Dhahran, Saudi Arabia Report of what it's like to live there - 10/05/12

Personal Experiences from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

Dhahran, Saudi Arabia 10/05/12

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

California. Travel takes 29 hours through Dubai.

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3. How long have you lived here?

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

(The contributor is affiliated with the U.S. Government and has lived in Dhahran for a year, a third expat experience.)

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Houses/duplexes within closed/gated community compounds all around Khobar/Dammam.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

We've got LuLu's (an Indian chain), Safeway Tamimi (more expensive, but a wide variety), and Farm 5. Everything is available depending on how much you want to pay for it. A Mrs. Smith pumpkin pie at Tamimi will cost you about $20, the same goes for a kilo of asparagus imported from the U.S.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Everything's available in 220v (import of 120v was discontinued by the Saudi gov't. in 2012).

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Everything under the sun: Hardee's, Baskin Robbins, Applebee's, Burger King, McDonald's, Domino's Pizza, Pizza Hut, Little Caesar's Pizza, Chili's, etc. Cost range is about $5 for a full fast-food meal, about $20 for a restaurant.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

No real insect problems. Ants. Geckos that eat insects. They're cute and good!

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Compounds usually provide a mailing address (depends on the compound). FedEx is available.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

We pay about $6/hour for household help and also pay $10 for transport per time she comes to the house. If you have a living permit and can afford it, you can sponsor to bring in household help from another country-depending on where you work.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Usually in living compounds. Pools are also usually found in the living compounds.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

ATMs are plentiful. Not too many places accept credit cards except hotels and Safeway Tamimi, though it's becoming more wide-spread.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes, but you need to ask around where you live to find them. Be careful whom you ask. Practicing any religion except Islam is punishable by law. According to Wikipedia, "Saudi Arabia allows Christians to enter the country as foreign workers for temporary work, but does not allow them to practice their faith openly. Because of that, Christians generally only worship in secret within private homes. Items and articles belonging to religions other than Islam are prohibited.These include Bibles, crucifixes, statues, carvings, items with religious symbols, and others."

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Arab news. No idea of cost.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Arabic is helpful. Knowing the key words: thank you, please, etc. is essential for courtesy.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

The lack of elevators, ramps, and sidewalks makes it very difficult for someone with disabilities to live here.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

We've got LuLu's (an Indian chain), Safeway Tamimi (more expensive, but a wide variety), and Farm 5. Everything is available depending on how much you want to pay for it. A Mrs. Smith pumpkin pie at Tamimi will cost you about $20, the same goes for a kilo of asparagus imported from the U.S.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

We don't have a car.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, at about $100/month. It could be more or less depending on speed, where you live, and the provider.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Per a new Saudi regulation, one must have an iqama (a living permit) to buy and register a SIM card for a cell phone--no exceptions.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No idea. You will need your company's help to get animals (especially dogs) into Saudi. Do not bring any pet that has a difficult time living in extremely hot conditions--they WILL die.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Pet care available at the Aramco compound's Arabian Kennels Club (if you can get on to the compound).

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

If one looks. You have to get a permit from the Saudi government to work in Saudi and that can be EXTREMELY difficult.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

No shorts for men or women in public. Women must wear an abaya (a long, black, shapeless dress worn over clothing that looks like a graduation gown) in public. When not wearing an abaya, women should wear shirts that go below the elbow and skirts that go below the knee (if not near the ankle), but usually anything goes within one's living compound.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Possible terrorism. The last incident in this area, the Khobar Towers bombing, took place on June 25, 1996, and targeted U.S. Airmen, killing 19. Riyadh diplomatic quarters (4-5 hours drive away) were attacked November 8, 2003 (watch "The Kingdom").

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Medical care here is excellent. Saad Hospital has many qualified doctors who have trained in developed countries, and the hospital has top-notch equipment. If you are anything but light-skinned, though, expect discrimination.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Moderate with lots of dust and sand constantly blowing through. Many people suffer from allergies.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

It's wonderful late-September to March (70s-90s) and blazing hot April-August (up to 120 F).

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

International Schools Group. Has an excellent reputation for all grades and offers an IB program.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Not much. I've heard it's difficult, if not impossible, to find good schools for kids with severe special needs. Most programs/schools try to integrate special- needs students into regular classrooms. Some schools will not accept special-needs students.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Also available at ISG.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

At Aramco, if you're lucky enough to work there or have access.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Significant due to many third-country nationals being hired for physical labor, and international companies being here. Aramco, American Consulate, and British Trade Office are also here.

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2. Morale among expats:

Some expats have been here WAY too long, though they would never know it. But you will. Most folks are happy here; it just takes some adjusting to the prayer times, restrictions, etc. We're thankful to be here but are looking forward to getting out and moving on, as well.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

N/A. Music, movie theaters, and alcohol are banned. We highly recommend bringing hobby supplies.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Women cannot drive; they must wear an abaya in public; and they are only permitted to go into restaurants with family sections. Single women have complained to us that Dhahran is a difficult place for them to live. It's good for families, as child care is available and reasonable.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Per Wikipedia, LGBT rights in Saudi Arabia are unrecognized. Homosexuality is frequently a taboo subject in Saudi Arabian society and is punished with imprisonment, corporal punishment, and capital punishment. Transgenderism is generally associated with homosexuality.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Yes. Islam is the only recognized and permitted religion in Saudi Arabia. It is possible to find folks who practice other religions, but they do so quietly.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Saving money. Being able to say we've lived in Saudi.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Go to Bahrain, and/or Aramco (if you can get in).

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Saudi does not value its history unless it relates to Islam. One can find interesting trinkets made by expats at the occasional craft show, but there's not much to buy on the local market. You'd have better luck at the Dubai airport. Carpets are expensive and not usually of decent quality. One can find doors made into tables at shops.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Saving money.

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11. Can you save money?

ABSOLUTELY. The cost of living is exceptionally reasonable.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, because it's a great place to save money. We wanted to experience Saudi Arabia and we have. No regrets, but we will give a second thought to coming back.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Bikini and common sense. Expectation to be treated decently if you have any pigment in your skin. Racism is rampant here. You can also leave behind any expectation of meeting Saudis; it doesn't happen often.

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3. But don't forget your:

Polarized sunglasses. Large humidifier for the bedroom. A sense of humor.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

The Girls of Riyadh It's nice to imagine what goes on behind the walls of Saudis' homes.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The Kingdom (Riyadh). (a most macabre recommendation)

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6. Do you have any other comments?

We would not advise Saudi Arabia for one's first exposure to the Middle East. You will likely never want to come back here, nor anywhere near here, and that would be most unfortunate.

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