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Saudi Arabia FAQ

  • Who are the patients?

    The patients are Saudi Nationals plus expatriates - and their dependents – from the commercial sector.

  • Is English spoken in the hospital?

    English is the working language in the hospitals. Translators, and ward clerks who act as translators, are always available to assist in communicating with patients who do not speak English. Hospitals offer free courses in basic Arabic and one quickly picks up the basic Arabic phrases related to one’s job.

  • Where will I live?

    Most expatriate staff either live on the hospital compound or in a private compound.

  • Can I leave the compound?

    Yes, you are free to come and go as you please, but some have late-night curfews. People leave the compound to shop, visit friends who live on other compounds, attend cultural events (e.g. concerts at Embassies), dine out, sight-see, etc.

  • What is the social life like?

    Like anywhere, the social life is what you make of it. There are organised trips to sites of historical interest, sports competitions, and other recreational activities (tournaments, marathons, etc.). Dinner parties, desert parties, and beach parties are common. There are concerts at embassies and expatriates organise amateur theatre companies and musical ensembles in the major cities.

  • Does Saudi Arabia have a tourist industry?

    There is a domestic tourist industry in Saudi Arabia, where large numbers of families both from within the country and from neighbouring states travel to the numerous vacation spots along the Arabian Gulf coast, on the Red Sea, in rural areas such as the Asir National Park, and in mountain resorts such as Taif. Throughout the Kingdom, there are first-class hotels, excellent facilities and all kinds of restaurants, and many places of great historic interest and natural beauty.

  • How do Saudis dress?

    Saudi Arabian dress is strongly symbolic, representing the people’s ties to the land, the past and to Islam. The predominantly loose, flowing garments reflect the practicalities of life in a desert country as well as Islam’s emphasis on keeping it all covered up. Traditionally, men usually wear an ankle-length shirt woven from wool or cotton (known as a thawb), with a gutra (a large square of cotton held in place by a cord coil) worn on the head. For those rare days when it gets a bit chilly, Saudi men wear a camel-hair cloak (bisht) over the top. Women’s clothes are often decorated with tribal motifs, coins, sequins, metallic thread and appliqués. Unfortunately, only their family gets to see them in all their glory, as Saudi women must wear a black cloak and veil (abaya) when they leave the house, to protect their modesty.

  • What should an expatriate wear in Saudi Arabia?

    Expatriates in Saudi Arabia must dress modestly and conservatively in public. Women should wear long, loose clothing, high-necked and long-sleeved. Men should wear jackets or long-sleeved shirts with long pants.

  • How did Saudi get its name?

    In the early 18th century the Al-Saud, the ruling family of modern Saudi Arabia, were the ruling sheikhs of the oasis village of Dir’aiyah, near modern Riyadh. When they formed an alliance, in the mid-18th century, with Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab, the result was Wahhabism, the back-to-basics religious movement which is still Saudi Arabia’s official form of Islam.

  • Is Saudi Arabia all one big desert?

    A large part of Saudi Arabia is desert, not only the great sand deserts such as the largest in the world, the famous Rub Al-Khali or Empty Quarter that covers most of the southern part of the country, but the wastelands of the rocky plateaus, gravel plains, and salt flats. In the west, however, there are mountain ranges running the full length of the Red Sea. Since there is high rainfall in the southwest, the escarpment in the Asir, Al-Baha and Jizan provinces is green and tree-clad, and the slopes are covered with terraces where for thousands of years farmers have grown a wide range of crops.

  • How much rain does Saudi Arabia receive?

    Rain is scant and irregular, occurring from October through April, but generally restricted to a few short showers in January and February in most parts of the country. In some areas, such as the Asir mountainous region, there can be periodic monsoon-like downpours and an annual rainfall of 25 inches. The average rainfall for the country works out to less than four inches a year.

  • If there are no rivers, where does the Kingdom get its water?

    Saudi Arabia has established a network of dams to collect seasonal water runoff, which along with water from underground aquifers and desalination plants meets urban, industrial and agricultural needs.

  • Do Saudi citizens have to pay for health care?

    The government’s policy is to offer medical services free for all citizens. Each individual citizen has the right, at no cost whatsoever, to all levels of health care, from emergency first aid to sophisticated transplant surgery. In addition, there are numerous special programs for the disabled and the elderly.

  • What government social programs does Saudi Arabia offer?

    There is a wide range of social services in the Kingdom, with over 60 centres around the country caring for those with social, economic and physical problems, including six specializing in rehabilitation of juvenile delinquents, nine in assistance for the elderly and 14 in care for orphans. The Saudi healthcare system is modern and looks after their citizens’ well.

  • What is there to do?

    There is more to Saudi Arabia than cities and desert and, with good communications by air and road; many of the remoter regions are now accessible. You can enjoy the beaches and marine life of the Red Sea, the contrast of sand and oasis, or the mountain greenery of the south-west. Numerous archaeological sites shed light on the Arabia before Islam, but permission must be obtained to visit them. Inevitably your first port of call will be one of the big cities: Jeddah, on the Red Sea coast, or the capital, Riyadh.

