The lifestyle of Yemeni emigrant families in Saudi Arabia [Archives:2008/1174/Reportage]

July 21 2008

By: Mahmoud Assamiee
The lifestyle of Yemeni emigrant families living in Saudi Arabia doesn't differ much than that in Yemen, as the father goes to the work in the morning and the woman stays at home tending to the children and the home.

Because the father is always busy at work, the rest of the family is forced to stay home most of the time, rarely going out. When they do get a chance to go out, they only visit their relatives.

Yemeni women can't go to Saudi malls alone. When they do go to malls or parks, they go with their husbands or relatives. In most cases, the husband brings home everything his wife needs in the kitchen.

Some Yemeni women don't wish to form relationships with Saudi women due to the differing ways of life each is used to. Even when there are such relations, they are limited; thus, they prefer forming relationships with Yemeni families.

Samia Thabit, 37, a mother of four sons and a young daughter says, “Much of the time, I'm forced to remain in the house because this is the nature of living here. Most of my Yemeni friends are like me, staying home most of the time. When there's an opportunity, we visit each other. I sometimes go to my friend's house with my husband and make fatir (Yemeni bread).”

She adds, “Although I do have good Saudi neighbors, I don't have much contact with them. I don't visit their homes, nor do they visit mine. I don't have Saudi friends here, as all of my friends are Yemenis.” She maintains that inferior Saudi women look down at Yemeni women, but those with good natures treat them as equals.

Education issues

Thabit's eldest daughter, 19-year-old Munirah, was unable to attend school this year because of the family's departure from Yemen to Saudi. While she's in the final level of secondary school, she couldn't continue her studies because her education file requires routine procedures from both Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

This isn't a big problem for her or other Yemeni emigrants' daughters, as they may finish their secondary school studies once these procedures are completed. The real challenge they face is attending university in Saudi Arabia because according to Saudi law, emigrants' children have no right to attend Saudi universities.

However, there are exceptions; for example, if a Yemeni emigrant student graduates from secondary school with an average grade of more than 90 percent, he or she will be allowed to attend a Saudi university; otherwise, the student either must attend a private university in Saudi or return to his own country to continue his university studies.

Male emigrant students don't face the same challenge because they may travel to their home country alone to complete their higher education, either living with a relative or renting a room.

However, because they are bound by cultural norms and traditions, female students face significant problems doing so, as most Yemenis don't allow their daughters to travel alone or leave the family, even if it's with an uncle or aunt.

Hamid Fare'a, a Yemeni emigrant and businessman living with his family in Saudi Arabia, explains, “My daughters attend Saudi public school, but the eldest, who finished secondary school with a lower than 90 percent average, was unable to attend university. Instead, she now stays home, sometimes teaching the Qur'an to women at charitable societies.”

Fare'a's eldest son Jihad is studying medicine in Germany because he didn't score at least 90 percent in secondary school in Saudi. Fare'a is a religious man who believes that daughters shouldn't live apart from their families or travel alone.

However, not all Yemeni emigrants share Fare'a's views, as some have sent their daughters to study at Yemeni universities. While some live with their relatives, the majority live in women's housing at their university.

Marriage between Yemenis and Saudis

Due to the high dowries and complicated lifestyle of Saudi families, some Saudi men turn to other Arab countries to find a wife, most marrying Yemeni women.

Badr Al-Amoudi, an employee at the Saudi Information Ministry, says, “I married two women: a Yemeni woman from Hadramout and a Sudanese woman from Khartoum. I live in Jeddah with my Yemeni wife and our six children, while my Sudanese wife lives in Khartoum. I send her SR 500 every month and I travel to Sudan during summer vacations to stay with her for a month.”

Al-Amoudi says he prefers Yemeni and Sudanese women to Saudis because Saudi women are lazy due to their lavish lifestyle. “Both Yemeni and Sudanese women have something unique that makes me love both of them. Both get up early and are hard-working, qualities not found in Saudi woman,” he says.

However, it's a different case for Jalal Qayed, a Yemeni emigrant in Saudi who married a Saudi woman. He says, “Saudi women officiate married life. They love their husbands, take care of them and treat them well.”

Qayed married a Yemeni woman from his village when he was 17 and he has five children. Although he's been in Saudi Arabia for 19 years, he only brought his family to Riyadh a year ago. His Saudi wife lives in Al-Qussaim.

As an accessories distributor in the three Saudi provinces of Riyadh, Jeddah and Al-Qussaim, he's also successful in distributing his time between his two wives, who live within his work areas.


Yemeni emigrant women living in Saudi Arabia don't enjoy the lavish lifestyle of their Saudi counterparts. For example, Saudi women have a special car with a driver, something difficult for Yemeni woman to access. Unlike Saudis, most male Yemeni emigrants don't give their families or wives special cars or hire a driver.

The majority of Saudi women also have maids, while the majority of Yemeni women don't have or don't want a maid in their home.

Work opportunities

Yemeni emigrants may operate businesses in the kingdom and some have stores under Saudi names.

As Qayed points out, “Yemeni emigrant woman also can do businesses here. For example, they can work as teachers at Saudi charities, while some do other types of work, such as hairdressers and accessory sellers.”