I would like to begin this post with my hearty Ramadan greetings to all fellow-expatriates. This post may be useful for newly-arrived expatriates working in Saudi Arabia and also for those who are planning to arrive soon.
Ramadan is a month in Islamic calendar in which Muslims all over the world fast from dawn to dusk. This is considered a holy month by Muslims in which they are required to refrain from eating, smoking or drinking from sunrise to sunset. The dates of Ramadan keep moving by about 10 days each year. The elderly, sick, children, pregnant women, nursing mothers and people who are travelling are exempt from fasting.
For first-timers and new comers, particularly non-Muslims, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Never ever eat or drink in public or in front of your Muslim colleagues / friends. Not only is it severely punishable by law, it also goes without saying that it is morally binding on you not to do so. Most work places have designated separate areas for non-Muslims where you can eat or drink within closed doors and your Muslim colleagues would avoid such places. Make sure you spray some air freshener in the area once you have finished your food, to curb any smell which may emanate. Respect the sentiments of your fasting colleagues and you would get back the same from them.
One of the most dangerous time to drive is about 30 minutes prior to dusk. This is the time when some people drive like crazy and it is quite common to see cars jumping the red light. They somehow want to reach home to be in time to break their fast. Whenever possible, please avoid driving during this time for your own safety.
Expatriates requiring liaisoning work with Government agencies must be prepared for delays. For example, if your iqama gets processed in 30 days during normal times, there would be more delay during Ramadan. So, you should be well-prepared for such delays. I would also advise expatriates to book your flights well in advance, if you are going to travel home, particularly during the last one week of Ramadan. All flights would go packed with travellers going home for Eid holidays. Advance booking would ensure that you get your seats on the flight and also not put a hole in your pocket.
The normal working hours for Muslims is 6 hours and for non-Muslims is 8 hours during Ramadan. You would find that the entire city would come to life at night. Most of the shops open around 8.30 pm and stay open until the wee hours of morning.
The last 10 days of Ramadan is really a sight to see. All supermarkets would be jam packed, people would be shopping excitedly, packing their trolleys with all kinds of stuff as though there would be no food available the next day! But this is again, part of the fun. Road-side eateries would spring up and you shouldn't be surprised to see people offering you fruit juice packets at gasoleine stations just before the sun sets. This is also a great time to get some really cheap stuff in the second hand markets. Most Saudis dispose off almost brand-new items during this time, and you could strike a good bargain. This is particularly applicable for those who are just setting up their families and want to buy some good furniture.
Have a nice time and may this festive season usher in good times for all fellow-expatriates!