Author Archives: Laura

Hello there! I'm Laura, the founder of Blue Abaya- the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia, established in 2010.  Travel has always been my passion- so far I've visited 75 countries and I'm always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia! Follow my adventures in Saudi and beyond on instagram:

My beautiful home country Finland. I often dream of those cool and breezy summer evenings in Finland. Sitting on the porch listening to seagulls and watching the water and skies turn pink, I am in no hurry to go anywhere. The air is fresh and there is no breeze, the sea is calm. I will go for a midnight swim and then return into the embrace of the warm sauna.

We spent the past summer in Finland again, I would not miss it for the world! Summer is absolutely the best time of year in Finland in my opinion. Since I moved to Saudi I’ve made sure to spend as much time as possible in my home country every summer. The past three summers my husband has also joined and he really loves it too!

I love the midsummer’s midnight sunsets and the soothing sound of rain falling on the cottage roof. I miss eating blueberries, raspberries and strawberries straight from the bushes outside the summer house and making a salad from what grows in the garden. The therapeutic sounds of the waves softly splashing on the rocks next to the cottage and the early morning bird orchestra are just music to my ears!

I hope all these experiences have an everlasting effect on my baby daughter and she will always feel at home in Finland and surrounded by nature. She surely enjoyed her time there to the max. Our days went by swimming, running and playing in the grass and with the dog, searching for treasures like ladybugs, seashells, or flowers, watching different kinds of birds, going to sauna, eating delicious healthy foods and playing with her little sweet cousins.

I can say she’s a true Finn because my daughter absolutely LOVED swimming in the cold (+18c) water and would even cry when taken out! She even learned to use a vihta (my father made especially a baby sized one) and how to throw loyly in the sauna.

What I miss the most about the summer in Finland is being able to spend 90% of the days outdoors. In contrast here in Saudi I fee like I’m spending 90% of my days indoors. It’s simply too hot for me to venture out right now, I’m too pregnant to tolerate the heat! So I’m really looking forward to the weather cooling down and being able to go for daily walks with the stroller in the neighborhood parks.

In the meanwhile I try to remember those quiet summer days by browsing through my pics, it makes me feel relaxed and happy to go through all those memories. Here are a few pics I wanted to share from my lovely country Finland!

Midsummer festival is the highlight of the summer for many Finns. Bonfires are a part of the celebrations.

My dad prepared some “rosvopaisti” for the midsummer celebrations. Fresh herbs and rhubarb from our garden.

It’s lamb that’s wrapped in foil and we dig it under a burning fire, then cover it up again for many hours.

When it’s done the meat is so tender and delicious it’s soft like butter.

The midsummer bonfire is lit at midnight.
The swan is the Finnish national bird.

The children fell asleep in the boat and here they are napping on the island.

A baby seagull we found which had a broken leg. We tried to feed it and find a safe place for it to stay, but the odds of it surviving were low.

Chives grow wild everywhere in this area.

Seagull feather in a pond.

The kids feeding carrots to the horses, the breed is Finnhorse, they are very strong and used for farm work.
The scenery at many farms has remained unchanged for many decades.

A natural beach on an island we went to by boat.

All kids like to eat sand!

Tiny seashells.

A ladybug on the go.

My husband’s artistic side.

Net fishing at Baltic sea.

Saudi women are born to drive!

Finns used to give birth in saunas. This is an antique birthing stool from our sauna.

My sisters house will be built here.

Ramadan greetings to dad back in Saudi!

A typical Finnish farmhouse.

An old iron works factory next to a river called Fiskars.

Bright summer colors.

I love the pink clouds!

A meadow of flowers and a very traditional Finnish house.


The Kalajoki sand dunes are endless!

Our dog supervising the children picking blueberries.

Wild strawberry catch.
Enchanted forest.
Not many berries made it to the buckets.

Blue skies!

On the road again.

A beach in Northern Finland.

Lonely seashell.

Ready for take off.
An old wheel cart.

A castle from the middle-ages.

Resident crow at the castle.

Splashes of color.

Until next year..

Your Ultimate Guide to visiting the Edge of the World outside Riyadh! Find out all you need to know about the amazing Edge of the World on your own with the help of this guide. Best times to visit, how to get there, opening times, where to hike, safety tips, driving directions and GPS co-ordinates are all listed in this guide.

One of the most popular desert treks from Riyadh is the Edge of the World along the Tuwaiq Escarpment. Definitely worth a visit and a perfect day trip because of the spectacular scenery and an unforgettable experience so close to Riyadh. The Tuwaiq escarpment that runs about 700km through central Saudi-Arabia is a scenic plateau with plenty of beautiful viewing spots. What makes Edge of the World special is this part of the escarpment has long edges that reach outward from the plateau and the view from them looks “endless”, in other words only a flat plain can be seen in the horizon as far as the eye can reach.

You can visit Edge of the World (EOTW) on your own by the help of this FREE downloadable guide ebook. 
If you’d like to go there with a hiking guide we can help you with that as well. Please contact us at contact (at) to help arrange a private tour to the Edge of the World.
edge of the world

Tuwaiq escarpment

edge of the world

View down from Edge of the World Riyadh Saudi Arabia

edge of the world

The location is about 90km outside of Riyadh and it takes about 1,5 hours to reach. The Edge of the World should not be attempted to reach by other than a 4×4 vehicle as the last length of the trip is very rocky and there’s loose gravel and some soft sand. Some people have managed to get there by regular cars without getting stuck but it’s a big risk to take. The safest bet is to go in a convoy of several cars and make sure all the cars have a full tank and a shovel, tow strap and spare tires and/or tire repair kits.

edge of the world

Never stop in the soft sand!

edge of the world

The best season for visiting would be the fall and winter months when skies are clear and the temperatures are warm or cool. Edge of the World can get extremely hot in the summer months because there is no shade there whatsoever. If you want the site all to yourself the best would be to visit on a weekday. During the years this site has become increasingly popular among expats and winter weekend afternoons might even have a small crowd on site.

edge of the world

When taking the trip, you should leave early enough to prepare a minimum of two hours for driving, to have at least two hours at the site and a good two hours for the way back during daylight hours. The desert track can be very tricky to drive in the dark and it’s easy to get lost. Eventually all tracks lead out of the acacia valley back to the gate. It should be noted that the rangers close this gate at 6 p.m so if you don’t make that time you are stuck in the acacia valley for the night.

edge of the world
 At the site there will be a lot of climbing and walking to do to reach the actual edge, remember to take enough water with you and sun screen plus a hat.
edge of the world

This is the end of the desert track where the cars will be parked and the walk starts either up to the cliff toward the edge or down to the plains.edge of the world

Keep in mind the whole site is in natural state and there will be no fences or warning signs anywhere, so caution needs to be practiced anywhere near the cliff ledges as there might be loose rocks and danger of falling from rock slides.The danger of falling here is real, a respiratory therapist Laurie K. Roland (may her soul rest in peace) fell to her death at the Edge of The World. Bringing small children to this site is risky and parents should be extremely vigilant in watching them. Wear good hiking shoes or sneakers, no Crocs or sandals!

edge of the world

Even though just climbing up the cliff from the car park is sufficient enough to enjoy the breath-taking scenery, it’s worth walking all the way to the end of the cliff where one can really experience the feeling of being on “the edge of the world”. From the cliff continue walking right for a few hundred meters. Next there’s a steep climb down and then a narrow path that leads to the last rock cliff with the spectacular views. The walk will take about 15 minutes to half hour one way depending on your abilities.

edge of the world

You will see lots of sparrows and eagles flying around the escarpment and many birds have nests in the walls.

edge of the world

Keep a look out for fossils too, the escarpment is rich in fossils because it used to be the bottom of the ocean some 50 million years ago! Looking down into the valley you will see dried up rivers twirling into the distance, after heavy rains they will become real rivers because the water rushes down from the escarpment into the plains. Some areas on the plains become very green in the spring time.

