Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 02/06/18

Background:

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

We’ve lived in Europe, Central America, the Middle East, and Central Asia before Riyadh.

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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?

US. People often connect through Paris.

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3. How long have you lived here?

20 months.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

All housing for US government employees is on the diplomatic quarter and not far from the embassy. Most housing has a bit of a garden surrounded by a high wall and the houses are generally roomy. Some are connected with a communal courtyard. There’s no storage but the embassy provides plenty of wardrobes. The furthest you’ll be from the embassy is two kilometers. That’s too far to walk in the summer, but with women being able to drive soon, that won’t be as much of a concern.

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

I’ve been able to find almost everything I’ve looked for. Lulu carries products from all over East, Southeast, and South Asia and has the best selection of produce. Tamimi is a Safeway chain and feels more American and is usually more expensive. Danube is a little more European and Middle Eastern, plus there is Panda which is somewhat similar to Lulu. There’s also a small Korean grocery store. We also can go to the commissary, but I don’t feel that the paperwork, security, and long drive make it worthwhile. Prices in Riyadh are generally similar to the US, except for things imported from the US and Europe. I’ve really enjoyed being able to get a wide variety of ingredients here.

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

There are a few things I’ve shipped because the price here is high, but overall, not much.

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

There are lots of American chains, plus some Indian and Filipino chains. There are plenty of restaurants and plenty of takeout. Umm al Hamam, which is the neighborhood right next to the DQ, has lots of options from Africa and Asia. This has been challenging for me though, because most of the places I’ve wanted to try don’t have seating for women. We usually eat in the car or take the food home. Also, prayer times make eating out a bit difficult and it can be hard to get something for dinner on short notice.

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Daily Life:

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

APO. It usually takes about 10-14 days for something to arrive.

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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?

I use my credit card all the time in the grocery store. They’re not as common in the souqs or the smaller restaurants. ATMs are fine and there’s one at the embassy that’s convenient.

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

There are a number of discreet options if you ask around.

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

You don’t need any Arabic to live here. However, I think that speaking some Arabic opens up worthwhile experiences that you can’t get any other way. Since most expats don’t learn Arabic there aren't as many classes and tutors as there are at some posts, but there some options. I am glad I speak Arabic because I feel less isolated here.

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Transportation:

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

We’re not allowed to use any of these except the most expensive Uber option. This obviously is challenging since women can’t drive till this summer. Bring a car, because exploring Saudi Arabia is fun.

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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?

You can bring anything if you’ll just be driving in Riyadh or between cities. But if you want to get off road at alll bring a 4WD vehicle.

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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?

You’re supposed to have internet ready to go when you arrive. If you don’t, it can be a long wait to get it sorted out.

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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?

Working at the embassy or AISR is really the only viable option (although some have been able to work out other opportunities). Morale has taken a major hit here with the hiring freeze and its aftermath since there are so few employment options outside the embassy. In the past EFM employment has been a major benefit of Riyadh, but as with most of the world, that is no longer the case.

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Health & Safety:

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

Surprisingly few. There is concern over missiles coming from Yemen, of course, but to this point it hasn’t been a problem. Crime is very low here and I feel safe walking around.

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2. 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?

Air quality is not great here. Lots of cars and lots of people don’t help, but the sand in the air is the worst part. The air quality is always bad except right after it rains, which rarely happens. Our entire family has been affected by the air quality. You’ll be issued two purifiers and you can request more, but since the houses aren’t well sealed it’s hard to do much about the air.

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

Very hot and dry in the summer (May-September), but it’s surprisingly nice in the winter (November-March). There’s almost no rain, but hopefully you’ll get some in the winter if you’re lucky. Riyadh is one of the hottest capitals in the world, but getting a break in the winter makes a huge difference. The low humidity can be a challenge.

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Schools & Children:

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

Most USG employees use AISR and some use the British school, along with a few other options. AISR is fine, not great, but not terrible at all. The academic level is lower than many parents had hoped for. But my children have been happy there.

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

Yes, on the DQ and through AISR. But the long bus ride to and from school has kept us from signing up from many things.

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Expat Life:

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

Huge. A third of the city is from another country. Most are from Africa and Asia, but there are some Europeans and North Americans too. Morale is about what you’d expect here. Few people truly love it here, many hate it, and some are pleasantly surprised that it’s not as bad as they thought it would be.

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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?

Shopping and socializing with expats are the two main EFM activities here. There are very limited opportunities to socialize with locals. If shopping and socializing aren't your things, then Riyadh will probably feel very limiting.

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

Yes, yes, and yes. “Problems” doesn’t begin to describe it. But that is Saudi Arabia.

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

I’ve loved the limited chances I’ve had to explore Saudi Arabia. It is incredibly challenging to do much exploring, given the limitations on transportation and the difficulty in finding information ahout places (and random closures of major historical sites), but what we have been able to do is a highlight. I also love to get out of Riyadh for shorter trips. The DQ is near the edge of the city and that makes it easy to get out. We can be on the edge of the Tuwaiq escarpment away from everything and everyone in less than forty minutes.

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

Geocaching is fun here and one of the best ways to find places to explore. There are some interesting souqs in Riyadh. We like to go hiking, fourwheeling, exploring in slot canyons, rock climbing, and lots more in the winter.

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

Shopping is one of the few sanctioned activities for women, but it’s not a shopping post as described here. You can buy a few local items but there really aren’t a lot of options, even if you’re really looking.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

I wish I’d known how hard it would be to live here. I really tried to prepare - I speak Arabic, I’ve lived in the Middle East, I talked to lots of people from different countries who have lived here, I read lots of books, and I was happy to come here. But the systemic sexism is oppressive here and has made it hard for me to like Riyadh in spite of my best efforts. I am not allowed to do any of the things that have made other posts wonderful.

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

Not without some changes. Women being able to drive will be huge, but women’s lives will still be incredibly restricted. Religious observance is very hard here. The lack of support from the current administration will make Riyadh more challenging in the next few months when some sections will be understaffed. Saudi Arabia has a lot of potential but I feel that I haven’t been allowed to take advantage of it. I hope that changes over the next few years.

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 10/13/17

Background:

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

No, we have been posted to Canberra, Tokyo, Okinawa, Ankara (twice) and Budapest.

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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?

Washington, D.C. I'd guess eight hours to Frankfurt, and about eight more to Riyadh via Lufthansa.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Our original tour was two years, but we extended for another year because we actually enjoyed living in Saudi Arabia, so just short of three years.

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

U.S. State Department dependent.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

There is U.S. embassy-owned housing, which is comfortable and well-maintained (although very oddly configured), with most of the comforts of home.



There is also embassy-leased housing, which is in general shoddily constructed, poorly maintained, and almost totally lacking in storage space except for some kitchen cabinets and small closets, so people are often forced to purchase furnishings like bathroom vanities, medicine cabinets, kitchen and bathroom shelving, storage closets and such themselves. Embassy-leased housing can also be subject to flooding and sewage problems. Newer units lack wired telephones, Internet connections and cell phone coverage (and no hope for any of that for a while, at least while we were at post).



Some of the older leased houses are quite nice -- like ours -- but still have serious problems concerning water storage and the lack of any kind of cool water in hot weather. If you're coming to post and have a choice, I would say go for embassy-owned housing, and definitely try to avoid the newer leased units -- life will be quite difficult in them until they're "broken in."



Most housing is fairly close to the embassy, except for the very newest units, which are in the middle of nowhere.

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

It's said that "everything" is available here, and to a certain extent that's true, but it often isn't the quality Americans would expect. For example, frozen vegetables have thawed and been refrozen, almost always, and are simply a waste of money. You can find things like American mayonnaise and cheese, but they are often past their expiration date and have obviously gone bad. Meat and fresh vegetables tend to be OK, and sometimes excellent.



You can find most normal household care items, or substitutes, but it does take a while to sort out what the products are actually for. In general, we have found food and supplies in local supermarkets to be pretty expensive.



There is a military base about an hour away which is a pain to get to, but the products are fairly reliable when they're in stock, except for the fact that they freeze things like sour cream and cheese for long shelf life, and the results are often disastrous. Better to get those kinds of things in the local markets.

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

Specialty items such as cosmetics, personal hygiene brands that you want in particular, maybe American food items that could be hard to find (like horseradish, your favorite spices, perhaps a certain kind of rice, real mayonnaise that hasn't spoiled or expired). You also might be able to find the American products you like at the military base. In any case, you don't have to ship a lot of food because you'll always find it or a substitute somewhere here.

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

Pretty much every conceivable fast food outlet is here. We ate at McDonald's a couple of times, which was quite a cultural experience with the booths curtained off for privacy. Riyadh also has a vibrant restaurant scene, and you can find almost any kind of food you're craving, from Italian to Armenian.

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

Mosquitoes, bees and wasps getting in the door when open, but overall nothing terrible.

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Daily Life:

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

We have an APO (military post office) available to us as well as the diplomatic pouch. There was a problem with theft of APO items when we arrived in 2013, but that seems to have been resolved. For any valuable items, I would still recommend having them sent by pouch, which although slower, is more secure. It's also necessary for things like DVDs, which the Saudi authorities may find objectionable and confiscate.

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

Domestic help was not so easy to find when we arrived; the CLO was at a total loss as to how we should go about getting somebody and said her list was completely out of date. Luckily a friend knew a Nepali man who did work for her, and I hired him. He left something to be desired in the small things like dusting but did the big jobs well, such as cleaning up the enormous amount of sand and dust that accumulate in just hours here. I paid him 300 SAR for a day's work, so around US$80 for eight hours. I also had a gardener to whom I paid more. Both of them worked for us the entire three years we were in Riyadh.

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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?

You might have problems with your bank using your debit card in Saudi Arabia. It took us several calls to the SDFCU to let them know that we actually lived in Riyadh and to please stop blocking our card. Credit cards could have the same problem. It's really best to cash checks at the Embassy.

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

None -- almost everybody can speak English after a fashion, although it would be helpful to know a little bit of Arabic, even just to be polite.

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

I didn't pay close attention, but my guess would be yes, there would be many physical obstacles.

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Transportation:

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

There are no local trains or buses, and taxis were prohibited for us to use anywhere in the country, although when we were leaving the embassy was arranging for us to be able use Uber. In general, though, you will either have to rely on the embassy's motor pool or bring your own car. There are also embassy shuttles to supermarkets and such, but the "system" for pickup to get home seemed pretty poor to me. One important note is that while we were there, some restrictions had been imposed on mens' use of the motor pool since they're able to drive in Saudi Arabia. At that point in time there was a push to get new arrivals to bring their own cars. Quite frankly, the drivers are crazy and dangerous in Riyadh, so I could understand why even men wouldn't want to drive there.

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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?

Many people had SUVs but we didn't, and our small BMW was just fine, although getting it serviced was a challenge. If you're planning to drive out in the desert, then a 4WD is mandatory. There was absolutely no risk of car jacking or burglary, but there certainly was the risk of an accident on the road.

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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?

Not in most of the housing; certainly not in the newer construction that is located on the outskirts of the Diplomatic Quarter. I paid about US$100 a month for what was supposed to be a high-speed Internet connection because I needed it for my remote job, but it slowed to a crawl quite often during the evening and crashed frequently. I can't even imagine what people do if they don't have a wired telephone line and thus no chance of having this so-called high-speed connection. People obviously find alternate ways to get Internet in their homes, but most residences don't have it ready to use the moment you move in.

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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?

I brought my iPhone from home and bought a local chip, and it was fine. Be sure that your domestic phone is unlocked, though, before coming here. The U.S. embassy issues some phones as well, but they're mainly labeled in Arabic and hard to use. Some of the newer housing has no cell phone coverage, or very spotty at best, plus no wired telephones, so I guess in that case it doesn't really matter what kind of cell phone you have.

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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, they don't need to be quarantined, but you must go through a huge amount of work to obtain an import permit for them (as a "guard dog"), and they absolutely cannot be transported during the summer. There was a vet on the military base, and he pointed us to a local vet clinic that was very good.



Interestingly enough, I found that the Saudis are curious about dogs, even if they claim not to like them. On one occasion my husband was walking our dog on the DQ, and a car with a Saudi family stopped. The father asked if his kids could "meet" our dog. My husband said yes and got her to sit. The kids got out of the car, lined up, waved to our dog, got back in the car and drove off. A real life encounter with a dog! In another instance, I was walking our dog when a man shouted from a passing car, "Nice looking dog!" then proceeded to follow me home. That worried me a bit, but it turned out he was with a female friend, which was surprising in itself, and they both loved dogs. I wish I had taken a picture of them sitting on the sidewalk petting our dog. We kept in touch, and they became good acquaintances.

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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?

Not really as I didn't work on the local economy, but rather had a newspaper editing job that I did remotely from home. There might be some teaching jobs, but my understanding is that those are pretty dreadful (and I'm also not sure dependents can take them without work permits). Most dependents work at the embassy or related organizations. A telecommuting job could also work if you are lucky enough to get a house that can sustain a high-speed connection.

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

American women don't need to wear an abaya or headscarf at the embassy or when performing their job on the outside, but an abaya at the very least is required in public, and unless you want to get stopped (or worse) by the muttawa (religious police), it's advisable to wear a headscarf as well and at a minimum, have one with you, always. If you get caught without a headscarf, you can be thrown out of shopping malls and such (and people have been). I didn't have to wear an abaya on the Diplomatic Quarter as there were no muttawa there, but the entire place was full of immigrant workers (and a lot of Saudis live there as well), so unless you like constantly being gawked at by very large groups of men, an abaya is recommended. Men seemed to be able to wear what they want, except for shorts.



One comment on the subject of abayas and headscarves: While we were living in Riyadh, there was a movement among younger embassy women to get the ambassador to issue a statement saying the choice is up to the individual as to what they wear in country. Of course it is, in theory, but the culture is what it is, and nobody is going to change it until it's ready to be changed. It would be unthinkable to wear Western-style or immodest clothing in some Riyadh neighborhoods and parts of the country, and could even be dangerous given how ultra-conservative it is. When we were getting ready to move to Riyadh, I was dead set against having to wear an abaya (and almost didn't go because of it), but in the end I grew used to them and even liked them. I found a designer who made stunning abayas, which made them less objectionable to wear, and in fact I couldn't bear to give them away when we left (although can't figure out where to wear them now ;-)).



I think women just have to be open minded and flexible about this situation, and if you simply can't tolerate the rules and are going to be constantly resentful, it's best to leave, or not come at all.

