How to Become a Miserable Expat in Saudi Arabia – A Step-by Step Guide

We have all seen and heard of them. Pathetic, ignorant, arrogant and grumpy; they strive on negativity and want everyone to be as miserable as they are. But how does one become this Miserable? What are the secrets behind becoming a prime specimen?

Some expatriates residing in Saudi Arabia are naturally inclined to becoming ‘Miserable Expats’, but others might need some help in mastering this skill. For those expats, don’t despair! Here is a step-by step guide to help you reach the ultimate state of misery. Keep in mind it might take many months, if not years to achieve this, but by repeating the steps over and over again, you will get there someday!

Disclaimer: This post is labelled under ‘satire’ and was written totally tongue-in cheek. Please do not take it seriously in any way or form. Blue Abaya in no way recommends doing any of the below steps in real life!!

saudi culture just say noStep One: Do not research about Saudi culture or customs prior to arrival, and for heaven’s sake, don’t even think about finding out a thing or two about Islam. That would set you up for lots of trouble later on and everyone knows it’s a violent religion of terrorists that oppresses women anyways so why bother. Instead, listen to the advice of your neighbors, relatives and friends, who can share with you their expertize on all matters concerning Saudi.  If you absolutely insist on reading a book about life in Saudi Arabia, then choose  ‘Not Without my Daughter’ which describes Saudi culture very accurately.

Step Two: Upon arrival in the Kingdom, start scoffing at the locals immediately at the airport and don’t forget to give long obnoxious looks around you.  Forget about attending any of those mindless ‘relocation workshops’ or ‘orientation programs’. They’re just useless and as we all know a waste of your precious time, which could be better spent shopping. Forget about culture shock. It’s very rare and if you were to go into shock you can always check into the private hospital and demand some Valium.

Step Three: The only option in terms of housing arrangement for you is living in a compound, ideally one with a ‘no abaya/thobe/headscarf/ absolutely no Saudis allowed rule. That way you can relax, unwind and live a civilized life inside the compound walls, away from the barbaric local lifestyle. You need to stick to the compound at all times, with the exception of the absolutely necessary errands. This is the magic of living in a compound, you can completely forget you’re in the middle of the desert surrounded by camels and bedouins.

Step Four: If you’re not already on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram you must immediately open an account and start posting your magnificent pictures there for friends back home to see your fabulous lifestyle. Post pics of your compound pool, huge villa, your new party dress, ball gown, flashy company car, new watch, LV wallet or anything that shows off the wealth of your new lifestyle. Most importantly, post photos of yourself drinking ‘grape juice’, which brings us to the next step.

Step Five: Start drinking. Even if you rarely drank just a beer or two back home, now is the time to take up drinking as a regular hobby because it makes life so much more fun. Options include starting your own home brewery or party-hopping. Embassies have the real stuff which you need to get your hands on as often as possible. Now repeat step four.

Step Six: If you’re a woman, make sure you complain about the abaya at all times. Suggested derogatory names to refer to the abaya are: ‘Black rag’, ‘garbage bag’, personal prison’, ‘black sack’, ‘the uniform’, ‘ninja costume’ and many others. For men you could always complain about not being able to enter shopping malls with bermuda shorts on and make really funny jokes about Saudi men’s traditional attire over and over again (towel-head, tablecloth-head, male wedding dress, men’s giant skirt).abaya saudi boring blackStep Seven: Get a maid, driver, gardener and maybe a cook. Make sure to lock all your things up because as all your neighbors have already told you, they’re all thieves. Complain everyday, comparing the annoying habits and traits of different nationalities of your workers with your friends. Refer to all foreign workers coming from Asia as TCN’s (Third Country Nationals). It’s best not to take any health risks, so be sure to shelter yourself by using First Defense nasal filters when in close proximity with them.

Step Eight: Only mingle with expats of your own ethnicity and ideally nationality as well. As long as they speak English or your native language and don’t have weird terrorist names, they should be safe.  Choose your friends wisely.  Anyone with Saudi friends is suspicious to say the least. Join an exclusive, invite-only expat club to avoid any accidental contact with locals or those who associate with them in any way. Mock and nag with your new found friends about the local lifestyle in any way you can think of and glorify how things always work so well back home. Scorning at local foods such as dates, (which we all know look like dried camel poop or cockroaches) is always a fun past-time. Needless to say actually tasting some of these new dishes is a complete NO-NO.

