Newcomers to Riyadh

Newcomers to Riyadh
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This was data posted on the net.  Although it is not dated, most of it remains current and up-to-date.  I’ve decided to include it in order to give readers a good overview of life in the Kingdom and availabiltiies in Riyadh.  The original author is unknown and any references in this document to “I” were made by the original author and not yours truly.  It has been pointed out to me that there are some inconsistencies and errors.  I continue to choose for this info to be on the blog as it is useful to one with little knowledge of the Kingdom.General:
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is ruled by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah & lies between latitude 16° and 32° north and longitude 34° and 56° east and has an estimated population of 21.5 million of which half are under 20 years old. The land area is approximately 2,240,350 square kilometers, and has a diverse topography. It has only seasonal rivers and no lakes. It is bounded on the north by Iraq & Jordan, with Yemen & Oman to the south. East is the Arabian Gulf and west is the Red Sea. The capital city, Riyadh, is situated at 25° North and 47° East and occupies the Najd plateau at approx 1000m above sea level, with many deep gorges in the outlying districts. The capital currently covers some 2000km². The population of Riyadh is 4.46 million of which many are transient expats, and this figure is expected to rise to 11 million by 2020. The name Riyadh means “the gardens” and refers to the date palm plantations along Wadi Hanifa to the west of the city.

