Saudi Arabia: Jen Speaks Out on Being an Expat Woman in Riyadh

Jen is a single expatriate woman who has worked for a period of time in the Kingdom has allowed American Bedu to interview her.  In this interview readers will learn what motivated her to accept a job in the Kingdom; how she adapted to the Kingdom; and some of her unique experiences.

Where are you originally from?

 New Zealand

Did you know any Saudis in New Zealand?  Did you know any Saudis before accepting a job in Saudi Arabia?


How many years have you been working in Saudi Arabia now?  Have you always worked in the same city?

I have worked in Riyadh only and have been here 7.5 years.

When did you first arrive to the Kingdom?  What motivated you, as a single woman, to take a job in Saudi Arabia?

I arrived here end of 2003.  As the accommodation here is in compounds, and is geared towards westerners, I felt totally safe coming here as a single woman. The challenge of experiencing a culture, totally different to my own motivated me to come here.  The prospect of being able to explore and vacation in other Middle Eastern countries close by was also an attraction.

How much did you know about Saudi Arabia before accepting a position?  Do you feel you were well prepared for life in the Kingdom?  Why or why not?

 I knew very little about Saudi Arabia before arriving here. I personally haven’t found it too difficult to adjust.  The biggest shock for me was seeing everyone here in their local dress; I wasn’t expecting that.

What were some of the bigger challenges you had to adapt to living in the Kingdom?  What was most different?  What did you miss the most?

The heat of the first summer here was overwhelming – but you adapt.  You can’t try on clothes in the shops, so it can be a bit of a hassle when you have to return items if they don’t fit. I miss not being able to have wine when I go out to dinner.

What have been your best experiences in the Kingdom?  What do you do for entertainment and a social life?

I have enjoyed trips into the desert, have been camel riding and sand duning.  For socializing I usually go to one of the embassies in the Diplomatic Quarter or visit friends at their compounds.

What type of work do you do?  Do you regularly interact with Saudis in your work?  What is it like working with Saudis?

I do administrative work – my position involves a lot of interaction with organizations and people in the Middle East.  I don’t interact with a lot of Saudis but I have found the Saudis that I have encountered to be very polite.

What about your housing?  What kind of accommodations are provided for you?

Fully furnished housing is provided, usually sharing with other westerners (higher grades often are offered single accommodation).  Most compounds have a swimming pool, gym, library, mini-supermarket, carpert shop and other facilities.

Have you had the opportunity to interact socially with Saudis?

Not really.  Saudis are fairly private.  I tend to interact more with Westerners.

I understand that you changed employers.  Was that easy?  How did you get your sponsorship changed?

To change employers, a letter of no objection is required to move to another organization within the Kingdom.  Your new company then takes over sponsorship.

What made you decide to change employers?

After 7 years, it was nice to have a change – new place, new faces.

What are important factors an expatriate needs to know when considering a job in Saudi Arabia?

Life will be vastly different to back home.  You need to be open minded, patient and adaptable as you will be working and interacting with a vast range of nationalities whose ideas and way of doing things will be different to your own.  Remember you cannot change things here, so you have to go with the flow … enjoy each day for its uniqueness.

What are critical items an expatriate must bring?

Most items can be brought here in Riyadh,  I would suggest that you bring any specific vitamins or medications with you as often these items can be out of stock for weeks or months.  Also, bring any favorite skincare or sunbloc with you.

As a single expatriate woman, how do you typically get out and about?

The organization I work for provides buses to various supermarkets and shopping outlets.  When I go out to meet with friends on the weekend, I ring my regular driver.

What are some of your favorite places in and around Riyadh?

I particularly like Old Deira – the original settlement of Riyadh.  The National Museum is a must – very modern and it showcases Saudi life and history throughout the ages.  Allow a good half a day to experience it.  The gold market are great to visit – shops laden with gold, with modern designs from Italy and elsewhere.  As for shopping, one can’t beat Kingdom Mall (Mamlaka) with its designer boutiques and English high street stores.  On the very top floor is Spazio restaurant, where you can enjoy panoramic views of Riyadh.

In closing, is there any final advice or comments you’d like to make?

Come here with an open mind and seize the opportunity to experience and learn from this rich and unique culture.  Try learning some Arabic – it is quite a challenge!

Thanks for sharing with American Bedu and readers!


9 Responses

  1. Thanks for the information. I look forward in coming over to Jeddah! Everything I read is what I have told myself about this awesome opportunity! Keeping an open mind allows for us to see things we would never think of looking at!!! Thanks for sharing!

  2. thanks for this opporunity to know how expats think about our city, and she said nice things , u can tell she mean it from more than 7 years of working in the same city.
    but i was sad that all that time passed without building any humane relashenship by real close contact with saudies, mybe we apresiate privacy.. but also we apresiate our guests and friendships no matter from where is your friend. However, my I suggest private female clubs as good places to get contact with saudies, to help get into the real life in the local society in Riyadh, not only being a guest on its porders for years..

  3. Thanks for sharing this! I enjoyed reading her thoughts on life in Riyadh.

  4. Enjoyed reading this interesting interview.

    Samar, good suggestions, nice of you to share.

  5. I really enjoyed the interview with Jen. I think that the particular job expats have in Saudi plays a part in one’s interactions with native Saudis. For example, Jen said she works in administration and doesn’t have much interaction with Saudis. Expats who teach have a greater opportunity for social interaction with Saudis because that is the make-up of the majority, if not all, of their students. Plus, several of their colleagues will be Saudi too. Both the students and colleagues will often be very open to sharing their culture and even their homes and other occasions (weddings, parties, social outings, etc.) with their expat teacher/colleague.

  6. I enjoy your interviews. It would be nice to see one from an expat woman who doesn’t live in one of the bigger cities, who is a stay home wife and has still chosen to be here.

  7. If such a woman would come forward I’d be delighted to interview her!!

  8. Come here with an open mind and seize the opportunity to experience and learn from this rich and unique culture.


    Most excellent and valuable advice for those fearful, pre-judged minds. Thanks for sharing..

  9. Azad, seriously, YOU seem to be the most prejudiced person here. You are the one that is continually judging people as being ignorant of your religion just because we don’t love it as you do. Can’t you see that in yourself? No one will ever gain any knowledge from you when you throw it at them with insults of having fearful, pre-judged minds.

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