Is Riyadh Really THAT Bad?

riyadh-worst-to-work

Recently I was apprised of an article by a faithful reader of my blog. Now this happened to be a Saudi who kindly sent me the link in case you were wondering. But I wanted to share it with everyone. Do you think Riyadh is really that BAD of a place to live? Of all the cities in the world with high crime, pollution, economic hardships, instability and so on, should Riyadh really merit as number three on the worst cities in the world to live?

Now there some things I personally dislike about living in Saudi Arabia but I would not go as far as the article did such as “No surprise here. Life in the Saudi capital is not easy. “The possibility of a terrorist attack is an ongoing threat,” according to ORC, “while wide-ranging restrictions on dress, movement, conduct, food, alcohol, travel, and communications limit expatriate life.” The city is especially hard for foreign women. Finally, adds ORC, “violating the country’s strict moral religious codes is a particular danger in this conservative city.” Frankly I wonder if whoever provided that commentary in the article has ever even been to Saudi Arabia or relying solely on heresy? Let’s face it, the possibility of a terrorist attack is an ongoing threat anywhere these days and perhaps greater in the USA than other places in the Middle East. And if an expatriate feels that the restrictions of Saudi are too limiting on their lifestyle then there is an easy solution…do not choose to take a position in Saudi Arabia. Go to Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates instead!

And of course since Riyadh was ranked number three, I’m sure many of you are probably wondering which countries were first and second? The Gold Medal (number one) goes to Lagos, Nigeria and the silver medal (number two) goes to Jakarta, Indonesia. And right behind Riyadh at number four is Almaty, Kazakhstan.

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55 Responses

  1. Well at least you are moving up in the world of hardship postings to “very high risk” no. 3 from “high risk” no. 6–New Delhi! I noted that war zones were not included so your stay in Iraq isn’t officially classified, at least by the human resources firm that complied this list. :D

    The blurb that prefaces this list doesn’t include a rigorous description of the criteria or weightings used, or how the 55 cities were chosen to be ranked, or why they excluded Canada, the US, and Western Europe, as well as the war zones and North Korea.

    I would imagine they were looking at places where senior executives might be posted, and assumed from an American perspective that Canada, the US, and Western Europe would be easier places to live (security measures, and services seem to rank high in their criteria).

    I know some who would beg to differ. For example, a Bangladeshi senior executive posted to a Canadian city who hates the weather, wishes his children could be in the British school system, and finds living in a non-Muslim country a hardship (eg. organizing Ramadan, Eids, influence on children, companionship for wife), eg. compared to living in Singapore, his last posting.

    Same with a British family posted here who couldn’t wait to leave because of the weather, the unfriendliness of the people, the differences in lifestyle, and schools. Some people, of course, do like it here alot.

    The choice of photo for Riyadh seems rather unfair, since it is clearly during a sandstorm. It is also hard to imagine a wealthy capital city, with a number of embassies and international businesses being that hard on expats (compared to the other places listed), despite the restrictions on all and on women. The Economist ranking of political security risk has Saudi as no. 83, lower risk than Greece (71). Odd!

  2. uf! all cities, all countries are imbibing these culture. if am not wrong, the entire world is getting on the negative factor i.e., bad life rather than on the positive side

  3. Based on firsthand experience, I agree on placing Jakarta second on that list. The living standards and pollution and traffic forces residents to succumb to inhuman conditions: all the worst that money can do.
    Which also makes the Big Durian so intriguing and fascinating for the occasional visits.

    But seriously, placing Riyadh after Jakarta is a bit of an exaggeration, don’t you think? I second Chiara, that Riyadh cannot compete with the Big Durian’s mess. To say the least, the streets in Riyadh have 4 lanes on each side, you don’t usually find humans swimming with their furniture every year, and no – in Riyadh – you don’t spend half of every day on dealing with traffic that you have to stock up your car with necessities.

    Just my 2 cents.

  4. It is a boring dusty city and it is worse for singles also.

  5. Never found riyadh much of hardship, throw on a black gown,carry a slip of paper from spouse and be on your merry way.
    yes women unfriendly – but again shouldn’t impact the expatriates much.

    personally – As a vegetarian i would rank hangzhow, china definetly as no1 in hardship posting. smog,Food and language was enough to drive my BP up.

