Insiders Guide for British Physicians migrating to Saudi Arabia.

This blog intends to offer step by step guide to the British physicians who are intending to move to Saudi Arabia. You may also be interested in reading my previous blog on the topic “Why British Physicians are deserting for desert” to give you some insight into the benefits of moving to the Middle East. This article offers you practical advice on what to do if you wish to relocate, mainly to Saudi Arabia as that is the placed I am experienced with.

How to get the right job;

Obviously the first step in moving to Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia is to get the right job. Unfortunately it is not always the easiest of the tasks as jobs are not available on a single portal like BMJ and the prospective employers vary a lot from government, semi-government, private, industry related and multinational companies. Those organizations that employ western trained consultants are usually the best in the market and often provide good packages and work conditions.

Below are some of the steps you may like to follow to find the right job;

  1. Your CV (Resume) should be understandable to the local audience. Health sector here is mainly driven by North American influence; hence terminologies used by them would be better understandable here. For example it is better to write “Board in Pediatrics attained in 2012” rather than “CCT in Paediatrics in 2012”. Terms like JCPTGP and PEMTB would not make any sense to them. For General Practitioners, it is better to write “Consultant Family Physician” rather than “GP” as the word GP is assigned to simple graduates here. Similarly the job titles related to training like FY1, FY2, ST5 etc would not be understood here. Better not to write the abbreviations. Your CV should not be 1 page short and should not be like a 30 page biography. A brief summary of your qualifications, experience, practical skills, management experience and involvement in Quality improvement activities should be good enough and should cover 3-4 pages maximum.
  2. You should not think of moving to Middle East in general if you are not a Consultant or trained Family Physician. If you move here as a registrar than the likely scenario is that you will be stuck in that role for rest of your life and packages would not be that good either. Ideally you should be a Consultant with 2-3 years post- board (CCT) experience.
  3. Most recruitment in Saudi Arabia happens through recruiters based in USA or Europe. These recruiters would often advertise on their websites (you can google search) or would advertise in the BMJ. Some other companies like John Hopkins Aramco Healthcare or Dr Soliman Habib hospitals often do direct recruitment as well by holding interviews at various places in UK. As a British Consultant you are likely to be employed by one of the below organization;
  • King Faisal Specialist Hospital (Riyadh/Jeddah)
  • National Guard Hospitals
  • King Fahad Hospitals
  • Military Hospitals
  • John Hopkins Aramco Healthcare (Damam)
  • Dr Soliman Fakeeh Hospital (Jeddah)
  • Dr Soliman Habib Hospital (Riyadh)
  • KAUST Health (part of Soliman Fakeeh Jeddah)
  • International Medical Center (Jeddah)
  • Dallah Hospital (Riyadh)
  • Al-Dar Hospital (Riyadh)
  • British Aeronautical Engineering (BAE Systems Damam/Taif/Tabouk)

There are few other organizations that often do the recruitment but above are the few main employers in the three big cities. First four are considered government sector tertiary care hospitals. You can also visit the website of each of these organizations and email them your CV

4. Once you are called for an interview, either through a recruiter or direct contact, you will be expected to be interviewed through video link. Most organization interview through Skype (so you should have a skype ID and write it on your CV) or through a specific Web meeting site. Ensure that you are well dressed, ideally in a dress shirt and tie as this is the official work dress for expats.

5. Most if not all of the above organizations would like to offer job to the individual who are not just a good clinician but have excellent communication skills and good team member. If you know Arabic than it is a huge advantage but it is not absolute essential. Healthcare industry is very ‘quality’ driven and most of your prospective employer would have some kind of international accreditation. The most sought after is JCIA but others like Australian and CBAHI are also common. An excellent candidate would have visited the JCIA website and would have some idea about the standards required for accreditation. You will be expected to get involved in some quality and performance improvement activities and would be expected to help improve hospital Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s). Hence some knowledge of quality improvement activities would be advantageous. As a British hospital or primary care physician you are regularly involved in such activities in the form of audits, introducing new services, implementing clinical guidelines, preparing of CQC visits and QOF etc.

6. It is fairly competitive to get a job in a good organization in Saudi Arabia so better to avoid the questions about the salary and packages in the first interview. You do not want to give an impression that this is the only motive that drives you to move here. General population in Saudi Arabia is more liberal that you may expect hence saying that you want to move due to religious reasons is also not a good answer. Motive to relocate should mainly be to experience the new healthcare model, offer what you have learnt by your training in UK and opportunity to work in a quality organization etc etc.

7. Once you are selected your employer/recruiter would contact you. The recruitment process is usually very slow here, unless your employer is desperately short of staff. Hence PATIENCE is a virtue and you do not have to contact the employer every other day. If you do not understand why I have written patience in capital than you will understand it well after few months.

