find the latest legal job
Corporate Counsel and Company Secretary
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Newcastle, Maitland & Hunter NSW
· Highly-respected, innovative and entrepreneurial Not-for-Profit · Competency based Board
View details
Chief Counsel and Company Secretary
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Newcastle, Maitland & Hunter NSW
· Dynamic, high growth organisation · ASX listed market leader
View details
In-house Projects Lawyer | Renewables / Solar | 2-5 Years PQE
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: All Australia
· Help design the future · NASDAQ Listed
View details
Insurance Lawyer (1-3 PAE)
Category: Insurance and Superannuation Law | Location: Sydney NSW 2000
· Join a dynamic Firm · Excellent career growth opportunity
View details
In-house lawyer 1-4 PAE
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Adelaide SA 5000
· Leading Brand · Report to a Dynamic Legal Counsel
View details
Tales of a lawyer in Saudi Arabia

Tales of a lawyer in Saudi Arabia

Life as a lawyer in Saudi Arabia can be a little daunting, writes Hyder Gulam, but it's a valuable experience if you know what to expect.Following a stint working as a lawyer in Riyadh, the…

Life as a lawyer in Saudi Arabia can be a little daunting, writes Hyder Gulam, but it's a valuable experience if you know what to expect.

Following a stint working as a lawyer in Riyadh, the capital of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I thought it would be worthwhile to share my experiences with other lawyers thinking about heading over from Australia. Working in the Kingdom presents a very different way of life to what we have here and it pays to know what to expect.

Before you arrive

So, you interviewed for the job; now what? Getting a work visa can be the show stopper. It is best that you speak to and understand what is involved with the office manager/administrator of the prospective employer. Getting an "igama" (the Saudi work visa) is a big thing, and will allow you to do many things, such as get visas for holidays to other countries, rent an apartment or purchase a car in your name.

However, there can be minimum wait of up to eight weeks, and I know of some of my fellow lawyers who waited up to 16 months.

Most likely you will have to bear you own costs re trying to obtain a visa, flights, excess luggage and then be reimbursed by the firm when you arrive. This means that there is an outlay you will need to consider not only for this, but also to set yourself up when you arrive, such as hiring a car until you can buy a suitable vehicle, housing and so on (which are discussed below).

All in all, you will need to bear in mind that you may be in the negative until you get reimbursed, and start getting paid.

Meanwhile, arriving from Australia, you will need to adjust to being paid every month, and not every fortnight.

While I don't want to canvass in detail any tax implications, working in the Kingdom has the added attraction of being "tax free" if you are an expat - however you in all likelihood will need to demonstrate that you have no financial links back to your country of origin. It seems that you cannot open a Saudi bank account unless you have an igama. Thus, your options are to be paid in your home country bank account (noting the tax implications, as well as conversion fees when withdrawing money at a Saudi ATM).

The other option is opening an off-shore bank account, but you will require a minimum monthly balance, usually around £10,000 ($17,700).

If you do use your home country bank account, make sure it has a Maestro or Cirrus facility for you withdraw money here. I also suggest that you withdraw the maximum amount with each transaction so as to minimise your transaction fees.

Mobile phone/internet

You will need a Saudi SIM card, and there are a number of Saudi telcos for you to choose from. You will need your passport, as well as around 70 Saudi Arabia Riyals (SAR) ($20) for the sim-card. Note that most offices are shut from 12pm to 4pm (see shopping below).

If you have your own place, you can get home broadband, but I understand that there is a wait of up to four weeks, and of course you will be paying line rental, as well as the cost of the broadband service. The other option is to purchase the wireless bundle which is about SAR1000 for the modem, and depending on your service, a range of prices.

I have purchased a no-contract SAR200 per month 5GB plan. This is generally okay, with faster speeds close to the city centre. However, it seems to run Skype and MSN with some lag from time to time.