  6. I am not fond of Riyadh because of the dust and the conservative atmosphere. Placing it as number 3 is a little harsh though. I think the rank was driven primarily by the security threat from a Western Perspective. I also think the data may be a little old. Yes security for Westerners in Saudi is not great, but there have been much improvements over the past 5 years.

  7. Saudi in US, I agree with you….it’s really not as bad as it was here.

    Carol – I have yet to visit Riyadh, but plan to visit soon with a friend just to see the sites. Then, I will comment. Many times, one’s perception is also due to the friends they make and the social situation they are in.

  8. I find this part strange:
    ———————————–
    Severe Problems: Political Violence & Repression, Political & Social Environment
    ———————————–

    These aren’t mentioned anywhere when discussing the Chinese and Vietnamese cities on the list which I find rather strange.

    Well, I guess living in Nairobi Kenya is a better solutions. Time to pack up!

  9. First of all I’m not very fond of Riyadh,only because i miss freedom,freedom to move,But there is no way Riyadh can be number 3 in worse places to live.I know this because I’ve travelled all over the world as a cabin crew.This is crazy and the picture they used is not of the Riyadh i know and see everyday.People must not do this.

  10. And indeed the ranking is BS: without ever having been to Saudi, I can still state that with high degree of certainty because Almaty, Kazakhstan is a very nice place to live! It’s a medium-size city at the foothill of the beautiful mountain, green, friendly, gentle in this southern way, lots of hiking in summer and skating/skiing in winter, great food with lots of restaurants.

    It may not be cosmopolitan or modern or even rich, but #4 worst place to live???? I call bs. Yes, there are scores of utter dumps in FSU countries that make life insufferable, but Almaty??? Nyet.

  11. In a list of the dullest capital cities on earth Riyadh must surely be at the top but to get No. 3 in this list is an exaggeration. Riyadh is extremely safe by comparison to some of these other cities (except that you might die of boredom of course) and is generally friendly and mostly clean.

    The almost complete lack of cultural activities (music, art, theatre, cinema), the huge tacky malls, the fast food, the terrible architecture easily make it number 1 on the bland list.

  12. I only know about Riyad from the internet, but I think putting it on # 3 is unreasonable.
    I always hear from Saudis that Riyad is very boring. There’s nothing to do. And for women I’d rate it rather high on the most unpleasant places to live, but still… # 3 seems exaggarated even from a womans point of view.

  13. Riyadh as a city isn’t too bad, it’s the people that make it such a shithole.

  14. It so boring,it’s not funny,everyday is a struggle for a woman.There is nothing to do.Sometimes it’s like you are in a bad dream and you gonna wake up,then you ask yourself how did I ever got here.Not bad at all if you enjoy staying at home and wait for kids and husband.I got tired of shoping and the coffie mornings.I’m getting used to it thou.I will make a way out,they say you creat you own happiness.

  15. Absolutely no surprise about Jakarta. I remember as a kid the air was horrible, and that was in the 80s. They had these bicycle taxis where the carriage was in front, and the “drivers” thought nothing of pulling you up right behind a bus spewing black exhaust. Blech! Of course, look at Los Angeles… the smog there is pretty darn bad too!

  16. I don’t get why people say Riyadh is boring. It isn’t any more boring than any other city in Saudi Arabia.

  17. That is strange. I can think of many places in the African continent where it would be a nightmare to breath- let alone live. Riyadh can not be that bad. ;-)

  18. Perhaps the rank is unfair against Riyadh, but it’s a more dangerous city than many realize. When it comes to crime, Riyadh is as dangerous as Detroit and possibly more, I dare say. For ordinary people, they have a fixed network of places and people they are familiar with and that’s the Riyadh they know. It’s really sad, 20 years ago, Saudi Arabia as a whole was a family-friendly place with low crime rate which partially made up for the harsh aspects of life there.

  19. I have enjoyed reading all the great comments.

    @Elis – I really do not think it is fair though to compare Riyadh with Detroit. While crime has increased in KSA overall i think it is still safer not only as a country but comparing individual cities as well.

