The typical working week in Saudi Arabia is five or six working days and hours range from 40 to a maximum of 48 per week, although this is reduced during Ramadan. With Friday being the Muslim day of rest, the weekend is officially Friday and Saturday, although some private or international businesses and schools take Thursday as a day off instead of Saturday. Working hours can vary immensely, but government offices and banks tend to open early and close early.
Saudi labour law grants a minimum paid leave entitlement of 21 days a year, rising to 30 days a year after five years of service. However, many employers will offer discretionary increases on this minimum, particularly when trying to attract employees from overseas. After two years of service, employees are also entitled to additional paid leave to perform the Hajj pilgrimage.
Apart from Saudi National Day, which always falls on 23rd September, public holidays in Saudi Arabia are taken according to the major festivals of the Islamic calendar. Dates are announced by the government according to lunar observances, and public sector workers generally receive more leave for these festivals than those in the private sector, so ensure you check with your employer before making plans around them.
Public holiday dates
Eid al-Fitr: 26th June - 2nd July*
Saudi National Day: 23rd September
Eid al-Adha: 2nd-5th September*
*Dates may change according to the lunar month
Visas and eligibility to work
Although foreign workers are usually welcomed by businesses in Saudi Arabia, the Interior Ministry imposes strict controls on the movement of foreign nationals and the Saudization policy actively promotes the employment of Saudis over foreigners. All visitors to Saudi Arabia, even those just passing through on connecting flights, require a visa to enter and exit permits to leave. Fines are imposed for even minor infringements so documentation must be vigilantly kept up to date. In some circumstances, business visas or other forms of visa may be available. These are simpler to obtain for short visits to the country and can also cover multiple entries.
It is very rare for foreigners to be granted Saudi citizenship, so many expats work there on a long-term temporary basis. To work in Saudi Arabia, you need a work visa and a residence permit (Iqama). To obtain these, a sponsor (usually your employer) must apply for a work visa on your behalf, so it is vital to find work and agree a contract before moving. Your employer will send you a contract of employment and an authorisation number for you to take to the Saudi Embassy in your home country when you make your visa application. You will also be asked for several other documents including various forms of identification, medical certificates and security clearances. Once you have travelled to Saudi Arabia, your residence permit provides a form of photographic identification and must be carried at all times.
Saudi Arabia is a famously low-tax country, and foreign nationals can live and work in the country paying little or no tax to the government. There is no employment tax and no social security deductions from wages, but those who are self-employed may be taxed on their income. Foreign nationals working in the country should always check the tax relationship between Saudi Arabia and their home country as some may require you to pay tax on foreign income.
Saudi Arabia does not currently have a state pension scheme which is accessible to expats. Most foreign nationals living in the country either choose to continue paying into a state pension fund in their home country or take up a personal pension plan. Some employers will offer access to a pension scheme as part of their employment package, while other expats make their own pension arrangements, with many companies offering schemes to help foreign nationals maximise their low-tax salaries.
The relatively small population and high GDP in Saudi Arabia enable the government to operate a number of welfare schemes without the need to tax workers in the country. However, like pensions, social security in Saudi Arabia is largely restricted to Saudi nationals, so expats will need to pay for any services used. It is compulsory for foreign nationals to have medical insurance. Be aware that the trade unions are illegal in Saudi Arabia.
Historically Saudi Arabia had very little legal provision to protect the rights of disabled workers. Recently there have been new initiatives to end discrimination on the basis of disability, including employer incentive schemes, but their impact is yet to be fully realised. Foreign nationals are not entitled to any kind of disability benefits in Saudi Arabia.