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Interview with Andrew – a Welsh expat living in Saudi Arabia

Updated 4 Sep 2012

Andrew is a Welsh expat living and working as an English teacher in Jubail, in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Although Andrew finds Jubail to be a diverse and friendly city, he found adjusting to life in Saudi Arabia to be quite hard, especially as he does not live in a compound. Here he shares some of his expat insights into life on the east coast of Saudi Arabia.

Read more about expat life in the Kingdom in the Expat Arrivals guide to Saudi Arabia, or read more expat experiences in Saudi Arabia.

About Andrew

Q: Where are you originally from? 
A: South Wales, UK.

Q: Where are you living now?
A: Jubail, which is on the east coast of Saudi Arabia. 

Q: How long have you lived in Saudi Arabia?
A: For fifteen months.

Q: Did you move with a spouse/children? 
A: No.

Q: Why did you move; what do you do? 
A: I work as an English teacher. I initially worked in Libya but had to be evacuated due to the conflict there. I then obtained a position in Saudi Arabia.

About Jubail

Q: What do you enjoy most about Jubail, how’s the quality of life? 
A: It’s a very diverse town and is generally very friendly. Because of this diversity, there are many different types of cuisine to choose from. It’s mainly an immigrant town, as most people here work in the nearby oil refineries.

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home? 
A: It’s overcrowded and polluted. It also lacks amenities such as leisure centres etc. I do miss certain TV programmes from back home and the lack of social opportunities.

Q: Is Jubail safe? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: Jubail seems very safe to me. In all the time I have lived here, I have only experienced two very minor incidents. In terms of crime, Saudi Arabia feels like a safe place to live generally. 

Q: How would you rate public transport? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car? 
A: Yes, you do.  The public transport system here is very limited. You can get buses between the major towns, but getting around the spread-out towns here requires taxis, which can be fairly expensive. It’s frustrating not to have a car here.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Jubail?
A: There are good hospitals in the Eastern region, especially in Khobar. However, I think any major surgery would need to be performed in another Gulf country.

About living in Jubail

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Jubail as an expat?
A: Jubail itself is divided into two cities. Jubail Industrial (also known as Royal Commission) is a very clean city which has a lovely corniche. The standard of housing is high there. The “old” Jubail where I live is a complete contrast, as it’s very crowded and scruffy in places. Most expats would prefer to live in the former, I think.

Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Jubail?
A: This is the major issue in Jubail as there is a lack of compounds for the expat community. Also, it’s difficult to get a clean and secure apartment here. Accommodation costs here are among the highest in the Kingdom, and many Saudis prefer an hour's commute every day from Dammam. You need a housing allowance of at least 4,000 riyals a month to get a fairly large and comfortable apartment here.

Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Cheap compared to the UK. Food, in particular, is cheap and petrol is a bargain. Public transport is cheap too. Clothing less so. The only thing that seems to be expensive is a gym membership. You pay more here than in the UK, and you don’t get the same standard gym facilities. 

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: It’s very difficult to mix with Saudis in general. Most Saudis are friendly and kind, but they do keep themselves to themselves. As a result, you only mix with other expats really.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: No, it was difficult at first, as I don’t live on a compound. In Saudi Arabia, you can feel excluded socially if you don’t live on one. A colleague of mine eventually put me in touch with a local expat running club, and it was much easier from there.

About working in Jubail

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit for Saudi Arabia?
A: No, as it was done via an agency in the UK.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in Jubail, is there plenty of work?
A: The economic climate is good, as many Saudis move to this part of the Kingdom for work themselves. There seems to be plenty of work for skilled expats like engineers etc.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: It’s a lot more laid back, which can be good but very frustrating at the same time. Simple procedures here can take a long time to accomplish, and the bureaucracy can be challenging too. You need to be very patient at times, as nothing happens quickly here.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Saudi Arabia is a challenging country to adjust to at first, as the culture here is completely different to back home. It will take time to adjust to the work culture so give it plenty of time. The heat can be very challenging, and the general climate also takes getting used to. The best piece of advice I can give is to get involved socially as much as you can and try to see as much of the country as possible. Don’t get stuck in a compound as there is beautiful desert scenery to see here and vibrant, if crowded, cities. Filling in your spare time is difficult as there is a lack of things to do here, so you need to consider this before leaving your home country.  

~ Interviewed September 2012

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