Arabic is the official language, both written and spoken, although English is very widely used and most road signs etc. are bilingual (there are still some Arabic only signs, although attempts at entry to WTO and tourism are prompting changes). Saudis do not expect westerners to know their language and there is generally little difficulty in making oneself understood in English. It does however help oil the wheels if one comes out with the odd phrase or two of Arabic, particularly those of courtesy and greeting. Do not be afraid that by using the odd phrase an Arab will assume that you have a wide knowledge of his language and will launch into a long spiel by way of a reply; it rarely happens that way. The more usual reaction is that he gives you an appreciative smile and then proceeds to show you how good his English is. Most people on arrival soon pick up phrases like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and also acquire the ability to count, i.e., to find out prices; it is also necessary to learn a new set of written numbers as our so-called “Arabic numerals” are different from theirs (?????????? = 1234567890). Beyond that stage, few expats venture and even fewer delve into the mysteries of the Arabic alphabet which is written from right to left.
Hindi and Tagalog are also widely spoken in their own respective circles.
The ambient temperature is hot (to say the least) in summer (May to September), with official temperatures of 45°C being registered. Humidity all year is usually very low. What may surprise you is how cold a winter morning can be. It has been known to approach zero, and snow sometimes falls in the Asir Mountains to the southwest (I wouldn’t bother to pack your skis though!). Sand storms occur in the north and south. Rain is slight and comes in short bursts, when it can be bothered, and amounts to some four inches a year, with four times that in the mountains. As an obvious word of warning, if you are a little thin on top (or have short cropped hair), wear a hat; a sun burnt scalp is not pleasant.
Social Customs:
The lack of provision for social life arises from a basic cultural difference in Arab life in that they are extended- family-orientated and have fewer social contacts outside the family circle, whereas the reverse is true for Westerners. The Arabs spend most of their time visiting family members’ homes and have less need for external provisions for social life of the kind we would take for granted. A further, direct consequence is that social contact between Arabs and Westerners is largely nonexistent, no matter how friendly they are in work. Another constraint on social life is that a bachelor is considered a dangerous man to an Arab and as such is a threat to his wife and daughters. He is therefore to be avoided socially. Such social gatherings that do exist are segregated into “families” and “bachelors”, often by simply restricting bachelors to the most unpopular times of day or week. Segregation of the sexes is a fact of life and Arabs will defend their opinions on the subject with all the fervour of someone who knows that not everyone agrees with it. In Saudi all local women are required to wear the veil (hijab) and black robe (obayah), however for the Western woman, modest dress is acceptable (cover arms and legs in public) although wearing an obayah over normal clothes during shopping expeditions is advisable to avoid the onslaught of the Muttawa and carrying a scarf just in case is always a good plan. Western women never, however, feel entirely comfortable in the presence of a majority of Arab men as the latter’s upbringing probably gives them some strange notions about women, particularly non-Moslem ones. It is suspected that inside the Arab home, women play a much more dominant role than outside; this gives them a curious advantage in that they are treated to a Westerner’s eyes, with an exaggerated old-world courtesy.
Hospitality and generosity are usually deeply ingrained and genuine, and considered high virtues. A person who regularly practices these virtues gains the respect and reputation of not having been negligent in assuming his or her responsibility.
A feature of the Hejira calendar is the holy month of Ramadan, which according to the lunar cycle should run for 28 days. During this period Muslims are required to fast by day, however they make up for this by partying all night, and Ramadan can be thought of as a month of Christmases. The fasting is taken very seriously and in public places, which includes offices, even non-Muslims must abide by Islam which means no eating drinking or smoking (or other pleasures!) during daylight hours, although for the expat a room is normally set aside for meals, hidden from normal view.
All men in the Arab World are greeted with a handshake and entering a meeting, you will be expected to greet everyone in the room this way. Do not attempt to shake an Arab woman’s hand unless she offers it first.
Saudi Arabia is the home of Islam; therefore prayers are followed strictly, 6 times a day – Early morning (dark o’clock – you’ll probably never see this one), Sunrise, midday, afternoon, sunset and evening, obviously times change throughout the year.
Note by Carol:  the original author made a serious error here.  Prayers are 5 repeat 5 times per day and not six.  For those Moslems found standing around the streets during prayer time, there is the Muttawa (religious police) who will round up ne’er do wells and pack them off to the mosque. Their other tasks include deciding what is (or not) “haram” (against Islam), therefore you will find a lot of censorship and odd items missing from shelves.
Strictly speaking, photography is not permitted in Saudi Arabia. However, cameras and photographic shops are common and, in practice, you should simply be careful not to photograph anyone without his or her permission; or any building, installation or other place which might offend local sensitivities about security (construed very widely) or privacy.
As Saudi Arabia is an Islamic state, the importation, production and sale of alcohol is prohibited, though most expats brew for their own consumption in their own home, and an almost blind eye is turned to this, however, transportation of alcohol is seen as distribution and severely punishable. Do not offer alcohol to any Saudi “friends” you may have – they tend to exact revenge if your source dries up.
Time and Hours of Business: 
Note by Carol:  The original author has obviously put a lot of hard work into providing info.  The time and hours of business may not be exactly as the original author described or in fairness, perhaps they were what was current at the time the original author prepared this undated information.
Local time is 3 hours ahead of GMT. The Hejira calendar is in use, so the weekend is Thursday and Friday, however for some companies you can expect to work some of Thursday. Working hours for Saturday to Wednesday vary so widely that it seems a waste of time putting them in here, especially as everywhere closes at prayer time. As in other Islamic countries, expect working hours to be dramatically reduced during the holy month of Ramadan which changes by 11 or 12 days each year depending on the cycle of the moon, in 2005 it will be around October 4th for 28 days. Banks also seem to open all weird and wonderful hours however you can seem to “bank” on them being open between 9.00 & 12.00 Saturday to Wednesday, some also open in the evening from 4:00 to 6:30 (especially around pay day) but this practice is variable and taken on chance as is the odd branch opening the occasional Thursday. Shop hours are an unknown quantity but core hours are definitely 9.00 till 12.00 and 4.30 till 10.00 Saturday till Thursday, Friday is potluck but generally evenings only. The larger food stores stay open 24 hours (except for prayer times). (See Shopping). Government departments work in the region of 7:30 till 2:30, but these hours should be taken with a liberal fistful of salt!
Public Holidays:
Variable holidays are based on sighting the moon and include: Eid al-Fitr (End of Ramadan) & Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice) Note: Christmas is not recognised in Saudi Arabia and most expatriates are expected to work on Christmas Day unless you have a prior arrangement with your employer (some do appreciate the fact that the Christian world like to celebrate too).
Health and Hygiene:
There are apparently no real health risks in Saudi Arabia for anyone who is fit on arrival, likes an open air life and takes the usual precautions necessary in any hot climate, however vaccination against TB, polio, hepatitis and tetanus is recommended. Jizan in southwestern Saudi Arabia is potentially malarial and visitors to that area should consider taking adequate precautions. During the Haj period visitors need to show they have had a meningitis vaccination. Another problem is that of dehydration and as a consequence plenty water must be drunk, especially for those with jobs having an outdoors involvement. Note that all potential residents in Saudi must undergo an AIDS and Hepatitis test, with a positive result meaning immediate entry being refused. (See also Medical Facilities)
Saudi has an Israel boycott, which means that Israelis and those having an Israeli stamp in their passport are not admitted. All visitors except nationals of GCC states require visas and a passport with more than 6 months validity. If you have worked in the country before and are returning on the same passport under a new employer a ‘No Objection Certificate’ must also be presented. A medical must be passed in order to complete your residency procedure, which includes the now obligatory AIDS test. It is advisable to bring originals of all certificates in your possession; these should include, but not limited to, Birth, Marriage, (Death?) Qualifications, British/International driving license, etc. For security lodge copies of them in a safe place in the UK. To speed the residency paperwork on it’s way it would be useful to bring at least 20 passport sized photographs. Once in possession of a residency stamp an exit/re-entry visa will be required for all travel however this is usually a formality and recently the “travel permit” system was repealed, meaning that you can now freely travel around the Kingdom. A single exit visa will cost you 200SR and a 6 month multiple exit is 500SR. For identification purposes you will be required to carry an Iqama, issued to you on completion of your residency procedure. This will be given to you in exchange for your passport, which will be kept in the company safe, and returned when you need it in exchange for the Iqama, and vice versa when you return.
(See also Residency)
The local currency is the Saudi Riyal, usually written “SR” or “SAR”, sometimes before the amount, sometimes after. It is subdivided into 100 Halalas. There are 10, 25 & 50 Halala coins and 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 & 500SR notes. At the time of writing the exchange rate is approx. 6SR to the Pound and is tied to the US Dollar at 3.75SR. It is freely convertible and has no restrictions, although you may not find any at some UK banks or airports. Both cash and traveler’s cheques are readily converted at the various moneychangers, but it would help to bring about 200SR in case of any hassle at the airport. All major credit cards are accepted in most shops, and your cards will work in some ATMs or can be used over the counter to obtain a cash advance. Expats are actively encouraged by banks to open a local account however you should shop around to see what each one offers. Under Islam interest on bank accounts is not allowed. If you are to be paid into a UK bank account, check the possibility of getting some of your salary paid locally, as transfer charges can be excessive. The reverse is also true, though to a lesser extent if you will be salaried in Saudi but wish to send money home – banks will telex money, but a cheaper alternative is to use one of the many “Remittance Services”. Two that are recommended are Al Rajhi Banking & Investment Corporation, and SpeedCash (Saudi American Bank – SAMBA) – Both are fast and efficient, although you will have to go to their offices with cash and a note of the account details to which the money is to be sent. The latter will issue you with a plastic card with a number that will access your details from their computer database, making the transaction that much quicker. Also worthy of note here is that Bahrain, home of Pubs ‘n’ Pork take Saudi Riyals in most larger establishments.
Saudi Arabia is an exclusively Islamic (Muslim) kingdom and Islam governs nearly every aspect of life. The public practice of any form of religion other than Islam is prohibited in Saudi Arabia. Severe punishment (imprisonment and deportation) can result should such activities come to the attention of the authorities. The authorities also stamp firmly on attempts at proselytisation or conversion of Muslims to Christianity. (However, non-Muslims are free to worship in their own homes). Entry to Mecca and Medina (the two holiest cities of Islam) is strictly forbidden to all non-Muslims though access to the outskirts of Medina (e.g. the Sheraton Hotel) is allowed. Saudis take their religion very seriously. Over a billion Muslims throughout the world face Mecca five times daily in prayer and it is a major expression of faith for every Muslim to make the pilgrimage to (Haj) to the shrine (Ka’aba) and other religious sites at Mecca once in his/her lifetime. The Muslim holy day is Friday
Before you travel:
If you do not already belong to a “Frequent Flyer” scheme, then it is advisable to join one now. Flights to Saudi have been known to be double booked and passengers removed. Those holding FF cards for that airline are given preference, although the airline should compensate you if you are bumped off. Another privilege of membership is that you are often given a bigger luggage allowance enabling you to bring out all the things you think you might need.
King Khaled International Airport is quite big and fairly light and modern, and you will always land at a pier and not have to suffer the heat until you are outside the arrivals hall. Most major airlines serve Riyadh, however you may find that your company has a deal with Saudia, offering you no choice for annual tickets – there is a free choice of others you buy yourself. There is no duty-free area in the arrivals hall of the airport (that said, there isn’t even one in departures!). Proceed to the lower level, here you will find immigration. Everyone is treated with suspicion particularly if you are of Asian descent, however western expats do tend to receive a little more courtesy. You should present both passport, and landing card that the airline gave you on the plane to the officer here- note that most info for the card is in your passport, but in addition, you need to know the name and address of your sponsor. Single females have a separate counter, and visiting wives may be dragged out to the arrivals hall to get their husband to come trough and take over immigration proceedings! Once through this you can now search for your luggage. One word of warning here: “Fragile” seems to be Hindi/Urdu for “throw heavily onto the conveyor” so try to carry your breakables with you. If you are lazy, or your luggage is particularly heavy, a porter can be hired to see you through customs. Now walk over to customs desks, still in the main baggage hall, where you will be searched. Sometimes it involves putting your bags through the x-ray machine, sometimes a thorough item-by-item search (although you will have nothing illegal will you). They will be looking for alcohol, drugs of any kind, pork products, pornography and any pirated software/videos etc. From here it is out into the arrivals hall where someone may be waiting for you. If they do not appear to be there (as they weren’t for me) take a look outside as they may be sitting in the comfort of their air-conditioned car. If you don’t have any Saudi Riyals these can be bought from the many banks in the waiting area after customs. Bear in mind though, that when a traveler from the Indian subcontinent returns his/her whole family and friends will be waiting for them, so be patient or agree to meet, say, at the hotel booking desk to the left from terminal 1 right from terminal 2. If you are doing your own thing, turn left and proceed to the domestic terminal, (about a kilometer walk!) here you will find the car rental desks and if you are lucky, one of them will be manned. There are the ubiquitous Airport taxi drivers who will hassle you as soon as the customs doors open “Taxi Sir?” I’m not sure how legal these are, but they don’t have meters although they may offer a receipt (Fatoura) and the fare is negotiable – aim as close to 50SR as you can get for CBD and you are doing well, but certainly not more than 75SR.
