Do and don't in Saudi Arabia

Are you living in Saudi Arabia? We need you to share your experience of the local customs :)

Is it difficult to adjust to the local customs in Saudi Arabia?

Could you please share with us a list of the do's and don't's in Saudi Arabia?


Arriving in Riyadh for the first time was a bit of a culture shock from Western living. I think the first thing that hit me when I got off the plane was the extreme heat and the butterflies in my stomache as to what was waiting for me on the other side. All went smoothly at the airport - just be careful when packing your luggage. Remember no bibles, alcohol, or anything that is not allowed in the Kingdom as your luggage is searched before you leave the terminal building. My hubby was waiting for me with an abhaya that he had borrowed from one of the other woman on the compound that I had to put on temporarily until I got my own.
The first stop before we got home was a Saudi Mall to buy me an abhaya - boy did I get a fright!!!!! There were no expats just Saudi's and all the woman were covered from top to bottom and the men in their thobes and they were just staring at me, well at least it felt like it. In Saudi the man always comes first. If you are in a que at the supermarket and a Saudi man pushes in front of you, you cannot say a word.
It took a bit of time to adjust to life in Saudi as it is quite the opposite to life in the Western world, but you do get used to it. I have been back for sometime already now and I still sometimes forget that I am in Western society and I let the man go before me.

Well pretty soon I hope I will be back in the desert again. Something about Riyadh and Saudi Arabia that draws a person back there and you do miss it when you are back home.

If I can help with any Questions - pls fire away....


Hi Desertgirl,

I do not know what you mean by that "something" that draws people back to Saudi. I came to this weird country 3 months ago and honestly this place is not a big deal. I have lived in Germany, Mexico and South Africa and this country is by far the most difficult to get used to. And not rewarding. In fact, I would say that I am about to die of boredom. Yes, my friends, one thing I have learned by heart is that it is possible to die of boredom. Let's enumerate some actual facts that any not-blind expat can easily apprehend:

- no alcohol: no beer, no wine, no spirituous drinks.
- no drugs: no marihuana
- no dating, no women of any kind (except your wife -santa esposa-)
- no pubs, no discos. no place to dance
- no cinemas
- no social life with saudies. No integration. I started to study arabic but stopped as soon as I realized that I will have no contact with saudies out of work environments. And in work environments English is enough.
- no Bibles here. No churches. Do you need to pray? Do it at home. Or become a Muslim. "Islam, the religion of Justice and Tolerance", I hear that every morning in Radio Riyadh. In Spain we have a wonderful saying: "tell me what you show off and I will tell you what you lack"
- 41 degrees celsius yesterday. And increasing. It'll reach 50 in July. Nice! I am looking forward it.
- you like sand? welcome to sand-storming-land. Feeling sand in your lungs is a nice sensation you cannot possibly miss.

I could follow on, but then I would have to talk about more private local customs, politics, religious affairs... and I prefer not doing that. This is not my home country and I do not have the right to critizise. Anyway, I wouldnt say that Freedom and Democracy are the main values you can find here.

However, trying to be positive I would say that there is a very good thing: you don pay taxes here and can save 80% of your salary.

Just waiting for the improvement of the economical situation in more "friendly" countries.

Best Regards,


Hello Juan:

I'll be in Saudi soon. Hopefully we can get together and listen to some Salsa music. I don't think that's illegal, unless we kick it into high gear, but without cerveza, going into high gear is probably unlikely.
As for the shortcoming, just keep telling yourself that the money's good. That's how I've survived working in an urban school district with some really challenging city kids.
Well, you got my email address. Hope to hear de ti.


by the way, Juan. If you want to call me before I go, my number is USA/TX 210-391-8331. Spanish is English is fine. I speak either.

Hello Robert,

I am currently spending a couple of weeks in Madrid. I will be back in Riyadh in August and glad to meet you over there.

Please be sure that your sponsor have arranged a good accomodation for you (a western compound is a must since you cannot live forever in a hotel).

You can contact me on my saudi cell phone: +966 535 006 438

Regarding salsa music, for sure it is not illegal but do not expect to find nice clubs in Riyadh :)

Hasta la vista,


Greetings: If there is no holdup with the visa center, I should be in Saudi by August also. My number is 210-391-8331 in USA. I intend to bring a bunch of computer equipment to pass the time and learn some 3d art to pass the time. -pbn.

