From rent and groceries, to transport and education, we provide an overview of the cost of living in Saudi Arabia for expats looking to live and work there.
While not an obvious choice for expats looking to further their careers in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia makes an interesting proposition for the money-minded. The cost of living in Saudi Arabia is usually lower than in the west. Furthermore, salaries are high and there is no personal income tax. With few chances for socializing, you will also save plenty of money, very quickly.
This helpful guide covers the following topics:
- The general cost of living and standards of living in Saudi Arabia
- Wages and salary in Saudi Arabia
- Housing costs in Saudi Arabia
- Cost of domestic bills in Saudi Arabia
- Healthcare costs in Saudi Arabia
- Childcare costs in Saudi Arabia
- Study costs in Saudi Arabia
- Cost of food and drink in Saudi Arabia
- Transport costs in Saudi Arabia
- Clothing in Saudi Arabia
- Leisure activities in Saudi Arabia
- Taxation and social security in Saudi Arabia
- Assistance with living costs in Saudi Arabia
- Useful resources
The general cost of living and standards of living in Saudi Arabia
While certain things are cheap in Saudi Arabia, others only cost a little less than what you would find in western Europe. Numbeo estimates that you would need around SAR 10,200 per month for a family of four (excluding rent). Compared to other gulf states, living in the capital is 35% cheaper than living in Dubai, and 38% cheaper than living in Doha.
While a generally lower cost of living and high salaries would seem to indicate a good standard of living, other factors can be a problem. According to the HSBC Expat Explorer Survey, Saudi Arabia ranks 43rd out of 46 popular expat destinations for quality of living. Most significantly, pollution, climate, and a lack of freedom and tolerance are concerns that greatly lower the quality of life in Saudi Arabia.
Wages and salary in Saudi Arabia
On average, salaries in Saudi Arabia are less than what you would find in Qatar and the UAE but comparable with the UK. In the capital, Riyadh, the average salary is SAR 277,500 per year, while in Dammam it is SAR 261,700 and SAR 243,400 in Jeddah. Outside these cities, however, salaries decrease significantly. While Medina’s average salary approximately SAR 243,600, the median salary is much lower, at around SAR 63,800. In Tabuk, the mean salary is about SAR 165,600.
In recent years, minimum wage laws have been introduced in Saudi Arabia. Different rates apply to the public and private sectors, as well as Saudis and foreigners. Saudi nationals must receive SAR 4,000 per month, while the Saudi Labor Ministry has considered setting the minimum wage for expats at SAR 2,500.
Housing costs in Saudi Arabia
Rental costs in Saudi Arabia
Most people in Saudi Arabia live in apartments or villas, and the cost of these can vary significantly in different places. Most foreigners in Saudi Arabia live in rentals in expat compounds that are located in high-end areas of Riyadh. Two-bedroom flats in this sort of location begin at around SAR 6,000, while three-bedroom apartments can go up to SAR 16,000.
Outside these compounds, a 200-square-meter flat can be rented for around SAR 2000/month, however, in other cities costs can drop. In the suburbs and rural areas, rental prices in Saudi Arabia drop even more, and you can find a three-bedroom apartment for between SAR 2,500 and SAR 3,500.
Property prices in Saudi Arabia
Until recently, Saudi Arabia prohibited non-nationals from purchasing property, so all expats were limited to renting. However, laws have recently been relaxed to allow foreigners to buy property for business or residency. For reference, apartments are usually sold for an average of SAR 4,700 per square meter in the city center and around SAR 3,300 per square meter outside.
Cost of domestic bills in Saudi Arabia
Utility bills in Saudi Arabia
In Saudi Arabia, you can expect to pay around of SAR 365/month for household utilities, including electricity, water, and gas – however, this can skyrocket in the summer when you will want to have the air-con on at all times. You can expect your utility bills to be less than what they would be at home, especially if you are from somewhere like the UK or Europe.
Telecommunications in Saudi Arabia
Telecommunications in Saudi Arabia are significantly more expensive than in the UK, Europe, or the US; you will get a much smaller range of options, too. You can expect to pay nearly triple the price of what you would in Europe to get a similar service for TV, internet, or mobile services.
Cable TV in Saudi Arabia is available through OSN, which offers two global packages. These global packages are priced at SAR 159 and SAR 352 per month.
Government-run STC (Saudi Telecom Company) is the most extensive and reliable internet and mobile phone service provider in the country; however, it is also the most expensive. Prepaid mobile packages range from SAR 40.25 per month (50 minutes on the same network and 1GB internet), to SAR 276 per month for unlimited calls and 100GB of internet. The company also bundles Fibre/DSL internet with its Jawwy TV service in packages ranging from SAR 11.50 per month to SAR 918.85 per month for WiFi and TV combined packages.
Healthcare costs in Saudi Arabia
All expats in Saudi Arabia are required to have private international health insurance in order to access any medical services in the country. While you are able to visit public hospitals and clinics, wait times can be extensive and the system is complicated.
As a result, most expats end up staying in private healthcare. Other costs, such as those for women’s healthcare, may vary in comparison to your home country.
Childcare costs in Saudi Arabia
All daycare centers and nurseries in Saudi Arabia are private, so you will have to factor in the cost of these if you have young children in the family. The average monthly cost for these can vary greatly: between SAR 500 to SAR 2500. However, companies that employ more than 50 female employees are legally required to provide childcare during office hours.
