Wedged between Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province is a sprawling desert area bordered by a long and winding eastern coast. Expats will find ample opportunities to travel to neighbouring countries.
Major Eastern Province cities include Al-Khobar, Dammam, Jubail and Al-Hasa – expats who move here do so primarily for the wealth potential, low cost of living 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, there are entertainment options, due in part to the strict Islamic mandate associated with the country. That said, women are subject to fewer regulations than they have been in the past, a welcome relief to expats living in Saudi Arabia. Women are able to be in public without wearing an abaya as long as they are still well covered and not exposing the shoulders, knees or stomach.
Still, life in the Eastern Province can take a lot of getting used to. The lure of lucrative salary packages for positions most often linked to the hydrocarbon sector are the obvious pull to the province, rather than the opportunity for a life of opulence in an idyllic destination. Expats coming here with an open mind and an intention to respect and understand the local customs are sure to have a fulfilling, if challenging, experience.
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 a commercial hub of the region and a gateway to Bahrain and the Gulf.
Expats moving to Al-Khobar will find themselves living in what is considered the most attractive of the Eastern Province centres, and will likely be provided accommodation in any one of the nearby surrounding expat compounds (which range in size from six to hundreds of units). Expats should keep in mind that it’s best to live as close as possible to their place of work, due to the traffic and erratic driving behaviour of others.
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, and even Venezuelan and Korean foods. Western pharmaceuticals may be the only product difficult to acquire.
Al-Khobar is the most liberal of all the cities in the Eastern Province. Western expat women typically do not need to cover their heads here, though in Dammam, the seat of government in the Eastern Province, they should consider doing so as a sign of respect.
Moving to Al-Jubail
The northernmost expat-friendly centre in the Eastern Province is Jubail, also located on the Persian Gulf. The expat community in this tiny beach town is small and tight-knit. 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
Al-Hasa is the oldest oasis in the Kingdom, and with its history comes a staunch conservatism. Expat women should do their best to learn about local customs and expectations of women.
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.