please help! :o

I have an interview shortly for a secretarial job in Saudi.  At first I was very excited, I'm itching for something new, but my excitement has now turned to apprehension as I've been reading some of the blogs and comments on this site.  Is it really as bad as it sounds out there?  As a 48 year old never married (by choice) English woman, who enjoys the single life with all the benefits that western independence and freedom have to offer, am I going to enjoy living in a country where women are second class citizens; where women are not allowed to drive; where women have to cover up in public; where I can't drink alcohol AT ALL, even though I don't practice Islam; where I can't be seen out in public with a member of the opposite sex if he's not related to me?  Is it really worth giving up my life in England for this, even though the financial package and benefits sound fantastic?  I guess there's only me who can make that decision, but any help and advice would be very welcome before I accept the interview which is next Wednesday 30 November.  There are so many questions I want to ask.  What freaks me out the most is that I can't take a Bible or a crucifix.  I've never been a member of any God squad, I only go to church for weddings, funerals and christenings, but that's MY CHOICE.  Do I really want to go and live in a country where my God is not allowed to be discussed in public?  Not that I ever talk about God in public, but again that's MY CHOICE, over here at least I can if I want to.  Or am I reading too much into this?  Someone please tell me it's not as bad as I'm beginning to think it is.....:o

Forget where I read this, but I think you can bring one Bible.:)
In my opinion, your happiness depends a lot on if you will be living in a western style compound in Riyadh. I heard that in those compounds, women don't need to cover themselves or avoid being together with men that are not related.
There will be inconveniences for sure. Some are OK with those but some are just not... If it's a short contract and the benefits are more attractive, maybe you can give it a try.

Anyways, like you said, you are the only one who can tell if it is worthwhile. Good luck! :)

You are absolutely correct - you are pretty much the only one who can answer your question.  Here are some things to think about:

1.  what exactly is your goal for even thinking of interviewwing for a job in Saudi Arabia?  is it purely the money aspect?  nothing wrong with that, by the way.
2.  women cannot drive - is that a big deal for you?
3.  women have to wear an abaya in public - is that a big deal for you?
4.  alcohol - cannot drink in public.  however, certain compounds and embassies do have parties where alcohol can be had
5.  dating in public - not a good idea.  again, is that a big deal for you?  you can still associate with folks of the opposite gender in compounds, embassy functions, privacy of your own home
6.  religion - as a previous poster had mentioned you can bring a bible into the country.  what is not allowed is prosthelytizing.

If I were in your shoes and I were a single female, the only motivating factor for me to come here would be the money and the adventure.  the money had better be darn good though.  But then again - that's just me!  :)

Hi Houstonian, thanks for replying so quickly.  I guess my initial goal is the money of course, I work to live, I don't live to work. 

None of these things are a big deal in themselves, I guess it's just such a huge culture shock and such a different way of life, and I need to get my head around it all.

I can live without driving for 12 months
I can live without alcohol for 12 months.....just one says I would have to like it, but I guess I would just have to accept it.
Wearing an abaya won't be a problem, but will I also be expected to cover my head?  By the way, (and this might sound a little petty to you for which I apologise), I dye my hair a vivid red colour, would I be allowed to do this out there, and would the dye be available to buy out there?  Sorry if this sounds pathetic!
Dating is not something I'm thinking about, but I have the impression that I wouldn't be allowed to be seen out with a man in public, dating or not, is this correct?
Religion - I'm not overly religious, I don't know why I'm getting worked up about the Bible thing, I think it's just because I would be having that choice taken away from me, something I've never had to face before.

Do you live on a western compound?  There are so many questions I want to ask!

I will try to answer some of your other questions - keeping in mind I am not an expert by any means.  :)

With regards to driving - it does become a bit irritating that you cannot just get on a car and go but then again if you do want to go somewhere, you can get on a cab and have someone drive you.  And trust me, your probably do not want to drive here anyway!! Lol - can you say C-R-A-Z-Y drivers!!

Some expats have gotten good at makign their own alcohol - now I cannot vouch for the quality of the alcohol though.  Lol

In terms of associating with folks of the opposite gender - unless that person is married to you or related to you, then you cannot be seen in public together.  Now, this does not mean it does not happen but it is something that will cause potential problems/issues for you if you are caught.  Certainly, anything done in private or in a compound does not apply to this rule.

When it comes to the abaya and covering of the head - the only thing I can say is go conservative - if there is even a more conservative way of dressing then that is the way to go.  I have seen some women expats with no head covering - but it is very rare.  I have also seen women expats asked to have their head covered while in a mall.  I cannot comment on the vivid red color but I have not seen any expats with that color hair in public.  :)

I do live in a compound in the center of town.  Lots of families - kids all over the place.  And the rules inside the compound are totally different from the rules outside the compound.

When I decided to accept the position here in the kingdom, I came here with absolutely NO expectations.  I figure, if something good happens then that is excellent.  If nothing good happens then I never had any expectations to begin with.  :)

Ask away if you have any other questions - I can certainly shre with you what I know and have experienced.  I am sure the other folks here have their own set of experiences as well.

You should expect some uncomfort as you are leavening your comfort zone, driving, drinking, dating, .... but in the end that will help you decide how important all those things are for you,

because you might be attached to things that you consider important but are not all that important at the end.

so I think it will be helpful.

