Moving to Saudi Arabia: the ultimate checklist

Thinking of relocating to the desert Kingdom? Prepare yourself with our essential checklist for moving to Saudi Arabia.

Moving to Saudi Arabia

By Valentine Marie

Updated 8-1-2024

Relocating to Saudi Arabia can seem like quite a daunting task. Between worrying about the culture shock or language barrier, you might forget some important things like arranging removals or sorting out your pets. Fortunately, this checklist will review everything you need if you’re moving to Saudi Arabia.


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Do your research

Saudi Arabia is very much a conversation starter. Indeed, whether the conversation is about Saudi politics and culture or how its economy impacts the world, you’ll find many people have opinions about this desert Kingdom. That said, when considering a move to Saudi Arabia, you’ll need to dig a little deeper before making your decision. That’s because moving to Saudi Arabia offers some amazing perks and some significant challenges. To maximize the former and minimize the latter, research will be your friend.

pilgrimage crowds in Mecca, Saudi Arabia

One thing to consider is what kind of a budget you’ll have in the Kingdom; do multiple members of the family have a job offer, or just one? How will your income compare to the cost of living? While Saudi Arabia is generally cheaper than Qatar or the UAE, many things that expats take for granted in their home countries – like free, high-quality public school – are not a given here. Something else to consider is your lifestyle. How do you spend your weekends and evenings? Will you be able to continue that in the Kingdom? Do some reading on what it’s really like for expats living in Saudi Arabia. This will help you set realistic expectations and begin to imagine what your own life in the Kingdom might be like.

Saudi law

Importantly, have you read up on the Saudi political system and the law in Saudi Arabia? Will you be comfortable living in a place where alcohol is completely banned? Are you okay with living in a place where pre-marital sex is banned and where same-sex relations are a capital offense? Do you understand that it is illegal to insult or criticize the King and what the consequences are if you do? Whatever your opinions are on these realities, it’s important to consider both your level of comfort – and whether you’ll be able to realistically comply – before choosing to move to Saudi Arabia.

Generally, it’s important that you understand what life is like in the Kingdom so that you can plan accordingly and maximize your chances of a smooth transition. With a little research and organization, your move to the Kingdom can be stress-free and maybe even fun!

Decide where you want to live

Most expats moving to Saudi Arabia are based in the two biggest cities, Riyadh and Jeddah. Because where you live will depend largely on where your job is, you may not have many options when it comes to choosing a city. So be sure to take that into account when applying for jobs. Riyadh is the capital city and is located in the desert, in the geographic center of the country. It is generally considered more conservative and, even though expats have some flexibility within their compounds, these norms are still a reality. Jeddah is a coastal city and is considered more relaxed. However, don’t forget that it is still very much a Saudi city, and therefore conservative by foreign standards.

exteriors of old Arabic homes in Jeddah

Find a place to live

Housing in Saudi Arabia is cheaper than in its Gulf neighbors; however, there is a shortage in the Western-friendly compounds that many foreigners prefer to live in. In these compounds, you’ll find more freedom and like-minded people, as well as pools, tennis courts, and many other amenities. In many ways, compound living can feel a lot like living in your home country as there are no limiting dress codes or explicit gender expectations.

Compounds, however, can be expensive. So, when negotiating your job offer, make sure that housing is included because finding housing on your own is so challenging. For more information about renting, check out our article on renting in Saudi Arabia; and, if you’re in the market to buy, read our article on mortgages in Saudi Arabia.

Arrange your visa

The good news is that your visa is the responsibility of your employer, and this will need to be handled by them long before you arrive in Saudi Arabia. Once you have signed your written work contract, your employer will begin the process of requesting a work visa, which will allow you to enter the country. Then, once you’re in the Kingdom, your employer will apply for a residence permit for you within 90 days. The process of applying on your behalf is a lengthy, bureaucratic one that spans weeks and months, but your employer will do the brunt of the work; they will also keep you updated on what’s required of you and how to complete the tasks.

Transport your belongings

A few months before your moving date, you should decide whether and how you would like to transport your belongings to Saudi Arabia. The best relocation option for you will largely depend on your circumstances, such as where you’re moving from and how long you expect to stay. Some people prefer to travel with what they can carry on an airplane, particularly if they aren’t staying long or moving alone. Others, especially families and those expecting a longer stay in the Kingdom might choose to bring some of their larger belongings and will therefore need to ship their belongings.

A Saudia Airlines jet

Be aware that some compound villas come furnished, so make sure you check about yours before making this decision. Your transportation options are sea freight and air freight and the latter is the more expensive (and faster) than the two. International relocation platforms include:

For more information, read our article on removals to Saudi Arabia.

