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 country’s ultra-conservative Islamic law.
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 generally keeping out the Mutaween (Saudi Arabian religious police).
The compounds rate anywhere from three to five stars, 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 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 continues to expand, accommodation in a compound can be 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 an expat has accepted a job in Saudi Arabia, a housing provision is readily stipulated.
Renting or buying housing in Saudi Arabia
Beyond the high walls of the expatriate complexes are 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 said, it is possible for expats to rent a villa or apartment in a residential area.
First, expats should decide which neighbourhood will best suit their needs. Then they should spend time driving through the area and look 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 in the area is also a good way to identify availability and get the best deal possible.
Expats should make sure to inspect each property carefully. It is often wise to hire 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.
Villas and apartments in Saudi Arabia range in cost depending on size, location and the amenities present.
When looking for housing in Saudi Arabia, expats should bring a native Arabic speaker to help field enquiries and establish trust between all the negotiating parties.