Accommodation in Saudi Arabia
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Most people move to Saudi Arabia on lucrative employment contracts that include free or heavily subsidised housing, furniture and utilities.
Traditionally, expat housing in Saudi Arabia takes the form of Western-style compound living. However, with demands high for these compounds, more foreigners have started renting housing from the local market.
Manoeuvering through the rental markets in Saudi Arabian cities is not easy. Even though agents and landlords will communicate well in English, most of the documents remain in Arabic. For this reason, it is always best for expats to enlist the help of their employer, an agent or a property lawyer when looking to rent property in the Kingdom.
Types of accommodation in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabian expat compounds were first created in the early 1980s as a way for the foreign community to rediscover the democratic freedoms they were familiar with amid the country’s ultra-conservative Islamic law.
Complexes can vary in size from small groupings of houses to sprawling collections of villas. In both cases, these residences are walled, guarded and lauded by expats for their ability to provide an assortment of amenities within, while generally keeping out the Mutaween (Saudi Arabian religious police).
The compounds rate anywhere from three to five stars. This type of housing can come furnished and fully equipped for residents to move in and out with ease. On-site facilities can include swimming pools, tennis courts, libraries, shopping centres, restaurants and bars, and even schools.
In addition to the creature comforts that the self-contained space allows, the neighbourhoods also cultivate opportunities for expats to meet like-minded individuals and to create relationships that ease their transition into new communities.
Unfortunately, as these compounds are in increasingly high demand, accommodation in a compound can be hard to attain – waiting lists can stretch anywhere from six to 18 months. Additionally, rent must be paid up front one year in advance prior to taking residence.
In an effort to reconcile this issue, expats should organise accommodation in Saudi Arabian expat compounds through job contract negotiation prior to arriving in the country. In most cases, once an expat has accepted a job in Saudi Arabia, a housing provision is readily stipulated.
Housing in local neighbourhoods
Beyond the high walls of the expat compounds is the hustle and bustle of Saudi Arabian residential areas. Expats who do not want to live in a compound have the option of renting in a local neighbourhood. Typically, expats would then rent an apartment or villa. Rarely, some would opt to rent an old town house.
First, expats should decide which neighbourhood will best suit their needs. Then they should spend time driving through the area and looking for “For Rent” signs outside villas. Oftentimes property owners will advertise a vacancy in this manner rather than listing with local realtors. Consulting with local merchants in the area is also a good way to identify availability and get the best deal possible.
Expats should make sure to inspect their potential new home carefully. It is often wise to hire an engineer to inspect electrical wiring and plumbing. While this may appear to be an unnecessary hassle, landlords in Saudi Arabia can be neglectful once they’ve received their annual payment upfront.
Villas and apartments in Saudi Arabia range in cost depending on size, location and the amenities present. When looking for housing in Saudi Arabia, expats should bring a native Arabic speaker to help field enquiries and establish trust between all the negotiating parties.
Accommodation in Saudi Arabia is generally furnished. However, the definition of this differs greatly – it can simply include some basic items of furniture or have a full provision of items including bedding, cutlery and crockery.
Expats who can't find accommodation immediately, or who are on a waiting list for a compound house, may temporarily stay in an old town house. Old town houses are usually completely empty and unfurnished and are rarely renovated by the owners.
Finding property in Saudi Arabia
In most cases, the stress of finding accommodation is not an issue for expats in Saudi Arabia as their employer will handle it.
In rare cases where an expat is looking for a place on their own steam, they can begin their search online. Online portals will give expats an idea of what is available and the different facilities provided by each complex.
The best option, however, is to enlist the services of a real estate agent. These professionals have an intimate knowledge of the property market of the given city and can advise people on which complexes are most suitable.
Some compounds are very popular and operate waiting lists. The advantage of using an estate agent is that they may have connections that enable their clients to find out about available spots in such places.
It is important to note, however, that most real estate agencies are predominately interested in potential homeowners and investors. They usually don't have many rental properties in their portfolio and they can be reluctant to assist in this matter. That said, with enough motivation, it is possible for expats to rent successfully in a residential area.
Rental contracts in Saudi Arabia
In Saudi Arabia, tenants are usually required to pay a year’s rent in advance. In many cases this can be negotiated. Some compounds will allow expats to pay in six-monthly or monthly installments. In many cases, the rent is covered by the employer, so this is not a concern for expats.
If an individual is signing the rental agreement themselves, it is best to hire an English-speaking property lawyer to assist with the process, as documents may be in Arabic. It is best to get a notarised English translation of any rental contract so the expat can fully understand all the terms of the agreement.
Any foreigner who wishes to rent property in Saudi Arabia requires an Iqama (residence permit). Expats may also be required to provide a letter from their employer confirming their salary and length of contract. In some cases, the employer may need to act as a guarantor.
In addition to the rental payment upfront, tenants are normally required to provide a refundable deposit that is equal to a month’s rent. In the event of any damage to the property, furniture or appliances, the landlord will be entitled to withhold the security deposit.
Generally, most rental prices in Saudi Arabia will be inclusive of all basic utilities such as water, gas, electricity, telephone line rental and internet.
Rent for compound properties will normally include all service charges such as cleaning and maintenance of communal areas of the complex.