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. The average family of four will need at least SR20,000/month to cover basic living expenses.
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. 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 SR260,500 per year; salaries in Dammam and Jeddah are comparative, at SR233,500 in both cities. Outside these cities, however, salaries decrease significantly. Medina’s average salary is approximately SR197,500, while in Tabuk, it is SR161,400.
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. As an expat in the private sector, the minimum wage is set at SR2,500/month.
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 are around SR4,000, while three-bedroom apartments can go up to SR12,000.
Outside these compounds, a 900-square-foot flat can be rented for around SR3,000/month, however, in other cities costs can drop to around SR1,500. In the suburbs and rural areas, rental prices drop even more, and you can find a three-bedroom apartment for between SR2,500 and SR3,000. A furnished two-bedroom villa can be found for some SR6,000.
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 between SR3,000 and SR7,000/square meter in the city center, or between SR1,800 and SR5,000/square meter outside.
Cost of domestic bills in Saudi Arabia
Utility bills in Saudi Arabia
In Saudi Arabia, you can expect to pay a minimum of SR350/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 ONS, which offers two global packages, and three more under a Philippines-specific label. The global packages are priced at SR159 and SR352 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. 5G Quicknet services are available in a range of packages ranging from SAR110 (for 10GB) to SR350/month (unlimited), depending on how much you need. The company also bundles Fibre/DSL internet with its Jawwy TV service in packages ranging from SR250 to SR999/month with unlimited data allowances.
Mobile phone plans are also available through STC; these range from a bare-bones internet and calls package of SR70, to a full-service unlimited internet and calls, roaming, and Jawwy TV plan for SR800.
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. A regular doctor’s appointment at a private clinic costs around SR180, which is very reasonable compared to private healthcare in other countries.
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. You can expect to pay between SR10,000 and SR50,000/year, 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 most expats will, 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 SR11,000, while tuition fees for a 12th grader at the British International School will be more than SR90,000 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. On average, university tuition fees are around SR30,000 to SR50,000 per semester.
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) – SR5
- 1 loaf of bread – SR3
- 1 dozen eggs – SR8
- Bananas (1kg) – SR5
- Water (1.5 liters) – SR2
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 anywhere between SR20 and SR80. For a fancy meal in a lavish setting in the expat areas, you can expect to pay up to SR300.
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 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 SR12, 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 expect to pay between SR300 and SR400 for a return ticket; this is some 25% cheaper than one-way options.
Train tickets are around SR180 for return journeys. Trains are probably cheaper than what you would find in Europe, however, buses are far more expensive. 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 SR10, with an extra charge of SR10 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 Toyota Camry 2019 sells from SR86,000; a BMW 7 series 2019 from SR550,500; and a Ford Explorer 2019 from SR187,000. 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 SR1.5/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 SR160 on a Zara dress, SR200 on a pair of Levi’s Jeans, and SR350 on a pair of shoes. Designerwear 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 SR100 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 anywhere between SR300 and SR1,500 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. Pensions are also not required by the government; 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 only accessible to Saudi nationals. As an expat, you won’t receive any public benefits.