Dhahran, Saudi Arabia Report of what it's like to live there - 07/01/15
Personal Experiences from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Fourth expat experience.
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?
DC, about 24-30 hours of travel time, connecting through Bahrain, Qatar, and Frankfurt.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is all on compound and there are a number of different options. Most are housed on the Consulate compound or a compound approximately 15 minutes away. There is a shuttle service.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Comparable to U.S. There's a number of Safeway/Tamimi grocery stores, Geant, Lulu, Danube, and Carrefour hypermarkets.
3. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Roaches around the Consulate compound, these are mostly eaten by the dozens of geckos. Geckos are eaten by cats. Circle of life.
1. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Gyms are available on all housing compounds for free. There are also gyms on the economy but they typically men-only. There is a rumor of a women's gym in one of the malls.
2. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
3. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None. Saudi Arabia is the 5th largest country for native English speakers. Nearly everyone you will encounter on the economy will be South Asian or Filipino.
4. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. The Consulate bathrooms would be inaccessible for anyone who could not walk up/down stairs.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Not authorized due to security situation. Get friendly with motorpool.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. Numerous terrorist groups active in the area. Occasional threat of war. One of the housing compounds used by the USG was the site of deadly terrorist attack in 2007 (?) and Khobar Towers are nearby. In 2015 two bombings in the Shia neighborhood nearby occurred within the same week. Occasional attacks targeting Westerners (knife attack, shootings, etc).
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Many. Again, the health risks are (and will likely always be) murky. During my tour it was announced that women were required to have their male guardian's permission to receive medical care. What care there is can be a roll of the dice. There is no mental health care available on the economy. Professional healthcare workers have varying degrees of education and experience.
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?
Atrocious. Aside from the fact that Dhahran is located in a sand sea and subject to sandstorms ("shamals") throughout the winter, the consulate is also downwind from the world's largest chemical plant. This creates some beautiful sunsets, but at night the area itself looks like a movie depiction of Hell with all the natural gas flare-offs. The impact of this on the health of the staff is unclear; unclear because there are no official stats. Officially the cancer rate is the same as anywhere else, but anecdotally there is good reason that Aramco maintains strong relationships with U.S. cancer hospitals.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It's hot, it's Saudi Arabia. Unlike Riyadh, it is humid because you are so close to the Gulf. In the winter, the sandstorms can lower visibility.
Schools & Children:
1. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Aramco's little league team is world famous.
1. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Not particularly, but there are a number of expat circles for dating. Aramco has a number of singles, plus local military detachments. There is also Bahrain close by.
2. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Saudi Arabia does not recognize religions other than Islam. There are "underground" Catholic Masses and non-denominational Christian services held at Aramco.
3. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The biggest highlight was really the sense of community and closeness of the consulate staff. Everyone really is in it together.
4. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Aramco has every activity under the sun. Hazzaz is great for cheap shopping and offers pillows to build your own diwaniya.
5. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Buy a table made out of an antique door! Desert Designs is amazing.
6. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Desert Designs sells some really great furniture and decor. My house ended up looking like a Bedouin tent. You can also earn/save a good deal of money. Plenty of opportunities to travel around the region.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
3. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?