Living in Saudi Arabia: American expat Carol's life in a Middle Eastern Kingdom

Carol is a former American diplomat who after 20 years of service resigned to marry her Saudi husband. She now resides in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with her husband and their 3 cats. She is a strong advocate for the education and empowerment of women and readily volunteers her skills to this cause. Her book “Patriots For Hire” which is a collection of untold stories on the roles, experiences and motivations of defense contractors in Iraq has been picked up by Praeger Security International Publishing. It is expected to be released by early Spring 2008.
 
american saudi flag
Carol Fleming

-Where were you born?
USA

-In which country and city are you living now?
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

-Are you living alone or with your family?
With my husband and our 3 cats

-How long have you been living in Saudi Arabia?
Just over one year

-What is your age?
48

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Saudi Arabia?
I came to Saudi Arabia due to marriage to a Saudi national. 

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit? 
Yes.  Saudi Arabia in general has strict visa requirements whether due to working, visiting or marriage.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?  
No.

-How do you make your living in Saudi Arabia? Do you have any type of income generated?
Presently I am working as a freelance consultant which gives me not only flexibility but variety.  While at first glance it may seem difficult for women to work in Saudi Arabia, there are actually many opportunities.  The key is to be flexible, creative, patient and not afraid to make your own opportunities or take chances. 

-Do you speak Arabic and do you think it's important to speak the local language?   
Because I am married to a Saudi and few of the women in my husband’s family speak English, it is imperative for me to learn Arabic.  In general, it is always beneficial to know the language of the host country in which one is living.  And yes, it is important to become familiar and respect as well as observe local customs.  One may not be a diplomat but then again, in a sense, any expat is also a diplomat for they are in the eyes of host country nationals, representatives of their country.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Of course I miss my family back in the States and fortunately modern technology such as internet, skype, vonage make it so much easier to maintain contact with those dear to us.  And let’s face, one can be miserable in paradise if they allow themselves.  The key to success in any location is mindset.  Find like minded friends; create that support network; keep busy and engaged.  At first blush Saudi Arabia may seem very restrictive but with a little digging, one can find many activities from golf to horseback riding to history to various exhibits and lectures.  It really depends on ones interests.

-Do you have other plans for the future?
My husband is a career diplomat so while we are presently in Saudi while he completes a “home posting” there is always a possibility of moving on to yet another country.  As a former (American) diplomat myself I have no objections to future travel.  Both my husband and myself enjoy exposure to new countries, cultures and customs.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
We continue to maintain a house in the States but presently are living in a compound in Riyadh.

-What is the cost of living in Saudi Arabia? 
The cost of living is overall relative to ones expectations and standards.  I will say that the quality of life in Saudi Arabia is above that of living in Europe or North America as the working hours are shorter and more relaxed; household help is available and overall affordable.

-What do you think about the Saudis?
Saudis are very hospitable and generous.  They are also private individuals.  As a result there may not be as much mixing after-hours between cultures/nationalities unless like me, one happens to marry a local (Saudi). 

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Saudi Arabia? 
On the negative side (for some) Saudi Arabia is very conservative in that women cannot drive; women must wear an abaya (long black robe) over their clothes; in some circumstances it is prudent for a woman to cover her hair as well.  There are no public movie theatres; segregation on the local environment remains in effect in most places.  One will not find any public clubs or dances in the Kingdom.  For some individuals depending on their lifestyle and interests those aspects could be negative. 

On the positive side one can live well and much easier and for less than in many other places; people will bond quickly and become friends; there is much to explore and discover about Arabia; this is an excellent environment for a family.  The Saudis love and cherish children of all ages.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Saudi Arabia? 
Do as much advance research and preparation as possible.  No matter how prepared you believe you are there will still be culture shock and even delayed culture shock.  Maintain a positive attitude and outlook. 

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Saudi Arabia?
Of course I want to start with my own blog: http://delhi4cats.wordpress.com

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/expatsinsaudiarabia: Five stars – probably best newsgroup all around with high volumn of activity, ground truths, insights and pertinent info about the Kingdom

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Saudi_Wives: While initially oriented for women married to Saudis it has a number of expat women who are married and living in the Kingdom.  Excellent group for networking and learning about real life in the Kingdom

http://xrdarabia.org/blog/index.php: Excellent blog about Saudi Arabia written by a retired U.S. foreign service officer who served two diplomatic postings in Riyadh.  Great site for insights, information and group truths.

http://saudijeans.blogspot.com: Blog written by a male Saudi student which provides unique perspectives and insights about the Kingdom.

