Navigating Culture and Communication in Saudi Arabia

Business discussion in Antara business lounge

There are many advantages to relocating to Saudi Arabia for westerners, there is no denying that. Take the financial benefits, or the high quality of life, exotic locale and luxurious amenities. Or consider that many employers in Saudi Arabia almost always provide benefits employees in the west can’t take as granted, such as health insurance, personal vehicles or even accommodation in luxury compounds catered to westerners such as Antara. Adding all of it up, working in Saudi Arabia really can feel like a professional’s dream destination.  

Antara villa living room

Relocating to Saudi Arabia

But it also goes without saying that many westerners can feel apprehensive in taking that step. Saudi Arabia and the Middle East in general can feel very different to environments expats are accustomed to. However, much of this apprehension is based on misconceptions or even misunderstandings. Having a look into the dos and don’ts of relocating and living in Saudi Arabia will help you see your own personal benefits for taking that step. 

Learning and appreciating the Arabic culture

For starters, while the official language of Saudi Arabia is Arabic, English is so widely used that you will encounter little to no difficulty in communicating in English anywhere in Saudi Arabia, and certainly none in Riyadh. Learning Arabic is also in itself an exciting endeavor if you enjoy learning new things, as it’s a very expressive language that relies a fair amount on body language and mannerisms. Taking up Arabic can also help gain a better grasp of the mannerisms, customs and culture in its purest form. Not to mention that the local population will appreciate your effort in integrating with them linguistically! 

Man drinking coffee in a coffee shop

Making Saudi your home

Language is not the main point of apprehension for westerners, however. Moving to any country can require an adjustment period of learning the ropes of the local culture, and that may feel harder for any unprepared expat when moving to a country with an open, albeit different and conservative culture. However, by keeping a few pointers in mind, you will find yourself feeling at home in no time. 

What you need to know

Starting from the communication options, it’s important to remember that Saudi Arabia is a fully modern country that enjoys all the latest breakthroughs in technology and infrastructure you might expect. Equally important to remember, is that not all the options we may be familiar with will be available because of some vital cultural differences. 
Saudi communication culture, for example, can simultaneously be less direct as to not cause offense, but at the same time feel much more open once you are immersed in it. Personal relationships and values such as kindness and compassion are key in Saudi culture and getting comfortable with your colleagues (and especially fellow expat colleagues) will not only help you integrate in your professional environment fast and efficiently, but can also result in close, lasting teams and friendships.  
An example of that implied effort to avoid offense, is the realization that Saudi Arabia has a different religious and spiritual culture to western countries. As a Muslim country, Saudi Arabia can sometimes feel more conservative than what we can be accustomed to, however that is not to say that there is any kind of repression. When it comes to religion, it is understood that it’s a deeply rooted belief for everyone involved, so any open discussion regarding religion is very strongly discouraged, to avoid offending any party involved. At the same time, expats are expected to also adhere by this guideline and avoid causing any offense or insult to the locals. For example, during Ramadan, Saudi’s fast from dawn to dusk, and while expats are not expected to do so as well, they are expected to eat and drink in private, and not in public. In general, people keep to a more restrained demeanor while in public, with no public displays of affection or behavior that would be considered provocative or offensive to the culture. 

Four individuals in a business meeting

Looking forward to a fresh start

Once an expat takes a little time and effort in getting to know, respect and adopt the local culture, as any visitor to a new country does, especially considering its recent and ongoing evolution, they will soon learn to appreciate all the benefits of peacefulness, security, and wholesomeness. 

4 people in Antara complex