Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Security for Western Expatriates in Saudi Arabia

Probably one of the first thoughts which come to the mind of a potential job-seeker is the security situation in Saudi Arabia. This is one of the common concerns of western expatriates who would like to know the real situation before planning to work in Saudi Arabia :-SS
Rest assured that the ground situation is really not that bad, as one would imagine, though one cannot say that it is 100% safe either. True, there was a period, roughly 3 years ago, when all expatriates and westerners in particular were targetted systematically. :-S The situation then was so bad that there was quite an exodus of sorts by expatriates. However, over a period of time, a large number of terrorists have been either killed or arrested by the security personnel.
Most of the western expats prefer to stay in "camps" or "compounds", as they are known here.

Compounds are a colony of villas occupied only by expatriates. After the last attack on western interests in 2003, these compounds have been provided with very heavy security and it is quite difficult for any outsider to enter these highly fortified areas. Cars entering these compounds are thoroughly checked including the boot and the underside and closed circuit cameras keep a watch on every single person entering or leaving. These compounds, which are usually quite away from the downtown, have very tight security including armed policemen guarding the entrances.

In addition to the security, these compounds have the added advantage of limited "freedom", particularly for the women, in that they need not wear the abaya or the black robe as long as they are inside the four walls of the compound. Western expatriates staying in these compounds enjoy quite a good lifestyle (rather luxurious as compared to staying in downtown), though some would say that it is quite like a golden cage.

Of course, western expatriates have to be alert when going out. Some of the Do's and Don'ts are:

  • Avoid going out alone. You attract attention.
  • Avoid displaying wealth in public places, particularly supermarkets. This need not necessarily be cash, it could also mean travelling in a flashy, brand-new Lexus. Remember, people keep watching you, whether you realize it or not.
  • Avoid going out for jogging / walks outside your compound. If you stay in downtown, try shifting to one of these compounds.
  • Try taking different routes to work every day.

It is not the intention of this blog to scare the would-be expatriate about the security condition in Saudi Arabia, but these tips are just to make him cautious. These tips would probably be applicable anywhere else in the world too. The bottom-line is that the probability of being attacked in Saudi Arabia is more or less the same as that of being mugged late night in a New York subway ;) One need not be unduly worried, though use of common sense and alertness is called for.
Finally, do remember that there are western expatriates in Saudi Arabia, some of them working for over a decade.
Did you like this post? Do feel free to comment on this and also if you would like information on other topics.


Anonymous said...

hi Expatguru, reading advice such as "Try taking different routes to work every day." or "Avoid going out alone." sounds quite scary. So, if I were to always take the same route to work i would run the risk of getting hijacked or something? (me: UK IT professional soon working in Jubail/Dammam for MASCO, but at their client site which is SABIC).

That's the other question: what is the reputation of MASCO as such? I mean in terms of how they treat staff?

Expatguru said...


It was meant just to caution you to be careful, not to scare you. Remember that due to the present political climate, a westerner isn't always welcomed warmly everywhere particularly in this part of the world. There ARE westerners working in the kingdom, but all said and done, it is in your own interest to keep a low profile and take care of yourself. I can't comment on MASCO as I do not have any idea about that company.

Anonymous said...

hi expatguru, I am pradeep... thanks and ur information gave good ideas about working life style in saudi... IT would be great if you could clarify my doubt...
I got a offer to work in oksan arabia ltd, in jubail as mechanical engineer. I am from india. I am bachelor and the company has offered me a bachelor accommodation. How gud and safe be the accommodation provided by the company...

Expatguru said...


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