The climb down starts from the car park area, here you will see an opening like a window in the escarpment and by walking further there will be a small path on the right side which leads all the way down to the plain. This is a very strenuous walk and you need to take lots of water to make this trip. Here is the start of the path down to the valley:

edge of the world

The rock window at Edge of the world

edge of the world
edge of the world
 On the way you can see camels, goat herders, and find many people setting up camps under the acacia trees in the Acacia valley. If you are planning to stay the night this would be the ideal location because the valley is full of soft sand.
edge of the world


From Riyadh take the road 535 (King Khaled Rd.) north heading towards Salbouk. After approximately 30 km you will reach an intersection and turn left to route 5766 heading towards Jubayla. Set the odometer at zero here. Continue straight passing through a few small towns. Eventually the road becomes route 5762 leading to Sadus. From this road you will turn off to the desert track on the left at location N24 57 21.2 E46 13 41.6, approximately 30 km from the intersection. There are no sign posts here, it’s just a dirt track that seems to go nowhere but this is where you start your off-road part. There is a blue sign in Arabic about 50 meters from the road.

Now continue on this dirt track straight and you will soon see a fence on the left, continue beside it now slightly the track turning to the right. This track leads you to a dam and a gate next to a small building where the rangers are posted. Pass the gate and turn right. Now you are in Acacia valley. From here you will drive along the wadi for a good 20kms and the terrain will eventually become more rocky in the end until you reach the edge of the world location. The track has some forks in it, try to keep to the right but don’t enter into the small valleys, they are dead ends.

GPS coordinates for the Edge of the World end location N24 56 41.4 E45 59 32.1


For more detailed guide to Edge of the World grab the free ebook! Download it here; Edge of the World Guide 

Many people have been asking me for the recipe of “pulla” or the delicious Finnish cinnamon rolls I’ve mentioned a few times on the blog.  The word pulla basically refers to any kind of sweet pastry made from this particular dough which makes the most moist and delicious cinnamon rolls you’ve ever tasted. Pulla and especially korvapuusti, the cinnamon rolls made from it are very popular in Finland. Pulla could be called the ‘ultimate coffee bread’ because Finns always serve some variation of pulla pastries with their coffee. Read about the quirky traditional way of drinking Finnish Coffee and eating your pulla in this post: Saudi Dude’s Guide To Finnish Coffee Drinking Ceremony.Korvapuustit-Finnish cinnamon rolls recipe

Korvapuustit, the Finnish cinnamon rolls, translates to “ear buns” because of their appearance which resembles an ear. When folding the buns one pinches the dough in the same manner as when giving a child a korvapuusti, meaning pinching their ear if they were naughty.

What makes the Finnish cinnamon rolls special is the delicious, fluffy dough which is made into milk, using fresh yeast and lots of ground cardamon giving it a unique taste and appearance.  The filling is rich in taste but less messy and not overly sweet like the american version of cinnamon rolls (think Cinnabon). The dough is rolled, cut and moulded in a specific way before baking to complete the typical look of a korvapuusti. You can even make a “cake” with the cinnamon rolls called “Boston Cake”, which is basically cinnamon rolls loaded into a baking tray. Finnish cinnamon roll cake "Boston Cake"

There are many variations to the recipe out there and over the years I’ve made some small adoptions I found makes the rolls as fluffy and moist as possible!  I always make the dough into milk because I think it makes the result more moist, but they are delicious if made with water as well. If available, I will use fresh yeast to make them. If anyone knows where to get it in Saudi please do let me know!

Another important factor is the cardamon. It has to be roughly ground, so that small black parts can be seen and of course free of any residue from the pods. Yet another spice I haven’t been able to find in Saudi-Arabia, they only seem to have finely ground cardamon which looks like a powder. After trying and testing, I can say this won’t work well in the pulla. After a few failed attempts of crushing the cardamon seeds myself and sifting the pods out, I continue to bring my cardamom from Finland. This is what it looks like:

When making the dough the temperature of the liquid has to be carefully measured for best results. I always use a thermometer to check. For fresh yeast it needs to be a bit warmer than your hand temperature, +38c and for dry active yeast +42c for the yeast to “awaken”. This way the dough will raise the best. The pulla is actually raised on two separate occasions before baking! If the liquid was too hot the yeast will die and the dough will become like a heavy rock. If the milk was too cold it will take many hours if not until the next day to properly raise. The dough should double in size before you start baking. Make sure all the ingredients are room temperature too!

So here are the ingredients for approx 25-30 korvapuusti depending on what size you cut them. (PRINTABLE RECIPE AT THE END OF THIS POST)


5 dl milk
50g fresh yeast or 15g active dry yeast
2 dl sugar
1 tsp salt
1 egg
2 tbsp roughly ground cardamon
150g unsalted butter or baking margarine
12-15 dl flour

for the filling
100-200g butter or margarine

brown sugar (white works fine too)
optionally cardamon

If you prefer to use the american measurements (cups instead desilitres) then Noor over at Ya Salam cooking has made pulla several times and she converted the recipe for you, find it here!


Start with warming up the milk in a bowl in the microwave. Make sure the temperature is right for the type of yeast you’re using, then dissolve the yeast into the milk until the liquid is clear of clumps. Add the sugar, salt, cardamon and egg and mix well with hand whisk.
Next start adding the flour by first whisking in about 5-6 dl in to make the dough airy. Then mix in 5-6 dl more into the dough by hand. Knead well. Now add the melted butter and continue kneading. Lastly add just enough flour to make the dough come off from the bowl, but not too much, otherwise it will make dry buns that won’t raise well. It should be soft and easy to handle.

Leave it to raise covered in a warm, draft-free place. I use the top of the oven or inside the microwave is good too because there’s no draft. The dough should double in size in about half hour to an hour if the yeast has had optimal conditions. To speed up the raising time you can put the oven on very low heat (30-50c)and place the bowl there or place a cup of hot water inside the microwave.

When the dough has doubled in size take it out and start kneading it again thoroughly. Divide it into two sections. Take one and start rolling it out into a thin layer. Next spread a layer of soft butter all over the dough. Then sprinkle some sugar, again using your own taste of how much you want to add. I sprinkle generously! Next sprinkle plenty of cinnamon on top to cover the rest of the filling and for cardamon lovers you can sprinkle a little bit additional cardamon too.

Start rolling the dough from the top toward you trying to make the roll as tight as possible and leave the seam on the bottom.
Now cut the roll into pieces with a knife into shapes like this:

Then take each piece and press your index finger in the middle so that the “ears” of the roll pop out. Then press gently on the ears so that the top stays closed.

Place them on a baking tray on a baking sheet to raise in a warm draft-free place while you do the next batch. When the korvapuusti’s have risen to about double their size use the beaten egg to swipe them and decorate with pearl sugar. If you don’t have pearl sugar you could use large-grained sugar. Bake in 200C for about 6-8 minutes or until golden brown from top.

Enjoy with a nice cup of coffee or cold milk! The rolls are delicious even the next day, just pop in the microwave for 10 seconds (if you have any left at that point)!

Finnish Cinnamon rolls

here is the printable recipe:


So you’re a lucky Saudi dude and you find yourself visiting Finland for the first time. You think Finland is full of polar bears, Angry Birds and drunks. That is only partly true. There’s also lots of reindeer.

