Saudi Arabia: Torn Between Two Worlds


When a foreign woman marries a Saudi man there is the possibility that she may spend the majority of her married life in Saudi Arabia.  The reasons for settling in Saudi Arabia can vary:

  • The husband may have a good and stable job in the Kingdom.
  • He may be the eldest son and as a result be the present or future patriarch (mahrem)  for the women in his family.
  • He is close to his family and does not wish to live outside of Saudi Arabia.
  • The couple jointly made the decision to settle and spend their life in the Kingdom.
  • It is a good place to settle and raise a family.


Some foreign wives can easily adapt to a long term life in the Kingdom.  This is the wife who embraces the cultures and traditions of Saudi Arabia.  She has likely established herself as part of a loving and caring family.  She has made friends in her community. In some cases her life is made easier with domestic help and possibly a driver.

Ideally the wife is able to make regular trips back to her home country where she can visit her family.  However, depending on location and distance, such trips can be expensive and result in limited visits.

As a result it is not unusual for a foreign wife who continues to have family ties and close friends in her home country to have moments of being torn between two worlds.  She wants to know the events of her family and friends lives as well as share her own.  Yet with distance and time it can be a challenge:

  • If there is not the opportunity for regular travel it can be difficult for her Saudi born children to know her family.
  • People have a natural tendency to get caught up in daily affairs within their own sphere.
  • Family and friends may not be interested about her life in the Kingdom.
  • She can’t be available when there is a family crisis such as an accident or death.
  • Parents and other loved ones become elderly and require additional care.  She is unable to be there for them due to conflicting responsibilities.

A foreign wife who may find herself feeling despondent and homesick should know she is not alone.  She’s encouraged to reach out and share her feelings with other wives who have gone through the cycles of highs and lows.  They can offer support and encouragement.

She should also take advantage of today’s technology to maintain regular contact with family and friends outside of the Kingdom. Internet based services  Skype, Vonage and Magic Jack all work in the Kingdom.  While Skype is software based, equipment would need to be purchased for Vonage and Magic Jack. (Aramex is a reliable method to receive mail and packages from outside of Saudi Arabia.)  Last but not least, the video chat section through gmail works well from within Saudi Arabia too.


38 Responses

  1. I’m on the opposite end where my habibi is in a country other than his own, and in some ways it is also not easy. It’s hard to see the way he misses his family, and as I get to know his family, I miss them, too. As his family starts to feel more and more like my own, it is harder to be away from them. It’s difficult to watch him (and sometimes, it’s hard for me, too) miss out on important family events such as the birth of a close relative (niece, nephew, cousin, etc.), birthdays, religious holiday celebrations, etc. Video chat programs such as google chat, skype, yahoo, facebook, etc. do help some, but there are still days when I know he’s sad because he’s missing his family and there’s nothing I can do to help; it’s tough to be on the other end, too. And sometimes, it’s hard not to feel a little guilty when I know my family is close by. However, on the other hand, having my family and (our) friends close by does seem to help a little when he starts missing his family. While it may not be the same, it helps knowing that there are people who love us and support us close by.

    Just figured I’d give a different perspective where the woman is in her home country and the man is away.

  2. I’m glad you shared, StrangeOne.

  3. I think those yearly trips home are absolutely required – basic sanity check. Inspite of having a very accomodative spouse, my oun place and a nsomewhat OK career. living there was still tough, I can’ tput my finger on why or what it is. I had freedom, and a car and driver and every materialistic thing possible and the complete attention of F who felT VERY VERY GUILTY that he had stuck me in there. yet it felt suffocating, just like a wt on your cheat adn those time calling home was a god send. those days i spent hundereds…but it was worth it to talk to folks back home and laugh about silly things. I made very good friends and we were our support system, sometime you need a circle outside home, especially true in KSA however close you are to your spouse.
    I’d say we both breath easier out of KSA are more ourself and more open with the other and generally happier. so if in KSA do not let go of that support system, don’t limit it to family only and keep in touch with home.

