Saudi Arabia: The Pros and Cons of Having a Housemaid

saudi housemaids



Anyone who lives in or has lived in Saudi Arabia will likely strongly promote the case that it is necessary to have a house maid.  I know that I could not have maintained my home properly without the services of a housemaid while I was in the Kingdom.  I’m not a lazy person but the larger size of homes, the culture and the weather conditions are all factors which must be taken into consideration when establishing a life in the Kingdom.

For example, in my case, I worked full time.  In fact I worked two separate jobs (by my choice).  In addition we typically had my step-children staying with house as well as routine visits with family and friends.  Since we lived in Riyadh and the majority of family lived outside of Riyadh, they would stay at our home when visiting.  This is traditional especially when the son (my husband) is the eldest son in the family.  It is viewed as an honor.

Then for those in Riyadh, no matter how well insulated the home may be, trust me, dust and sand manages to find its way into every little nook and crevice.  Dusting and mopping must be done daily if not at times more per day.  Curtains need to be routinely removed and cleaned too due to accumulation of dust.

When these tasks are taken into consideration over an individual’s time and value plus factoring in the regulated wages of a housemaid, it makes it common sense and practicality to engage a full or part time housemaid.

Some may view a housemaid as a type of domestic slave in Saudi Arabia.  Frankly, the role and duties of a housemaid need to be analyzed on an individual basis.  Some housemaids are treated very well in the Kingdom whereas others are not.  Yet all legal housemaids have agreed prior to their arrival in the Kingdom on the salary they would accept.  Most housemaids are also told by the managing agency that they would live their future employer and be expected to work whatever hours set by the employer.  They are not given promises of days off, fun or increases in salary.  Those are facts.

However, what is also a challenge for the employer, whether a good or bad employer, is that many housemaids now come to the Kingdom with a second plan.  Even though a family (Saudi or expatriate) has gone through the official channels and used the service of an agency to acquire a full time housemaid, the new housemaid is simply waiting for the first opportunity to escape.

Few housemaids come to the Kingdom now without some type of network or contacts in place.  In fact, there are some “brokers” who are already in Saudi Arabia and encourage women from their home country to apply for a position as a housemaid so that she can enter Saudi Arabia legally.   But even before she has arrived, the broker has already promised her alternative employment at double or triple her accepted monthly salary.  There is a shortage of housemaids in Saudi Arabia and as a result, there is an active black market full of such brokers.

The broker will provide the housemaid with instructions on how to contact him once she has arrived in Saudi Arabia.  He will then make arrangements for her escape and placement with another family.  Most family’s engaging a housemaid through a local expatriate broker are aware they are hiring someone else’s housemaid but they are so eager to obtain a housemaid and wish to bypass the established procedures even by paying a higher cost.

Just because a housemaid has run away to join the black market of employment is not, however, a guarantee that she would be treated any better.  In some cases, because her salary is increased, a family may expect triple the work from her without any time off.  In this case, she basically has allowed herself to be sold into slave labor.

Housemaids will continue to come to the Kingdom but it is my opinion that a housemaid is better off remaining in the legal channels of employment than taking a chance with black market opportunities.


20 Responses

  1. Given the fact that so many Saudi women aren’t working, they should be able to do without a full time maid. I know that their households are larger and they seem to need a lot of help, but given that maids are usually foreigners, this ends up being a lot of money lost to the country.

  2. I hear and get where you are coming from Jerry but let me tell you…I am not a lazy person nor have I ever been afraid of hard work, but I would have snowballed under trying to keep up my home if I had not had a housemaid. The biggest challenge is the continual dusting…how many women have to mop, dust, vaccuum a 4500 square foot house every day, if not sometimes more than that if there’s a dust storm? That’s in addition to the other standard tasks.

    On Mon, Mar 18, 2013 at 5:53 PM, American Bedu

  3. I am simply not familiar with dust storms (except from history during the dust bowl). The only reason I comment is that Saudi Arabia is spending a vast fortune on foreign labor and much of it is for things that are not productive (ie house work, driving), so it all goes out of the country. Given that oil is finite, this system has to break down at some point. Now if they were hiring Saudis as household workers that would be a little different. If I were a Saudi mechanical engineer, I would spend time figuring out how I could automate some of this even more than it already has been.

  4. My theory is…never live in more house than you can maintain yourself. Arabs in general seem to love building big sprawling houses even when they don’t need one. Then hire house maids to keep it clean. Then again…everything here is for the show. Window dressing is an art form in the Arab world in my experience. It’s all in how it looks to others.

  5. I had an housemaid while i was there, she was part time, cam in the morning and left. I dont like anyone living with us.
    In many asian countries this is common, in india our maid comes in the day and does her stuff na dleaves. of course they dont hire foreign labor for that there.
    in saudi i agree its best to have a maid atleats part time if you can afford it. helps a lot. especially for the both spouses working family.
    they come with their own set of issues but in my entire time there i had only 1 lady and she was fine , came did her work and left and i paid her well and as long as she did her tasks we were both fine. she did get fri off at my place i dont know about the others. i really prefer holidays to be with just family, also we didnt have many guests staying over or family dropping in all the time. my MIL’s and their kids lived in the same city so they usually congregated at their place and pretty much left us alone. 🙂 thank god.

  6. I have an equally convincing theory – nobody ever runs away from something good. If the citizens of the GCC countries really believed that they were paying good salaries to their foreign employees, they would not have maintained a labour system under which your passport is taken away and kept securely locked out of sight. And as if that’s not enough, you also need an exit permit from your employer to board a plane for anywhere, so that your passport is useless even if you have it in your hands.

