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Living in Saudi ArabiaAccommodation, Transportation, and Cultural Insights

Discover how Saudi is becoming a digital-first country to live in and learn more about its culture and lifestyle.

More than one-third of Saudi Arabia’s population of 35 million is comprised of expats — foreigners who live and work in the Kingdom thanks to increasing opportunities for investment and business afforded to them under the Kingdom’s ambitious 2030 Vision plan.

Here is a comprehensive guide on living in Saudi Arabia, covering all the basics from accommodation and transportation to cultural and geographical attractions.

Key Facts

  • Estimated population of 35 million with 13 million expats
  • Capital: Riyadh (the largest city, with 7.6 million population)
  • Arabic is the official language, though English is widely used in business and government services
  • Political System: Islamic absolute monarchy
  • Religion: Islam (foreigners can practice other religions in private)
  • Internet Domain: .sa
  • Electricity: 125 or 220V, 50Hz, with various plug types
  • Time Zone: GMT+3
  • Road Traffic: Drives on the right

Renting Accommodation

Foreigners can rent accommodation easily via the Ejar platform, a property rental service that streamlines the leasing process.

Prospective renters can access the Ejar database to find a suitable rental property, including houses, apartments, commercial offices, and other spaces, and complete the transaction via the service’s secure payment channels.

Most expats live in compounds (gated communities) that offer special amenities and services and provide a sense of family, belonging, and community.

Ejar Platform offers

  • An advanced search function (location, size, price) to help renters scour the property database
  • Secure electronic payment channels for full or partial payments
  • Reviews by former tenants and owners on the property/renter behavior
  • Tools for property management, including maintenance and rent tracking
  • Customer support

Requirements for using the Ejar Platform

  • Provide personal details including your name, address, phone number, and email.
  • Your passport ID page or Iqama ID.
  • A valid residency permit (Iqama) as proof of residency
  • Employment information
  • Financial statements and proof of income.
  • Emergency contact details
  • Insurance/guarantee information if required by the landlord.

Transportation in Saudi

The kingdom has a robust transportation system with several international, regional, and domestic airports, connected highways, and train lines. You can travel within and outside of the Kindom via land and air.


International Airports:

  • King Khalid International Airport (RUH) - Riyadh
  • King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED) - Jeddah
  • King Fahd International Airport (DMM) - Dammam
  • Prince Mohammad bin Abdulaziz International Airport (MED) - Medina

Regional Airports:

  • Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Airport (TUU) - Tabuk
  • Prince Abdulmohsin bin Abdulaziz Airport (YNB) - Yanbu
  • King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Airport (GIZ) - Jazan
  • Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz Airport (ELQ) - Qassim
  • (AHB) - Abha
  • (HAS) - Hail
  • (TIF) - Taif
  • (AJF) - Al Jawf
  • (HOF) - Al Ahsa

Domestic Airports:


Buses

The Saudi Public Transport Company (SAPTCO) operates inner-city public transportation within Riyadh, Jeddah, and Madinah, in addition to domestic and international bus services. You can book tickets online via the SAPTCO website.


SAPTCO also offers specialized services for private bus rental, Umrah, and Sacred site services.


Car Rentals

Thanks to the country's developed highways and low fuel prices, rental cars are a prime transportation solution. You can rent cars in most cities, as well as at airports.


Ride-hailing Apps

Uber and Careem are the preferred ride-hailing apps in the Kingdom. You can call a ride via the apps and pay electronically via credit card or with cash.


Taxis

Alternatively, you can take a taxi to your destination. You can hail a taxi in more touristic and busy areas, or you can call and book services prior to your trip if you’re in a more isolated area.


Taxis are equipped with digital meters showing the fare, so don’t worry about fair pricing.


You can call 938 to report problems if you experience any issues with buses, taxis, and rental cars.


Train Lines

Trains lines aren’t widespread around the Kingdom but there are three train lines that connect major cities and routes.


The North Train connects Riyadh to the northern regions with stops in Riyadh, Al Majmaah, Qassim, Hail, and Al Jouf.


The Riyadh - Dammam line operates between Dammam, Abqaiq, Hofuf, and Riyadh, connecting the Kingdom’s capital to the Eastern Region.


The Haramain High-Speed Railway connects the holy cities of Makkah and Medina, with additional stops at Jeddah and King Abdullah Economic City. It’s the fastest train in the Middle East region.

