From an expatriate, to all expatriates

From an expatriate, to all expatriates


Tariq A. Al-MaeenaTariq A. Al-Maeena

Expatriates do not have many public forums in which they can make themselves heard. And when asked, they refrain from comment as they go about attending to the business at hand for which they were recruited and generally keep to themselves. But there have been remarkable exceptions over the years, especially among those who have stayed in this country for a significant portion of their lives. The following is the voice of Zeba Khan, an expatriate from India who talked about living in the Kingdom.

“June 3,1989 was the day we landed at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah. The weather was hot and humid and lots of porters in light blue dungarees were rushing from one point to another. The policemen looked very friendly and wore different colored uniforms than the Indian police, which was new to me.

“The pleasant smiles of the police, who after two minutes of being here I knew were called “shurta” for the rest of my life and I still scare my son with ‘shurta aajaa yega if you don’t sleep,’ meant we were welcome. My mother with my two younger sisters Zoya and Zehra were made to sit in a waiting room to wait for our mahram to come and take us home. Wow, this is how it works here I thought to myself wondering – mahram, a legal protector from Allah which also I later found was a beautiful concept of Islam.

Subhan Allah!

“Everyone around us spoke a new language – Arabic – which sounded like everyone was reciting a verse from the Holy Qur’an. It was time for prayers and the loud Azaan was being played at the airport. Within minutes, everyone disappeared to pray and came back after 30 minutes. I asked my mother why and she told me because people or nations that prayed on time respected time. Wow! I thought to myself, I’m so lucky to be a part of this world.

“Soon father came and it was the first time we met in peace and tranquility, something we had lost in some parts of Jammu and Kashmir due to a new liberation movement that had just started then.

In our new home city Jeddah, the small billboards in the middle of Madinah Road read ‘Welcome – Ahlan wa sahlan!’ Till this day in December 2016, this country has welcomed us and many more like us from different countries, cultures and backgrounds. They come to this land with a bag of clothes and old shoes and lots of oil in their hair and make houses and bungalows from the oil-rich economy. Back home they get married, have children and their children are sent off to good schools.

“They eat the best of food which they could not afford in their own countries. They enjoy broast chicken, shawarma, drink fresh milk and juices, get treated in hospitals with the best of care and the latest facilities, drive modern cars on clean safe roads, and visit the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah for free. And yet some of them abuse the Saudi government, the kafala or sponsorship system, the abaya, the Saudi people, the system, the traffic, the weather, the language, and what not!

“Is this fair? Is it really fair? No country can be as humble and kind as Saudi Arabia to expatriates. There are no taxes, no toll gates like many GCC countries, no rise in prices of food and beverages especially during Ramadan when prices in other countries touch the sky. Twenty-five years ago, Pepsi was SR1 and now it is SR1.5; ALBAIK chicken was SR10 and now is SR12. Is this inflation? Please, complainers, stop! You all sleep with full stomachs, with air conditioning in cool rooms, drink free cold water, and in the morning you abuse the locals. Is that right? This is not fair, and I have been seeing this ever since I came here.

“I request the expatriate community to respect Saudi Arabia and Saudis. They smile at us because it is a Sunnah or charity. They are from this peaceful culture. Then how can they hurt anyone? Please stop spreading a wrong image of this beautiful country to the international community. Instead, highlight the good things and promote the country and respect its leaders. It’s the law of attraction. You attract ugly and it comes back to you. And if you think good, then positive stuff happens to you. No country is perfect. No people are perfect. No system is perfect. Perfect is only God.

“I have been teaching here since 2000 and have met thousands of Saudi women. Not everyone was rude. They are very friendly and sweet and very intelligent and ambitious. The young people are very impressive. I am so proud and happy to have been living here for years and want to live here forever. There is no place like this on earth. If you don’t believe me, come and experience the positive side of this country.

“Last but not the least, if you don’t like anything here, even if it is just a tiny little thing, you are most welcome to go back to your country, because they deserve you better! Long live Saudi Arabia, long live the King! Zeba Khan.”

While there may not be universal agreement with what Zeba has to say, at least this expatriate spoke her piece.

— The author can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


  1. What this expatriate lady has said is only partial truth.. It is up to each one what to hear and if we encourage only praises then we will find sycophants galore. If we have an ear for truth then honest people will come forth. I believe that a good policy in life should be: Be sceptical of your well-wishers and charitable towards your critics, because even if 10% of their criticism is true then it is an opportunity for improvement.

