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Living and Thriving in Saudi Arabia: A Personal Diary

I’m excited to share my diary of the incredible years I spent living in Saudi Arabia. From the enchanting culture to the mouthwatering food, the warm-hearted people to the intriguing society, there’s so much to discover in this captivating land.

Whether you’re planning to move here, travel for an extended period, or just curious about life in Saudi Arabia, this article is your ultimate guide.

Sit tight and let’s embark on this extraordinary journey together!

Arrival and First Impressions in Riyadh, The Capital City

I vividly remember the moment we touched down in Riyadh. The scorching desert heat welcomed us with open arms.

an image of the city of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia- living in Saudi Arabia
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (source- Wikipedia)

As an American family, we were initially apprehensive, but the warm and hospitable nature of the Saudi people quickly put our worries to rest.

Within no time, we started feeling like a part of the community.

On our 2nd day in Riyadh, we found ourselves lost in the bustling streets. A kind local shopkeeper not only gave us directions but also treated us to traditional Arabic coffee and dates.

Finding a Place to Call Home in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Securing the perfect living place is a crucial step when moving abroad.

In Saudi Arabia, you’ll find a wide range of housing options, from modern apartments to traditional Riyadh-style villas.

We opted for a two-room apartment in the heart of the city called “Al Olaya” for $1500. This is a central and affluent neighborhood in Riyadh that is known for its tree-lined streets, high-end shops, and luxury apartments which also provide us with easy access to markets, schools, and cultural experiences.

In Saudi Arabia, you can rent a furnished two-bedroom apartment in an expensive expat community area like Al Olaya for $1600. And for a three-bedroom apartment, rent can go up to $4260. Outside these communities, rents are significantly lower. You can rent an even bigger flat for about $500 only.

Embracing Saudi Arabian Culture

Saudi Arabia’s culture is deeply rooted in its Islamic heritage, and it’s a rich tapestry of traditions and customs.

One of the most remarkable experiences was attending the Eid al-Fitr and Hajj festivals. The vibrant celebrations, traditional music, and colorful attire were a feast for the senses.

During our first Eid al-Fitr in Saudi Arabia, we were invited by a local family to participate in their celebration. We dressed in traditional attire, enjoyed an array of delicious dishes, and joined in the joyful festivities, making it a memorable cultural exchange.

The United States and Saudi Arabia have a long history of friendship and partnership.

Living in Saudi Arabia- saudi vs USA- a photo showing that King abdul aziz meeting with president roosevelt in 1945

American Embassy in Saudi Arabia works to strengthen the relationship between Americans and Saudis.

We enjoyed deepening our understanding of Saudi history and the Arabic language and learning about Saudi food, traditional dances, regional costumes, media, drama, and music.

American travelers to Saudi Arabia are keen to visit the National Museum and historical sites here.

Before coming back to the USA, we toured the Al-Janadriyah festival in Riyadh and were impressed by the breadth of Saudi Arabia’s cultural and artistic exhibits.

The Culinary Adventure- Saudi Food

The food in Saudi Arabia! Get ready to embark on a gastronomic journey like no other.

We indulged in mouthwatering dishes like Shawarma, Kabsa, and Falafel. Dining at local restaurants or savoring homemade dishes with friends opened our palates to a world of flavors.

Saudi local food- Kabsa
Saudi local food- Kabsa (source- Wikipedia)

One weekend, we decided to venture beyond the city and visit a local farm. There, we learned how to prepare Mansaf, a traditional Bedouin dish, with the gracious host family.

We left not only with full stomachs but also with a deeper appreciation for Saudi hospitality.

There are lots of Western restaurants in Riyadh and all across Saudi Arabia like-

  • Hamburgini
  • Burger Boutique
  • Smokey Beards Q
  • Five Guys
  • Outback Steakhouse
  • Steak House
  • Texas Roadhouse and more

Connecting with Saudi Locals

The Saudi people are some of the friendliest you’ll ever meet.

We made lifelong friends who showed us the ropes, introduced us to their customs, and shared countless stories.

It’s through these connections that we truly understand the essence of Saudi Arabia.

I still remember, our neighbor, Ahmed, invited us to his family’s home for a Friday lunch, a tradition known as “Aljma’a.” We were welcomed with open arms and enjoyed a delicious feast while learning about their family history and traditions.

