Accommodation in Saudi Arabia
Expatriate compounds in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabian expat compounds were first created in the early 1980s as a way for the foreign community to rediscover the democratic freedoms they were familiar with amid the seemingly puritanical rule of the ultra-conservative Islamic law that otherwise dominates the country.
The complexes can vary in size from small groupings of houses to sprawling collections of villas; but in both cases these residences are walled, guarded and lauded by expatriates for their ability to provide an assortment of amenities within, while keeping out the Mutaween (Saudi Arabian religious police).
The compounds rate anywhere from three to five star and can come furnished and fully equipped for residents to move in and out with ease. On-site facilities can include swimming pools, tennis courts, libraries, shopping centres, restaurants and bars, and even schools.
In addition to the obvious physical creature comforts that the self-contained space allows, the neighbourhoods also cultivate opportunities for expats to meet like-minded individuals and to create relationships that ease their transition into new communities. It happens that a strong spirit of camaraderie springs from those who share similar lifestyles, and expatriate compound living is no exception.
Unfortunately, as these compounds are in increasingly high demand, and as Saudi Arabia’s expatriate population only continues to expand, it is important to realise that they are not only expensive but also hard to attain – waiting lists can stretch anywhere from six to 18 months. Additionally, rent must be paid up front one year in advance prior to taking residence, and tenants are responsible for payment of utilities, such as electricity, gas and water.
In an effort to reconcile this issue, expats should organise accommodation in Saudi Arabian expat compounds through job contract negotiation prior to arriving in the country. In most cases, once one has accepted a job in Saudi Arabia, a housing provision is readily stipulated.
Renting or buying housing in Saudi Arabia
Beyond the high walls and, what some consider, the gilded cages of the expatriate complexes there exists the hustle and bustle of Saudi Arabian residential areas.
According to the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Saudi Arabia has experienced an astounding explosion in population of late that leaves affordable housing provision as one of the single biggest challenges faced by the nation.
Furthermore, most real estate agencies are predominately interested in potential homeowners and investors; they usually don't have many rental properties in their portfolio and they can be reluctant to assist in this matter.
That being said, renting a villa/apartment in a residential area is not impossible, but rather a task that requires a bit of time and effort.
First, expats should decide which neighbourhood will best suit their needs. Spend time driving through the area and watch for “For Rent” signs outside villas – often times property owners will advertise vacancy in this manner rather than listing with local realtors. Consulting with local merchants and milking the word-of-mouth network in the area is also a worthwhile tactic for identifying availability and wrangling the best deal possible.
Be sure to inspect each property as carefully as possible. Check voltage, confirm the presence of a water heater, and even consider bringing in an engineer to inspect electrical wiring and plumbing. While this may appear to be an unnecessary hassle, landlords in Saudi Arabia can be neglectful once they’ve received their annual payment up front – thus, better safe than sorry.
Villas and apartments in Saudi Arabia range in cost depending on size, location and the amenities present.
The best advice to keep in mind when looking for housing in Saudi Arabia is to bring a native Arabic speaker to help field enquiries and to emanate an air of trustworthiness between all the negotiating parties.