Dhahran, Saudi Arabia Report of what it's like to live there - 04/12/08

Personal Experiences from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

Dhahran, Saudi Arabia 04/12/08

Background:

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

No, I've also lived in Dublin and Monterrey.

View All Answers


2. How long have you lived here?

6 months.

View All Answers


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

I work at the U.S. Consulate General Dhahran.

View All Answers


4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

From Dulles there is a non-stop beginning soon to Kuwait and then from Kuwait into Dammam airport. Most people at post, however, fly in and out of Bahrain because it takes just as long to get to the airport there and it's much easier to fly into and out.

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

About 2/3rds live on compound in either a large stone home built in the early 1950's by Italian POWs or in small prefab homes. The other 1/3rd live in either apartments or townhomes in secured Western compounds around the area.

View All Answers


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

Meats and produce are expensive, everything else is about the same as the U.S. (I think, haven't lived back there for awhile). I have been able to find more American products here than in Ireland. However, for many things, if you see them, grab them because they probably won't be there tomorrow. The best is being able to get good corn and flour tortillas at the store! We're also able to order from the Military commissary in Riyadh and they deliver weekly (including frozen food). There's also a U.S. naval base in Bahrain with a small commissary that we have access to.

View All Answers


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

Right now we're only allowed to ship 2,500 lbs, so that doesn't give you a lot of wiggle room. If you have a grill and won't be assigned to an apartment, you should bring it. About 6 months out of the year the weather is great for outdoor parties.

View All Answers


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

Just about all of them, plus Chili's, TGI Friday's, Applebee's, and Starbucks. There's also good Arabic, Thai, Indian, Chinese, OK italian available. There is a Mexican restaurant but I haven't tried it yet.

View All Answers


Daily Life:

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

We have APO.

View All Answers


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

Cheap. I pay my maid 100 SR (about US$26) for 5 hours work. If you want a live-in they are easy to find as well.

View All Answers


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

No problems at all for either credit cards or ATMs.

View All Answers


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

Yes, but you must know someone. I think both protestant and catholic are available.

View All Answers


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

Yes, newspapers are available free in the consulate. All houses are provided with AFN, plus there are two satellite services available for a fee (don't know how much).

View All Answers


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

None. English is the language used to communicate between the TCN community, the Western expats, and the Saudis.

View All Answers


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

A lot. It's hard enough for an able bodied person to cross the road without getting run down by a vehicle. Most buildings do have elevators though - but the consulate is not 100% accessible.

View All Answers


Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Right.

View All Answers


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

We're not allowed to use any public transportation.

View All Answers


3. 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 vehicle is fine - however you are extremely limited at the moment as to where you can drive a POV - unless it's an armored one. There are lots of big SUVs here. Due to the way the locals drive, I wouldn't bring a small car. Gas here is about US$1.65/gallon.

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

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

Yes, provided to us free of charge by the employee association.

View All Answers


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

You're provided one by the consulate and only repsonsible for personal calls.

View All Answers


3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

IVG or Vonage.

View All Answers


Pets:

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

Aramco has a kennel club, costs 300 SR (about US$80) a year to join. They have a great vet and grooming and kennel services. For dogs to be granted entry to Saudi, they must be listed on the paperwork as a guard dog or a guide dog. Cats are abound and have no problems entering the country. The paperwork is a bit time consuming, but it's much easier to get an animal (even a dog) into Saudi than into Ireland or the U.K.

View All Answers


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?

Both ISG schools and Aramco always seem to be looking for teachers. For men the opportunities are better; for woman their only options are really teaching, working at the consulate, or finding some small job at Aramco.

View All Answers


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

Casual at work unless you have a meeting with someone from outside. Men wear what you wear in the U.S. For women, you can wear what you wear in the States, but if you are not covering your legs and arms and chest, you should consider wearing the abayya to avoid harrasment.

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

There's a lot of dust - so it's hazy most days and most people are sick every couple months or so with some sort of respitory illness.