A Finnish family has invited you to their house for some coffee and you get the chance to see there’s a lot more to Finland than you thought and most importantly participate in the sacred coffee drinking ceremony.

You might have heard rumors how serious the Finns are when it comes to coffee. This tiny Nordic country tops the world’s coffee consumption charts. They call themselves the Coffee King’s but with pretty good credentials. Finns consume about 12kg or 608 litres of coffee per capita annually. That’s about 1,6 litres per day!

This might raise your suspicions. Why do they need so much coffee? Is there some chemical missing in their brains which needs to be substituted by caffeine? Do they ever sleep? Are their guts made out of steel?

No need to worry, they are actually quite normal. Finns just simply love their coffee and once you’ve tasted it you’ll understand why. Keep in mind when the Finns talk about cups of coffee they mean mugs, as in about 2-3 dl, not those tiny baby cups you’re used to drinking from back home!By following this simple guide you will not only survive the Finnish coffee drinking ceremony but avoid getting arrested and impress your hosts too!

It is a good idea to bring a small souvenir from Saudi-Arabia with you. The Finnish family will value it highly and show off the gift to everyone in their family and neighborhood for the next 27 years or so. The item will be placed on the top of the bookshelf  “this is what a real Saudi-Arab brought us!

On arrival you will greet the entire family (this means women too) the Finnish way which means by shaking hands. Resist your urge to kiss everyone repeatedly on the cheeks. Especially the womenfolk to avoid any stabbings. Finnish men don’t like Arab dudes near their women at all. However not shaking the women’s hands would be seen as a serious insult.

You need to practice your handshaking skills because Finns are experts at telling what kind of person you are from that brief moment. This will be the only time you will come into this close contact with your hosts. The perfected handshake will also cast away the last suspicions your hosts have of you as an Arab dude. A firm but short handshake is best. Look the other person in the eye briefly but don’t stare. Don’t shake for too long, or do anything with the other hand like hugging, this might be taken the wrong way. Practice letting the hand droop next to your body. Make sure you don’t give them the “dead fish” hand either.

Say “terve” while shaking hands. That is sufficient enough.

When you enter the house remember to remove your shoes at the door, walking in with them will be seen as uncivilized. Wear white tennis socks with your sandals and be sure to pull them high up your leg, this is seen as stylish.  In the house you will be shown a place to sit around the coffee table. Please don’t sit on the carpets or floors.

At the table you will be asked if you want coffee. Of course you do! You CANNOT refuse. Coffee will be served from cups that look like this:

The make is ARABIA. As much as you would like them to be, the cups were not especially made for your visit. All Finns own coffee cups made by a company called Arabia Finland since 1873 to serve their guests coffee in. They just vary in color and design. Finns are a bit boring but hang on to their traditions.

The cup will come with a spoon and plate, which have significant importance in the ceremony you will learn later on. On the table you will see sugar cubes and two jugs, one will have milk and one cream in it. There will be a variety of cookies and maybe some candy on offer too. If you’re extremely lucky you might have a chance to taste the “salmiakki” candy, well at least Finns like to call it candy. It’s basically salty licorice, which has more ammonium in it than dynamite. If you can manage to eat one without exploding or puking you will become a hero in the hosts eyes.
If you don’t want to take the risk of permanently damaging your taste buds ask before putting anything black in your mouth.

Be warned that your hosts might be sneaky and serve you salmiakki hidden inside other sweets! Finnish people love to do practical jokes.

Your host will now pour the coffee in your cup and ask if you need space for the milk? The way you take your coffee will send a message about you to your hosts. For Finns having it straight up black is what real men do. Putting lots of cream and at least six cubes of sugar in the cup will have them thinking the opposite. You want to impress, so say no need for milk space. The host will pour it full. Note the Finnish coffee is very dark in color. Don’t worry they are not serving you oil. They know you bathe in it, but don’t prefer to drink it.

If your host is female she will most likely smile at you. Do not hand her your mobile number written on the napkin. Se is not flirting with you, just being polite. It is normal in Finland for women to smile at men without any hidden agendas.

During all this time not many words have been said. This is nothing out of the ordinary, the hosts are not scared of you. It’s just not common for Finns to engage in small talk. They most likely will ask you about what you think of Finland and how you like the weather. To amuse the hosts you can say you’re freezing (which you probably are anyways) and comment on how beautiful the nature is. (to find out what exactly Finns do when the temperature is -90c outside click here)

You might be asked how many camels you own. Even if you don’t personally own any, you could say you have a few and they will believe you because it’s assumed all Arabs own at least one camel. The hosts might ask how many camels their daughter is worth. Note that this is a joke and they are not offering their daughter for marriage. Be polite and say at least one hundred camels.

Don’t start babbling too much. It will make the Finns uncomfortable, because they are not drunk yet (in most cases) and are not up to talking lots of English.

With the coffee you will be served “pulla”. It comes in various forms but most likely looks like something this:

Could also be like this if your host has a very twisted sense of humor:
poika pulla

This is sweet coffee bread which Finns always have with their coffee. You must take one! They are sort of like the Cinnabons you eat in Saudi, but about hundred times better. Consider yourself a lucky man to be able to experience this culinary masterpiece. Secret Recipe can be found here.

Now for the actual coffee drinking ceremony. The following is the hardcore traditional way of drinking the coffee. Your hosts will be ecstatic to see you do this.

Begin with taking the cup off the plate and pouring some coffee on it until the bottom is covered. Now take the pulla and break it into small pieces, then place them inside the cup to soak up the rest of the coffee. Then take a sugar cube and place it between your lips. Sip the coffee slowly from the plate while firmly holding the cube between your lips, making sure to make a nice guzzling sound. The louder the better.

Then take the spoon and stir the pieces of pulla around, making sure to make a clinking sound. If you still have the cube stuck between your lips take another dose of the coffee from the plate. Try to avoid drooling.When the cube has dissolved eat the pulla from the cup with the spoon. Do all this in complete silence, taking your time while glancing out of the window every once in a while.

Your hosts will be beaming with pleasure of your cultural knowledge. They will be dying to know how the coffee and pulla tastes. Say everything is excellent and ask for more.

It would be advisable to drink at least three cups, but four would be impressive. When the host is pouring more, offer your cup to him on the plate. Take another pulla. Don’t linger too long, Finns don’t like guests staying for many hours.

When the time comes to leave your host will let you know by standing up and clearing his throat, maybe mentioning the ice hockey game is about to start on TV. This is your cue to leave, not join him on the couch. Thank them for the excellent coffee. Your hosts will be concerned if you enjoyed your time or not. Ensure them it was fantastic and make your way to the door. If the Finnish man pats your back as you leave, this is a sign of success!

You have passed the Finnish coffee drinking ceremony with flying colors!

What if you’re a Finnish dude and you find yourself invited for coffee in the land of the sand?? Survival Guide here: The Finnish Dude’s Ultimate Guide To Coffee Drinking In Saudi-Arabia

Did you like this post? Then you will love this one: The Saudi Son-in-Law’s Finnish Sauna Traditions Survival Guide

Check out this post to see how the Finnish husband compares to a Saudi husband (according to a Finnish woman)

Not sure what this blog is all about and who the heck writes this stuff? Click here to find out.

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You might have heard how employees in Saudi Arabian workplaces get different pay for the exact same job based on their passport alone. Western passport holders might earn ten times more than their just as qualified Asian country passport holder colleagues for the same amount of work. How does this effect the working environment, with such huge differences in wages between employees?

In a previous post I wrote about the workplace bullying problem in Saudi-Arabia. It was mentioned how the salary disparity between different nationalities is at least partly to blame for this unfortunate phenomenon. Read that post hereSaudi Hospitals, Bureaucracy and Bullying. 

