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Housing and Lifestyle

Saudi Arabia – Housing and Lifestyle

What is it like to live in Saudi Arabia? A brief summary of your housing options and the lifestyle to expect



Most Expat families who move to Saudi live in compounds run by the institution they are working for and the accommodation will be provided as part of your package. 

A compound, in essence, is based on a small American town with small convenience stores selling western style food, a gym, a unisex swimming pool and usually some organised activities. Women can also wear western style dress within the compound. It’s easy to meet like-minded people here and there are not as many restrictions compared to living “off compound”. You would be provided with an air conditioned villa or apartment to live in and often provided with help in the form of a maid or cleaner.

If you want to live in a normal residential area the first things you need to consider is that you must have your Iqama to hand to be able to do this. Normally, it would be just single men who would live off compound, but it is becoming more common for single females as well as families to live off compound too.

It’s more prevalent to rent accommodation in normal residential areas, buying a house in Saudi is possible but is very rare for expats. You can expect to pay £7,000 a year in rent for a bachelor pad and up to £50,000 a year for a villa. Demand for rented accommodation always outstrips supply so if you do want to rent an apartment off compound it is advisable to seek out a relocation expert who can help you find a suitable place to live.  It is worth noting that this can be a veritable minefield and you will need an expert to help you out: If you’re interested in living off compound, then CONTACT US to be put in touch with some expert advice.


There are certain things you need to remember when thinking of a move to Saudi. The lifestyle is very different to that of a western culture and certain things need to be considered before you move:

  • Women’s dress is more restricted in comparison to western standards. Women have to cover “their female form” at all times by wearing a long ankle length cloak called an “Abaya” and often a head scarf in the most religious cities such as Medina or Mecca. You can however wear whatever shoes you like and most of the wealthiest women in Saudi carry rather expensive handbags too!  If you disobey any of the rules, then the Mutawa will be hot on your heels.  This religious police force is looking out for any violations in the social code of conduct. If you disobey the rules the consequences can be severe and would at least involve imprisonment. Stiffer penalties may apply.
  • Males can travel freely and without restriction around the country. However, women cannot drive and must be accompanied by a male relative if they wish to travel anywhere. There are sometimes compound buses which travel off compound to supermarkets and shopping centres which women can travel on by themselves. Chaperoning is a cultural expectation so activities such as eating in restaurants alone would be difficult. Most public places will have separate eating areas for families and single males.
  • Life is ruled by prayer times and religious events. Muslims pray 5 times a day and pretty much everything stops at these times. In terms of religious events, Christmas is not celebrated and you will be expected to work across these holidays and take your annual leave to fit in with Ramadan and Hajj. Ramadan is a religious festival where Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset for approximately 1 month of the year and all shops besides the essential doctor’s surgeries are closed.
  • The Muslim calendar is determined by the moon so dates for Ramadan and Hajj vary every year. 
  • The working week runs from Sunday to Thursday, where offices and business are often shut on a Thursday with Friday being the holy day in the week where everything stops.


If you’re living on a compound, there are often events & activities organised such as cinema nights and general social gatherings. If you are living off compound, then there are lots of cinemas and restaurants to go to but with Alcohol being banned there are no clubs or bars to speak of.

Shopping at any one of the country’s large shopping malls is a regular sociable pastime many Saudi citizens enjoy, especially on a Thursday night (the Saudi Friday night) when people frequent the many shopping malls and American style coffee shops in the big cities to socialise and catch up.


There is only one thing to consider – it’s really hot all year round and it’s not uncommon for the thermometer to reach over 40 degree’s in the summer months! You will probably find yourself migrating between air conditioned buildings by car to another air conditioned building for most of the summer. It usually averages a more respectable 30 degrees during the winter, but this is still hot by many western standards. 

Living in Saudi can be a refreshing and new experience for many people and can offer a great opportunity to experience another way of life. Alternatively, if you’re of Islamic origin, the opportunity to live in Saudi Arabia can get you much closer to your heritage and give you and your children the chance to experience the Islamic way of life.




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