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Relocating to Saudi Arabia – an expat guide to respecting this incredible country’s customs, cultures and values.

Relocating to Saudi Arabia - an expat guide to respecting this incredible country's customs, cultures and values.

Relocating to a new country can be an exhilarating adventure filled with novel experiences, fresh perspectives, and boundless opportunities for personal and professional growth. Alongside the excitement, however, lie the undeniable challenges of adjusting to a different environment, understanding a new set of social norms, and perhaps most significantly, integrating oneself within a distinct cultural fabric.

For those relocating to Saudi Arabia, the anticipation is especially palpable. As a nation that stands at a crossroads between ancient traditions and rapid modernization, Saudi Arabia offers a unique blend of cultural richness and contemporary living. However, for many expatriates from the West, it’s a journey into a land whose lifestyle, values, and regulations significantly differ from what they are accustomed to. This guide provides essential information to ease your transition and help you thrive in your new home.

Understanding the Culture: The Saudi Essentials

Saudi Arabia is more than just its sprawling deserts and oil reserves. It’s a country with a deep-rooted history, closely-knit communities, and a strong sense of cultural identity. Let’s dive into some crucial aspects that will be indispensable in your day-to-day life in the Kingdom.

Dress Code

  • The Significance: In Saudi Arabia, dress is more than just about clothing; it reflects respect for the country’s religious and cultural beliefs. Local Women traditionally wear ‘Abayas’, a loose black cloak, while men don the ‘Thobe’, a long white robe.

    For women: The Abaya is worn over regular clothes and is often accompanied by a headscarf (Hijab or Shayla). While the black Abaya remains the most common, contemporary designs and colours have begun to emerge, allowing for personal expression without compromising modesty.

    For men: The Thobe represents simplicity and uniformity. Accompanied by a headpiece known as the ‘Ghutra’ or ‘Shemagh’, it’s a staple in a Saudi man’s wardrobe.

  • Tips on Purchase and Wear: For new arrivals, buying at least one Abaya or Thobe upon entering the country is advisable, as it shows respect for the customs. Numerous stores ranging from street-side shops to luxury boutiques, offer a variety of choices. Ensure your chosen attire is comfortable for the desert climate—opt for breathable fabrics. Over time, you might even own multiple to match different occasions.

  • And look – a message from our CEO “whilst its no longer compulsory for expat women to wear an Abaya in public, it a general mark of respect to dress appropriatly in a Muslim Country. A nod to the culture and its inherant values, besides no one wants to see what you had for dinner last night. Cover up and have some respect for the country, It’s people and its values. You will be treated differently – trust me.

Religion

Religion

  • A Brief Overview of Islam: Islam is not just a religion in Saudi Arabia—it’s a way of life. Founded on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad(PBUH), it has over a billion followers globally. The Quran is the central religious text, guiding all aspects of life.

  • The Five Pillars: Fundamental to understanding Islam are the Five Pillars that dictate Muslim practices:

    Shahada: The declaration of faith.Salah: The five daily prayers.Zakat: Almsgiving or charitable donations.Sawm: Fasting during the month of Ramadan.Hajj: The pilgrimage to Mecca is mandatory for those who are physically and financially able.

  • Islam in Daily Saudi Life: The call to prayer (Adhan) echoes five times daily, and businesses close briefly during prayer times. Ramadan is particularly significant, where Muslims fast from dawn until sunset. You won’t be required to participate as an expatriate, but showing respect, such as not eating in public during daylight hours, is essential.

Customs and Etiquette

  • Greetings: A handshake, often prolonged, is the standard form of greeting. It’s accompanied by the Arabic salutation “As-salaam alaykum” (Peace be upon you). However, physical greetings between opposite genders in public settings can be sensitive, so it’s best to wait and see if a hand is extended first.
  • Guest Customs: If invited to a Saudi home, bringing a small gift is customary. It could be anything from chocolates to flowers. Remember always to use your right hand when giving or receiving items. Shoes are typically removed before entering homes. You might be treated with immense generosity as a guest—a hallmark of Saudi hospitality. Engage with gratitude and respect.
  • Gender Interactions: Interactions between unrelated men and women are still restricted and respected in public. Women, in particular, are expected to act modestly and avoid direct eye contact with unfamiliar men. Mixed-gender gatherings occur, but they are usually private affairs. Public places like restaurants often have “family” and “singles” sections. More and more divisions are being removed as Saudi progresses through the years but respecting these divisions if they are in place is crucial.

Navigating a new life in Saudi Arabia may initially seem daunting. Yet, with an understanding of its cultural and religious nuances, the transition can become an enriching experience. As you embark on this journey, carry an open mind, a willingness to learn, and a deep respect for the traditions and values of the Kingdom. By doing so, you will find your place in Saudi Arabia and unlock the treasures of a rich heritage and a vibrant contemporary society.

For cultural guidance, support or advise on moving to Saudi Arabia email [email protected] or WhatsApp +971 558878355

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