Moving to Eastern Province
You don’t need a degree in astrophysics nor a seventh psychic sense to correctly assume that expats moving to the Eastern Province (EP) of Saudi Arabia, which includes the main cities of Al Khobar, Damman, Jubail, and Al Hasa, do so primarily for the wealth potential and the accompanying tax-free status.
For one, the hot and humid desert climate is challenging, to say the least; the harsh Saudi summer begins in March and only ends in October. During this period, temperatures can range from 95°F (35°C) in the cooler months to an unbearable 122°F (50°C) in the months of June, July and August (known as “the 90 days of the Devil”).
Furthermore, the strict Muslim mandate associated with the greater nation is fully applicable, and entertainment options are limited accordingly – movie theatres and alcohol are non-existent. Not to mention, women will find their rights largely restricted, and may have trouble coping with a sudden lack of independence.
So, it follows that the lure of lucrative salary packages for positions most often linked to the hydrocarbon sector are the obvious pull to the province, not the opportunity for a life of opulence in an idyllic destination.
This area of the KSA shares borders with Kuwait to the north, Qatar and Bahrain to the east and the UAE and Oman to the south. Though its roots reach back 5000 years, the primary urban centres now inhabited by expats weren’t truly developed until the middle of the 20th century, when the discovery of oil in Damman inspired Chevron (formerly SOCAL) to set up camp and dig deep into the earth for the black gold beneath.
Since that time, ARAMCO (the Saudi Arabian Oil Company) and a handful of others have established operations in the region, and the result is a collection of tight-knit expat communities that host individuals from all over the world.
Moving to Al-Khobar, Damman or Dhahran
Al-Khobar, conveniently located between Damman and Dhahran, is one of the three main cities in the Eastern Province, and is the area’s centre of export-import activity. Formerly a tiny fishing port, the discovery of oil transformed the village nearly overnight into the commercial hub of the region.
Expats moving to Al-Khobar will find themselves living in what’s thought to be the most attractive of the EP centres, and will likely be provided accommodation in any one of the nearby surrounding expat housing compounds (some with a mere six units and some with hundreds of units). Keep in mind that it’s best to live as close as possible to your place of work, due to the traffic and driving behaviour of the locals.
The city is home to many of the nation’s major banks, substantial public and private hospitals, fine hotels and an array of shopping options where foreigners can find an extensive offering of goods and products, including British and American foods, as well as Venezuelan and Korean foods. Western pharmaceuticals may be the only product you have difficulty acquiring.
Furthermore, with its gardens, picnic spots and lengths of beach, Al-Khobar has become a vacation centre. Among its attractions are Half Moon Bay, Sunset Beach, and Al-Azizia beach, which is a five-minute drive from the city centre.
Not to mention, Al-Khobar, due to the Western influence, is the most liberal of all the cities in the Eastern Province. Western expat women do not need to cover their heads here, though in Damman, the seat of government in the EP, they should consider doing so.
Al-Khobar and Damman have both expanded so extensively into each other over the course of the last fifteen years that it's difficult to tell where one city begins and the other ends.
Lastly, several social groups have formed in the area: The American Business Association, PAWS, Petroleum Club, and then professional organisations, such as the Earth Science groups, Geologists and Geophysics, Rotary Club, etc.
And once expats arrive, they will even find many more, their presence largely unknown and left anonymous so as to avoid conflict with the law.
Moving to Jubail
The northern-most expat-friendly Eastern Province is Jubail, which is located on the Persian Gulf. The expat community in this tiny beach town is small, and is thus incredibly close.
Housing in Jubail for Western expats is hard to come by because of the security requirements, and it’s advisable if you are relocating to the Jubail area that you use a relocation consultant to assist you.
There is one mall in Jubail, which mainly features traditional Arabic souvenirs, so most expats living in Jubail travel to Damman or Al-Khobar to do their shopping.
Moving to Al Hasa
The farthest expat-inhabited city in the Eastern Province is Al Hasa, which is just under 100 miles (150km) south of Al-Khobar.
Al Hasa is the oldest oasis in the Kingdom, and with its history comes a staunch conservatism. It is very important for expat women to dress accordingly, and to respect the local laws of the KSA.
One of the most alluring aspects of the city is the Thursday morning camel market, where you can see camels up close. Additionally, expats can visit a dairy farm and the old souq area; where you can buy fresh spices from the local merchants, as well as frankincense and myrrh.