Saudi Arabia: More on Relationships between Westerners and Saudis

When a westerner and a Saudi are married life is never the same!  Before the couple travel to Saudi Arabia together their marriage should have been already approved by the government.  It is not that a Saudi MUST have his government’s permission to marry who he wants but government approval of the marriage is required in order to live legally as husband and wife in the Kingdom.

Some couples who have married outside of Saudi and do not yet have approval may choose to travel to Saudi anyway.  The spouse of the Saudi may travel on an umrah visa.  While the umrah visa (which is valid for one month) does bring the spouse into the Kingdom, the couple are taking a great risk since unrelated men and women are not to be mingling let alone living together.  The government would not view a Western marriage contract as valid.

For the couple whose marriage is recognized, the Saudi husband is the official sponsor of the wife.  His name will be cited as the official sponsor on her iqama (residence permit) and the iqama will further identify her as the wife of the Saudi.  If the woman eventually obtains Saudi nationality, she will no longer require an iqama and instead she will be identified as the wife of a Saudi on his identity papers.

It can be confusing.  For example, whenever my husband and I were entering a compound in Riyadh which had Saudi security forces, we were always asked to provide identification of our relationship.  Now my husband’s vehicle also had an official Ministry of Foreign Affairs sticker so after proving our relationship, he was often asked by the security forces how he managed to get permission to marry a Westener!  This was always asked in a respectful and oftentimes  envious tone.

Much lesser seen but not altogether impossible is the Western man who has married a Saudi woman. However I do not know of any cases where the Western man is not a Muslim.  The couple could certainly not live in Saudi together if that were the case.

The Western/Saudi couples become a club of sorts no matter which city they live in.  The couples seem to gravitate together and share experiences of getting their marriage approved to what are the challenges of being a bi-culture couple in the Kingdom.  The challenges may or may not increase as a couple have children.

The bi-cultural couples probably see and understand more of Saudi than many expatriates or perhaps even some Saudis.  The couple has their Saudi life and extended families; they have the other couples with their similar circumstances; and they usually have an active life with other expatriates too.

As such, I think the bi-cultural couple in Saudi is uniquely positioned to be a bridge builder and address misperceptions and misunderstandings between the two cultures.

20 Responses

  1. Carol,

    I totally agree with you with regard to the bridging of cultures. Like you, I speak from my own personal experience of being married to my lovely Saudi wife.

    In terms of challenges, they do exist:

    1. In the case of a non-Saudi Westerner marrying a Saudi lady, there nees to be an understanding that both cultures are important when it comes to children. The husband does not make his culture and traditions secondary to his wife’s and vice-versa. Being bi-lingual is a tremendous advantage to any child. English and Arabic = 2 official UN languages.
    2. Nationality …ummmmm the real problem area! Before entering in a mixed nationality marriage, the Saudi wife needs to be aware that it does have implications. (Saudi husbands need not worry here!) Of course my kids will automatically take my British nationality as Saudi nationality is not passed on through the mother. Even some Western countries have this rule. Having a Saudi mother entitles to them to free primary/middle/high school/university education and free Gov health care. However, they would not be entitled to a scholarship, nor work in a Government job as they are not Saudi. The ‘NOT Saudi’ is very clearly and loudly emphasised and is something that the kids of non-Saudi fathers have to get used to! Even, let’s say, after 100 years of living in KSA, my kids and grand kids etc, unless they obtain Saudi nationality, will ALWAYS be foreigners; even if they never set foot in the UK! Most countries do not have a problem naturalisation after a certain number of years, but here there are people whose grandparents and great grandparents came to KSA and STILL do not have nationality! Each country has its own policies and it’s not up to me to change it. Not all Western countries allow dual nationality. Germany, for example, does not. My mother’s country, Malta, only recently allowed the children of Maltese mothers and non-Maltese fathers to obtain Citizenship…. Ireland, where my dad is from, on the other hand automatically considers you to be an Irish citizen as long as one of your parents was Irish at the time of your birth. God bless the Irish!