The wage system in Saudi-Arabia is completely based on the color of the employee’s passport. This goes for all companies hiring foreign staff. My experience is from the nursing field so I will talk more about that specifically.

In most countries the nursing salaries are seen as too low compared to the education level and the actual job responsibilities and duties. The salaries will however usually increase as the nurse gets more experience and training over the years. In Saudi-Arabia on the other hand the staff nurse with only two years working experience and the one with 30 years experience plus additional training to earn the same. There are no age or experience benefits and specializing in a field will only slightly increase the salary.

saudi salary racism passport colors

The only determining factor for the salary is the passport with which the employee is applying for the job. In fact, not even nationality matters.
Take for example an Indian national who worked in Great Britain and obtained a British passport and dual nationality. He will naturally apply to work in Saudi with the British passport because of the much fatter pay check.
Some Asians (particularly Filipinos) knowing this, travel to Canada just to get the passport. According to them, it’s the easiest country to obtain a passport from in just a few years. The expats then relocate to the Middle East, applying for the job as Canadians, this way multiplying their earnings.

To illustrate the gross salary disparity, I drew up a totally fictional salary table of nurses working in Saudi-Arabia. This table is in no way based on any official documents whatsoever and is completely made-up. I honestly don’t even have the specific amounts in my knowledge. I have however during the years come to hear people talking about their salary and other’s salaries and even seen some payslips that had been left lying around in the staff room accidentally (or purposely?) to have a very generalized idea about it. There’s plenty of info available online too.
Salaries of course vary from one hospital to another and there is a difference between private hospitals and government owned, with the latter paying higher salaries.

Passport                                  Basic salary per month Saudi riyals
Indian                                      2500
Filipino                                    3500
South African                          7000
Malaysian                                8000
Arabs (Lebanon, Jordan etc)   10000
Saudi                                      11000
European (British,German, Nordic)16000
American (Canada,Australia)  18000

So basically the lowest paid are the Asian passport holders and highest salary goes to U.S. and Canadian passport holders. This system is said to be based on the standard of living in the home country of the employees. In other words, what the money will buy the employee back home and the cost of living and the value of money in each country. It’s also said to be based on the quality of the education that western vs. Asian nurses have.

For example a Filipino earns so much in the Kingdom she’s able not only to live a very comfortable life there but also support her extended family back home and maybe even purchase a house and a car. The money the Filipino nurse earns in Saudi, although MUCH less compared to what their western colleagues are earning, will in comparison get them more back in their home countries.
On the other hand the American nurse, although she earns more than in the U.S, does not get a significant pay raise. Many are able to travel and save some money, maybe pay off loans but there is no way they could support other family members and make large purchases at the same time.

According to online sources, the starting salary for Indian nurses in their home country is 2300 rupees a month which is about 41 U.S dollars (150SAR). The maximum salary with all benefits would be around 5000 rupees, or 90 dollars. The estimated earnings of an Indian nurse in Saudi-Arabia, around 2500 to 4000 SAR is around 1000-2000 U.S dollars at the current exchange rate. That would add up to roughly 58,000 rupees. That’s a staggering difference to what they earn back home.

Filipino nurses earn approximately 5000P a month back home in the Philippines, which is about 450 SAR (120 U.S dollars). A news article from 2009 states Pinoy nurses salaries in government hospitals will be raised from 2550 to 3500SAR. If they earned the estimated 3500SAR a month in Saudi-Arabia that would be roughly 39,000P. That’s almost ten times more than what they would earn in the Philippines.

Compare this to the European nurse. Say she earns about 2400 euros at home minus taxes, leaving her with about 1600 euros a month. That’s roughly 7500 Saudi riyals, or if counted from the salary before tax cuts, 11,000. In Saudi her salary will increase about 30% from this. If the European were to get a comparative pay raise to the Asians, her salary would end up being something around  26,000 euros or 120,000SAR a month!

By doing some more maths (which I suck at btw) I discovered that the Filipino who first went to Canada to get the passport, actually literally becomes a millionaire (but only in the Philippines) by just working a few years in the Kingdom!

Another interesting aspect is how the Saudi nationals themselves get lower pay than westerners. This is very strange and seems unfair to me. Why don’t they value their own citizens more? Do they think Saudi employees are not as efficient or highly trained as the western nurses and thus don’t deserve as much pay? I have to admit I heard many nurses complaining about the laziness or lack of training of the Saudi nurses.

Even though I understand partly why they thought up this kind of system in the first place and it does have some sort of rationale behind it, it still causes a lot of tension in the workplace. At the end of the day it IS unfair to pay one employee ten times more in Saudi riyals for the same job, just because of their nationality. The difference in salary causes tension and conflicts in the working environment and can potentially cause one nationality to hold grudges and feel jealousy toward another.

So is there a solution to this salary racism? Could all employees be paid the same salary regardless of their passport color? If the wages went down significantly how would Saudi companies be able to attract western employees anymore? If employees from poorer countries started earning the same salaries as westerners in Saudi do, what would happen? An overwhelming influx of Asian employees? How about raising the Saudi’s salaries in order to motivate them more? Would making the salaries more equal make the working environments more tolerable places for all nationalities to work harmoniously in?

If these salaries are based on the cost of living back home and education levels then why do some employees get paid according to their newly obtained passports? What about a Saudi or Asian employee who trained in the west? Or a western nurse that got their education from a third world country? This system seems to have so many loopholes and other negative aspects to it that I think at least some sort of reform could certainly do good for the Saudi workplaces.

I did some interviews for a couple of magazines which focus on what life in Saudi Arabia is like from my personal point of view, as a Finnish expatriate nurse. I think these interviews will be beneficial in answering questions of readers who are new to Saudi Arabia and/or new to Blue Abaya blog. The below interview talks about life in Saudi Arabia from a woman’s perspective, foreigners and Saudi women alike, and is something I highly recommend as reading for anyone planning on moving to Saudi Arabia.

One of these interviews I did with Naima Rashid, read it here: “A Bonny Blithe Blue”. Here’s an excerpt from the interview on Jeddah Blog:


The blue of ‘Blue Abbaya’ is a shade apart, merging a spirit of deep inner freedom and an infectiously positive attitude. Jeddah Blog chats with Laylah of Blue Abbaya, investigating the meaning of her blue, and generally, a lot of this and that.

I just loved how Naima described my blog and she really has a way with words, she’s an excellent writer and her questions were very interesting too!
“The blue abbaya is both a symbol and an attitude for Laylah’s blog. It’s a posture of being respectful to local traditions while setting oneself apart from the crowd through personal taste.”
“Reading her blog, one traverses two regions equally mysterious to many – Finland and Saudi Arabia, and her blog pierces the mystery of both lands to offer us a window into both cultures through the eyes of somebody who embodies them both to some extent.”
“Scandinavian ice and deserts of Arabia are physical reliefs, but like all environment, they become landscapes of the mind at some point. In ‘Blue Abbaya’, blue is the colour of the Finnish sky, and the abbaya is a cultural norm of Saudi Arabia. In its name and its nature, the blog is defined by the richly opposed but co-existing worlds that the author is part of, and the best and worst of which peppers her real and virtual space.”
Socotra island

The below is my interview with Anna Sierant from the Polish women’s magazine OnaOnaOna (SheSheShe in polish) about what life is like in Saudi Arabia as a woman.

How did it happen that you came to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? 

After I graduated I knew I wanted to go work abroad and Saudi-Arabia has always fascinated me as a country, I wanted to know more about it and find out for myself what it’s really like there. Of course I heard of all the benefits expats receive there so it was not hard to make the decision.


