To begin with, it is highly unusual for any expats in the Kingdom to buy a place of their own due to the strict laws and regulations. For most expats, their housing is either provided to them by their employer or they are given a housing allowance in order to find their own accommodations. Now shifting to Saudi nationals, a large percentage of Saudi nationals do not own their homes. Those who do own have either inherited the property through the family or are among those in the upper echelons and can afford to buy a home. Many average Saudi citizens who work hard for a living, manage to put away some savings, continue to rent a villa or an apartment. One of the reasons for this is that mortgages such as we are familiar with in the West are not yet readily available here in the Kingdom. Many Saudis who are buying or building pay with cash. It is not unusual to see partially completed houses as building is only constructed when cash is available. I’m not an expert on fully understanding why mortgage plans are not being offered in the Kingdom. When I have asked about this, I’m told it is because of the relatively young age of the Kingdom; the Islamic banking system; and lastly, reluctance on the part of investors and banks to provide mortgage programs. As a result so many Saudi nationals continue to rent and many rent for years and years with little likelihood or plans of ever owning their own home. I spoke to one Saudi individual who had a background in finance and had worked in the banking industry for years. One of his comments surprised me. We were discussing the issue of mortgages and he said even before looking at getting a mortgage, one should also explore the difficulties for a Saudi national to get a loan in general. According to this gentleman, a major bank’s requirement for consideration of a loan is that the applicant could not even apply for a loan until he had worked at the same employer for five years. If not, the application would be automatically disqualified. The good news is that economic reform and changes to the banking system is underway here in the Kingdom. The Saudi government is well aware of the need for changes in banking and finance. Until then, it is very much a cash and carry environment.
When moving into a residence in Saudi Arabia and at least from my experience in Riyadh, one must make doubly sure, triple sure of what kind of voltage they have. Is it 110 or 220. Now in the cities of Mecca and Medinah at least there is no question. The voltage in those cities is 220. But in Riyadh it can be either or, or it can even be both! In our present residence I learned the hard way that we have both 110 or 220. When we initially moved in we were told adamantly that all the voltage was 110. After losing my favorite American coffeemaker and then a vacuum suitable for kitchen floors an electrician from our compound came in and surprise, surprise, we had two outlets in our kitchen that were 220 and the rest were 110. But don’t worry he assured us, the rest of the us was 110. Okay, he seemed confident and that he knew his job so I took him at his word. My husband and I then went under duress and bought a new vacuum to replace the one we had lost. A few days later I am vacuuming the house and as I shift to vacuum the upstairs bedroom, I plugged the vacuum into an outlet in a guest bedroom. Egads, immediately sparks and a terrible burning stench immediately filled the air. I unplugged the vacuum cord immediately and noted it was burning hot to the touch. Another call was placed to the compound maintenance. The discovery? Maintenance claimed that the previous occupants had the power in the guest room converted from 110 to 220. By this point knowing that yet another vacuum would need to be procured and we were still settling in and setting up the house, we had maintenance once again go through each and every room to check all the outlets. Thank goodness we did for the last maintenance guy seemed to have missed that a room downstairs which we set up as an office also had 2 outlets which were 110 and 2 which were 220. Naturally they were not marked as such. With the exception of the kitchen, we made sure all the outlets in house were consistent at 110. Now one of the reasons we chose to keep two outlets with 220 in the kitchen is due to the fact that if one is buying small electronic appliances for kitchen use there is a much wider selection available at 220 instead of 110. Needless to say it can be confusing when first arriving getting the voltage all figured out. I’m told that on a western compound there is less confusion on this issue but if living on the local scene and like me, in an all Saudi compound, do your research before plugging in!