Life in Saudi Arabia: Myths vs. Realities |

Life in Saudi Arabia: Myths vs. Realities

When speaking about Saudi Arabia, many have misconceptions about what the Kingdom is all about...

Posted on

26 September 2016

Last updated on 6 September 2017
Life in Saudi Arabia: Myths vs. Realities

Saudi Arabia is a country full or heritage and culture, and everyone is well aware of that. However, with every country comes a list of misconceptions and myths that speak far from reality. 

Here's a list of the top 5 myths about the glorious Kingdom...

Saudi is Cheap

Although there are plenty of cheap things available in Saudi Arabia, products from legitimate stores like Zara, Forever 21 or H&M can be more expensive than the prices you’re used to back home (despite the conversion rate). This is the reason most expats go on shopping sprees whenever they go home for vacation. Food in particular can also be quite expensive – especially products imported from the United States.

SEE ALSO: 7 things I miss about Saudi Arabia

Saudi is Completely Isolated

This may be the biggest misconception regarding the country. Although it’s often portrayed in Western, mainstream media as a hidden and closed nation, Saudi is very much connected to the rest of the world. There is in fact Internet (including WIFI at Starbucks), TV channels (even MTV), books, restaurants, stores, etc. You can also travel throughout the country, and even hop on flights to dozens of other nations across the world at major airports. 

Saudi is Very Conservative

This is tricky, because Saudi Arabia is conservative but this differs in degree depending on context and even location. It is widely known within the country that certain cities, like Jeddah and Dhahran, are less conservative than cities such as Riyadh. For example, when in Riyadh it’s advised that women not only wear the abaaya, but also a headscarf (or at least have one thrown across their shoulders ‘just in case’) while in Jeddah there’s no need to.

Saudi Riyals

Everyone in Saudi is Very Wealthy

There is a perception that all Saudis (as well as all expats) are extremely wealthy, however there is a high level of inequality in the country.

An economist at the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals stated in 2016¹, “I reckon that 35% of the population has to get by with much less than $533 (per month). They are poor.” There are poorer areas located near and within all of the major cities, as well as in the “neglected provinces” such as Asir, Jizan and Najran. Part of the problem comes from unemployment, which is estimated² to be as high as 27-29% and 33-38% among youth.

SEE ALSO: Saudi Arabia code of conduct

The Only Expatriates in Saudi are Westerners

The demographics of expatriates living in the Kingdom are actually very diverse. Although the government doesn’t release official numbers regarding the breakdown of nationalities living in the country, a 2014 study³ estimates (based on remittance data) that a majority of foreign workers living in Saudi are Indian, Egyptian and Pakistani. There are an estimated 100,000 Western expats living in the country, compared to the millions of non-Western expats. 

Sources: 1/2/3

Victoria H contributor expatwomanAbout the Author

Victoria is a trained historian and political scientist, as well as an aspiring writer and photographer. She holds a masters degree in Global Affairs from the University of Toronto, and currently works as a Content Coordinator with MaRS Discovery District. As a third-culture-kid who grew up in Saudi Arabia, she hopes to use her academic background to educate people about the world through creative means. Her blog Safar, features the stories of TCKs and expats, as well as commentary on travel, politics and culture.