Hi Daniel:
Good to see that a fellow New Yorker is going to be in Saudi. I'm a born and raised Manhattanite who decided to travel and just hasn't been able to get back to New York. Mayby Saudi will help me miss it so much I'll want to go back. Or I might just miss Texas more. Keep in touch.

It's not as boring in Saudi Arabia as some might think. though usually you need to stay in the country for a longer time to get introduced to everything going on.

As you might understand, alot of what goes on is on the fringes of legality.

Good gosh. Isn't that the point? From what I hear, just being on the fringe of legality in Saudi is practically grounds for a conviction in Saudi. Your post doesn't reassure me in least.

Hi Juan:

Ya casi estoy listo pa' viajar el jueves. Ya tengo mi Visa y en desenlasado mis iphones pa' usarlos en de Kingdom. Acabo de tratar de llamarte en Skype. Me puedes Skypear gratis de una computadora. Hasta luego. Me conecto en un ratitio.


Yo aun estoy en Spain. En principio regreso a Riyadh el martes de la semana que viene, pero aun no es seguro. Todo depende de que reciba a tiempo unos papeles que tengo que presentar en la embajada de Saudi Arabia en Madrid.

Intento conectarme a Skype mas tarde.

Un saludo,


Hola: Aun sigo conectado. Terminare la primer serie de Jericho y dormire unas horas. como quiera dejare la computadoras puesta. Nombre en Skype es igual - alamographics. Ciao

Alamographics, please note tpo ensure that all he software, esp Microsoft, on yr PC is licensed. They are checking for piracy at the airport now.

I have been here for 30 years. I initially came, in 1979, for just a 2 year contract. Its got me by the "you know what?"

All in all, lifes been good. You can have everything you want even if not in the same manner in which you get it back home in a first world democratic environment.

At the end of the day theres nothing much to cmplain about unless you are looking for the cracks. Theres plenty of them. So what? Just leave them be. As long as they dont bother you you can still have the cake and eat it. I have!!!

Hola todos:

Just got into Saudi a few hours ago. Customs wasn't too bad. Well, I guess the adventure begins....

Good luck! I am still in Madrid and not sure when I am coming back (probably next week but hopefully I will be able to delay my return a few days). By now I am tele-working and my boss is quiet... So far so good.

welcome to KSA alamographics
hope u have a pleasant stay here
enjoy the sands while the till gets fatter

It's been a first start here in Al-Khobar. I've been assigned to a school in Ras Tanura and will start today. I'll begin a thread or blog of my experiences soon after I settle. Hasta later. By the way, I got a sim card for my iphone yesterday. It allows for data access, including internet usage and text messaging. iPhone Be forewarned. You likely need to "jailbreak" your phone to accomodate a foreign sim card. -rmd

Hi every one,

To Desertgirl,

It's nostalgic to remember those times aint it? well, Bibles are OK from a while back so you can bring it along now, and you don't have to tolerate men pushin you over, if you didnt figure it out, women have the "Don't get near me" rights, just a quick warning will make any man stay miles away, so i figure you never hanged out with saudi women. if you ever come back, I'd be pleased to introduce you to friendly saudi female communities. and about the desert, thats one place I love to stay for hours..

To juanfranlopez,

any one with a long experience in this country would agree to desertgirl, I've been here for quite a while now and I can honestly say I'd feel homesick even if I went back to my country. regarding the death from boredom effect, it can actually happen, if you keep your self locked up in a compounded room all your days. most of the things you mentioned are truly not here, at least officially.

but are you serious? no social life with saudies? buddy your staying with the wrong people, the easiest thing to do is to get to know saudi friends, you got tons of ways to do so, unless ofcourse you don't actually want to.. but if you do there are plenty of people who easily become social friends and such. what i'm trying to say is that you aint trying hard enough, thats why you didnt even complete your arabic course, and on the other hand, in a country which is not even considering english as a main language, you don't even need courses to learn arabic, just hang out for a couple of weeks and your arabic will be better then expats livin here for years.

as for fun things to do.. just get to know a few saudi friends, and you'll be wishing there'd be more than 24 hours a day.


