Sri Lankan family man and music enthusiast Fazli Sameer is a Senior IT Consultant who moved to Saudi Arabia over 30 years ago. He's now well-versed in the art of Saudi adjustment and aptly prepared to give expats moving to Saudi Arabia good advice about integrating into the expat community and tackling the rigours of life in the KSA. His two blogs, F's Place and The Way We Were document the story of his life in the years prior to his move abroad.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Sri Lanka
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Q: How long you have you lived here?
A: Three years at this location, though, we first came to live and work in Saudi in 1979 and started off in the Eastern Province city of AlKhobar which was inhabited mostly by Americans, Europeans and other expats on account of the oil boom there.
Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I moved to be in closer proximity to my grandkids' school. I’m a Senior IT Consultant for a private firm.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city, how’s the quality of life in Saudi Arabia?
A: My quality of life is excellent, but the heat during the summer months of July/August can be daunting.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: I miss the greenery, wildlife and the energy of the people on the streets of Sri Lanka.
Q: Is Riyadh safe?
A: Yes, to a certain degree.
About living in Saudi Arabia
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Riyadh as an expat?
A: The best places to live in Riyadh are Sulaimaniya and Olaya, though in recent years these two towns have become increasingly commercial. North Riyadh (Exit 5,6,7,8) is also becoming a suburb growing in popularity due to more and more of a residential and salubrious nature.
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Saudi Arabia?
A: The expat compounds maintain a very high standard but are also very expensive. If you’re part of the expat community looking to rent apartments and independent villas, be aware that they are not constructed very efficiently and do lack quality in terms of basic infrastructure and utilities. They also tend to be in need of constant maintenance.
Q: What’s the cost of living in Saudi Arabia compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: The cost of living in Saudi Arabia is higher than that of Sri Lanka, but the higher income brackets and the advantage of better financially sound working opportunities increase the capacity to save tremendously. Gasoline is extremely cheap.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: The Saudi locals are very introverted, especially the family units.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: Yes, most of the families we met and came to know amongst the locals were through my wife’s work as a teacher. She was dealing directly with the kids and thereby many of the families became our friends. The same continued when we moved to Riyadh in 1985.
About working in Saudi Arabia
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Riyadh, is there plenty of work?
A: Work in Saudi Arabia is largely dominated by job opportunities in the service, industry and construction sectors. The job opportunities in the corporate, finance and management sectors have dwindled over recent years.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: The Saudi working culture differs tremendously from Sri Lanka. There tends to be a very poor sense of professionalism, management, commitment and delivery in the nation. The Saudis tend to believe that everything can wait.
Family and children
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: Schools in Saudi Arabia are reasonably equipped and managed in a way that can cater to various different curricula. Still, the level of professionalism is not as satisfactory as I would like to see.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Saudi Arabia?
A: Healthcare in Saudi Arabia is good, but not exceptionally administered or professionally managed.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Overall, Saudi Arabia is a comfortable place to live. It is important to remember that one has to rise to the challenge of a new and strange location and make the best of what’s on offer based on one’s own needs. Beyond all else, no one comes to work here for the environment.
~ interviewed April 2010