Living in Saudi Arabia Guide

Living in Saudi Arabia Guide

By Joshua Wood, LPC

Last updated on Feb 13, 2020

Summary: Expats, global nomads and retirees living in Saudi Arabia talk about meeting other expats, befriending locals, the local culture, diversity in Saudi Arabia, international schools, crime and more.

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People living in Saudi Arabia share their experiences making friends, adjusting to the culture, what expat life is like in Saudi Arabia, healthcare in Saudi Arabia and more.

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:

"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.)," said one expat living in 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 in Saudi Arabia.

"My husband chose this place because it is close to his office, and the house is large enough to accomodate us," commented one expat who made the move to Saudi Arabia.

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Expats in Saudi Arabia may get a free expat health insurance quote from our partner Allianz Care, a leader in international insurance for expatriates. Allianz's plans ensure that you have access to quality healthcare whenever you need it. Their flexible solutions allow you to tailor your cover to meet your needs and budget..

Meeting People in Saudi Arabia

Expats living in Saudi Arabia talked about meeting people in Saudi Arabia and local clubs and organizations:

"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," said one expat living in Sakaka, Saudi Arabia.

"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," mentioned another expat in 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," commented one expat who made the move 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 are a wide variety of things to do from bowling to scubadiving, computerclubs to western style party establishments," added another expat in Saudi Arabia.

"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," remarked another expat who made the move to Saudi Arabia.

Expat Life in Saudi Arabia

What is it like living in Saudi Arabia? Here is what people had to say:

"Life here is very quiet. After work, 6 nights a week a compound bus takes us shopping. Women do not leave the compound other than with bus transport. Some men have scooters. Each villa has its own pool and some residents host small gatherings," said one expat living in Sakaka, Saudi Arabia.

"Yanbu is an industrial 'new city', but it is very clean and tidy, unlike most Saudi towns. The western housing area of the Royal Commission is very like parts of America. Most westerners in Yanbu are there to work - but it's a great place to socialise and great for things like scuba diving, sailing, dune-buggies etc," mentioned another expat in Saudi Arabia.

"People lives are surrounded by their families and GrandParents which means much socialising," commented one expat who made the move to Saudi Arabia.

"Unfortunately, Saudi Aramco is the largest employer of expats in the area - the attitude of many (particularly our North American cousins) is one of "if you're not an Aramcon, you're some sort of sub-person". This permeates throughout the social scene. Socialising is mostly done in illegal bars where work and small-town gossip is the norm,"

"Family life is really important but so are sports and socializing, to keep your sanity," added another expat in Saudi Arabia.

"The city is a very diverse group of people representing over 50 countries. In general, life runs at a slower pace here and life generally revolves around the family and sports," remarked another expat who made the move to Saudi Arabia.

What Expats Appreciate about Their New Culture

We asked expats in Saudi Arabia what they appreciated about their new culture. Here's what they had to say:

"How accepting locals are of my family. Everyone is very kind and willing to help with issues. They really live by the day to day aspect of life. Sometimes it makes things difficult for planning purposes, but it's a credit to them to believe the way they do," said one expat living in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia.

"The differences between the NZ culture and the Saudi culture could hardly be more extreme. I liked the ability to see around the country and learn more about how women live and learn," mentioned another expat in Saudi Arabia.

"I loved the fact that these people had a lot of time for me, if I liked something they would give it to me and I was often treated like royalty a lot too as I was the only woman who worked amongst the men. I was treated with a lot of respect and also I found that these people were great hosts. The owner of my apartment building and I became good friends and he would often get his manservant to bring me up a plate of every dish he would serve down in his Ramadan tent over Ramadan just so I didn't miss out as I could not enter his enter tent because it was a male only event. But like a good host, I was given a lot of respect by the males in the Kingdom and I will never forget that. It was their kindness and appreciation for me as a westerner that made them do this and I was rather sad when I left because of this," commented one expat who made the move to Saudi Arabia.

"Absolutely nothing. Saudi Arabia is the worst place I've ever been. Business Week annual survey says it's the 3rd worst place in the world to live (for expats)," remarked another expat living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

"Probably that it's so totally opposite what I knew and was used to, so I learn something new everyday. I know I've grown a lot since being here, in many ways," added another expat in Saudi Arabia.

"Living expenses are fairly low here and varieties are available, shopping is real fun," remarked another expat who made the move to Saudi Arabia.

The Most Challenging Aspects of Living in Saudi Arabia

Then, we asked expats in Saudi Arabia what was most challenging about their new culture. They replied:

"More for the wives than the husbands. Prayer time while trying to shop. Stores closed during the middle of the day for several hours. Relying on others to transport the ladies around," said one expat living in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia.

"Not being able to drive and having to rely on a husband or pay for taxis the whole time. This has the result of completely removing any sponteneity from your day," mentioned another expat in Saudi Arabia.

"Juggling your life around no entertainment and prayer times. Life can be rather boring in Saudia in many respects and that is where board games and things done back in the good old days are known here. Dinner parties with other expats was often good as you could mix and mingle with others- without alcohol of course. It was a quiet life there and sometimes I went across the boarder to Bahrain just to see a movie or to not wear my abbaya, but I felt safe there too which was good," commented one expat who made the move to Saudi Arabia.