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Health & Safety:

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

It's a high-threat terrorism threat post in a volatile region of the world, so one always has to be aware of one's surroundings. We were forbidden from taking taxis for security reasons, which can make getting around difficult unless you have a car or use the motor pool. There is no public transportation system, but I'm sure even if there was, we wouldn't be able to use that, either, for reasons of security. That said, I never felt unsafe or threatened there, even when alone in a park at night.

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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?

The sand in the air is unhealthy and contributes to upper respiratory ailments. I was admitted to a private Saudi hospital three times while in Riyadh (for the same problem), and had two surgeries, and the hospital, quality of care and doctors were all excellent. It was also a very interesting cultural experience ;-).

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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?

Not good. The amount of sand and dust in the air is phenomenal. I have read that some 4,000 tons of sand descends on Riyadh every month.

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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 incredibly hot in the summer, with temperatures going up to 120F, but oddly enough, tolerable, even in a black abaya when out in public, partially due to the almost total lack of humidity in the air. For six months of the year, the weather is delightful, sort of autumn-like, and it even gets cold at night since Riyadh is situated in the middle of the Arabian Desert. Our first year there, we had a huge amount of rain in fall, which caused much flooding in embassy-leased housing since there is often no adequate drainage in homes and gardens (or on the roads, for that matter). One problem with the climate was that we couldn't get any cold (or even cool) water during the hot months. The embassy finally tried to fix the situation with our water tank, which was unprotected and unshaded on our roof, with some but not total success. This was a problem for four leased houses, but not for the rest of the community.



An aside about the heat: We went to Iceland one August on holiday, which was brutally cold, even then. When we returned to Riyadh, it was a relief to step off the plane into the 110 degree F weather ;-).

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Expat Life:

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

People seemed happy enough in Riyadh -- I expected everybody to be miserable, but they weren't. Embassy employees often extend their tours there, and some outside of the embassy community have stayed on for years. I don't know the size of the expatriate community, but I'd say fairly large.

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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?

People seemed to have get-togethers at home. I worked most of the time so didn't really have a social life, except for the occasional embassy function or party/dinner with friends.

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

I think it's fine for families and couples; it could be difficult for single women since they can't drive and it's sometimes difficult and inadvisable to go places on your own. Being part of a couple, I think a woman has much more of a chance to interact with locals, too.

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

I don't know personally, but there must have been some gay or lesbian expats there. Homosexuality is forbidden by law, so I would be pretty careful.

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

Well, certainly with gender prejudice -- if you're a woman, you're already a second-class citizen. Religions other than Islam are not tolerated, and Christians can't openly celebrate Christmas and such, so religious prejudice, definitely. There are many black Saudis, so I don't think that kind of prejudice is a problem; however, if you're Southeast Asian or Filipino, as many of the immigrant laborers are, you might run into some problems of being treated like household help.

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

Within the country we traveled to Jeddah, much less conservative than Riyadh and a beautiful city on the Red Sea; to Mada'in Saleh near Medina, a fascinating necropolis built by the Nabateans, who also built Petra in Jordan; to the mountainous province of Asir, which was a breath of cool, fresh air with fantastic scenery; and to Dhahran in the eastern provinces, where Desert Design, a great Saudi handcraft store, is located. We also went north on a tour to a camel beauty pageant, which was a most unique and enjoyable experience.



We also traveled around the Gulf, twice to Oman (my favorite country in the region), to Doha several times (gorgeous city architecturally), and to Bahrain and the Emirates (the grand mosque is a must-see in Abu Dhabi). We had been to Kuwait before and saw absolutely no reason to return.



As to my best experience during our three years in Saudi Arabia, it was without doubt one day in Diriyah, an old city in Riyadh, where I had been photographing the gate to a private home. Suddenly a man drove up and started speaking to me in Arabic. I didn't understand and thought I must have done something wrong (and headed to our car), but he said, "Wait, my brother will talk to you." His brother was the patriarch and spoke fluent English, and he invited us into their home for lunch and to spend the afternoon visiting in their garden. I don't think I've ever experienced such hospitality from total strangers, and it's an experience I'll always treasure. We had several other similar encounters, and all were enjoyable, but I'll never forget that one.

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

We drove around Riyadh extensively as I was unable to walk for three months due to a broken foot, and much to my surprise, it's a city full of beautiful, innovative architecture, all of which I photographed. We used to "cruise" local neighborhoods for the purpose of taking pictures -- many of the homes are literally palaces or very close to it, and they all have spectacular gates. It became a challenge for me to document these fabulous houses, and it gave us a glimpse into the Saudi lifestyle.



For people who aren't into photographing the local architecture, Diriyah in Riyadh is a fascinating old city to visit, featuring a UNESCO World Heritage site. Janadriyah, the annual cultural festival, is well worth going to. Oddly enough, shopping malls, of which there are a countless number in Riyadh, can be entertaining, especially during the summer. And the camel souk on the outskirts of the city, was quite interesting. The old part of downtown Riyadh, where Deera Souk is located, is great to wander around as well. Just don't go on a Friday as that's when executions take place in the main square next to the grand mosque.

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

There isn't much in the way of local crafts here, except for camels. However, there is an excellent shop in Dhahran that makes tables from old Saudi doors, frames tribal masks and has a superb collection of Saudi art. There is also the gold souk in Riyadh if that interests you. Additionally, one can buy designer abayas, which are more expensive than what you'll find in the souks, but are also exquisite and make having to wear one much more tolerable (enjoyable, even).

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

A very different culture, beautiful weather in fall and winter, a brilliant blue sky, interesting places to explore if you just look for them, incredibly hospitable people (the Saudis). And if you're a photographer like me, an endless variety of innovative architecture and unusual sights to capture.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

I wish I had known that it isn't as bad as people who haven't lived in Saudi Arabia make it out to be; in fact, it can be an enjoyable place to be posted. I also wish I hadn't been told tall tales about how I wouldn't be able to do any photography in the country. It's not true, and I in fact did a huge body of work in three years' time. You just need to be careful and unobtrusive, and remember not to photograph people without their permission (which they will often give). I only got stopped once, in a shopping mall, when I thought I was hidden from the view of the guards. Wrong, but I got my picture anyway.

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

I'd come back for another posting without any hesitation, although I think things could get more difficult there when they finally have a reformist king.

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

Heavy winter clothes, but bring warm clothes at least for the cold winters. Riyadh is in the middle of the desert, but contrary to what most people think, it cools down considerably in fall and winter.

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4. But don't forget your:

Polarized sunglasses -- absolutely necessary with the brilliant sun here.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

As I mentioned before, I didn't want to move to Riyadh and almost stayed in Budapest, but at the last moment I decided to give it a try. I fell in love with the country on our first weekend there, when we were taken to Deera Souk for the purpose of buying some abayas. I had thought Saudi women were totally enveloped in pure black, nameless, faceless people without any way to express themselves. But that night in the souk I noticed that every one of them had some kind of decoration or even "bling" on their abayas, and I realized it was a fashion statement and that life there would be more interesting than I had thought. Unfortunately, I didn't get an abaya that evening because the stores kept throwing the customers out and closing until the muttawa had passed by (apparently they were afraid of being accused of selling "flashy" abayas).



As a result, I enjoyed our three years in Riyadh -- it was a fascinating cultural experience, and one I'd recommend to anybody who is open to being exposed to a different way of life. At the risk of sounding silly, I might even call it a "hidden gem" of a posting -- hardly anybody chooses to go there the first time, but they often don't want to leave and end up extending, even returning for another tour. People make friends in the embassy and expat community and never seem to have a shortage of things to do, and somehow it becomes a comfortable way of life, despite some of the hardships. We have been invited back in 2018 for the opening of a building my husband was involved in planning, and quite frankly, I can't wait. And it will give me a chance to wear some of those beautiful abayas I couldn't bear to part with when we finally left last year ;-).

You can view my photographs of Saudi Arabia on my website: http://www.pbase.com/helenpb/riyadh

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 01/19/17

Background:

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

No - various cities throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

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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?

West Coast -- 5 1/2 hours to Frankfurt then 12 hours to San Francisco.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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

Diplomatic mission (with the U.S. embassy).

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

We have one of the enormous, pretty old, USG-owned houses that's about a 10-minute walk from the embassy and a few blocks from the Wadi Trail. I will stress that it's quite outdated and hasn't been kept up too well aesthetically BUT is of sound construction and uses 110 electricity. Plus we have five bedrooms for all our visitors (ha!) (Although actually we did have a few visitors.) Other houses are smaller and also owned by the USG (funky layout; way funky) and others are leased and farther from the embassy (20-30 min walk) but new (still with some issues, o'course!) and more modern and very nice-looking. Most are very large.

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

You can find almost everything you want here -- lots of imported goods (and veggies and fruits), etc. Certain stores definitely cater to expats/Westerners so you'll feel almost right at home. There's a variety of grocery stores ranging from more affordable (Lulu's) to expensive (Tamimi/Danube) and you'll figure out where to go to get the stuff you need. I still laugh a little bit to see Bob's Red Mill gluten-free flours in the 'natural' aisle - mega $$, of course!

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

We came directly from post so I did not send much (I do order from Amazon or Vitacost.com for things like whole grains and flours because it's a lot more affordable). I'd bring maple syrup, nice laundry detergent, and any other fancy-ish products you might like because stuff is not cheap here. I don't know, you can get almost everything online these days.

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

Riyadh has a great restaurant scene -- breakfasts are big, and there are many wonderful bakeries for pastries/coffee/breakfast choices that are high quality. Tons of burger places. Tons. Good Italian and amazing Lebanese food. We don't do delivery to the DQ (Diplomatic Quarter) but there are a few places inside the Quarter that will deliver. You'll be able to find most of what you might want.

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Daily Life:

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

APO.

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

30 SAR (about $8-9) is the current going rate and it's very easy to get a housekeeper, nanny, or both, full or part-time.

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

Gym at the embassy. Another ladies' gym on the DQ. Various gyms (men/women) around the city but not familiar with them. Wadi Trail great to walk, run, or bike.

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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?

Yes - accepted and safe for both.

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

Um, none? Islam rules, obviously. But chances are you'll figure something out under the radar.

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

You will be able to get by fine with English in 90% of your interactions.

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Transportation:

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

Alas, no public transport. But the embassy motorpool is amazing. And Uber is deemed safe by the embassy.

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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 have a compact car and it's been fine. Many SUVs. But you'll see everything here.

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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! Most of the houses associated with the US embassy should have internet installed. Ours has been fine, though sometimes slow, but others have more issues. Hit or miss.

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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?

Local providers STC or Mobily. I do a pay as you go SIM card.

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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?

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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?

I don't think many people work on the local economy other than at the schools (though it's definitely possible to work); embassy has many job openings for "EFMs" but they are mostly full-time.

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

Work = formal. Within the DQ anything goes but off the DQ ladies must wear an abaya and no shorts for guys.

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Health & Safety:

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

Sooooo I would not say that I feel unsafe here day-to-day. Petty crime is low. Break-ins are nonexistent (speaking of life on the Diplomatic Quarter here). There is a flasher at one of the parks. But there are security concerns that come with thwarted Islamic State attacks, the embassy closes occasionally due to a threat, etc. etc. I think the key is to not think about this too much because you'll be in a state of constant anxiety and really, what can you do?

Some feel unsafe on the road with the crazy Saudi drivers but it's not too awful.

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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?

The dust can be pretty bad and contributes to respiratory issues (air purifier/humidifier helps). Medical care is of good quality though the bureaucracy at the hospitals may drive you nuts! I was pregnant here and the care was fine if different than in the States. This probably goes across the board -- then again, you're in a foreign country so it will for sure be different than in America. The Health Unit can help in a pinch but the doctor is often away from post.

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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?

Dust is the biggest issue as well as the heat. On clear winter days when the dust is low it is literally a breath of fresh air.

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4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

I would say opposite -- the summer doldrums. It is HOT, especially in July/August. So try to plan your R&R for that period just to have a break.

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Expat Life:

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

It's huge and varied. I had no idea there would be so many expats here. Morale also widely varies. A lot of people can't stand it and a surprising number of people claim to love it. As with any place, it's what you make of it.

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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?

Most people hang out at the embassy, go out to eat, or socialize in each others' homes, particularly if they want to drink alcohol.

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

It's great for families with kids. Saudis love kids and they are catered to in a lot of places, including restaurants. Basic parks in DQ and the malls have play areas.

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

I would say, PROBABLY NOT. At least, you shouldn't be "out" here.

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

It's Saudi Arabia. The government has taken away a lot of women's rights (though I wouldn't say all the locals agree with this at all). Definitely racism towards the workers that come in here. You cannot overtly be any other religion than Muslim.

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

The highlights for us have been the wonderful friends we've made here, the access to nature via the Wadi Trail (manmade, but it's still great), the relative ease of life and living in the DQ. We also drove across the desert to Bahrain and it was super interesting (and slightly depressing) - lots of camels and really got to see the landscape.

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

In/near Riyadh there is Diriyah, Masmak Fort, the museum, Kingdom Tower, equestrian center, various places to go in the desert.

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

You can save money. And just ... life. It is so, so odd here and even odder that it sort of becomes commonplace. You'll acquire a lot of stories.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Honestly, I wish I'd known it is actually way more open than you'd expect. A lot more "normal." I was so anxious about doing something wrong/wearing the abaya/etc. and the longer I've lived here the more I realize that as long as you are not actively trying to subvert the culture you can mostly do as you please. It is not 'scary'. People do not hate Westerners. Everyone from Saudis to other expats and third-country nationals have been really welcoming and friendly.

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

Yes.

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

Heavy winter coat and snow boots.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sense of humor.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

I know that many have a negative impression of Saudi Arabia and with good reason -- we don't know much about this country because it's been so closed off. At the same time, and ironically, it's teeming with expats and immigrants. People bond together in the shared weirdness of the experience. And to be honest there is a lot that's negative here: the weather is rough 7 months out of the year, women can't drive, the atmosphere can feel generally oppressive, it is rather boring. The Embassy motorpool helps counter a lot of the inability to drive. Wearing the abaya becomes -- gasp -- not that big of a deal. You can have a wonderful community of friends and acquaintances if you make a tiny effort. If you are not working at the embassy (and even if you are) my biggest piece of advice is to get out of your house as much as possible. Go for a walk, even if the same walk you did two days ago. Take your kids to the park even if not many other people are around. Run or walk on the trail. Get a coffee at the Starbucks. Go out for breakfast on the weekend. Repeat. Plan to take a trip every 3-4 months if you can. And go home for part or all of the summer.



