Drinking alcohol in Saudi?
April 4, 2008 8:05 AM   Subscribe

How easy is it for a Westerner to obtain and drink alcohol in Saudi Arabia?

I have been offered a 4 month contract in Saudi Arabia. The job sounds good, and, it will be interesting work, however, I am wondering about how difficult it is to obtain/consume alcohol there.

Whilst not a big drinker, I do like to have a few beers to unwind on my days off. I am interested in people who have had practical experience of living and working in Saudi.

I have read the Wiki page on Saudi law and so understand how it stands legally. I don't need anyone to explain to me their views on why it might be a good/bad idea to abstain for a few months. As I said above, I am really interested in views from people who have practical experience of this.

posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation around Egypt (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is anecdotal, not first hand. From what I've heard, most expats live and work in what are effectively walled compounds. Within, things are a bit more lax and booze probably wouldn't be too difficult to get. I would highly caution seeking alcohol outside of these expat quarters, however. If you do find somewhere else to buy booze (or someone offers it), it's entirely possible the Mutaween will show up a few minus later, arrest you and subject you to a series of relatively horrifying interrogations.
posted by Nelsormensch at 8:20 AM on April 4, 2008

It depends on where you work. My family lived in Dhahran working for ARAMCO for a period of years and ARAMCO (thus, the government) facilitated drinking by its large international group of employees by building a convenient still room (complete with drain) off the garages of the homes they provided to said employees. There are similar arrangements with other employers, but probably not all of them.

The stills were used to distill a very strong alcohol called sidiki, which is treated kind of like a very raw vodka used in cocktails. I also had a homebrew wine and there were several people making their own beer, too. Alcohol consumption is done very discretely while located on company premises. I would not recommend drinking while outside the walls of your base of employment. Not one bit.

So, I think the best answer is your experience may vary. Depending on where you work, you may also have convenient access to a place like Bahrain (off the east coast in the Gulf). Westerners frequently make weekend trips across the causeway to have a pint or two.
posted by empyrean at 8:26 AM on April 4, 2008

Expat compounds generally have a cadre of beer making men. You aren't going have any problems if you live in one of those types of situations.
posted by bigmusic at 8:26 AM on April 4, 2008

Having worked there a number of years ago, my advice is if you can't go without a drink for four months then don't bother going.

Old hands that have been there a long time know the laws and how to get around them. However don't expect them to share their knowledge or how things are done for someone that is there on basically an extended vacation. They have too much to lose and won't risk it just so you can have a good social time during your four month stay. Nobody wants to spend time in a Saudi jail,, lose their job, get deported and possibly suffer 10 lashes just to enable you to "have a few beers" to unwind. Go there, earn the big pot of money you have probably been promised and read a few good books on your time off (probably minimal anyway).

Then leave and look back on it as a place you will likely never want to go to again.
posted by worker_bee at 8:32 AM on April 4, 2008

Don't risk it. I lived in Saudi Arabia as a kid.

Once we were taking a flight from Rome to Jeddah, and a wine bottle fell out of a guy's carry on and shattered on the floor of the plane. I didn't see him after that.

Honestly, if you really need to drink, fly to Dubai on the weekends. It's a 4 hour flight from Jeddah, less from Riyadh. Anything goes in Dubai.
posted by reenum at 11:42 AM on April 4, 2008

It's not clear where you're living, so the advice is going to vary. Generally speaking, if you get 'in' with the expat crowd you'll find a bunch of folks who brew their own booze (usually the sidiki, which is an Arabic word for "friend" - that's expat humor for you).

If you're living on the east coast (Jubail, Dammam, Dhahran, Khobar, etc) then the quickest way to get "real" alcohol is to spend a weekend in Bahrain. If you're living in Riyadh or Jeddah then your options will vary. The suggestion of flying to Dubai is pretty good too.

My folks lived in Jubail for 15 years. There was more than enough sidiki to go around. There were even annual wine tasting competitions!
posted by lowlife at 1:28 PM on April 4, 2008

Fellow expats are key. The right ones might even be able to get you hooked up with the diplomatic crowd. They throw the best parties, there's booze aplenty, and there's zero chance of arrest because you're on foreign soil.

Otherwise, get out of the country when you need a drink. Bahrain is good if you're close.
posted by pandanom at 1:58 PM on April 4, 2008

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