Thanks for your post--you are a true inspiration

jacey1022's picture

I have lived in many places in my life, parts of Europe, Algeria and small stint in Kuwait, but not the Kingdom. No matter how much I study the Middle East, I think it would be difficult to live there--but you have inspired me to get me to "tie up my boots straps" and go back to Middle East. ( But this time maybe Lebanon or Dubai will hopefully be my next adventure.
Thanks again

Thanks to Jacey

American_Bedu's picture

Jacey,

Thank you for your comment. I think that the more places one has lived abroad then the easier it is to try other places that one maybe would not have considered initially. I'll be frank; the Kingdom may not be for everyone hence the emphasis on first doing as much research as possible. But after doing so, if still interested and intrigued, I say "go for it." Opportunities are there professionally, culturally, historically. And in regards to your comment on perhaps trying to go to Lebanon or Dubai next, you will certainly experience a taste of the Middle East culture or tradition. Personally I have found Dubai to provide an "artificial taste" to a degree. It is now such an intercultural city and has seamlessly blended all these cultures from around the world. It is where my Saudi husband and I were able to stroll hand-in-hand along the street with both of us in our shorts -- something that will not be happening soon in Saudi! English, Russian and Urdu are as widely and commonly spoken as Arabic in Dubai. Best wishes to you and for all of your future travels.

Saudi Arabia is Unique

miriam mac's picture

Your views are very interesting to read, Carol. Having lived in Saudi for so long myself, I can only tell
you that you are living in a dream world now---compared to what was here 25 to 30 years ago.
And people that came before that, told me how lucky I was to have air conditioning and running water! lol
So, I guess it's all in the 'eye of the beholder' right? : )
Welcome, sister. I wish you all the best.

Saudi Arabia -- Eye of the Beholder

American_Bedu's picture

Thanks, Miriam!

Have you thought about writing a post which does a comparison of Saudi Arabia from when you first came to what it is like now? I know I would find that to be a fascinating read!

Thanks for the warm welcome.

Best Regards,
Carol

A truly Great Place to Live

fazli's picture

Hi there,

Nice to know you've enjoyed your stay here. My family and I have been living and working in KSAA since 1979,m having first spent 6 years in the Eastern Province and then moving to Riyadh in 1985.

Life has been fascinating here. We are originally from Sri Lanka.

We have two girls who attended Dhahran Academy and later the American School and Bitish School in Riyadh. They are both grown and married now and work in Riyadh as teachers. Our two grandkids, Maria 14, and Abdullah 12 also live and school here.

This is sure a fantastic place to live. We have enjoyed every moment of it to date.

fazli

Vegetarian & Pierced

jimpowney's picture

Hi
I am a converted Muslim - I married a Moroccan woman about 4 years ago after working in Morocco for 3 years.
Morocco is an extremely relaxed Islamic state and I was there when MOhammedVI took power and put right many of the failings of his father and turned more to the West to cement relations.
I have just been offered a potential 3 year contract working in Telecoms and am trying to determine my chances of completing this term.
Briefly, I have no issues following the Islamic way of life in terms of Alcohol, Drugs etc
I have personal feelings about certain aspects of Freedom that I know I must renounce to benefit from the monetary rewards offered.
My main concerns are my appearance - I have multiple - although not extreme - piercings in both ears and 2 rings in my nose - Are these problematic in general life?
I am also Vegetarian - Can I eat well - primarily Tofu/Bean Curd is the issue as I know I can get Couscous, Tagines etc that do not contain meat?
I also have pernicious Anaemia which requires a B12 jab 3 monthly - is this legal in Saudi?

I would appreciate any info on teh above subjects if you have any knowledge?
Kind REgards

JIm
jimpowney@hotmail.com

Re: A Truly Great Place to Live

American_Bedu's picture

@Fazli,

My apologies for the delay in responding to your lovely comment. I imagine that you must have so many experiences and memories of time spent in KSA, particularly since arriving in 1979 -- so much has happened and changed in the Kingdom!

I'm very pleased to hear that you have enjoyed all of your time there. I also invite you to visit my blog and share your perspectives and comments: http://americanbedu.com

Best Regards,
Carol

Re: Vegetarian & Pierced

American_Bedu's picture

Hi Jim and thank you for your comments and questions! I will make every attempt to answer them as I can...