I guess what I am trying to say is that if at all possible, come to Saudi with an open mind and no expectations. I know for many this is a first post and is assigned so you don't get a choice to bid on it and I don't want you to dread coming here. I was not excited when we committed to coming, but after a few weeks in country I realized that my life here was not going to be as terrible as I thought it might be. Not easy, no. You do remember constantly what you've given up by living here. Yet at the same time you can find ways to pass the days, make the best of it, and, dare I say it, even enjoy your stint here. After all, for most of us it's a temporary situation.



So maybe -- "Riyadh, not as bad as I thought!"



And good luck to you.

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 05/20/16

Background:

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

No, I have lived in or visited many foreign countries.

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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?

Washington, D.C. About 8 hours to Frankfurt, and another 5 hours from Frankfurt to Riyadh.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Spent two full years at Embassy Riyadh.

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

Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Very nice, spacious, comfortable houses in the Diplomatic Quarter. The GSO responded very quickly and efficiently to all maintenance requests, especially if the A/C broke down, which happened only twice in my two-year stay. In each case they came within hours. And since there were two huge central A/C units in the house, one for the downstairs and one for the upstairs, and there was good air circulation through an indoor atrium, I was never seriously inconvenienced.

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

Riyadh has huge and well stocked supermarkets, although you favorite brand may not be available. However there are very nice French, German and Italian brands, not usually available in the U.S., that are available here. The fresh produce is sometimes (stress on sometime) not very, ah, fresh. Most of it is imported and sometimes it sits on a dock in the heat because somebody forgot or refused to pay a bribe. I found I had to visit two or three supermarkets to fulfill my grocery list. The Tamimi supermarket, close to the DQ, is affiliated with Safeway and stocks many U.S. brands, but do not neglect the French Carrefour chain (great cheeses and other French groceries) or the Jeddah-based Danube supermarkets. Between these three you should be able to find just about everything you want. Buy more than one item of something you really like. I thought the Saudi-produced milk and butter were excellent, however eggs were often brittle and of poor quality.

U.S. diplomats have access to a large, well stocked PX just outside Riyadh. Frozen pork and pork products (bacon !!!) are available but rationed. Re-sale or gifting of pork and pork products to non-U.S., non-diplomatic U.S. personnel is strictly prohibited and may cause you to lose your PX privileges.

A wide selection of wines, beers, and spirits is available for purchase inside the Embassy, but this is not to be mentioned or discussed with non-diplomatic U.S. Embassy personnel. Here too, re-sale or gifting of alcoholic beverages to non-U.S., non-diplomatic personnel is strictly prohibited and may cause you to lose your privileges. It is permitted to serve alcoholic beverages to guests in your home, even to Saudis, but make sure a wide selection of non-alcoholic beverages are also available. Don't let Saudi guest drink too much, because if they are picked up outside the DQ by the traffic police and they smell alcohol on them, they are in deeeeeeep trouble.

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

Nothing, really.

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

Just about every fast-food chain is represented here. No pork or pork products (such as bacon) are served anywhere. There is a wide variety of restaurants of every cuisine, most of them are O.K. but not what I would call authentic cuisine. Pork and alcoholic beverages are *never* served. The best of these restaurants are Syrian or Lebanese. Syrian/Lebanese cuisine is very good indeed, but it can get monotonous after a while. There is a bar/restaurant inside the U.S. Embassy, but access thereto is restricted to U.S. diplomats and their guests. They do serve alcoholic beverages and pork products.

Please be aware that a strict segregation by gender is practiced inside all but a handful of Saudi restaurants. Men only in the general dining area, families in private rooms. A very few will accommodate mixed groups of restaurants in a separate, private dining room. A handful of the major international hotels allow mixed groups.

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

I didn't notice any.

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Daily Life:

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

Through the APO. Be aware that sometimes APO packages are opened by Saudi authorities, who have removed materials they considered obscene. Their threshold is very low. One saving grace is that most of these guys are too uneducated and ignorant to know what they are looking at. But I have heard of Valentine's day cards being censored/confiscated. On that day it is a bad idea to wear anything red or display red flowers anywhere outside the DQ.

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

Very available and very cheap. Those Filipino girls know about every new arrival and will descend on you like wasps on a pot of honey within a couple of days of your arrival. The quality of the help is spotty and you will need to supervise them.

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

There are a very nice gym and pool inside the U.S. Embassy (free).

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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?

They are widely accepted and I never had a problem. However, you can get a better rate by changing your U.S. dollars inside the U.S. Embassy.

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

More than you think. Of course it's all deeply underground, but Christian services are there. Under no circumstance should you attend religious services that are not held on the premises of an Embassy. Do not mention or discuss these with Muslims or Saudis. Ask the CLO or Management shortly after you arrive for details. There is a Catholic Mass in English every week, inquire at the Embassy (but not from a Muslim employee or from a Saudi). There is a very active but smallish community of Anglicans/Episcopalians that meet every other week for services, including the Holy Eucharist, at some Embassy or other. I attended those services and they were a lovely group of people. There are always a few Jews within the diplomatic community in Riyadh. I did attend a seder or two in Riyadh in diplomatic homes in the DQ, but again the highest level of discretion is strongly advised. 99.9 percent of Saudis cannot tell Jews apart from Christians, even names that are typically Jewish to us mean nothing to them, so that ignorance too is a saving grace. Obviously this place would be impossible for orthodox Jews to live in, Conservative or Reform Jews would have an easier time but again discretion is the watchword. If you have a diplomatic passport they can't touch you. But I did meet a handful of U.S. Jews outside the diplomatic community and I admired their bravery.

Put any religious articles (crosses, menorahs, Bibles, hymnals, prayer books, etc.) in your diplomatic household effects, and the Saudis will be none the wiser.

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

None.

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

Yes, stay away.

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Transportation:

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

There are no city buses, subways, or streetcars in Riyadh at the present, although a large part of the city is being torn up to build a modern, luxurious Metro and tram system. Sexes will be segregated on these when they open.

There is one long-distance train line, between Riyadh and Dhahran, on the Gulf Coast. I understand the trains are clean and comfortable, but I never rode them nor did I talk with anyone who had. Saudi Arabia is trying to expand its passenger-rail network.

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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?

A rugged SUV with super-charged air-conditioning. Gas is cheap and many Saudis drive recklessly.

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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?

Internet is widely available, but not very high-speed and very, very censored. Some of my diploamatic friends got around this using a VPN (?) plug-in or peripheral, which allowed them to access anything, but I never was able to understand their explanations about how to install this so I lived without it.

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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?

You can bring an unblocked cell phone or buy one here, they are cheap. U.S. Embassy officers will bve issued one.

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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?

I don't think they need to be quarantined. I'm not sure about quality veterinary care given most Saudis'(and Muslims') aversion to dogs. An Embassy officer had stones thrown at her and her pet while walking her dog inside the DQ!

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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?

I was not aware of any.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Some, at the expat schools.

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

Business attire at the Embassy and at diplomatic functions, nice casual for private parties within the DQ. Outside the DQ, women must wear black abayas and cover their hair. They are not required to hide their faces.

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Health & Safety:

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

Terrorism is always in the background as a source of preoccupation and concern, although there is an awesome security apparatus in the Embassy and the homes in the Diplomatic Quarter (DQ) have good security. Outside the DQ it is best to keep a low profile, especially if you are female. Even though I am a male, I was harassed a couple of times by the Mutawa in (religious police), once for being outdoors during Muslim prayer ad once, incredibly enough, inside an airport jetway 12 feet from the front door of a Lufthansa aircraft for the hideous crime of talking to a female fellow passenger who happened to be a fellow U.S. Embassy diplomat! We ignored him and quickly ducked into the airplane.

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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?

The major health concerns are upper-respiratory diseases and conjunctivitis (because of the dry climate), especially during sandstorm season. There are excellent Saudi hospitals but diplomats have no access to them. There is an excellent and ultra-modern facility called Kingdom Hospital that can handle even difficult cases. They do accept the Embassy health plan (sign up with BlueCross BlueShield before you arrive). there are good Western dentists.

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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?

It is pretty good outside of the sandstorm season.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

sandstorms season can bring on allergy problems (see above).

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

5 very pleasant months in the winter, June to October are as hot as Hades but thankfully both the Embassy and Embassy housing are very well air-conditioned.

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Schools & Children:

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

There is a good American School, also a good British and a good French school. Not having children I can't really say more about them.

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

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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?

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

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Expat Life:

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

Huge community, some thrived and some didn't. It's harder on the women, of course, but many Western women I met were very happy there. Some even enjoyed wearing abayas since they could wear next to nothing underneath them in hot weather, and they enjoyed the respite from the bottom-pinching, wolf whistles, and catcalls that prevail in other cultures. In the DQ you can wear what you want.

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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?

Social life is pretty much limited to diplomatic entertaining within the DQ, of which there is a lot. The social life is hyperactive since all theatres, cinemas, concerts, operas, ballets, plays, night clubs, music halls etc. are banned an un-Islamic.

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

I would say so, but women have to be prepared to cover up outside of the DQ. There can be issues about unrelated women and men attending social functions outside of the DQ. There were a few restaurants who would reserve a private room for diplomats of both sexes. The luxury Faisaliyah Hotel, owned by relatives of the late King Faisal who hate the religious police, hosted events for foreigners of both sexes while I was there and Western women were allowed to walk around uncovered inside the hotel. Same comment for the Marriott Hotel. I do recall one incident at a major international hotel in Riyadh where a Saudi citizen raised a very loud fuss when he witnessed a Western female, who happened to be a senior official of the U.S. Embassy, entering a private room for a private luncheon with representatives of U.S. companies in Saudi Arabia, to which she had been invited by said executives. It was very ugly and the Ambassador had to call the hotel to protest.

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

No and yes. Forget about openly living your sexual identity in public, but yes, there is gay life within the diplomatic community and some of their Saudi friends. Discretion is key, even within the DQ.

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

TONS !!! Saudis rate the entire human race according to an unofficial pecking order. At the top of the pyramid are Saudis, followed by diplomats from advanced (white) Western countries (Japanese are included in this category, followed by Muslims from other countries, etc). At the bottom of the pyramid are blacks, and members of the servant class, be they Muslim (Pakistanis, Afghans, Eritreans, Somalis) or non-Muslim (Filipinos, Sri Lankans). Saudis are hugely prejudiced against Christians and Christian civilization, about which they know nothing. Saudis do not read, other than the Koran, technical or scientific literature. All the educated Saudis I met majored in four categories: petroleum/chemical engineering, electrical engineering, medicine, architecture, and that's about it. Mention Shakespeare, Goethe, Moliere, Beethoven, Wagner, Verdi to them and all you get is a blank, uncomprehending stare. It's not their fault, it's the fault of the system they live under.

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

Visiting Madaâ in Saleh and seeing the remains of the Hedjaz Railway built by the Ottoman Turks and destroyed by Lawrence of Arabia.

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

Desert excursions to view spectacular scenery in total isolation, desert picnics. Great opportunity for the women to doff their abayas.

A hidden gem is Mada in Saleh (Saudi Arabia's Petra) and its pre-islamic tombs and ruins scattered around a spectacular desert area. Nearby is the beautiful oasis of Al Ula with its date palm groves and remnants of the Ottoman-built Hedjaz Railway, destroyed by Lawrence of Arabia and his troops. Many Saudis have never heard of Mada in Saleh and are totally uninterested in anything pre-Islamic, since in their view the world started with Islam.

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

Carpets, some brass items, some pottery. Most of it is imported , thopugh, from more artistically inclined Muslim countries (Turkey, Iran, central Asia, Oman)

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

You can save money because entertainment options are few and the shopping is just O.K. There are some nice Turkish carpets and jewelry to buy at reasonable prices.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes, provided you don't travel to Dubai too often.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Bring lots of books because Saudi bookstores don't carry fiction, only religious (Islamic) and technical/how-to literature; same for CDs and DVDs, although you can order those from Amazon + APO (but sometimes the Saudis open APO packages and confiscate things they don't like).

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

Yes. It's a unique opportunity to visit a closed country with a totally alien culture.

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

Maybe your dog if you have one. Bring lots of books because Saudi bookstores don't carry fiction, only religious (Islamic) and technical/how-to literature.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sense of humor and adventure.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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

A good history of Saudi Arabia and an analysis of political, economic, social, and religious issues. Search on Amazon and you will find all that you may require.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

As a former U.S. ambassador said, "There are no other countries with which the U.S. shares so many common interests yet shares almost no common values."

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 11/09/15

Background:

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

Yes

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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?

Ohio. 16-20 hours depending on airports/connections.

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3. How long have you lived here?

April, 2011

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

Government/military healthcare provider

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Compound life. I was able to move into a brand new 2 bedroom, 2 1/2 bath villa with large sala and dining room, pantry, and laundry room. Very nice private compound rented out by MoNGHA for us.

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

Used to be very cheap, but now prices are going up.

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

Things that I can't find here. But many things that I couldn't find back then are appearing more often now.

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

Most western franchises are here, but the food does taste different. Cost is cheap.

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

Flies and mosquitoes when the weather cools. We have termites and roaches in our villas. And lots of little lizards.

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Daily Life:

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

Through work.

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

Yes. I don't know.

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

Yes, on our compound. More opening up on the outside now.

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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?

No issues. I like the fact that I receive a text message letting me know how much I spent within fifteen minutes after the sale, and after using the ATM machine.

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

None. It's a Muslim country. Other religions are illegal.

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

A bit helps. Many here speak English, and like to prove it.

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

Yes, the majority of places are not accessible.

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Transportation:

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

Some. We use hospital-based taxis. Outside taxis not so much. Language barriers, and pricing based on nationality.

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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?

Mostly Toyotas-Hi-lux 4WD pick ups and SUV's for going into the desert.

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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?

High-speed? Um, yeah, right. Cost is a bit high nowadays for what we get.

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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?

Get one here. They are unlocked, and prices are fair.

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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?

I think so.

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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?

Yes. All over the place.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Unknown

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

Work is standard uniforms for your occupation. Outside, women have to wear abayas, and sometimes get told to cover their hair. Guys, no shorts above the knees. No loud shirts featuring alcohol, or rock bands. Very conservative here.

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Health & Safety:

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

We have SANG security around our compound 24/7 armed with PDW's and SMG's. At night we sometimes get treated to automatic weapons fire in the distance with colorful tracers arcing up.

