Filipino Nurses Bound to Saudi Arabia: What You Should Know (Part 2)

This is the second part of my entry about what Filipino nurses should know before moving to Saudi Arabia. It took me quite a long time to finish this entry due to curricular requirements and other stuffs - good thing the semester is almost over. Anyway, below is Part 2 of the two-part blog-series for nurses wanting to move here in Saudi.

The Saudi way of life is greatly based on the teachings of the Quran. In order to live a seemingly ‘good’ life they have to toss away temptations and follow the writings of their bible. That sounds very good, right? But the goodness in that sometimes have different interpretations to some. While points below will discuss my thoughts about their ultra-conservative culture, most are general way-of-living perceptions and stuffs. Again, these are just MY observations and thoughts, and of course, do not necessarily reflect that of my fellow countrymen. Just open your mind, and remember, to each his own.

Why Leave Saudi?

Language barrier. You cannot provide efficient and effective nursing care if there is ANY barrier to communication. Obviously, the most logical way to deal with the language barrier is to learn the foreign language. I know some Filipinos who speak very fluent Arabic but most of them are the veterans in this place, most of which have stayed for more than 10 years. Actually, it is greatly dependent on the person if he/she will consider the language barrier a problem, some are very enthusiastic to learn Arabic and others don’t see the importance of learning the language. And I must admit that I’m one of those less willing to learn.

Hygiene practices. Let me get this straight, not all people here put little importance to hygiene practices. In fact, I admire the youthful and the older locals who are very neat looking and very hygienic. In my workplace, we have Saudi friends who are very specific to cleanliness and sanitation but there are others who give no importance at all.

Just like in every nation elsewhere in the world, hygienic practices vary among individuals. In my first few months in Saudi, I claimed that the educated are exceptions to the “amoy araw generalization” but it turned out I was wrong. Even in the high class malls and hospitals you’ll come across the most awful smell of the no-shower-since-Friday men (and worse, women). That is when you'll greatly appreciate how your parents took care of you in the Philippines when you were a child as they imparted to us the importance of taking daily showers. 

Jeddah houses a multitude of nationalities and those coming from the neighboring countries are those, in fact, who have lesser regard to hygiene. Of course I have learned to identify the locals from the expatriates and it’s a must for me to give you a warning: you can never escape from the dreaded smell. As a courtesy, just ignore the smell, don’t say foul, belittling words, and get out of the scene right away. Again, you have been warned.

Cultural stagnation. This is a personal opinion: I will never wish, in my entire life, to be limited of my freedom. It is very difficult to have a normal free life in here because you are not free to mingle with the opposite sex. Good thing we belong in the healthcare field and that can be an exemption to the rule. Also for women, inequality is evident between the guys and the gals. Girls can’t drive, girls have less opportunities for available jobs, and girls are always covered. Just like how the westerners describe Saudi Arabia, it remains “a country left by civilization.”

Unsafe for females? Most likely, you have heard of horrible stories of people from Saudi getting raped or sexually harassed. That does not apply to women only, in fact, men are also sexually harassed here. There are actual stories that you could read online about nurses (or any other profession) getting raped and left in the middle of the desert. Most comments from colleagues attribute that due to extreme limitations of their locals to sexual expression. Unlike elsewhere in the world, guys here can never go first base (and beyond) not unless they are married or they engage in sexual practices in a non-consenting victim. Also, I have a colleague who is a muttawa (religious police) and he explained that women’s hair and skin, once shown to the public, could provoke sexual urges in men; according to him, if a woman shows her hair or her skin, she is actually welcoming sexually hungry men to harass her anytime. Remember how Mama Mary is depicted on images with her hair cover always on? They consider Mary's contribution (as the mother of the prophet Jesus) part of their religion too! And that is how they want their women to dress like.

But again, the city, just like every city in the world, is a jungle. You'll never know when a tarantula, a boa, or a croc would pick on you... So just be safe and always be vigilant.