And as sy_zoe said where you live could change your experience in Riyadh you just have to know what you really want

Good luck

Thank you for all your advice so far, all of you :)

So, you say the rules inside the compound are different to those outside; do all compounds have the same rules, and what are they? :o

I also read somewhere yesterday that some western music is banned, what does this mean exactly?  I am a massive music fan and have all kinds of music at home from classical to punk, would any of this be confiscated (or worse) if I were to ship over my collection, providing I choose to stay for a while of course? Or is it advisable to keep it all back home and transfer to i-Pod for the duration of my stay?  This might sound very pathetic to you, it's starting to sound pathetic to me lol, but it's the little things that mean a lot!  Obviously I wouldn't be so stupid or disrespectful as to get down on my knees and play air guitar in the local shopping mall, but it would be nice to know I can listen to whatever I want when I'm in my apartment, whether it be Beethoven or the Sex Pistols (very quietly I presume) lol.

HI there,

I have pretty much the same questions and possible misgivings about being a single, non-muslim woman moving to Riyadh. I've given it a lot of thought over the last 2 months or so. It will definitely be a 'culture shock' and there will be things that I will miss and/or find a bit awkward and annoying. That's for sure.

However, on the plus side, it will be a new experience and I am hoping that I can save money and study for a DELTA qualification alongside my teaching. There will be lots of women in the same or  similar position and I think that we will support each other. Adjustments will have to be made but I guess it depends on your personality, flexibiity and sense of humour.

I wish I were being housed in a compound but they are too expensive for teachers so I will just have to visit compounds when I can so that I can have some time out of the abaya.

I am due to fly out on december 3rd on a year's contract - daunted and excited in about equal measure.

Cheers, Rose

The music thing is not an issue - I have my iPhone with me with lots of different kinds of music.  I think the rule about western music you are referring to is more about playing it in public.  In private - play your music as you wish.  Heck I even walk around town with ear buds and listening to music.  It also helps drown out the annoying honking of the cab drivers trying to get your attention.  Hahaha

Certainly the same rules apply as if you are living home - courtesy to your neighbors, etc.  Otherwise, there are no issues with bringing your music along and playing it to your enjoyment!!

There are quite a few western-style compounds in Riyadh - spread all over the city.  And the prices vary as well.  The rules in the compounds are pretty much the same.  Again - it is as if you are living back home.  So common courtesy, respect for neighbors all apply.  You can associate with neighbors - even the ones of the opposite gender and no one will question you.  Depending on the compound the amenities will differ inside.  But for the most part the compounds have a pool, restaurant, grocery store, laundry, play ground for the kids, gym.  My compound has a tennis court and a shisha bar.  I have not really paid attention if there is alcohol in the bar since I do not drink alcohol anyway.  One of my friends lives in the El Fal compound near Granada Mall and I know their bar serves alcohol.

I think once you get over the culture shock and get settled in, you will learn to adapt to the culture.  That was the biggest transition for me when I got here - realizing that this is totally different from what I am used to - from the call to prayer 5 times a day (when everything pretty much stops) to single guys not allowed in the malls on weekends because it is family day.  :)

I have met some expats from this site and that has certainly helped.  The folks in the office have been great as well.  I am meeting some of the locals and finding them to be very friendly.  I even got invited to their house where my friend's mom cooked an awesome dinner.  I left their house fully stuffed!!  Hahaha

Best of luck with whatever decision you come up with.  I do, however, think that experiencing this culture will only add to your knowledge and appreciation of the world, in general.  :)

@Sangfroid - I think you have the right attitude going in.  I certainly cannot relate to all the issues you will be facing since I am not a female but I can certainly appreciate your issues.

By the way - it is getting a bit cooler here now that it is winter time.  Make sure you bring appropriate clothes.  Even though I have not been here that long, I was told that the winters sometimes gets pretty darn cold.  :)

Me, being a Texan from the south part of the state, am not really used to cold weather.  I guess I need to go shopping for some sweaters.  hahaha

Hi  piproxx,,

I laughed so hard about the hair thing ... Sure you can have your vivid red hair come with you to ksa ,,I'm Saudi by the way and I live in Riyadh. It's not that bad really .. You just have to get adjusted to the long hot summers. And we do have hair colouring products here.

This discussion is long dead, Naajd.  Guess we'll never find out what she decided. 

I think this is one reason I don't invest a lot of energy in people who aren't already here.

Alliecat hahahahaahaahah nice comment :P


Hi mausmanahmad121,

Welcome to

Could you avoid cap locks on the forum please.

Thank you


yes indeed :sosad:  better to look for another open country.

A change is a change. Take it or leave it. It can benefit you to know how it is to live in a different culture, or to decide after experience whether it is for you or not You said you don't preach in public, so how does that concerns you. Are you planning on initiating a cult here? Wrong place

I dont understand why does the Saudi Law bother people. Be open mind, this mean respect others choice and what they want to allow in their country. if you do understand this, i promise you will have no problem living anywhere in the world. remember, never force your values into others life.

it is like house rules, you cant walk with your shoe into someone else house without asking for permission. everyone make their own rules in their home. just because you do wear your shoes at your house doesn't allow you to do at someone else house.

Hmmm  :/ You sure that you are itching for something new?! Doesn't sound like it.

Hi there,

Same like you, I've come from a country where everything is open may it be religious, fashion, partying and stuff's. Been here in Riyadh for about a year and 6 months now, and personally speaking i love every moment here, now, let's not think of only fun times there's also gloomy-wanting-to-live-back-life-again-drama the way we used to. But being here in riyadh has made me appreciate people and culture.. And if your worrying that you're not gonna be able to do partying stuff's don't worry people (expats) here have some few secured groups you can join.
Hope you Can be able to decide your final decision.

True that ! Lots of inhouse fun ....i’ve been told too 🤓

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