Outside, it's like being in any big city back home. Just be alert, and keep your head on swivel.

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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?

Yes. TB, MERS, Hep B/C, and others.

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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?

Fair to poor. Worse in summer with dust storms. The fuel is not as refined here so that exhaust is a lot worse. Pinkish-brown skies from the dust and pollution cutting visibility in half.

It's clearer in the winter when it rains.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

The dust storms will trigger asthma attacks easily. Food, lots of spices used that someone may not have been exposed to before.

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

Hot and dry in the summer. Temps exceeding 110+F regularly. Humidity in the low teens to single digits in summer. Better in the winter after the rain.

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Schools & Children:

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

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

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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?

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

In some places.

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Expat Life:

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

Large. Morale depends on where you work, and for who.

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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?

Not much. No movies, concerts, shows. Usually embassy parties and compound parties.

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

Singles yes.

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

The way society is set up here, it is ideal for them. Many of my coworkers are gay/lesbians.

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

There is only one religion here-Islam.

Everything is based on your passport. Westerners are at the top. Asians, and SW Asians much farther down. The lower you are on the totem pole, the worse the Saudis treat you.

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

Comparing how poor people live back home with the way real poor people live here. Experiencing life under a government sponsored religion. Seeing how the US is perceived from many different points of view.

Meeting my wife here.

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

If you like shopping, this is the place, malls are everywhere. There are some sites to visit. Red Sands, The End of the World. Camping in the desert if you want.

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

Tourist items, foods.

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

Not many. No snow. Tax-free income.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes. Very much so if you stay out of the malls.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

How ignorant the people can be. No "three foot personal zones" here. They like to line jump all the time. They drive wherever they want, however they want. And fast.

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

Once, yes. Again, probably not.

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

Alcohol, pork, guns, pornography, etc. It's a strict Muslim country.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sunblock, allergy medication, and membership with a medivac company to get you home for quality medical treatment.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Don't watch "The Kingdom" until after you finally leave here.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

With the death of the King in January, things are getting a lot tighter now. Especially because of the war "down south" in Yemen, and the rise of DAESH (ISIS, ISIL).

There have been more random attacks on western males with the military look about them. The government is now reporting on more raids in the media about terrorists. Rumors of isolated bomb blasts in places.

Honestly, the country is like the little red cork center on a dart board when it comes to location for Middle East violence. It hits all around them, so far, but not here yet, really.

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 10/27/15

Background:

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

No, I lived also in Europe and the Middle East.

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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?

Washington DC. Six hours to Frankfurt/Munich/London, then nine hours to DC.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Since summer 2014.

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

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Big houses, Arabic style, no storage, no walk-in closets, poorly built and finished. Pipes are leaking, electricity is causing problems, etc.
But it is close to the embassy in the Diplomatic Quarter. Some housing is within walking distance, and some requires driving, up to a 15-minute drive.

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

Some local products, especially produce items, are cheaper than in the USA, but imported goods are more expensive. No alcohol ,no religious items, no gambling accessories. Clothes are more expensive, and there are no changing rooms for women (as that would lead to rapes -according to their beliefs).
We use the military commissary for American items.

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

Plenty, but they are more expensive than in in the USA, and food quality and service are average. It is hit and miss. You cannot have alcohol with your meal, there is no pork, and you must observe prayer time when everything is closed. If you are a couple or a woman, you have to be seated in the "family section" with screaming kids around you. Some top-level restaurants do not accept kids, but the cost of a dinner for two there (without alcohol of course) is 200 USD.

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

Some ants, mosquitoes - not a big problem.

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Daily Life:

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

APO.

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

Around 8 USD for an hour, widely available, but the quality is poor.

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

Embassy and Annex have gyms for free. In the diplomatic quarter there are some facilities, but they are very expensive. You have to join them if you want to attend classes.

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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?

Accessible, no problems with it.

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

There are some secret masses organized by embassies.

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

English is enough.

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

Yes, poor or non-existent infrastructure.

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Transportation:

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

There is no public transport, and we cannot use taxis for security reasons. Just recently, Uber was accepted. We use the motor pool all the time, and they are a Godsend. However the Embassy management is trying limit the use of the motorpool by imposing new rules - just to make our life even more difficult

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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?

Jeep or something like it. Women cannot drive. The drivers in KSA are the worse in the world. Everyday I see accidents or fender/benders. Traffic is horrendous. Drivers do not obey any regulations. You will see a 9-year-old driving full speed and the mother sitting in the front seat with an infant on her lap.
Lots of people are to afraid to drive here.

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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 around 150 USD monthly, but it is choppy and slow.

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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?

Buy here, or bring unlocked from USA.

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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?

There is one vet that everyone is using. You need lots of documents to bring pet in. Dogs tend to be stolen.

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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?

There is no bilateral agreement, so spouses cannot work on the local economy unless they give up their diplomatic passport. There are some options in the embassy. Some spouses are working unofficially in the schools.

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

Women have to wear abayas. 90% of Saudi women are completely covered, leaving just the eyes. Men have to cover arms and knees.

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Health & Safety:

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

Terrorists blowing themselves up every week. The bomb factory was just discovered, and some Westerners were shot and killed. The embassy was closed for a few days, and all the time we hear warnings. War at the borders, ISIS has its cells in KSA. Since the beginning of this year, over 1000 people have been arrested for suspicion of terrorist activities. Our kids' school looks like a prison, with guards holding machine guns outside, barbed-wire fences, and tanks. But it is a safe post, according to the State Department, so they just took away the danger pay!

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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?

Dust allergies, MERS recently. Medical care is okay but not up to western standards.

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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?

Very unhealthy when sand storms hit, otherwise good.

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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?

Very hot and dry from May to November ( 40-50 C), nice , cooler weather during the remaining months.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are different types of International schools available. My experience with the American International School is described in the school reports section.

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2. 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?

Yes, a few.

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

Some at school. My kids play soccer at the Arab club (which I found myself online) and they thrive. It is life-saving, because otherwise they would be crazy bored. But it is also expensive.

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Expat Life:

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

Big size, low morale. Americans working for the embassy are unhappy in general. The management is trying to take as many privileges from them as possible: limiting the motor pool, perhaps on closing the Annex-recreational center, limiting embassy events, etc. Danger pay has been taken away.

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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?

Not many, as I wrote before. Mostly parties at different embassies in DQ, dinners, trips to the desert. On the whole, it is very boring.

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

Maybe for families with small kids, when a trip to the park and swimming pool is enough. There is not much to do here , no sports events ( women cannot participate), no movies, no theaters, no concerts, no museum, no night clubs. Singles cannot mingle with locals of the opposite sex outside the Diplomatic Quarter and compounds.

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

If you want to be lashed for your homosexuality or killed in the name of the sharia law you are welcome to come here.

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

Where do I start? There is only one religion: Islam, and that is it. If you believe otherwise, check the answer above.
Women are second-class citizens, along with the Asian/Black population. There are places where women cannot enter (sports venues). They cannot drive cars, and there are special sections for them in shops and offices.

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

Familiarizing with culture, meeting members of the Saudi Royal family.

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

You can go to the desert, visit 1 or 2 tourist spots in KSA, that is it.
If you are Muslim you can go to Mecca.

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

Carpets, some furniture. Unfortunately almost everything is made in India/Pakistan.

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

Living in a secluded country, not accessible for tourists.

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10. Can you save money?

Maybe some, but since the danger pay has been removed I do not think so.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I do not think so.

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

Freedom.

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3. Do you have any other comments?

Saudi people are usually nice and friendly. Lots of them studied abroad, and they have modern outlook. However, the conservative/orthodox attitude prevails. Public beheadings, treating house help/workers like slaves, road rage, untouchables, members of royal families, not respecting human rights, and (frankly speaking) the ugly surroundings make staying here very difficult.

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 10/15/15

Background:

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

No - London.

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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?

Washington DC. 14 hours with connections.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years

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

US Foreign Service

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Large townhouses. 5 minute walk to work. Meetings outside the DQ can take more than an hour to get to because of constant heavy traffic.

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

Lots of huge grocery stores (Carrefour, Tamimi, Hyperpanda). You can get a lot of American goods but it's more expensive because it's imported. Anything else we can't get, we just buy on Amazon.

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

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

Every kind of American fast food is available, as well as American chain restaurants - tons and tons of restaurant options. More expensive than the US but it's not too bad.

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

None.

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Daily Life:

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

Embassy APO. But a lot of the mail and packages have to go through the Saudis, and they delayed and/or confiscated tons of our packages over Christmas.

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

Widely available. Everyone I know who had kids had a nanny, and everyone had a maid, some live-in, some once a week. Very cheap

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

Very small gym at the Embassy. All gyms are single-sex. The ladies gyms on the DQ and outside the DQ are extremely expensive and the workout classes are a joke.

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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?

Credit cards accepted most places.

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

Catholic mass, but it's under the radar. No churches. Religions other than Islam are illegal.

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

None- everyone speaks English

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

Yes, it would be extremely difficult. There are no sidewalks in downtown Riyadh. The diplomatic quarter has constant construction and the sidewalks are always broken.

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Transportation:

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

No trains, no buses. Most women have drivers.

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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?

Huge SUV's. Women cannot drive!

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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, STC, Mobily. Sometimes the internet was good, other times it was very slow and would freeze often. You need a VPN because everything is blocked.

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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?

STC is terrible but there aren't very many options.

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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?

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?

There is no bilateral work agreement between US and Saudi so spouses cannot work on the local economy unless they gave up their diplomatic immunity.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

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

Women have to wear a black robe called an abaya and a head scarf in order to keep a low profile. No shorts for men or women. You will get stared at either way.

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Health & Safety:

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

There is very little to no crime, but there is always the looming threat of terrorism and attacks against Westerners. Keep a low profile when you are outside of the diplomatic quarter.

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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?

Ok medical care. Health concerns from sandstorms - asthma. Nosebleeds from the extremely dry weather. buy the best humidifier you can for bedrooms.

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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?

Absolutely terrible part of the year - Sandstorm season is awful. But, the winters are lovely - the weather is a bit cooler and more bearable. It rains heavily for a few days maybe once or twice a year and the roads flood and people get into accidents because they are not used to driving in the rain. Stay indoors!

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

dust, everywhere, all the time.

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

Winter is great - cooler weather, clear skies. Summers are unbearable and Saudis usually leave for the entire summer because it is so hot. Very dry heat, no humidity at all. Normally around 115F in the summer.

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Schools & Children:

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

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?

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

Large, poor morale.

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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?

Nothing. Travel outside of Saudi.

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

It seems that families prefer this posting. Single men have an easier time meeting women because there is more freedom of movement for men here. Single women - if you are looking to date, don't come here. Single women have it the worst - can't drive, very difficult to meet men, the religious police will harass you if you go out without covering your hair.

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

everything here is under the radar - you cannot be open about your sexuality here.

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

Yes. If you are Asian or African-American the Saudis will question whether you are actually a diplomat! They assume you are not. Caucasian men have it the easiest here. Women are treated as second-class citizens.

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

You have to really work hard to get outside of the American community and diplomatic circuit to meet Saudis. The Saudis I have met have been extremely kind, welcoming, and generous. Really great people. But, it is very difficult to make friends with them. The diplomatic community is huge and since there is not much to do here, you can easily become friends with other diplomats and even ambassadors of other countries. As a junior-level officer this was a pretty cool perk.

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

Nothing. There are a lot of malls (very expensive) and restaurants (extremely expensive, no alcohol). Pretty much every American restaurant is here. Hidden gems - not really, but going out to the desert to camp is nice once in awhile but it gets old.

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

Saudi coffee and dates. Bateel dates are the best.

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

Not much. You can save money because there isn't really a lot to do here (no cinemas, clubs, bars, etc). There is a lot of time off for the various Islamic holidays so many people travel often. It is easy to travel to other countries - lots of direct flights out of Riyadh to Asia and Europe. Other than that, there is not much to do here. It gets really boring.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

I didn't realize how bad it was for women. I was more afraid of the religious police before I came - the religious police will yell at you, but it's not that big of a deal, they just want to intimidate you.

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

NO!!!

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3. But don't forget your:

Bring light sweaters, it gets a bit cooler in the winter, but it's beautiful. 50F or so.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

No

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

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Ladies- Saudi women will be dressed to the nines under their abayas (Black robe), so bring your nicest dresses and jewelry if you are going to an event with Saudi women. They will remove their abayas and underneath will be diamonds, jewels, and designer outfits. But never shown in front of men outside their family! Everything closes 5 times a day for prayer. This is very annoying if you want to go grocery shopping or go anywhere. You always have to check prayer time.

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 01/23/15

Background:

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

No, we have been posted to Paris, Rabat, Cairo, and Belgrade.

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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?

Washington, DC, normally it takes between 19-24 hours. Luftansa and Delta.

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3. How long have you lived here?

3 years.

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

We are with the U.S. Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

In the diplomatic quarters commute is minimal if you work at an Embassy within the quarter, but if you work out in the city you could have a 30-45 minutes commute due to traffic. There are good roads. Housing can be decent sized villas or apartments. Many are old and need work. Many new ones have finishing issues. U.S. Embassy has mostly old units that are getting grungy and need to be redone. Many have awkward layouts. I have a newer townhouse that is really nice.

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

About the same as the U.S. We can get everything we need here easily. Lots of American and European foods.

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

Get a Kindle. Books are very expensive here.

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

Everything is available here. Almost all U.S. fast food, Starbucks, donut shops, Chinese, Italian, Sushi. Food is one of the best things about Saudi Arabia. Lots of Lebanese food, and Indian.

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

Very minimal, a few ants.

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Daily Life:

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

We have APO.

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

There are maids available, the rate is US$7-8/hr. But in my 20 years experience employing maids, the ones here are not competent. There is frequent turnover of maids in our community. Most are South East Asian and African. I have had 2 and both are/were not good (need to monitor very closely).

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

Yes, there is Gold's Gym, and special clubs in the Diplomatic Quarter one for each gender. Expensive.

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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?

Usually safe and many use them all the time.

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

Mormon, Catholic etc. but all are clandestine.

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

Very little. Most vendors or workers speak English.

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

Not really, there is sympathy and kindness and there are many Saudis with disabilities.

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Transportation:

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

Best to have a driver. Buses are for men only and usually poor workers. Taxis are safe for men.

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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?

You need a newer car if you want to bring one. Only males can drive. SUV's are the best bet due to poorly finished roads and safety.

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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.

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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?

More than one service, reasonable prices.

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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?