Cultural Oddities and Delights

Living in Saudi Arabia also brought some quirky and amusing moments. From the infamous “Saudi time” (where punctuality isn’t always a priority) to the lively Souq markets where bargaining is an art form, there was never a dull moment.

We experienced “Saudi time” firsthand when we attended a local event. The invitation mentioned 7 PM, but the festivities didn’t start until well past 8 PM.

We quickly learned to embrace the relaxed sense of time and appreciate the conversations and camaraderie that often filled the wait.

While strolling through a bustling Souq in Jeddah, we came across a vendor with a peculiar collection of antiques. Among them was an old pocket watch that had once belonged to a prominent historical figure in Saudi Arabia. This chance encounter sparked our fascination with the rich history of the region.

Cost of Living in Saudi Arabia

Now, let’s talk finances.

The cost of living in Saudi Arabia can vary depending on your lifestyle and location. Generally, it’s affordable, with lower taxes and subsidized essentials. It allowed us to save while enjoying a high standard of living.

We were four members in our family including our son and daughter. The average monthly living cost of a family like us in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is about $2500, without rent. The cost of living in Saudi Arabia is, on average, 36.2% lower than in the United States.

Managing finances as expatriates in Riadh requires some adjustments. We found it convenient to open a local bank account, and we were pleasantly surprised by the ease of international money transfers. This financial flexibility enabled us to save for memorable family vacations.

Exploring the Beauty of Saudi Arabia

Beyond the cities, Saudi Arabia is a treasure trove of natural beauty. We explored the pristine beaches along the Red Sea, hiked in the lush Asir Mountains, and marveled at the otherworldly landscapes of the Empty Quarter desert.

a random desert-gate-saudi

Our journey to the Asir Mountains provided breathtaking vistas at every turn. While trekking through dense forests and cascading waterfalls, we stumbled upon a hidden village. The locals welcomed us with open arms and shared stories of their unique way of life in the mountains.

In our exploration of the Empty Quarter desert, we decided to try our hand at sandboarding. It turned out to be a thrilling and unforgettable adventure as we glided down towering sand dunes with the vast, undulating desert stretching out before us.

Healthcare and Education in Saudi Arabia

Access to quality healthcare and education is crucial for any expatriate family. Saudi Arabia offers excellent medical facilities and international schools, ensuring our family’s well-being and our children’s education are well taken care of.

Saudi Arabia offers a national healthcare system in which the government provides free universal healthcare coverage through several government agencies. There is also a growing role and increased participation from the private sector in the provision for health care services.

When our youngest child needed specialized medical attention, we were grateful for the world-class healthcare facilities in Saudi Arabia. The compassionate medical team and state-of-the-art equipment provided us with peace of mind during a challenging period.

Work and Business Opportunities in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

For those considering relocating to Saudi Arabia for work or business, the country offers a wealth of opportunities. The economy is diversifying rapidly, with a focus on technology and innovation. Expatriates often find lucrative careers in various sectors, from oil and gas to finance and healthcare.

During our time in Saudi Arabia, we witnessed the country’s ambitious Vision 2030 initiative taking shape. We attended business conferences and met entrepreneurs who were at the forefront of innovation, contributing to the nation’s transformation.

If you’re planning to move to Saudi Arabia, it’s always better to get a job beforehand. There are lots of openings and opportunities all across Saudi Arabia and you can get the privilege of being a native English Speaker.

Transportation and Infrastructure

Saudi Arabia’s modern infrastructure makes traveling around the country a breeze. The extensive network of highways, the efficient public transportation system, and world-class airports ensure that you can explore every corner of this vast and diverse land with ease.

Transport in Saudi Arabia is facilitated through a relatively young system of roads, railways, and seaways.

Travelers prefer taxis for short trips. In all the major cities of the country, a well-developed bus system is available. However, there is a lot of traffic on the roads and people don’t strictly follow traffic rules.

Our family embarked on a road trip from Riyadh to Jeddah, a journey that showcased the well-maintained highways and rest stops along the way. We enjoyed roadside picnics with stunning desert vistas and explored historical sites, all made possible by the excellent road network.

Family-Friendly Environment

Saudi Arabia is a family-oriented society, and it’s an excellent place to raise children.

The country boasts numerous parks, recreational areas, and family-friendly attractions that ensure your little ones have a memorable and enriching experience.

Our family often spent weekends at Riyadh’s sprawling Al-Masmak Park. It’s a place where children can run free, and parents can relax under the shade of palm trees.

