Introduction to Saudi Arabia
In the latest of our series of blogs on the locations we recruit to, we turn our spotlight on the Gulf: specifically the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. If you are interested in finding out a little bit about what there is to do in this spectacular location, read on.
Saudi Arabia is a country rich with culture, heritage, and natural beauty. Occupying four-fifths of the Arabian peninsula, it is bordered to the northwest by Jordan, to the north by Iraq and Kuwait, to the east by Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, and to the south by Yemen. Boasting beautiful oases, dramatic mountain-tops, pristine beaches and rivers, Saudi Arabia offers a more stunningly diverse landscape than most people imagine.
As one of the wealthiest nations in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia sits on more than 25% of the world’s known oil reserves and is capable of producing more than 10 million barrels per day. The country’s prominent stature is built on its geographic size, its prestige as the birthplace of Islam, and oil reserves. The population is approximately 27 million, of which an estimated 5.6 million are non-nationals. The expatriate community in Saudi Arabia is made up of citizens from around the world: Americans, Canadians, Australians, British, German, Irish, Egyptians, Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, Filipinos, Malaysians, South Africans, and many more!
The working population is distinctly multi-cultural due to the wide variety of job opportunities, competitive salaries and benefits available for people of all nationalities. Most expatriate staff live in private housing complexes (similar to a gated community). Some will have only residential facilities, while others will have pools, fitness centres, tennis courts, salons, and on-site grocery stores. From these, you're free to come and go as you please to work, shop, visit friends who live in other locations, attend cultural events, dine out, and go sightseeing.
Riyadh is the dynamic capital of Saudi Arabia and home to many foreign embassies, which host social events, festivals and concerts throughout the year, in addition to fulfilling their diplomatic duties. Other cities include Jeddah (the Red Sea port) and Dammam, a large city in the east. These cosmopolitan cities all feature cafés, top-notch restaurants and shops galore, from traditional markets through to gleaming shopping centres with all the latest fashions. With its rich heritage and colourful past Saudi Arabia is imbued with tradition and culture, hosting over 600 annual storytelling, dance and dramatic arts festivals every year. Of these, the colourful Janadriyah Festival is the largest, celebrating aspects of Saudi culture such as fine arts, folk dancing, painting, weaving, literature, traditional and modern poetry.
Saudi Arabia has a desert climate. In seaside Jeddah it is warm for most of the year, while Riyadh, which is inland, is hot in summer and has occasional heavy rainstorms through winter. The Rub al Khali, or “Empty Quarter,” seldom receives rain, making Saudi Arabia one of the driest countries in the world.
The ability to take advantage of the rich cultural history that the Kingdom has to offer is one of the main benefits of living in Saudi Arabia. For the tourist interested in religion, few other countries are as rich in historical sites as Saudi Arabia, home to the two holiest sites in Islam: The Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina. Mada'in Saleh is an ancient city of buildings carved into cliffs (similar to Petra in Jordan) that offers a look back in time to the country's pre-Islamic past. Venture out into the deserts beyond Riyadh and the mountains of Abha, the beaches along the coast of the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea are all well worthy of a visit. The deserts in Saudi Arabia are a beautiful expanse of endlessly rippling dunes, the likes of which cannot be seen anywhere else in the world.
There are plenty of sites of interest to enjoy whilst living in Saudi Arabia. In Abqaiq, you can witness a 5000 year-old salt mine still in operation; follow baboons and gazelles in the Asir, a range of coastal mountains with amazing natural vegetation; tour Jeddah’s remarkable Corniche road, which runs alongside the azure waters of the Red Sea; visit the Obhir Creek near Jeddah, which offers amazing watersports facilities including swimming, waterskiing, fishing, snorkelling and sailing. Each year, Riyadh plays host to the King’s Cup, a race that takes place every year during the festival at Janadriyah. The event is one of the world's most important camel races, with something between 20,000 and 30,000 spectators watching 2,000 camels and an army of jockeys pursue a winnings purse worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Almost all items and well-known brands can be found in Saudi Arabia. Malls have an array of familiar restaurants and fast food outlets like Domino’s and Starbucks. In addition to modern malls, you will find every town has a variety of traditional shopping centres and a number of souks (covered markets), offering excellent fresh produce. Haggling for goods is expected, even for goods such as cameras and electrical equipment, and many great bargains are there to be discovered.
Local food is often strongly flavoured and spicy. The most common meats are lamb and chicken, beef is rare and pork is forbidden under Islamic law. The national dish is Kabsa, a dish of rice with meat or chicken served on a huge platter. Traditionally it is served on the floor with everyone sitting around the platter, taking rice and meat with their hands. The experience is offered not only in homes here, but also in traditional restaurants.
Opportunities to get out and about in Saudi Arabia include organised trips to historical sites, sports competitions and other recreational activities. Dinner parties, desert parties, and beach parties are common. There are concerts at embassies and expatriate-operated amateur theatre and musical ensembles. There are endless opportunities to get and stay fit, with organised athletic events, tennis, running, rugby, and football for those feeling energetic! There are also marathons and weekly "Hash Harrier" runs in the desert for those who have the stamina. There are many grass and sand golf courses, such as at the Intercontinental Hotel, and there are a number of clubs that cater to both men and women.