Definitive guide for Newbie expat nurses traveling to Saudi Arabia 2023


Woman ofw with luggage at the airport

I left the Philippines around October of 2015. I can still vividly recall how my companion and I took what little courage we have and head on to seek greener pasture, or in our case hotter and arid desert. But before we get to the part where I talk about how life-changing it is to be an ofw nurse in a land filled with mysteries and intrigue, I would like to talk about how we manage to get here.

dream quote

I was informed about a vacancy in a private clinic in Dammam at that time. They needed male nurses to fill the role of operating room nurse for plastic surgery procedures. At that time I have zero knowledge about plastic surgery and very little experience in operating room nursing. But hell we want to leave the Philippines and earn our first-ever paycheck from abroad. The idea certainly filled us with hope, aspirations, and pride that we may be able to achieve something in life compared to having to pretend and enjoy what measly salary we get working locally.

My companion and I, are working in a very prestigious hospital in the south of the Philippines. Having been described as prestigious doesn't necessarily equate to having an enticing salary for its employees. It was small, but it was enough to make ends meet. But not enough to build our dreams. We work as EEG nurses or (electroencephalography nurses). The work was not hard, and we have very good idle time in our department. But having this kind of working environment pushed us to look for career growth. It was May of that year and we were frantically securing and accomplishing a lot of the requirements, particularly the Prometric Exam. At that time the Saudi ministry of health is requiring for those professionals looking to work in the kingdom. The exam was akin to a lite version of the NCLEX exam, computer-based. It was very nerve-wracking during the whole exam, you'll never know if your gonna pass or fail as there is no indication if you're hitting the right answers all the time. But the experience was worth it.

ofw filipinos awaiting departure in airport

The confirmation of our flights came in mid-September of that year, we were eager and giddy because all of our sacrifices came to fruition and we can finally call ourselves OFW (overseas Filipino workers) yay! our country's modern-day heroes Kuno. yay. There. The day of our flights came so fast that we barely have time to properly prepare ourselves for the experience. We were scheduled on the 28th of September after a grueling 10 hours and 45mins we finally arrived at our destination. We arrived in Saudi Arabia during the early time of cultural modernization. Saudi Arabia is known throughout the world as a country with a very conservative nature and any foreigner who wishes to come to Saudi Arabia should know when and where he oversteps his/her boundaries. Just like in any other country, there are still a lot of people where the old tradition is deeply ingrained, so knowing how to interact with them is a must if you plan on working particularly in the medical services sector, or as a nurse in our case.

dammam airport
Dammam airport Lobby

dammam buildings
Dammam City center

I will not go into details about "how to's" or instructions on how we get started applying for our work here in Saudi Arabia, as that will be another topic for another blog. I will only be talking about significant things we experienced and should be a part of somebody looking to work in this country and know-hows prior arrival, as this knowledge and guide can properly jumpstart your daily life in this country.

Before we left the Philippines, we hear a lot of stories about Saudi Arabia and how different it is working here compared back home. Top of the stories list is how usually Men get harassed and gross hygiene practices and so on. Not to mention how strict it is and that there are Religious police enforcing strict protocols around the city. Part of this is true. but working here for many years now and experiencing a lot of changes gave me a different view of this country to foreigners. Saudi Arabia is a very developed country. A lot of the infrastructure is on par with the rest of the highly developed world. Technology is placed very highly here and not to mention their cheap and very fast internet speeds.

riyadh buildings scene
Riyadh. Center of the Kingdom

Language basics

First and foremost if you are not from the middle-east or are a practitioner of the Islamic faith then, just like any of us, the main hurdle is the language. Learning Arabic can be very tedious and difficult, especially for us Asians where our accents and the way we usually talk is very different. so my suggestion is to learn first the basic vocabulary to facilitate conversation even in the most basic form. not all Saudis or citizens here in Saudi Arabia can speak very good English or can speak English at all, so knowing the basics is a must, especially when booking a cab or just buying something from the local bakala (store). Here are some of the very basic vocabulary or terms you need to memorize or get familiar with.

arabic days of the week
Sunday is the First Day of the week here in Saudi Arabia

"Always remember that Sunday is the first day of the week and is equivalent to Monday in our country. and Friday is Sunday in our country."

from Zero to Ten

Saudis are particularly big on Introductions and greetings, They will always start a conversation by greeting and asking how are you first. So knowing how to respond is basic etiquette. So open this Link and try to familiarize different Arabic words and responses. Saudi speaks with a lot of emotions and hand gestures, so don't be intimidated when they try to communicate with you.

arab in conversation

What to bring with you during your travel

Aside from your clothes and other essentials, it is advisable and particularly important to bring food. Especially those that are ready to eat and don't spoil easily and can handle the tossing and turning of your luggage during travel. If you're a Coffee addict better bring some with you and an electric kettle as you are not sure if when you arrive at your destination, basic amenities are available for use.

Arriving at your destination or accommodation is not always pleasant, this is especially true for those working for a private company. most of the time, a lot of the things are not available. also, you cannot immediately go out and buy something. as your company or the liaison officer is preparing most of the required documents for your stay. so preparing ahead of time is a must. 

Before going out in public, you need to have a resident permit or IQAMA. This is required by law, Not having or bringing an iqama can equate to fines or jail time.