Shipping to Saudi Arabia

You can ship goods to the Kingdom via air and sea. Sea freight is almost always cheaper than air shipping but will take considerably longer.


Keep in mind that most rental properties for expats come already furnished so you don’t have to ship furniture.


You must have the following documents to ship goods to Saudi Arabia:

  • a copy of your passport
  • a copy of your Iqama (work permit)
  • an authorization letter signed and stamped by your employer,
  • a certificate from your sponsor
  • a shipment declaration.


Please beware that you can’t bring or ship banned items into the kingdm including:

  • Narcotics
  • Pork products
  • Alcohol
  • Weapons

Please check the customs regulations before shipping to see the most recent list of banned items as the list is frequently expanded to include different items.

Climate & Seasons

The Kingdom has a varied climate and natural features that range from arid deserts to white beaches and snowy mountains, though the weather is generally hot due to the country's close proximity to the equator. It’s important to stay hydrated, particularly during the spring, summer, and autumn, when temperatures are high.


Spring (Mid-March to Mid-June)

Although spring is the rainy season, in the central and southern regions temperatures rarely drop below 20°C (68°F) even at night. In the north, the temperatures are colder and average around 15°C (59°F).


Rainjackets are a must, and you should consider light sweaters and scarves if you’re visiting the North.


Summer (Mid-June to Mid-September)

Summer is the hottest time of the year, with temperatures averaging around 45°C (113°F) throughout the Kingdom, with the exception of the southwestern highlands where the heat is milder.


While almost all indoor facilities run air conditioners to keep a cool temperature, you will feel the heat as soon as you step outside. Most people prefer to spend the hottest hours of the day inside, and only go out in the early morning or at night.


If you’re going out during the day, it’s a good idea to cover your skin to prevent sunburns and use sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses, and hats to shield yourself from the excess heat.


If you feel confident in your ability to manage the heat, you can enjoy summer sports like diving, sailing, and surfing at the Kingdom’s world-class beaches.


Autumn (Mid-September to Mid-December)

Autumn is most explicitly felt in the southwestern highlands and the north, where temperatures cool down enough to allow daytime strolls.


On the west coast by the Red Sea, the temperatures can exceed 30°C (86°F) but cool breezes allow nighttime outings.


Winter (Mid-December to Mid-March)

In the northern regions the temperatures may drop to 0°C (32°F) in the winter months, especially at night time, and experience occasional snows in the mountains.


The rest of the country benefits from milder temperatures at around 27°C (80°F), allowing for bustling city life and excursions into nature.

Currency

The Saudi Riyal (س.ر SAR) is the national currency of the Kingdom. 1 Saudi Riyal is worth 100 halalas, the lowest physical unit of Saudi currency.


You can easily exchange currencies at banks and exchange bureaus. Exchange bureaus are commonly located at airports as well as in city centers and tourist destinations.


You can use Visa, MasterCard, and American Express credit cards and withdraw cash from ATMs. A lot of local stores in Saudi accept only Mada cards – Mada operates as a domestic debit card scheme, reigning as the primary card type utilized across in-store and online payment channels in Saudi Arabia. These cards, issued by local banks, are seamlessly linked to cardholders' bank accounts, ensuring swift, secure, and dependable real-time transactions.

Money transfer services, regulated by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA), allow select online and bank transfers.

The prices for all goods and services include a 15% (VAT) tax.

Cultural and Touristic Attractions

Saudi Arabia is an attractive tourist location thanks to its diverse and encompassing history, beautiful and varied nature, and sophisticated entertainment centers.


Cultural and Historic Attractions

  • The holy cities of Makkah and Medina which millions of Muslims visit every year for the Hajj pilgrimage
  • UNESCO Heritage sites including:
    • Historic Jeddah, the Gate to Makkah (2014)
    • Al-Ahsa Oasis, an Evolving Cultural Landscape (2018)
    • Rock Art in the Hail Region of Saudi Arabia (2015)
    • Hegra Archaeological Site (al-Hijr / Madā ͐ in Ṣāliḥ) (2008)
    • Ḥimā Cultural Area (2021)
    • At-Turaif District in ad-Dir'iyah (2010)


Natural Wonders

Saudi Arabia boasts beautiful natural scenery, ranging from coral reef beaches on the Red Sea coast to desert landscapes and beautiful mountains.