What a good job offer should look like;

Once selected, you will be sent an initial job offer. I am often contacted by colleagues in the west getting advice about the packages they are getting and what to negotiate. What type of package you get depends a lot on which organization is employing you, how senior you are and what other perks you are getting. Mentioned below are some of the salient features of a typical job offer to a British trained Consultant with more than 1 year experience;

  1. Take home salary may start from 40,000SAR (8350GBP) per month. There are obviously some variations but if you are being offered anything less than 40K than you need to negotiate or move on and if you are offered more than 50K than you are in for a real good deal. Most Consultants would be offered something in the range of 50K SAR per month.
  2. You should be offered a furnished accommodation. Size of accommodation usually depends on the size of family rather than status. Most of the houses would be furnished and would be in either hospital accommodation or a compound. Compound living is something which lots of expats experience in Saudi Arabia as they offer a high standard living inside four walls. If your employer is offering you the housing allowance than make sure that this housing allowance enables you to rent a house/flat in a sought after location near a good school. Housing rents can be checked through simple google search. However what rate of housing allowance you get is usually as per hospital policy and is rarely negotiable, but it gives you an idea if it is better for you to take the hospital accommodation or rent on your own.
  3. You should be offered once a year return tickets to your country of origin. Most organization would offer you and your dependents business class tickets but some would pay you the cash for tickets.
  4. Some organizations would pay you full or part fee for an international school while others may add it as an allowance on top of your basic salary.
  5. How much annual leave you get vary from one organization to other but the labor law entitles you for 30 calendar day vacation every year, vacations for Eid (Muslim festival twice a year) and Saudi National day.
  6. You may also be offered a paid study leave. Some organizations offer expenses towards your study but others may just give you a leave.
  7. End of service benefits are usually calculated on the basis of the number of years you work i.e 1 month salary after 2 years of work etc. It is important to note that end of service benefit is based on your basic salary and not the total take home salary.
  8. Your working hours on average would be around 45 hours a week, 5 days a week. However it varies significantly as number of on call and clinics vary. Due to weather conditions most hospitals offer split shifts with break during the day. If you are a Muslim than your working hours would reduce to 30 hours a week during one month of Ramadan. It is important that you clarify from the HR exactly how your working hours, clinics and on call would work. 

Sometimes you do have a room to negotiate the salary but do not spend too long in doing that. Once you reach to the agreement than sign the job offer and send it back to the HR.

Steps from accepting the job offer to relocation;

This is where a good recruiter, good employer and pro-active approach from you would expedite the process. It can range from one month to one year or even longer barring some hick ups on the way. The steps also keep on changing based on the change in regulations of various government organizations that are involved. Hence the steps mentioned below are true as of June 2017. Basic idea is to check you are genuine, your qualifications are authentic and you are fit to work and able to register with the regulatory body. These steps also vary as certain government organizations might have to satisfy less legislation compared to private sector ones.

Below are some of the steps you are likely to encounter after signing the job offer;

  1. Your prospective employer should send you a signed, attested job offer and a contract. It should be attested by Chamber of Commerce and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  2. You would need to get your qualifications, CCT and last 5 years’ experience verified and attested. The attested job offer sent by the employer would be required for this step. Below official website link would provide you all the necessary information;
  3. Recent changes in the regulations of Saudi Cultural Attaché mean that your training certificates, membership qualifications and experience certificate would not be verified by them. They would only verify your UK academic certificates. For physicians these other qualifications need to be verified by Data Flow. This is a good step as data flow verification is used to register you with Saudi council for Health Sciences (SCFHS, equivalent to GMC here), you need to have that anyway. Now you will be expected to have it while you are abroad and it saves duplication. Secondly it is much more efficient and avoids a big bottle neck that used to happen at SACB. You can access SCFHS and Data Flow through the below link;
  4. While your document verification and attestation process is ongoing you need to get the Police Clearance (which is different from CRB) and get a medical. Police clearance certificate information can be obtained through the below link;
  5. Visa Medical can be done by any qualified physician and authenticated by Common Wealth Office or it can be done by professional physicians located in London who regularly do medicals for Saudi embassy. They charge a hefty fee, while the option one is much cheaper and takes around the same time. Medicals would usually involve bloods tests for general health check and infectious diseases and a chest x-ray.
  6. While you are undergoing the above process your employer would apply for a visa for you. If they do not already have the visa than this process can take long, depending on the organizations Saudization rate and other factors.
  7. Once your documents are verified and all the above steps are completed than you are ready to submit this all to the Saudi Embassy in London along with the electronic visa your employer has sent you. Please do not resign from your existing job and make travel arrangements until you get the visa in hand. These days Saudi embassy does not take direct visa applications, you have to go through the approved agents. I have experienced the below agent, they are good, but there may be others around;
  8. Once you receive your visa, you are good to go. If you have a family, your employer would send you an invitation letter on the basis of which you will apply for your family’s visa. This process can take another week or so.
  9. The final step is for your employer to send you the tickets and that would be the start of an exciting new chapter in your life.

In my later blogs I will touch upon the steps you have to go through upon your arrival to the kingdom. Hopefully the information mentioned above would be useful for you to get your dream job and move to this wonderful place many of us now call home.