Hi Salman,

I really appreciate your positive view and good intentions. I guess we perceive thing from different angles. I would just like to highlight some points:

- Do not get me wrong. I have a very good relationship with the Saudies who work with me in the office and also with the Saudies I meet in the gym. They are very friendly (except when they drive). It is quite easy to have a small talk with them and I enjoy their sense of humor. In my office 70% of the people are expatriates: some Europeans but most of them from India, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, Philippines, etc. It is much easier to meet these expats outside the office: the Saudies just disappear. And I have sometimes suggested something such as go and take a coffee or tea, etc. I do not really think that it is only me who has this problem since I have had this discussion with other expats and they are in the same situation.

- You say that most of the things I mentioned in my last post are not true in Saudi. Well, I disagree. If you can tell me where I am wrong I would really appreciate it.

- Regarding Bibles and other religious books I think you are partially right. I brought with me the Bhagavad Gita and I had not problems (probably because in the airport the customs officers didn't go through the books I brought with me). But I would try to buy a Bible in Saudi and I have not been able to do it (at least in Jarir and other bookstores it is not possible). So I guess that it is forbidden to sell them.

- Regarding practicing Arabic, you have to consider that 90% of the people you are going to deal with in cafeterias (e.g. waiters), shops, restaurants, supermarkets, etc. are not Saudies but expats (mainly philippines), so it is difficult to get into the language as easier as you seem to imply, especially if you are a complete beginner.



Hi Juan,

(sorry for replying late)
well, thanks for taking the time to talk about the issue, I guess other expats might actually benifit from our conversation. ^_^

now from what I understand from you later reply is that there is a minor missunderstanding, lets clear it :D

*qoute; "most of the things you mentioned are truly not here, at least officially." unqoute*

what I meant by this sentence is that I agree to the fact of not having the, *qoute;
"- no alcohol: no beer, no wine, no spirituous drinks.
- no drugs: no marihuana
- no dating, no women of any kind (except your wife -santa esposa-)
- no pubs, no discos. no place to dance
- no cinemas." unqoute*

so I hope were clear that I agree to that.

and on to your first point, I personally agree on the driving part, remember how saudies insist on having the person on the right side go first? that will never happen on the road, haha.
on the other hand, what you need to do is hang out with friends (whom you trust) around places where normally saudies would hang out, "away" from work related people. you will have better chances of meeting saudies who are interested in you rather than just entertaining you cuz your a colleague.
but you always need someone to help you get the "do's and dont's".
I personally don't mind helping you out if you wish to do so ;)

point two was taken care of so lets move to point three;
ofcourse they wont be selling Bibles around here! lol, don't get me wrong but the goverment is not promoting that kind of a gesture, what I meant is that you as a non muslim can bring along your personal Holy Book for you own requirements, not for pulication and/or resale ofcourse. ofcourse I remember the horrible fact that they used to tear them at airports in the past.. imagine what would they do if its was a Quran and the same happend in,, dunno the GB maybe or the states.. lets not get carried away :$

point four;
yep you are correct, but when you want to learn arabic you want arab sales men, you can't go to carrefour or hyperpanda looking for and ole man speaking arabic selling ya onions are you? what you wana do is go to the "atiga" souk for fruits and vegies, you need to go to "diera" souks for garments perfumes and traditional accessories.. and on an on..

again if you fail to do that on your own, your welcome to ask for a friendly company, as long as your not one of those "beardphobia" people, I'll be more than pleased to help.


Having lived and worked in the desert for 30 years now I agree very much with what Salman has to say. I came, nitially, in 1979 for a 2 year contract with a bank as a techie for implementing IT systems in the Eastern Province.

"Life, here, is what you make of it", as Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) sang in his old soing before he converted to Islam.

"Life' here, you make it what it is", as the song continues.

Nothing is impossible, you gotta reach out and take it objectively.

As for learning Arabic, I am still stumbling and stuttering with the language even though I knew the alphabet before coming here but the fact that my line of work does not interact directly with the local public t is not easy to pick up he vocab. I know of ppl who have been here fr a few months in sales or marketing who can give the Arabs a licking in the language. The hundreds of thousand of housemaids and drivers who come to work as domestics here speak the language very well. Its the interaction and communication that enhances the language skills.

Overall, I have met Saudis, good, bad, ugly, and nice, and t s my prerogative to weed out the men from the boys and make my friends and swing with them.