Can you describe an ordinary day of Saudi woman?

Actually, I can’t! Mainly because it’s like asking, what is the ordinary day of a Polish or Finnish woman like? It all depends on the person. Saudi women are just like us, some work, others are stay at home mothers. They have very similar lives to us. The main differences are they aren’t allowed to drive so they must arrange transport by taxis, relatives or their own drivers.

Saudi women spend much more time with their close family (meaning their parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles) than we western women do. They see these relatives weekly, which to me is something really amazing but also a foreign concept. Another difference is many of them have hired help in the house so this enables them to have more time to spend with family and friends.


Do Saudi woman think that they are treated worse than men are? For example, do they want to have the possibility to driver a car, to work without a mahram’s permission? Or it depends of womans’ education, origin? 

Again this depends on the woman. Some are very actively trying to change these things, demanding to have equal rights as citizens. One such amazing woman (among many others) is Manal Al-Sherif who is not only campaigning for women to be allowed to drive, but for women to have the same rights as men. Rights which religion gave them long ago but only recently humans (men) have taken it away from them. On the other hand there are women who are genuinely happy with the way things are now, they see it as a privilege to be “taken care of and protected” by the men of their family/society. It really all depends on the woman and how liberal or conservative her family is.


I recommend you read this Blue Abaya post: Takalamy; A conversation with young Saudi females, you will be very (positively) surprised.


I’ve read that a Saudi woman must have mahram’s permission if she wants to work, study, go abroad? Is it true, how does it look? Must he sign some papers?

Yes the mahram, also called a male guardian is the one who ultimately gives legal permission for a woman to work, travel abroad, study and marry. This comes from culture, not religion. Yes he has to sign some papers of approval.


What shocked you the most in male-female relations in Saudi Arabia? Are Arabian marriages always dominated by a man, the head of the family?

I guess initially what shocked me was how men would not talk to me directly or look me into the eyes. My culture tells me to react to this by taking it as an offence and sees diverting the gaze as a disrespectful act. But when I learned more about Islam, I understood that in fact those men were trying to be very respectful toward me by lowering their gazes. Islam advises men to do that when talking to women they don’t know or are unrelated to, so that she does not become embarrassed or feel awkward. For a person that’s not used to that sort of thing, of course it makes us feel awkward at first. I still sometimes miss the “normal” straightforward western interaction between men and women at the workplace which I’m used to.

I would say many Saudi families are actually dominated by the women, behind the scenes.


What would you change if you could to make women’s life in Saudi Arabia easier?

I would abolish the mahrem system (need for male guardian permission for everything) because I see it as the number one cause of difficulty, taking advantage of and harm to women in this country. Most women are not lucky to have an understanding, flexible and fair guardian, who agrees to everything she wants. Even adult women need a guardian, she may have given birth to her guardian! Women are not children, but fully capable human beings, just like their male counterparts. And naturally, allow women to drive would be on my top priority list.


In the opinion of the West KSA is like a prison for women. Isn’t it a stereotype? Could you point out the benefits of being a woman in Saudi Arabia? Something that they can do, have, something that a typical American, European woman could envy them?

It’s a terrible, untrue and unfair stereotype. What I can say is Saudi women have in general more spare time than western counterparts because the domestic help is cheap and easy to find here. So generally speaking they have more free time at their hands. Also they have very close family relations and help always available from family members. Those are things that money cannot buy. In general Saudi women rarely have to worry about financial issues. Most other practical  “everyday” issues, like going to government offices, banks, post offices, paying bills, dealing with paperwork etc the men of the family will take care of all that for her.


For me personally as an expat woman in the Kingdom, I feel lucky to be able to travel and explore Saudi Arabia which is closed off from the rest of the world. Working here has many benefits, long vacations, tax free salary, free housing, and other benefits which make it easy to travel throughout the year. I have traveled alone as a woman around Saudi Arabia without ever having any problems. I realize this is something extremely rare, but it can be done.


What do you find the hardest thing of being a woman in the Kingdom?

Not being able to drive because it limits my movement so much and I hate being so dependent on my husband and having to nag him to drive me somewhere. Luckily we now live in an area (Diplomatic Quarters) where I can walk to the store, parks, spa, gym and restaurants and so on so it has eased my life tremendously.


What is like to come to Arabia and see the ocean of women dressed in black abayas (do you really wear a blue abaya? I’ve read on Polish Umm Latifa’s blog that it was forbidden or “not right”)  How the Saudis react when they see a woman in non-covered face? Do some Saudi women show their faces or it happens very rarely?

When I first arrived I must admit that it was a little bit of a shocker. But you get used to it and start seeing the little differences and details and everything starts looking more colorful instead of just black and white.

I have several blue abayas, mostly I wear them to special occasions because they’re so beautiful and I want to preserve them. I never had any issues with wearing blue abayas in Riyadh and I’ve been wearing them since 2009. It’s definitely very rare though. On occasions I have seen other colored abayas in Riyadh but they are much more common in the relaxed Jeddah or Khobar. There’s no rule or law which says black is the only option, as long as you’re covered and modest it’s fine.

In Riyadh most Saudi women wear niqab, (face veil). There are many more Saudi women nowadays who wear head scarf only compared to when I first came. Foreigners are not obligated to cover their hair, but it’s a good idea to carry a scarf with you anyways. Again, Jeddah and Khobar will see more uncovered faces and sometimes Saudi women there don’t even cover their hair.


Did KSA surprised you positively of negatively? What were you most scared of before you’ve came to Arabia?

I would say definitely positively! The people have been incredibly welcoming. There’s been amazing places to discover and explore that I never even dreamed of, and literally hundreds more places which expats like me currently residing in KSA are lucky to access. I didn’t think the desert could be so interesting and beautiful either!

I was at first most scared of wearing the abaya incorrectly, of too much skin showing. I was scared I’d accidentally offend someone by doing something “culturally wrong” in public and I was worried about not being able to communicate with patients. I learned Arabic at work so that was easy fear to overcome.


Most of non-Arabic people consider Saudi women as passive persons, without any rights, that they can’t fight for these rights. Isn’t it just another stereotype?


I think it is, unfortunately. There are so many active women out there but we just don’t hear about them! Why? Because what the western media likes to tell us (and what sells stories) is about abused, oppressed, veiled, helpless Saudi women. So of course that’s the image most people will have. I am trying to change that wrong perception through my blog.


Is the situation of women in Saudi Arabia changing for better? Or is it still worse and worse? What about the mahram system – does the society want to abolish it? Do they think „my mahram knows better what’s good for me” or, like Rajaa Alsanea, the author of „Girls of Riyadh” they say: „we must change some cases”. 


It’s much better but change happens slowly. King Abdullah is very supportive of women’s rights and he recently granted them the right to vote and participate in Shoura Council. He has done numerous other changes you might not have heard of as well. They might sound like small things, such as allowing women to work as cashiers in grocery stores and lingerie shops, but it does have a huge impact on Saudi society as a whole. Women are becoming more visible and a part of the public life, which will eventually give them more and more rights.


What people think of this system of women needing a legal guardian “mahrem” for everything varies a lot. Some people are against mahram system, some think it should be changed or eased a little, others think it’s fine as it is (mainly religious hardliners).

How do young people meet in Arabia? By parents, the Internet? Or by giving an unknown woman the phone number in the malls?

If you mean how do young people meet the opposite sex (other than through their parents for marriage purposes), then I would say online, social media, at malls and through friends, and yes in the most desperate rare cases, by randomly giving out phone numbers! I wrote a tongue in cheek post about it here: Saudi Dating Scene

What do you miss the most in Saudi Arabia?
Do you miss your homeland?