Best not to bring a pet. It is hard to get them out of the country. Dogs are not welcomed here. If you bring them, arrive in the winter because they will be quarantined. There are lots of cats here everywhere if you are a cat lover. Get one here.

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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?

No.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Few.

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

Same as in the U.S. for men. Women need to dress modestly and wear an abaya in some places.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes, though safer in some ways the DC, the driving is horrible and erratic and there are many accidents. Also we are in an area that has had terrorism in the past so there are guards everywhere and police presence. Most Westerners live in gated secure compounds.

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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?

Good medical care and hospitals in the cities.

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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 to unhealthy especially during sand storms.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Lots of people get respiratory infections.

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

Dry heat for six months of the year but easily manageble due to good a/c everywhere. Winters starting in October are cool and very pleasant, similar to early fall in the Northeast U.S.

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Schools & Children:

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

There is the American School, the British School and a number of schools that offer classes in English. Many with young children choose My Little School which is more like a charter school.

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

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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?

Yes, they are pretty pricy.

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

At western schools there are some, not many. Most compounds have swimming pools. U.S. Embassy has work-out rooms and pool and tennis courts for employees.

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Expat Life:

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

Men like it better. Many women are very frustrated with lack of mobility and treatment of women.

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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?

Shopping, restaurants. There are actually lots of private parties with lots of alcohol among expats on compounds and in the DQ. If that is your thing, you can find a wild party scene here. There are book clubs, and card clubs etc.

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

This is best for families. It is very lonely for many singles with normal dating being illegal. Unmarried couples cannot eat at restaurants without fear of arrest. Families have lots of time to spend together or with others with kids.

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

No, homosexuality is not only frowned upon, it is illegal with penalties of death. If you opt to come, be aware you must be discreet and stay in the closet.

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

Women are required to dress modestly and wear a covering when in public. Openly practicing any religion other than Sunni Islam is not allowed, so no open church services or wearing of crosses etc. People of color are treated less courteously than people who look "white." Asians and brown people are often assumed to be "lower class servants."

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

Desert picnics, the annual King's horse races, the Janadriyah Cultural Festival.

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

Beautiful malls, lots of restaurants, trips to the desert.

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

Designer labels are everywhere here. Rugs from Iran and Turkey.

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

Saving money is the biggest plus of living here because most people get higher salaries. The winters are really great, cool weather and sunshine.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes especially if you have an inflated salary.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Spouses have a hard time finding work. You need special permission. Music is forbidden and you will not find any music stores or hear it in public spaces.

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

Yes, I feel very much at home here. As a married woman I have a very comfortable existance.

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

Alcohol, pork rinds, religious statues, Christmas trees, Playboy collection etc. Unless you are a diplomat they will be confiscated and could cause you big problems.

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4. But don't forget your:

Warm jammies, blankets, sweaters etc. because houses are very cold in winter and air conditioning is also very cold in most places. Bring books, dvds, music.

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

Finding Nouf
, The Kingdom.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

The Saudis I have met are very warm and friendly. The women are amazing, smart,funny and really cool. It is not a hard place to live since it has all the amenities of home. Get a driver, make friends and you will be fine. Men, make sure you get your wife a good driver!!

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 09/28/14

Background:

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

6th, Europe and Middle East previously.

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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?

Washington DC.

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3. How long have you lived here?

1 year.

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

Government.

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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. Reliable A/C. Government owned are in better shape than rented spaces. Mixed; some luck in what you get on your timing.

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

Good choice. Everything here, slightly more expensive. Riyadh is in the middle of the desert, so expensive. If you want luxury goods though (especially cars), you have LOTS of choice.

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

Most everything is available at Commissary. Salsa, almond butter, outdoor play equipment. Bicycles, musical instruments. Christmas/religious decor, any religious stuff that is not Muslim.

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

Every imaginable Western chain except for Red Robin.

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

Some ants in our houses, some mosquitos.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO. 10 days to the United States and back.

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

Widely available, US$6.67 rate per hour for Filipinos (their mafia rate).

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

Embassy has a gym.

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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?

Like the U.S.

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

Ask when you arrive. Mormons take care of their own.

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

If you speak English, you're good.

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

On the grand scheme of things, this is probably not so bad if one consider all the much poorer places in the world.

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Transportation:

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

Few trains, buses and taxis are not allowed by Embassy.

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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?

SUVs are best. Gas is US$.25 a gallon, so don't worry about gas mileage. Lots of folks have bigger cars, so sometimes harder to see on the road unless you are higher up.

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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.

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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?

Embassy provides. Signal sometimes poor.

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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.

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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?

Not really unless you teach.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Helping do stuff within the Embassy community.

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

Standard.

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Health & Safety:

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

ISIS attracts a lot of Saudis. We get danger pay for a reason.

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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?

Embassy MED is good. Air quality is not great as it's the desert.

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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?

Dry, sand in the air. Not many sand storms but constant dust in the air.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Sandstorms are a problem sometimes.

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

Desert. Always dry except for a few rainstorms in winter.

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Schools & Children:

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

Good choices. 6 schools are safe, 2 of which are close. The American School is a 20-minute commute. British/German/Japanese/French schools also a commute. My Little School close to DQ, and King Faisal School next to Embassy but they are both for smaller kids.

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

Little.

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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?

USERA (community association) has one option; no part-time option. My Little School also has one but it's very expensive.

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

USERA runs some, schools have some, and families run some.

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Expat Life:

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

Large expat community, morale generally low. Not much to do, lack of entertainment, and travel is expensive. Material comforts are nice, but going to Bahrain frequently helps.

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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?

Most folks who drink will consume more here than in the States.

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

Families with kids do better because the schools are good. As usual, tougher for single women than single men. Couples do ok if both work.

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

I wouldn't know. Embassy is supportive, society not so much.

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

Strict hierarchy. Saudi men on top in most situations, followed by white people, then other Arabs, with blacks on bottom. Women usually lower in each situation, though white women at the Embassy have access to Saudi women that men of course do not have in this highly religious society.

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

The dates taste really good, birthday parties at Prince/Princess palaces, other Embassy families. We get to know other expats on DQ. Weather is nice half the year.

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

Maidan Saleh, some limited tourist sites (no tourist infrastructure, so you can get up close to stuff for cheap, but don't expect any guides).

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

Carpets, dates.

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

Saving money, lots of family time at home, close Embassy community (everyone on DQ, so everyone close by). If you are a Muslim, special opportunities for Hajj/Umrah.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes, if you don't travel too much.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Not much to do. Motor pool a constant morale issue. Hard to sponsor drivers after the recent crackdown.

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

No one really has a choice who comes here. It's an important country, but never on top on anyone's list.

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

Dog. Not a great life here.

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4. But don't forget your:

Entertainment/games for hours at home.

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

The Kingdom: Arabia & The House of Sa'ud
(old but good).
The Islamic Dress Code for women.

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 03/26/14

Background:

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

Definitely not. We have lived in Canberra, Tokyo, Okinawa, Ankara, and Budapest.

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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?

Washington, D.C., is now home. It probably takes about 20 hours to get to post, including an unavoidable long layover in Germany.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Six months.

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

State Department dependent.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

There is embassy-owned housing, which is comfortable and well-maintained, with most of the comforts of home, and embassy-leased housing, which is in general shoddy construction, difficult to get the Saudi landlord to maintain, having an almost total lack of storage space except for some kitchen cabinets and small closets (so people are forced to purchase furnishings like bathroom vanities, medicine cabinets, kitchen and bathroom shelving, storage closets and such themselves), subject to flooding and sewage problems, and with the newer units lacking wired telephones, Internet connections and cell phone coverage (and no hope for any of that in the near future). Some of the older leased houses are quite nice but still have serious problems concerning water storage and the lack of any kind of cool water in hot weather. If you're coming and have a choice, I would say go for embassy-owned housing, and definitely try to avoid the newer units -- life will be quite difficult in them. Most housing is fairly close to the Embassy, except for the very newest units, which are in the middle of nowhere.

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

They say "everything" is available here, and to a certain extent that's true, but it often isn't the quality Americans would expect. For example, frozen vegetables have thawed and been refrozen, almost always, and are simply a waste of money here. You can find things like American mayonnaise and cheese, but they are often their expiration date and have obviously gone bad. Meat and fresh vegetables tend to be OK, and sometimes excellent. You can find most normal household care items, or substitutes, but it does take a while to sort out what the products are actually for. In general, we have found food and supplies in local supermarkets to be pretty expensive. There is a military base about an hour away which is a pain to get to, but the products are fairly reliable when they're in stock, except for the fact that they freeze things like sour cream and cheese for long shelf life, and the results are often disastrous. Better to get those kinds of things in the local markets.

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

Specialty items such as cosmetics, personal hygiene brands that you want in particular, maybe American food items that could be hard to find (like horseradish, your favorite spices, perhaps a certain kind of rice, real mayonnaise that hasn't spoiled or expired). You also might be able to find the American products you like at the military base. In any case, you don't have to ship a lot of food because you'll always find it or a substitute somewhere here.

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

Pretty much every conceivable fast food outlet is here. I have seen them all over but only bought McDonald's once and don't recall the price.

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

Mosquitoes, bees and wasps getting in the door when open, but overall nothing terrible.

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Daily Life:

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

We have an APO available to us as well as the diplomatic pouch. Unfortunately, many items have reportedly been stolen from the APO (especially electronics, and I even had a pair of expensive shoes go missing; even jewelry in registered mail was taken), so for anything valuable, the diplomatic pouch is a must, even though it's much slower. The embassy doesn't seem to feel it's necessary to warn newcomers about the theft problem in advance and claims that there is nothing they can do about it. Which of course there is.

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

Domestic help is not so easy to find. When we arrived, the CLO was at a total loss as to how we should go about getting somebody and said her list was completely out of date. Luckily a friend knew a man who does work for her, and I hired him. He leaves something to be desired in the small things like dusting, but he does the big jobs well, such as cleaning up the enormous amount of sand and dust that accumulate in just hours here. I pay him 300 SAR for a day's work, so around US$80 for eight hours. I also have a gardener who I pay more.

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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?

You might have problems with your bank using your debit card in Saudi Arabia. It has taken us several calls to the SDFCU to let them know that we actually live here and to please stop blocking our card. Credit cards could have the same problem. It's really best to cash checks at the Embassy.

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

None -- most everybody can speak English after a fashion, although it would be helpful to know a little bit of Arabic, even just to be polite.

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

I haven't paid close attention, but my guess would be yes, there would be many physical obstacles.

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Transportation:

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

There are no local trains or buses, and taxis are prohibited for us to use anywhere in the country. You will either have to rely on the embassy's woefully inadequate motor pool or bring your own car. There are also embassy shuttles to supermarkets and such, but the "system" for pickup to get home sounds pretty poor to me.

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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?

Many people seem to have SUVs but we don't, and our car has been just fine so far, although getting it serviced may prove a challenge (it's a German car). Driving here is a bit dangerous and really requires you to be ready for anything as the locals don't follow what we would call traffic rules. If you're planning to drive out in the desert, then a 4WD is mandatory.

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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?

Not in most of the housing; certainly not in the newer construction that is located on the outskirts of the DQ. I pay about US$100 a month for what is supposed to be high speed Internet connection because I need it for my remote job, but it slows to a crawl quite often during the day and crashes frequently. I can't even imagine what people put up with who don't have a wired telephone and thus no chance of having this so-called high speed connection.

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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?

I brought my iPhone from home and bought a local chip, and it's fine. Be sure that your domestic phone is unlocked, though, before coming here. The embassy issues some phones as well, but they're mainly in Arabic and hard to use. Some of the newer housing has no cell phone coverage, or very spotty at best, plus no wired telephones, so I guess in that case it doesn't really matter what kind of cell phone you have.

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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, they don't need to be quarantined, but you must go through a huge amount of work to obtain an import permit for them, and they absolutely cannot be transported during the summer. I have heard there is a vet on the military base but have yet so see it, and I have heard of one local vet. Given how much the Saudis dislike dogs, though, it's hard to imagine that this vet is too familiar with dogs. What I have found, though, is that the Saudis are curious about dogs, even if they claim not to like them. So on several occasions we'd be walking our dog and a car with a Saudi family would stop. The father would ask if his kids can "meet" our dog. We say yes and get her to sit. The kids get out of the car, wave at our dog, get back in and drive off. A real life encounter with a dog!

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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?

Not really. There might be some teaching jobs, but my understanding is that those are pretty dreadful (and I'm also not sure dependents can take them without work permits). Most dependents work at the Embassy or related organizations. A telecommuting job could also work if you are lucky enough to get a house that can sustain a high-speed connection.

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

American women don't need to wear an abaya or headscarf at the Embassy or when performing their job, but an abaya at the very least is required in public by law, and unless you want to get stopped (or worse) by the muttawa (religious police), it's advisable to wear a scarf as well and at a minimum, have one with you, always. If you get caught without a headscarf, you can be thrown out of shopping malls and such (and people have been). Some say that we don't have to wear an abaya on the Diplomatic Quarter, which is true as there are no muttawa here, but the entire place is full of immigrant workers (and a lot of Saudis live here as well), so unless you like constantly being gawked at by very large groups of men, an abaya is recommended. Men seem to be able to wear what they want, except for things like shorts.

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Health & Safety:

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

It's a high terrorism threat post in a volatile region of the world, so one always has to be aware of one's surroundings. We are forbidden from taking taxis for security reasons, which can make getting around difficult unless you have a car. The embassy's motor pool is totally inadequate and the subject of many complaints among the community. There is no public transportation system, but I'm sure even if there was, we wouldn't be able to use that either for reasons of security. That said, I have never felt unsafe or threatened here.

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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?

The sand in the air is unhealthy and contributes to upper respiratory ailments. It's my understanding that the hospitals we use are first class.

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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?

Not good. The amount of sand and dust in the air is phenomenal. I have read that some 4,000 tons of sand descends on Riyadh every month.

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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?

When we arrived in October, it was pretty hot (100 degrees F), but nowhere near what it gets in summer (120 degrees F and up). It wasn't unpleasant, except for the fact that we had no cool water available to us because of the situation of our water tanks, which the embassy is unwilling to remedy. Since November, the weather has been delightful, cool much of the time, and even cold at night. We also had a lot of rain, which unfortunately caused much flooding in housing leased by the embassy. In summer, I understand that most everybody stays inside, and with good reason in those extreme temperatures.

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Expat Life:

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

People seem happy enough here -- I expected everybody to be miserable, but they aren't. People also don't seem to want to leave, which surprised me.