Step Nine: If you identify any of these friends to be more beautiful, popular, talented, successful or richer than you (or just so damn annoyingly nice and positive), be sure to start spreading evil rumors about them on your compound. Then turn to your less fabulous friends and ostracize the annoyingly awesome friend (who wants to be friends with those fake smiley people, they are probably just popping pills anyways). This way you will feel better about yourself and as a bonus you will gain popularity and look better to the less fabulous people. Be careful they don’t in turn stab your back after a while.

Step Ten: Do not, under any circumstances try to learn Arabic. Everyone in this day and age should know how to speak English, it’s their fault if they’re so uncivilized they don’t. Besides, Arabic sounds like gurgling and spitting anyways. The only thing you need to know is ‘mafi malom‘ (say this whenever someone speaks Arabic to you) and ma’assalamma, which means farewell, as in farewell parties. On the occasion you absolutely must lower yourself to converse with an A-rab or Asian salesman, raise your voice and talk to them veeeryyyy slooowwwlyyy. This way they understand better.

Step Eleven: Don’t mix with locals. You never know what you might catch from them, or if God forbid, some of those backward habits rub off on you. Avoiding locals might be self clear to most Miserable Expats, but others might need more convincing. Note that this includes any western woman married to a Saudi, they are clearly off their rocker and not to be associated with. Also, anyone wearing a headscarf is clearly an A-rab and Muslim, stay far away from that kind of folk. They might put some new ideas in your head that you really don’t need to be hearing. If a woman in a head scarf approaches, look away as if they don’t exist. If it’s the annoying type that try smiling and greeting you, just stare at them with a blank, sour face and pretend you didn’t understand. That usually takes care of the problem.

Step Twelve: Whenever traveling out of the Kingdom (which you should always refer to as the Sandpit or Rehab) you must immediately get your hands on a glass of ‘real’ alcohol. If you can do so already in the plane, more power to you. Keep in mind this step requires posting a picture of your drink on Facebook for it to work. The next part is getting your hands on some pork. Don’t forget to post the pic of the pork chops on their way to your mouth, just to make the point more clear. It’s important to say you ‘escaped’ your prison cell and are now enjoying freedom before returning to the hellhole. On your way back make sure to update your Facebook status from the airport business lounge while drinking champagne.

Repeating the steps 3-11 is essential for you to succeed. If after a year as an expat you haven’t become super miserable despite having meticulously applied all these steps, it’s recommended that you put more emphasis on steps three, five and eight. Sooner than you can say ‘cheers’ you will be known as a Miserable Expat!


There is no such thing as the perfect expat. We all have our good and bad days and can recognize ourselves from some of these steps. Heck, I will be the first to admit I’m guilty of some these steps from time to time!

Everyone goes through culture shock in some way or form. For some it can be a breeze, others might really struggle for a long time before they come to terms with their new surroundings. Unfortunately some people find it intolerably difficult and they return home. Everyone is different, but we can try and be the best we can at that given time and place. The point is not to bottle up and isolate yourself from the surroundings. I’ve noticed a lot of expats have this huge fear for the unknown which prevents them from coming out of their bubbles. Try and step out of that comfort zone for a moment.

And finally, don’t be afraid to open your mind! Your brain will not fall out, I promise :)

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  • Yankee DoodleJanuary 23, 2014 - 6:21 am

    You forgot to include the step where they start tweeting pictures of them doing “haraam” things and thinking they are bad a$$!ReplyCancel

    • LaylaJanuary 23, 2014 - 9:01 am

      oh yesss! I’m sure I did that one too when was a ‘newbie’ lol

      But yeah, step four covers the over-sharing in social media part :)ReplyCancel

      • SomeoneNovember 29, 2014 - 1:12 pm

        What the heck are you doing, you cant judge a whole 1.9 billion religion on a couple of people.