  2. 1. To me, it seems that, the writer was talking to an expat without common sense:
    “Last but not the least, if you don’t like anything here, even if it is just a tiny little thing, you are most welcome to go back to your country.”

    It is a shame that the letter-writer is not aware of the fact that many stranded expats who do not like it to be in the Kingdom do not have a choice to return to their countries for months or years, because their sponsors do not pay their due salaries nor renew their resident permit to give them annual vacation or final exit visa?

    2. It is true that majority of Asian and Arab expats come from very poor socio-economic background and their cities or villages may not have electricity nor taxis.

    Amitab Bachan will never consider working in the Kingdom because he is an indian billionaire, but a very poor unskilled uneducated Indian from a small village, works at a restaurant or as a school cleaner, in the Kingdom, or an illiterate pakistani from a small village in Peshawar drive a taxi in the kingdom, while sons and daughters of pakistani elites study in the UK.
    Many doctors and engineers from Asia and Arab countries do not qualify to get a green card in US UK NZ Canada Australia, and they work in KSA because in the Philippines a nurse earns 80 USD (300 Riyals) in her country but she earns 3000 to 5000 Riyal in KSA.
    An Egyptian engineer/teacher earns 100 USD (375 Riyal), but he make SAR 3000-5000 or more in the Kingdom.
    A pakistani professor gets 50 USD (less than US$200) but in the kingdom, she works under her husband’s resident card, receives 2500 Riyals (US$667) in the kingdom with free housing, healthcare, and modern facilities compared to Pakistan.

    • Yes Dr. Ali, I do agree with you. There are thousands of unpaid employees whose salaries are overdue for months. There are many who are willing to go back home upon receipt of their long-pending salaries and end-of-service benefits as per Saudi Labor Law. For those expats like the letter-writer who are better-off, it is very easy to say: “if you don’t want go back to your countries.” I am eager to know what’s the author’s take about this issue. Or do Mr. Almaeena fully endorse her letter..

      • I agree in whatever you havr said n pointed out and similarly don’t agree to all the things said by the writer.
        Butr Mr. Almaeena had already written in the end “While there may not be universal agreement with what Zeba has to say”

    • The monthly minimum wage in the Philippines (as mandated by law) is between Php 12,000 to Php 15,000 (SR 900 to SR 1,100). And a neophyte registered nurse could start earning a monthly salary within that range or more. What keeps our nurse from working back home is the tax burden being levied on that salary resulting to less disposable income. Please get your facts straight when presenting numbers.

  3. Funny nobody is talking about how the country is being run compared to the time when the Prophet (PBUH) was around. Key issues in my view are: (1) tolerance towards other religions/various sects in Islam (2) rights of women in the society (3) superiority complex of its citizens (most) and (4) freedom of speech.

  4. As i born over here and spent whole life. I respect Islamic rules, security in Kingdom. But i just want to ask that what is your opinion about Kafala System?. Isn’t it slavery? Isn’t it black mailing? What nonsense is huroob? Thousands of expatriates are going through this act. Isn’t it shameful act of Kingdom ?And moreover now they added Dependent taxes. How these all can be affordable for average expats? And majority is on average earning scale. Why don’t they remove Kafala System and make direct contracts as in Dubai and also followed by Qatar?

  5. The most objectionable system over here is the uneducated and unqualified being in-charge of highly qualified persons. The institutions are going haywire and nobody knows anything about it because everybody is immersed in self glorifying music. Appeasing your boss is the only way to success however ignorant he may be of the system only because he holds the key to your keeping your job. I would appeal to Mr.Tariq Al Maeena that while the expats are here, please make use of their knowledge, experience, commonsense, judgement etc; because after they all go, there may be confusing due to lack of direction.

  6. Assalam o Alaikum
    I am pakistani I born in saudi arabia I spent twenty years in saudi arabia now I am in pakistan for my undergraduate study.My father has been living in Saudi Arabia for 35 years.I only spent 6 months in pakistan doesn’t matter it is my home country but I am missing saudi arabia desperately because I am feeling that something is missing in pakistan.IN saudi arabia almost everyone whether elder or small children offer prayer almost regularly in mosque all during prayer time the atmosphere become so peaceful that u can’t find such an atmosphere in any part of the world.Ramadan in saudi arabia is the best moment and I can’t think about of leaving saudi saudi-arabia but the government policies of imposing different kind of charges on expats make it difficult for a lot of family to continue living there.These charges are the only thing due to which expats are criticising saudi government.

  7. You have had it so good for so long it is time to earn your true worth and remember that it is when the going get tough the tough get going!
    You might be chewed but never swallowed.