  • Sleep under the unforgettable desert sky at AIUla
  • Visit the waterfalls in Khamis Mushayt
  • Enjoy the scenery from the cloudy mountaintops at Abha
  • Visit the Red Sea coast to enjoy golden beaches and swim around coral reefs

Entertainment

  • Riyadh Season, a must-visit winter festival that takes place at the heart of the Kindom every year, kicks off at the beginning of October and lasts almost three months. The festival takes place in different zones and venues across the city and hosts several stunning events with globally accomplished sportsmen, performers, artists, and chefs showcasing their skills.
  • Ascend to Riyadh's skyline zenith by boarding the high-speed elevator to the 99th floor of the iconic Kingdom Center. Perched 300 meters above the city, the gracefully curved Sky Bridge unveils breathtaking urban vistas.
  • Amidst palm trees and a wave-like glass roof, Riyadh Park Mall beckons with an IMAX cinema, arcade, and an array of international brands like Puma, Abercrombie & Fitch, and DKNY. Catering to all tastes, from beloved children's brand Sanrio to dining options spanning PF Chang’s to The Cheesecake Factory, it's an oasis for shopping, entertainment, and delectable dining.


Adventure

Thanks to its varied terrain, Saudi Arabia is a prime location for adventure tourism, offering everything from camping and climbing to desert safaris, flyboarding, and cave-diving. The opportunities include:


  • Dune bashing at King Khalid Royal Reserve or Moon Mountain
  • Parasailing and diving in Half Moon Bay
  • Jet ski and flyboard at the Red Sea by visiting Jeddah. Other water sports include swimming with sharks and discovering underwater caves.
  • Rock climbing at AlUla
  • Hikes in the Al Hada Mountain and Wadi Al Disah
  • Horseback riding on the outskirts of Riyadh


Shopping

  • All around the Kingdom, you will find vibrant markets that offer traditional handcrafted goods made by local artisans.
  • Shopping malls around the country host both international and local brands, allowing you easy access to all the luxury goods you could want.

Public Holidays

There are four official public holidays celebrated in Saudi Arabia: Founding Day, National Day, Eid Al Fitr, and Eid Al Adha.


Founding Day (February 22)

Founding Day, a national holiday established in 2022, celebrates the Kingdom’s founding in 1727 by Imam Mohammed bin Saud and is celebrated annually on the 22nd of February.


The celebrations take place across all cities and include festivities and fireworks.


Saudi National Day (September 23)

Every year on September 23, Saudis celebrate the unification of the Kingdom under King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud in 1932. People honor the day by wearing national and traditional attire and decorating their homes and cars with the nation’s flag. The lively atmosphere is accompanied by music, fireworks, and parades.


Eid Al Fitr (Dates change every year per Hijri Calender)

Eid Al Fitr, or Al Fitr celebrations start at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, and last for three days. It’s a festive holiday period focused on community and sharing wealth. It’s common to make donations to charity (one of the primary rules of Islam), give gifts to children and teenagers, and gather with family and friends to enjoy traditional delicacies.


Saudis prepare for Eid Al Fitr celebrations by buying gifts for themselves and their close ones, preparing food, and arranging visits and trips. Most shops are closed during the holidays, and people often spend time in their homes, visiting or hosting relatives, friends, and community members.


You will often hear people wish each other Eid Mubarak, which roughly translates to “happy holidays” to honor the spirit of the sacred holiday.


Eid Al Adha (Dates change every year per Hijri Calendar)

Eid Al Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, is celebrated every year roughly two months after Eid Al Fitr.


Eid Al Adha takes its name from Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to submit to God’s orders. Ibrahim is willing to sacrifice his son and is rewarded for his obedience, as God spares Ibrahim’s family and provides a lamb for the sacrifice instead.


Today, Al Adha celebrations commonly include Saudi families sacrificing sheep, lambs, and goats to be shared with family, friends, neighbors, and community members at large, including those who can not afford to do so.


Most shops are closed during the holidays as locals spend time with their families and friends to celebrate the feast of sacrifice.

Key Phrases in Arabic

Peppering your everyday speech with local phrases can ease your integration into Saudi society. Even using basic terms to greet others shows a willingness to embrace the customs and culture of the country, which the locals appreciate.


● Hello: Salam

● Thank you: Shukran

● Good evening: Masaa el kheer

● How are you?: Kaifa haloka (male), Kaifa haloki (female)

● Do you speak English?: Hal tatakallam ingliziya?

● Can you help me?: Hal beemkanek mosa dati?

● Goodbye: Maa as-salaam

● Yes: Na’am

● No: La

● Sorry: Ana a’asef

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