Making the Move: Saudi Arabia


Fraser Clarke

It’s at this time of year that many people start considering (or in many cases start re-considering) the idea of a move abroad.

A new year brings with it new hopes, a fresh start and the opportunity to do something you’ve been hoping to do for a while. So why not make 2018 the year you finally go for that new life overseas?

Over the final six weeks of 2017 we’re looking at a select group of the countries we work with, and examining why you should make the move in 2018.

During this we’ll recap some of the major news stories from 2017, look at the health issues facing the country, what sort of person would be suited to a move, and what the future could have in store. So read on, and join in the conversation on social media using the #OdyMTM2018.

As we reach the halfway point in our exclusive series we’re going to take a look at the unique Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A fascinating location that continues to attract plenty of expat medics, despite a very different way of life.

What Made the News in 2017?

Saudi Arabia is a notoriously secretive country, however it is more than happy to publicise the successes enjoyed by its well-funded and highly rated healthcare sector. As a result we’ve been able to bring you plenty of news from the ‘Desert Kingdom’.

This started back in January with proposals introduced for a 100% Value Added Tax on tobacco products. Saudi has some of the world’s highest smoking rates, with statistics showing that a staggering 14% of those aged 18 and under have taken up the habit. This increased trend in smoking rates amongst young people was especially unusual, with most countries seeing a significant drop in the number U18s using tobacco.

A day later the country’s 2017 budget was introduced. An 8% rise was granted, with healthcare being a particular beneficiary thanks to a further £26bn investment.

We then took an in-depth look at Jubail City in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province, after noticing an increasing number of medics wanting to move to the area. Meanwhile Dubai based investment group Amanat Holdings announced that they had purchased a 13.18% stake in Saudi Arabia’s IMC Hospital.

A busy January concluded with Bait Al-Batterjee Medical unveiling plans for a new medical city in Jeddah.

In February NMC Health revealed that they would be expanding further into the Kingdom, whilst a steep rise in the number of Dengue Fever cases were reported in Jeddah.

After a quiet March, Riyadh played host to the ‘EHealth and Beyond’ conference in early April, before the Saudi Government gave the green light to a plan for a new medical city in the same location.

Later in the month high rates of Renal Failure in the Kingdom were highlighted, with more than 16,000 Saudis said to be suffering from the condition. Meanwhile data published at the ‘EHealth’ conference showed that healthcare in Saudi Arabia was on a ‘fast growth trajectory’ towards a worth of SR926bn (£197bn) by 2020.

May opened with major news, as the Kingdom revealed that it was no longer accepting dentists from overseas. The decision came as a result of Government lead plans for ‘Saudisation’ of the sector.

Later in the month NMC Health became the leading interested party in Saudia Health, the medical services arm of the Kingdom’s Saudia Airlines.

As we reached summer 14 new cases of Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) were reported in the Kingdom, with 12 of the new cases being in Riyadh. Two people would die as a result.

In August Saudi Arabia’s health ministry promised citizens in the Kingdom that they would continue to have free access to healthcare services in the country, despite press reports to the contrary. Later in the month the Ministry of Health signed a deal with Riyadh based medical technology installation group Al-Kaws, aimed at increasing public awareness around the issues caused by smoking.

The year ended with further cases of MERS being reported to the World Health Organisation, and a massive step-forward for women’s rights - as they were granted the right to drive for the very first time.

What are the Biggest Health Issues in the UAE?

Chronic Lifestyle Related Conditions - As with much of the Gulf, Heart Disease is the biggest killer in the country, but rates are high even by regional standards. It is estimated that around 30% of the Saudi population are obese, and this figure has risen noticeably since 1990. Meanwhile 23% of men are classified as physically inactive, whilst this figure is nearer 50% for women within the country.

These factors mean that conditions like type-2 diabetes are growing in prevalence in the Kingdom, with an estimated 3.4 million people suffering from it in 2015. A massive percentage of the country’s 28 million strong population.

Breast Cancer - Despite Breast Cancer screening being free in Saudi Arabia very few women actually take up the offer. Saudi society still sees women dress very conservatively, with the Abaya (veil) being mandatory almost Kingdom-wide. As a result few are willing to allow medical scans to take place on an intimate area of the body.

A 2013 report showed that just 8% of women in Saudi had taken a mammogram at some point in their lifetime, with the majority of these cases coming after they were recommended by a doctor.

Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) - Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (or MERS as it is usually known) leads to the death of around 36% of all those who contract it.

A viral respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus, it was first identified as a major issue in Saudi Arabia almost six years ago. It is believed to be transported by camels, however the exact science behind it remains unknown, meaning that it is still untreatable.

Typically the symptoms can range from a simple fever like cough, to shortness of breath and diarrhoea, however in patients with long term health conditions such as Cancer and Diabetes the impact can be far more serious.

Who is Suited to a Move?

Saudi Arabia is a unique location, and that means that it certainly isn’t suitable for everyone. Those who enjoy the freedoms of living in the West should avoid a move, whilst it isn’t ideal for those with teenage children due to the lack of things to see and do.

We find that it attracts a couple of groups. Firstly those looking to enhance their earnings, with the Kingdom’s high, tax-free, salaries being amongst the best on offer in the world. Secondly we find plenty of interested individuals who originate from nearby. The NHS attracts medics from all over the world, and plenty from locations like Pakistan and India. When these people elect to take their skills elsewhere the are often attracted to Saudi Arabia by the salaries, and find the adjustment to a different way of life easier to make.

If you don’t fit into either group that doesn’t mean that the country isn’t for you. It just means that we would recommend that you research it extensively before signing a job offer.

What Does the Future Have In Store?

It’s impossible to say at the moment. Saudi Arabia has enjoyed years of stable growth, however with the oil-price slumping this may not last for much longer.

The country is perfectly safe, however a move is unlikely to be a permanent relocation. If you’re looking for a short-term switch to experience another culture and make some extra money then it’s ideal, if you’re looking to set up roots in a country however we’d recommend looking elsewhere, as things can change very quickly.

Start your journey today by registering on our website.