Are There Limitations on Expat Women in Saudi Arabia?


Other than the obvious, inability to drive, are there really insurmountable limitations placed on expat women in Saudi Arabia?  Let’s take for example the woman who chooses to come to Saudi Arabia for employment.  She has not come as a dependent spouse or is the wife of a Saudi.  Correct me if I am wrong, but other than driving, I believe her status would be exactly the same as that of a male expat who has come to Saudi Arabia for employment.  Both will have a sponsor and perhaps require the permission of the sponsor to go outside of the Kingdom or perhaps to even travel throughout Saudi Arabia.  The woman, if going out to eat, would need to go to the women only or family sections but on the other hand the man would have to go to the men’s or ‘single’s’ section so it is not as if that is a big difference.  An expat woman may actually have more choices and activities available for social outreach outside of the place of employment.  Basically a woman needs to network to build up her support and social network and then will be aware of a variety of social activities in which she can participate.

I think it may take a little longer for an expat woman to get settled in than the man since it is after all a man’s domain in Saudi Arabia.  It may take more time to acquire a mobile phone or get an internet connection in the home or get satellite tv installed.  And whether a male or female, not knowing the Arabic language can cause limitations.  For expats, the environment in which they spend most of their time usually does not require a strong knowledge of Arabic but it goes without saying ones abilities are enhanced by knowing the host language.

In my own personal view I think the biggest limitations on expat women in Saudi Arabia are perhaps for those women who are dependent spouses and live in a rental house in a residential area or even on a compound.  The one who lives in a rental house in a residential area may feel the most isolated, particularly if she does not work or have children.  The expat dependent woman on the compound will at least at a minimum have the other residents of the compound with whom she can socialize and the compound will also not only have its own planned activities but usually a shuttle bus which transports residents to various places of interest.

So important factors to acclimate as an expat woman in Saudi Arabia and to minimize the difficulties or limitations is to first prepare oneself in advance of arrival with as much information as possible.  Reach out via forums, newsgroups and social networking to engage in contact and discussions with individuals already in the Kingdom.  Build that social and support network before arrival.  And lastly, keep a positive attitude and turn each challenge into a positive learning experience.


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