  20. We didn’t see Detroit anywhere on that list yet you think that Riyadh’s better than Detroit? hehe

  21. Yes, I do….Riyadh does not get that nasty snow and ice like Detroit; no avenues of boarded up foreclosed homes; and I do not believe Riyadh has anywhere near the kind of crime Detroit faces for starters…

  22. I’d pay big money to live in Detroit before I’d live ANYwhere in KSA even for free. My liberty is worth more than anything to me. I think I would rather live with snow and ice every day of the year before I gave up my freedom. I’ve lived most of my life in Detroit and I have yet to be a victim of a crime. I wonder how long I would be in Riyadh before I was told to cover myself for someone else’s benefit, arrested for driving myself to the store or openly enjoying a visit with a dear old friend who happened to be a man? Plus, I get sick with the heat.

  23. I’ve been to Riyadh several times.

    I hate the stiffling anti-singles atmosphere, the sterile architectural beauty, and the conservative and rude people. Apologies to all my great friends from Riyadh.

    It’s not my favorite city.

    That said, it not really that bad. :)

  24. In spite of the restrictions I would not rate it the 3rd worse city in the world!

  25. would definately not rate it number 3 in world,but people are so rude in the roads and i don’t even wanna start with arab ladies who are fully coverd they just cut in the queus what’s up with that.especially the older ones.

  26. As hard as it is to compare crime statistics internationally (definition and reporting differences) the UN ranks the KSA as safer than the USA, and Detroit comes out worse (at least for murder) than Riyadh. Knowing one’s way around a specific city always helps with personal safety.

    I still find it hard to imagine that a wealthy capital city with a large expat population and with good medical and educational services, can be sandwiched between Lagos, Jakarta and Almaty, despite conservatism, restrictive social codes, and the “boring” factor–especially for expats.

  27. I agree with your remark Chiara…it really makes me wonder what were the standards used in making that poll!

  28. Seeing that the majority of cities they mentioned are in China, it is obvious this list is only for the places that wealthy western businesspeople are most likely to end up. That said, though I have not been to most of these places, I am surprised that a country as wealthy, safe, and developed as KSA would be worse than many of the others on the list. Especially since it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump from more fun places…

  29. American Bedu–since the article’s blurb was so vague on the criteria used, my guess is loose, biased, and unreliable! :D

  30. dear, i think you missed the point… it’s not saying that riyadh is the third-worst city in the world, it’s saying it’s the third hardest place for western expats to live.

    you may still disagree with the ranking, but the distinction is significant.

  31. also — if you read the text, those rankings were for cities that typically host management-level expats and above.

  32. Third?? No way…
    I would like to know more about criteria. I am assuming the “atmosphere for singles” is not one of measurements – sorry Saudis Jawa and Bedu.
    Certainly, for women, Riyadh is more conservative than Jeddah, but even THAT wouldn’t make it rank third.

  33. according to “c” who commented above, the criteria was based on places for expats to live. I still do not believe I’d put Riyadh as no. 3 though….

  34. I did read the beginning of the article which is here:
    http://images.businessweek.com/ss/09/03/0304_difficult_cities/1.htm
    hence my first comment. It was clear to me these are addressing the ranking of cities as to how great a hardship post they are for expats, and how much money has to be offered to get them there even in these economic times.

    The criteria and weighting of them, the choice of 55 cities to start with, and the balance of factors in the rankings are still vague despite being listed grosso modo.

    Based on my expat experiences, and those of patients, and what I know from the outside of Riyadh, it is still hard to imagine it is one cut above Almaty, Kazakhstan, as a worst destination for most expats.

  35. I would have thought Islamabad, Peshawar, Kabul or Baghdad would have been in the top spots…if the criteria are hardships for expats….

  36. American Bedu–I agree, but they eliminated war zones, and other countries that may have hardship postings depending on an expats’ preferences or the realities of the cities. All very arbitrary as they described it:

    “When trying to figure out how much hardship pay they need to offer, companies turn to consultants like New York-based human resources company ORC Worldwide. The firm recently compiled for BusinessWeek a ranking of 55 cities (the top 20 of which make up this slide show) outside the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe that might qualify as hardship posts based on a set of criteria that includes levels of pollution, disease, political violence, and availability of goods and services. The list doesn’t include some cities that are so obviously challenging—because of war or international isolation—that they’re in another league when it comes to hardship posts. For that reason, you won’t find Baghdad or Harare or Pyongyang on ORC’s list. You will find, though, cities in Africa, Southeast Asia, India, China, Central Asia, and the Middle East. The worst of the lot? Lagos, Nigeria.”

