Read Me/Disclaimer

Read Me/Disclaimer: This is a non-political/socio-political blog. It's a running tale of my Saudi Arabian adventure, great, good, bad, and ugly. It is uncensored, and I don't really care what you think of it, read it or don't. I don't care. I did not decide to do this as a means to an end, but rather to document the means with which I occupied my time while waiting for my end... All that being said, I'm an American Expat in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The opportunity to help build this system and the salary that accompanied it were to good to pass up.-Geoff

"The views presented here are just the views of some asshole named Geoff, they are not necessarily the views of my employer, my co-workers, my family or anybody else. First hand knowledge and second hand accounts were used to compile the information. These are not scientific facts and figures. These views are not necessarily supported, endorsed or even appreciated by the KSA the USA or any other country for that matter and the author makes absolutely no claim that they are."**

Sunday, July 8, 2012

I want to come work in Saudi! III


Money in the Kingdom is a little "sketchy".  Unless you work for the Government or Aramco you'll be subject to the following problems.  These ARE NOT isolated events, and THEY WILL happen to you, so if this is where you want to come for work, be a good scout and "be prepared".

Part 1:  Problems
  1. In'shallah:  In'shallah means "If Allah wills it".  Unfortunately when dealing with foreigners the phrase is often used to mean "Whenever", "If I feel like it", or just plain "its not gonna happen".  Most people arrive with a few extra bucks that they've saved in preparation.  It will barely be enough and pay is given here at the end of the month.  If you arrive mid month, you may very well wait until the end of the next month before collecting your pay.  It WILL be late.  When you ask about it, you will for sure be told "bukra-in'shallah"  This means "if Allah wills it, you'll get paid tomorrow".  In my experience and the experience of most of my friends, he doesn't will it.  
  2. Laid back Culture:  This is not the West, there isn't usually much of a hurry here unless it involves driving.  If the money arrives at the accountants office 4 days late at 9:00 am, he'll disburse it around 1 or 2.  No hurry.  If your housing allowance is due August 1st, look for August 15th, if your lucky.  Expect to call the same person or same 3 people at least 5 times just to have someone reach into their desk and hand you a rubber-banded stack of cash with your name on it  that they'd had all along.  No hurry, no explanation.  
  3. Lack of actual Accounting:  They owe you 15,000 SAR, they hand you 14,910.  Where did the 90 SAR go?  Usually you're so happy to get it you just accept it and take off running to the bank and don't even think about it.  Since I've been here I've been 90SAR'd to the tune of about 2000 SAR ($533 USD). 
**As if you needed any proof, my salary is currently 8 Days late as is my Housing Allowance.  I had money saved for just such an occasion, and it is now gone.  In 2 weeks time, I'll be eating with friends instead of cooking, because I'll be out of food.  Nobody cares, you are not an individual here, you are a worker. I'm not the only one, and the guys in charge have turned off their phones.  My accountant here at work tells me "In'shallah Wednesday".  Which means, nobody will answer his questions, and he's hoping we all get paid (including him) by the end of the week.**

Part 2:  Cost of Living

  1. The "Western Tax".  There is no tax on salaries or goods and services.  There is however an unofficial "surcharge" on things you buy just because you're from the West, and you need to be careful of merchants who will do this.  For instance a taxi will cost a Filipino or Bengali, or Pakistani or Egyptian or Jordanian about 10-20 SAR.  However the driver attempts to charge me anything between 30-100SAR and I have to argue aggressively before he lowers it.  Usually after he's threatened to call the police and "put you jail". When I tell him to please call the police, or I will call them myself is usually about the time he decides to negotiate.  
    1. The "Western Tax Part 2":  If your going to buy a car or rent an apartment, have your Arab friends or fluent Arabic speakers do it for you.  Don't reveal that you're from the west, especially not the US or the UK until a price has been quoted.  For example a used car in good condition can be gotten for about 10k SAR.  That will be 15kSAR if you make the call.  When I rented my apartment, the building manager had already told us what it would cost, when I called I specifically asked about Apt # ___, the one that cost X amount of money.
  2. General Living:  You came here for money, now you need to save some money.  There are times that the Kingdom can be pretty darn nice and pretty darn comfortable.  Things can also always change though.  My suggestion is that unless you're working for an Oil company with a 10 year retirement plan, you don't waste your money.  You do your contract maybe renew once or twice and then go home.  You can live on 1000 SAR/Month.  You can live pretty darn well on 2000 SAR/Month, and you can live luxury for 3000 SAR Month. (amounts are assuming prepaid housing)  Don't fall into the trap of thinking everything is cheap and spending money like an idiot on watches, phones, cars, and eating out.  The end result of that is having no more money at the end of your contract than you did at the beginning and being financially unhappy. This place isn't all hardship, but you didn't leave your home country and the comforts of a social life just to buy watches and go out to dinner...did you?
Part 3:  Negotiating your contract