        Should I judge your religion on what the people in america do? or what your saying right now?!ReplyCancel

  • LaylaJanuary 23, 2014 - 9:03 am

    btw, Yankee Doodle, can you pls try and see if the ‘comment luv’ thing works and turn it on by ticking the box? It should show a link to your blog and your latest post.ReplyCancel

  • Yankee DoodleJanuary 23, 2014 - 9:52 am

    Ok I clicked the box! Your blog is so fancy now masha’Allah :)

    And I love the spirit of satire! I hate how some people don’t appreciate it.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaJanuary 23, 2014 - 7:16 pm

      it baffles me how some can’t seem to get it, no matter how much you try and tell them it’s a joke, people will just sit there with the stick in the a$$ and complain :P

      BTW, what you see on blue Abaya now has all been done by yours took a lot of trial and error, tutorials and hair-pulling, but I think I did a decent job for someone that has zero experience in web and graphic design :)ReplyCancel

  • LaylaJanuary 23, 2014 - 11:23 am

    Thanks! But how come it’s not working for you.. Do you have blogger or wordpress? I have to take another look at the settings..ReplyCancel

  • JulieJanuary 23, 2014 - 4:12 pm

    Laylah, Great post! I have no clue how, but I felt that though I went through the first step of culture shock, I didn’t go through the rest. The novelty of everything wore off, but I think I overdid all the reading and anticipating what to expect that the rest was easy! (Or I’m in denial haha) I don’t live on a compound either!ReplyCancel

  • Yankee DoodleJanuary 23, 2014 - 6:08 pm

    Hey I think it is working! :) I just saw in my stats that I have referrals from your website. I have wordpress. Thanks :)ReplyCancel

  • LaylaJanuary 23, 2014 - 7:24 pm

    Hi Julie!
    Glad to hear the transition was easy for you.
    Is this your first time as an expat?ReplyCancel

  • Umm GamatJanuary 23, 2014 - 7:55 pm

    How dare you mock those benevolent expats…hehehe. I’ve missed reading your crazy satires. Need more of your tongue in cheek articles. I can’t stand people who complain about everything from the sun is too hot to why are these people so (allegedly) uncivilized. Had some uni classmates from Europe here (Malaysia) before who fit the bill. Constantly complaining our food are too spicy, the sun is too hot and the people are too short…Bah!!ReplyCancel

  • Umm GamarJanuary 23, 2014 - 7:58 pm

    Its Umm GamaR, with the R at the end.Now I m a miserable tab user!ReplyCancel

  • AmberJanuary 24, 2014 - 4:38 pm

    This was hilarious…thanks Layla ! I am considering to immigrate to Saudi and I think this has helped me to know of the things which will make my life difficult and so am better placed to avoid them…for example meting locals rather than isolating myself on a compound or something.

    JazakAllahukher !ReplyCancel

  • JajajaJanuary 25, 2014 - 9:30 am

    I have seen how some ladies destroyed talented girls by sending their gossip puppet girlfriend to spread false rumors. The funniest was a unsecured ignorant lady asking the talented beautiful to move to the corner while taking a group picture, while the lady that she ask was as skinnier as a toothpick. And the unsecured one posed in the middle of the picture that was publish on the local paper for an art group. How low and degraded a person must feel to do that to another because has a better talent or looks better!! Never seen so many insecure lady’s, thinking any other that is beautiful will take their followers puppets away.ReplyCancel

  • JustinJanuary 25, 2014 - 12:37 pm

    Great post!

    Step 13: As soon as you arrive start planning your vacations, only talk about leaving and how you’ll be miserable coming back. Once you are on the flight tell everyone, whether they care or not, how glad you are to be away and how the holidays are too short. On your return tell all of your colleagues how it’s so much nicer in the country you visited.ReplyCancel

  • PaulaJanuary 25, 2014 - 7:37 pm

    Thanks for all of the good info. We are scheduled to arrive in country this summer. I’m trying to gather any “doss and don’ts” that I can. Love your blog!ReplyCancel

  • JustinFebruary 17, 2014 - 9:10 am

    Dear Layla,

    Very funny indeed and true in many respects. During my time in Saudi I made friends for life and achieved goals that I am immensely proud of. Representing Saudi in rugby and singing in a band on Compounds and at Embassy’s ;-). I have nothing but fond memories of Saudi but I was also there when the compounds were bombed and attacked. Some of my A-Rab, Muslim friends were hospitalized in those attacks and almost died. Westerners were actively targeted in multiple attacks across the Kingdom. I am not a ‘miserable expat’ but am a very happy one, but would not want to live without the protection of a compound either, especially as this post shows how many Saudis view expats.


  • RobbyMarch 27, 2014 - 10:48 pm

    Very interesting read indeed!