Of course I miss my homeland Finland a lot, especially my family. Funny thing is I actually see them more often and more at a time since I moved here, because when I go visit them in Finland they will all travel to the same city at the same time, which is otherwise rare. My family members have visited us here in KSA many times and they like it. You can read posts about my mom in Saudi Arabia here.

What I miss the most from life in Finland: I miss the sea, the fresh air, that things are so organized and well-managed. And my dog.


Many expats and locals find themselves “stuck” in Saudi for the summer with nothing to do, fearing death caused by boredom. Not everyone is lucky enough to escape the Saudi heat. With the schools now closed, children and youth get very bored! This causes frustration in parents, what to do?
There ARE other options than shopping people!

Here is a quick list of suggested activities for the summer mainly for families and women:

15 things to do in riyadh


Horseback riding
Dirab Golf course and recreation center
Al Aghar Equestrian club Diplomatic quarters both have lessons available for children and women

Equestrian Club inside Diplomatic Quarters has outdoor swimming pool for ladies and children
Al Manahil also in DQ  has indoor pool
Diplomatic Quarters Sports Club has large outdoor pool complete with slides and a wave pool ladies/men’s days alternate (membership required)
Water Splash waterpark exit 9 Eastern Ring rd.
Dirab Golf course outdoor pool (membership required)

For a complete list of pools in Riyadh go here.

Rent an istiraha with pool
There are countless istirahas (rest house) spotted around the outskirts of Riyadh. One of the bigger ones is Yamamah Resort. You can also find many theme parks on the Thumamah rd, most of which have the possibility to rent a private isteraha/chalet with a pool.

Nofa safari park

it might be getting hot but the safari can still be fun in the morning or afternoons Details in this post; Nofa safari park in Riyadh. 

Try Family Bowling
Intercontinental Hotel
Alkhozama Bowling Center
Universal Bowling Center

Spend the day relaxing at a women’s center
Al Multaka
Al Manahil

Visit Dinosaur world
Inside Al Othaim Mall, on the third floor. Also in this mall there’s a large indoor amusement park with 5D movie theatre on the 4th floor.

Cool off Ice Skating

Ice skating rinks I’m aware of: Royal Mall (also for females), Othaim Mall exit 15, Hayat Mall, ChinaMart Mall upstairs (can be reserved for private functions as well) read more here: Ice skating in the desert

Play Paint Ball
Riyadh’s only paintball operator allows only men on site but they can be booked for private functions and women can play too

Visit King Abdulaziz Historical Center & surroundings
Visit the National Museum, Murabba Palace, the historical buildings, Public Library, King Abdulaziz mosque and Memorial Hall and browse the surrounding beautiful parks complete with fountains and picnic areas. Nearby also the water tower with a viewing platform and a small amusement park located next to it. Check out Blue Abaya’s Guide to the National Museum here.

Diplomatic Quarter
Despite the heat the parks in DQ are much cooler because they all have lots of greenery and shade, fountains and many are situated on the edge of the wadi so they catch the breeze. You will forget you’re in Riyadh! Guide to Diplomatic Quarter parks here. 

My Gym
Inside the Panorama Mall Women’s section, has activities for kids and moms this summer.

Visit the “Riyadh Corniche”
Newly developed Wadi Namar, 2km long lake complete with promenade and picnic spots off exit 20.

Any other suggestions? Feel free to send us links to events etc that you know of this summer! Don’t forget to subscribe to updates via email with the form below.

A colleague I used to work with recently asked me, don’t I miss work at the hospital? My first reaction was yes in a way I do miss it. I miss the patients mostly. I miss interaction with them and the opportunity of meeting so many different Saudis from all levels of society and learning about the culture and customs. Especially I miss having the Bedouin people as patients and seeing those smiles on the faces of pediatric patients.
Read more about quirky bedouin patients here:bedouins-as-patients
Why I love working with Saudi patients here: thank-you-my-dear-saudi-patients
Learn about the amazing Saudi hospitality I experienced with patients here: saudi-hospitality

Read about the salary racism , which is one of the causes behind the workplace bullying problem.


Patient care was always the best part of the job. Naturally I miss some co-workers as well. Many, many awesome people from all over the world I was lucky to meet along the way. I made some great friends and found many like-minded people during the years. I miss the social aspect of work and of course the extra money, who wouldn’t!

What I don’t miss in particular however is the bureaucratic nature of the hospital. Everything is just so DIFFICULT. Things don’t work anything near to how they do in the west although the hospitals claim to be run by the American model. This is 100% a Saudi model complete with a mix of discrimination against sex and nationality, pecking orders, red tape, complicated policies, gross incompetence, random unfairness, cosmetic campaigns, some unprofessional management and so forth.

I don’t miss that one bit. If I could just interact with the patients and not have to deal with the rest of the load, I would be running back. But in the end I think, is it worth the stress and hassle? At the moment I feel it isn’t but I might change my mind in the future, who knows.

Let me give you an example of making simple things complex. Say I have a patient complaining of headache on night shift. I assess her pain and want to give her a mild pain reliever. What I would do in Finland:  Go check her computer file for any allergies, previous medications, current medications and illnesses, then proceed to medicine cabinet, open it with the keys I have to get the pain relief of my choice based on my education, knowledge and experience and then go give it to her and document it. Taking about 3 minutes in total.

For comparison lets look at how this simple procedure in Saudi-Arabia turns into something so complex and frustrating it will have you pulling your hair out in no time. Same scenario, patient with headache. I go check her file in the automated medicine dispensing system called PYXIS and find she doesn’t have a pain killer on her list of approved medicines. Then I go to her paper files to double check if there’s any written orders by the physician for a Tylenol (also known as paracetamol, the only drug a physician in a Saudi hospital will write as telephone order) that has been missed by previous nurse. No luck.

Next I have to page the correct doctor. I need to check which team my patient is under and find out who is the on call doctor. If I’m lucky I find it relatively quickly but it might be under a service i’m not familiar with and I will have to do a computer search. I page the number and wait for a reply. If I’m lucky he might actually call back within minutes. According to policy I have to wait 10 minutes. The time goes by and I call again, no reply. Another 10 minutes and finally a reply, the doctor was busy (in some cases, he was sleeping).

Next I have to explain to the doctor the whole history and current condition of this patient just to get this simple medication that anyone can purchase by the truckload at any Saudi pharmacy no questions asked. He finally gives the telephone order and I write it down in the file. Another nurse has to come sign it with me as a witness. The order is STAT meaning the pharmacy should prioritize and activate it right away.

Next I have to fax the order to the pharmacy. The pharmacy staff may or may not be helpful. Usually the latter. I wait for a while next to the machine tapping my fingers on it and then decide to log in to check if the pharmacy has activated the medicine in the machine yet (nothing comes out of this machine without it being on the patients list, not even hand cream). Naturally sometimes nurses take the same drug out under other patients files but this is not the correct way to do it.

Meanwhile the patient has rang the call bell every three minutes. Because I didn’t have time to go to their room and none of the Asian colleagues sitting nearby gossiping in their own language are offering help to resolve the issue, the angry relatives have now ventured out of the room to the hallway demanding for pain relief. I have a reassuring conversation trying to explain the procedure to the shouting male relative and they may or may not calm down and go back to the room.

After waiting another 10 minutes I call the pharmacy and in the most polite way possible (knowing the night shift person is usually in the worst of moods) remind him of the missing STAT order. He goes nuts on me and slams the phone on my ear. I take a deep breath and go back to the machine. Someone is using it so I have to wait until they finish. The relative is breathing down my back looking at me like I’m the most incompetent, lazy nurse in the world.

