Posted on May 30, 2013

Single Saudi Expat Female. Q & A

I’ve decided to compile a rather lengthy helpful tips list for single-expat women in the KSA. After a few years here I feel that I have gathered quite a reasonable perspective on life here as a single women. In essence I think these tips will benefit all expat women living in the KSA. The reason I geared this to single women is because after meeting so many female expats over the years, it was always clear that many of them had no clue about what the heck is really going on.
With preconceived notions and stereotypes filling their minds most expat women fell into two categories. They were either the “I am scared of everything” group or the “I don’t give a shit about anything” group. All I have to say is finding a happy medium between the two groups always pans out good. Also, being a Western born and raised  Muslim girl I was advantaged to more insight about how things work in the KSA. So I hope this helps….

1. Do I have to cover everything all the time?

Probably the most asked question regarding living in Saudi. For starters covering your face is completely optional. It is your sole preference to do so.
FACE COVERING: Realistically f you live/work in any of the major cities (Riyadh, Jeddah, Makkah, Medina, Dammam etc.) you are not forced nor expected to cover your face. However if you are unfortunately not so lucky and live/work in the smaller towns/cities that tend to be more conservative it is highly advised to cover your face. (do what is common to where you are)
For instance I work in a small town on the outskirts of Riyadh, and  since my arrival (2 years ago) I have never encountered a female face in public. If you chose not to cover your face you will quickly draw attention to yourself some of which may or may not be pleasing. (The minute
I hit a major city I rip the veil off)
BODY COVERING: What you do need to cover by law is your body; cloaking a black floor length covering (abaya) that hides your entire body does this.
HAIR COVERING: The rule applies for covering your hair depending on where you live this too can be optional. NO in major cities and definite YES in rural areas.
2. Do I need a male escort wherever I go?
Expat ladies this does not apply to us. We clearly came here by ourselves (singles) so logically it would make no sense to have a readily available male escort. You are free to travel and wander the KSA free of a male escort this includes the holy cities of Makkah and Medina (for Muslim
I advise you to keep your solo adventures for daylight hours as when darkness falls so do the miscreants of society. You will be more likely to be harassed verbally (I assure you) if you are out at night. Just grab a friend be it male or female it makes I difference I promise you.
3. Can I make male friends? Where can we hang out?
Yes and No. I say yes in that if you choose to make male friends while in the KSA I advise you to be very cautious and try to limit your male friends to like-minded expats. I say this only because in the Arab culture (not only KSA) there really is no such thing as a plutonic relationship
between males and females. What easily is a mere friendship may be reinterpreted into something that is not so friendly.
Hangouts. I have male friends and yes we go out.  Most restaurants will happily serve a group of males and females in the family section without question of relation. Even if it’s just the two of you, rests assure the family section in almost all restaurants will have you. Also, malls and food courts are good hangouts as the religious police often rarely monitor them and if they are they
are often on the hunt for single males. (Lucky us!)
4. Are some parts of Saudi Arabia better(more liberal) than others? Do parts of the KSA differ drastically?
In the eyes of an expat the answer is a definite YES. For many expats this will seem considerably contradictory in terms of laws and regulations. Once you visit Jeddah, you will understand.
Because Saudi Arabia is a monarchy with each region (city) headed by a prince from the royal family you will see with people come considerable differences. For instance, Riyadh and neighboring cities are highly more conservative and strictly abide by religious practices. However on the contrary Jeddah is the complete opposite (the VEGAS of Saudi Arabia) with
little resemblance to Riyadh. Here you will find women unveiled, partially covered and overly dressed to impress. Inter-sex mingling is the norm and the religious police seem to be non-existence for the most part.
This being said, cities such as Dammam (Al-Khobar) and neighbouring cities are just the same with large populations of Western expats that have clearly influenced the Saudi lifestyle. Here you can find private beaches that cater to both sexes.
Having travelled quite extensively thru Saudi Arabia, the most marked difference is the lifestyle between city and rural. Find yourself in the middle of a bustling city as an expat and you will be fine, find yourself in a rural town or city and expect drastic change.
4. Do you wear an abaya in the workplace? If not, what am I allowed to wear?
Modesty is the rule of thumb when comes to wardrobe. Depending on your workplace environment most women employed work in an all-female environment. If this is the case then you are expected to remove the abaya in the workplace. Dress business/casual all the time because it is expected. Also, slacks (pants) are acceptable dependent on workplace even if
its all-women ( I can’t wear pants to work). I suggest long skirts/dresses (passed your knees) and full-length tops.
If you work in a gender mixed environment that you will most likely be expected to remain in your abaya the entire time. (Sorry)
*This being said work appropriate clothes are solely dependent on your workplace so double-check with them. These are just the recommended norms.
5. Can I get birth control, contraceptives, pregnancy test and/or abortion?
Luckily this country does not require a prescription for birth control pills and they can be easily purchased at any local pharmacy. You do not need to be married to purchase it; it’s none of the
pharmacists business. (Even if they try to make it their business, ignore them).
Contraceptives that need doctor administration are riskier and harder to obtain while single. Your best bet is to LIE and say your husband is back home and your travelling soon to visit. Some doctors will require the permission/attendance of your “husband” so you may be out of luck.
At-home pregnancy tests are available at drugstores and can be purchased easily. If you want a doctors pregnancy test then I highly suggest you LIE and say your married and your husbands abroad.
Abortion is illegal and it’s very dangerous to openly seek an abortion in Saudi Arabia. If you are sadly in this predicament and need to get an abortion I suggest you book a ticket and leave to seek treatment abroad.
6. Tampons, where can I get them?
Nowhere. They are rarely sold here and for differing reasons, one reason are the perceived affect to female gentiles. I suggest if you are a tampon kind of girl you stock up before getting here. There are rare occurrences that they will be found in select drugstores, without doubt they
will be overpriced and unbranded.
7. Can I practice my religion here if I am not Muslim?
In the comforts of your home yes. But publicly NO. There are said to be private congregations that take place in secret locations, but I advise against it because if caught the punishment is not lightly taken.
8. Can I have a boyfriend while being in the KSA?
Yes. Just be careful, it is not recommended. If the boyfriend is not an expat than I advise EXTREME CAUTION. Things can get very ugly quick so be smart about it.
Also, absolutely no PDA. NONE. Even holding hands may cause alarm bells to go off. Closet boyfriends are the way to go; the more secretive it is the better the relationship.
9. How do you exercise? Keep in shape? Not gain weight?
Keeping healthy is they key. Make smart and nutritious decisions the best you can because getting lost in this junk food paradise is very easy. With take-out being considerably cheaper than groceries it is very easy to fall into a fatty rut.
As for exercise, home exercises are the best. For many one reasons doing any sort of exercise other than walking in an abaya can be very uncomfortable and challenging. Also, public exercise is frowned upon, as it is not deemed lady-like in this society. You can join a women’s gym but they are very limited, can only be found in larger cities and membership costs are absurdly high.
10. Girls just wanna have fun! What can I do for fun?
 It’s hard being a single women here because there is very little to do in terms of fun. You will learn very fast that keeping yourself entertained will become a regular pastime. That being said the best thing to do is find a small group of like-minded people and enjoy each others
company. It’s always more fun with others! Enjoy
 ***These are just a few of the common questions I’ve been asked since being here by fellow expats. Feel free to share your must know for surviving in the KSA and/or any questions you may have!

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Got something add?

  • Kanzah Ash October 16, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    Very well written Gina! Very informative and interesting blog!
    Although I wish there were better prospects for expat ladies here in terms of work! There are so many limitations :(


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