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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?

People seem to have get togethers at home. I don't think restaurants are used for that kind of thing. I work most of the time so really don't have a social life here!

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

I think it's fine for families and couples; it would be quite difficult for single women here since they can't drive and it's sometimes difficult and unadvisable to go places on your own. Being part of a couple, I think a woman has much more of a chance to interact with locals, too.

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

I don't know personally, but there must be some gay or lesbian expats here. Homosexuality is forbidden by law, so I would be pretty careful.

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

Well, certainly with gender prejudice -- if you're a woman, you're already a second-class citizen. Religions other than Islam are not tolerated, and Christians can't even celebrate Christmas and such, so religious prejudice, definitely. There are many black Saudis, so I don't think that kind of prejudice is a problem; however, if you're Southeast Asian or Filipino, as many of the immigrant laborers are, you might run into some problems of being treated like household help.

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

The best places we have visited so far have been the old city of Diriyah (a UNESCO World Heritage site), which is 10 minutes from where we live on the Diplomatic Quarter. On several occasions we were invited in off the street by Saudi families for lunch or tea -- the hospitality of these people is rivaled by none! We also spent a long weekend in Jeddah, which was delightful -- a beautiful city on the Red Sea that is not as conservative as Riyadh.

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

Definitely visit old Diriyah -- not only does it host a UNESCO World Heritage site, but it's a charming, very friendly town. Also Riyadh's camel souk is fascinating. The view from atop Al Faisaliyah is far more than just a view of the city -- it's a very unique way of seeing Riyadh in a golden globe.

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

There isn't much in the way of local crafts here, except for camels. However, there is an excellent shop in Dhahran that makes tables from old Saudi doors, frames tribal masks and has a superb collection of Saudi art. There is also the gold souk if that interests you. Additionally, one can buy designer abayas, which are far more expensive than what you'll find in the souks, but are also exquisite and make having to wear one much more tolerable (enjoyable, even).

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

A very different culture, beautiful weather in fall and winter, interesting places to explore if you just look for them, incredibly hospitable people (the Saudis).

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10. Can you save money?

Yes, absolutely. I had been told that you simply must get out of here every four weeks in order to be able to stand it, so I thought all extra money would go for travel. We have been here six months and haven't even felt the urge to flee. Food, however, is expensive, as is having to furnish houses at your own expense with the basic necessities.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

I didn't want to come here in the worst way because of what I had heard. I wish I had known that it isn't so bad and that there are interesting things to learn about the country and the culture and the people. My feelings might change in summer, but for now, I am enjoying our posting here.

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

Yes, I would, and I would stay longer than the posting if I had to.

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

Heavy winter clothes, but bring warm clothes at least for the cold winters. We're in the middle of the desert here, but contrary to what most people think, it cools down considerably in fall and winter.

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4. But don't forget your:

Polarized sunglasses -- absolutely necessary with the brilliant sun here.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

I thought it would be the country, customs or people that I wouldn't like here, along with the restrictions concerning women and a supposed ban on photography (which isn't true, you just have to be careful), but much to my surprise I am finding the overall experience enjoyable. Ironically it's the embassy and the way it operates that I have issues with, especially with regard to the poor housing situation. As I said before, the brutal summer could change my opinion, but if that's only for four months of the year, I think it can be survived.

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 12/04/13

Background:

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

No. I have lived in Israel, Rwanda, Chad, Yemen, and Burma.

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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?

Northern Virginia. It takes approximately 14 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

15 months.

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

Working with the American Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

American Embassy personnel are assigned to the Diplomatic Quarter. Housing there consists of apartments, townhome-style residences, stand-alone homes. Many of the homes are both 110/220 volt. Commute from the further location to the American Embassy is not much more than 10 minutes.

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

You can find anything you need here. Prices are equivalent or maybe a little higher than Northern Virginia. You may not find the brand that you are used to but you'll find something that is comparable to.

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

We were right on with our shipment. You can buy everything here but I would recommend sending your pillows, sheets in advance of being moved here. It is nice to come in and be able to have your own personal pillows and sheets the first night of arriving.

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

American fast foods are available - KFC, Dominos, Baskin Robins, Subway Sandwiches to name a few. You can find Mexican, local cuisine, Indian, Italian. There are numerous restaurants to experience.

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

Mosquitos and roaches.

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Daily Life:

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

We use APO through the American Embassy.

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

I don't have but I understand it is available and affordable.

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

We have gyms available to us at the Embassy and our annex along with swimming pools.

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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?

I know many people who use credit cards and ATMs here. We choose to do business in cash when we are overseas.

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

There is a gathering of Christians on Fridays.

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

You can get by with English but it would help if you knew your numbers for shopping. And of course, it is always nice to be able to say hello, goodbye, thank you in Arabic.

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

Yes they would. This country does not have the physical disability act like we have in the States where we are required to have ramps, railings, etc. to assist our disabled community.

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Transportation:

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

We have travelled to Dhahran on the train and enjoyed the experience. As I stated earlier, taxis are off limits for us.

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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?

There are a number of car dealerships here to include American and Japanese. If you are an explorer and plan to stay on the road (or offroad) and see the country, I would strongly urge bringing an SUV. If you are a city dweller and have no interest in leaving the confines of the city then a regular sedan would work well for you.

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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 it is. Two companies provide - STC and Mobily. Cost is approximately US$80-$100 per month.

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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?

You can bring your own but they do have companies here that sell cell phones. The American Embassy provides one to all Direct Hires.

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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?

Our pets do not need to be quarantined. There are vets and kennels available. Not many but there are some.

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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?

It depends on your status here. We do have some spouses teaching at schools, we had a spouse who worked at a lawyer's office. For the most part working on the local economy is quite difficult.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

I know there are some but I have not had an opportunity to get involved yet.

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

At work it is business attire. In public keeping modest is the key. As American women associated with the Embassy, we are not required to wear abiyas but most of us do just to not draw attention to ourselves. Most of us do not put the head scarf on but we do bring it with us. And we don't cover our faces. Men tend to wear jeans but I have seen some out with shorts on (including locals).

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Health & Safety:

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

American Embassy personnel are not authorized to use taxis. Even if you were allowed, many of the drivers have no idea where to take you when you tell them your destination. You need to be able to explain where to go.

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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?

The Health Unit at the Embassy has identified medical facilities that can handle most of our needs. Upper respiratory is a huge issue here due to the dryness and the sandstorms.

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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 to unhealthy. Many people develop upper respiratory irritations and if you are asthmatic, this may be a difficult place to be living.

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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?

Dry, dry, dusty, sandy, dry. When the rainy season does hit, it can be very quick, very excessive, causing flooding in parts of the city.

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Schools & Children:

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

AISR is where most of the American Embassy children attend school. I do not have school-age children so can't speak on the subject.

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

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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?

Yes. My Little School is located on the Diplomatic Quarter Compound.

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

The schools have sports programs.

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Expat Life:

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

There is a large expat community. You have people who adjust well here, then unfortunately others who are quite miserable and wish they were anywhere else but here.

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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?

Getting together with friends at homes, Uncle Sam's at the American Embassy.

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

I could see where this would be a difficult environment to bring your family. But that said - there are lots of school activities, lots of playgrounds, and the malls are filled with play centers for children. Singles could find it difficult, however there are things to do - just go out and find them. Couples have each other so life can be easier for them.

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

I know a number of gay/lesbian expats. I believe they tend to socialize within the Diplomatic community or they stay at home. There is a gay community in Riyadh. It is very quiet and they don't have any attention drawn to them.

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

Of course. This is Riyadh, Saudi Arabia!! If you are not Arab or Muslim you will be looked at - you will be treated differently. I have not experienced any problems in my time here but I do everything to show the respect of this culture/this environment while I am here. I would want the same sign of respect for people coming to my country.

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

Driving out in the countryside, experiencing the sites and sounds. There are lots of day trips right outside of Riyadh.

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

Desert treks, hunting for desert diamonds, visiting bronze age burial grounds, Edge of the World, Mada'an Salah, scuba/snorkeling, ancient rock art. I could go on. Do your research. There are lots of things to see, to experience. Use your imagination. This is a great place.

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

Head down to the souq. There are lots of hidden treasures! Also, since we have been here we have purchased a dining room table made from a very old Saudi door along with a sofa table made from a door panel. Who would have thought we would be buying furniture here!!??

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

Experiencing the culture, the weather is great, lots to see and do.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes you can.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

I did a lot of reading and research, took 4 months of Arabic. I knew exactly what to expect and am quite content with my life. I still have 21 months left here. Time will pass quickly and it will be time to move on to the next adventure.

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

Sure, why not. I've been to tougher places to live. This place has all the necessities that I need to make me feel at home for the next 21 months.

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

High expectations thinking you will walk right into the same sort of environment you just left.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sense of adventure. Why else would you be here!! If you didn't want to experience living in other cultures then why would you have signed up for a career that required you to travel around the world?

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


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6. Do you have any other comments?

Remember that happiness is within yourself. Instead of spending time looking for reasons to be so miserable, try taking that time to find the positives of a situation and build on that. How fortunate are we all for living a life that lets us travel the world and see, do, experience things that we may have never been able to do had we chosen a different career path! Embrace this adventure!!!!

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 10/09/13

Background:

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

This is not my first experience, I have lived all over the world.

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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?

My home base is Toronto, Canada. I usually connect in Frankfurt, Germany. The trip is about 24 hours with layovers.

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3. How long have you lived here?

I have been living here for 4 months.

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

I work for a local telecommunications company.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Most expats live on gated compounds; many provide amenities such as gyms, restaurants, and a pool.

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

You can buy most things here in the local grocery stores.

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

Possibly some items for in-home entertainment.

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

McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks and Second Cup and all other fast food places are here and the prices are the same as in the west. There are many good Indian and Pakistani restaurants here and they are very cheap.

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

I have had major problems with cockroaches in my apartment.

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Daily Life:

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

UPS.

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

Cheap and available.

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

Most compounds have a gym.

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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?

Most places accept credit cards and ATM's are everywhere.

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

None, there are no churches here, only mosques.

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

Arabic is the official language but you can get around with speaking English as most locals know it, but learn some Arabic!

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

Yes - there are no sidewalks and no ramps etc.

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Transportation:

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

Public transit is poor here but safe. Taxis are safe and affordable.

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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?

You will need a large all-terrain car. The driving is just plain frightening. Locals pay absolutely no attention to any rules whatsoever. Everyone runs red lights, ignores signs, no one uses turn signals and drivers act like they are the only car on the road. Saudi Arabia has recently been revealed as the nation with the most traffic accidents. I have been to dozens of nations and have never seen anything like this. If you want to walk around the city, use extreme caution as cars to not stop for pedestrians.

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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?

Available but slow and unreliable, however it is fairly cheap.

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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?

Most people go with STC for their cell phones plans.

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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?

Yes, for six months. And, do not bring you pet - most locals see dogs as dirty and will treat them with disgust. There are no vets or kennels here.

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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?

Not that I know of.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

None.

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

Casual for men, females have to cover up everything except their faces.

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Health & Safety:

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

There is always a threat of terrorism here but nothing has occurred in a while; just be alert and use your common sense.

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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?

No, health care is fine here.

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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 in winter, unhealthy in the summer as there are many dust storms coming out of the desert.

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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?

Very hot in the summer and pleasant in the winter.

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Schools & Children:

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

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

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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?

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

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Expat Life:

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

Large expat community. Moral is mixed some are fed up with life here and want to get out. Some accept it but no one I know loves it.

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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?

There are restaurants and large malls. However there are no nightclubs, movies theaters or concerts here. Most entertainment happens on the compounds.

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

It is not a good post for families as there is not much to do and your children will not be happy here. For singles, maybe, but again you will be bored. Couples, yes. A couple without children is probably the best choice of people to come here.

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

No, not at all. Homosexuality is illegal here. Locals can be executed for showing any signs of homosexuality. Expats will probably be asked to leave the nations. It is not a good idea to come here if you are gay. Even if you do not get kicked out of the country, you will be treated with disgust by the locals.

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

No racial problems, but females are seen here as second class citizens. Females are not allowed to be seen without a male escort in this city. Females also are not allowed to drive or go to certain restaurants. If you are a female you will be treated poorly. Also, if you are not of the Islamic faith you may experience religious prejudice.

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

The ease of travel to other places in the Middle East such as Dubai.

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

There really is not much to do here. Maybe just the ease of going to other countries in the area.

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

Nothing.

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

This nation has great weather in the winter and provides an interesting cultural experience.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

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

No.

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

Anything that has to do with cold weather

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4. But don't forget your:

Patience.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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

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7. Do you have any other comments?

If you are female, do not come here, my poor wife is very unhappy right now as she has no rights and is treated no better than a street dog.

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 03/17/13

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?

Australia is a 20 hour flight.

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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, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

The contributor was affiliated with the Australian government and lived in Riyadh from 2010 to 2012, a fifth 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?

Most westerners live on housing compounds, most of which are 30-45 minutes' drive from the city. Most diplomats live in the DQ, which is about 15 minutes from town.

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

There is cheap local seasonal produce, although with a limited variety of choices. Everything else is flown in from the US and elsewhere and can be very expensive. You can buy pretty much everything, for a price, except alcohol and anything containing it, pork products, nutmeg and wine vinegar.

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

Foodstuffs, personal toiletries, books, music, board games, anything to help pass the time.

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

Saudis love fast food. Everything that you can find in the USA exists here.

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

Compounds can be full of mosquitoes, but are generally regularly fumigated (don't ask what with - it's probably not healthy).

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Daily Life:

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

Mail is generally let in if the material is not offensive. Amazon will ship to KSA.

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

Available and cheap. Around SAR1000 a month for a part-time maid, and SAR2000 for a driver (essential for women, if they are not to be house-bound).

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

Commercial gyms are only for men (though there is one women-only gym on the DQ). For women, there are often gyms on compounds, or join the US Embassy-run USERA facilities.

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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?

Like in Europe or the US.

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

Everything but Islam is illegal, but private services of various denominations do exist.

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

Available, but the foreign press is censored, and the local English-language press is of awful quality. Satellite TV is standard in compounds.

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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?

None. The people who work in shops/restaurants, etc. are South-East Asian expats who speak broken English. You'll hardly ever need to interact with Saudis, unless it's your job to seek their company.

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

No one walks anywhere, so if one had a suitable car, it might be okay.

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Transportation:

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

Westerners do not take buses, and women should not take taxis. There is a train to the Eastern Province, which is basic, but fine for an outing.