While they are certainly available, babysitters, nannies, and au pairs are not common for the average expat family in Saudi Arabia. Instead, you will probably find that most people have housemaids and entrust childminding duties to them.
Study costs in Saudi Arabia
The public school system in Saudi Arabia is only available to Muslims, therefore many expats, by default, choose private international schools for their children. Fees can vary wildly depending on what grade your child is and which school they go to. For example, annual fees for a kindergartener at the Al Noor International School will be SAR 11,000, while tuition fees for years 12-13 at the British International School will be more than SAR 103,509 a year. These do not include the cost of uniforms, transports, activities, or other materials. Tuition fees in Saudi Arabia are generally far less than in countries like the UK, the US, or across Europe.
Saudi Arabia also has a range of well-regarded universities offering a range of courses – however, they are particularly known for degrees related to the oil and gas industries, such as engineering. The cost depends on the institution and the course you choose – for example, a Master of Business Administration at the Saudi Electronic University costs SAR 81,000 in total.
Cost of food and drink in Saudi Arabia
Groceries in Saudi Arabia
When it comes to groceries in Saudi Arabia, you can usually expect to pay around the same amount as you would in places like Europe, although individual items can be more or less expensive; especially if they are imported. Below is a list of common groceries items and their prices in Riyadh:
- Milk (l liter) – SAR 6
- 1 loaf of bread – SAR 2
- 1 dozen eggs – SAR 9
- Bananas (1kg) – SAR 6
- Water (1.5 liters) – SAR 2
Restaurants in Saudi Arabia
With inflation rising and the introduction of a new value-added tax, the cost of eating out in Saudi Arabia keeps on increasing. That said, of course, a range of dining options are always available. In Riyadh and other cities, a simple meal in a basic eatery will usually cost around SAR 25. For a fancy meal in a lavish setting in the expat areas, you can expect to pay up to SAR 400 for two people.
Offerings are far more local and basic outside of the cities, and prices reflect that. Dining out is cheaper than in major cities such as London and Paris, but is generally on par with smaller European towns and Southeast Asian cities.
Beer, wine, and spirits in Saudi Arabia
Being a staunchly Islamic country, alcohol is strictly banned in Saudi Arabia; punishments for being in possession of, or selling or buying, alcohol are severe. As a general rule of thumb, you are better off waiting until you are traveling abroad to indulge in a drink or two.
Coffee in Saudi Arabia
There’s nothing quite like sitting down in a nice café and sipping a well-made coffee. And luckily, you can certainly do that in most cities in Saudi Arabia, including Riyadh and Jeddah. The average cappuccino will cost you SAR 14, which is about on par with coffees around the world.
Transport costs in Saudi Arabia
Public transport in Saudi Arabia
Within cities, public transport in Saudi Arabia is usually limited to private cars and taxis. However, the country does have decent inter-city train and bus connections. For the state-run SAPTCO bus network, you can use a rechargeable smart card to pay. This costs SAR 10, while single bus journeys cost SAR 3.
A single train ticket from Riyadh to Dammam will set you back SAR 86.25 for economy class and SAR 149.50 for business class. Although inter-city public transport is available, these are rarely used by expats; they find it far more convenient to hire cars and chauffeurs.
Private transport in Saudi Arabia
Taxis are readily available in Saudi Arabia, and fares are pretty standard across the country. The normal starting tariff is SAR 10, with an extra charge of SAR 5 per kilometer, plus waiting time. Ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Careem are available in major cities like Riyadh – but not at airports – and prices vary based on trip distances and in-the-moment demand.
Private cars are a popular choice for expats, however, it is important to note that while anyone can buy a sedan or hatchback, only families are able to buy SUVs. Many expats choose to buy a brand new car from a dealership to ensure they have all the right paperwork and a reliable car. For reference, a Volkswagen Golf sells for around SAR 75,000. Cars are generally more expensive than in the USA. The upside, though, is that petrol is significantly cheaper in Saudi Arabia. You can expect to pay SAR 2/liter.
Clothing in Saudi Arabia
Like in any other country, you will find high street and designer clothing all over Saudi Arabia. For the high street, prices are about the same as anywhere else. You can expect to spend SAR 205 on a Zara dress, SAR 170 on a pair of Levi’s Jeans, and SAR 350 on a pair of shoes. Designer wear is, of course, pricier, even when compared to Europe.
Leisure activities in Saudi Arabia
Your leisure time in Saudi Arabia won’t be spent the same way as anywhere else. This is purely because of the many restrictions in place, especially for women. While there are theatres and a recently-opened cinema, outings are tricky – gender segregation is the norm, and etiquette is non-existent. That said, if you are willing to brave the experience, you can expect to shell out about SAR 100 per person for the theatre, and half that for the cinema.
Segregated gyms are also available, and there has been a significant increase in gym openings in recent years. Many – such as Curves and NuYu – cater exclusively to women. If you decide to sign up, your contract will probably cost you on average SAR 325 to SAR 600 each month. This is significantly more expensive than most western countries but on par with good gyms in Asia.
Taxation and social security in Saudi Arabia
Like many countries in the region – such as Qatar and the UAE – there is no personal income tax in Saudi Arabia. The government doesn’t mandate pensions; however, many big companies offer some sort of pension plan for expat hires.
Assistance with living costs in Saudi Arabia
While social welfare benefits are available in Saudi Arabia, they are, in the vast majority of cases, only accessible to Saudi nationals. As an expat, you won’t receive any public benefits.