I left Saudi in 1990 and spent 2 years in Oman but he lure of this beautiful desert called me back and I returned in 1992. I dont think I will ever be comfortable anywhere else in the world, ncluding my home state, other than KSA.

How to Survive in Saudi as a Western Woman
1. Live on a Western Compound.
2. Learn you have to dress modestly, ie keep your legs and arms covered.
3. Keep an Abhaya in the bottom of your handbag at all times.
4. Make sure you have access to a driver, otherwise your husband is going to hate going to the supermarket in his off time.  You can't drive yourself in this country.
5. The lack of Alcohol does not worry you after a while.  It was the lack of personal freedom that got to me when we lived there.  It is hard to adjust to being in what seems an alien environment.
6. Go to the local Mums and Tots group meetings even if you don't have children with you.  It is a good way to meet other expat women and make friends... you can always make the tea and coffee.


I will soon join this 'boring' country but I am sooooo excited. I don't mind about the alcohol and pubs..although I need some socializing and my Bible. Just want to be clear on this fact?? I AM allowed to bring in my Bible? (It's not in they won't take it away?) And am I allowed to bring in CD's with churchservices and worship? And are there some churchgatherings in the compounds?

Also..I want to mingle with the locals..where and how do you meet up? I will also study further through the post service reliable? Will I need to display my package to them?

And internet? I also heard I can't take my laptop with me? If I can..will they search through my files?

Thanks alot for the discussions really helps to see the different you speak to one person only can make you so scared to go there.

Be part of the 'boring'team soon!

Hi Salman,

Thanks a lot for your offer: I really appreciate it. However I am leaving the Kingdom in 3 weeks. I have received a nice job offer in Brussels and I've accepted it. So I am coming back to Europe.

Best Regards,



too little too late, as much as I feel sorry to not have helped you out, I feel real happy to know you found a place you'd feel more peace at. wish you all the best at the new job.


first thing on mind is, your a tough soul (bless you), managing to convince your self to come all the way out here :) . what I can assure you is that this is going to be an experience you will remember for the rest of your life. (i mean that in a positive way)

lets move on to your questions;

a. you are allowed to bring your Bible.
b. usually the CD's are ok, just don't make it a huge collection other wise they get paranoid.
c. I'm not sure about that part since I don't really live in a compound, but I guess there might be a group of sweet loving people carrying out there prayers together, I hope others can help you out on that.

regarding the mingling with locals, its easy, it works like, you know someone who knows someone who knows someone, and your connected, I suggest you stay for a while to understand the locals before you approach them, just don't let other peoples judgements alter your view(but strongly consider thier advice), try to be a "lets try it our selves" person.

post service is good, your work place should provid you with the post office box details where you can get your mail, or you can use the compounds, it depends, but generally the mail is reliable.

Inernet is pretty ok, you got over a couple of options and sure, you can bring your laptop no problem, I don't recall they check the laptops unless the person is really suspicious. :D

I hope other will give out more advice, wishing you a safe trip.


Thanks so much..ur advice really helps.

I am so excited and won't be put of by the neg things..all countries have that.

Looks like you really enjoy it there and really..u know alot abt the country.

I believe I will also fall in love with the Arab world..if not yet!!


Just to add my two cents worth to Salman's excellent analysis and description my wife, who has also been here for 30 years with me has made many new friends from amongst the local Saudi women and also many expats and enjoys the network immensely. No doubt, most times, they all meet up as an all ladies group when they do party in public places and restaurants,  but what the heck? You make the most of whats available. We do also get involved in mixed functions and occasions within the confines of the many compounds where many of hese ladies live.

I have worked with many South African male consultrants who also had their families nhere and everyone of them had a ball, I can assure you.

Good luck on your venture.

Living in Riyadh could be a little different to living in places like Jubail, Khobar, Jeddah as they tend to be more relaxed as far as westerners are concerned So let me stick to Riyadh and what I know best and I will start with Ramadan

During Ramadan the local population live their religion intensely. They fast from sunup to sundown They have breakfast before sunrise and then in the evenings break the fast with dates and coffee and water. Nights are for celebration, huge meals till early morning hours and generally devoting time to their religion by praying and doing good deeds. We wondered why they buy so much food during this time, and it is because they have to support one or more poor families as Ramadaan is a time for giving as is Christmas time for westerners.