Standards of accommodation in Riyadh are very high, with most hotels being 4/5star.
5 star hotels include: Inter-Continental Hotel Al Ma’dher Street, tel 404 2222
Marriott Hotel Al Ma’dher Street, tel 477 9300, fax 477 9089
4 star hotels include: Minhal Holiday Inn Hotel King Abdul Aziz Road, tel 478 2500, fax 477 2819
Hyatt Regency King Abdul Aziz Road, tel 479 1234, fax 477 5373
Sheraton Hotel King Fahd Road, tel 454 3300, fax 454 1889
A couple of lesser hotels in the CBD are: Al Andalusia Hotel, Olaya, tel 461 1000, fax 462 4442 & Olaya Palace Hotel, tel 462 5000, fax 362 4487
Wherever you are staying, don’t forget to ask for a discount. These apply to weekdays, weekends, and long stay.
(See also Dining Out)
Due to the ever-potential threat of war, terrorism, etc. it is advisable to register your residence at your National Embassy as soon as possible after arrival and you will be given contact details of your local warden, whose job it is to inform you of any change of status etc. Most Embassies are located in the Diplomatic Quarter to the West of the city. The British Embassy also ask you to re-register each January and advise of final departure; if you do not re-register in January, they will assume you have left and remove you from their database.
The British Embassy. Tel.:488 0077, Fax: 488 2373 website:
The U.S. Embassy. Tel. 488 3800, Fax: 488 7360
Getting Around:
Driving (always) and navigating (at first) can be quite dispiriting and the kamikaze nature of driving standards in Saudi should never be underestimated. Don’t get me wrong, Saudi’s don’t drive that badly, but add them to the TCN’s with licenses and you have a recipe for disaster. The good, wide roads look deceptively easy to the novice until he has his first near miss (within five minutes of taking the wheel) and his first crunch (probably within his first month). Most British expats find that driving on the “wrong” side of the road is the least of their problems (it’s a strange day when you don’t see the aftermath of at least one accident). Road signs are in Arabic but most directional ones have English subtitles, however most of these do tend to be located at turn offs, rather than just before them, making last minute maneuvers an everyday occurrence. Street names tend to be Arabic only so learn your way by landmarks such as “Pepsi Street” “French Corner” and “Fish & Chip Street”, that said, when you first think of finding your way around, get a copy of the Farsi map – It’s surprisingly accurate, but be sure to check which way is north as one side is rotated about 45° to the other. The “slow” lane on a three-lane road is the middle one, also making for interesting negotiations as traffic merging from the right immediately crosses two lanes of faster moving traffic. Women are forbidden the privilege of personal mobility and must resort to limousines (taxis) or compound shuttle buses, and while seatbelts are compulsory, many here value lives very lowly and regular sightings of children on the dashboard are the norm. Traffic police have speed detection devices and the penalty for exceeding the speed limit is a standard 150SR fine and can include 24 hours in the traffic jail with up to 3 days and a 900SR fine being the maximum, however for reckless driving up to 1500SR fine and 20 days and 20 lashes can be handed out, with all but prison for passengers! Beware, this will probably apply to Drunk Drivers too.
All cars here are air conditioned, with a mixture of automatic or manual transmission, rental cars tending to be Japanese/Korean compacts or American tanks, the only exception apparently being Avis who offer Opel Vectras. There are a few car rental souqs in Riyadh, notably East of junction 13 on the Dammam Highway (AKA Kourais Road), Old Airport Road (AKA King Abdul Aziz Road) and Olaya Street. Major players include:
Abu Diyab: tel 476 2575
Avis: tel 476 1300
Budget: tel 403 8113. e-mail
Hanco: 462 1889
Thrifty: tel 454 8000
Expect to pay in the region of 90SR per day for a compact car.
Forget long-term lease as a way of getting a car; it is far cheaper to buy and there is no restriction on purchasing your own vehicle, new or second hand (other than having to have a family for a 4×4 but there are ways “around” this), and prices are reasonably cheap, however, of note is that you must either sell or export the car in order to obtain your final “exit only” visa. Insurance is now compulsory in Saudi, called Ruhksa, which insures your license for a Riyal-a-day, whilst fully comprehensive insurance varies between 2.5 to 4% of the market value of the car. Cars over 3(?) years old require an MOT (AKA MVPI (Motor Vehicle Periodic Inspection). As in most middle eastern countries there is a pecking order when it comes to apportioning the blame of an accident, i.e., A Saudi is never to blame, even if he/she rear ends you! However if a westerner runs into the rear of say, an Indian, then the Indian is at fault – totally unfair, but true. Petrol stations are open 24 hours to provide the local boy racers all night entertainment. The price of petrol without UK duty etc. is a laughable 90 Halalas per litre (15p ish). The road system is fairly Americanized, being based around blocks and it is difficult to get lost within the confines of the ring road (N.S.E. & W.) – just head for one of the two new towers (See Below), or if outside the ring road system, look for signs to the airport – these invariably lead to a ring road. The motorways are named with the place they ultimately head to – e.g. Dammam Highway</ST1:ADDRESS>< ST1:STREET>, Makkah Road, Kharj Road, etc. Speed limits are (allegedly) 45kph in urban areas and 80 to 120kph on motorways. Turning right against a red light is accepted practice, however one should make sure it is safe to do so first!
The two prominent towers in Riyadh are Faisalia Tower and Kingdom Tower. The both lie between King Fahd and Olaya roads, with Kingdom tower being the more northern of the two. Faisalia is the pointy one with a ball topped by a diamond, while Kingdom Tower is known affectionately by expats as “Pokemon Tower” due to the resemblance to Pikachu ears on top, especially as Pokemon is banned in Saudi!
Public transport within Riyadh is below average, consisting of brown & Cream minibuses of indeterminate age and route for men only and limousines (taxis) – these are all white with a white light on the roof and will pick up from home etc. or can be hired from an office. If you find a driver you feel you can trust (especially for women) ask if he has a mobile number. Taxi fares are reasonable and are metered for Ar-Riyadh Limousines. They start at 5SR and are based on the usual calculation of distance/time according to speed – there should be a table in the car showing this. Traveling out of Riyadh there are Saudi Arabian Public Transport Company (SAPTCO) Air Conditioned buses, which ply routes to all major cities within the Kingdom and hav a separate “Ladies Section” in the back. There is also a rail system, however the route is limited to Riyadh to Dammam, with stops in Hofuf & Abqaiq, and the fare for this 4 hour, 565km journey is 60SR, First Class! For enquiries, tel 448 0131. As of August 2003, there is talk of a tram system in Riyadh – expect further traffic chaos!
Renting is the only way an expat can get a house in Saudi Arabia and as with other towns, Riyadh has its fair share of compounds. This is not to say you can’t find accommodation outside compounds; far from it – there are many apartments available at reasonable rates, furnished or otherwise, some even have a pool. These however are really only to be considered by dedicated bachelors, as your family will not thank you for the wrong decision. They can be sought mostly in the Arabic press, so get a translator at work to find one for you and can be had for as little as 15,000SR per year unfurnished. Compounds range in size and facilities, but as a rough guide a 2 bedroom villa can be rented for 45 – 55,000SR if you shop around and become more expensive depending on location and facilities. Also check how your accommodation allowance will be paid, as many compounds expect a year’s rent paid in advance, whilst some will accept 6 monthly payments, and only a few will take monthly payments, often at a premium i.e. 55,000 will quickly become 70,000 if paid monthly.
There appear to be two distinct types of accommodation available; prefab buildings with window type a/c units, and concrete built with central a/c – obviously this reflects on the price, as does the amount of “furnishings” that go to make a furnished flat – some offer only basic furniture while others include a “soft pack” i.e. bedding, crockery, cutlery, etc.
Most rental prices appear to be all inclusive but check before you sign and be sure to take a reader of Arabic with you if your rental agreement is not in English. A phone call will normally see any repairs carried out reasonably quickly on a compound; however, if you are outside it helps if you are keen on DIY. One point to look for when choosing your accommodation is covered parking; as the inside of a car can reach 70ºC making touching the steering impossible without first removing your socks to use as gloves. Another point to note is that of noise pollution – Check the vicinity of the nearest mosque as the sound of earlier morning prayer call can be quite alarming, and the sound of locals collecting friends by honking their horn at all hours is annoying.
As you will probably notice when you arrive, Riyadh is a big building site, with the city constantly expanding and evolving, and as such, all rent prices outside compounds are negotiable. Most of the accommodation is however light and modern and once settled into they can be made to look quite attractive however there is no getting away from whitewashed walls. (See Compound List at end)
Crime is quite rare, and what there is tends to be fairly minor. There are regular police roadblocks checking for paperwork to cut down on illegal immigrants etc. As well as normal policemen, there is also the “Muttawa” a name that strikes instant dread and fear into every western expat, although it shouldn’t. They are the “Religious Police” and are merely there to see that morals are upheld. As long as you remember that you are in an Islamic Kingdom and dress accordingly in public there should be no problem. If you are stopped by them (you’ll recognize them as the leader will have a short thobe (Arab dress) long beard and a gutra without iqal, (tea towel and no fan belt) they also drive GMC Suburbans) do not go with them unless they have a uniformed officer with them.
Saudi Legal System (as described by the British Embassy, Riyadh)
1. Laws are based on the Muslim Holy Book, the Quran. The system is often known as “sharia”. Punishments for some offences are harsh by British standards, but the Saudis understand that the ways of non-Muslims are different from their own and they will not generally interfere with what foreigners do quietly, privately and discretely. Foreigners who take advantage of this to break the law are running serious risks. The Saudis are protective of their reputation of having a well-ordered society. They will not allow foreigners to put it at risk.
2. British Consular Staff will do what they can to assist UK nationals who are caught disobeying Saudi law. In most cases this is restricted to giving advice and attempting to ensure that the normal correct Saudi legal processes are followed. A British Consul cannot save UK nationals from the consequences of their own actions – e.g. the implementation of customary punishment (e.g. lashes for alcohol offences).
3. Murder and sexual immorality such as adultery or homosexual acts carry the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, as does apostasy (renunciation of the Muslim faith). The death penalty is carried out in public, usually by beheading. Serious and/or persistent theft is punishable by cutting of the thief’s right hand. This, too, is done in public, usually in front of the main Mosque after mid-day prayers on Friday.
4. Under sharia law, non-payment of debt is considered a crime, and sufficient reason for imprisonment; imprisonment does not discharge the debt. It is therefore important both to avoid getting into debt personally and to keep careful accounts of any employer’s funds or goods, which pass through your hands. You can be held personally responsible for company debts, too, if you are considered the sole company representative in Saudi Arabia. Experience shows that debt cases are often the most difficult to resolve.
5. Motor insurance, including third party cover, is available in Saudi Arabia, but it is not compulsory and some Muslims have scruples about the principle of insurance. An expatriate should not assume that he is covered for third party claims even when he is driving his employer’s vehicle on business: he should check that he is adequately covered. (Note: 3rd party insurance is available at 1SR/day!)
6. Sentences for alcohol offences range from a few weeks or months imprisonment for consumption to several years for smuggling, manufacturing or distributing alcohol. Lashes can also be part of the sentence; and a hefty Customs fine if smuggled alcohol is involved. The authorities also hand out stiff penalties to people found in possession of equipment for making alcohol.
7. The Saudis take a particularly serious view of drug offences. The death penalty is frequently imposed on drug smugglers, including foreigners, and sometimes also on minor traffickers found guilty on a second or subsequent charge. Possession of even the smallest quantity can lead to a 2-year prison sentence.
8. Imprisonment in Saudi Arabia is a trying and uncomfortable experience; its purpose is punishment, not rehabilitation. Prisons are generally overcrowded and, for much of the year, hot. Exercise, if any, is an occasional privilege. Visits are allowed regularly, though under difficult conditions.
Postal Services:
The local postal system is inefficient and letters can take weeks to travel literally a few meters (I’ve been waiting 4 weeks for my ATM card), which contrasts greatly with air mail to and from the UK which can take as little as 3 to 5 days (usually bills!). A Post Office Box is required for all mail except couriers who require a physical address. Outgoing mail is generally reliable, but before using it check whether your company has a regular mailbag home or find someone going home, if not a trip to the post office is in order. Also available are various courier services, e.g., TNT, DHL (AKA SNAS), FEDEX.