We met other families from around the world, forming lasting bonds while our kids played together.

Saudi Arabia’s Nature and Adventure

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, Saudi Arabia will not disappoint.

The country offers a plethora of adventure activities, from dune bashing in the desert to scuba diving in the Red Sea. The diversity of landscapes provides endless opportunities for exploration.

Saudi Arabia’s geography is extremely diverse, with forests, grasslands, mountain ranges, and deserts. The climate varies from region to region.

Temperatures can reach over 110 degrees Fahrenheit in the desert in the summer. In the winter, temperatures in the north and central parts of Saudi Arabia can drop below freezing.

We joined a group of fellow expatriates for a camping excursion in the desert many times. As we gathered around the campfire under a star-studded sky, we shared stories, roasted marshmallows, and listened to traditional Arabic music, creating cherished memories of our desert adventures.

Cultural Enrichment of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is a land steeped in history and culture. We visited historical sites like Diriyah, explored ancient ruins, and marveled at the architectural wonders like the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture.

an image on mountain-night-saudi-arabia

The rich cultural tapestry of the nation is a treasure trove for history buffs and art lovers alike.

Our visit to the historic site of Diriyah immersed us in the birthplace of the Saudi state. Walking through the narrow alleys and witnessing the well-preserved mud-brick structures, we gained a deep appreciation for the nation’s historical roots.

The culture of Saudi Arabia is a rich one that has been shaped by its historical role as an ancient trade center, its Islamic heritage, and its Bedouin traditions. Saudi society has experienced tremendous development over the past several decades based on oil and other natural resources trading.

During a cultural festival in Riyadh, we had the privilege of attending a traditional Ardha dance performance. The rhythmic beating of drums and the display of swordsmanship left us in awe of the kingdom’s rich heritage.

Adapting to Saudi Life as The American Family

Living in Saudi Arabia requires adapting to certain cultural norms and regulations.

From dress codes to religious practices, it’s essential to be respectful and understanding of the local way of life.

It’s also crucial to stay updated on the latest news and developments.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has witnessed significant changes, including the introduction of cinemas, the expansion of women’s rights, and the hosting of international events like Formula E races and the G20 Summit. These developments have added to the nation’s dynamism and global appeal.

Saudi-Yemen Conflict- What is The Scenario Right Now

The Houthi–Saudi Arabian conflict is an armed conflict between the Royal Saudi Armed Forces and Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi forces. It has been taking place in the Arabian Peninsula, including the southern Saudi regions of Asir, Jizan, and Najran, and the northern Yemeni governorates of Saada, Al Jawf, and Hajjah, etc.

“According to the UN, over 150,000 people have been killed in Yemen, as well as estimates of more than 227,000 dead as a result of an ongoing famine and lack of healthcare facilities due to the war.”

In early 2020, it was reported that Saudi Arabia was searching for an exit strategy, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and military defeats. The Saudi-led coalition announced on 29 March 2022 that it would cease all hostilities within Yemen.

“Though a six-month UN-brokered cease-fire officially lapsed in October 2022, both sides have since refrained from major escalatory actions, and hostility levels remain low. Peace talks between Saudi and Houthi officials, mediated by Oman, resumed in April 2023, accompanying ongoing UN mediation efforts.”

On September 19, 2023, Al Jazeera reported- “Houthi negotiators left Riyadh after a five-day round of talks with Saudi officials on a potential agreement that could pave the way to ending the conflict in Yemen, sources familiar with the meeting and Houthi media have said.

The Houthi delegation and Omani mediators landed in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Tuesday after a round of negotiations in Saudi Arabia, the Houthis’ Al Masirah TV said.

Some progress has been made on some of the main sticking points between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia, including a timeline for foreign troops exiting Yemen and a mechanism for paying public wages, two sources said, adding that the sides would meet for more talks after consultations “soon”.”

So, it’s safe now to travel to Saudi Arabia.

Before Ending on Living in Saudi Arabia

Living in Saudi Arabia has been an eye-opening adventure.

From the enchanting culture to the delicious cuisine, the warm people to the affordable living, it’s a country that has something for everyone.

Whether you’re planning to make Saudi Arabia your new home, exploring business opportunities, or just considering an extended stay, I hope my diary, along with these additional stories and insights, has provided you with valuable insights and inspiration.

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