  8. Saudi folks are nice and sweet. They are shy but love to communicate and are very friendly once they understand you are honest. I and my family had the best time when we went for Umra. The trouble was from some Pakistanis who would try to swindle wherever and whenever possible. Love from the USA.

  9. I support this view of hers: “if you don’t like anything here, even if it is just a tiny little thing, you are most welcome to go back to your country.”

  10. Cleverly executed Mr. Tareq A. Al Maeena, Indeed there will be always *NO* and never be an agreement to the points you raised. You have taught us through articles and did discuss in the past and raise quite issues, about expats and kingdom as well I used to be a follower of you., till date – but not any more this time you really disappointed us. By showing us the true colour of a hidden Saudi in you and you do may have reasons for that, I guess. Anyway, people are objecting the poor (Invisible) Zeba Khan who is living for years in kingdom & Finally adopted the Saudi version (“Last but not the least, if you don’t like anything here, even if it is just a tiny little thing, you are most welcome to go back to your country) that’s what a common man hear very often (yalla ingla) here in KSA; neither I object nor defend ‘but if you are really existing Zeba Khan go out sometime and explore in a proper way the reality; I wonder how she got smiling faces upon her arrival, may be it was the time or beginning rather! they needed people from Asia specially!! Otherwise you would’ve experienced the ** hina jadeed and hina gadeem funda** and more surprisingly she heard a new language named Arabic! WOW! People talking as if reciting verses from the Qur’an, Bravo Zeba, (a humble advise your parents should’ve taught you Arabic most important the Qur’an prior to your arrival). FYI, I am an Indian and I’m proud to be a tiny part of my country, we do hear loud Adaan 5 times a day as similarly as in Pakistan and Bangladesh and many more Asian Countries. As suggested by Whitee “Shurta ajae ga means police will come and catch you and NOT you are welcome” it means you have never heard the shurta actually in person..

    I do like to mention few points which you have ignored rather, and please don’t say good food; we do follow all social media and familiar with it… The roads are clean not because of Saudis, it is indeed a hard and honest work of an expatriate. I must thank you for mentioning They get the best food best treatment best residence, well that’s honesty, ‘coz they are **saudis** who are benefitted with all these perks you mentioned, how many of those expatriate get a free medical treatment if they don’t have an insurance or health card?? How many of those are having luxury cars?? Or bungalows lady?? Always have a better vision to understand much better. No taxes huh! go back just few days back or wait few days you will have the clear picture about taxes in the name of fee. If not then why every now and then these (saudis) asking for money for a iqama-renewal-exit re-entry and many more? I can bet on it even if you pay the way they once again (Saudi) you will get uncomparable food right here in my country too. Some day you should visit other GCC countries to have an idea about living and residing of expatriates the way they should be. By the way nothing is free not even a umrah or hajj you have to pay my lady ask your father or husband how they are managing your convenience some day?

    You will be greeted the opposite way if you drive not mentioning a GMC-BMW-Mercedes-Cruiser etc. you drive a honda or camry you will be greeted at every checkpoint.. But I should mention that here seriously. Have a proper attire you will be greeted the opposite way, wake up lady and Mr. Editor you too, i know you know all what i know for now, and don’t you know that we all know what you know. just visit any government office there you will be greeted by Angels with flowers. Last but not least you will reside there for a day or a year or a lifetime you will always be considered as Hindi/Bakistani/Banjaladeshi/Filbeeni. I don’t believe rather advise to come back considering Jammu & Kashmir as a state and your country India not only you everyone is welcome and till date treated as guest..

    • My dear Afzal: I can empathize with your sentiments, as I feel you may be among those who may have had unpleasant experience, but your doubting of Mr.Almaeena’s integrity is rather unfortunate. He has authored many hard hitting articles in the past, critical of many social issues.