Buying a car

The first step in buying a car is to research prices. Check out www.expatriates.com/classifieds/riy/. If you don't buy brand new, it is obviously best if you can buy a car from a departing expat, but if you can't I suggest the car yards on the road to the airport (on the right hand side).

You will need a local/Arab speaker to go with you - ask around the office for someone to help here. You will also need to have the car inspected - I suggest the SAR250 inspection which is a comprehensive computer and mechanical check.

Some law firms offer a car loan of US$25,000 ($27,150) for two years interest free, which is very helpful. The money is deducted monthly from your pay.

Now if you don't have an igama, then you will need to put the car in someone's name - perhaps your employer can help here. If you do so, suggest that you get full comprehensive insurance, and once you have your igama, you will need to transfer the car back into your name.

However, before you can get your car, you will need a hire car. You will need your passport, a copy of your license, a deposit, the amount up front for the duration of the hire and a letter from your firm on letterhead stating that you are employed, with your annual salary noted. I suggest that you get this document in Arabic as well.

Driving around

One of the lawyers I worked with once described to me that driving in the Kingdom was akin to the theory of Thomas Hobbes: what life would be like without government or rules, a condition which Hobbes called the state of nature, where each person would have a right, or license, to everything in the world. This is not far from the truth with regards to driving here, especially navigating the roundabouts. Generally, I saw two accidents every day on the way to work.

Given seat belts are not mandatory, and that cars sometimes have more occupants than seat belts, and that children will be standing in the front seat - well, you get the picture.

On the freeways, I normally drove the middle lane, as the right most lanes will have the trucks, and there will be the F1 wannabes in the left lanes. You need to watch out most when there is an exit coming up, or a merging lane, as cars will pull right in front of you. I use my indicators, and wave when folks give way, but these actions are not required.

On normal streets, I suggest driving in the middle or left lanes, as cars will pull out of intersections (almost expecting you to give them way) and people will pull out of parking bays. The trick is to be calm, have your radar turned on at all times, expect the unexpected and maintain your situational awareness.

I suggest that you watch out for any beat-up American sedan, as well as the little Asian sedans, such as Toyota Corollas and Hyundai Accents. These vehicles are generally driven by folks who worried me the most.

Two unrelated last points here: I made a conscious decision to live close to the law office. One of the main reasons was to minimise time of the road. The other point concerns directions, road signs and maps. My best suggestion is to drive around on Friday morning, when there is little traffic on the road, to get a feel of city driving and the roads. I understand that you can purchase a GPS of Riyadh, but I cannot comment as to its effectiveness.

Housing

Housing in compounds is ridiculously expensive - for example, one compound charged SAR80,000 for six months, not including utilities and other miscellaneous expenses. I suggest negotiating with your employer regarding suitable accommodation before you arrive.

The other issue with compounds is the waiting list. For example, the waiting list for one compound was three years. Compounds offer security, a semblance of western lifestyle, with resort style living. It allows females to walk around without abayas (the black cloak which covers the whole body).

Your other option is looking for a place outside the compounds, perhaps the Diplomatic Quarter. You then need to consider furnished or unfurnished. If you have a family, the salient issues are how your children get to school, and if your wife works - how she gets to work..

Of course you can get a driver, which is around SAR1500 per month, but you will need to house this individual, as well as other costs. Incidentally, a maid costs about SAR1200 per month, not including other expenses, such as accommodation.

Generally rent is payable six months in advance as well.

Obviously the best place to buy furniture in Riyadh is IKEA. There is a store in Riyadh, which is open till midnight. In terms of electronics or white goods, have a look at stores like Carrefour or Extra (in the Granada Shopping Centre). I suggest that you get a decent map as soon as you can, and plan your routes in advance.

Food and general expenses

Within the limitations of living in the Kingdom, most foods are available here and at very competitive prices. Some things are cheaper here, like food, but other things are more expensive, like electronics. For example, the new Mac iBook is about $200 cheaper in Australia.