  37. I don’t think I have a lot of faith in their report.

  38. I agree with those who said that the criteria used for this poll are questinable and vague. From my firsthand experience in KSA for more than 28 years, I find it rather too harsh to rank Riyadh third on a scale of unknown criteria. However, I agree that the wheather there is invariably harsh, life is somewhat boring especially for expats, and cultural activities are absent. But still, I consider Riyadh after all these years of staying therein much better than the capital city of my country, Amman from many aspects and matchless even to major western cities. Should my opinion has been taken at this poll, I would have said Riyadh is worth to be the capital city of the universe; I just love it.

  39. Welcome Mouchi and thanks for sharing your views on Riyadh.

  40. eh !! c’mon .. is not a bad city at all.. as far as safety for women is concerned, the yeah, mens reach a height of vulgarity. They fall for every women even in Abaya. nw u will agree with one more fact that this is a case everywhere. am an Indian & people r worse there. Its safe here if u r with ur family. On religious counts, i love this city. Rather i say this Country.

  41. Riyadh is the worst place on earth it should be number 1 on the list!!!!!!!

  42. Riyadh is not that bad….

  43. Well, having lived here for almost 19 years, i have a clear understanding of the situation here.
    starting with the bad weather, it can be as low as -4 and as high as 53, sandstorms aren’t that uncommon lately,
    houses lacks the proper air conditioning as well.

    the streets are just terrible, and it’s almost impossible not to crash your car, for the EXTREMELY reckless(that’s not an overstatement!!!) drivers (Saudi Arabia is number 1 in number of accidents ), not forgetting the traffic of course ( it’s really a big issue) you may need to drive for hour and a half to get to home from work,
    there isn’t a real public transportation you are limited to cars, as walking isn’t an option due to the weather and the streets not being designed for such purpose.

    And people they are mostly rude and will pickup a fight for the slightest reasons (no one can really blame them the weather and the traffic can make anyone like this),in addition to being judgmental you can’t wear anything you want and walk the streets without being judged,

    The connection between men and woman is severely restricted due to the religion and customs.
    woman have to wear “abbaya”.

    the country in general is quiet primitive, everything is done the worst and most primitive possible way (and this as well isn’t an understatement).
    everything stating from banks, police stations, to hospitals(there are hospitals called death hospital for that when you have a severe condition you most likely to die then to get better)

    the freedom is almost doesn’t exist, you can’t just do,wear,say,believe,write what you want.

    the education system is just terrible, you have to experience it in order to see how bad it is.

    Boredom is the most common feeling among Riyadh people, the events are rare and mostly not up to the stander, parks are as rare and entertainment places are quite limited (if they let in (ask any Saudi guy about it)), when you are board you may go to a mall, restaurants, coffee places, and that’s about it.

    corruption is everywhere you go, the goods are low quality and mostly expensive(usually anything electronic is more expensive here then in developed countries) << and you can't say or do anything about it.

    the Internet is censored(they claim they only block sites with mature content but that is just mendacious).
    they even blocked yahoo for several days !!!.
    Well, having lived here for almost 19 years, i have a clear understanding of the situation here.
    starting with the bad weather, it can be as low as -4 and as high as 53, sandstorms aren't that uncommon lately,
    houses lacks the proper air conditioning as well.

    the streets are just terrible, and it's almost impossible not to crash your car, for the EXTREMELY reckless(that's not an overstatement!!!) drivers (Saudi Arabia is number 1 in number of accidents ), not forgetting the traffic of course ( it's really a big issue) you may need to drive for hour and a half to get to home from work,
    there isn't a real public transportation you are limited to cars, as walking isn't an option due to the weather and the streets not being designed for such purpose.

    And people they are mostly rude and will pickup a fight for the slightest reasons (no one can really blame them the weather and the traffic can make anyone like this),in addition to being judgmental you can't wear anything you want and walk the streets without being judged,

    The connection between men and woman is severely restricted due to the religion and customs.
    woman have to wear "abbaya".

    the country in general is quiet primitive, everything is done the worst and most primitive possible way (and this as well isn't an understatement).
    everything stating from banks, police stations, to hospitals(there are hospitals called death hospital for that when you have a severe condition you most likely to die then to get better)

    the freedom is almost doesn't exist, you can't just do,wear,say,believe,write what you want.

    the education system is just terrible, you have to experience it in order to see how bad it is.