    Throughout my stay in the Gulf, I often wondered what would have happened if I’d gone to the Human Resources department and said: “My weekend is coming and I need my passport because I want to see Dubai. I’ll be back to work as soon as it’s over.” Do you think they would have given it to me? I don’t think so. They don’t trust any employee, for if they did, they would not have taken anybody’s passport away. What with the very small salaries, salary racism, long working hours and only one day off, they know they are treating you very, very badly, indeed. They know that you know it and they know that you know they know it. In short, they are very knowledgeable people. It is a pity that their knowledge seldom extends beyond.

  7. I understand where you are coming from Reality Check, but I think there are also two sides to every story. I am aware of expats who were in good positions with a decent salary who learned that they just could not handle the different environment of KSA and left their employer in a lurch. KSA is a completely different environment and requires a transition time for many professionals. Yet if they had access to their passport they may have aborted ship before giving it a chance on whether they could adapt.

  8. It’s supposed to be against the law to with hold someone’s passport…so to use the excuse that they may jump ship too early is just that…an excuse. Is breaking the law ok just because you assume your employees may leave you hanging? Not to mention..employers that are breaking the law by withholding passports are never held accountable but those that “runaway” are severely dealt with. Another case of turning a blind eye when it suits authority.

  9. Maids are just like any other women, as long as they satisfy the needs of their masters, is fine with me. And some of them do extra ‘jobs’ if they are asked to. I prefer housemaids from Malaysia!

  10. Bassim, something about your post almost smacks of disrespect for women. What’s up with “as long as they satisfy the needs of their masters” and the quotation marks on either side of “jobs”? You have worded it so ambiguously that one could take it that women (as well as maids) need masters to please. Please explain or I’m going to think it has something to do with the background indicated by your name. Here is someone who doesn’t need a master to please, so you generalization was not well researched before it was written.

  11. @RC,

    Bassim is a troll. His type is usually a “pussy” cat in real life. In the internet he is a “master”. Let him dream a little!!!

  12. MoQ,

    Ha! Thank you for the heads-up!


  13. I think workers should be allowed to leave their bosses in the lurch. It’s up to the bosses to screen carefully so only a small percentage leave. That’s what bosses in the rest of the world have to do. If you make someone work when they want to leave you are holding them in bondage and that is not ok.

  14. I have mixed feelings on your perspective, Sandy. The reason my view is mixed is because I remember seeing new expats arrive when I worked at National Guard Health Affairs. So many of them would arrive without a clue about Saudi Arabia with eyes and focus only on the salary and benefits. Many of them would have taken the first plane out except it was mandatory to remain for a 90 day trial period (unless there were extreme circumstances).

    On Fri, Mar 22, 2013 at 3:51 PM, American Bedu

  15. @AB,

    Agreed, but don’t you think the employer should also have a responsibility to insure the recruiters are informing the new employees about the conditions in Saudi. I know large organizations in Saudi depend on recruiting firms who are interested in filling the positions to earn their commissions. Without some standards issues like you mentioned will happen. If you spent the money and received unqualified employees, then that is simply the cost of doing business and you may also get some of it back from the recruiting firm if you develop good contracts.

    Holding people against their will should not be acceptable under any circumstances.

  16. Such a complex issue. I believe recruiters are not very truthful to either employees & employers which usually leads to a whole lot of misunderstanding. Also, the salaries vary so much. One woman in my compound was told by the recruiter that she would only have to pay her maid 800SAR/month. Of course once the maid arrived & spoke to other live-in & freelance maids she wanted out. It’s beyond me why anyone would want to pay so little money.
    Myself I have a woman who comes in 3 times a week 3 hours/day. I could with 2 or 3 extra hours per week, but I don’t like having someone around for so long.
    Phillipinna maids in my compound have some power as they all know each other & if an employer mistreats one no one will work for them. They also know that most people prefer them to other nationalities. They all talk about salaries & so on. My maid & her friends claim they’d rather work for “Westerners” because they pay better & are less demanding. More power to them!

  17. I advise caution with a Filipina maid and especially if she is “freelance.” I had one who heard that I was looking for a housemaid. She came to me offering to work part time and she proposed a reasonable and fair salary. She did great work but then after the first week she wanted her salary doubled, citing her excellent work! I did give her an increase but not double. Next she started to want advances on her salary but would also not show up on some days claiming to be sick. Ultimately these actions led my husband and I to go through an agency and acquire a full time live in housemaid.

    Our housemaid had her own room with heating, a/c, bath, cable tv and furnishings. The room was off of the family salon and far apart from the other bedrooms which were all upstairs. She had regular hours and a day off. In my case, it worked much better having a full time sponsored housemaid than one who was a part time “freelancer.”

    On Sat, Mar 23, 2013 at 2:02 AM, American Bedu

  18. “Our housemaid had her own…” Sorry but the fact you mention this tells us all that it’s not the norm for all house aids to have such normal everyday things for themselves. Live in house aids should have decent accommodation, an ac is a must there…and whatever she needs to feel comfortable and at home…because she is at home…for the time being. They are not house guests obviously but they are guests in your house. They should be treated as such. Maybe they will respond in kind and not scurry off at the first opportunity, steal things, have affairs with family members (this is not rape of course…which occurs too often), or make such unreasonable demands. Just a thought.

    And by your house I meant anyone that has live ins.

  19. Sadly you are right, Coolred. It is not uncommon for a housemaid to share a room with a child or in some cases, have a cot in the kitchen.

    On Sat, Mar 23, 2013 at 1:38 PM, American Bedu

  20. I am working full time, i have a family, so house made is mandatory……but my children become lazy,depends on her, in every simple things…

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