Food at the fast food chains generally charge the same price as you would pay back home, taking into account the conversion rate. But I would recommend the local cuisine, which is very cheap and also very tasty. Meanwhile, you won't need to worry about the price of petrol, which is extremely cheap at just eight cents per gallon.

Weekends, health and fitness

The weekends in Saudi are Thursday and Friday, so Australians travelling over need to adjust to a different working week, especially if you are used to calling your family back home on Sunday when they are having a family roast.

Riyadh is a big city, with about five million inhabitants. There is no public transport that I know of, and everyone basically drives (except for women). Thus, the air is quite polluted. You will find that you have more nasal discharge than usual, and sputum for the first few weeks, and that you will need more than normal water intake (a good two or three times more). Drinking the tap water is not recommended, so you will need access to a good source of purified water.

You will need to find a good outlet for maintaining your fitness given there are no good public walking/running tracks, and the weather can be brutal, so a gym is ideal.

Finally, I recommend that you moisturise often and all over your body. The weather leaves the skin extremely dry.

Praying is routine

Just about everything shuts or stops for prayers. Full stop. If you are not used to the Azan (the call to prayer), it may wake you from your slumber at around 5am.

Learning the language

Learn as much Arabic as you can before you arrive, as you will not have time to learn while you are settling in. There are a couple of places, such as the Arabic Cultural Centre (www.sa-acc.com), as well as folks who advertise private tuition.

The shopping

In the shopping centres, the shops are open from around 11am till midnight, but close for prayers (around 20 minutes): at Zuhr (12-ish), Asr (3-ish), Magreb (6-ish), and Isha (8-ish). On Friday, the shops are open from 4pm, except the supermarkets which seem to either be 24 hours, or open around 8am.

On the streets, the shops are open from around 8am, but close at noon, opening again at 4pm till generally 11pm.

However, this is just the rule, and there are many, many exceptions.

Clothes are quite cheap, and you can get a tailored suit for around SAR400. Other western items, such as sporting goods and t-shirts are also quite cheap.

Life for expat women

I suggest that if you are coming with your wife and family, it is best that you and your wife speak to a fellow expat before you arrive. Life can be challenging here for women if you are not used to it - full stop. If your family is not prepared, or cannot adjust to life here, I posit that your time in Saudi Arabia will be quite short.

The routine as a lawyer

The hours of work are officially 9.30am to 6pm, with a half day every second weekend. However, these hours are flexible, as long as you achieve your budget. Some of my fellow lawyers started at around 11am, but worked back to close to midnight (they were single, or had family in the US).

Some of your fellow workers do not work the Thursday, understandably as this is time better spent with their family, and make up for it by starting early throughout the week. It is best that you negotiate this upfront.

Is Saudi for you?

Coming to Saudi is a challenge, but once you are here it is well worth it. You will need to have loads of "sabr" (patience), and do not expect anything to be done today, or this week for that matter. Things take time, and it best you realise early that you "ain't in Kansas anymore"!

Finally, make sure you have an exit strategy. Come with set goals in mind, and don't be disappointed if things change.

As they say in Arabic, "masalaam" - or "goodbye with peace".

Hyder Gulam is an associate with Logie-Smith Lanyon Lawyers, based in Melbourne

Related article >> When religion meets the law: Shariah law in Australia

Like this story? Read more:

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

The legal budget breakdown 2017

Tales of a lawyer in Saudi Arabia
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
Warning
07:03
NT Law Society sounds alarm on mandatory sentencing
The Law Society Northern Territory has issued a warning over mandatory sentencing, saying it hasn’...
Unite
Aug 22 2017
Professionals unite in support of marriage equality
The presidents of representative bodies for solicitors, barristers and doctors in NSW have come toge...
Aug 21 2017
Is your firm on the right track for gig economy gains?
Promoted by Crowd & Co. The way we do business, where we work, how we engage with workers, ev...
APPOINTMENTS
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
opinion
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
Help
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...