Living in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is a huge stretch of landmass between the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea covering approximately 80% (2,250,000 square kilometers) of the Arabian Peninsula.  The Arabian Peninsula lies at the crossroads of three continents: Asia, Africa, and Europe. It is roughly one-third the size of the continental United States, and the same size as all of Western Europe with a native population of approximately 20 million nationals.

The country contains massive deserts, mountains, deep valleys, forests, and a wealth of resources. Much of Saudi Arabia is covered with sand. However, 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.

The country is divided into the Northern Province, Southern Province, Eastern Province, Central Province, and the Western Province.  Jeddah (Western Province), Riyadh (Central Province), and Dhahran/ Dammam (Eastern Province) are the major population centers of the Kingdom. Highways and air flights connect all three including a rail service between Dhahran/Dammam and Riyadh.

All ISG Schools are located in the Eastern Province and enjoy easy access to the Saudi/Bahraini Causeway (a bridge to the island Kingdom of Bahrain), which offers the opportunity for rest and relaxation in a western-style atmosphere.

The climate of most of Saudi Arabia is hot in the summer, warm in the spring and fall, and beautiful during the winter months. Contrary to popular belief, it occasionally rains in Saudi Arabia! The highest annual rainfall of 215.5mm (9 inches) occurs in Khamis Mushayt. During two of the hot summer months, humidity is the norm in the Eastern Province.

Many cultures co-exist within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia among the Saudi nationals and the expatriate population comprised of various nationalities. 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, the Book revealed by God to the Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon Him.). All laws and regulations comply with Islamic Sharia, the laws laid down by the Koran. The Kingdom is unique in its adherence to the Sharia as the basis for all its actions in every field of human activity and worship. The religion, which is practiced faithfully, is Islam.

In general, expatriates live very comfortably in terms of basic needs and modern conveniences with supermarkets and specialized stores available to meet most necessities. In the three major cities of Jeddah, Riyadh and Dhahran/ Dammam, large shopping malls cater to every clothing and electronics shopping whim. With IKEA for cost-effective home furnishings and prices similar to those in the US, UK, 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.)

Accommodations are provided with modern furniture, appliances, and compound amenities. Regardless of nationality, most western expatriates live in enclosed compound where basic recreational needs are met by compound tennis courts, swimming pools, and recreation centers offering fitness and aerobic opportunities. With a mini-market, a mini-bowling alley, and theatre in the newest ISG accommodation leased for employees, Saudi Arabia is an excellent place to raise a family. There is a simple, "protected", and "old-fashioned" atmosphere without the temptations and complexities of western life.

Desert camping, softball, theater groups, and more are alternative recreational activities outside of the housing compounds. In the coastal areas, snorkeling, fishing, scuba diving, windsurfing, and sailing are popular. Each school community develops clubs and activities based on common interests. Although there are now cinemas, there are no performing arts or nightclubs in Saudi Arabia. Internet and satellite television are widely available allowing expatriates to communicate regularly and stay in touch with current news from home.

There are many restaurants serving almost every imaginable cuisine including Indian, Thai, Lebanese and many more. In addition to casual dining concepts like Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Chili’s, TGIFriday’s, and Fuddrucker’s, 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 and Costa Coffee.

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 if difficult to adjust to the hot and humid climate in the summer months
  • Expatriates must conform to Islamic standards and are subject to Sharia Law

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. 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.