So you are considering an assignment in KSA. Where will you live? Depending on the location and the package you get, here is what is usually available.
Villa, Apartment, Hotel, Compound
- Villa sounds grand! What’s that like? A villa is another name for a house or townhome. They either are stand alone, as in a ranch style or 2 story, or connected to others just like it in a row. Most companies have villas reserved at one or more compounds that they put expats into, depending on size of family, or rank in company. This is a good choice if you need space and have a family or are a couple.
- There are villas available outside compounds for much cheaper. They do not come furnished and you’ll need to buy your own washer/dryer and maybe A/C. Problem is you need to be aware that your neighbors are Saudi and maybe certain music and dress is not allowed outside.
- Apartments are available usually in towers. Modern with in-house cleaning service. Good option if you are a couple or single.
- Hotels are a good option especially if you are single. They tend to save you money. The downside is you won’t have a community as you would living on a compound. We recommended staying in a hotel for a the first week when you arrive. That way you can visit compounds and explore your options first. As we did, this gave us time to explore different compounds in the area. Online sites do not give you a good feel for the place.
- Compounds are all over the place. They are walled, gated living areas, like gated communities. Some are for Saudi’s and some are mixed. If you want options like wearing Western dress for example, then choose a Western type compound where there isn’t a dress code.
When choosing what compound to live in, if your company doesn’t choose for you, consider these items:
Activities: Look for clubhouse, game room, pool (outdoor, some have indoor), tennis courts, bowling, squash courts, spa, gym, playgrounds. Believe me this makes a huge difference in your quality of living! You may look at brand new villas and nice new kitchens, etc but then don’t have much of a yard or anything else. Consider how you will meet neighbors and if the compound offers classes for kids and adults. You pay for what you get. Some compounds have onsite daycare or preschool available. You need to decide for yourself, what kind of experience do you want while living here. For people who live in apartments and hotels, you won’t have a yard or really anywhere for kids to go, except if you go to the public parks.
Cleaning Service/Maid: Do they have staff onsite that you can hire, or can you bring someone in from outside? Usually the onsite staff at a set price, are more expensive than bringing a cleaner in from the outside. In our case, staff is available on their own time and we schedule directly with them and negotiate price. Usually they will wash your vehicle for an additional charge. Many new villas come with a Maid’s room, so you can have a live-in maid.
Security: What does the compound have to make it a secure facility. For example guards at the gates, ID checks, Barriers to gates, Barbed wire around compound, cameras throughout open areas and in clubhouse, etc. If you are Aramco employee they have a lot of security.
Who’s Living Here?: Ask what percentage of (your countrymen) live in the compound. Maybe you don’t care if anyone else is from your country. It’s nice to know the makeup of your community. Ask what companies put their employees in that compound.
Furniture: Should we bring our own furniture? This is a great question. We moved our entire household here. That was part of the deal. However some folks decide to rent a storage room in their country and keep it all back home. There really isn’t any advantage to bringing your own things, unless you just can’t live without them. Most compounds will charge you about $1,000 US to store their own furniture (because you don’t need it) for 1 year. Really all the compounds we visited had very nice furniture, and most brand new, modern style.
Nanny: Nannies are available and usually stay with families on the compound or come from outside each day to your villa. You can usually find a nanny available by asking around from other families.
Electricity: OK do I need to buy 10 adapters for all my appliances, vacuum, etc? If you are coming from a place with 220 outlets then you are all set no matter where you live. If you come with 110 volt appliances (like US), and choose a new compound then yes, bring adapters or rebuy appliances here that have 220 volt plugs. Otherwise if you stick to older/gooder compounds then you won’t have an issue. Our compound uses both systems inside villas and clubhouses.
Restaurant, Cafe, Grocery Mart: Many compounds offer small stores that carry basic items. Also some have restaurants and cafes.
School Bus Service/Shopping Bus Service: Most villas will offer school buses to a few of the more attended schools in the area. Shopping buses are usually available to make runs on a schedule every day during week. Shopping for malls and for grocery stores.
Taxi Service: Does the compound work with a certain taxi company or can you choose a company yourself? Can the taxis drop you at your door, or do you need to walk home from a spot on the compound. Most spouses of the employed are not able to drive a company car for insurance reasons. A taxi is your next best thing aside from the shopping bus. Depending on your company you may have a driver and car assigned to you. Most often you will either have a company car provided you drive yourself, or an allowance to buy a vehicle of your choice.