"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)," remarked another expat living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

"Abnormal (lack of) male/female interaction that led to a huge number of homosexual advances being made by the obviously sexually frustrated men," added another expat in Saudi Arabia.

Crime in Saudi Arabia

"Absolute NO CRIME in Saudi!!! Lots of crime in Europe and South America. Canada is rather safe. Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Muslim countries = no crime to speak of," said one expat living in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia.

Diversity in Saudi Arabia

We asked expats about diversity in Saudi Arabia and whether locals are accepting of differences. They said:

"Sakaka is a remote, rural town. All women must wear a niqab at all times in public. There is a lot of construction going on. There is a sizable Pakistani & Indian population," said one expat living in Sakaka, Saudi Arabia.

"Almost all non-westerners are Muslim. No overt Christianity or other religions are really accepted (no crucifixes etc.). But everybody is very freindly 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," mentioned another expat in Saudi Arabia.

"I do not agree with previous poster. There is only one religion allowed. Wahabi Islam. Bible banned - no crosses allowed. Women must wear and abaya- and in some places it is wise to waer headscarf. Men should cover kness and wear long short and long sleves. In Ramadan- no drinking, eating of smoking from dawn to dusk. Stay at home. People though are mostly really friendly if you obey rules," commented one expat who made the move to Saudi Arabia.

"The expat community is huge, representing many nations, races, cultures and social groups. Amongst the expats there are seldom problems because of diffences on these grounds. The locals however are far less accomodating. Practicing your own religion is forbidden except in the privacy of your home - practicing in groups can actually land you in jail!! Non westerners are treated like dirt by the locals the rest of us just a little better,"

"When first in transit to Khamis Mushayt I was told by Saudi customs that this town is also known as Khamis Mistake. Compared to the main cities like Daharan, Jeddah and Riyadh, Khamis is somewhat "behind" in time, not as developed and not so rich," added another expat in Saudi Arabia.

"The city is a very diverse group of people representing over 50 countries. In general, the people are accepting of differences. However, the country is not accepting of differences especially when it comes to religion," remarked another expat who made the move to Saudi Arabia.

International Schools in Saudi Arabia

"This school was created as an incentive to recruit good doctors to the hospital compound. Only their children are allowed to attend the school. I come from a family of doctors, and if I had known the quality of the school, I would object to my husband accepting a position in the hospital in Al Hada," said one expat whose children attend Al Hada International School in Al Hada/Taif.

"Don't be deceived when enrolling. Be aware that you are enrolling your kids in a Saudi School.. whole managment and kids are Saudis except for the Home room teachers, they are foreigners. Other than that kids won't be learning in an international community. They are allowed to speak Arabic all the time. My kids learned Arabic more than English! This is not a school for international kids. Its a saudi school for local Saudi kids but with international curriculum," added another expat with kids at Advanced Generations Schools in Jeddah.

"Not Recommended at all. Unless you want a place where kids go and not learn anything and come back worried, scared, or confused on lessons. This school is not recommended at all to be at. Be Careful. I just say they built another school which contains all boys, also looks like a prison in Manchester Mat," commented one expat when asked about Advanced Generations Schools in Jeddah.

"When we settled in Saudi arabia we were of course disappointed with the schools standard in saudi. Anyhow considering the company we work for didn't pay for our schools Thamer international was a considerably cheaper alternative to the American and British schools in jeddah which are super expensive. Thamer provides both SAT and IGCSE and A levels. My son was in the British stream. My son enjoyed this school as the students all spoke English and have been overseas. Many arabic and Asian kids and a very few European. I would really recommend his school if you are paying for schools and not the company and if you are arabic but raised in usa or Europe. We were fine with it," remarked another expat living in Jeddah saudi arabia with children attending Thamer International School .

"In Jeddah there is very little choice if you want a western curriculum with a European slant. This school says it is the best in Jeddah (plenty of modesty there) but if there was more competition from decent schools offering A levels and IB, without resorting to unqualified local staff, it would be a different ball game," said another expat in Saudi Arabia with children at British International School Jeddah.

"While the school may have suffered a poor reputation within the past five years, the institution has undoubtedly reversed 180 degrees with a complete renovation of administration, and is constantly taking the initiative to continue sound progress towards the betterment of the school. Numerous events and fundraisers are held within the school each year, gaining popular support throughout the city of Jeddah. The school highly supports students in their endeavors of creativity and philanthropy, as is seen by the numerous highly successful student run clubs, that are famous throughout Jeddah. The school currently has plans to build a new school at a location not too far from the old one. This new institution will have all of the standard state of the art facilities found in some of the most high end schools," remarked another parent with kids at American International School of Jeddah in Jeddah.

Health Insurance in Saudi Arabia

"My sponsor always paid for my insurance. I ended paying an extra amount for higher end insurance so I could go the Kingdom Hospital, and found out that the medical staff there are not adequately trained," commented one expat living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

International Health Insurance in Saudi Arabia

Get a free international health insurance quote from our partner, Allianz Care, whose plans ensure that you have access to quality healthcare whenever you need it. Allianz's flexible solutions allow you to tailor your cover to meet your needs and budget.

Join our Saudi Arabia Expat Forum

Visit our Saudi Arabia Forum and talk with other expats who can offer you insight and tips about living in Saudi Arabia.

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About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000. Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Some of Joshua's more popular articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and 5 Best Places to Live in Spain. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.

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