Most ex-pats live in housing on hospital grounds or in a private housing compound. Compounds are like a gated communities where you’re free to come and go as you please.
Living on large company-sponsored compounds can make life much easier and far more enjoyable than residing in the town in an apartment or villa. For one thing, it’s generally easier to meet people when you are living in a compound. Large compounds have everything on-site such as restaurants, bowling alleys, dry cleaners, grocery stores, golf courses, salons, soccer fields and gyms.
If living outside a compound prepare to be flexible as you will need to adapt to living in a more restrictive society than Westerners are used to. Whilst the Saudi nation aspires to be a modern state in many respects, it still has one of the most traditional societies worldwide, governed by firm religious beliefs, rules and traditions. Behaviour that is not in accordance with the teachings of the Quran will not be tolerated and ex-pats are expected to comply with the written and unwritten rules of local life, e.g. consuming alcohol in public, importing or consuming drugs or pork meat, dressing indecently (by local standards), or openly practising a religion other than Islam are all strictly forbidden.
While female ex-pats are not constrained by the same restrictions as local Saudi women, they are still required to adhere to the laws and customs of the country, e.g. driving is strictly forbidden for women (except on a Western compound). Women can only be driven by a man who is her husband or a blood relative.
If you are planning on driving in Saudi Arabia, be sure that you are well prepared – it can be quite a shocking experience. Ensure you follow the rules of the road, even if the locals don’t.
There is relatively little crime in Saudi Arabia and the security level is high. Generally, Western people say they feel safe.
The social life in Saudi Arabia is what you make of it. Recreational activities include sports competitions, desert and beach parties, concerts at embassies and expatriate-operated amateur theatre and musical ensembles. Remember though with little or no rainfall all year round, the Arabian Peninsula experiences soaring temperatures in the summertime, so be careful when partaking in sports events, etc. in the extreme heat.
When working in Saudi Arabia ensure you carry your passport/visa, or your residency card (Iqama), with you at all times.
There are a number of international schools catering to the international community. Due to the high demand, space is often limited and parents should consider applying as early as possible to get a place for their child in their school of choice.
In Saudi Arabia, everything stops and closes for prayer, which happens 5 times a day from dawn and takes 20-30 minutes each time. When the mosques call for prayer, every business will close. Smaller shops will ask you to leave whilst larger supermarkets will allow you to browse.
Ensure you dress respectfully when working in Saudi Arabia. Inside a compound, you can dress as you like, however, when out in public men should not wear vests or shorts and women must wear an Abaya (long light material black dress/cloak covering the entire body). Expat women do not have to cover their faces or hair, however, it is good practice to bring a headscarf at all times and if requested to cover your hairdo so. Western-only private beaches and pools are available where bathing suits can be worn.
The law in relation to the opposite sex is that unless you are married, or a direct blood relative, you are not allowed to mix in private or public with someone of the opposite sex. However, Westerners are very rarely stopped or questioned but it does happen so beware. Affection between men and women is not tolerated in public except hand-holding.
Finally, if someone tells you to stop doing something stop straight away, and do not argue the right or wrong of it! And do not swear or make obscene gestures and never blaspheme in any way mentioning God or the prophet.