      Perhaps you may not know that the Saudi employees are also discriminated when compared to US-Canadian and some other western expats.They DO NOT get the highest salary -in fact many Saudi employees find it hard pressed to live maintaining acceptable living standards. When I was invited by the students of a technical school for iftar, I asked them many questions, and found most of them were not hopeful of finding a well paying job. That is because the “Support Industries” prefer to hire low paid engineers and technicians instead of Saudis. Also unfortunately, the Saudis have a un-earned reputation as “dumb” and “lazy”, and hence many employers prefer not to hire them. Before I went to KSA, I was also told the same during my orientation, but after working there for some time, I found the Saudis were quite smart and hard working.
      When the Gulf war started, many western expats fled, leaving the Saudis to operate petroleum refineries and chemical complexes. There was the genral expectation that there would be chaos; but none of that happened.
      Sure, the Saudis will not clean the street, but why should they? Once upon a time, even Sri Lankans, when they used to be called “Ceylonese”, brought Indians to clean their toilets, clean the streets, do their laundry and so on. If Saudis were to take up the menial jobs, where will the millions of workers from all over the world find jobs?
      I am quite familiar with the shari’a based labour laws of KSA – if you read it, you will realize it is among the most compassionate, and workers who had taken their employers to the courts almost always won their cases, but many workers are scared and or are unaware of the procedures. The employers of unpaid workers would be ordered to pay immediately, if they took the employers to the courts. Having said the above, I must say the visa system, holding the passport, and the kafala etc., are very primitive and need major overhaul.

      As for the “pleasant smiles” from the police, it is quite plausible. I have been in and out of the airport many times, and almost always, I have seen women folk being treated with extreme courtesy, and respect, and they get preferential treatment- “pleasant smiles” are not out of the ordinary.

    • Very truly and factual position Mr. Afzal you had explained. Many Expats are living in miserable conditions in the company camps/compounds, also under the ” Haroob Conditions”, waiting for their final exists also. New shocking bombs are the Taxes/fees..

  11. I agree with her in many things, but she does not represent expats as a whole. There are many of us who come here from better pay and benefits, but high taxes. Many that enjoy freedoms and rights that locals here can only dream about.
    Yes, you could tell us to leave..but some of us are here doing work that is a passion for us. Yes, we may even criticise, but we do so with the hopes that KSA would one day correct their systems, systems hundreds of thousands of Saudis have experienced and enjoyed on their travels to our countries. Yes, this is a wonderful country, but it could be better.
    Recent fees are taxes levied on expats. Together with the fees and licences AND lowering of salaries and cutting benefits you will lose the best expats.
    Your exit visa and also visitor’s visa will hurt your own economy and keep expats families from coming here on vacations.. My grandchildren upon returning to their home countries have given lectures on KSA to their classmates. But no longer..when family Trip’s largest expenditure has been KSA fees.

  12. All societies have their culture and the Saudis are no different. For instance, one has to learn their style of greetings and it’s particular reply. There are also other habits pertaining to treatment of women and elders. How many have been to tge desert with them and spent time exchanging views? It’s no easy task unless you befriend and move closely with Saudi families; like I did. I know folks who have lived in Saudi Arabia for over 3 decades but can hardly hold a conversation with the locals.
    There’s the good and the bad and the bad is apparent especially at the airport.

  13. i’ve been in ksa since 1990. ksa is the best country in the world…good people, peaceful, religious, low cost of living, good health services, etc. may Allah keep this country from harm.

  14. True very true indeed, and yet those of us who live out of Saudi must catalogue , must criticize their cultural ways when its superimposed over Islam. The two are totally different..

    We must remember, that had we the oil ,not Saudi, we would be in the same un enviable situation as is Saudi.

    Responsibility to act nobly as the guardians of the harams is a heavy , a big deal. Just live up to it.

    Let Allah be pleased be happy with Saudi n u will find us Muslim but non Saudi’s more than willing to die with you…

    Truly wealth has corrupted good senses…
    There’s khair in our relative poverty.


  15. Be Human.Follow Humanity and Bond of human chain.Fear Allah.Respect Land of Rasool S.A.W….. government word is same everywhere for one and all.Writer wake up and seek truth of expats …..

  16. Dr Ali Hassan has the right answer for zeba Khan. I am also from Kashmir. Zeba Khan only advocates the positive side of the Kingdom but she did not know how difficult for a poor worker is to live here under a sponsor.. she cannot imagine as she is from a rich family.

  17. The expatriates work and contribute to the society , that is why they receive salary and should get their salary in time . Why should anyone leave? Complaining is a birth-right in the society. We are human being and Islam supports human rights; in Islam, there is no difference between Saudi or other race of humans , islam does not teach this .

  18. Whats written is way far from reality…….!! As written living is not about eating good food or sleeping in A/c…. The person who wrote this is ill-informed..

  19. The letter-sender have just probably seen 1% of the whole picture. She must get out of her bedroom and see the real Saudi Arabian world.

  20. I was in Saudi for two years – 97-99 time period. Then I got to know it is not a place for me. Now am in Abu Dhabi, much better place with prosperity.. – Personal opinion, I am not hurting anybody’s feelings.

