If you're moving to Saudi Arabia, read these tips from expats who have already made the move there. From what to bring (and leave behind) to culture shock, visas and more, their insight is invaluable.
Saudi Entry and Exit Requirements
Expats entering and exiting Saudi Arabia
need the following:
- A valid passport.
- For residency permit-holders (iqama), an exit/reentry permit is required to leave Saudi Arabia as well as six month’s validity on your passport to request an exit/reentry permit.
- Saudi law requires that residency permit-holders carry their residency card (iqama) at all times while in the Kingdom. Failure to do so could result in a fine of 3,000 Saudi riyals and a jail sentence of six weeks.
- If you are a female or a minor, you will not be allowed to leave the country without permission from your guardian, even if you are an American citizen or a dual-national.
- You must exit Saudi Arabia using the passport for the nationality corresponding to the one on which you entered Saudi Arabia.
U.K. Government Information for Moving to Saudi Arabia
What to Bring When Moving to Saudi Arabia (and what to leave behind)
When we asked expats living in Saudi Arabia what they wish they had brought when moving to Saudi Arabia and what they wish they had left at home, they replied:
"As trivial as this sounds, (for all you women relocating), I would have brought a good supply of salon shampoo and conditioner. It's very hard to find, and also 3 times the price. Also, I would have brought more sweaters! It can get very chilly this time of year, ecpecially at night," said one expat who moved to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
"If you can help it, do not bring household goods or electronics, because many people have found their stuff to be either broken or simply gone. Handcarry your valuables: important papers, pictures, etc. Other than that, pretty much everything you need or desire is available," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Saudi Arabia.
"I wish I had brought hair mousse for my daughter who has very curly hair. More books and movies. I wish I had left all my knickknacks and such, no room in this house for such things," commented one expat who made the move to Saudi Arabia.
"I didn't bring anything, but I wish I had brought my music, movies and an assortment of clothes (ladies items)," remarked another expat in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
"Three things I wish I brought: more music on my computer, a large jar of vegemite and rexona men's deoderant. Three things to leave: wireless router, batteries, and personal care products," said another expat in Saudi Arabia.
"I wish i bought more Barry's Tea :), books and music ..... I wish i left half my clothes at home SHOPPING IS ACE OVER HERE," remarked another expat who moved to Saudi Arabia.
Advice for Newcomers to Saudi Arabia
Expats moving to Saudi Arabia find that the experiences shared by expats already in the Kingdom are invaluable and instill confidence during the transition. Here is some great advice from Expat Exchange members:
"Be open minded, expect little, and keep in mind what you're here for; be it the money or quality family time," said one expat who moved to Khamis Mushayt, Saudi Arabia.
"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," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Saudi Arabia.
"You will have great fun. Just make sure you get housed on Arabian Homes or The Cove. Arabian Homes is an open compound, a bit out in the sticks (17Km from Royal COmmission) and is a mature compound i.e. a bit faded. The Cove is westerners only, in the Royal Commission and is brand-new. But it's very popular and not easy to get into. May be a waiting list," commented one expat who made the move to Saudi Arabia.
"Bring your yoga mat, fill up your kindle, and download some movies - this may be the place for you if you are looking for a retreat from the busy world outside," remarked another expat in Sakaka, Saudi Arabia.
Expat Culture Shock in Saudi Arabia
Expats that have moved to Saudi Arabia report a variety of experiences in terms of culture shock and difficulty settling in there. Below you will find some cautionary tales and encouraging comments that will help you understand some of the realties of what life can mean in Saudi Arabia:
"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," said one expat who moved to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
"It was very hard at first as in New Zealand I could wear what I liked and did what I liked. In Saudia I had to be a wee bit more conservative in my dress (even though I am usually dress smart casual anyway) I still needed to be careful of how much flesh I exposed. I also had to be mindful of prayer times because whenever the call to prayer comes around, shops would all shut up pretty quickly ten or so minutes before so I had to learn to shop around the times that it wasn't prayer time and that took a bit of time to get into that routine. Usually the paper would have these times printed in there," commented one expat who made the move to Saudi Arabia.
"Not too bad. Some of the customs are surprising and I found out about them in challenging situations. But that makes for the overall excitiment of learning to live in a very different culture," remarked another expat in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
"It wasn't as bad as expected. We had talked to some people who had lived here previously and a couple who were currently living here. They helped us with our expectations greatly," said another expat in Saudi Arabia.
Deciding Where to Live in Saudi Arabia
When we asked expats living in Saudi Arabia to offer newcomers advice about choosing a neighborhood and finding a home, they replied:
"My husband chose this place because it is close to his office, and the house is large enough to accomodate us," said one expat who moved to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
"We were provided with housing, but if you're not, do a lot of research!!!
Talk to ex-expats, search message boards, etc etc. But make sure you'll have this all arranged before you leave. The housing / compounds in Kingdom vary extremely from shacks to luxurious villas," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Saudi Arabia.
"We found a larger private villa after being in a small compound. It cost the same and now we have our own pool without the harrassment of kids. (Parents allow them to run wild here, with or without supervision to all hours of the night.)," commented one expat who made the move to Saudi Arabia.