Move your pet

If you’ve got any four-legged friends, you won’t want to move abroad without the furry members of the family. However, moving pets to Saudi Arabia can be a difficult process, especially for dogs. For most pets, you’ll need a veterinary health certificate, proof of vaccination and microchip, and an import permit. Dogs imported to the Kingdom must be ‘working dogs’ that serve as hunting, guard, or seeing-eye dogs. Unfortunately, dogs that are simply family members are not allowed to be transported into the Kingdom, which means you may need to reassess your relocation plans.

cat lazing in the sun in front of mosque in Saudi Arabia

This negative attitude towards canines stems from the idea of dogs being impure in Islam. As Saudi Arabia practices a strict form of Islam, this informs their policies towards dogs. In fact, certain breeds of dog, such as Rottweilers and Pit Bulls, are not allowed in the Kingdom under any circumstance. Many other animals, including rabbits, birds, and reptiles, are also simply not allowed in. If you’re looking for information and support with any potential pet relocation to Saudi Arabia, be sure to speak to your relocation company who will be best placed to help with your situation.

Sort out your health insurance

When relocating yourself and your family abroad, ensuring access to all the medical care and attention you need is an important part of the moving process. This is particularly true when moving to a country like Saudi Arabia, which may have a significantly different system to the one you are accustomed to. Before you move, be sure to do your research into the local health system to avoid any unforeseen surprises. You should also talk to your family doctor at home regarding any medications you may be using.

Woman visiting a doctor in Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia, employers are required to provide health insurance to their employees. However, it’s important that you understand what your individual policy covers and what you’re responsible for. If your insurance doesn’t meet all your needs, you can always get top-up insurance for your peace of mind. There are a number of international health insurance companies operating in Saudi Arabia, including APRIL International.

Start looking for a job

If an existing job offer is not your main reason to relocate to Saudi Arabia, you will need to find work in the Kingdom to facilitate your move. This is because you cannot enter Saudi Arabia and then seek work. Instead, you’ll need a work contract before arriving in order to get a visa.

man smiling with camel

If you’re looking for work, there are many fields in Saudi Arabia, such as the oil and education sectors, that are always looking for new employees. Do some research to see how your skill set matches the roles available. Once you’ve found a job, also be sure to look into the company and the benefits it provides. If you’re looking for recruitment direction, check out the job search listings in our directory.

Look into childcare and schooling options

If you’re moving to Saudi Arabia with kids, their needs will be at the forefront of your thoughts. To ensure you are well-informed of your options, make sure you do your research into the education system in Saudi Arabia well ahead of time. This will avoid any unexpected issues surrounding your child’s education.

group of schoolchildren in Saudi Arabia

Before you and your family arrive, it would be wise to arrange your children’s schooling; this is because many international schools have very long waitlists. In fact, as soon as you know you’re moving to the Kingdom, you should start contacting schools. For more information, read our guides to primary schools and secondary schools in Saudi Arabia.

Sort out your finances

Wherever you’re heading, when moving abroad it’s important to have a good idea of your financial situation throughout the process. After all, even when relocating with all the best intentions of keeping costs down wherever possible, you’ll soon be surprised by just how quickly your money goes. Indeed, there always seem to be additional payments and costs that even the most well-planned move doesn’t account for.

man feeding pigeons on street in Saudi Arabia

To ensure that you keep costs to a minimum when transferring funds across borders, you may want to use an online money transfer platform. These platforms can be a great way to avoid bank charges while moving money across to Saudi Arabia while helping tide you over until that all-important first paycheck. Some of the leading money transfer services include:

For more information, read our guide to making international money transfers.

Get an international driving permit

Moving to the KSA? You’ll need to know how to get from A to B. Generally speaking, public transportation in Saudi Arabia is not the best. This means that most expats rely on taxis and personal cars to get around their new homes. However, if you plan on driving in Saudi Arabia, consider getting an international driver’s permit in your home country before arrival.

road sign in Saudi Arabia

Having this permit with you will allow you to drive in Saudi Arabia for a limited time after arrival. If you plan on eventually getting a Saudi driver’s license, do your research on what documents you need to exchange your driver’s license. By doing this before departure, you can bring along any necessary documents, like a driver’s license translation, to help speed up the process

Start learning the Arabic language

Though there are expats aplenty in Saudi Arabia, knowing a few words will definitely add some richness to your life. Consider trying to pick up a few important words and phrases in Arabic before you move to Saudi Arabia. This can make the world of difference when arriving in your new home.

young man learning online at his computer

One way to get started is to take a class or get a tutor in your city; or, if you’d prefer an online option, consider sites like Learn Arabic Online or duolingo. You might not emerge fluent, but at least you’ll have some basics upon arrival. And, if nothing else, this will make you a better haggler in the souk!

Delve into Saudi culture

Once you’ve done all the hard stuff, carve out time to get to know Saudi people and culture. After all, this will be your home for a little while, so it’s a good idea to indulge a little. To start, try finding a Saudi restaurant in your city, to sample local cuisine. If there are no Saudi restaurants where you live, try cooking Saudi Arabia’s national dish in your own home. If you want a visual taste of the country, try watching some of the most highly rated Saudi movies and seeing your new home on the big screen.