7 December 2016

Ersatz Expat - Expat in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Ersatz Expat - Expat in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

We’ve had the chance to talk to Ersatz Expat, 39, an Irish expat who has moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia with her family. Mrs. Expat who has lived there for under a year, now works as a freelancer.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: This, like so many questions about me, is a little complicated. I am not really from anywhere. I hold an Irish Passport but I have never lived there. The country I had the greatest connection to in my childhood was probably the Netherlands (my mother’s native country) where I lived off and on between other postings. As an older child and an adult, my greatest connection is probably in the UK where my family retired and where Mr. EE and our children are from.


Q: What made you move out of your home country?

A: My parents were expats so we travelled. Technically I was born abroad, in the Netherlands where my parents were on posting at the time. My mother’s family are from there so it always felt like home to me. We moved from there when I was two years old in another posting but I went back often to stay and even live for a while with Opa & Oma. My parents were posted back to the Hague every few years so we were there a lot.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: We are currently based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. We had been living in Malaysia when Mr. EE was approached by his current employers and asked to consider a move here. In our 18 months in Malaysia, our employers had relocated us once already and we had been due to move again in another few months. The posting in Jeddah offered some long term stability alongside a chance to get to know a very interesting country so we jumped at the chance.


Q: How long have you been living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia?

A: We have been here just under a year.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: Our children are very young still so they come with us everywhere. The older two first moved abroad when they were 4 and 2 while the youngest was born in Malaysia so the expat life is normal to them. We are still waiting for 2 of our 3 pets to join us from Malaysia (import permits are difficult to arrange) and the family does not quite feel complete without them.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I don’t miss any physical place. Because we moved around so much when we were children my parents always brought us up to consider home as people, not the place. It is wonderful to have our children with us, (I boarded from 11 and my sister from 8), we miss our two dogs, however, the house is not quite a home without them. I also miss my father and sister very badly. I only ever really feel completely at home when I have my whole family with me.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: Everyone I have met here in Saudi has been welcoming and friendly; local colleagues have gone above and beyond to help us settle in and feel welcome.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in Saudi Arabia? How did you manage to find a social circle there?  

A: We live in a compound just next door to Mr. EE’s work  so we run into colleagues every day and, of course, you get to know neighbours and people on the compound and I have started to know the parents of our children’s friends. We are out and about a lot for Mr. EE’s work and so get to know people that way as well. I recently started learning Arabic and am friendly with some of the other ladies on the course.


Q: How does the cost of living in Saudi Arabia compare to your home?

A: I don’t tend to compare costs between home and host countries, things cost what they cost and you can drive yourself mad converting.

  •  Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: I think it is about the same, maybe a little more expensive in the western outlets like Starbucks.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: I pay less for a takeaway for the family here in Jeddah than I would in the UK and we get more for it.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: Restaurants are cheaper here but then I find eating out in the UK ridiculously overpriced.

  • Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: Wine is illegal here so the costs of being found in possession are very high!  I have no idea how much cigarettes cost.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in Saudi Arabia?

A: I can’t really help with that, I arrived a few months after Mr. EE and he had sorted it all out by the time I got here. I think the bank manager came to the office and did all the paperwork there. After that, everything has been done online.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: Visas are a complete nightmare, the bureaucracy is terrible. The children and I had to wait four months for our dependant visas. Once we had those the process to change them into residence permits went very smoothly. 


Q: Would you say that healthcare in Saudi Arabia is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: We have insurance and they have a list of preferred clinics and hospitals. We have been happy with the care we have received.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in the Netherlands or in Saudi Arabia? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: The insurance was arranged through Mr. EE’s employers. Insurance is a legal requirement for all expats.

Our insurance covers everything with a very small deductible. It also covers repatriation of remains as expats cannot be buried in KSA. I would consider this to be the minimum acceptable. 


Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to Saudi Arabia? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: The process of the move here to Jeddah was very much hurried up and wait. Mr. EE got the final go-ahead for the move in November last year with a request to start as soon as possible. We had to be in the UK for a wedding in December so we decided we would not go back to Malaysia after that. We had two weeks to arrange long term boarding for the pets, sell the car, arrange the moving company, process the resignation paperwork with the previous employers etc.

I email bombed a range of moving companies and we finally went with Crown Line. They were the most professional in their responses and their agent was available to us 24/7 via WhatsApp or ‘phone.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: There is always so much to adjust to in any new posting. How to get around, what food is available, learning the language, finding friends. In the end, I always find that a more mundane stuff is disproportionately challenging. Paying bills, for example, thankfully in our current home everything is included so I don’t need to worry about queuing in banks or post offices with slips of paper covered in Delphic notations.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Saudi Arabia?

A: Saudi is regarded as a hardship posting by a lot of people but actually it is pretty easy. There are very few material things I can’t get here from types of food to school shoes for the children so day to day life is pretty normal. I do miss pork and the cinema and I miss the freedom of being able to drive my own car (women are not allowed to drive in Saudi). I have also found the bureaucracy surrounding the import of the pets to be deeply frustrating.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: We don’t have a car yet but when we do we will enjoy trips to places like Taif and Maden Saleh. In Jeddah, we often pop down to the old town which is very atmospheric and has a great vibe. We also enjoy taking walks along the corniche and going to the beach. 


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: We are planning to be here for some time, where we go after that who knows! KSA is the ninth country I have lived in and my 11th (or possibly 12th) international posting so I am fairly open to new experiences.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: Try not to stress about visas and arrival bureaucracy. We have found that although the gears of officialdom here grind slowly they do grind sure and things work out in the end. Know what you are signing up for before you come if you can’t cope with wearing an abaya outside your home or not being able to drink alcohol this is probably not the posting for you. There are frustrations to living in Saudi but then there are frustrations to life in just about every country. 


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Saudi Arabia?

A: I follow the English Language news pages such as Arab News and Al Arabiya, I also follow a number of Facebook pages to see what is on in Jeddah including Destination Jeddah, Jeddah for Kids, The Jeddah Times etc.