In regards to piercings, they 'could' be problematic if going to Makkah and performing umrah or hajj. I would suggest removing them before going to those two holy places. But in general, it is not unusual in the larger cities to see expat men with pirecings.

You should have no difficulties eating to your vegetarian preferences in the bigger cities of Saudi where many Vegetarian (Indian) as well as Morrocan restaurants prevail.

I am sorry but I do not know about pernicious Anaemia so I'm unable to address that question. However if you wish to pose that question on my blog (http://americanbedu.com) there are several physicians who regularly comment on my blog and my be able to respond.

Regards,
Carol

Expat story

nasir jawed's picture

Hi Carol,

I need to talk to you as I do stories on expats for Saudi Gazette. Pl contact me on my email: mnjawed@gmail.com or mobile (0542012681). Thanks.

Living in Riyadh with children

Brandi's picture

Hi Carol,

My husband may have an opportunity to teach in Riyadh. We don't have much information yet as far as his employment but we doing our research to get a good idea of what to expect. Our main concern is our 10 year old son. Are there schools for english speaking children?

We've traveled a bit but have never lived abroad. Overall, how do children fair in compound living?

Working in Saudi

theswissadventurer's picture

Hi Carol
Im an Englishman living and teaching in the UK. I have been offered a positon teaching in Riyadh Saudi.I have already taught Saudi students here in the Uk and made a good friend.I have asked him a few questions and all the students have urged me to go and work there.

With the job offer we either can accept their accomodation or an allowance.Should I stay in a compound, if so which? and what is the cost and facilities of a room in the city. One thing on my mind is relative security.

I have lived and worked in Barcelona Spain and near Zurich Switzerland so hopefully it wont be a culture shock.

Ray
UK

Yes, Saudi Arabia is Fascinating

American_Bedu's picture

Hi Fazli,

I do agree with you that life in Saudi is indeed fascinating and no day is ever the same. That is wonderful that your two grandchildren now live there. Do you feel that your own experiences as an expat in KSA helped influence their own decisions?

Best Regards,

Carol Fleming (Al-Ajroush)

Expat Story

American_Bedu's picture

Hi Nasir,

I apologize for the delay. I had had troubles getting back into my account here but now that is all resolved. Please email me directly at admin@americanbedu.com. I am an avid follower of Saudi Gazette and always happy to assist.

Carol Fleming (Al-Ajroush)

Living in Riyadh with Children

American_Bedu's picture

Hi Brandi,

I think 10 years old is a very good age for a child to have an overseas experience. There are schools for English speaking children and they are the private international schools. If your husband is on a family contract be sure and negotiate your son's tuition into the package. Children from the West usually do much better in a compound environment as they can play freely and it is much easier to make friends with the other children in the compound. A villa in a residential area or an apartment usually does not offer the same exposure and opportunities. I've written on this subject on my blog and invite you to come and look at the various posts: http://americanbedu.com

Carol Fleming (Al-Ajroush)

Ray - Working in Saudi

American_Bedu's picture

Hi Ray,

First of all Congratulations on your opportunity! From which facility have you received an opportunity?

My advice is to indeed stay on a compound. Will your employer arrange accomodation? Many of the universities will do all the organization as it can be a logistical challenge if one has to deal with finding a place and negotiating contracts. It is not any fun for an expat to find accommodation and have to deal with a landlord, especially if problems occur.

In regards to security, one should always have a situational awareness no matter where located and use common sense. All compounds have security.

Look forward to hearing more and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have additional questions: admin@americanbedu.com

Carol Fleming (Al-Ajroush)

Saudi ZArabia

fazli's picture

Hi Ray,

You need to weigh your needs agaimnst the offer that you have.

First, accomodation for western expats may be more conducive within western style compounds where most western style facilities are available and also utilities are all taken care of by the compound management.

Acceptinmg the housing allowance amy give you the option of saving some cash after paying for your rent/lease/equipment. However, it involves the hassle of lookiung for a suitablke place, dealing with a real estate agent, furnsihing and equipping the place with all the necessary amenities and also managing your maintenance, either through the estate agent, landlord or even by yourself. If ytou feel the saving capacity available from this option is miniscule then iuts always better to go for the compoiund option.

A single expat room and bath in a decent locastion may cost around SR 30-40K per annum. You can get places for much less in more crowded aisna style neighborhoods but they may not be comfortable for you coming from the west.

As long as you have an open mind you dont have to be worried about culture shock ort any other similar emotional issues.

