9 Ways For Expatriate Families to Survive Saudi
Why would anyone want to work in Saudi?Unless you’re a Muslim planning Hajj, there are only two reasons to come to Saudi: to save a lot of money and travel in a country closed to mainstream tourism. While salaries are not what they used to be, you still earn far more in Saudi due to zero taxation, free housing and utilities. In particular, Saudi offers, by far, the best salary in the world for unlicensed English teachers. Of course if you’re an engineer with experience in the oil industry, the sky’s the limit. In addition, the country offers a unique chance to visit ancient sites, amazing beaches and vibrant cities that are currently closed to the outside world.
After several years living on Siargao Island, my family and I recently moved to the Kingdom. Although many expatriates leave their families at home when they work here, we decided to come together. Generally it’s been pretty good so far and, as a result of myriad strategies, we now feel we can survive an extended season here. Actually, we think there are nine interesting ways for expatriate families to improve their chances of surviving in Saudi. If you want to know more about Saudi life or you’re thinking about bringing your family here for the first time, read the below list and learn about ways to survive in a totally foreign culture.
1. Live a healthy lifeYou can’t legally drink alcohol or eat pork, so focus on good nutrition, regular exercise and family love. Avoid illegal compound concoctions or escaping to Bahrain every weekend. Your health and family are, after all, far more important than beer or bacon any day.
2. Have fun at home togetherYou might be indoors a lot more than in western countries. Remember, there isn’t that much entertainment on offer apart from the mall and it’s very hot in the summer. Therefore, have lots of fun at home.
What do we do? First, we use a projector and have frequent movie nights. There aren’t any cinemas in Saudi, but there is one in our apartment! Second, we cook and bake together and have themed meal nights. Finally, we play loads of board and card games (brought with us from UK). These provide hours of competition, amusement and family time.
3. Embrace local styleIn a country where wearing an abaya is law, a year in Saudi is a great opportunity for expat women to embrace local style. Instead of resenting Saudi law, choose a unique abaya adorned with a beautiful design and wear a hijab to avoid unwanted attention from the Hai’a or over zealous locals.
What does my wife do? She always wears a hijab to show respect for the local culture, but chooses pretty colours and styles. She experiments with darker makeup and reads blogs from influential hijabi bloggers to find inspiration for new looks. In short, she embraces local style and looks more beautiful than ever before. She can always wear a swimsuit in Europe next summer!
4. Focus on financial goalsDecide early on how much you want to save and how long you can last in this country. Set a realistic target for monthly savings, cross off what you achieve each month, and use this information to help you through the down times.
When we start missing our old Siargao life, we remind ourselves how we are getting closer to fulfilling our financial goals every month. Thankfully, in two years, we should be in a much better position and be able to return to the Philippines indefinitely.
5. Socialize with Arabs and SaudisLeave any stupid prejudices about Arabs being terrorists at home and make friends with your new neighbours. When you cross the cultural divide, you find you share far more with people of other nationalities and religions that you ever imagined.
So what have we done so far? Well we recently took a trip with a student to visit his family in Al Hasa, which was awesome in so many ways. My wife met the uncovered women in the family, who showered her with compliments about her hair and manicure and gave her jewelry and food for parting gifts. Meanwhile, my son Rafael got to hang out with a kid who grew up in America. Furthermore, friendship with Syrian colleagues at work led to Rafael sharing his ripstick with two Syrian kids and all of us being blessed with unsurpassed hospitality and incredible insights into the reality of the Arab world.
6. Learn some basic ArabicWhile Arabic is one of the most difficult languages in the world, you might as well learn a few useful phrases to light up the face of a local or Arab expatriate. Don’t be ignorant and rely on English entirely when you live in the Kingdom.
7. Choose a coastal city.If you get the chance, choose a coastal city for a season in KSA. It’s such a hot country and being stuck inland will make it feel that much hotter. The Saudi coastline is dotted with incredible beaches just waiting for you and your family to enjoy. Small coastal cities like Al Khafji or Al Wajh offer cheap rents and a quiet lifestyle, whereas larger cities like Jeddah, Jubail and Dammam have compound beaches, huge malls and great schools.
Of course everyone’s different, and if you love big buildings and malls then Riyadh might be for you. But a coastal city brings us so much joy and might just do the same for you too.
8. Enjoy Arab CuisineEnjoy the huge variety of cuisine in this awesome country. Saudi is a great place to try not only Arab cuisine, but also Indian, Filipino, Italian, Pakistani and Chinese. Even in small cities, you can find a great range of great restaurants. Better still is the price; it’s super affordable for an expatriate family to eat out every weekend or more. While many smaller restaurants don’t have family sections (meaning you can’t eat inside with your family), you can always order take out.
9. Travel a lotTravel a lot both in country and outside its high walls. Remember Saudi is perfectly positioned for cheap travel to almost anywhere in the world. For example India, Egypt, and Ethiopia are short flights away and Bahrain, Jordan, and Dubai are even reachable overland. And Saudi itself has heaps of awesome places to go like Mada’in Salah, Haql, Jeddah and Al Hasa. Don’t spend all your time just collecting riyals and not spending any of them, that might just make you go crazy.
What about our travel plans? We plan extensive travel across Europe this summer and a brief trip home to the Philippines. Also, we hope to visit Egypt, Bahrain, The Balkans, and Ireland (again) before the sun sets on our extended season in Saudi Arabia.