Finally I get the medicine out and can go give it to the poor patient who has had to wait in the worst case scenario for over an hour for this basic medicine. For nurses the priority is always the patient and their well-being and not being able to help because of these silly limitations imposed on the nurses is very annoying.

The nurses in Saudi hospitals are treated as incompetent, unreliable and uneducated staff. Mere maids sometimes. At least this is how the western nurses often feel about it because they are used to something very different. The lack of independence in the nursing field is the single most maddening and frustrating factor for most western nurses here. It comes up in every aspect of a nurses work in Saudi, not just giving medications, but everything. A nurse has to have doctors orders to give water to the patient after surgery, sometimes to change her position or get her out of bed, or even for applying skin moisturizer (no joke people!) Sometimes it feels as if our whole education was a just waste of time.

So as we were chatting with this colleague she told me how things are still the exact same on the ward. The same problems still exist despite a cosmetic attempt to correct some issues. Such as the bullying. This is not only a problem specific to the ward I worked on, but this particular organization as a whole and in fact the entire Saudi-Arabia wherever there are mixes of nationalities.

The reasons behind the bullying problem are complex but ultimately it has to do with human nature and psychology. Regardless of our backgrounds, religion or nationalities, humans will start acting in certain ways and displaying negative behaviors if placed under certain circumstances. When one nationality is paid 10x less for the same job than another just based on their passport color, problems will arise. When the majority of the staff are of the lower paid nationalities and there are only a small minority of personnel getting the significantly fatter paycheck, more problems arise. If management is under-educated and lacks skills to deal with workplace violence, more issues arise. If the organization and system favors bullies and allows them to easily climb the ladder to higher positions, obviously the problems worsen. And when there are no set rules or policies against bullying, the problem not only persists, but gets worse by time.
This is the sad equation in many Saudi work places, particularly hospitals where people work under extremely stressful circumstances.

The typical Saudi way of doing things at the workplace is having things appear as if something is being done, but in reality it was just for show. Posters, campaigns and workshops against bullying can be issued to make it seem as if the problem has been dealt with. Behind the scenes however if a victim of bullying steps out, or someone exposes the problem or dares talk about it, he or she will in fact be facing denial or brushing off of the issue from most of the management. In other words problems are best swept under the carpet and the people who speak out better silenced.

Now this is typical for most workplaces around the world, bullying will always be a problem and management usually won’t know how to or want to deal with it. In Saudi-Arabia the issues however become more severe and the victims more vulnerable. For one the staff is mostly a mix of expats, all or most far from the support of their families, working in a land with strange culture and customs, perhaps suffering from culture shock. They work under pressure to perform and sometimes using a foreign language. The mix of nationalities can be rewarding in many ways but it can also back fire if there’s a significant imbalance and one nationality feels spite for another because of the differences in treatment and salaries.

I could go on about this problem but I will leave that to another post.

So after talking to my colleague and thinking it over, I don’t miss the hospital and the problems that lie within it but I DO miss the patients!


We often hear people say the word “can’t” when talking about Saudi women.
I’m always very happy to say oh yes they CAN.

Climb Mount Everest that is!

A campaign called “A Woman’s Journey: Destination Mount Everest” headed by Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud, one of the founders of the Zahra Breast Cancer Organization, follows the journey of 10 Saudi women to the base camp of Mt. Everest.

The group of women participating in the cause have all been affected by breast cancer in their lives.
This campaign aims not only to spread breast cancer awareness but to educate Saudi women on the importance of physical activity in the prevention of breast cancer.
From their site:

“Through this attempt, and numerous side events that are happening in conjunction, the campaign will educate the public on the causes and effects of breast cancer and unite the women of Saudi Arabia in a momentous event. Together, the campaign organizers want to demonstrate the strength and determination of Saudi women and prove that through a united front that a difference can be made. The campaign invites women from all backgrounds to walk 15 minutes daily whether at home, at work or at school between 7-21st of May, 2012 in solidarity with the climbers and to demonstrate their commitment to each other and to good health.

The relationship between physical activity and breast cancer has been extensively studied, with over 60 studies published in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Most studies indicate that physically active women have a lower risk of developing breast cancer than inactive women.

A Woman’s Journey: Destination Mount Everest campaign hopes to inspire women to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle in order to prevent breast cancer.”

Princess Reema also organized the 10KSA Guinness World Record breaking human pink ribbon formation in Riyadh 2015.

Princess Reema was also one of the organizers of the Guinness World Record breaking formation of the largest human pink ribbon chain in Jeddah. Read about this event on Susie’s blog here:

More pictures and updates on their Facebook Group: A Woman’s Journey: Destination Mount Everest

Photo from Facebook page

Way to go Saudi ladies!!!

Many expats find themselves worrying about their arrival to the Kingdom. The first flight into Saudi-Arabia and the initial shock experienced at the airports can be eased a bit by this simple guide!

When boarding the plane at the country of origin, the passenger should have his/her entry visa at hand. The dates on the visa are in Arabic letters and they’ve used the Hijri calendar. Sometimes the airport personnel will not be familiar with either Arabic letters or Hijri calendar. To avoid frustration among yourself and other passengers, it’s a good idea to find out beforehand where the dates are located and what it correlates to in the Gregorian calendar.

Remember not to check in any of the forbidden items.

Check the customs regulations for import here

A complete list of prohibited items here

The list seems very strict but with common sense and making sure you don’t have anything offensive (who would bring firearms to Saudi anyways) you will be fine.
Most importantly and what the officers on arrival will be searching foreigners for are alcohol and products containing alcohol (watch out for liquor in chocolates and vanilla extract), alcohol manufacturing devices, porn of any kind, (bare in mind the Saudi officer’s idea of porn might be your collection of Entourage DVDs which he might confiscate) pork products, gambling stuff and some religious items.

Contrary to common beliefs, it’s perfectly fine for first time arrivals to bring in a Bible for their private use but it’s not allowed to bring in many copies. They will suspect you are going to start proselytizing. People do bring in small Christmas trees ( which are perceived as a religious item) and other such items but don’t attempt to do it the first time you arrive. All personal medications that fall under the narcotics category should have a doctor’s prescription to go with them.

A strange question I often get: Am I allowed to bring in stuffed animals (as in teddy bears and bunnies) to Saudi-Arabia? Answer pure and simple is: OF COURSE! They are not banned in KSA and I have no clue where the rumor has started that KSA has banned stuffed animals! Stores like Toys R Us are full of them so you might not want to bring other than your child’s favorite ones.

If you’re a diver I would recommend packing your diving equipment all in one bag and easily reachable because most likely this will catch the eye of the customs officers (apparently it looks like alcohol manufacturing equipment to them). It would also be a good idea to pack your CD’s, DVD’s and computer in the same place, these will most likely be searched if you’re a male expat. Any items deemed unsuitable will be confiscated, to be ahem checked out and then of course destroyed by the officers!

Arrival Dress Code
This concerns mainly expat women for whom arrival to the Kingdom for the first time can be very daunting. For the guys modest dress as in long trousers and no sleeveless T-shirts is fine, shorts would not be recommended on arrival, although you can use them once in the country.

Women often worry about the abaya and head scarves. There is actually no need to worry too much about it. There is no problem arriving at the airport international arrivals without abaya as long as the woman is dressed modestly in long sleeved pants or a skirt teamed with a loose fitting shirt and maybe a coat on top if arriving in the winter. I’ve seen plenty of female expats arrive at Riyadh International without abaya and some were even dressed in T-shirts and jeans. Whatever you dress in be prepared to be stared at by men of all nationalities upon arrival, especially if you’re a western female because you stand out and will always attract attention no matter what you wear.

