An Expatriate in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is widely known to be the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad and where Islam originated. As the largest oil exporter in the world, its economy is flourishing, and more expatriates are venturing there for work.

Silas Tan, a Singaporean Chinese, is one such example.

After receiving a job offer from a Saudi Arabian national oil company, he decided to take it up for the opportunity to work in a different country. Silas has been working in Dhahran (located within the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia), a region – that has an abundance of oil fields, since February 2015.

“It has four seasons and it rains here,” he recounted. “I thought it would just be a desert and full of sand.”

A Modern City


The Dharhan Mall is a huge shopping complex, home to many high fashion brands and apparel. Photo credit: Silas Tan

For some, living in another country requires slight adjustments or even lifestyle overhaul. Silas knew that Saudi Arabia spanned a majestic plot of land and had concerns about amenities and domestic travelling. Fortunately for the home cook. Silas stays in a company leased compound, a comfortably furnished double storey town house. Access to the supermarket was only a 10-minute walk away and other amenities were more accessible after obtaining a set of wheels to rove around.

“The residence is at a very convenient location and I even have my own yard,” he remarked.


Silas lives in a comfortable double storey semi-detached house. Photo credit: Silas Tan


Silas exhibits his green thumb by planting sunflowers in the yard outside his home. Photo credit: Silas Tan

“The Saudis are very modern and yet uphold their traditional values dearly,” Silas recalled. “It’s like a bigger version of Singapore. Everything is well maintained.”

Another touch of resemblance to Singapore is the use of the English language. Locals have picked up the language to national language to ease communication with the foreigners there. Arabic, however, is their national language and it would be a good place to polish your Arabic.

Saudis are very family orientated society, with the working hours here from 7am to 4pm, workers here treasure the quality time with their family. During the Ramadan period, working hours are further shortened to six hours a day.


Hot Stone Steaks are available in some of the Saudi Arabian restaurants. Photo credit: Silas Tan

For Silas, each evening after he retires to his compound, he either grabs a bite from the international range of restaurants (Saudi Arabia has fast food chains, Italian, Thai and Korean food), or cooks his own meals while enjoying television programs. “There’s cable TV here, with a lot of overseas channels,” he said. “Even MTV!”

Balance between progress and culture


The Abaya is a usually black robe that all women in Saudi Arabia
have to wear. It is often accompanied with a veil to cover their nose
and mouth. Photo credit:

One may point out that despite its modernity, Saudi Arabia exercises strict Islamic laws which all Saudi Arabians are expected to adhere to.

The nation prays five times a day at Masjids, or mosques. It is important to take note of the prayer times, since shops will close then. “You may be shopping in a stall, but you have to leave once the call for prayer starts,” Silas said.

Some of the laws concern the restrictions for women. Muslim ladies are unable to drive and can only appear in public wearing an Abaya (a robe-like dress) and a veil. Men are also warned against interacting with women. These practices are derived from the sacred law of Islam called Sharia.

While popular Western opinion believes that the restrictions are a form of discrimination against women, Middle-Eastern tradition maintains that these practices respect women through various forms of protection.

Today, Islamic traditions continue to change and develop along with Saudi Arabia’s economic expansion. For example, women are recently allowed to vote and run in elections, which is a sign of progress towards their integration in the public Saudi life.

The Saudi youths are able to appreciate the 21st century trends without affecting their religious faith. “They have a modernized version of their own culture,” Silas explained. “Some of the teenagers dress in Western clothes. They surf the internet, listen to Western music and keep up to date with world news just like Singaporean kids.”

Gazing at the Amazing

There are plenty of things that Saudi Arabia has to offer for the adventurous. Desert camping, for one, is something nobody would want to miss. If you think the desert has nothing to offer, wait until nightfall when the stars dot the inky skies.   The twinkling night sky—rarely seen in an urban area—is popular star-gazing spot around the world.  Silas gleefully awaits his camping experience in winter, when the temperature falls to about eight degree Celsius.


The Saudi Arabian deserts are a sight to behold for avid stargazers. Photo credit:

So remember, if you ever get an email offering you an expatriate’s job in Saudi Arabia, think twice before you turn it down!