Expats moving to the Eastern Province (EP) of Saudi Arabia, which includes the main cities of Al Khobar, Dammam, Jubail and Al Hasa, do so primarily for the wealth potential and the accompanying tax-free status.
The hot and humid desert climate can be challenging, to say the least. The harsh Saudi summer begins in March and only ends in October. Furthermore, the strict Islamic mandate associated with the greater nation is fully applicable, and entertainment options are limited accordingly. Not to mention, women will find their rights largely restricted, and may have trouble coping with a sudden lack of independence.
So, it follows that the lure of lucrative salary packages for positions most often linked to the hydrocarbon sector are the obvious pull to the province, not the opportunity for a life of opulence in an idyllic destination.
This area of the KSA shares borders with Kuwait to the north, Qatar and Bahrain to the east and the UAE and Oman to the south. Though its roots reach back 5,000 years, the primary urban centres now inhabited by expats weren’t truly developed until the middle of the 20th century. Since that time, ARAMCO (the Saudi Arabian Oil Company) and a handful of others have established operations in the region, and the result is a collection of tight-knit expat communities that host individuals from all over the world.
Moving to Al-Khobar
Al-Khobar, conveniently located between Dammam and Dhahran, is one of the three main cities in the Eastern Province, and is the area’s centre of export-import activity. Formerly a tiny fishing port, the discovery of oil transformed the village nearly overnight into the commercial hub of the region.
Expats moving to Al-Khobar will find themselves living in what’s thought to be the most attractive of the EP centres, and will likely be provided accommodation in any one of the nearby surrounding expat-housing compounds (some with a mere six units and some with hundreds of units). Keep in mind that it’s best to live as close as possible to one's place of work, due to the traffic and driving behaviour of the locals.
The city is home to many of the country’s major banks, substantial public and private hospitals, fine hotels and an array of shopping options where foreigners can find an extensive offering of goods and products, including British and American foods, as well as Venezuelan and Korean foods. Western pharmaceuticals may be the only product one will have difficulty acquiring.
Due to the Western influence, Al-Khobar is the most liberal of all the cities in the Eastern Province. Western expat women do not need to cover their heads here, though in Dammam, the seat of government in the EP, they should consider doing so.
Moving to Jubail
The northernmost expat-friendly Eastern Province is Jubail, which is located on the Persian Gulf. The expat community in this tiny beach town is small, and is thus incredibly close. The majority of expats moving to Jubail are those who have received job offers from large companies in the petrochemical sector.
Housing in Jubail for Western expats is hard to come by because of the security requirements, and it’s advisable to use a relocation consultant for assistance.
Moving to Al Hasa
The farthest expat-inhabited city in the Eastern Province is Al Hasa, which is just under 100 miles (150km) south of Al-Khobar.
Al Hasa is the oldest oasis in the Kingdom, and with its history comes a staunch conservatism. It is very important for expat women to dress accordingly, and to respect the local laws of the KSA.
One of the most alluring aspects of the city is the Thursday morning camel market. Additionally, expats can visit a dairy farm and the old souq area, which sells fresh spices and various other produce.