Their work hours become very short and erratic and most will only get up late morning or early afternoon For companies this poses a problem to get any work done as people tend to be tired, short tempered and generally not focused.

Ramadan to western men and especially at work means tired, non co-operative colleauges with short attention span and as short office hours. Mostly! So as far as deadlines and productivity is concerned these are trying times and the fact that eating and drinking is banned by law, has a definate effect on western working people who has to take a drink or eat out of sight if desperate. With temperatures hovering around 42 to 48 degrees C and 0% humidity fastind takes it's tole on all! There are enough stories of taxi drivers falling asleep behind the wheel!

From housewife's point of view: Let me start by saying that going to a Mall and not necessarily shopping, is just about the only "getting out" for most western ladies living on a compound in Saudie. During Ramadaan only food outlets are open from 10am untill 12 midday - so in a huge Mall all the stores except a shop like Carrefore will be open So all ladies are restricted to wandering around a almost empty building. Shop-aholics go into decline and a little depression settles in and by die end of Ramadaan we are all a little craZY!! Not because we needed anything rather because we could not...

Then all businesses opens at 4pm and it is business as usual untill 1am or even later. During Ramadan the local population sleeps during the day and shop, celebrate and shop some more at night and all ages are about from little babies to the elderly. The roads are choaked with traffic, accidents are common and where they can people are strolling about. The atmosphere is festive and shops are decorated with "Chrismas" lights and some serve customers with little cups of Arabic coffee and dates. After sundown people on streetcorners  hand out bottled drinking water to passers by. Shops have sales on and big stores will have free gifts with purchases.

Definate does and dont's for Ramadan:
Ladies wearing the Abaya is compulsory by law. In the bigger Malls frequented by Westerners we usually do not cover our hair with a scarf untill one of the religeous police shouts at us to "cover your hair" this can be a scary experience when you are new! Preferably the scarf should be black but coloured scarves are becoming more commonplace - but stick to muted colours as to not attract unwelcome attention. During Ramadan people are more sensitive and even woman will walk up to you and try to get you to cover your hair. Rather cover your hair when in local shops, walking the streets at night and in market areas where most locals shop, like Bata or Clocktower.
Take note that a exposed lower leg can be taken as "seductive" and a Mutawa or Religious Police accompanied by a Policeman can have you locked up. Something to be avoided at all cost.

Men are supposed to wear long pants and arms preferably longsleeve shirts, not too tights or revealing clothes in general (skinny jeans are out) and may even don Arab dress if comfortable with that. If shortsleeve shirts are worn, make sure the sleeves are longer and even better over the elbows. Bare skin offends staunch Muslims.

Eating and drinking are forbidden by law from sun-up to sun-set by law. Adhere to this as it is not only a jail-able offense it also offends the people terribly! Exceptions are sick people, children and pregnant or lactating woman and diabetics. If you are desperate buy something at foodstore and drink in the toilet behind a locked door or at home. Most working westerners will out of respect for the customs of the country also fast during working hours. Some companies have a room or kitchen where westerners can have refreshments.
The ban also applies to smoking and chewing gum. Therefore people walk around with special stick used for cleaning teeth and chewing this helps to keep the mouth moist.

Do not if you can help it venture out at night. The traffic is horrible - it looks as if every person in the city is out and about. Young boys from age 16 and younger speeds around in big Suburbans, cutting in front of other cars, changing lanes at will without indicating and grown men drive around in this chaos feeding a baby with a bottle!! Driving here is always fast and bumper to bumper and twice as bad Ramadaan evenings. The Malls are packed, parking impossible to find and just as impossible to get out of a parking lot once you entered! All restaurants are packed and most only opens after 9pm. Shops are open untill 1 or 2 am and the general public goes to bed around 3am.

So that is Ramadaan If anyone interested in more info from female point of view! I have time....


I can only say that all of us come from different culture and we cannot expect our culture to be a universal culture.

Every culture has it's own cons and prons.

