For several decades now, millions of expats, including overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), have been flocking to Saudi Arabia due its thriving oil industry and job opportunities. As foreigners, they have learned to adapt to the Kingdom’s local culture and practices.
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Generally, all Saudis are Muslims, and Islamic principles govern most of their day-to-day lives — in their families, communities, and the workplace. Hence, people coming to Saudi Arabia should make it a point to learn about the local culture as much as they can.
An Expat’s Guide to Living in Saudi Arabia
In this article, we will look into some “do’s and don’ts” in relation to dress code, eating and drinking, social etiquette, and other matters regarding life in Saudi Arabia.
DO… Dress modestly. When going out in public, men should wear long pants or trousers, while women should wear clothes that are knee-length or longer. Women should also cover their hair with a scarf.
DO… Wear proper attire when going to work. For men, this includes suits and ties, and for women, long pants, knee-length skirts or dresses would suffice. Long-sleeved tops are also recommended for both genders.
DO… Remove your shoes when entering a mosque or a Saudi’s house.
DON’T… Wear tight-fitting clothes.
DON’T… Wear clothes that reveal too much skin.
(For related guidelines, check out our previous article on How to Dress in Saudi Arabia.)
Eating & Drinking:
DO… Wash your hands before and after meals.
DO… Eat with your right hand (not your left) when eating as a guest in a Saudi’s house.
DO… Try to eat a bit of every dish that is served.
DON’T… Bring alcohol or pork when traveling to Saudi Arabia.
DON’T… Consume alcohol or pork, especially when you’re out in public.
DON’T… Eat, drink, smoke, or chew gum in public during the Holy Month of Ramadan — out of respect for Muslims who fast from dawn to dusk during this period.
DO… Learn some Arabic greetings and phrases. Although English is widely used, Arabic is the official language of the Kingdom.
DO… Bring a small gift as a token of thanks when invited to a Saudi’s house. You could bring dates, cakes, sweets, or flowers for the hostess.
DO… Be respectful of elders by standing up and greeting them when they enter a room.
DO… Engage in small talk and conversation when visiting a Saudi’s house.
DON’T… Point with your finger; use your entire hand to gesture instead.
DON’T… Shake hands upon greeting, unless the other person offers his or her hand first. This is particularly important when meeting persons of the opposite gender.
DON’T… Engage in public displays of affection (PDA), even if the other person is your spouse! Saudi Arabia is very conservative when it comes to male-female relationships. The occasional holding of hands is okay — as long as its between married couples!
DO… Take note of the local business hours and schedule. Friday is a holy day for Muslims, so offices are closed on this day. Muslims also pray five times a day — something to remember, especially if you have Muslim colleagues.
DO… Be careful of what you post on social media. Offensive language, slander, and negative talk could get you into serious legal trouble.
DON’T… Take pictures of strangers, especially women. To be sure, ask for permission before taking any photographs!
DON’T… Criticize the Saudi flag, the King, or Islam religion. Such offenses will not be taken lightly!
As long as you abide by these rules and laws, you can expect to have a trouble-free stay in the Kingdom. Be respectful, polite, and maintain a positive attitude at all times. Consider your stay as an opportunity to learn and immerse yourself in the unique culture of Saudi Arabia!