Typical Housing for Expats
When we asked expats in Saudi Arabia about the type of home or apartment they life in and whether that is typical for expats, they replied:
"We live on a secured compound with the majority being British, Ozzies and Americans. Most expats in Khamis live on some kind of compound," said one expat who moved to Khamis Mushayt, Saudi Arabia.
"We live in a large 5 bedroom private villa with drivers quarters. This is not typical for expatriates. Though a pool and stuff is essential for any expatriate family. But in this area (Al Maseef) it is the norm," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Saudi Arabia.
"4 bedroom villa with three other expats. The villa is quite old, poorly furnished, very cold in the winter, power and electrics can be dodgy, circa 1970-80's fixtures. Cheap and nasty kitchen supplies," commented one expat who made the move to Saudi Arabia.
"I live in a three bedroom villa. Yes for my company it is as they provide their own accomodation," remarked another expat in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Housing Costs in Saudi Arabia
As with the types of housing, the costs of housing can also vary quite widely.
"Costs are much lower in Saudi Arabia. Avg cost of housing is approximately $400 US per month which includes all utilities," said one expat who moved to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
"We have been overseas so long, I have no idea what housing costs are in the States and they do vary from state to state," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Saudi Arabia.
"Much lower since they are provided or subsidised by most companies here.
We pay around $400-$500 a month," commented one expat who made the move to Saudi Arabia.
"By comparison for the size of the house it is much cheaper here. Though for normal housing the price is virtually the same. (keep in mind you should ALWAYS have housing included in your package, this way you can upgrade if you don't like it with little out of pocket expense.)," remarked another expat in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Advice for People Moving to Saudi Arabia
Here are some thoughts from expats when asked what advice they would give others getting ready to move to Saudi Arabia:
"Be very sure of what your getting into. Ask questions from as many different sources not just the employment agencies, they just want their money and paint a very rosie picture to what the reality is..," said one expat who moved to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
"My advice would be to take it easy - your company should do most of the work although on arrival be ready for an information overload as well as not sleeping very well in the first few weeks and don't worry it takes a few weeks to settle but you will adapt very quickly and get out there ! join every club etc you can ! it is hard to meet people and always remember your manners as it stands to you for the next invite," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Saudi Arabia.
Meeting People in Saudi Arabia
Expats living in Saudi Arabia talked about meeting people in Saudi Arabia and local clubs and organizations:
"As most expats which come to KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) are married, and most have children, there are ample activities to get involved in," said one expat who moved to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
"There are a wide variety of things to do from bowling to scubadiving, computerclubs to western style party establishments," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Saudi Arabia.
"The scuba diving community and the softball communities tend to be the most subscribed sports clubs. There are a huge number of diving instructors in the area who'll teach non-divers. Other than that the naturalist society is a great way to make new friends. If that doesn't suit there are a number of illegal drinking dens where you can destroy your grey matter with local hooch,"
"There were many expatriate clubs before the 2004 security incident which caused most westerners to leave. Everything from knitting and drama to golf and scuba diving. They all vanished, but are just startign to come back due to the huge influx of westerners to Yanbu because of the gigantic industrial expansion. There are only two western expatriate compounds - Arabian Homes and The Cove. If you live on either, there are many social activities," said another expat in Saudi Arabia.
"We have a remote compound for the western faculty members of Al Jouf University. 75% of us are single. Half are women. Mainly American, Canadian and South African," remarked another expat who made the move to Saudi Arabia.
- "Hijaz choir Drama group puts on plays at Sierra ( O R P)
- Al Bilad beach, Sheraton beach, Silver sands beach
- Buffet meal weekend at Al Bilad hotel
- Buffet lunch at Hilton also walk around gardens
- Any concerts /events on at Sierra
- Parties at Sierra eg Rhino ball
- ABJ or BBJ the two groups American business of Jeddah (great social and mixing as well as sports, balls, parties, etc also if full member invites to weekend nights at embassy). Must be US citizen or work for US company- all nationalities though. British businessmen (I think you have to be British).
- Hash - running and walking group well organised great social in mountains and hills near Jeddah
- Rugby club- excellent social - beginners welcome ( at American school)
- Diving/ boat trips/ snorkelling- ring desert sea divers A MUST DO do not leave Jeddah without seeing the fish on the reefs- snorkel if necessary. Diving lessons also available. Meet people amazing experince.
- Walk along the Cornishe- absorb Jeddah life- visit Aroma restaurant.
- Malls- all worth a visit for architecture alone (I do not shop) - Red Sea Mall, Mall of Arabia, Oasis Mall, Megamall, Roshan Mall (also got nice Fudruckers)
- Thalia street and GOODIES- the best restaurant at the back of Talia.
- Islamic museum
- Old Jeddah (near Ballad - read up history - first amazing old buildings now international heritage site)
- Souks- Ballad
- Petromin (great for bargains and second hand - we would call it a flea market)
- Old airport- great for antiques and coins etc
- Al Bawardy the new part Mall as well- best gold place.
- Natural history society- great for info about Saudi- held in national geology society," remarked another expat in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.