Boarding the plane for the last length of the flight to Saudi always takes a bit longer because they recheck for the entry visas and passports when entering the flight. The staff want to make sure nobody gets on the flight without a valid visa because they will be fined if anyone slips past them. Personally I’ve had problems with my multiple exit re-entry visas at this stage again for the same reasons that personnel are not trained to check the dates.

You might get your first taste of gender segregation and queue jumping culture while boarding the aircraft. If you’re a guy, a Saudi woman most likely will want to change her seat next to a female. No need to get insulted by this, she will just feel more comfortable next to a woman. More rarely it works the other way around. Seat allocation just might take longer until everyone is comfortable.

Don’t fret if you see the pilots praying next to the plane. They’re not praying out of fear the plane will crash, just doing their daily prayers.

On Board
If you’re flying Saudia there will be some extra interesting things going on. Kind of like watching an action movie! There will be seat-shuffling, kids bouncing around seats and hallways during take off and landing, the toilets will most likely be flooded with water form people having performed wudu (washing before prayer) inside the toilets, people praying on hallways blocking the way and other things which the flight attendant should say something about, but they just don’t because it’s Saudi Airlines and anything goes.

None of the flights coming into Saudi serve alcohol or pork. Some of the airlines will have a travel prayer announced before the flight takes off.
At some point the stewardess will give you an entry card which looks like this:

The first time they handed me this I was confused should I fill it in or not. I did and nobody ever asked for it. I insisted giving it to the passport officer as well as the customs officer but they just gave me a blank stare and threw it in the trash. None of my relatives or friends who were given this were ever asked for it either so its purpose remains a mystery. EDIT 2017: They are not handing these out anymore but that might change at anytime.

If you were sitting next to an unveiled Saudi woman on the plane which originated from a western country,  don’t be surprised when she comes back from her toilet trip fully transformed into Saudi gear meaning abaya and niqab. When exiting the plane you will wonder where all the women’s faces suddenly have disappeared!

When the plane lands be prepared for a scene from the Amazing Race:

saudi plane passengers

Many of us have been on planes and seen how strongly the flight attendants (especially on the European airlines) react to people even daring to open their seat belts before the plane has come to complete stop, let alone standing up or God forbid opening the holy overhead compartments! The flight attendants would normally react immediately and prevent the passengers from standing and opening compartments due to safety reasons and regulations. That person might even get arrested for such an offense of aviation rules and regulations.

However, on most Saudi based airlines like Saudia, Flynas and others, they are not that strict. People will try this every time, and it might be that flight attendants are simply too frustrated to try and control the crowds in this regard.

Some people are just Very Important People and have such important things to do, they really DO need to get up the SECOND the plane lands to scramble to get their overhead luggage and be the first ones to stand in the aisles ready to barge out of the plane like it’s the amazing race. You might see the poor flight attendants desperately trying to talk/shout/threaten them to no avail. It’s of utmost importance to be able to be the first one out of the aircraft because this might save the person about 15-30 seconds of their precious time (sarcasm).

Arrival and Passport control
This might be the most daunting part of your trip. When you arrive at the Riyadh King Khaled International (KKIA) airport and make your way downstairs to the passport check lines you will encounter a taste of the Saudi way of doing things. If you’re lucky there will not be long queues as can be seen here:

There will be much confusion at this point. The only people who will seem to have a clue where to go are the Saudis that have all already rushed to their own queue on the far right labelled residents and GCC. The signs seen above stating “first time arrivals” and “arrivals with multiple exit re- entry visa” have no significance whatsoever. Choose any line, preferably the shortest one. If it’s the wrong one they will change you to the correct line. In general people will be directed in the lines according to nationality. As can be seen here:

All Afghanis in one line, Pakistanis in another. Looks like they’ve been waiting for few days. Might even be the case. If you’re a western woman, men at the airport (all nationalities) WILL all stare at you which might be very intimidating for first time arrivals. Better get used to this. Another common sight is to see a line full of Indonesian or Filipino women coming in as maids. They will also be sitting on the floors and be dressed in normal clothing, often looking rather fearful. It’s a sad fact that your nationality determines how long you will wait and also how you will be treated at the airport.

EDIT 2017: There is notable improvement in the arrivals passport control and the immigration officers have clearly been through some training in terms of manners and efficiency. Lines move faster now and are based on first time entry vs a re-entry visas only. Be prepared to be fingerprinted upon arrival.

Saudis naturally get out the fastest. They don’t have visa issues and the process is fast but some use tactics such as jumping the queue in front of all the other lines. If this happens to you despite the hour long wait there’s nothing you can do about it. Second luckiest are westerners. Especially women travelling alone. 90% of the time they will be picked out from the back of the lines by the Saudi officers and showed directly to the front. Men are not that lucky usually.

Sometimes families with small children are picked out the line and allowed to cut in front of everyone, if they’re lucky.

In general the passport dudes are rude, indifferent and NEVER smile. No need for concern though, it seems to be part of their job description and has nothing to do with you. This is also not an indication of how you will be treated by all Saudi people! You will be fingerprinted here as well. EDIT 2017: Significant positive improvement in attitudes of passport control dudes has been noted.

For the females arriving alone you might be asked who your sponsor is or if you have a ride home, let them know you’re going to use an UBER or London Taxi ( or whatever form of transport it is you’re going to use).

Luggage and Customs
Once you’ve managed to pass through to the luggage belts you will be approached by men dressed in green or blue overalls. They are the airport staff who you can hire (but you don’t HAVE to even though they insist) to help to lift your luggage on the cart and push the cart around for 20SAR. The carts only are free of charge. Expect the luggage to arrive a pace befitting the Kingdom, taking their sweeeeet time!

This is a good moment to start adjusting to SMT.

After this you will proceed to the x-ray machines to have your luggage x-rayed for the above mentioned prohibited items. Remember to place all bags, even handbags on the belt.

With bad luck you will get one of the officers that seem to want to open every foreigners luggage with “suspicious” items in them. Your chocolates might contain liqour and they want to check. Most of the time you’ll just breeze through.

If the officer wants to check you don’t panic. Be co-operative and show him everything he wants. He will soon let you move along. I’ve never heard of anything else being confiscated from people I know other  than plastic “money” chips meant for Black Jack, few DVD’s and CD’s. and that’s it. They really don’t care too much about other stuff mentioned on the list such as books or magazines for example.

Once I had about 6 bottles of various juice concentrates packed with me from Finland. Good stuff like unsweetened lingonberry juice (a brain-burstingly sour juice) blueberry, strawberry, cloudberry and other Finnish wild berry juices. Admittedly, it might have looked suspicious.

The officer was convinced I had smuggled in alcohol, shook the bottles and with a beaming face said “AHA! Alcohol! Look, bubbles! Alcohol, too much bubbles!” I laughed and told him to go ahead and taste it (it was the lingonberry bottle so I secretly wished he did). He took me to the back office with the boss, they turned the bottles around for a while, laughed and looked at me like I was a lunatic (maybe they were right) for bringing that stuff in and told me to move along. Got to keep all my goodies though.

After the x-ray you will be out of the luggage area and be met by a row of men, mainly people’s drivers and taxi drivers. It’s best to move on to the exit on the left and get a taxi from the official taxi line outside. A cab to Riyadh city center should not cost you more than 70SAR. A single female can also hire a taxi alone from here without any problems. EDIT: 2017 You can now order a Careem or UBER taxi to come pick you at a certain time, and there’s a London Cab company stand outside. London cab to city will cost around 100-150 sar.

Welcome to the Magic Kingdom!