  4. Like Strange One I also have a husband who is far from home. The best we can do is plan a trip every couple of years but financially it’s not always possible. It is very important for people to be able to go home and especially so for those who live in Saudi I think. I do know one wife in Saudi who says she couldn’t survive without being able to leave KSA once or twice a year.

  5. In all honesty, do I not understand why those expat women agreed to live in the country with limited options for fulfilling one’s potential, with hazardous climate, and the country where freedom is a negatively-depicted word that originated in the West and that is a taboo to Arabic vocabulary.
    In my opinion, NO MAN in the whole Universe is worth that sacrifice.

  6. I think it’s good to share the experiences and I know this will also benefit many young women who are presently in relationships with Saudis.

  7. Venetta, have you been there/done that?

  8. AB,
    It’s good to have the time to comment again! I’ve missed ya’ll! 🙂

  9. Good article- but I disagree this is a good place in general to raise a family- though specific circumstances can make it so.

    Venetta- while it isn’t the same as being home, it isn’t as bad as you portray across the board. There are many Saudi’s living lives very similar to those in the west. If you are married to that type of Saudi- with that type of family, your life isn’t as different or limited as you may think.

  10. Sandy – I included a good place to raise a family as I do know a number of bi-cultural Saudi families who did choose to stay in Saudi for that reason. However, I agree with you

  11. @vanetta – it is no different than any other life changes. yes as a woman that is not the place of first choice, but in a relationship there has to be give and take. i”ve lived there and honestly f the situation came up i’d do it again this time with more safeguards in place, and for a limited time. we learn and grow and adapt. different people want different things form life . if say for example family – extended family is the most important factor for your happiness then you’d best go where they are – rights or not.
    I don’t think of my time there as sacrifice, it’s an exploration to see if we could include his side of the family to enrich our lives. as for ‘no man being worth it’ — i disageree , it’s not a question of who is worth what. it is a question of what makes you happiest. living with whom makes you happiet and not for eternity either, at that specific time if being with him in KSA is what makes a woman happy thena she should do it. as long as she can accept that he may not be her happiness in 10 yrs… but she’ll never know without trying and in support of men they give up and move and relocate to please women too. atleast mine did. so it’s not a competition and yes peole can make mistakes. again saudi is not for everyone so i’d say take precautions. enjoy and if you can’t get out.

  12. Radha, you made some valuable points. I am glad living in that country worked out for you. As far as myself: I just think sometimes you do not want to explore places with his potential for danger…I mean, if something can go wrong – it will go wrong (my theory, and it has been working well so far). I do see the whole adventure things and inter-spousal compromises, but again I’d rather have guaranteed peace in my home country than going to SA.
    Thanks to our Lord, there are so many other fantastic places to explore, with less problems. I would be just as happy if I could visit the Maldives or Mauritius or New Zealand…

  13. Venetta, you learn a lot by visiting places you think might be dangerous or scary. I have visited KSA and lived to tell about it and others have chosen to live there and have been happy. It can be a good place to live.

    AB, I think it’s probably a good place to raise kids up until their teens and then I think they should go away for schooling and to learn about life.

  14. sure vanetta, int he end it’s what makes you happy. I was there for a few yrs only, Most of it quite normal. everyday stuff , yes i did have bad experiences, but i also did have good ones and in all made some fab friends and most important gave my husbands side of life a stab 🙂
    you must go to mauritius, it’s beautifu – or tleast it was when we went there.

  15. Wendy:

    You are aware of the sub-standard schooling and the fact that teach Islamic religion without any other aspects of religion or the lack of and write that jews are pigs and non-muslims are sub-human right. You do know that right?

    Are you also aware of what the outlook on women/girls impresses upon children at young ages?

  16. I agree with Bigstick1. Education based on racism and segregation.

    A small town environment in the United States is perhaps the best place to raise children. My friends are doing that and their kids are well-behaved, kind, merciful, respectful, and smart. They are taught love, not hatred. They are taught diversity. Their parents support a poor girl/boy abroad through monthly donations (via church) – and you know what? It does not matter what religion that child belongs to.

    But Muslims in KSA would never support somebody in a 3rd world country. Sadly, the Islam they teach children in Saudi Arabia leads to aggression, hatred, and confusion.

