Keeping in Touch in Saudi Arabia

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The Kingdom can feel isolated and restrictive much of the time, so staying in contact with family and friends is an important part of expat life in Saudi Arabia 
The Internet was only made public in 1999, is still heavily censored and packages are relatively expensive. However, speeds are increasing and costs decreasing as more Saudis get connected.

The Kingdom's telecommunications market is competitive and diversified, so expats have many options to choose from when it comes to keeping in touch in Saudi Arabia.

Internet in Saudi Arabia

Expats have access to fixed-line and wireless broadband, and mobile Internet. WiFi is widely available in cities and mobile broadband is increasingly common, but fixed line connections are often the cheapest and most reliable option. 

The largest service providers are Saudi Telecommunication Company (STC), Awalnet and Etisalat. Expats generally only need their Iqama to open an account.

VOIP and instant messaging applications like Skype are easily accessed too.

Mobile phones in Saudi Arabia

Mobile services in Saudi Arabia are extensive, even in remote areas of the country. The Saudi government even uses mobile networks to send notifications like weather warnings, major disruptions and traffic offences.

Pre- and post-paid packages can be bought from providers like STC, Mobily and Zain. Many expats opt for pre-paid SIM cards, which can be bought at provider outlets or the airport. Credit can either be purchased in card form or electronically in shops. Post-paid accounts can also be set up at provider outlets.
Expats can often use international roaming with their home country phone, but costs are high.

Censorship in Saudi Arabia

Despite the ease of accessing communication in Saudi Arabia, content is heavily restricted. Anyone accessing or publishing information can't be seen to criticise or contradict the values of Islam and the state.
Numerous pages relating to health, religion, education, reference, humour and even entertainment have been banned. But the most aggressive censorship is reserved for content relating to pornography, drug use, gambling, religious conversion of Muslims, and filtering circumvention tools.
Expats wishing to avoid Saudi censorship have been known to use Internet service providers (ISP) from another country or virtual private networks (VPN).

English-language media in Saudi Arabia

Keeping abreast of news back home is also a good way to stay connected. Most English-language media is based on local and international hard news. Electronic and print publications like Arab News also offer information and advice aimed at the expat community.