Pork is banned! Aside from gender inequality, restriction to food (specifically pork) makes me sigh in sadness every now and then. Food restriction is based on their religious belief that certain animals are dirty and should not be eaten. They also have a special ritual during the slaughtering of cows, chickens, camels, and other animals. When animals undergo that special ritual before they are slaughtered, that practice passes the Halal (the ones you see on the can labels). Anyway, I have learned to live without pork and substitute beef and chicken instead. Now, I can safely say that I’m a beef and seafood lover. :)

Drinking Water is expensive! According to my colleagues (their opinion), water is quite expensive (2 Riyals per liter). For a 5-gallon potable water container I pay SR 6. Sodium content is an issue to some as regular water here have very high sodium. I don't see that as a threat to health unless your kidneys are failing. Some low-sodium water bottles (Nestle) cost SR 6 per liter.

You cannot own a house and lot. Just as explained earlier (post about Why Stay in Saudi), expatriates cannot own properties. The same explanation goes for the item below.

No chance of acquiring citizenship regardless of the years of stay. Simply because you're an expatriate.

No booze! If you’re that after-work-Friday-night-monster type of guy, you can’t be in Saudi. They don’t have liquor in here. And drinking alcohol is extremely against and punishable by law. Jail time, public flogging, and deportation would be the consequence once you’re caught in the act drinking, carrying liquor, or roaming in public drunk. I know a few who have been jailed (two of my colleagues) for 3 days and 2 nights and they are currently on hold (not allowed to leave Saudi Arabia) for the next 6 months while their investigation is pending, also, the police confiscated their iqamas for some time. So paano na sila gagala?! Well, the fact that booze is illegal here doesn’t bother me at all as I don’t drink. The point is, you stay in their country, you respect their customs and laws. Period.

No public party - Philippine style! Well, I am talking about the freedom to hold a party wherever you want (of course, not literally ANYwhere) without thinking of somebody reporting the party and the host to the police. Friends claim that there are locations free and far from the police wherein you could hold parties. For example, Obhur, the near-the-beach compound near Jeddah is a more popular place where public, only-Filipinos-allowed parties and gatherings are held.

No cinema! I have mentioned the observation of how their locals are deprived of the ‘real’ entertainment in Part 1. However, who needs a public cinema if the rich locals could set-up their own home theatre system?! TVs here are huge (just like in the Philippines) ranging from 40” to 60” smart television units and they are way cheaper here than in the Philippines.

Very conservative culture for women. Women are covered from top to bottom. They wear the abaya and tarja to hide their skin because of their belief that skin and hair exposure is tantamount to sexual provocation. And if a muttawa calls your attention, be prepared to be shouted at and receive his short lecture (in public) on the importance of observing their cultural ways. For some ladies, that rule actually saves them a couple of Riyals since there is no need to buy expensive clothing - unless they need to prepare and dress up for an all girls party.

Photo by Photograph: Fayez Nureldine/AFP/ Tue, Nov 27, 2012
Challenge of courtship among Filipino men and women. Only married couples are allowed to roam around or you’ll risk getting jailed or shouted at and criticized in public. Some would choose to illegally get a fake marriage certificate just for them to go around without worrying. That's so wrong, right? Anyway, they are adults, and they should know and be prepared to experience the consequences of their actions. Also, some women simply 'can’t lock their knees,' a number of women I know got pregnant without getting married to their partners. Talk about unplanned pregnancies. Urgh.

Weather. Saudi is a desert so people should expect a dry, hot weather all throughout the year. And just like what is told in Earth Science classes, it gets very cold in the night and hot hot hot during the day. There have been a number of recorded temperature fluctuations ranging from 0 degree Celcius during the cold nights of December (Riyadh) up to 50 degrees Celcius at Summer.

Very limited and expensive public transportation choice. Most common is the taxi but unlike in the Philippines wherein there is a "flat rate," in here the driver or the passenger agrees with a verbal contract, and the minimum charge is 5 Riyals per ride. From where I stay in Jeddah, the usual cost per taxi ride from my flat to Balad is SR 10. They also have the SAPTCO or Saudi Arabian Public Transportation Company that travels to different areas to and from the small towns and cities. I have never tried riding any SAPTCO vehicle but I have seen a lot in Jeddah. They look like the regular air-conditioned buses that we have in Manila. By the way, SAPTCO is for men only. And since you ride in somebody else's vehicle, the risks that come with it are countless (read the sections Unsafe for females? above and Road safety is a constant threat to life! below).

Housing issues. If in case you decide to live out from your company provided accommodation, you have plenty of options. People prefer to live out and find an apartment to avail of the much desired privacy. In general, if you opt to live out, the company will give you a housing allowance and that is a huge sum for some. Apartments can be expensive (in Jeddah it costs 500 to 1000 Riyals per room per month [shared bathroom, living room, kitchen] excluding electricity, water, and internet).