  17. Bigstick, you are annoying with your constant hammering. We all know how special KSA is.

  18. @venetta – there is no ONE right place to raise children BEST 🙂

    everyones needs differ, everyone had different things they consider important in the upbringing of a child. I think that a large family nearby and children raised in addition to parents by many uncles/aunts/grandparents is importnt when they are young. they don’t have to be taught tolerence, they learn it – just by living with a ton of different people 🙂

    having said that it was much better for us to be alone when my kids went into hight school and became low maintainence 🙂

    In all i have to say raising kids in saudi at younger ages is quite good.

  19. Venetta,
    Lol, have you not heard of Zakat? Every year Muslims all over the world including in Saudi donate money to people in poor countries. This is apart from other donations.

    Have you been to Saudi?

    BTW, I, too was raising an orphan from Palestine in Jordan but the school she was going to was closed by US saying that it was a terrorist camp (lol). 5 yr old kids studying alphabets lost their goals to study and be someone in the society. And another relative of mine – his little orphan was killed in Iraq. Both orphans were doing well in school and loved coloring just like any kids their age.

  20. I have never heard people saying “everyone had different things consider important in the upbringing of a child”. Maybe when it comes to little details, but not the big things.

    I think, most parents are looking at the SAME set of values for their children! Those are universal morals I am talking about, such as: kindness, tolerance, the inspiration to do good deeds, respect for older people, respect for animals & Mother Nature (which is rare in Saudi), politeness, law obedience, peace etc etc etc.

    As to family composition: it is possible to have all that here in the US. It is simply a misconception that large families are unique only to Middle Eastern region! A couple of my girlfriends (with 3 kids each) have her parents, aunts, cousins living in the same small town and they are very happy with the situation! And they are not the only ones who are doing that. Overall, I think it’s possible to have anything you want in your life anywhere you want it, and I think the United States of America provides us with all the tools/opportunities we need for a happy, peaceful life. You just have to look for them and sometimes you have to build them yourself. Because nobody will knock on your door and provide happiness. YOU have to initiate the process – no matter where you are in the world.

    Great discussion, I love it!

  21. @Sarah
    I do not need to go to KSA to know the facts, and I really do not want to go there!
    An astronomy teacher has never been to the Moon either, but somehow students tend to believe the facts about it.
    The information (both good and bad facts) about Saudi is easily available, including at the websites of those who currently live there.

  22. Venetta,
    Sorry, it was just a friendly question – did not mean to raise your feathers 🙂

    If you have not been to Saudi, I would like to welcome you and be your personal guide to show you the real KSA and not something you read off the sites (good or bad) 🙂

  23. Thank you but no thanks 🙂

  24. @venetta,

    Yes families are everywhere, but for transplants like us who are mainly from india and partly from saudi, US doesn’t have the families 🙂 yes i agree it’s a fantastic place to raise kids else we wouldn’t be here.
    But i think i prefer the indian brand of joint nosy family 🙂 when kids are little. and yes it has it’s faults and there are many but ..
    Yes parents universally want the same thing for kids but it doesn’t necessarily translate into being the same way to acquire those traits is all I’m saying.

    I don’t think living in a small town with not much exposure is the way to raise my kids, yes it’s safe, gentle and loving but their needs are different and maybe bid bad tokyo is the place to get them , again location should not matter , what is good for a family may be in KSa, US , london or hicksville …

    I may not choose to live in saudi , i consider it a pain if you are a woman but kids are fine there, young ones are loved. again this is my opinion only and that’s what i felt after living there a few yrs.

  25. Hmmm…I think if you were not earning a healthy middle class income and up, KSA is probably not a good place to raise a family. Already there are alot of restrictions on girls and women that most definitely I would want to be somewhere else in order to grow and have the freedom to pursue a career, a place of my own without gender segregation, etc.

    As for raising children in a small town: it doesn’t guarantee children who won’t get bored and get into drugs, drinking, etc. Most definitely I am so glad to have been raised in a Canadian small city with a university /college. That already injects new thought, blood into the local population.

