What YOU Need to Know About Saudi Students Outside the Kingdom

Probably one of the most frequent and common emails I may receive privately from readers of my blog are about Saudi students. Usually a woman from the host country in which the student is studying has met and become involved with the Saudi student. In many cases the student marries the woman while he is outside of the Kingdom. When it is near time for him to return to the Kingdom he will seek permission and initiate paperwork to return with his new foreign wife…except the majority of the time the permission is denied. The woman will email me asking for advice and information.

What I am going to write in this post may not be what many of these women want to hear but rather what they need to know. Saudi students (male and female) who are studying outside the Kingdom on a government funded scholarship are very clearly advised on the rules and regulations which pertain to their scholarship. When they depart the Kingdom there should be no doubt in their minds on what is or not allowable. On the issue of marriage, Saudi students on government scholarships are prohibited from marrying non-Saudis. Marrying a non-Saudi without the approval of the government can result in the revoking the scholarship and the student unceremoniously returning to the Kingdom.

Many of these young men in these situations do choose to ignore the rules and regulations will likely tell the foreign woman (if she is even aware of the rules) is that “they do not apply to me as I am not a government employee or work for one of the government organizations which prohibits marriage to foreigners.” Or they may so, “don’t worry, I have WASTA or family who will ‘fix it’ for us so we’ll get the approval.”

In many cases the Saudi student may very well have to return to the Kingdom leaving behind his foreign wife and sometimes children as well.

Just to reiterate, Saudi men under the age of 35, Saudi students on government scholarships outside of the Kingdom and Saudi nationals who work for the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defense, Intelligence Services, National Guard and armed services are prohibited from marrying foreigners. Yes; exceptions have and do occur but these are the MINORITY and certainly not a majority.

It pains me to receive the emails from foreign wives who have been left behind. The pain, frustration and sadness in their words come through loud and clear as well as the love they have for their Saudi husband. It bothers me that so few of these Saudi students failed to fully explain (if at all) to their foreign wife about the regulations and restrictions they faced.

So what is my analysis on why I think this is a recurring scenario? I wonder if in part these circumstances are impacted by the cultural beliefs on both sides. The Saudi travels outside of the Kingdom for education and usually to a more open-minded country where there are more freedoms and fewer restrictions on mixing. The women from these countries are accustomed to a culture of dating. A romance develops quickly and passionately between the couple. However with the strong cultural and religious beliefs of the Saudi, he may be more likely to segue to marriage rather than a continuing romance. Naturally the woman is pleased, honored, flattered and believes her dreams have come true. So they do marry. Oftentimes it is an Islamic ceremony and/or a civil ceremony in the courts of the respective country. The Saudi side of the family is probably not present at the wedding. That should also be a BIG CLUE that something may be amiss. Weddings and families are of utmost importance in the Kingdom. A mother, father, brothers, sisters and extended family members take it for granted they will be part of the marriage plans and celebrations.

Does the Saudi student feel any guilt or consciousness by his actions in marrying without the approval? Does he show fear, nervousness or trepidation that he will likely have to leave his wife and maybe children behind? And once he has departed, how regularly does the wife hear from him? How does he continue to support her? Did he even tell the foreign wife that under the customs and culture of the Kingdom and Islam, he should be fully supporting her, providing her with a home, dowry, clothing her, meeting her needs for food, medical care, etc? That she should only work if she chooses to; that it is his duty to care for her?

I’ll close this post with some thoughts for any woman who may find herself in a similar type of situation. Try to learn as much as you can about the Saudi student and his family. What is the status and parameters of his scholarship? If he is on a government sponsored scholarship – be careful! I realize any woman will want to trust the man whom she dreams of marrying but do not rely solely on him to learn about the Kingdom and its customs. And, Saudi men can be very private and are masters at having multiple lives which they can compartment with ease.


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