Food choices. Food may have different taste not appealing to the general Filipino tongue (you’ll get used to it anyway). But Jeddah is considered a food haven for food enthusiasts as it houses numerous restaurants offering different specialties. A local magazine called Destination Jeddah (search their Facebook site for more!) is a very nice read if you want to know and explore the reviews of restaurants or the city itself. Another great food blog for the Jeddawis is Of course, the fast food and local neighborhood kabsahan will never be excluded in the list! Jollibee is also here! Have a Jolly-weekend to de-stress!

No holiday season (no Christmas lights, New Year celebration with less fireworks). If you spend the holiday season here, be prepared to miss Philippines big time. The Christmas spirit, of course, is not felt here, no Christmas lights, no colorful gifts, no Christmas carols in the malls, etc. But of course, if there are Filipinos around you could always celebrate the Noche Buena and Buena Noche with them. You have to celebrate it with the Filipinos or else you’ll lose your insanity! Haha.

Road safety is a constant threat to life! Road traffic accidents top the list of common causes of death here. Reckless drivers are EVERYWHERE! If you want proof, just look around the cars in the city, full of bumps and flaws from scratches and vehicular collisions. Add the sandstorm to the reckless drivers left and right, *and boom!* be prepared to see The Light (look up!). The government, however, makes sure the roads are wide and flat. Also, always wear that sinturong pangkaligtasan (seat belt) to protect you.

Limited clothing sizes for the Filipino physique. If you have a small built, buy and pack lots of shirts and pants while in the Philippines! Small sizes here are equivalent to medium sizes in our country. And it is extremely difficult to find the right size for the average Filipino body.

Text messaging is expensive (25 Halalas per text for same network; for different networks, 35 Halalas). Promotional offers are available so it is up to you to avail. I own a smartphone that has 3G so I just use Viber or Skype to communicate with whomever I want to reach. For me, subscription to 3G saves me a lot of money. Currently, I am subscribed for a SR 200 for 3 months of 3G with limitation of 1 GB per month under STC.

Limited 24-hour friendly tambayan (the likes of 7-11, Mini Stop, Select, etc.). In Manila, we have that usual tambayan which most of the time serves as the regular meeting place for meet-ups. This is where we could buy refreshments, simple snacks or microwavable meals, basic toiletries, magazines, batteries, and even condoms! Harhar. In here, you don’t have those or if there is, very rare.

Women cannot drive a car. They just won’t allow them.

Salaah 5 times a day. An excerpt from the Part 1, "Also, you have to get off the mall stalls and restaurants once the 'saalah' or the prayer time starts – that means, interrupted shopping and eating time." The prayer time breaks normal working hours of establishments (restaurants, stores, malls, etc.) So if you're hungry and in a hurry during salaah time, then suffer!!!

But then, if you are of sound mind, you should have anticipated salaah hours, right? Good. That's how an expatriate thinks.

No nursing regulatory board (and no official statewide nursing association). Reason? Perhaps, because the nursing leaders here are non-Saudi? Roam around the leading hospitals (government and private) and do a survey of the nationality of their top level nursing administrators, I bet they are westerners, or Asians. One thing more, Nursing is not a popular profession amongst the locals as they view Nursing as a domestic job. Also, the shifting schedules (especially night shifts) of nurses are not appropriate to the locals. Here's an excerpt from my pre-thesis work:
The country has been reliant to expatriate nurses that occupy almost 95% of the nursing positions state-wide (Bozionelos, 2009). This can be attributed to the country’s regard to nursing as a low-paying, physical and domestic type of job (Gazzaz, 2009) that requires irregular working hours, thus, not appealing to the Saudi population. A strategy adopted by Saudi Arabia to fill the missing nursing positions is through recruitment of nurses coming from developing countries such as the Philippines (Aldossary, While, & Barriball, 2008; Almalki, Fitzgerald, & Clark, 2011).
If you are looking for a chapter of the Philippine Nurses Association in the Western region, then you're lucky, there is! 

