Here are some suggestions about things you can do to help yourself feel settled in and comfortable quickly.
How to Get the Lay of the Land
This country operates on word of mouth. Ask the hotel receptionist / building manager, and hang out in the lobby of your hotel or apartment or in staff rooms at work to meet people and talk to anyone and everyone to find out all you can about tips and tricks for surviving and thriving in Riyadh, where to go and where to shop and what to do for fun.
Get a cell phone. More details about how to do this in an upcoming post.
Find out the local prayer schedule
It changes a few minutes everyday. Prayer time will affect your life even if you are not Muslim since everything shuts down during prayer time. You need to plan your outings around prayer time to minimize your frustration and downtime spent waiting for shops to open. Cell phones bought locally usually come with an app installed that tells you prayer times (and is instantly understandable even if the app is in Arabic).
Bring a Book
I found it was useful to always have a book with me when for prayer time to end, when waiting for things to re-open after lunch, or when stuck in traffic. There is a lot of 'downtime' in Saudi Arabia, and unreliable access to the internet.
If you are a fan of reading and books, a bookstore that carries English books is Jarir Bookstore (). However, they don`t have a vast selection of English fiction, so you may want to bring books with you from your home country. By the way, Jarir Bookstore is a great place to get all your stationery and teaching materials and has a good selection of electronics and office equipment.
Advice For Women: Stock up on Abayas Soon After You Arrive
If you are a woman, make sure to stock up on a few abayas since sometimes you may want to send abayas out for laundering and may not get them back immediately. Or, you may want to change abayas frequently when it is really hot outside.
It`s easier to buy once you are there since you can see what is in fashion (and it may be hard to find abayas for Saudi Arabia outside the country- every country is different in terms of fashion and acceptability. You will wear abayas and hijabs everyday, so it’s worth it to find ones you like. Go to the markets (souks), not the malls, to get abayas, hijabs and niqaabs. The markets have more variety and are much less expensive than the stores in the malls.
Find the Nearest Mall
Find the malls nearest your home as soon as possible. This is a good bet for finding an ATM, and you’ll need to go shopping once a week, so you might as well find out the best places to go and where to find the best deals.
Make Friends With Someone With An Iqaama / Residency Status for Saudi Arabia
To send money out of the country, get a cell phone service contract, internet plan, and make other large purchases, it is extremely helpful to have someone with an iqaama go with you, and sometimes, make the purchase for you.
Get Your Financial Life Set Up
After you find an ATM ( or a few) that accept your bank card from home, you should figure out how you can send you money out of the country (unless you like stuffing your mattress).
To do this, find out where Enjaz or Western Union is. Actually, it`s best to find out where a few of them are. These are easier to use than bank services. By the way, the Western Union website is blocked from within the country, so you have to go to outlets in person to transfer money.
It is extremely useful to know someone with an Iqaama or Saudi ID who can go with you to cash cheques and help you transfer money out of the country. Some banks and Western Unions and some Enjaz outlets get very sticky about allowing you to do this if you have a renewal stamp on your passport temporary work Visa for some reason. If one place refuses to serve you, y recommendation is to just go to another one. A place that worked one month may refuse to serve you the next.
Before you set out, ask around for advice about where to go since the Jazz and Western Union outlets are franchises and the service atmosphere can vary dramatically from one place to the next.
It`s helpful to do this before payday at work, when everyone else is scrambling to figure out how to cash their cheques and send money to their home bank accounts.
Find the nearest Decent Restaurant that Delivers
Make the rounds of local restaurants and pick up thier fliers with phone numbers and delivery / service hours. This is a take-away culture, and even McDonalds delivers, which is nice when it is hot outside.
Find the Nearest Health Clinic and Pharmacy
Find the location of the nearest health clinic, go there, and pick up a card / pamphlet that has their location in Arabic (with a map) and phone numbers listed, so if you get sick it’s easy to get yourself the help you need. It’s much easier to hand over a card or pamphlet in Arabic to a taxi driver than try to communicate in Arabic / English when you are really ill. For the same reason, find out where the closest and best pharmacy to where you live is so it`s easy to tell the taxi where to go.
Get your own Internet Access
Access to the Internet is not as easy as in a lot of other countries, especially for women (women are not allowed to use cyber cafes, and it’s hard to find cyber cafes anyway). Note: Sometimes you need someone with an iqaama or permanent residence to set up the service contract for you. Your passport and work visit visa are enough to purchase hardware (cell phones and computers and TVs).
Don`t Waste Time: Get Out and Join Classes and Do Group Activities Immediately
Because of the heat, it can be tempting to settle in by staying home and resting. But beware: being a homebody which can quickly lead to getting in a rut and getting depressed. I highly recommend forcing yourself to get out and meet as many people as you can as quickly as possible. If you start a routine of social outings early on, it`s easier to get started and keep it up. The people you meet will make the different
Go to the Hash House Harrier`s outings (one of the best ways to meet expats from around the world)(ask around for a local contact person who can give you the details)
Go to Concerts and Reception Events offered by the Embassies (check embassy websites, get on email lists, go to the Diplomatic Quarter and look for fliers and posters and ask around)
Take Classes (ask for newsletters circulated around the expat compounds for class offerings and check out the 'links' section on this website for ideas of how to get patched into the local network of your choice).
Go to the Diplomatic Quarter One Morning
Visit the Diplomatic Quarter to connect with your Embassy, and greatly improve your quality of life. See my upcoming post on this topic for details.
Getting familiar with this area, its services, and upcoming social and cultural events offered by the embassies there can make a big difference to the quality of your life, (especially for women, since you don’t have to wear your full abaya and hijab and niqaab while inside the Quarter and can enter all buildings freely). Also, there are green spaces where you can walk around freely, a cafe, a post office and a gym for women. It is an oasis in more ways than one.
Those are my top recommendations.