Moving to Riyadh?
Expat Accommodation in Riyadh
Money, Social Life and the Gilded Cages
Moving to Riyadh is often a cheaper option for expatriates than other destinations. According to the Mercer Cost of Living survey 2016, the Saudi capital ranked on place 234 out of 372 global cities. It is more expensive than Kuwait City, or Manama, but still less costly than the neighboring UAE.
The biggest expenses among expats in Riyadh are the annual rent for compound housing, healthcare (if they aren’t fully covered by their company), and tuition fees for their children. However, domestic help is very affordable, petrol is famously cheaper than mineral water, and cars are less pricey than elsewhere. Also, you can’t spend all that much on leisure and nightlife, considering that Riyadh has virtually none.
When it comes to quality of life, expat living in Riyadh can occasionally feel somewhat claustrophobic. Compounds for expatriates have been politely described as ‘gilded cages’. Those unable to cope with life in Riyadh have even called them ‘glorified prison camps’. Nonetheless, it is entirely possible to enjoy living in Riyadh, and you will never suffer any material hardships whatsoever.
Looking for Accommodation in Riyadh
Contemporary Riyadh is a sprawling metropolis without clearly defined boundaries. It consists of 16 smaller municipalities, one of which is the Diplomatic Quarter. There, you can find most foreign embassies, as well as housing for diplomatic staff. The other 15 municipalities are subdivided into over 130 smaller districts.
If you’d like to settle outside the Diplomatic Quarter or an expat compound, as some expatriates do, Al Olayya & Sulaymaniyyah (the municipality with Riyadh’s business district) or the prestigious districts Al Mohamdiyah and Al Nakheel within Al Ma’athar may offer suitable housing.
Local accommodation is mostly advertised in the Arabic press or not at all. You can have a friend translate the classifieds for you, or just wander around an area that you like. Ask the superintendent of a building complex for the landlord’s phone number and enquire after vacancies. You should specify if you want a “bachelor’s apartment” or a “family apartment”.
Living outside a compound is recommended mainly for male expatriates without wife and kids. Their family will have fewer opportunities to socialize, and they also have to do without a shuttle bus service. Since women aren’t allowed to drive or ride a bike, this is obviously a hassle for them. Solo expat women may feel safer within a compound or at an accommodation provided by their employer in Riyadh.
Compounds have the advantage that you’ll meet lots of other expats there. They are gated communities, often located outside of metropolitan Riyadh. They offer numerous amenities, such as shops, pools, gyms, or shuttle services, and the mutawwa (religious police) cannot enter. Therefore the strict dress codes and rules concerning gender segregation do not apply.
However, as mentioned above, they can get claustrophobic after a while. Moreover, compound villas are particularly expensive – a two bedroom villa can cost up to 135,000 SAR a year. Since rent is normally paid up to one year in advance, this will tear a big hole into your budget and may require a loan. Despite the high costs, waiting lists for compound housing are often months and months long.
No matter where you decide to live, keep the following things in mind:
Make sure that you get an English rental agreement and/or an official translation from the Arabic before you sign anything.
Check if your new place already has utility connections for water and electricity. (Gas is only bought in bottles.)
If you want to save some time and money, go for housing that has at least some basic furnishing. In compounds, fully furnished housing may be available.
Ask about voltage and frequency, and stock up on adapters and plug-in sockets since the wiring is often a bit improvised.
Here’s a list of selected compounds in Riyadh:
Al Mustaqbal Homes
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