Saudi Arabia is full of happy expats, but like any other country in the world, living there might work for some and not so well for others.
If you're considering moving there, below are some of the most common things that you should not expect to find or see in the conservative kingdom, including Valentine's Day celebrations, music and fitting rooms.
Here is a list of 7 things you won’t find in Saudi Arabia:
1. Fitting rooms
As a woman, if you go to a shopping mall in Saudi Arabia, you won’t find any dressing rooms. Due to the fact that most sales staff are male, women are not allowed to undress in the same proximity, even behind a curtain or closed door.
You will have to first purchase the item you want, and if it doesn’t fit or you don’t like them, you will have to go back to exchange or return it. You can either try them on at home or you can do so at the mall in the women’s bathroom.
Many malls now also have fitting rooms built near the women’s bathroom, specifically for this reason. The exceptions are women-only malls or specific sections in malls, such as the ladies-only floor at Riyadh’s Kingdom Centre Mall.
2. Female drivers
Women are not allowed to drive. For this reason, most families hire drivers. Saudi Arabia is the only Muslim country in the world that doesn’t permit women to drive.
There are discussions being held within the kingdom, and in the past, two Shura Council members – both women themselves – have proposed an amendment to the traffic laws to recognize women's right to drive in Saudi Arabia.
Also, a prominent member of the Saudi royal family, business man Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, has spoken out in favour of women being allowed to drive. Talal compared a woman's right to drive with her right to an education and a career.
3. Mixed assemblies
Gender segregation is still upheld in most public places, so if you go to a restaurant, you will likely find two sections: a ‘Singles’ section, which is for men, and a ‘Family’ section, which is for women and families. In the workplace, women and men have separate entrances and separate areas to work.
However, there have been recent developments in line with Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030, as he is pushing for positive change within the kingdom.
Earlier this year, Riyadh hosted a mixed-gender concert featuring a female singer, and in February 2017, Jeddah hosted the first ever edition of the Saudi Comic Con (SCC) which was attended by both, men and women.
Alcohol is strictly prohibited anywhere in the country. Things are generally more liberal within expat residential compounds, where authorities tend to turn a blind eye to certain things, including homebrewed beer and wine, but if caught, the penalties are severe.
5. Smoking in public areas
Smoking is strictly prohibited in many public areas, including religious, educational, health, social and cultural institutions, as well as in workplaces, government offices, factories, banks and public transportation. Smoking in a prohibited area will result in a fine.
6. Valentine’s Day celebrations
The celebration of Valentine’s Day is not officially permitted in Saudi Arabia. This prohibition is upheld by the religious authority.
However, not everywhere in Saudi Arabia is the ban strictly enforced.
In the past, the religious police have restricted the sale of Valentine's related items and cracked down on festivities surrounding the Western holiday. But earlier this year, the kingdom's conservative religious police simply "stepped back", according to Arab News.
7. Music in public places
Enjoying music itself is legal in Saudi Arabia, however, playing music in public is not permitted. You won’t find music blasting through speakers in malls or shops. There are many musicians in Saudi Arabia, but most of them tend to stay underground, away from the eyes of the authorities.
However, things are slowly changing under Saudi Arabia's new leadership.
As part of the Saudi-Japan Vision 2030 Music Exchange Program, Riyadh hosted a concert by a Japanese classical orchestra. The concert not only featured a mixed-gender orchestra and a female lead singer, but it was also attended by a mixed-gender audience.
At the time, it was considered the first-ever Japanese full orchestra concert in the kingdom, and Riyadh's third public concert after a 25-year hiatus.