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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?

4WD is best, because of frequent car crashes (get a good crash-test rating) and the ability to take them on desert outings. A small car would not be a good idea.

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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?

Reasonable internet service is available - good enough for Skype without video - but it's expensive and can take months to get installed.

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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?

3G coverage fine in Riyadh, patchy elsewhere.

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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?

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

Not sure. Saudis hate dogs, but some Westerners have managed to bring them in - you have to classify the dog as either a guard dog or a blind dog, since pet dogs are not allowed.

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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?

Yes, though the conditions and work practices can be hair-raising. For female spouses: check out the "Women's Skills Bureau" website.

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

Women must wear the abaya, but do not need to cover their head if they are white. Arab-looking and Asian-looking women do need to cover their head, and will attract more attention from the religious police (not fun!). Men should avoid shorts in public.

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Health & Safety:

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

There is a general risk of terrorism, which is easy to ignore once you get used to the heavy security around the Diplomatic Quarter, government buildings, and western housing compounds.

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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 is patchy at best. For anything important/complex, you'd best leave the country. There is a wide variety of prescription drugs available cheaply and without a prescription.

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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?

Regular dust storms can be unbearable, especially if you have asthma or allergies. The lack of humidity makes your skin so dry it cracks, and many people have dry eye and throat problems.

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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?

Incredibly hot in summer; surprisingly cold in winter. From April to September it is mostly too hot to do anything outside during daylight hours.

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Schools & Children:

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

UK, French and US schools exist and are apparently good.

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

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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?

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

Probably.

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Expat Life:

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

Medium.

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2. Morale among expats:

Varies. Accompanying female spouses tend to be miserable, as are many singles, but not all. Families with small kids seem to do best.

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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?

Mostly private parties and dinners, since music, theater, dance, most art, cinema and bars are illegal.

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

Fine for all, but it would be least fun for an accompanying female spouse without small kids, because there is nothing to do all day.

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

Officially, no. There is a death penalty for homosexuality. Unofficially, though, there is a pretty active gay scene, and I have known gay men to be very happy dating here --- although it is all underground, of course, and can be risky, especially if you go out with a local.

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

Incredible racism, directed at anyone of non-Arab or non-white appearance (i.e., Black, Asian, and Pacific Island people). Allowances are sometimes made for Westerners, but not if they aren't white.

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

Expat friendships are the highlight, but also travels within Saudi and encounters with locals, who are usually friendly if you show some interest in their culture.

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

Desert picnics, private parties and dinners, parties on compounds, the Hash, triathlon and road-cycling clubs, motorcycle riding on Fridays, theatre group, choirs, 4WD club, coffee mornings for accompanying female spouses (like craft fairs).

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

Nothing is made locally at all, though you can buy honey from Yemen, rugs from Iran and Afghanistan, and furniture from Pakistan, if you like.

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

It is a good base for exploring the Middle East, and travel within Saudi can be beautiful, if tiring.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, but you'll spend it on holidays, because you need to get out every 3-4 months, or you'll go mad.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, but it is not for everyone. If you have strong nerves, a good sense of humour, and an adventurous spirit, you'll be fine. But more than 3-4 years is not recommended. The place is fascinating, but it robs you of so many of the smaller (and larger) joys of life, from music to green trees to walking around in normal clothes.

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

prejudices - Saudi is bizarre and unlike any other country on earth. It is not like Dubai or Abu Dhabi, or anywhere else. With an open mind, you can have some interesting adventures here.

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3. But don't forget your:

Books, movies, anything related to your hobbies that can be practised at home or in private. Musical instruments.

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

Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia
(Robert Lacey), The Saudis: Inside the Desert Kingdom
(Sanda Mackey), My Desert Kingdom: Finding a Life in Saudi Arbia
( Jill Koolmess)

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The Kingdom
- a bit silly, but why not.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Saudi is an exhausting but fascinating place to live in. Bearable for a while, because of the incredibly supportive expat community, but you wouldn't want to live there long-term.

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 04/07/11

Background:

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

3rd overseas assignment.

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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?

Washington DC - 15 hours

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3. How long have you lived here?

6 months here, 18 to go

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

US Embassy

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing in the Diplomatic Quarter varies. There are bowling-alley-type duplexes and single-family homes. The commute time to the embassy is 5 minutes at most. There are numerous western compounds that each have their own culture, housing and amenities. Housing is at a premium these days, so check with your company early about your options.

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

Groceries and household supplies are widely available. Fresh produce is reasonable, but meats and frozen imported goods are pricey.

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

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

Most fast food is available. Restaurants are available and food is generally good. Restaurants are segregated into a family section and a single-men section. Single men should not join women in public, as it is considered against the law. Cost range is slightly higher than DC prices.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Organic produce is becoming more available and there are specialty stores.

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

surprisingly, not really

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Daily Life:

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

The U.S. Embassy has DPO. However, packages can be searched by local authorities, so do not ship unauthorized items.

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

Diplomatic families can sponsor a helper. It takes about 3 months to get clearance. Some helpers are available locally but it is hard to find a full time helper because they have to be sponsored by someone. It is also more expensive to hire a person who is sponsored by someone else. There are a number of 'illegals' and 'visa overstayers' but they are a great risk to hire.

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

Yes, but public gyms are segregated. The US Embassy Recreation Association, which is a fee-based membership group, is open to embassy staff and other Americans and has a brand new gym that is quite nice. And it even has childcare during the week.

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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?

Credit card use is easy and relatively safe here.

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

They are not publicly advertised but are available.

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

Yes, available.

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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?

It is helpful to know the basics for better service. However, many shop assistants are foreigners also and speak english.

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

I would rate this as moderate. The malls and shopping here are accessible, but many of the streets and housing are not.

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Transportation:

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

Public transportation is not really available, and security-wise people are discouraged fromt taking taxis.

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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?

I would reccomend bringing a 4-wheel-drive car if you ever intend on traveling out of the city. Inside the city any type of car is suitable. Parts seem to be available. Consider hiring a personal driver if you are a woman.

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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?

Depends on your housing area. A wifi box is available through mobily and is relatively fast, but slows down on weekends and evenings. DSL is also available in some houses, but it can be time consuming to try and get STC to set it up. Cost depends on speed and length of commitment.

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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?

Cell phones are widely available, but you can bring your own and then purchase a sim card. Prepaid and postpaid are available. However, for postpaid you will need your Saudi Identification documents to set up an account -- which takes about a month after arriving.

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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?

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

Pet care is available. I wouldn't say it is top quality though, as dogs and dog supplies are hard to come by or quite expensive.

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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?

Working leagally on the local economy is quite challenging due to work permits. However freelance positions are available especially in teaching and healthcare. Check out the women's skills bureau for connecting with local opportunities http://www.wsb-ksa.com/

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

Women must wear an abaya in public and should dress conservatively. Women may also be asked to cover their hair. Men rarely are seen in shorts in public.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes, embassy families have just returned to post after a 6-year gap. Everyone is very security-minded and should be very aware.

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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 seems above average. Allergies to dust are a real concern.

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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. The air is very, very dry, and dust storms occur often

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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?

I was surprised how cold it gets in the winter-you will need a winter coat

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Schools & Children:

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

American International School - is very far away from the DQ. Usually 1 hour each way. Students leave DQ at 6:30am and don't return till after 4pm.

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

Identifying resources for special-needs children would be challenging here.

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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?

My little school - 10 min from DQ. It is an excellent school but on the higher end of the price scale. The embassy should be starting a pre-school, but it has been delayed because they have not been able to identify a suitable location.

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

Yes, swimming, taekwondo, and ballet are easily accessible, but competitive leagues are hard to find.

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Expat Life:

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

Surprisingly large. However, many groups tend to socilize with others on their housing compounds.

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2. Morale among expats:

Average-this is a challenging post because it is quite restrictive.

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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?

Most entertaining is done in homes, embassies and housing compounds.

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

This is a good post for families that like to spend time with each other or with other families. This is a tough post for singles, as singles are not allowed to 'mix' in public.

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

No

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

Yes, it is a challenging place to be a woman. Women can not drive here and are encouraged to travel in pairs. Religious freedom is also not tolerated.

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

Enjoy the family walks along the DQ waddi when weather cooperates

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

Desert trips, camping, walking the waddi. Visiting other housing compounds for children to play and swim.

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

Rugs, lamps.

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

Interesting culture

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, but you may spend it on traveling out of the kingdom.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Maybe. Make sure not to arrive during Ramadan or Eid, as it is very difficult to get things set up -- like internet, cell phones, processing government papers, and even grocery shopping.

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

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunglasses, humidifiers, prayer card (all store and resturaunt locations close for prayer time which changes every few days).

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

Inside the Kingdom, Robert Lacey

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

I have been surprised at the small number of children living on the DQ. I hope this will change as more families return to Saudi Arabia. I thought there would be other children from other embassies, but the DQ is quite large and spread out, so the parks are great but we rarely see other children.

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 07/27/10

Background:

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

This is my 4th expat experience. I have lived in France, Japan and Mexico before this.

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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?

My home base is in California, I have found that you can fly from Riyadh via Frankfurt to San Francisco, or via Hong Kong to San Francisco.

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3. How long have you lived here?

I have been here for the last 8 months.

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

I work for the US Embassy in Riyadh.

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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, apartments and townhouses are available. Housing is usually rather spacious.

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

Fresh foods are of high quality and are about the same price as in the US. Packaged imported products can be more expensive.

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

None.

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

Many. All of the major American fast food chains are here. Many restaurants serving every kind of food. The cost range is from very inexpensive to relatively expensive, and quality is high -- even for lower-priced foods.

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

I have not experienced any insect problems. I read some mention of mosquitoes in other posts, but I have not had any trouble with mosquitoes. I do not see insects around.

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Daily Life:

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

FedEx is available and very fast. I have no experience with other local postal services.

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

Very affordable. Maids are available for about $5/hour.

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

Yes. Many.

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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?

Use of credit cards and ATMs is common here.

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

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

Yes, very affordable.

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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?

None.

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

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Transportation:

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

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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?

The roads are in variable condition. Any kind of vehicle would be fine. Parts are available, no problem with carjackings.

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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, about $40-$50/month depending on the desired speed.

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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?

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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.

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

Yes.

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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?

Yes.

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

Business clothing for men is the same as in the US. For women, you wear an abaya in public, which covers your clothing.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes. There is a stronger security presence in Riyadh than in most other parts of the world. The Diplomatic Quarter, DQ, is guarded and has controlled access. When walking around town in Riyadh, you do not get a sense of insecurity; there seems to be low petty crime overall. Security measures seem to be more in place to avoid serious attacks rather than for individual protections. Crime overall seems very low.

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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?

Strong medical facilities with western-trained doctors and nurses are available at the major hospitals.

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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?

Air quality is variable, alternating between good and moderate. In my experience, this is not because of pollution but more because of occassional dust storms, which are quite incredible to watch, but which can cause reduced visibility.

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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?

The climate from about October to May (8 months per year) is surprisingly nice. Clear blue skies are a very common sight, temperatures are usually in the 80's, which feels more like 70's due to the dry air. During the summer months, it is very hot outside. Although it is hot, the air is dry, so it is much easier to tolerate for some than a hot and humid climate. Essentially, all year the air is dry, that doesn't change much.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are several international schools. I do not have much experience with them, though the American School has a strong reputation in town.

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

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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?

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

These are mostly based out of the schools.

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Expat Life:

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

Large.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good, Riyadh expats are often longtimers, people who have made this place home for years and years.

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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?

In-home entertaining, and events on compounds are very common.

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

This is a great city for couples or for families with younger children.

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

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

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

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

There are golf courses, lots of rock climbing opportunities, hiking/walking trails, searching for fossils in the desert, camping, lots and lots of shopping.

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

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

There are many advantages to life in Riyadh. One of them is the short commute to work. Most people within the Embassy community live within walking distance of the Embassy, if they choose to drive, it's only a few minutes away. Gas is extremely inexpensive, groceries and imported products are easy to find--the main grocery store in town is a subsidiary of the US grocery store Safeway which stocks all of the regular Safeway brand products. I have never lived in a place with such a wide range of the usual American products. English is widely spoken, I have absolutely no trouble getting around without Arabic. There are some great restaurants in this city and although the usual entertainment options- movie theaters, concerts, etc are not available here, the social life on the various compounds keeps you busy. The pay is also excellent and regional travel is very affordable.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Definitely.

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

Food (everything is available locally), designer clothing (lots of designer shopping locally).

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3. But don't forget your:

own reading materials, as bookstores locally have a more limited selection.

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

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 03/29/10

Background:

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

Kingston, Bangkok, Mexico City.

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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?

Washington DC. About 16 hours through London or Frankfurt.

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3. How long have you lived here?

About 8 months.

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

US Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

I live on the Diplomatic Quarter in US Embassy housing. The housing generally stinks.

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

Everything is here. Basic food costs are much lower than the U.S.

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

Nothing I can think of.

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

All the major U.S. fast food places. Costs are pretty reasonable.

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

Nothing really. Mosquitoes at night in the winter.

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Daily Life:

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

I use the embassy APO.

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

Lots of domestic help is available. It's about 4-6 dollars an hour.

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

On expatriate compounds, yes.

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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?

I've used mine--I don't think it's a problem.

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

No religious services other than Islam are allowed here.

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

Yes, both. The papers aren't expensive but they aren't worth reading. Basic satellite TV doesn't cost that much but selection is very limited.

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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?

None really.

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

A lot of difficulties like all third-world cities.

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Transportation:

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

Most taxis and buses should not be used by women or foreigners. The prices are low compared to 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?

Get something big and sturdy to keep from getting smooshed by the insane Saudi drivers. All US, Japanese and Korean car brands are here and parts are easy to find.

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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?

It is expensive and slow.

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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?

You can get a cheap cellphone easily here, and there are lots of different plans.

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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.

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

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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?

Depends on your background and expertise.

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

Women have to wear the black robe called an abaya and cover their hair when out in public. Men can wear pretty much anything.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes. Terrorists, religious police, robbery, very dangerous traffic.

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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 isn't very good unless you're a wealthy Saudi or have some connections. I've heard some real horror stories. Best bet is to load yourself on a plane and get out of here. That's what the Saudis do if they can!

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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?

Air quality can be very unhealthy because of pollution and dust in the air.

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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?

Summer is very hot and dry. Winter can be chilly at night, but very nice during the day.

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Schools & Children:

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

There is an American international school, but I don't know much about it.