    As a recent Masters grad in Petroleum Engineering, I have only in the last month been offered a position with Aramco, so I am still in the process of pondering my options. I went to a small engineering school in Rolla, Missouri, so the prospect of relocating overseas in a daunting, yet also exciting!

    Certainly, the American media’s portrayal of life in the Middle East is not nearly as engaging as first hand accounts from those who actually live there. Life on a “compound” does not seem all that bad to me on the whole. From the pictures I was shown, it is a far nicer place than my current apartment is, and more importantly, it would be free to me!

    I just worry about social opportunities being a single guy, and also one who tends towards being introverted (not uncommon among nerds like myself). I tend to play video games, exercise, and basically keep to myself. Some people mistake this for rudeness, but I am relatively shy is all, especially around people I do not know very well.

    Thanks for putting out such great information for all of us to access. It has been very helpful to me as I weigh my options. At then end of the day, I think good old fashioned American greed may win out in the end. I simply can’t make nearly the kind of money here that I can over there.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaMarch 28, 2014 - 3:15 am

      Thanks for the comment Robby! i think you’d do just fine, you seem to be a down to earth guy with an open mind. Lots of people live very fulfilling and happy lives in compounds, and Aramco is especially nice. You just have to keep active and go out of the ‘bubble’ and try and take some interest and initiative to the locals/culture.

      Good luck and all the best!ReplyCancel

    • shyNovember 20, 2014 - 10:43 am

      hi robby, as an ex expat and 1 that has been to the Aramco compounds i think you will make a huge mistake if you dont take this opportunity.

      and im pretty sure you have a 3month probation period. so if you dont like it, you can go back home.

      anyway i just thought id share my opinion.

      have fun!ReplyCancel

  • MylaMarch 29, 2014 - 8:10 am

    Love, absolutely LOVE this. I have come across exactly this sort of expat, whose attitude I found so offensive that I decided to stir clear of them and sort of went underground. My point is that if you feel so strongly about the country and its people then by all means, leave. Don’t make yourself so miserable that you make others around you part of your pity party.ReplyCancel

  • AyshatApril 29, 2014 - 8:02 pm

    Salam aleikoum
    I’m a french woman who turned to Islam about 10 years ago and I’m absolutely in love with Saudi Arabia and beduin culture <3
    Even if this post is satiric,if the expat's reality is so, it is very very very a real pity :( Saudi Arabi culture & way of life are sooo interesting!ReplyCancel

  • nizam uddinMay 8, 2014 - 10:24 pm

    Wear r uReplyCancel

  • buenaventuraAugust 30, 2014 - 11:50 am

    Hello Layla:

    I am a MD who is going to move to Riyadh next october. Could you recommend me where to live outside of a compound?

    Best regards,

  • FaisalOctober 3, 2014 - 8:31 pm

    Your first advice on not learning a thing or two about islam is not appropriate. Its not a terrorist religion! Every religion has rogue elements and dont get me started on christian rogue elements! My point being, if you want to know the true message of islam then instead of looking at rogue elements, you need to look at the reference, in this case the prophet mohammad’s life (peace be upon him).ReplyCancel

    • TJOctober 23, 2014 - 3:40 pm

      Faisal, I do notwant to be rude but just read the title of the post. Its a satire..
      I am an expat living here for last 6 years and I confess I have done many of the things mentioned here.. :P

      Great great post.. !ReplyCancel

  • EleeshaOctober 30, 2014 - 5:39 am

    HAHA It is sooo true!!
    Please read my blog, it’s not that good and i have recently started but i would love to get some expert opinion. :)ReplyCancel

  • Nadia GunardisuryaNovember 14, 2014 - 6:43 pm

    Fantastic Layla, I am glad to find humourous blog of the place :). We just got an offer to transfer to Riyadh. Me & husband have been living and working in different TCNs hehehe, and we are now in Goa, India for 4 years and loving it. We have been worried of the prospect of moving to Riyadh because we are so free here, but also we have lived in egypt, dubai, istanbul; and kind of curious of how it is like in Riyadh :)
    Anyway, happy to have found your blog. I’ll come around again for more suggestions if it happens. Thanks, keep on goingReplyCancel

