The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia encompasses the vast majority of the Arabian Peninsula, a land which has enchanted outsiders for centuries. While it’s easy to assume this part of the world is as much an economic desert as it is a natural one, the truth is Saudi Arabia sits on an ocean of oil and therefore operates with a pile of almost endless wealth. The result is enormous amounts of trade happening between the Kingdom and outside countries, including the United States and parts of Europe.
This means it’s not unusual for a westerner to be asked to relocate to Saudi Arabia for work, either for a short-term basis or for the foreseeable future. Many companies are either in the process of establishing a presence in Saudi Arabia or continue to nurture an existing presence. What’s more, the current Saudi government is in the process of initiating major reforms, many of which involve an investment in new technologies and industries imported from the west.
If you’ve been assigned to the Saudi office, been dispatched to establish one, or are being sent to assist in the development of various infrastructure projects throughout the Kingdom, such an opportunity presents tremendous potential for experiencing a world beyond your own. At the same time, this exotic atmosphere includes certain restrictions and codified ways of life which don’t sit well with many westerners.
The simple truth is that adjusting to the conservative society of Saudi Arabia – based heavily on Sunni Islamic tradition – can be difficult for outsiders. Some factors, such as the possibility of having your ZampleBox seized by customs, are relatively minor inconveniences. Others, such as the expectation for women to wear headscarves in public at all times, might be more than a person is willing to handle.
It’s also illegal to demonstrate homosexual behavior in any form anywhere in Saudi Arabia. Those found guilty of violating these laws could face long prison sentences and even the death penalty in some instances.
There are also strict laws regarding the practice of religion. While it’s legal for non-Muslims to practice their faith in private, non-Muslim worship is illegal in public. You should also not attempt to convert anyone to any religion other than Islam.
Drug crimes are dealt with severely in Saudi Arabia. One-third of death sentences carried out by the Saudi Arabian authorities were related to drug trafficking or drug possession. Foreigners are advised to steer clear of narcotics while in Saudi Arabia, and to under no means attempt to bring narcotics into the country.
One last thing – alcohol is strictly forbidden in Saudi Arabia.
Despite what often seems like what living in medieval times must have been like, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is currently in the process of modernizing its culture and society, albeit slowly. For instance, the country recently lifted the ban on female drivers, a rule which had been in place for over 80 years.
As the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” If you’ve agreed to accept work in a foreign country, you’ve agreed to follow their laws and respect their culture while there. It’s what you would expect if the situation were reversed, is it not?