    And here’s another problem – a UK passport does not entitle my children to University education on the same terms as a UK residents as I have no fixed address in the UK and have lived outside the UK since 1997, so by the new paranoid and penny-pinching UK standards, I might as well be from Mars! A university student from Bratislava would pay UK tuition fees, whereas, myself and my offspring would pay the same as Muhammad Al-Enezi on his KSA scholarship! … I once enquired about this issue back in 2006 when I was accepted on a Conference Interpreting MA at Leeds University. I was told that, even if I had an address in the UK, I would have to prove I was entitled to UK citizenship (!), show evidence of how much time was spent in the 3 years prior to study! As I was unable to do this, I was told I would be charged 11,000 pounds, as a foreign student, as opposed to 4,000 that would be paid by a UK/EU resident. Well I’m still here in KSA and my interpretation of that was – We don’t care if you’re a UK citizen, pay up! … I didn’t realise that study in the UK required government-level vetting! The wisdom of New Labour! So the point here is that unless I live and work in the UK, my kids will get diddly-squit educational benefit from their UK passport! …. Having pretty much settled in KSA, having Saudi nationality would ultimately be better for my children… and me!

    I have rambled on! But in short, if dual nationality were allowed, I would want my children to have Saudi nationality. Why make them grow up feeling they are different to other Saudi children? I love living here and realistically do not see myself settling back in the UK. Don’t get me wrong, I love England and it’s part of my identity, but my life/work/family/friends are here…. Inshallah when I land a big TV contract, I’ll get a house in Manchester (the best city in the UK!). UnfortunateIy, many Saudis have a coronary at the though of allowing dual citizenship so if my kids were given the opportunity to choose between UK and Saudi nationality, I would give them Saudi nationality as it will make their lives here easier and at least give them access to a scholarship abroad. Let’s face it, many Saudis have other passports. I am sure many Western non-Saudi wives who get married to Saudis and obtain nationality, keep their original passport on the side…. and I’m sure the relevant authorities are aware, and it’s not a big issue (unofficially).

    UK citizenship AND Saudi citizenship are my kids’ birth right…. (inshallah, when I have kids!).

  2. Excuse my typing errors!

  3. What happens when the two nationalities in your marriage come into conflict? I ask because just recently my Syrian friend had me read an article from his country about an army defector. He was a Sunni Muslim who had been married to an Alawaite woman for 15 years. Yet when the uprising began in Syria, she believed her Alawaite community about the protesters being terrorist thugs whereas the army guy knew that was not the case. His wife urged him to go after those bad people on the streets, yet he defected from military service. At the time of the article’s writing, they were living apart and he was sad about his marriage crumbling.

    My Syrian friend seemed amazed. Fifteen years and two children later and these two could break up over something like this?! It was eye-opening to him as one who previously thought people of various cultures should have little problems marrying each other. Yet here are two Syrians – yes, who have different backgrounds – who didn’t see eye-to-eye on fellow Syrians.

    It did help my Syrian friend better understand why I could look at the US troops with a much more positive outlook than he who sees them all as children of the devil. Background matters quite much for many of us!

  4. There are indeed both Saudis and Westerners married to Saudis who have multiple passports. As Sean stated, it is not viewed as a big deal. A Western wife who takes on Saudi nationality must hand over her Western passport at the time of receiving Saudi nationality but then she would go to her country embassy and apply for a new passport.

    Children are the one who face challenges and that is why it is important to showcase the issue now in the hopes of changing regulations for the future.

    Ironically a western wife who receives nationality can then apply for scholarships yet if a non-Saudi man is married to a Saudi woman the tables are turned.

  5. I have a friend in KSA who married a Saudi 25 years ago and is a Saudi National. She keeps up her American passport and uses it often.

    I think it’s sad when KSA denies an ex-pat the right to bring his wife. Sudan and KSA have a strong relationship yet I know of two families where the husband has been going through hoops for the 4 years he’s been married to bring his wife. She can’t even come to visit because of the ongoing process. Very sad.

    What I object to when travelling to Sudan and KSA is having my “Christian” religion stamped in my passport.

  6. @Wendy – Your religious choice is stamped in your passport as that indicates whether you are able to enter the holy cities of Makkah and Medinah.

  7. Wendy, I understand why KSA might want to stamp your religion but why do you suppose they do it when travelling to Sudan?

