Arriving In...Riyadh

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Fraser Clarke

Making a career move overseas can be a daunting prospect, however we’re hopeful that we can be of help. In our latest Odyssey Exclusive series, ‘Arriving in…’ we’re going to take a look at your journey to a new life abroad.

We’ll aim to cover all the basics to make sure that you’re as prepared as you can be for the move, and get the most out of life in your new homeland.

In the fourth in our exclusive series we’re going to look at Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia and a city where adaption can take time..

Getting there: There are two daily non-stop flights from London Heathrow to Riyadh, and a collection of in-direct flights from other, smaller airports.

Saudia Airlines and British Airways operate the direct routes, which take around six and-a-half hours and are priced upwards of £550. Turkish Airlines, AirFrance, Gulf Air and Lufthansa (amongst others) all offer flights with stopovers, which can be cheaper.

King Khalid International Airport itself is located just a short half hour drive from the centre of the city, making it easy to get to most of the popular expat compounds and residential areas.

Accommodation: Most expat medics moving to Riyadh will live in the compounds to the north and east of the city. As Riyadh is one of the country’s most conservative locations, these areas can provide a more relaxed way of life, with plenty of amenities and facilities on offer within a well-kept entertainment.

If you decide not to take up compound living, then there is plenty of accommodation in the city itself. Standards can vary greatly however, so we’d urge you to never rent an apartment or house without viewing it first.

Property prices can be a major attraction. On average they are 55% lower than they are in Dubai, and over 70% less than the equivalent in London!

Keeping in contact: Despite being one of the world’s most secretive countries, communicating from Saudi Arabia can be quite easy. Internet speeds are reasonable, and are improving, whilst a ban on VOIP calling was abolished in September - allowing Whatsapp to be used for calls.

STC is the most popular mobile network in the Kingdom, and it offers a strong signal throughout Riyadh at a competitive rate. Mobily and Zain are the other firms popular with expats.

Basic rules: Saudi Arabia remains a strictly Islamic country, and Riyadh is absolutely no exception to this rule. Gradually Saudi is starting to become more liberal, however these are five things you can’t move to the Kingdom without knowing about:

  • Life in Riyadh stops five times a day for prayer. We’d recommend downloading an app with prayer times to help you plan shopping trips.
  • Until a new law is passed in June, women cannot drive vehicles.
  • Possessing alcohol can result in a heavy fine, or even custodial sentence.
  • Always use your right-hand in a handshake, as your left is considered unclean.
  • It’s illegal to hold two passports in Saudi Arabia, and you risk having one confiscated if caught with a second.

Getting around: Saudi Arabia is a huge country, with flights the best way to explore longer distances. Its location in the heart of the Gulf makes it perfect for visiting neighbouring locations like Bahrain, the UAE and Oman, whilst Mecca is a must-visit for Muslims making the move.

Exploring Riyadh itself is best done by taxi. Plenty are cheaply available, and the roads can be intimidating for even the most experienced Western drivers!

Things to see: Despite being viewed by many as purely somewhere to enhance your earnings, Riyadh is home to some fascinating museums which detail the Kingdom’s rich history.

  • The National Museum of Saudi Arabia, offers a unique insight into the region’s past, and hints at what the future may hold.
  • Masmak Fort, a stunning clay and mud-brick fort located in the oldest part of the city.
  • Salaam Park, an oasis in the city, providing a rare green space in the otherwise dusty desert.
  • Royal Saudi Air Force Museum, featuring civil and military aircraft from the Kingdom’s past.
  • Burj Rafal Hotel, the tallest residential building in Riyadh offers sensational views and high quality accommodation for a special night away.

The working environment: Working in Saudi Arabia can be daunting, so we’ve compiled a quick list of what to expect:

  • Be prepared to work independently. As an experienced, Western trained medic you’ll be expected to work with less assistance than elsewhere.
  • A hierarchical structure remains, where the final decisions are made by those in positions of power.
  • Sunday to Thursday is the working week, with a Friday/Saturday weekend.
  • Be prepared for lengthy waits for administrative tasks.
  • Employers can, and occasionally do, end contracts with little notice. This means that a move isn’t ideal for someone looking for long-term security.

Don’t forget:

  • Organise your finances before making the move, have you converted enough money, do you have an overseas bank account, should you be paying any tax at home?
  • Will your credit/debit cards work abroad?
  • Is your airport pickup sorted, and do you know where you’re staying when you arrive?
  • Do you have a phone that will work in your new location?
  • When is your official start date?