View All Answers


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

Have you seen the movie The Kingdom? Just joking, currently we are a one-year high-threat unaccompanied post; but it's the safest one-year high-threat unaccompanied post I know of. There hasn't been a terrorist attack in the EP since 2004. Most of the American and other Western expats have returned with their families. The American school next door is full of students. We are currently required to travel almost everywhere in armored vehicles.

View All Answers


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

If you're allergic to cats, beware - the compound is overrun with them. The dust is also a problem and causes people to be sick often. Post has a full time nurse and the RMO is in Riyadh. There is a hospital here that has better quality of care than you'd find in most U.S. cities and looks like a 5 star hotel. I know women that have given birth here and enjoyed the service they received.

View All Answers


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

From November until about March it's great, dry for most of the time, not too cold, great during the day, requiring a light jacket sometimes at night. The rest of the year it's at least 100 degrees F. I'm told that from about July until October it's very humid (we are next to the Gulf).

View All Answers


Schools & Children:

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

Children are not currently allowed at post. The International Schools Group (ISG) runs an American school for elementary-middle and high school as well as a British school for elementary-middle. This campus (Dhahran Campus) is right next door to the consulate - there are even doors in the wall that were used to allow kids to go to and from school when they were here. It's the most secure school compound (apart from Aramco) in the Eastern Province.

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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?

Dhahran Acadamy also runs a nursery/daycare and preschool.

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

Approximately 14,000 Americans live in the Dhahran area. The consulate is small though. There are also thousands of other Westerners living and working here. There is no other Diplomatic mission in the EP.

View All Answers


2. Morale among expats:

Good for the most part. When we need a break we go over to Bahrain to recharge. Living in the EP as a woman is not as tough as I expected. I never cover my hair, I only wear the abayya when I have cropped pants and/or short sleeved shirt - I never close the abayya when I do where it. Have yet to be bothered by the religous police and only a couple of times have locals said anything, but I just ignored them and it wasn't a problem.

View All Answers


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?

View All Answers


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

There's not much of a social life in Saudi Arabia apart from private parties and going out to eat or cruising the malls.

View All Answers


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

Its a segregated society, and you see men holding hands all the time - but any other type of PDA amongst men could get you arrested. I'm sure the same goes for women.

View All Answers


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

The only legal religion in KSA is Islam, however there are options for Christians. If you're Jewish, you wouldn't want to advertise; although I've heard of openly Jewish officers serving here with no problems. Non-diplomats probably have a harder time and wouldn't put Jewish down on the visa form for the answer to the religion question - yes they do ask.

View All Answers


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

Go to Bahrain for a night or a weekend. Where you can wear pretty much what you want, eat what you want, drink what you want, for women they can try on clothes before they buy them at the store (not an option in KSA except for one floor in one mall in Riyadh), women can drive there, and they have several movie theaters. The only movie theater in all of KSA is at Aramco and it shows older movies; although there is a new I-max theater in the EP as well. Another thing to do is take advantage of the recreational facilities at Aramco, including their private beach. You can also go out quad riding in the dunes and you can go scuba diving in the Red Sea in Jeddah.

View All Answers


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

If you have the HHE space some people buy old doors that they hang on the wall or tables made out of old doors. Carpets are another big hit, as well as Saudi gold (very yellow and very bright). If you've been dreaming about an LCD or Plasma TV, this is a good place to get one.

View All Answers


9. Can you save money?

Yes, due to the hardship and danger pay. I think our COLA should be higher though. And you may spend a lot of money on weekend trips out of the Kingdom.

View All Answers


Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes.

View All Answers


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

Winter clothes - although it did get down to zero degrees for a few days in January this year. Your rain boots, you might need an umbrella a couple of times a year though.

View All Answers


3. But don't forget your:

Sunglasses, sunscreen, linen and cotton clothing.

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


7. Do you have any other comments?

View All Answers


}

Subscribe to our newsletter


New book from Talesmag! Honest and courageous stories of life abroad with special needs.

Read More