  • saying my pieceNovember 20, 2014 - 4:38 pm

    Well this is mostly white people from Germany, Canada, usa, Australian, new Zealand, uk etc they bring their racist attitude from their home countries to saudi. I have witness my fellow english lady making rude comment about another black british nurse. Hence we still see segregation with different nationalities, the kiwis want to hang out with their own people, same goes for the British, Canadians or Americans. I feel life will be much better here in saudi if other expats will not frown on other people’s culture abound make about an attempt to get to know other people from different specialities. Anyway as a fellow brit myself this is my 2 cents about your post. I love this post…..I did my research well before coming here and I can confidently say I haven’t broken any rules …well yetReplyCancel

  • samerNovember 22, 2014 - 1:32 pm

    i’m going to reply for this part
    , don’t even think about finding out a thing or two about Islam

    why did you blame the islam and don’t blame the habits traditions of this area ? am egyptians and we are 5% Christians ,95% muslim and we do anything we want if u want to wear nqab or Bikini its up to you
    but sudia arbia like Vatican for isalm and if u can change the women Inside it you will change all sudia arbia

    so ! do not blame the religions for habits and mistakes humansReplyCancel

  • MinaNovember 29, 2014 - 2:48 pm

    While I find saudi people genuine,kind,attentive and hospitable.And if person is to go somewhere just to confirm his fears and his bad opinion of a place is better not to go there at all even if work offer is irresistable.The problem are not really them,is the family that comes with them.They might come just to follow their wife or husband and be with them,not because they are fan of Saudi. Negativity is proven to be a part of humanity that is thought as defensive mode against dangers.That’s why u don’t go out at night by urself to walk on street no matter how safe the place is(I do sometimes though here in Saudi,i go to the store because is close.I don’t have a husband to unfortunatelly back me up)Anyways if primitive people before us were thinking about how cute and beautiful everything is in the planet whiile tiger is running after them ,they would make it short to his stomach,so it’s genetically in us to assume bad first and then good.So go get negative boys and girls!ReplyCancel

  • Marco CasiniJanuary 29, 2015 - 6:33 pm

    Did you never take into consideration to stay at your home/country?

    ah… I am an expat!ReplyCancel

  • pasternakDecember 26, 2015 - 1:13 am

    Thanks for the advises! Expecting relocation soon and I am eager to learn more about the culture there!ReplyCancel

  • AKMay 7, 2016 - 6:53 pm

    Your satirical post certainly speaks to some expats who venture out into the world – be it Saudi Arabia or anywhere – they will find fault with it because they take their negative mindset with them wherever they go.
    Prejudice is everywhere in the world…it’s not just westerners – it’s in both Arab and Asian cultures as well.
    Ive lived in Saudi Arabia many, many years & have had a pretty good life – not a luxurious one as many of my fellow expats have experienced…but fulfilling.
    People are people everywhere. No different.
    Cultural traditions are to be respected no matter where you live.
    It’s harder on women living here because we do not have the freedom of movement men do. I have known several women (Arab and Western) who have suffered from depression because of it. Much depends on where you live, if you have luxuries like drivers, etc. If you don’t, it is harder…that’s all.
    All in all, Saudi Arabia is a very interesting place. I have very dear Saudi friends I will never forget.ReplyCancel

  • AKMay 7, 2016 - 6:55 pm

    Your satirical post certainly speaks to some expats who venture out into the world – be it Saudi Arabia or anywhere – they will find fault with wherever they hang their hats because they take their negative mindset with them wherever they go.
    Prejudice is everywhere in the world…it’s not just westerners – it’s in both Arab and Asian cultures as well.
    I’ve lived in Saudi Arabia many, many years & have had a pretty good life – not a luxurious – one as some expats have experienced…but fulfilling.
    People are people everywhere. No different.
    Cultural traditions are to be respected no matter where you live.
    It’s harder on women living here because we do not have the freedom of movement men do. I have known several women (Arab and Western) who have suffered from depression because of it. Much depends on where you live,and if you have luxuries like drivers, etc. If you don’t, it is harder…that’s all.
    All in all, Saudi Arabia is a very interesting place. I have very dear Saudi friends I will never forget.ReplyCancel

  • […] If you don’t understand it or know what is satire, google it. You can also read this guide: How to Become a Miserable Expat in Saudi Arabia to get an idea. Or read this Wikipedia […]ReplyCancel

  • EstelleOctober 31, 2016 - 5:39 am

    Asalamu alaikum Habeebti, this is so good. May I translate it into french, post it on my blog and link it to your original source? You can also use the french version to post it on your blog. Many french expats need it. wa salamReplyCancel

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