Doing Business
First of all, do be patient. Appointments and requests may be delayed by more pressing and higher priority demands (like cups of tea and phone calls to friends).
Whilst private sector companies have regular working hours, the locals have many other pressing engagements to attend to. Their working hours therefore may appear to be shorter than those of the expat. Try not to arrange meetings first thing in the morning.
Government departments on the other hand are a hive of activity (sorry, a little joke there!). If you find you do have dealings with a government department, try to aim for between 10:00 and 12:00 as this will catch the Saudi at his desk, sorry, best
Visiting cards are very widely used. If you are working for a reputable company you will be given one that is printed on both sides – one in English, the other in Arabic – to save embarrassment, have it proof read before committing it to the printer – Alan in Arabic sounds curiously like Elaine.
The telephone service is run by the STC (Saudi Telecom), Call charges vary and are split into Local (Riyadh area only) Kingdom (meaning you need an area code) and international and three types of line are available to suit! It is worth noting here that mobile numbers are prefixed 05* and as such you need a Kingdom line to access them! The IDD code for Saudi Arabia is 00 966, and there are exchange numbers for certain areas – Riyadh numbers are prefixed 01, Jeddah 02, Dammam/Dharan/AlKhobar/Jubail 03 etc (you probably won’t actually get beyond 1, 2 or 3).
The yellow pages phone book is currently being compiled by an outside source and will now be updated regularly.
Mobile Phones are big business here and there is even a black market for lines, but where the cost of the phone seems expensive compared to UK “free with cornflakes” offers, the price of calls is negligible. There are three types of line available from Saudi Telecom – a “Family” line which is 400SR and a fee of 50SR/month line rental which offers 8 pre selected numbers, an “International” line at 800SR and a letter from your sponsor and the new Pre-paid Al-Jawal “Sawa” card at 200SR including your first 100SR of calls. Even if you are against the concept of cell phones, the cheaper line does offer a feeling of security for the wife, in a city where she may feel somewhat intimidated.
The Emergency numbers for Riyadh are (yes, it’s an emergency, what was the number again?):
Police – 999
Fire – 998
Ambulance – 997
Traffic accident – 993
Note however, that you may have trouble as not all operators speak English.
Electricity throughout Saudi Arabia is basically a joke! 240v 50Hz with British style13 amp 3-pin square type power outlets are found next to 110v 60Hz two round pin sockets and confused further by old style 3 round pin sockets of indeterminate voltage and frequency! When in doubt, ask. Unfortunately most appliances come with American two pin plugs, and if this wasn’t bad enough, most flats have only one or two single outlets (of any old voltage) in each room, resulting in Christmas tree adapters for Hi-Fi and kitchen appliances.
Tap water is desalinated and fluoridated and almost drinkable from the special ceramic filter taps (if installed) but is it advisable to boil it first, however you may prefer bottled water to be absolutely sure – as a guide, the bigger the bottle the better the value, e.g. 0.5L = 1SR, 1.5L = 2SR and so on. Cooking when not electric, BBQ or nuke is by bottled gas, which will be either plumbed into your apartment or stuffed under your work top. Refilling centres are in each district and costs around 20SR.
Normal tap water is quiet soft and most soaps will work up a good lather.
Domestic Staff:
Maid services are widely available on compounds, with live in maids only allowed to families. Many advertise their services in the local English language papers and on supermarket notice boards. Outside compounds you should find that each residence comes with a “Hariss” who will clean the communal areas and may even wash your car, the latter you will have to pay for yourself and costs about 10SR a wash for a daily wipe over with a damp rag.
The Education system in Saudi Arabia is two tiered, although the expat would not send his children to the lower tier, being the state Islamic schools of which there are approximately 22,000 and 7 universities throughout the Kingdom. Illiteracy amongst Saudis is about 20%.
The two major expat type schools are:
SAIS – the British School. Tel: 248 2387, fax: 248 0351
American School. Tel 4917101
School fees in Saudi Arabia are high (currently between £4 – £6,000 per year).
The British Council has an English lending library with a limited range of fiction and reference works and is available for a modest fee Tel. 462 1818. English books are available from bookshops, but at a premium and unless you actually like Jeffery Archer it is recommended to bring works by your favourite author with you. For the widest selection, try Jarir Bookstore in Olaya, Tel. 462 6000. Note that a lot of smaller “book shops” are usually stationery shops!
Most UK papers are available on a next day basis from any of the major Supermarkets, or Jarir Bookshop and Riyadh has three English language papers, The Riyadh Daily, The Arab News and the Saudi Gazette with The Arab News (AKA The Green Truth!) being the more popular. In addition there are 7 Arabic papers.
BBC World Service is available on both radio and satellite TV, and there the usual assortment of “English” FM radio stations: AFRTS (U.S. Forces) and Voice of America. There is only one local station in Arabic only (what ever happened to Radio Riyadh?).
Local TV has two channels, Local and English, the latter of which shows the likes of thirty year old Candid Camera. The area is well covered by satellites in the guise of Showtime (Paramount/Nickelodeon, The Movie Channel, TVLand (Drama) MTV and business channels), Orbit (ESPN Sports and Premier League Football, Super Movies, America Plus, Fun Channel & Disney Channel), Star TV (Star Movies, Star World (Baywatch, Simpsons & X Files) and a whole load of Hindi stuff) and an “under the counter” DSTV from South Africa that carries 5 sports channels, four news channels and a variety of movies.
Video shops are popular although a clamp down on piracy has seen a marked improvement in quality, and, as a result, an increase in price. For 75SR heavily censored and Arabic subtitled films are available, or for 30SR an under-the-counter illegal VCD/DVD copy can be had of all the latest releases. Most expat style compounds come with a cable TV system of most channels provided. TVs are dirt cheap, as are video recorders (remember to get a multi system one with PAL/SECAM as most are American style NTSC only). DVDs are very expensive and the selection leaves a lot to be desired.
HI-FI requirements can either be brought from home or bought locally. CDS are available at UK prices, but are quite a few months behind in release dates and cassettes abound at dirt-cheap prices for an original or dodgy Indonesian copy (good for try before you buy) Look for Music Master (there’s a branch in Euromarche on Takasussi St.) or 747 on Olaya.
Computer hardware and software are widely available here, usually 2-3 weeks behind UK and despite a government clampdown, pirate software abounds (20SR per CD copy at the computer souq on Olaya Street, near the junction with Mecca Road). Internet/E-mail subscription is available from 100SR per month for unlimited usage (prices are allegedly to be reduced by 50%), but is heavily censored (a fun site called is banned!) though an uncensored (but illegal) satellite connection can be found if you ask around.
All the usual expat activities are available, though some are harder to find than others. A rough guide follows:
Hashing, as usual, is popular amongst the expat community, with three groups meeting in the desert surrounding Riyadh. On a Thursday are Sulaimaniya and Mega Mob and Friday is the Third Herd. All can be contacted via the author, Alan Holden on Tel 052 180116 or E-mail.. language=JavaScript>name=”baldrick”at=”@”domain=””document.write(““+name+””+at+””+domain+”“) ..>
There are a couple of Aerobics groups:
Arab Investment Compound, Tel: 482 3444 ext 2701
Arabian Homes , Tel: 454 1888 ext 429 (Aerobic Hall) or 454 1888 ext 404 (Mohamed)
Ten Pin Bowling can be found at Al Khozama Hotel, Tel: 464 1400 ext 895 & Intercontinental Hotel, Tel: 465 5000 ext 4037 as well as at FAL Tamimi on Old Airport Road where there is also an Ice Skating Rink.
There is a Bridge Club organised by Judith Davies, Tel: 456 4857 and the BAe Bridge Club is organised by Roy Deacon, Tel: 419 6600 x 2566 (w), 248 0101 x 104 (h)
For music lovers, there is the Choral Society, Greg Johnson (director), Tel: 4779948 (h), or the Opera Society, Tel: Simon Baker, 454 1028 ext 124, or Riyadh Concert Band, A brass and woodwind band which meets every Monday evening. No auditions. Regular concerts, phone Geoff Greenhalgh on 464 1400 ext 458 (h)
Got a Bike? Try Riyadh Wheelers, contact, Rob Patrick, Tel: 454 1888 ext 638 or go one step further and try Triathlon and Road Runners through Steve Forster, Tel: 464 0520
Budding Fred & Gingers need to speak to Jo Seed for Ballet, Tel: 464 9482 ext 1333 or Melanie Kozak-King for Tap and Modern Dance, Tel: 470 1686 ext 267
Even though Riyadh is over 400km from the sea, there are dive instructors here. Contact PADI Diving Instructors, Pete Richards, Tel: 231 1489/231 1587 ext 5 (h), Tel: 477 7714 ext 3932 (w), Angus McKenzie, Tel: 462 7998 ext 332, Mike Moffett, Tel: 454 0803 ext 421, or Ray Newbigging Tel: 239 8389. Another nautical pursuit is the Riyadh Yachting Association. Contact David Good, Tel:476 6566 ext 4082 (w)
Horsie types are catered for (though as with everything else, it’s segregated): Nadee Alaghar Riding Academy (Near Diplomatic Quarter). Ladies Sat/Mon/Wed, Men Sun/Tues/Thurs, Contact: Stephen Lynch, Tel: 488 0954. Also ladies only is available at International Equestrian Stables for beginners and advanced riders, dressage and jumping, Tel: 477 4941, Sat – Wed after 17.00hrs , Thurs, 9.00 – 11.00hrs and 17.00 – 22.00hrs
Eric Oates can be contacted on Tel: 4776555 ext 107/mobile 054419747 for Squash and Tarek at the Intercontinental Hotel can give advice on tennis, Tel: 465 5000
For Tai Kwon Do, contact Carol Moore on Tel: 482 6878 ext 316
Riyadh is well endowed with Golf Courses. Three grass courses are located at: the Intercon, tel 404 2222, The Arizona Golf Resort – part of an expat compound! Tel Marty Cowal on 248 4444 ext 454, fax 248 5486 and e-mail and Dirab Golf Course- contact their pro, Jim Christie on 498 0018. Green fees are around 135SR
For football speak to Scott Cuthbertson (MOD), Tel: 465 5957 ext 4246, Dave Tapper (children), Tel: 464 6600 ext 2210, Gerry McKeown (BAe), Tel: 476 6566 ext 4106, or John Hanson (BAe), Tel: 476 6566 ext 4431
Rugby players are catered and the Rugby Union Football Club welcomes new members. Contact Jimmy Riddell on Tel: 464 6600 ext 2613 (w)
Amateur theatricals are abundant too, with two theatre groups putting on a half dozen or so shows each every year. Theatre Go Round can be contacted on tel 465 6858 or email: The other group is DRAG but I don’t have their contact details – ask around!
Trips into the desert are always a popular weekend activity, however, you shouldn’t go out on your own, or in two wheel drive vehicles, and you should always carry plenty water.
One of the major weekend time fillers is a flight to Bahrain for about SR570, or a four-hour drive for approximately 150SR (note – this time is door to door and equates to 3.5 hours for the flight including 2 hour check-in, 30 minute drive to the airport and customs/immigration clearance at the other end, and believe me, there is nothing to do at Riyadh airport!). This gives you a chance to restock some of the items not available in Saudi.
To relax after all these strenuous activities, try a Qualified Aromatherapist:
Gill Trafford, Tel: 463 1920
Hazel McKay (plus reflexology), Tel: 454 0803 ext 401
Or for treatment, try Kim Munro, Tel: 488 1139 Ext 426
Clubs and Societies:
These are numerous and diverse, and further details are available at the Embassy, however some of note are:
Riyadh Group Of Businessmen – John Freel (Chairman), Tel: 477 3116
Paul Dugan (Vice Chairman), Tel: 493 3070
Mike Parkhouse(Membership), Tel: 473 1080
The British Community Ladies – tel. Mal Brown, Tel/fax 224 2116 or Wyn Green, Tel/fax 450 9144
Al Nahda Philanthropic Society for Women, Tel: 464 9304
Patchwork/quilting – Nicole Friday Tel: 4658507
Porcelain painting – Nagila Selmi Tel: 4550498
For the boys, Beavers/Cubs/Scouts Registration Officer is Sally Garner, Tel: 249 0440 ext 468
For the girls, Brownies/Rainbows/Guides/Rangers can be reached through Jean Parkes, Tel: 454 6695 (h)
Also Friends Of Guiding, Chairperson: Laura Dossary, Tel: 464 8750 (h), Vice-Chairperson: Jannette Kamal, Tel: 456 1332 (h)
Corona Worldwide. An International women’s group who meet every second Thursday of the month from 9.30 – 11.30 am but without children. The meetings include a talk or discussion followed by coffee and refreshments. Corona also often organise a mid-monthly outing. For further information contact:
Ceri Walker, Tel: 486 0757 or Jane Martin, Tel: 454 1028 ext 116
The Natural History Society offer Dirayah Tours: Saturday – Wednesday 0900-1400, Contact Saud, Tel: 486 0274
Dining Out:
One of the favourite pastimes for Arabs is eating. Obesity is rife, and a quick look through the Yellow Pages “restaurant” section show you why. For the frugal, Shwarma shops appear on every street corner, disguised with all manner of misspelling of “Restaurant” and curry shops abound. There are an infinite number of fast food outlets, there is even a fish and chip shop located on the corner of Tahlia St. and Abdullah Bin Suleiman St. However for the more discerning palate, there are several high-class eateries, some of which are listed below:
Sea Food can be found at the Golden Lobster between Olaya and King Fahd level with Akaria – tel: 461 4437.
Chinese are served the Gulf Royal Group that has several oulets – tel: 465 5368
The best Indian restaurant (allegedly) –Raj, behind Fuddruckers on Takhassusi – tel: 461 0314, web:
Arabic food is served at Oasis in the Intercon hotel – tel: 465 5000
Bee Won (Korean Palace) – A Korean/Japanese/Chinese restaurant is located near Olaya Palace. tel. 463 1102
Japanese is served at Shogun in the Hyatt Regency – tel: 479 1234
French is on the menu at L’ecluse on Tahlia Street – tel: 465 7648
La Campagna serve Italian food in Tahlia Street, tel. 462 4339
For Thai food, there is a new restaurant on Amir Fahd ibn Sa’ad ibn Abdul Rahman street (the small street to the back of King Fahd Medical City (more details when I try it out)