  • What is the shopping like?

    In Saudi Arabia, shopping is a form of entertainment and should be embarked upon in this spirit, especially in the souks where there is so much to delight the senses and tempt the purse. Prices are not fixed, so you will be expected to negotiate, a skill much prized by the Arabs. All of the big names you see at home are also available in Saudi Arabia such as Next, Benetton, French Connections, BHS and Marks and Spencers.

    Electronic goods, cameras and watches can often be good value, especially in the markets, but the main attractions for most visitors are naturally the antiques, traditional items and of course the gold jewellery.

  • What are the Souks?

    There’s no better way of getting a taste of an Arabian city than by strolling through it souks. A visit to the Bedouin Souk or antique market, in a warren of alleys is like discovering treasure trove. Here you can lose yourself among stalls selling daggers, incense-burners, Turkish-style coffee pots, copper-studded Zanzibar chests, embroidered bags, suits of armour, muskets and wooden well wheels.

  • How many daily newspapers are published in the Kingdom?

    There are ten local newspapers published daily in Saudi Arabia, three of them in English: Arab News, Saudi Gazette and Riyadh Daily. In addition, there is an independent international Arabic newspaper, Asharq Al-Awsat, which is published in London and printed simultaneously in a number of cities including New York. Several of these newspapers are accessible on the Internet.

  • Are working hours in the Kingdom from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.?

    Healthcare staff work different schedules – the working week varies between 44-48 hours depending on the Hospital. Working hours for government offices and most schools and colleges are from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday through Wednesday. Private businesses and banks are open from 8 a.m. to noon; in the afternoon, businesses open from 3 to 6 p.m.; banks open from 5 to 8 p.m. Markets and shops open from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m.

  • What time zone is the Kingdom in?

    The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is on Greenwich Mean Time plus three hours. The Kingdom does not adjust to daylight saving time. The UAE is Greenwich Mean Time plus four hours.

  • What is life like in Saudi Arabia?

    Many customs in Saudi Arabia are undergoing rapid change and because of outside influences certain modes of behaviour are no longer so rigidly maintained. However, it is as well to familiarise yourself with the etiquette and customs. You will appreciate the people more if you understand how they think and act, and in return they will appreciate your courtesy and consideration.

    The family is the all-important social unit. Arranged marriages are still common. Never ask after a Saudi’s wife. They may, however, ask after yours, because they know that it is acceptable to do so in the West. The extended family system is very much in operation, and relatives remain in close touch with each other.

    A woman leaving the immediate family circle will be veiled and must not be alone with a man other than her husband or a close relative. Traditionally men and women do not mix in public, but nowadays they are often invited to dine together. Women are not allowed to drive cars in Saudi Arabia. Men should not wear shorts except at the beach. Women should keep their knees and elbows covered. Western women often wear a long black cape or abaya over their clothes when going out into the street.

    Ancient Arab customs established that noble actions are performed with the right hand and ignoble ones with the left. It is always better to use the right hand to take and to give, and if eating with one’s fingers, to eat with the right hand only.

    When the time for prayer is called by the muessin, people pray wherever it is clean and convenient. Never walk immediately in front of someone who is praying; leave at least a few metres’ distance.
    Non-Muslims should not attempt to enter a mosque, which is a consecrated place for prayer. They are not allowed to approach the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, and during Ramadan even non-Muslims must not eat, drink or smoke in public or in the presence of Muslims during the daylight hours.

    Photography is a sensitive subject. Don’t photograph women, mosques, royal residences or military establishments without permission.

  • What is the local currency?

    Saudi Arabia’s unit of currency is the riyal. The dirham is used in the UAE and the dinar in Bahrain. There are no restrictions on currency exchange. You can change money at the banks and transfer funds overseas. Major credit cards are accepted at most large hotels, some restaurants and the bigger stores. Don’t make a trip to the souk without cash. Always take your iqama with you if you intend to change money, pay with a traveller’s cheque or use your credit card.

    Banks do business from 08.30 hrs to 12.00 hrs and 17.00 hrs to 19.00 hrs Saturday to Wednesday, and 08.30 to 12.00 hrs on Thursday.

  • Hours

    Friday is the Muslim day of rest. Friday and Saturday represent the weekend in Saudi Arabia. Muslims pray five times a day - at dawn, at midday, mid-afternoon, sunset, late evening. Shops close three or four times during the day for half an hour of prayer, and work in offices is interrupted also. Hours for shops and souks vary slightly, but they are normally from 09.30 hrs to 13.00 hrs and from 17.00 hrs to 22.00 hrs Saturday to Thursday.

    CCM will provide you with a full cultural orientation before you travel to work in Saudi Arabia.

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