Living in Saudi Arabia
Why Saudi Arabia?
Saudi is a country in transition. It is largely untouched by tourism, yet offers much to see and do. In fact, tourism is at the heart of the plan to revolutionize the country. Recently, tourist visas were granted, with many nationalities automatically eligible.
Although many women wear an abaya in public, only modest dress is required of both men and women. As of 2018, women were also able to drive in Saudi.
All ISG Schools are located in the Eastern Province and enjoy easy access to the Saudi/Bahraini Causeway (a bridge to Bahrain), which offers the opportunity for rest and relaxation in a Western-style atmosphere.
Although perhaps seen as "restrictive" by Western standards, life in Saudi Arabia can be safe, comfortable and socially rewarding, as evidenced by the 10 million expatriates living and working successfully in the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia is a huge stretch of landmass between the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea that lies at the crossroads of three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe. It has a native population of approximately 20 million nationals.
The country contains massive deserts, mountains, deep valleys, forests and a wealth of resources. The mountains of the south, the plateaus of the north, and the waters of the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf provide alternatives to the vast stretches of sand.
As a base for international travel, Saudi Arabia is beautifully positioned as equidistant from Europe, Africa and the rest of Asia. Thus, it offers the expatriate unlimited options for exotic and adventurous holidays, and stopover locations during annual school winter, spring, summer and Islamic holidays.
The climate of most of Saudi Arabia is hot in the summer, warm in the spring and fall, and comfortably cool during the winter months. Contrary to popular belief, it occasionally rains in Saudi Arabia. During two of the hot summer months, high humidity is the norm in the Eastern Province. So are daily sunny skies.
Many cultures coexist within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As a result, Saudi Arabia is unique in terms of contrasting life styles and cultural anomalies. The constitution of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the Koran. All laws and regulations comply with Islamic Sharia.
There are many restaurants serving almost every imaginable Eastern and Western cuisine, including Indian, Italian, Thai, Chinese, Lebanese and many more. In addition to casual dining concepts like Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Chili’s, TGIFriday’s, Fuddrucker’s and Applebee’s, there are many globally-recognized fast-food chains, such as McDonald's, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Popeye’s, Pizza Hut, Hagan Daaz, Baskin Robbins, Dunkin Donuts, Subway, Starbucks, Tim Horton’s and Costa Coffee.
In general, expatriates in Saudi Arabia live very comfortably in terms of basic needs and modern conveniences. Regardless of nationality, most Western expatriates live in enclosed compounds where basic recreational needs are met by compound tennis courts, swimming pools and recreation centers offering fitness and aerobic opportunities. Accommodations for ISG employees are provided with modern furniture, appliances and high-quality compound amenities. The newest compound leased for ISG employees includes a bowling alley, movie theater, restaurant, salon and mini-market. Many have compared it to living in a five-star resort!
In the major cities, large modern shopping malls cater to every clothing and electronics shopping whim. With stores like IKEA for cost-effective home furnishings and prices similar to those in the U.S., U.K. and Canada, expatriates are now shopping in Kingdom more than ever before. There is a wide variety of brand-name shops and stores available (H&M, Gap, Banana Republic, Pottery Barn, Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, etc.) throughout Saudi Arabia.
People who are new to the region may be surprised to find out that Saudi Arabia is an excellent place to raise a family. There is a simple, protected and neighborhood atmosphere in the expatriate communities. Alternative recreational activities outside of ISG housing compounds include desert camping, softball, ice hockey, musical and theater groups and more. In the coastal areas, snorkeling, fishing, scuba diving, windsurfing and sailing are popular. High speed internet and satellite television are widely available allowing expatriates to communicate regularly and stay in touch with family and friends in their home country.
Prospective employees of ISG should be aware of some aspects of living and teaching in Saudi Arabia that may require a more flexible approach to life than that expected in the Western world:
- Men and women must dress modestly in public.
- Medical care is very good, but specialized care may not be available in the Kingdom.
- Some people find it difficult to adjust to the hot and humid climate, especially in the summer months.
- Expatriates must conform to Islamic standards and are subject to Sharia Law.
Many new ISG employees come with the intention of staying two years. Yet the average length of stay at ISG is seven years. Work, home, family, friends, leisure and other factors all combine to make life in Saudi a rewarding, unique and memorable experience.