For the cosmopolitan, (especially around autumn and spring when pavement dining is pleasant), there are an abundance of designer coffee shops springing up around the city, particularly along Talateen Street from Panda Supermarket, down to Olaya.
It is also worth bearing in mind that outside the hotels, most restaurants will do home deliveries, often for free.To find even more Restaurants, both in Riyadh and further afield you might like to visit
The idea does not seem to have caught on here apart from in the large hotels, however the first time you get caught by someone offering to take your shopping trolley from door to car you’ll realize why tipping doesn’t occur. A few drivers tip the petrol pump attendants, but I have yet to receive service that is deserving of a tip.
Medical Facilities:
Medical facilities in Riyadh are good, though not in all respects, and they are expensive (10 – 20,000SR for a broken leg, 50,000 for a heart attack as a private patient). There are some British doctors working in private clinics or hospitals, several of which are well equipped. You should ideally ensure that your employer provides medical cover under the terms of your contract, if not, sign up with one of the major private insurers like BUPA, Norwich Union or PPP before leaving home.
Some government hospitals:
Armed Forces Hospital, tel 477 7714
King Fahd Hospital, tel 491 7788
Kingdom Hospital, tel 275 1111
Dalla Hospital, tel 457 5277
Green Crescent Hospital, tel 464 4434
Food shopping is diverse in Riyadh, ranging from “bakalas” (corner shops) to supermarkets, such as Tamimi (AKA Safeway), Euromarché, Jazira, Al Othaim and Panda (AKA Azizia), and through to wholesale markets. Bakalas tend to be used more for emergency rations, although some are quite well stocked.
Panda stores are found in 16 locations around Riyadh, so one should be on your doorstep, Tamimi has 4 branches, Al Othaim has at least one in each district and the others have one each.
The quality of all the supermarkets is quite high, though fresh veg is sometimes past it’s best and the choice more varied than the UK however shopping around can obtain a wide price difference. A lot of products on supermarket shelves are local but if it’s imported it will tend to be American or British, with the exception of the “Oriental Aisle” There are other items of course that some expats can’t live without. One example is decent pickled onions, which have to be brought in either from UK or on shopping trips to Bahrain. Almost as if to make up for the lack of alcohol, all other drinks are very cheap; Cola is 1SR a can and a 1.5 litre bottle of water is 2SR as is a can of No Alcohol Beer. All weights and measures are metric so learn your 2.2 times table. Always keep an eye on the specials. These are often goods that are approaching their sell-by date and are usually offered at 50% off, or 2 for 1.
As is customary in Arab countries, haggling is a prerequisite of shopping in all shops except supermarkets and especially when shopping for carpets and “antiques” where two or three visits may ensue to get the right price. Electrical/electronic goods such as computers, stereos and cameras are widely available and tend to be at UK prices minus VAT, the only exception seems to be video recorders at a laughable 300SR. UK Newspapers and magazine prices are sheer robbery, with SR11 for a Telegraph (OK the local paper is good but it doesn’t have an appointment section on a Thursday).
For those who are bargain hunting, shops of one kind tend to gather around each other, ending up with the likes of the furniture souq, the stationery souq, the electrical souq and the clothing souq. It is merely a matter of finding one, then trading him off against the others. Also good for bargains are the plethora of 5, 10, 15, 20 shops.
A scour through the small ads and supermarket notice boards will find second hand goods on offer by departing expats.
For furniture a trip to the Kuwaiti souq is called for. This furniture souq is located between King Fahd and Olaya towards the Northern Ring Road, taking almost the entire block of low, white arched buildings. Here you will find all the large items, such as sofas, beds, wardrobes, etc. and an abundance of cutlery, crockery etc. at very cheap prices. The latest shopping mall to open is called “Mamlaka” based around the new “Kingdom Tower”. Marks and Spencer and Debenhams already have their prime locations at either end and it looks like being the place to be. There is even a “Ladies Only” level where you check your abaya at the door and walk around in “normal” clothes. A new mall is also being construct close by Junction 8 on the ring road – this will be called “Granada” when opened. For those looking for an investment, gold is a good buy in Riyadh, being sold primarily by weight. There are Gold Souqs located just about everywhere – 2 major ones are at Batha and Shola Mall. Jewelry can also be made to your own design, although this will cost a little more, though your name in Arabic for a pendant, is reasonably priced and makes a nice gift.
Household electrical/electronic goods are sold in the old district of Batha and a new shop called “Extra” on the Old Airport Road, and Mobile Phones and GPS equipment are across from Sahara Mall on Old Airport Road – look for the big Motorola sign and turn up that street.
Pet Lovers are catered for by “Pet Village” who are located on Old Airport Road a few blocks after ‘Extra’
Clothes for Riyadh:
All the usual Western clothes are available in Saudi though usually either the quality is poor, or, where the quality is acceptable, the price is high. There is a middle ground in the form of Sana on Talateen Street, Last Chance on Khorais Road and Debenhams / M&S prices are not too highly inflated. It is a good idea therefore to bring all that you feel you will need for your first stint and top up as required on your leave. Due to climatic conditions, clothes need to be washed more often, a typical day seeing two changes of clothes (work and home), so a greater amount is needed to see a week out. If your flat has an automatic washing machine and a clothesline, this will see laundry washed & dry in a matter of minutes in summer. Laundry and dry-cleaning services are ten-a-penny (2SR to wash and press a shirt) as are “Tailors” who will take up / let down trousers, etc. for five Riyals. Genuine tailors can be found in the “Material Souq” on Olaya at Al Andalusia Mall. This is also the place to go for women who like to make their own dresses, etc. the quality and variety is without equal. If buying new clothes to bring out, try to buy items that have a high natural fibre content, e.g., cotton / wool as these will breath more freely that man made fabrics. In winter (November to March) a jumper or light jacket may be required; 20°C seems cold after 50°C and for the more athletic, a tracksuit is recommended to prevent cooling off too quick. Women are expected to cover in Saudi & Western women are supposed to wear an obayah (black bag) while outside in these high temperatures, but then there’s no accounting for taste. Eastern designed/made clothes can be bought at reasonable rates but for western designer stuff you’ll pay that bit extra, especially if shopping at the big name stores such as Next, Mango, Liz Claibourne, etc. Female expats that are larger than average should consider bringing extra underwear with them, as there is very little available in anything bigger than a C cup, and even for more modest sizes, you may be a little daunted by the prospect of a fitting by male sales staff! Also note, at the time of writing the Muttawa are threatening to close down lingerie shops in Mecca as the sight of all that skimpy clothing in the windows may drive men to distraction! Another interesting story is that of a British expat running a lingerie shop had all his mannequins confiscated and returned later minus their nipples! And now, especially for women …. Tada! Kingdom Mall now has a Ladies Only floor, where you check in your abiya as you enter and wander around freely!!
As previously mentioned (and speaking from experience) a sun burnt scalp is extremely uncomfortable, so if you suffer in the UK, you will certainly need at least a knotted hankie here.
Note that western men are expected to wear suits and ties for business and formal social occasions.
Going Home:
Tickets back to UK are higher than UK prices, but out of season, discounts can be found, especially if you are prepared to take a diversion, via say, Cyprus, Prague, Budapest, Moscow, etc. on their state airlines. Seats are often booked well in advance, so for Summer holidays, Christmas and Ramadan/Eid, make sure you have a ticket before booking you leave. As an alternative, several expats buy a return to Cyprus in Saudi and a package for the family in UK and meet up with loved ones there. Again, try to use a FF card as passengers have been refused seats.
Of important note, is that you are required to obtain an exit permit to leave Saudi. This is however, usually a formality and will cost you 200SR for a single exit, or 500 for a multi exit/re-entry visa (per person!).
Other items of Note:
Everyone knows the joke that goes “Give me a haircut like Roger Moore” ……… “He does if he comes here”.
This rings true in Riyadh. For men, you have three choices: (1) Pakistani Barber – one cut, 10SR, (2) Egyptian Barber – three “styles” and 15SR, (3) wife or friend with clippers – pot luck but free.
For women Manicure, pedicure, false nails, wax, massage & make up can all be found from Robbie Barrett Tel: 488 1139 ext 456 and hairdressers are: Liz Walsh, Tel: 4632508, Sabrina, Tel: 488 7611 ext 230 & Barbara Kent, Tel: 454 1888 ext 430
Under normal circumstances you will not see anything that will poison you or attempt to eat you, however a trip into the desert will find scorpions, snakes and camel spiders. Around the house, if you are unlucky, you will find cockroaches – do not squash them as if they are female, this will release their eggs – use a spray. On the roads, particularly away from built up areas you will also find a large variety of insects, as they tend to fly at about mid windscreen level. They are particularly difficult to remove as they vaporize on impact and become baked on due to the heat. A hazard associated with this are the birds that chase the insects that do considerably more damage to your car . . . . . as do camels – When driving outside the city at night be careful of strays wandering the road; they are stupid!
A few Do’s and Don’ts:
Do expect Arabs to sit, talk, and stand closer than people in the West do. What Westerners consider an intimate distance is here only social and friendly.
Do expect to be touched more frequently by members of the same sex. This is an expression of friendship.
Do accept as normal the occasional use of influential connections to accomplish tasks more rapidly.
Do expect to shake hands much more frequently. On entering a room or meeting a group of people, it is expected that you will shake hands with all the males present, except small children. On social occasions, you will probably also need to shake hands again when you leave.
If pressed (i.e more than twice) to accept a gift, always take it. It is considered rude to refuse, and always accept it (and anything else offered to you) with the right hand, as the left is considered “unclean” (especially when you realize what Moslems use it for!)
Do not expect all promises or decisions to be put in writing. In some situations, you will have to accept an oral promise. This is partly because the written word carries a weight of meaning greater than Westerners are accustomed to.
Do not be surprised at being given an indirect answer of Insha’ Allah (God willing). Insha’ Allah usually indicates the good intentions of the speaker.
Do avoid some subjects in public. Certain topics are generally not considered appropriate or acceptable for discussion in public. These may include political issues, religion, alcohol, total women’s liberation, abortion, and male-female relationships, such as dating. Many people are very sensitive about these topics, and problems could arise should you try to discuss them.
It is considered discourteous to show the soles of one’s feet to an Arab as they are considered “Dirty”, so be careful how you sit.
Residency Procedure:
Note: The information here is given as a guide only since changes to the procedure can occur without notice. Generally changes are small but can lead to frustration, so please remain calm, it will happen eventually! Also it can depend upon just how helpful an Official wants to be, get one on his “off-day” and you have a problem! GOOD LUCK!
Obtain at least 30 off 3×4 cm passport photos. Some may be returned but you will definitely need at least 20. In addition get around 10 off 6×4 cm “Family” photos
1. The Visa
1.1 Start a file to keep all relevant paperwork. In this file be sure to keep several copies of every piece of paper that comes your way, along with your photographs. Always take this file with you during the process. Always keep photographs with you all times. ALWAYS have your Passport with you! Always carry a pen – just in case. The file doubles as something to lean on while completing forms! Always take all originals of documents just in case – it’s a pain but saves time and frustration along the way.
1.2 Get a “Visa Medical” done. Most visa specialists know what is needed.
1.3 Go along to the Saudi Consulate with all the paperwork you have received from your potential employer – even if you can’t read it! Along with this, include (but not limited to) Passport, Visa Application form, Medical results (you don’t need the Chest x-ray as the results are in the medical file), a copy of your degree, a copy of your contract, A Company letter in Arabic (these are sometimes called “employment certificates” or “to whom it may concern letters” depending who you talk to), a copy of the visa payment slip from the employer, the visa fee and a “No Objection Certificate” if previously employed in Kingdom on the same passport number.
1.4 Depending where you get the above done it could take a matter of minutes, days or weeks (it took me three weeks in Kuwait!). Now gather up the originals of all documents you think you may need (and some you don’t) take a few copies of each and head for the Magic Kingdom. These might include: Birth certificates for all the family, wedding certificate, education certificates, driving license(s)
2. The Iqama (ID)
2.1 On arrival in Kingdom you will be required to attend another medical – this one is usually a formality but it does weed out a few unscrupulous types who have “fake medicals”. It is generally called the “Iqama Medical”