  21. This article is somewhat one-sided. For someone who has lived in the country for most of her life it’s either she’s blind and cannot see what’s happening around her or she refuses to see it. Her statements are just partially true but she should also be open minded and considerate as majority of the expats may have come here on their own will, many are also having difficulty leaving the country. Not all have the same luck as you are. If this is all you see then I suggest you go out and explore. I too grew up here and I am aware of what’s going on around me. It is as you say, only God is perfect. One last thing, as a teacher, you should teach your students the ups and downs of life. Not just the happy ones. A teacher’s role is to provide guidance. Teachers don’t lead their students to traps. They should open their minds and not instill what appears to be false bliss.

  22. Reality is she doesn’t go out of her home or school. That’s the way she has this opinion. If she can pay kopalat, if she can pay her iqama fees two three time in the year, if she can work with a construction company 5-6 month without salary, if she can abuse on the road because of Asian worker, if she can beaten by her sponsor then her opinion will be completely different. She is lucky because of her father. Just i suggest to her if she come work visa then she can realize what a surprise waiting for her. She is still innocent.

  23. This woman clearly didn’t step out of her house and dealt with the real Saudi world. Next time ask your father about his interactions with these “smiling” Saudis before writing an article. He will tell you the truth.

  24. Well, there are good and bad in every culture, society or countries!
    take what you want and leave the rest. I am not analyzing but article is a fairy tale , its not near to reality. Not every rule is in favor of expats!
    In general, Saudi people are good and welcoming .been here for 2 years . she wrote about food . well everybody gets what is wished by god and what they r destined to get! its not free, whatever the cost! they pay with hard earned money and get it.

    Laws here needs to be benchmarked with laws in European countries so far as laws for expats r concerned !

    its always a take it or leave it matter.u decided to come, your wish was granted . that’s all . Now be with it.

  25. I agree with Zeba for and up to 75% as she spoke the truth. The balance is in nature as itself is a mixed blessing! There could be errors and omissions but can be traced back for improvements and avoidance of the same later, making this part of the Earth, The God’s Gift, the Best Place to Live-in!!

  26. While there is no doubt that both the good and the bad can be found here, just like anywhere else, I have noticed that most people focus on the bad experiences and thereby forget/don’t notice all the good (blessings) around them. They choose to ingrain the bad experience because they let the bad experience dwell in their minds most of the time. The fact that you do not pay toll each time you go to work and back every day for all those years (probably hundreds of thousands of times), never occurs in their mind nor is it given time to dwell in their minds. There’s countless of Allah’s (SWT) blessing in this Kingdom, that is we choose to ignore, we will never be Thankful.

    Quran 14:7 And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favor]; but if you deny, indeed, My punishment is severe.’ ”


    • u r right. KSA has given us a lot as expat. but what hurt is injustice in the name of Islam. Do u think expat r beggers? r u giving them money free? Dont they work n get money? Do they come here without visas? Havent they contributed toward kingdom’s development? It’s not being thankless, it’s being vocal to talk about injustices. I love saudi arabia like my own country Pakistan. I have great respect and love for this country and people of this country. At least i m not 3rd class citizen here like many countries in west where asians r considered 3rd class cititizen but what hurt me is most Saudis attitude toward me as muslim, as paksitani, as someone who really cares for them. It’s very obvious and you can observe it around that a European r american is treated with far more rescpect and dignity than myself. I have personal experience for last 15 years. Do it but than please dont say muslims r brothers. Apply same rule for all. If u dont need us, just tell us to go and we will. “rizq” is from Allah almighty.

  27. What sister Zebba said is half true she only know and other half she should have asked her husband.

    Fully Agree that if someone doesn’t like anything here can go back to his beloved country . …. She said having in her mind KSA is known Jannah for expatriate house wives , they are the ones enjoying best away from all traditional pressure they might be facing back home and we from Sub Continent knows what I mean here.
    BUT I dont agree her saying as her precious advise GO BACK HOME. home is always home sweet home expats living in Europe those get every thing they desire but they missed what we here in KSA got , its Hermain Sharifain a true Allah’s blessing beside our Hallal Income. Rasool Allah SWW said WATTAN IS EMAN he said once he left Makkah and start living in Madina.
    Most of us follow that Hadis of Prophet Mohammad SWW “WATTAN IS OUR EMAN” we believe we are here as Allah has written our destiny, Alhumdulila. My son recently visited his native country upon his return he only said NO ONE ASKED ME “FAYIN IQAMA?” (Where is your Residence Permit?)………