Please subscrive to http:?//www.expat-blog.com where there is a great forum for discussion of many aspects of life in KSA and also where you can emet and make many friends in the Kingdom.

Regards - Fazli
fazli

You might think that living

mobdev's picture

You might think that living in Saudi Arabia would cramp an American's chance of having a social life, and that a move to England would open the door to many social opportunities. Actually, the opposite is true in my experience. In Saudi Arabia, where about one-third of all residents are from other parts of the world, expatriates live on enclosed compounds isolated from the local community. As a result, they reach out to each other and forge social ties with an ease rarely experienced at home.Predictii PariuriBonus Pariuri SportivePronosticuri Sportive

Saudi Social Life

American_Bedu's picture

@Mobdev,

What you say is quite true. I'd also like to add is do not turn down opportunities to interact with Saudis as well which will further broaden and enhance the experience as an expat in Saudi Arabia.

Carol Fleming (Al-Ajroush)

The true view

Saudi local's picture

Hello Carol!
thanks for this article and I would like to give special information for those who want to come here. Saudi arabia is good for two types of people.. first, the ones who need money and work, so the kingdom is helpful for them especially for those who come from africa and asia because in thir countries things are not as expensive as european ones. The second type is for the "muslims" who want to practice their life as they 'wish' so they put themselves in an islamic environment, they would prefer the kingdom over any country all over the world including theirs. Now I want to whisper to my friends who are not from the two types.. my friends! especially europeans, don't think that it will be fantastic experience to live here or work, for there are things you should bear in mind.. HERE are no places for entertainment, I mean clubs, theatres, movies, activities, annual global celebrations and etc.. HERE if you are woman, I advise you not to come because women here have no freedom as any place in the world, the woman is not allowed to drive here, neither to move without wearing particular piece of cloth( abaya- long dress covering the body, and she is not allowed to date a man or go with a man who is not a relative to her :) otherwise she would spend sometime as a guest in the relegious police's office " Al Hai'a" so my dear friend do not even think to come here without a husband or a brother with you, even cousin is not helpful, for cousin here is regarded as a strange man to the woman.. The weather is terrible, dusty, no revires, no jungles, full deserted, the only way to kill time is to hang out in the streets and listen to music as many of us do. To the youngman 'not muslim' my friend! There are no parties, no enjoyment unless you have local company .. Non muslims, especially from europe and america, my friends! it is not safe !!! do you understand me? if you want to be every night affraid of the unknown coming days, come here !! well some may think I am exaggerating but this is for your safety, for there are many dangerous people around. To the uk teacher, what your students told you about is normal thing, for everyone would not make his/her country bad especially when he/she lives outside!! I AM LOCAL ok!! I know everything .. The one who wears stuff in his ears, my friend! most of people here are O.O <--- u know what does that mean? they keep watching others and observe every piece of cloth, for appearances is something holy here, u find ppl with long beards and they go to mosques every single hour BUT that is appearance they may be cheaters, theives, and so on, Well not all saudis like that as I described earlier but 60% of them at least :) .. I am honest with you because I have put myself in your shoes, Dear Carol I notice that you invite the ppl as if you invite them to a normal place :) it is not, this place is special... the srilankan man is happy here bcz he is MUSLIM u see? I told you at the beginning of my article that two types will find no problems.. my friends from US and Europe, do u think it will be nice thing to live isolated in a compound ? I am sorry for what I told you but it's my duty to help you because I am a human being !! traditional, tribal, religious and odd place, one thing to be mentioned is that WE have one of the greatest governments alll over the world, kind and merciful king, but the problem is THE SOCIAL life .. thanks a lot and try to think deeply before you come. Saudi Local from a cloud.

American Scientist Thinking about Moving Family to Riyadh

John Owl's picture

Thank you 'Saudi Local' and thank you Carol,
I have enjoyed reading your blog and reader comments. I have two children age 8 and 12 and am thinking about taking an R&D job with Sabic; the interview process is going very well and the Sabic team & I we see a nice fit. I love my work and pretty much get totally absorbed in what I do - I view the Sabic opportunity as a chance to do world class work with a growing R&D team. I do worry about American resentment and therefore security - like half of America, I view the ongoing Gulf War as a disaster, do Saudi's recognize this division? Also, my wife is chinese and my kids are therefore part asian. They fit in great here in green hills of Pittsburgh but what about "compound life"... will we all be safe/secure/busy; kids get bored easy without friends and without the ability to get out of the house; this my major concern. A lessor concern is their quality of education - currently it is world class and I want them to continue with good schooling in Riyadh. Personally I want to learn about Saudi culture, religion, history and philosophy. My family is not so open to the idea of moving. Note I will be in a position to accept by early July 2010 and will study as much as possible between now and then.