Aan Boskind ek neem aan jy is 'n Suid Afrikaner Een van die 1ste dinge wat jy moet doen as in Saudie is om jou en familie se besonderhede by die SA ambassade in te gee - hulle sit dit op databasis waaraan ons werk sodat almal bewus kan wees van funksies en as daar enige "insidente" is waarvan ons moet weet. En ja daar is 'n groot "kerk" aan die gang wat almal kan bywoon!

nomads..baie baie dankie. is daar 'kerk' in die ander dorpe ook..ek het paar keuses en dink nog oor riyadh. hu is riyadh?

and another question to all who can please help me. the company wants me to go on a business visa and then change it to workvisa once i'm there but i heard things like people not getting their salaries or getting it late, can't open a bank account..
is it scamy..or the norm.  and will they actually do it at the end or let me stay on on that visa, just letting me go to bahrain evry 3 months?

thnks for all the help


I think first u will go for a visit visa and after sometime they will give you a new visa.

As far as getting salaries is depends upon ya company where you will get a job,,,,,,,can u temme de name of comany

thank you..but is it allowed and they wont 'scam' me?

once im their im in their hands and depndant on them..

Yeah they are your sponsors and are authorize to sent you back or retain you.
Whats the name of company for which you are coming here???

Differences appreciated

and observations from my point of view

We love the desert, have traveled to places in Saudi that most people have never heard off, crossed the Rub Al Khali and slept under beautifull stars. Had a swim in both the Red Sea and Persian Gulf and loved it.

Aan Boskind

Ons het ook eers op besoekers visa gekom en toe na 3mde wat hulle mens basies kans gee om dinge uit te kyk word aansoek gedoen vir verblyfspermit en werks visum

Alles hang af van maatskappy wat jy voor werk - hulle moet ook voldoen aan kwota van hierdie plek se mense voordat daar aan die maatskappy permitte uitgeryk word (soos ons kwota in SA ook werk) soos probeer uitvind spesifiek van mense wat vir daardie maatskappy werk as jy my idee gee kan ek vir jou probeer navrae doen - hier is mense op ons compound wat al 30 jr hier is en ons het ook geen probleme nie maar ek weet van ouens hier wat 3mde nie betaal was nie Daar is egter wette wat jou beskerm so daar is opsies as laaste uitweg Ek wil nie graag my mail besonderhede of tel no hier plaas nie maar ek hoop ek kan help! Ek sal vir jou uitvind oor kerke in ander plekke Watter dorpe? Ons leef goed in Riyadh maar vlg ander SA mense is dit die ergste in terme van vryheid vir die gesin

Well, I wished I could understand your conversations but I can't :P is it german? o_O


your western point of view is excellent and will give everyone a good idea what they should be expecting in Ramadan, but here's a few pointers;

1. non muslims are NOT prohibited from eating or drinking in general, what is prohibited is eating in public. so if your alone in your office or with non muslim colleague, you can just close the door and have water, coffee, tea or goodies you goot from the store down stairs. :D usually back when I was in Carrefour head office, I used to find a whole group of my french colleague in the small kitchen :). so as long as your respectful and don't eat in public, its ok. your not obliged to fast if you don't want to.

2. Men don't need to worry about showing off thier skin ;) heheheh. as long as its not too much of your skin :D
you can wear half sleeves that are above your elbows and stuff, so don't over worry about it, c'mon its summer.
I wear shorts when im casual all the time.

3. the special stick you mentioned is a "miswak" its actually usefull and effective, with many scientific evidence, just for the record. though special stick makes it sound magical hehehe.

over all your explanation was awesome.

hey Boskind,

its the norm, but make sure the first thing you do is sign your contract and keep a copy of it, that will guarantee your rights, eventually they will get you your visa, if its a reputable company that is, plus salary usualy is in cash since you wont have the luxery of a bank account without a valid residence permit "iqama" or maybe they can transfer it to your account back home.

just make sure you signy that contracty ;) and if there messin with ya, you can always tell`em you have a friend with a beard who has a nasty temper :D


Oh yeah,

HAPPY RAMADAN every one :D

To Sourire

I wholeheartedly agree with the upbringing and equality and therefore we find it so difficult to be ourselves here, but once you are out in the desert or enjoying a deserted bit of coastline with the bluest water you forget about the restrictions of life as a woman. And in the compounds we have a fantastic social life and have great friends of all nationalities. The children roam free in the compound and are as safe as can be hoped for. Take care..

Ramadan Mubarak

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