Dhahran, Saudi Arabia Report of what it's like to live there - 04/01/16
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?
2. How long have you lived here?
3. 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?
Plethora of western style housing compounds. Depending on where you reside, commute times vary, however, driving in KSA is aggravating no matter where you live and will affect your commute time. Most housing compounds are serviced by third-country national laborers such as Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Bangladeshis, etc.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Widely available. Check out Tamimi (owned by Safeway and very similar), Lulu, or Hyperpanda. They also have a Carrefour. Lulu is big and caters a lot to local/third-country population, but still full of western brands. Tamimi, although like Safeway, is not as well stocked as Lulu, but you can still get everything you want there.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Any U.S. fast food chain is available here. Some European brands available as well. Prices are cheap and comparable to the U.S. Example: Whopper combo at BK runs at the equivalent of US$5-6. There's KFC, McD's, BK, Applebee's, Chilli's, Starbucks, Popeye's, etc. Quality/taste isn't the same as U.S., but once you've been here a while, you will crave it. Unfortunately, you have to time it so that you get your order before the place closes down for prayer, usually 30 min. They also have a lot of gourmet-style, up and coming burger joints like Burger Fuel, Wayback Burger, Five Guys (coming soon), and other chains. Schwarma joints that sell the local, regional stuff are awesome too.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Nothing worse than the States. Yes, you can find mosquitoes, flies, and bees here, but not in significant numbers.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Depends on your compound. Ask around the compound and you'll get the market price for whatever third-country national provides the service on the side. A lot of it is word of mouth.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Depends. Some compounds have varying sizes of fitness centers that'll do the job. There are also community centers around and they cater more to locals, but are decent and if you speak Arabic, it helps to get you in. There are also conventional privately-owned gyms that cater to all. There's a "Fitness-Time" chain in Dhahran, Khobar and Dammam that patterns itself off U.S. brand big gyms like Gold's, 24-hour fitness.
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?
Relatively safe. Chip cards accepted at most reputable businesses.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Knowing a little Arabic is good, same thing for Hindi and Urdu. You can get by with English, and may have to resort to "simple" English when conversing with third-country nationals.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There's a train station in Dammam that you can take to Riyadh. Taxi's are relatively safe, but I don't really use them. There are not really any buses.
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?
Any car will work, no need to get caught up in the whole SUV need, unless you want to check out the dunes. Toyota compact cars like the Yaris and Corolla are common here.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. A few hundred dollars for a pre-paid, 12 month plan (wireless router/hotspot).
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You'll need to obtain a resident ID card called an "iqama" before you can purchase a phone/SIM card. It's cheap to have a cell here and you "top up" your account (non-contract plan).
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. But if you're affiliated with a certain big name Saudi owned oil company, you'll be fine.
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?
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Abaya for the women, usually long pants and any type of regular shirt for males.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There's been an uptick in violence since 2014 related to attacks in Shia populated areas (Google "Qatif" and "Hasa" and "Hofuf"). There's also been incidents in KSA targeting expats.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is decent. SAAD Specialist Hospital is comparable with western type hospitals and you can given get physical therapy, dental work, ER, etc.
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?
Good, but hazy and you're not going to see any starts because of it. Sandstorms tend to happen more in the winter. We used a face mask a few times over the course of the season.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Sandstorms can be bad 1-3 times a year.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It'll get really hot and humid starting June and last till September. Winters are mild and you'll need a decent fleece for the coldest part of winter, which may last a few weeks from Dec to Jan.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are many international schools that cater to the various demographics of expats. Keep in mind, there's a significant amount of expats here, including third country nationals and they have their own set of international schools. International Schools Group is at the top and caters to western expat kids and wealthy Arab/Saudi expat kids and other nationalities whose families are wealthy/privileged. The quality is similar to a typical public school in the U.S.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
None that I'm aware. Saudi isn't necessarily ADA compliant.
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?
People here seem to either utilize daycare if available at their compound, stay-at-home moms (since it is difficult for expat women to work), or nannies (a lot of Filipino nannies).
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Depends on your compound, school, etc.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Depends on who you work for and where you are housed. There are a lot of great people in the various housing compounds and outside the walls. However, don't be naive and think just because you're overseas with other expats, that the shared hardship will mean you can instantly trust everyone.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Families - yes. Singles - No. Couples - Ok. Experiences may vary. Families do well since kids are usually confined to their respective compounds and thrive among the small communities made.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes. Third-country national expats are treated unfairly by western expats and Saudis alike. Women are restricted and cannot drive. Depending on if you're a western expat woman or third-country national woman, you will be treated differently accordingly. Westerners tend to be treated better than non-Westerners. Any religion besides Islam is not condoned publicly.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Good food, saving money, cultural experiences, regional travel opportunities
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Bahrain next door. Going off-road in the desert. Getting away from western expat communities and finding your way with Saudis or non-western expats who have made KSA their "home". Get out of the bunker mentality and exploring "local" areas.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Souvenirs that appear to be Saudi or Arab, but are sold and made by some third-country national who will sell to you at a high price since you're a westerner.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
10. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How restrictive it is with prayer 5 x day closing shops and restaurants down. TERRIBLE and unsafe drivers.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Expectations of spontaneity, ease of adventure, Lawrence of Arabia daydreaming.
4. But don't forget your:
Reasons for why you came here and if you're on a contract/assignment, that it will end.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
The Kingdom. It's not based in Dhahran, but it is the closest thing. YouTube Dhahran and browse the videos of the crazy drivers here.