  1. You can find very little about the "average wage in the Kingdom" even for your nationality.  It just isn't a topic that people want to discuss and  there is good reason why.  In the beginning, I didn't think it was a big deal and so when another American asked me, I told him.  Up until that point, he was pretty proud of his salary,  2 hours later the guy was complaining to the boss that he would need more money if he were to stay and it wasn't fair and using me and my salary as a reference.  Never again will I make that mistake.  My salary is my business, not yours.  
  2. Generally Salaries for Westerners in the Kingdom seem to start at about 12,000 SAR/Month and run up to about a max of 50,000 SAR per month.   Depending on what you do, if you can get yourself a tax free income somewhere in the lower middle of're doing good. 
  3. So how do you negotiate?  Well I firmly believe that you need to ignore everybody else and find a number that works for you, something that makes you happy.  Here are two ways to do so.  
    1. Decide on the amount that you need in order to be enticed to be away from your family, friends and life for a year (or contract duration).  Add 10%  take the result and this is you're starting point.  A lot can happen at home in a year, you can't be flying out every 30 days to put out fires, you need to make sure it is worth your while to be STUCK here for a year. 
    2. Take your US salary and double it.  This is your starting point.  I prefer the method above, but this one works too.  I just think it aims a "little" high.
    3. Most importantly though before you start your negotiations, you need to build yourself an excel sheet and layout 3-5 different scenarios regarding monthly income vs. monthly expenditures.  Find out exactly how much you need to maintain both households, pay bills, pay down loans and credit cards, have a savings account and so forth, don't forget flying home at least once a year.  Take this as low as you can to make ends meet.  This is your drop dead number.  Anything below this number costs you money to take this opportunity, That is not a deal you want to make.  My excel sheets spanned a range of 40,000 USD.  I did not get my first request, nor did they get me anywhere near my drop dead number.  I'm somewhere in the middle.  
  4. Leave is standard in the Kingdom at 30 days paid per year, although you can sometimes get it up to 45 days. If your teaching find out if you have a year long contract or an academic contract as the latter means you get 60 days off, 30 paid, 30 unpaid.  
One note about negotiating that you should know, an Aussie friend of mine and I were talking about why I don't see that many Americans, especially not American Nurses or Doc's here in Saudi.  Why are they all suddenly Irish and Australian?  She says it isn't sudden, she says it started a while back and that the Americans, the Canadians, and the British priced themselves out of the market.  They wanted better than great salaries, they wanted phenomenal salaries.  

I understand that, if you're one of the few people in the world that can do what you do...but if you're just another engineer, or just another nurse, or just another accountant, you might want to start with a more realistic number...Their are plenty of well educated, English speakers from places you forgot about that will do the job for half of what an American will do it for.  Just some food for thought.


  1. Good post :D.
    In'shallah part is damn true.

  2. lol, thanks for reading as always.

    And yes it is true isn't it? When I first got here, I asked my students in Riyadh what In'shallah meant and they laughed and said it means "whatever". So since I was trying to learn Arabic phrases, I started using it as "whatever"/"maybe". I made a few people a little angry with that!

    But as a foreigner, In'shallah is rarely directed towards me in a good way. It almost always means "I don't have any idea or care when or if that will happen".

    1. It's a good words, seriously we just take it for granted. It means your trust in God , You do your best .And leave it to God.

    2. Used properly, you are 110% correct. Both Christianity and Islam teach that the path is pre-ordained. In the modern world we don't take it to the extreme that says you can't try and better yourself like the puritans did, but I do believe that the path is pre-ordained and that there is a plan, its just not my place to see it or necessarily understand it. I try and remind myself of this every day and include humility and humbleness in my daily routine. However, I am a fairly aggressive alpha male who does a crazy physical job, or teaches one at least, it is sometimes hard to remember to be humble...

    3. knew that :D.
      You know, there is whole story mentioned behind In'shAlah in Qurran. I read that in 11th grad, will not mention here because I have almost forgotten it. Just this which I remember very well.

      "And never say of anything, 'I shall do such and such thing tomorrow. Except (with the saying): 'If God wills!' And remember your Lord when you forget..
      (Surat Al Kahf (18):23-24)

      Always say in'shAllah with good intention.

      Words matter !
      What we say matter.

  3. Really useful post for everyone planning to come to the empire of the sun. inshallah it will help someone…

    1. ebb, thanks for reading and for the comment. Seriously though, I'm ready to get in a cab and head to the airport. I'm seriously ready to say screw this place and their treatment of other non Arab human beings. Salary is now 9 days late, none of my bosses are at work, nor will they answer their phones or email, the accountant here is being told MAYBE next week. So maybe 14 days late, with no apology, no explanation, no phone call saying screw you even! All this while the guy in charge travels around the World living like a king and we do all his work...When the oil runs out, this place is going to die, everybody in charge will take whatever they can take and move to the West or at least S. America. I promise you they sell us out today, they'll sell their own people out tomorrow. All of these middle managers and workers and regular citizens will just be abandoned. Guess that's kinda jaded, but hell it is a personal experience blog.

  4. The KSA will collapse when the oil runs out, but I'm not holding my breath for that to happen in my lifetime. I bet there are a lot of peoplemwho will read this and have deep second thoughts. You are providing good advice, and good reading. Miss you!