Living in Saudi Arabia?
Education and Housing in Saudi Arabia
Schooling in Saudi Arabia is free of charge and takes place in gender-segregated elementary, intermediate and secondary schools. The latter usually offer the choice between a religious and a vocational or technical track. The study of Islam does, however, dominate education at all levels, and it is even a compulsory subject at university.
The medium of instruction is Arabic, but English is taught widely as a second language. With its emphasis on religious studies and memorization, the education system has been criticized for failing to equip young Saudis with technical and marketable skills required in the modern world. However, more recently, the Saudi government has spent a lot of money on improving the education system.
Private vs. International Schools: Language and Religion
Local state schools are usually not an option for foreign children. There are numerous private schools which cater to the expat community and well-to-do Saudi families. Often, these private schools are under government control to a certain extent, in order to ensure that curriculum and standards of education meet those of state schools.
The clear advantage of private schools for non-Muslim expat children is that being a ‘non-believer’ will not get in their way, the language of instruction is often English, and classes are co-educational. Families with older children, however, should make sure that the curriculum and standards of education are similar to those in their home country in order to ease the transition, especially with regards to their children qualifying for higher education.
Expat families with children usually opt for international schools, of which there are a few in cities like Jeddah, Riyadh, or Al-Khobar. Some of them follow certain national curricula (such as British, American, Indian, and Pakistani). Others offer the International Baccalaureate or a combination of international and third-country curricula. Some schools are affiliated with their national government and therefore may not accept third-country students. Most international schools incorporate pre-school, primary and secondary school under one roof. As places are limited, make sure to apply as soon as possible.
Expat Housing: The High Cost of Compounds
There is no shortage of accommodation in Saudi Arabia, unless you are looking for somewhere cheap to live. Most newly-built accommodation tends to be at the higher end of the price range. You’ll soon notice that there are a lot of construction projects going on in Saudi Arabian cities, as apartment blocks and family houses are being built in great numbers and at great speed to cater to the growing urban population.
Most expats live in ‘compounds’, i.e. low-rise apartment blocks that form a kind of gated community. The more luxurious among them come with their own swimming pool, tennis courts, gym, children’s playground, shops, and restaurant. The apartments themselves are usually spacious and well maintained. Whatever type of accommodation you are going for, make sure it provides covered parking facilities to protect your vehicle from sand, dust, and high temperatures.
Foreign residents have only been allowed to own property in Saudi Arabia since 2011; therefore most expats live in rented accommodation. A lot of big companies with a significant share of foreign employees have special deals with local landlords or estate agents, which enable them to offer a certain contingent of accommodation to their expat staff.
If you do not have the support of your HR department or sponsor in your search for accommodation, ask other expats in your area, as word of mouth is usually the best way to find what you need. Alternatively, you can contact local estate agents (most of them speak English), check English-language newspapers such as Arab News, or simply ask the porter of the compound you are interested in about upcoming vacancies.
The renting process itself is relatively straightforward, though you should make sure to have a certified English translation of the Arabic contract. Most accommodation is unfurnished, and there are short and long-term contracts available, ranging from one month to one year. As per usual, any damage done to the property exceeding the boundaries of fair wear and tear will have to be paid for.
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