2.2 From here your employer should take your passport, medical results, company letter, contract copy and photographs to the passport office and return a week or so later with your Iqama. At this point they will keep your passport, lock it in the company safe, and return it to you when you need to travel (unless they are very trusting – most are not). Take a few copies of your Iqama and put one in your wallet – if asked by the police to present your Iqama, always offer the copy first – if they take your original for any reason you are in deep doodoo.

3. The Family Visa
3.1 Send a copy of your contract to your wife (unless you let her see it before you left!) and get her to do the “Visa Medical”. While that is going on, you need to get an official translation of all your certificates – Birth, Marriage, and Degree. These must be done by a “recognized” translator (note, prices are negotiable. Also note that if you show the translator the way your name is written in Arabic in your Iqama this will save trouble down the line). The originals and translations now have to be taken to your county’s consulate for attestation. Get the Arabic application form completed and obtain another company letter. Take these to the Istekdam office (Opposite Al Yamamah Hotel) where your form is processed and passed to the Foreign Ministry, who will advise the visa number to your Saudi consulate at home. This normally takes 10 days, after which you can inform your wife of the number and she can hopefully collect the visa.
3.2 Your wife must now take her passport, and that of any children traveling, along with the visa number, medical results, contract copy & photocopy of marriage certificate to the consulate to get the passports stamped. (this may take up to a week depending on time of year (Haj is usually busy) and it might be a good idea to appoint one of the specialist visa agents to do all this leg work and waiting)
4. Family into Iqama
4.1 Take your Iqama, wife’s “Iqama Medical” results, Application form, previously attested Certificates, yet another Company Letter & a slack handful of Family Photos to the passport office, wait a few days and collect your Iqama. – That’s it, you are now a happy family again. (of course, if your company is big enough, they will have a department to do all this for you!)
5. Driving Licenses:
5.1 You can drive in Saudi on an International Driving License and some national licenses for up to three months, after this you need a Saudi license. Depending on your nationality, you may not need to sit a test (Brits and Americans are OK).
5.2 Obtain a translation of your U.K./U.S. Driving License. This is not the same as the attestation before, but merely the “Driving License Office” (DLO) translation for them to “certify” it is OK
5.3 Believe it or not, what you need next is a green hanging file folder, (you know the ones) without this your application will fail! Into this, insert your translation, a further company letter, a copy of you license, a copy of your Iqama and the ubiquitous application form. Take this to the DLO and take a blood test – this is marked on your license, and an eye test – both these tests will get you a stamp on the form to say they are completed. Pay your fee and collect your license. Simple!
Further Reading:
For greater detail on all of the above (where most of this came from!) it is highly recommended to buy a copy of ‘Riyadh Today’, published annually at 20SR, it contains lots of useful, including important phone numbers, handy hints and a businessman’s yellow pages. Their online version is at
Also visit the Riyadh British Embassy website at