    In Canada or the U.S., it gets boring /tiring to be the rare black, Asian, non-white in small towns. I can attest to that. The Internet only gives the illusion of a global perspective: children have to live a real multicultural life so they don’t become afraid of others who are culturally/racially different from themselves.

  26. very good statement, Jean.

  27. Jean, that was a very good comment and that is why I love Canada so much.
    Venetta, You don’t seem to be very open minded. Sorry but you can’t know a place unless you’ve been there. You can study the moon, know where it is, know what it’s composed of but you can’t know it unless you’ve been there. An open mind would jump at the chance to visit someplace different. I did not hesitate when I had the chance to visit Saudi, not as an expat but as family. There are many things I did not like about the country and there were some things I did. I would go and visit again and I have never regretted visiting any country to learn more about it. Sadly only 10% of Americans hold passports or leave their country. That might be up a bit now because passports are required to visit Canada. I hope more Americans will venture to unknown lands. It’s so important!

  28. I agree with Wendy. There was much that I enjoyed immensely about Saudi Arabia.

  29. Wendy:

    Saudi is special and has a special brand of backwardness right up there with witchcraft trails and inquisition tactics.

    Oh wait, I think this is just a repeat of another backwards country/ideology several centuries ago but then your are an apologist.

  30. Oh,Venetta, forgot to mention that end of Hajj season Muslims all over the world, distribute meat mostly to third world countries; I would really appreciate that you learn more before saying anything. 🙂

    Yesterday I went to a pet shop in Riyadh where I saw the most beautiful dogs and cats. They were all kept very clean. They even had vets who were tending to sick animals. I also saw some saudi teen girls who were walking their dogs in the park. Other girls would come and watch this cute dog and kiss his nose. The dog was enjoying all the attention. Yes I agree there are kids who are not good to animals but you find them everywhere not only in Saudi.

  31. @Sarah:
    But at the end of the Saudi day: dogs are dirty (Quranic view) and women have no significance.
    It’s not me who made this up.
    That is basically how the Saudi society works.
    Also zakat is not practiced by everyone. Islam offers some great ideas, but does it mean Muslims live according to all those ideas? Of course no.
    Every religion has something good to offer. However the followers of the religion – is another story.

  32. Bigstick, I say Saudi is special with tongue in cheek. I wouldn’t want to spoil your hate rants though.

  33. “Sorry but you can’t know a place unless you’ve been there.”

    That doesnt stop many on here from commenting with authority on a place they have never been.

  34. As much as I love the US, I do prefer it when there are 3 or more generations living in the same household, as long as the house is big enough to hold everyone. I think there are a lot of good things that can come from it as long as the head(s) of the household aren’t too overbearing and are accepting of others living a different way. You can find this in the US, too, but it is more rare here than in other countries. Because I place a larger importance on family than most Americans, I can understand why someone may choose to move from the USA to KSA to get to know her husband’s family. If I were placed in that situation, I am not sure what I would choose. Most likely, it would depend on the time frame, why we were planning to move there, what it would mean for any future children, how open and accepting his family was, and whether or not it seemed like the best situation.

  35. StrangeOne .. do you live in a multi-generation household?

  36. @Wendy,
    I don’t currently, but have previously, and it really depends on how well the members of the household get along. There are perks to both scenarios, but my personal preference is for the multi-generation household if it is feasible. I know that there can be a bit more drama and all at times, but I sometimes miss being able to come home and socialize with whoever happens to be there. The other nice thing is that with more people living in the same home, living costs are reduced making it easier to “do what you love” because you don’t have to work simply to pay bills; you can choose work because you enjoy it. This always means everyone has more time for relaxing, if everyone pitches in equally to the household. I miss it sometimes. I’ve only had one roommate scenario that was as good as (or better than) living with family.

  37. I only experience this when I spend a month or so in Sudan with my in-laws. I’m not sure I could do it on a permanent basis because I have lived a relatively long life with lots of privacy and would find it hard to give up forever. 🙂

  38. @Wendy, It took me a long time to learn how to live with a lot of other people in the same home, and about the time I learned to embrace it, I had to move out (ironically). It’s not easy to learn a different culture because it really is a whole other way to look at life, and I’d say that living with multiple generations is a cultural thing.

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