Education is expensive. If you have a child, you have no choice but to enroll them to an International School. I don’t have the details here; I don’t know any Filipino who has a child studying here in Saudi. According to an expatriate physician, he pays around SR 50,000 for his Grade 7 child who goes into an International School. But in an article that I read, Saudi Arabia tops the list of countries with very high budget for education (for their locals). That's one thing I admire in the Saudi government, they aim for an educated society and they would really support a student who has high hopes and dreams by funding his education locally or abroad.
Free television and Internet is regulated. No intimate scenes can be seen on free TV; nothing sexual in nature. Perhaps that is their way to protect their people from worldly things, thus, protecting the general tao from committing crimes of various natures.

Internet charges vary. Jeddah's connectivity is at the forefront. They come next after the developed Western countries when it comes to connectivity. They have the same speed and subscription rates in the Philippines so I can't tell more about that. You can always choose different packages to suit your internet usage.

No religion other than Islam. You can’t freely practice your religion. And one must know that fact. Anyway, I believe that's one of the topics in the PDOS. There are households that conduct regular worship/praise sessions and I don't see a problem with that; As long as they hold it in a private place then it's fine. Other than that, you could always tune-in to online Sunday mass via internet.

Discrimination is widespread. Salary is according to passport (a local driver would earn 4,500 to 5,600 Riyals, compare that to the salary of an experienced Filipino nurse with salary range of 2,200 to 4,600 [for at least 2 years experience]). Filipinos' rate is way very low as compared to the Westerners' rate. Sometimes people would joke, you're doing the same job yet they are earning 4-5 times more than what you get. In here, employers would check out your passport then start computing your salary. That’s so unfair, right? Also, in public places and offices, they always make sure the locals are given the full attention and the others are always deemed second class citizens. Well, I think discrimination is a worldwide issue, however, in other countries it is covertly done unlike here that it is a pretty common sight in your everyday discourse. This is one of the most disturbing reasons why I would like to leave Saudi soon.

Company keeps your passport. That is their way of saying, “We get it for safe keeping.” Anyway, you can’t go somewhere (out of the country) unless your company applies for your exit visa. So I guess you have no choice but to surrender your passport to them because a visa-less passport is useless. 

Racism. Locals (some) are extremely racist, and with very poor work ethics. I understand that all countries have different upbringing of its people, with different sets of moral and ethical behaviors, and different levels of education, but all people should treat other people with respect. Talk about good manners and right conduct, eh?! But again, racism is a worldwide issue. In fairness to my Saudi workmates, they are very cool and we have good working relationships.

These, among many cultural practices, are very much different to the social and cultural freedom that Filipino nurses experience in the Philippines. These differences may be perceived and interpreted in various ways by first-time nurses. Being strangers in a foreign land is almost starting from scratch as geographical, biophysical, psychological, social, and spiritual problems with adaptation may arise.

I urge you to read and re-read the pros and cons to help you decide. Why don't you read Part 1 again to give you a better picture of what to expect. Anyway, Saudi has a lot to offer to any person, it really depends on how the person accepts what's given to him/her.

Sa akin lang po... you have many options where you could further your career. One way to explore your options is to learn more about the country where you want to stay. If you could tolerate the things I have mentioned above, then go to Saudi, if not, then move on to another country.


there is no place like home...Anyway good luck to you who wants to work abroad...have a safe work place...
Anonymous said…
i've been living in saudi with my family for five years and my daughter is in grade 1 in a philippine school. usually philippines schools are cheaper. for first grade it ranges from 400-500 a month. books are a little expensive but u can buy books in Pinas.
ligerzero_300 said…
Hi, I'm John and i'm bound to K.S.A. next month and a lot of my friends, colleagues, and relatives are saying that it's not a good country and I'm just going to be raped there. please advise. Thank you.
Anonymous said…
hi. pdos na po ako this week leaving for riyadh to work sa polyclinic. may naka experience na po ba na kayo lang mag isa ang bibyahe to saudi? yung iba ko kasing kasama, kulang pa requirements nila so parang pauunahin na ako i book ang ticket? what will i expect po ba? parang natatakot kasi ako kung anong gagawun ko. thanks.
hi. pdos na po ako this week leaving for riyadh to work sa polyclinic. may naka experience na po ba na kayo lang mag isa ang bibyahe to saudi? yung iba ko kasing kasama, kulang pa requirements nila so parang pauunahin na ako i book ang ticket? what will i expect po ba? parang natatakot kasi ako kung anong gagawun ko. thanks.

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