Here’s a female’s view of Riyadh
AL HAMRA Tel: 249 0440
(Home of the British School)
AL-ISSA COMP Tel: 491 8400 (Mr Walid) (SR30 to 40,000 rent)
AL JAZEERA BADER Tel: 492 1135 (Milwah Al-Shammry)
AL MOHAEYA COMPOUND (AKA Boeing) Tel: 482 1222 x 403, 410, 111, 666
AL NAKHEEL RESIDENCE Tel: 470 4191 (Peter Howarth-Lees)
(Takhassusi St, Near Dallah Hospital)
AL-OLA #7 Tel: 460 8095 – 460 7704
(Olaya – Abdullah Hamdan St., between Thalateen & Tahliah)
AL ROMAIZON Tel: 274 0917, 488 0533
(Behind Immam University)
AL WAHA GARDEN VILLAGE Tel: 278 8414 x 1149 (Rashid Khan)
(Junction 10)
(Eastern Ring Road J16)
ARAB INVESTMENT COMPOUND Tel: 482 3444, Fax:482 313169
(Nr Diplomatic Quarter) Rents from RS 65.000 per year
ARABIAN HOMES Tel: 454 1888 (Martin Shaw)
(Prince Abdullah Street, Al-Mursalat)
ARIZONA Tel: 248 4444
(Next to Cordoba Compound)
ASASCO VILLAGE Tel: 419, 9000 or 419 0936 x 423
(Small compounds/individual villas contact: Mr Mahmood)
(J30 Dammam Highway)
(Nr British School)
DELTA #1 & #2 Tel: 488 7611 x 245
(Opp. King Saud University)
DHABAB GARDENS COMPOUND Tel: 463 1596 – 462 2392 – 462 6762 – 465 0513
(Elite Villas)
DYWIDAG SAUDI ARABIA LTD Tel: 246 4144 x 153 (Mr. Joey)
(Nr football stadium)
EID COMPOUND Tel: 248 3366
(Nr British School)
EURO COMPOUND Tel: 478 0718 – 478 7381, Mobile- 055 27 28 36
(Nr Al Akhariah, contact Mr Nicolas. RS 60 to 65,000)
EXPAT REAL ESTATE Tel: 454 0404 (Mr. Nasser)
FAL COMPOUND Tel: 248 5847 (Larry Heitzman)
(J8 Near Arizona)
GREEN CITY 470 8880 x 411 (Abdul Karim Al-Lahham)
(Prince Abdullah Street, Near Takhassusi (Sheraton))
KINGDOM CITY Tel: 275 0275 (Chuck Collins)
(Next to Kingdom Hospital, Airport Road)
NAJD VILLAGE Tel: 248 1040 x 513 (Ali Askar)
(Near Eid Villas)
(Nr football stadium)
RABWA COMPOUND Tel: 493 1741 (B Lewis)
J13 Eastern Ring Road/Kourais Road
RANCO VILLAGE Tel: 492 4411 (Med Rowlands)
ROC COMPOUND Tel: 241 2800 (Colin)
(Al-Silay, J16)
SAHARA TOWERS Tel: 462 5666
(Behind Al Jazeera Supermarket)
(Old Airport Road, Al-Malik Fahad
VILLAS ROSAS Tel: 482 4417
(Nr Diplomatic Quarter)
4:25 AM 1 Comments0 KudosAdd CommentEdit Remove