  8. I don’t know about bridging cultures, I think saudi has to openup a bit more for that to happen. In our case we barely have any saudi influence since F moved when he was really young. but we did try for a few yrs in saudi , somehow it never stuck 🙂 i wish my kids knew at the min to speak arabic, but they are not very interested in learning. i’m glad they speak atleast my mother tongue and hindi .

    I think it’s easier being bi-cultural in a 3rd neutral country …

  9. May understanding is that they will not let you state “none.” Isn’t this correct or am I wrong on this one?

  10. So Carol, when in Saudi, you didn’t have them stamp your passport under the religion as: MYOB? 🙂

  11. @Kristine – LOL!

  12. @Kristine – LOL!

  13. I wonder if they keep a Spaghetti Monster stamp handy for choice of religion? 😉

  14. Carol, I understand that. Lynn, why it’s stamped in my passport for Sudan is a good question. Leaves one to beg that question doesn’t it??? What does it say about Islamic countries??? 🙂

    Another interesting thing about passports to KSA. My Muslim husband’s passport was stamped ‘not valid for Mecca’ or something like that. Mine was not and of course it was not because as Christian I could not go there. My husband’s was stamped that way because as a foreigner he shouldn’t/couldn’t be allowed to do Umrah without paying special for it. Well, as it was he did do Umrah with relatives who got him through without a passport. What a loving religion it is, eh??? What a grand country. 😦

  15. @Wendy – His passport was stamped with not valid for Makkah because access for Umrah pilgrims is open seasonally, multiple times during the course of the year. They need to manage millions of pilgrims and hence have a system. Part of the system is to have people apply for an Umrah visa during the times when Umrah season is open. The fee is nominal; it has nothing to do with him not allowed into Makkah at that time. It’s more about crowd management.

    Hope it clarifies the matter.

  16. Hi I read this earlier today, please have a look at these info sites.

    ……. writes Future Husbands and Wives of Saudis which has lots of information about marriage to Saudis. Here is the link:


    Look for the writer of the below and assist please –

    Hi everyone! Does anybody have experience in getting Saudi citizenship by being married with Saudi man? I’m married with one and live here for 4 years, as I know they were giving citizenship in 5 years of marriage. But yesterday I heard from my friend that they stopped giving it to “foreign wifes” at all… Is that truth? Does anyone have clear and reliable information on this subject? I would really appreciate your help.

  17. I certainly do understand that. They don’t need to manage KSA Nationals though as they can do Umrah any time they want to. That is what I’m talking about. Perhaps you don’t understand how sad that is. Just to get into KSA on a family Visa is a struggle and then the Visa itself is quite expensive. What a terrible thing it would be then if that person was able to visit Mecca while he was there without additional hassle and expense.\ but no … as a Muslim he is even denied that without more hassle and expense. Fortunately he got to go anyway but no thanks to the system and he basically had to be sorta smuggled in. Just gotta love that!!! I mean it’s not as if there are hoards and hoards of people coming into the country on tourist and/or family Visas is there???

  18. @Wendy – I am surprised his visa said not valid for Makkah since Muslim visitors are encouraged to perform umrah if they are in Saudi!

  19. For me, I do not think I could be in a relationship with someone who was only exposed to one culture. In some ways, I feel like a “Third Culture Kid” ( because the culture of my family is not the “average” or “norm” for the U.S. I had to deal with cultural clashes as early as elementary/primary school without ever leaving the US!

    When in a bi-cultural relationship, it helps to have a group of friends that are familiar with both/all cultures because sometimes they will understand a cultural issue that you don’t, and be able to explain it in a way that you can understand.

    Many times, I find that the more I learn of other cultures, the more I begin to understand and value my own. The the more I travel and learn about other cultures, the more I realize the saying “People are people no matter where you go” is very true!!!

    That said, perhaps the Saudi-Western mix helps those in the relationship realize the importance of both/all cultures. Maybe this is part of the reason why they make an effort to visit more of KSA? Or maybe it is because they are already inclined to travel and take an interest in various cultures and that is part of why and how they chose to be with someone from another culture? I really don’t know…

  20. What really matters is both partners respect the others religion. But not too much 😉
    If some things of a culture are bad, or ridiculos that should be ok. \So it really matters how both people stand to each other. It depends on how strong the characters are. If the relation is most important to each partner, and if the relation is strong and loyal, then no amount of cultural difference can shake it.

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