Bring at least one with you on your travel:

  • Food (Noodles, Crackers, cupcakes, coffee, tea, canned goods) READY TO EAT.
  • Toiletries (shampoo, soap, toothpaste, etc.)
  • Power banks and extension wires with type G plug (and TYPE G ADAPTOR)
  • Bedsheets and comforter (for the sensitive in you)
  • Earplugs and Noise Cancelling Headphones (in case you have an annoying roommate)
  • SAUDI CURRENCY (AT LEAST 500SAR) You'll thank me for this
  • Portable WIFI device
  • Small portable electric kettle
  • Roaming SIM card from your country (trust me, you need one)

Internet connectivity is a must for ex-pats nowadays. having one can make any day better because you're gonna be bored most of the time. That is, waiting for your first day of work. Also as I mentioned early on, Saudi Arabia is a technologically advanced country, and having an internet connection is a requirement. Most government transactions are done through apps. To include, the most basic function of the internet is for communication purposes. unlike the Philippines, Saudi Arabia is not particularly akin to using Facebook messenger, So download Whatsapp ahead of time. This app will be your main communication app in this country, this is as ubiquitous as It can get, as everyone from the delivery guy to your mudeer (manager) is using WhatsApp for communication.

So, you're wondering how you can secure an internet connection upon arrival? In every airport, you can see stalls of different internet providers or networks here in Saudi Arabia. Among them are STC, MOBILY, and ZAIN. STC is the main network provider here in Saudi Arabia, so most of the ex-pats prefer using STC. But sometimes internet coverage and speed depend on the area. The reason why you need to bring local currency is to prepare yourself for eventualities such as buying a sim card at an airport. if you happen to forget to bring Saudi Riyals, you can exchange your pesos for local currencies at the airport upon arrival. There are several stalls available.

When buying a sim card, they will ask for your iqama number. since it's your first time, your passport number will suffice. Saudi Arabia is very strict about sim card purchases, they will register your biometrics when you purchase a new sim. so be warned.

Do's and Dont's prior arrival and in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia follows very strict Islamic codes or rules. violating one of these rules can get you in trouble. You can either be fined, jailed, or deported immediately. it is wise to be observant and follow these rules strictly.

By the time of this writing, Saudi Arabia has undergone a lot of cultural and traditional changes over the years. particularly from the time I arrived here back in 2015 to the present. here is a list of things that you don't want to get in trouble for.
  • Alcoholic drinks
  • Alcohol-containing items, flavoring extracts, cooking wines, liquor, items containing liquor
  • Winemaking kits, alcohol distilling equipment, books on manufacturing of such drinks, or any foods with alcohol as ingredients such as vanilla extract.
  • Narcotics
  • Medicines WITHOUT prescription for personal use are prohibited and subject to possible confiscation) All kinds of medicines including injections for diabetic patients are allowed as long as they are accompanied by a doctor’s prescription and are to be for personal use only
  • Dangerous chemicals
  • Natural pearls (cultured pearls allowed in small quantities)
  • Radio transmitter/communication equipment (including walkie-talkies, short-wave, VHF, marine, police band equipment, etc.)
  • Binoculars, night-vision equipment or telescopic equipment, drones
  • Products containing pork
  • Products containing frog meat
  • All types of statues or objects of human or animal form might be used for religious purposes and worship such as Buddha figurines, religious carvings, altars, etc. * Do not include kids' toys such as stuffed animals, or dolls.
  • Games of gambling (chess, dice, backgammon, poker chips, roulette, etc.)
  • All weapons and firearms (real or ornamental), including guns, ammunition, explosives, fireworks, spears, and other edged weapons, etc. (owner subject to investigation, fines, and/or imprisonment)
  • All Pornographic material such as books, DVDs, magazines, etc. *Women’s Fashion magazines with images of models in revealing clothing might be confiscated.
  • Politically sensitive material
  • Articles and books contrary to Muslim or Saudi Arabian beliefs or morality will not be allowed into the country
  • Christmas trees, crosses, crucifixes, Stars of David, or any other items associated with religions other than the Muslim faith. *Bibles are allowed for personal use only, ie one Bible per person. 
  • Military uniforms or equipment of any kind
  • Taxidermy, ivory, fur
  • Israeli Shekel

woman in abaya
woman wearing abaya

Additionally. women are required to wear Abaya's when outside or in public. Although much has changed in the kingdom since. requiring to wear one has not been strictly implemented lately. but just to be sure, be tactful and follow the protocols.

Most of the guides and how-to's are already covered in our entry. I will supply additional links for you to look upon for the latest updates on policies and protocols when going inbound to Saudi Arabia.

Helpful links:

Important Apps to Download on your phone

  • Tawakkalna (Covid-19 KSA) (very important app. this will be your medical passport. (Required when entering any establishment in the kingdom, as of 2022 none of the public establishments requires you to present your tawakkalna status.)
  • Sehhaty|صحتي (All sick leave certificates are issued online)
  • WhatsApp Messenger
  • Absher | أبشر  (Government-related transactions, also for digital passport)
  • ‎Google Lens (so you can translate any Arabic text from pictures, posters, and signs to English)
Note: iOS links not included. But all apps are available on the Apple App Store.