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

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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?

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

No.

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Expat Life:

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

It's pretty large.

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2. Morale among expats:

Morale in the U.S. Embassy is pretty bad. Outside it really depends. Some of the expats make big bucks and get out of the country for trips very often.

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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?

Zero!

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

It's not a good city for anybody.

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

Homosexuals risk prison, flogging and execution in Saudi Arabia.

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

Yes, all three. Islam is the only religion allowed in Saudi Arabia. Women are treated like garbage, aren't allowed to drive and have to have a male guardian. Saudis treat Asian and African workers like dirt.

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

I really can't think of anything.

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

Leave the country.

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

Ain't much--not much of a culture here.

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

There really aren't any.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

No way.

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

heavy winter clothes.

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3. But don't forget your:

DVDs and books.

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

"Survival, Evasion and Escape"US Army

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Don't come here.

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 01/18/10

Background:

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

No, Khartoum, Luxembourg, Bucharest

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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?

USA - around 24 hours to fly to Home of Record.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Around six months - Current

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

Government - U.S. Embassy

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

I live in leased housing. It is built to American specs, but there are constant problems.

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

It's available, just expensive.

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

Someone else besides me.

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

McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, all the biggies.

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

none

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Daily Life:

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

APO

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

available, good and affordable.

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

At the Embassy.

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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?

I don't use one here.

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

Not a chance.

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

Yes, affordable.

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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?

Depends. If you live on the Dip Quarter, you can get by with just English.

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

Too many. Not a good place for someone with physical difficulties.

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Transportation:

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

No, not safe.

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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?

Most any vehicle would be suitable. I personally do not have one here.

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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?

Available but around $100.00 per month.

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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?

Mine is issued through the Embassy

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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?

I don't think so.

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

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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?

Not for an Embassy empoyee's spouse.

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

Business at work and casual otherwise.

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Health & Safety:

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

moderate

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

Yes, always.

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

The pharmacies seem well stocked.

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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?

Hot, very hot

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Schools & Children:

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

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

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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?

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

No school age children.

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Expat Life:

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

Sizable.

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2. Morale among expats:

Not so good at the embassy. Outside, I have met some folks who are happy.

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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?

Not much.

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

No. Not for anyone.

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

I think openly gay and lesbian individuals are severely punished.

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

You bet. Christians cannot openly worship.

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

None

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

Carpets

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9. Can you save money?

some, but dropping.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Not a chance, and I advise others to think real hard before comitting to coming here.

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

rain coat

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3. But don't forget your:

travel Agent's phone number.

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

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

If you don't have to be here, don't. My spouse came because the they were authorized to return. She is about to leave. Post is not ready for spouses.

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 12/29/09

Background:

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

This was my first expat experience for a period of more than 2 months.

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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?

Central US. 14 hours to the east coast (via Europe) if you're flying on the USG's dime. Then another 3+ hours home.

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3. How long have you lived here?

1 year.

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

I worked at the US Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Embassy housing is on the Diplomatic Quarter (DQ), large and very nice but bland. The walls and carpets are the same color as the sand-and-blast walls outside. I walked to work, as did a lot of other Embassy staff.

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

Anything that's imported from overseas (some of the fresh fruits and vegetables, familiar US brands) is more expensive. Getting things that are produced locally or imported from Western companies' production outposts in Dubai is fairly cheap. Most fresh produce has a shelf life of only 2 days -- you can't buy produce to last for a week.

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

A few household goods like razors (evidently most women there bleach and/or wax?), sedate jewelry (most stores sell things that are VERY flashy), and Christmas/holiday foods - obviously those are hard to come by in Riyadh. Board games - these are popular ways to socialize and are healthier for your liver.

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

A lot of US chains are available (TGIF, Chili's, McDonald's), and there are a few nice restaurants. Prices are about comparable to those in the US.

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

Nothing in particular.

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Daily Life:

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

APO - pretty quick from the US, as few as 8 days. Sometimes things get misrouted, though.

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

Pretty cheap - most housekeepers charge about $5 an hour for a minimum of 5 hours to clean houses. Cooking costs more -- but not prohibitively so. Most people got housekeepers weekly or biweekly.

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

I hear that there are some out in the city, but I'm not sure. I just used the one at the embassy.

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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?

Most major cards (Visa seems to be the most popular) are accepted almost everywhere, but periodically the network will crash, and you'll have to pay in cash. The restaurant or store may or may not inform you of this before the bill is due. It's best to carry cash as a backup.

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

Protestant and Catholic services are held privately on the DQ. I heard that there are Mormon services out in the city, but that's incredibly risky.

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

Available and not terribly expensive.

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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?

No one you'll deal with in the grocery stores or restaurants is actually Saudi (and likely not even Arab), so English is the lingua franca for such scenarios. For official contacts, your interlocutors will almost all speak some modicum of English, but Arabic helps to smooth any ruffled feathers.

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

Depends on what you want to do in Riyadh. If you just want to go to a few of the nice malls and restaurants, you'll be fine. If you want to go elsewhere, this is not a city that's well designed for fully-abled pedestrians, much less anyone with physical disabilities.

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Transportation:

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

There is no mass transit. Cabs are off-limits to USG employees anyway. I hope you don't mind everyone in the motor pool knowing where you've been and who you've seen.

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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?

Wouldn't know - I'm female.

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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?

I bought through the embassy. It's not particularly fast or cheap, but it'll do. There is heavy censorship on the internet.

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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?

I used my embassy phone for everything and had few problems. One odd thing about Saudi society is that sometimes young men will call numbers randomly until they get a woman to answer, then they'll call back incessantly, just out of excitement to hear a woman's voice, and to try to arrange a meet-up. I had one harasser calling me 4-8 times a night between midnight and 4 AM before I finally sent my phone home with a male coworker who'd been raised in Riyadh. When the harasser called at 1 AM, my coworker screamed at the caller for calling his 'wife.' No problems after that.

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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.

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

Through the military installation nearby, as well as on the local economy. Not terrible.

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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?

Not for USG spouses.

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

At work I wore business suits. On the DQ but not walking to work, I wore anything I wanted, so long as it included pants and covered most of my arms. Ond outside the DQ you can wear whatever you want underneath your abaya (neck-down black cloak). I didn't cover my hair, as expat women (esp. the white ones) aren't expected to do so. Depending on where I was, I carried a veil to cover my hair just so I didn't attract as many stares. But I would never fit in -- even if I covered my face the way most Saudi women do. Western women even walk differently than Saudi women do: more stridently. You just can't blend in.

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Health & Safety:

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

Moderate - lots of dust.

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

Oh, God, yes! Especially as a USG employee. There are constant security concerns.

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

The dust and dryness gave me and everyone else horrid nosebleeds. The doctors seemed to be alright from what I heard - but I didn't have to see anyone outside the embassy.

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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?

Hot. Dusty. Dry. Nine months of hell, then two months of moderate temperatures (only 100 F during the day, but it's a DRY heat!) and one month of actual cool weather.

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Schools & Children:

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

No school-age dependents are allowed for USG folks. No clue about other expat communities.

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

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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?

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

Quite large.

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2. Morale among expats:

Depends on what you do and how big your social group is.

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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?

Hahahahaha...hope you like house parties! I never drank as much in my life as I did in Riyadh. And bring board games.

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

I think if you can arrange to work at the embassy with your spouse, it can be good. The money's an obvious incentive. Dating someone of the opposite gender is very hard unless you date someone at your (or another) embassy. Unless you both have diplomatic ID, you're likely to be harassed if you try to go out to do anything in Riyadh proper -- especially if one or both of you are not white. Good luck dating someone at the US military installation 45 minutes away. The motor pool won't drive you there for personal visits, and the people stationed there usually must travel with a buddy. There's very little to do in Riyadh except sit in houses and socialize. Bahrain is good for weekend trips, but those get pricey if you try to go frequently.

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

Well, you can go out in public with someone of the same gender, so it's at least a little easier than heterosexual dating. With that being said, it's not a good idea to show that you're anything other than platonic!

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

YES. Saudi society is predicated on social/racial/religious hierarchies, and you will never be good enough. White westerners are accorded a special superficial respect, with women and non-white westerners given that status grudgingly. But you only need to see how Saudis treat unskilled workers (slavery's been abolished in name only) to realize how tenuous your status is.

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

Bahrain.

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

Dates and date products.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes, especially with the benefits package that USG people get. Just don't get too depressed and impulse-buy on Amazon to keep yourself entertained!

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutely not.

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

parkas, snow boots, and trench coats. But do bring a hoodie for the one month it's actually a little chilly.

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3. But don't forget your:

fancy clothes. If you go to any receptions with women only, the Americans are always the frumpiest!

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

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 10/21/08

Background:

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

No--Tunis, Tunisia.

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2. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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

There are direct Saudi Airlines flights from NYC and DC on Saudi Airlines, but If work for the USG, must fly through Europe. About 14 hours.

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

State Department.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

USG housing is all located on the diplomatic quarter, which is very nice and large. A lot of security, but because the security is Saudi military and police, I never trusted it as they were sleeping most often or only concerned with women/alcohol and not threat issues.

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

A little cheaper than the U.S.

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

Humidifier.

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

Everything is available--all fast food, Lebanese food, etc.

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Daily Life:

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

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

Available and cheap, as Saudis do not work and have maids/servants/ do everything for them.

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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?

Readily available and trustworthy.

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

None--per our Saudi friends, all other religions are illegal (HARAM) as are Bibles and crosses or any service.

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

Available and cheap.

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

English is fine.

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

There is no system to help people with disabilities.

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Transportation:

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

Right.

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

No and not safe, for fear of kidnapping by Muslim extremists.

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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?

Anything is fine, although U.S. diplomats are not allowed to drive vehicles off of the Diplomatic Quarter.

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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, not that expensive, fast and of course, very censored.

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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?

Easy to purchase in country and not that expensive.

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

IVG line or locally purchased cell phones.

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Pets:

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

Excellent, although the wonderful religious authority just made dogs and cats illegal--this hopefully will never be enforced, however.

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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?

Yes, but not for women.

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

Dress, but because of the heat, no jacket.

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Health & Safety:

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

Very dusty in Riyadh because there is no water and it is a desert. Very little rainfall and no humidity. Jeddah is very humid.

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

Obvious terrorist issues, considering that this country is where it all started. Lots of terrorist sympathizers here.

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

Excellent health care.

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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?

Hot and cooler in the winter months--gets pretty cold.

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Schools & Children:

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

There is a very good American School in Riyadh but now, no kids are allowed at post.

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

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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?

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Expat Life:

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

Extremely large and because of the difficulties of dealing with Saudis, the expats hang out together a lot.

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2. Morale among expats:

Everyone hates the Saudis but they stay for the money. Liquor and fun is illegal, as are movie theaters, bowling, sheesha in Riyadh, etc.

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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?

If you are a diplomat, you can have fun. The Saudis drink more than any group of people I have ever seen, so they always want to go to parties.

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

Terrible. The Saudi system is predicated upon absurd relgious extremism and there is little opportunity to date. If Saudi men see any women, many of them are very aggressive and assume that the women are prostitutes. Taking a women out at night, if she is not your wife, sister, etc., is very risky for the women. Diplomats cannot be arrested, but others will be.

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

I am not gay, but per my gay colleagues, so many Saudi men are gay and because this is just a male dominated society, no one bothers two guys together. Huge gay percentage in Riyadh.

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

Saudis look down on everyone and in particular, black people and other Arabs. If you are a white American, they will generally be ok, but if you are darker, look out.

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

Go to malls, run away from Muttawa (religious police), make fun of Saudis for their amazing hypocricy.

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

There is very little Saudi culture, so everything you buy is Indian, Pakistani, etc.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes, but you need to get out every 6 weeks which can be expensive.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, but not if I was a woman.

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

Hope to engage Saudi women or Saudi men on issues of importance.

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3. But don't forget your:

Patience and money to leave Saudi every 6 weeks for some freedom and escape from hypocricy.

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

Anything about Bin Laden, terrorism, etc.

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

Anything about Bin Laden, terrorism, etc.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Its a sad thing because so many Saudis are nice people. The society, however, is so distorted and run by extremist ideas. Everything there is dictated by prayer times, etc. That is fine, but it can get difficult for non-Muslims or Muslims who want some freedom. As an example--literally--do a google search---an Imam there just called for the death of Mickey Mouse!

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 08/06/08

Background:

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

No, lived in three other places.

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2. How long have you lived here?

2 months.

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

6 hours.

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

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

On the diplomatic quarter, housing consists of large townhomes with small cement patios, most poeple can walk to work.

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

Most European and U.S. products are available, except the obvious limitations of liquid and pork products.

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

Multi-system electronics (TV, DVD player).

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

Lots of variety though not always in pleasant settings, women closed off w/curtain.

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Daily Life:

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

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

Above average quality but one pays U.S. prices -- well worth it.

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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?

Readily available - haven't had a problem.

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

Private, hidden.

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

Yes - inexpensive.

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

It helps but is not required.

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

Movement is limited and most acitivity is indoors so it is less of a hardship than in most big cities.

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Transportation:

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

Right.

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

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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?

All are acceptable - SUVs abound - hardly any convertibles or motorcycles.

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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?

No - slow but functional.

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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?

International calls are surprisingly inexpensive.

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

Many options available.

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Pets:

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

Yes.

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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?

No.

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

Business casual is the norm though suits are expected for proefssional meetings and evening events.

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Health & Safety:

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

Quite pleasant though hot and dry - a little sandy at times.

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

No petty crime, some harassment but much less than in most cities (not overt), obvious threat of terrorism.

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

A little sandy some days, above average health care.

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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?

Sunny, hot, windy.

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Schools & Children:

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

View All Answers


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

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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?

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Expat Life:

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

Surprisingly large.

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2. Morale among expats:

High as long as not separated from family.

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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?

Socializing is about the only extracurricular activity -- perhaps that explains why people are incredibly friendly.

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

Limiting for families and singles, good for couples.

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

Yes.

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

Yes.

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

Socialize with the many varied nationalities.

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

Rugs, knives, East Indian handicrafts.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Definitely -- much easier and more livable than I imagined.

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

Lawnmower and gardening supplies.

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3. But don't forget your:

Music and movie collection, board games, entertaining housewares, strappy sandals, sundresses, jewelry.

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

Girls of Riyadh.

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

Girls of Riyadh.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The Kingdom.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

This city is surprisingly livable - sterile but the people are quite friendly and the genuinely welcoming on the whole.

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