Response to American Scientist

American_Bedu's picture

Dear American Scientist,

Moving to Saudi will be much different from the green rolling hills of Pittsburgh, that's for sure! However that does not mean one cannot have a satisfying and enjoyable experience in Saudi. Sabic is an excellent place which to work. I've been fortunate to know Saudis and non-Saudis working at Sabic. You would certainly have the opportunities to perform world class work with an impressive R&D team.

I have to express my surprise by the words of Saudi Local and stress that his view is "one slice of a pie" and that there are many other slices too depending on what perspective one is coming from. The majority of Saudis take hospitality seriously and want visitors to the Kingdom to feel welcomed and not threatened. I also wish to state that the Saudi government takes security of the Kingdom and its residents very seriously.

I would suggest that if Sabic does not organizing housing for you, look closely at Arizona Golf Resort or Kingdom Compounds. These compounds have great facilities and much activity for families. They are secure compounds and also have their own bus service to many places of interest.

In regards to schooling, there is the American (International School) which provides quality education and has all the typical programs and activities associated with American Schools.

Working as an American in Sabic you will be interacting with many Saudis whom I am confident would welcome opportunities to introduce you and your family to Saudi culture, religion, history and philosophy. And if you have been following my blog, I also make every effort to post about activities and places to see.

You are welcome to email me directly if you'd like if you have questions you'd like to ask directly. I can be reached at admin@americanbedu.com

Best Regards,
Carol

Carol Fleming (Al-Ajroush)

Riyadh

fazli's picture

Most of the western compounds in Riyadh are filled to capacity now and have a wait list of at least 6 months since the recent influx of many highly skilled and professional western expats for lucrative positions with many high profile construction and IT projects within the Kingdom

Arizona, Cordoba, Compounds do give preference to US nationals and they may be worth looking at since they are also a stone throws away from SABIC HO on Exit 8.

fazli

Moving to Saudi Al-Ahsa

EloyAlvarez's picture

Dear Carol,

I read all your postings and you seem to have a strong knowledge on Saudi Arabia. I just signed a contract with Al-Othman Holding Group as their Security Director and my contract is a family contract which covers the housing for family, car and expenses, 50% tuition for kids schooling among other benefits. My Fiance is in Uzbekistan and we are planning our wedding for February. I worked as a contractor for over 6 years in Iraq and resided in Iraq my last year with my Fiance.

The reason why I took the contract is because it is a family contract. I have never been in Saudi Arabia and my only concern is that my wife and our future baby will be safe and have the ability to have a normal life.

I am an American and she is Russian.

Thank you in advance for your time.

Regards,

Eloy

Hi Carol, I see that you

KevinSherman's picture

Hi Carol,

I see that you are a cat person, but I thought you might know about importing dogs to the country. We've moved here recently and are desperate for a pure bred dog, one that we don't seem to be able to get locally. I've been told that this company http://saudi-arabia.europuppy.com/ is reliable and has extensive experience importing dogs to the kingdom, which otherwise can be quite troublesome as I have heard. Your comments would be much appreciated. Thank you!

I received a query on how to

American_Bedu's picture

I received a query on how to acquire a pure bred dog while in Saudi Arabia. My advice is to contact Dr. Majed, located in Riyadh. Yes; many of the local pet stores will have dogs and many are pure breds, available for sale but too many of these dogs have health problems and other problems.

Carol Fleming (Al-Ajroush)

Hello Carol, I had read your

Yuliya's picture

Hello Carol,

I had read your post and i like it so much. You answered on many questions i had. I am originally from Ukraine but I live in the USA since 4 years.I am 19 and I am only one child in my family. My life was ok, I was homesick a long time. I had no friends because of my language problem.Later, I was involve in many relationship and I had date with boys of different coutures and religions. However, 7 months ago I meet my boyfriend. He is Saudi. I love him more then I ever did anybody els. He is my first boyfriend being Muslim. From the first day with him I do researches about his country, styles of life, religion, people, etc. Also, i have a lot of friend from Saudi Arabia.
I need your advice about few things. I feel like i want to stay with this man for rest of my life. But he is just a student here and after graduating he want to go back home.
It is a lot to say ... can we just talk through skype or MSN ???