Living in Saudi Arabia
By Betsy Burlingame
Summary: Expats in Saudi Arabia have made tremendous contributions on our forums and in expat reports. This article highlights some of the insight provided about compound life, bringing a dog to Saudi Arabia, the decision to move to Saudi Arabia and more.
Living & Working in Saudi ArabiaSaudi Arabian society is vastly different from Western society and expats living there recommend that those considering an assignment in Saudi Arabia carefully think through their decision. "Know yourself before you come here. Know your level of tolerance, what you need to survive. Read everything you can. And then make a decision," advises one expat living in Riyadh.
Expat Exchange's members are our greatest source of information about living in Saudia Arabia. This article highlights some of the amazing contributions that they have made. We thank everyone for their contributions on our forums, in reports and elsewhere on the site. If you are considering a move or are living in Saudi Arabia, please get involved in our Saudi Arabia forum.
Expat Life for Women in Saudi ArabiaFor Western women, the differences in lifestyle are even greater. "I've been in Saudia for a year and a half. I had no cross-cultural training but I took it upon myself to lay my hands on everything I could read about KSA and did a lot of honest 'soul-searching' to decide if I could adjust to life here. They say that Saudi Arabia is one of the most difficult foreign assignments for a single woman, but my 'shock' has been minimal. As I said, I'd done my homework before leaving home so that made it easier. But, I am also blessed with a job I love and a great team of multinational colleagues. It's difficult to get around since women can't drive. If this were a western city, I'd have explored it from top to bottom! But here, you're taking cabs everywhere so only really go from point A to point B and don't know what's in between. Another issue is that men and women can't 'mix' so opportunities to socialize are fairly limited (mostly to expensive embassy events or if you are fortunate enough to live in a 'western' compound--but single women usually must live in a company compound, which often isn't western so the freedom we're used to isn't allowed), shares one expat woman in Saudi Arabia.
Wearing an AbayaA member in Riyadh explained, "You may not have to cover your hair. I found that there are some areas that it is just easier to cover as everybody will stare. When I visit Taif I noticed that it appeared more "old world" not like Riyadh and Jeddah - so they may follow the old laws closer and yet Riyadh can be very strict. As for your daughter no she does not have to wear the abaya yet - a lot of the little Saudi girls wear them as they want to look like their mums. If you are in a Souq or market area - you are better to cover your hair."
Diversity and Saudi SocietyAnother expat in Yanbu talks about diversity, "Almost all non-westerners are Muslim. No overt Christianity or other religions are really accepted (no crucifixes etc.). But everybody is very friendly and won't have a problem with your religion as long as you don't shove it in their faces. Sexual diversity is not really accepted, although it does exist. Think closet."
Compound LifeCompound life is a foreign concept to most Westerners preparing to move to Saudi Arabia. Most transferees ask about compound life in comparison to living in an apartment. Here are some helpful posts:
Member anasred submitted a tremendously helpful post with the names, phone numbers and starting rates for compounds in Riyadh. Another forum thread offers in in-depth discussion of rental rates and availability in Arabian Homes Villas and other compounds. Check out a discussion about compounds in Jeddah for Jeddah housing and school information.
"Only accept a job that provides accommodation on a western compound (key to access of facilites/ friends/ parties) especailly for women- it would be a nightmare for a western woman to "live out." If you have kids, ensure school fees will be paid," advises an expat living in Jeddah.
A female expat in Riyadh warns, "Don't be fooled by a Western compound. If you are living in the National Guard compounds, they do have restrictions. Yes, there are swimming pools, which are very popular. But, there are restrictions on what you wear and times set for single men, families etc. You can't pull on a bikini, wrap a towel over your shoulder and walk to the pool... You cannot wear what ever you like, you cannot drive a car, you can have a visitor of the opposite sex, but be very sure that your housemates agree as they can complain and get you into deep trouble. There are curfews for visitors," explains a
Moving to Saudi Arabia"The best information I would give to someone moving to Saudi Arabia is: do not bring anything with you that you cannot carry in your suitcase. We recently moved back to Saudi and the customs gave us a very bad time with our home shipment. They broke new furniture, charged us duty on our used electronics, put things from someone elses shipment in ours and I imagine put some of ours in someone elses," explains on member of Expat Exchange. (More about Moving to Riyadh)
Another member suggested, "Handcarry your valuables: important papers, pictures, cd's (get one of those binders) etc. Other than that, pretty much everything you need/desire is available." (More about Moving to Khamis Mushayt)
Should I Bring My Dog to Saudi Arabia?"It is definitely possible to bring a dog to Saudi, but you will need someone to help with the paperwork/Ministry of Agriculture. It would probably be easier to sort out the paperwork, and then bring the dog on your next trip home. A good vet might be able to help you with the paperwork. We sometimes take our dog home for the summer, and our vet sorts out the paperwork. If you are only going to be here for two years, you might want to find out what you'll need to do in order to take your dog home at the end of two years. Many countries require six months quarantine. If you are staying in a Western compound walking the dog will not be an issue. There are tons of pet dogs here, despite the taboo," advises member CdninSaudi.
Another member, respetter, explains, "It all depends on what breed of dog you want to import and what time of year (due to adverse weather (Heat)). It is pretty straight forward but you will need someone on the Saudi side to go to the department of agriculture for you to get the import permit. " (More about Bringing your Dog to Saudi Arabia)
Cultural Blunders"Only faux paux I've made was offer my hand in a congratulatory shake to a 'holy man' who I've come to know here. Now, I know these guys aren't allowed to touch women, but I'd gotten caught up in the moment and forgot lol," shares one woman in Saudi Arabia.
Another expat in Riyadh shared his blunder, "Yes, my first day there I urinated in the urinal only to find that was where men sat to wash their feet."
About the Author
Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.
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First Published: Apr 03, 2011