    Boredom is the most common feeling among Riyadh people, the events are rare and mostly not up to the stander, parks are as rare and entertainment places are quite limited (if they let in (ask any Saudi guy about it)), when you are board you may go to a mall, restaurants, coffee places, and that's about it.

    corruption is everywhere you go, the goods are low quality and mostly expensive(usually anything electronic is more expensive here then in developed countries) << and you can't say or do anything about it.

    the Internet is censored(they claim they only block sites with mature content but that is just mendacious).
    they even blocked yahoo for several days !!!.

    Alcohol is forbidden you can't find anyway(you can't just simply go the liqueur store and buy some) and if got caught drinking it that's just another story.

    Laws only apply for normal people(Royalty and people in high positions are ABOVE THE LAW) .

    After that being said it's crucial to know that i have only scratched the surface.

  44. @Someone – I agree that you have only scratched the surface. However for one who has chosen to be in Saudi for almost 19 years, I would be interested in hearing your reasons for staying. You cited negatives but there are also positives. What are the positives to you?

  45. @American Bedu
    I only stayed here that long for my parents (they chose to stay here and by the law i have to stay here too) but fortunately not for long.
    From my point of view the only positive side Islam, you can find mosques everywhere, and in Ramadan everyone is feasting, and the entire country is in parallel with Islamic schedule (prayers time and so on).

    Nonetheless, if you aren’t Muslim there isn’t any.

  46. @Someone – I appreciate your points of view but I may agree to disagree. I know that Riyadh can be tough and most will love it or hate it. I am an optimist and try to always find the positive aspects of any place, person or situation.

  47. why r u hate riyadh..

    have u visit it???

    i dont think so…

    i am from korea n i visit riyadh n its not that bad..

    At least its safe n There is no gangs..

    n the muslims r pry five time in the day n Did not complain

    And Christians Only pray on Sunday And they are complaining

    And also see how they line up in the mosque prayer time

    If the wine is not haraam the pepol r gonna lose thiers minde…

    just i say Do not have control of the Cities that have not visit…

  48. Riyadh is so god damn boring i’v been to vancouver and i was missing riyadh but i came back then i obviously note’s that i was totaly wrong fuck riyadh .

  49. Most people who like Riyadh are from other third world countries who do not know how to enjoy or afford life. You only live once and living it couped up in the house all day and at the malls at night is not living. For non-Muslim Westerners it is hell on earth. It is number one for traffic fatalities, proving that women are better drivers, yet they won’t let them drive; healthcare sucks, people go to the hospitals to die; there is absolutely no social activities for the average person; the criminal justice system is 99% unfair to foreigners, the Saudi’s are always right; The Saudi’s have no real work ethics, the foreigners do all the work….Saudization is a real joke, it will never happen, the only incentive for living in Riyadh, if you are a foreigner, is the no taxed wages. But even that, I’ve come to realize, doesn’t make it worth while. I lived it, and it makes me appreciate my own country, America, even more….can’t wait to get back.

  50. thank you guys for all the ideas you have shared about Riyadh..
    Somewhat i know now what riyadh is… if its the most boring city.. it *uck*…

  51. Riyadh is the worst place ever for the single and youth no place to go no nothing just stupid ppl in there cars its boAaaaaaaaaringcity

  52. I live here. The only reason why people even come here is because of the money! There’s nothing to spend on here except for food and gadgets (prices of which are super cheap!).

    Social life is a sin.

    Lazy airport Immigration Officers is an understatement (they have cigarette and coffee breaks for every 3 people they process….smoke, drink, chitchat for 10 mins, then work for 2 mins…no joke.)

    Water is more expensive than Gasoline.

    And the locals are either too polite, or extremely rude.

    Worst place to drive. Traffic and Law enforcers are yet to be discovered.

    Weather is either too hot, or too cold.

    And if all the expatiates and foreigners were to leave, this city would be extinct.

    So putting it in number 3? hmmm… not a bad call.

  53. Riyadh is very nice for couples. High safety .. Very few crimes

    Anchahd Wikipedia

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_Saudi_Arabia

  54. i hate it here…..my dear kid is my only joy and a little sacrifice for my dear hubby …so we can earn for a while…….most boring place, no freedom in terms of everything. just waiting to be out…

  55. What is the link for the list of cities?

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