12 Responses

  1. There are indeed six daily prayers, 5 are compulsory and the sixth, is made of 1 prostation on going to bed.

  2. Ifraan, welcome to the blog. I will leave others to respond to your comment as I’m sure it may raise a bit of a debate.

  3. This is the best blog I’ve ever seen :)

    Thank you

  4. You are very welcome Mazen and welcome!!

  5. There are five required (fard) prayers in Islam:

    Fajr (at dawn – there are several ways of calculating the exact time, based on the sun’s crossing a specified angle below the horizon, moving upward),

    DHuhr (a wee bit after astronomical noon),

    :ASr (mid-afternoon – there are two ways of calculating the exact time),

    Maghrib (a wee bit after sunset) and

    :Ishaa’ (nightfall – several ways of calculating the exact time, based either on a specified number of minutes after Maghrib, or on the sun’s crossing a specified angle below the horizon, moving downward).

    Only for the above five prayers is the Adhan called. In addition to these, there are at least three other optional prayer times:

    DuHaa (midmorning – can be prayed any time after sunrise (Shuruuq) and before DHuhr), as well as two nighttime ones:

    Witr (which may be the one right before going to bed referred to above by Irfaan, though I have also seen other ideas for when it should be performed – this is the one I’m fuzziest about) and

    Qiyaam al-Layl (performed during the last third of the time span between Maghrib and Fajr – assuming an angle of 18 degrees for Fajr calculation purposes, this kinda sorta works out to ‘between astronomical midnight and Fajr’).

    During Ramadan, there is a very lengthy (ca. 4 hours) nighttime prayer called Tahajjud, during which the entire Qur’an is recited over a span of 30 days – 1 section per night.

    While I have read in one or two places about prayers being offered around sunrise, most opinions I have read do state that praying at sunrise is not recommended, in order to avoid even the appearance of sun worship. For the same reason, DHuhr and Maghrib are placed slightly after the astronomically ‘proper’ time (astronomical noon and sunset, respectively). In other words, according to most opinions, American Bedu is right to point out the author’s designation of Shuruuq as a prayer time as a serious error.

  6. thanks for your comment Caraboska.

  7. Nice blog… do you have an idea if home cleaning services are being offered in western expats’compounds?

  8. @cip,

    If you are a new arrival on a western compound it will not be long at all before the word of mouth network will be letting you know who does home cleaning services. It is not unusual for a Filipina or Sri Lankan to clean multiple homes on a western compound.

    Additionally if one really needs deep cleaning services, firms are recommend within “Riyadh Today” available at Tamami, Jarir or Obeikan.

  9. Thank you… I really appreciate the info.

  10. Thanks for not admitting the work is not your own, unlike some unscrupulous webmasters!
    Signed, The original author, Baldrick ;)
    P.S. I’m back in the Kingdom and currently updating the original at:

  11. hello sir i wnt 2 ask somthg abt visa m female 7 yrs old frm pakistan

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