Pages of the Oasis

Monday, June 17, 2013

Things to Bring With You to Saudi Arabia

Although shopping is a national hobby, more like a national sport, in Saudi Arabia, and you can get some great deals since there is no tax on anything, they don`t have the same selection as you are probably used to.

There were a number of things I didn`t find in the stores in Riyadh, or not easily anyway, that I wished I had brought with me.  

Here is what I wish I had brought with me:

Raincoat or breathable waterproof windbreaker - I arrived in Riyadh in wintertime (Feb) and it rained everyday for about a month, drenching downpours in the late afternoon, instantly flooding the streets, and once we were caught in a hailstorm and rainstorm on an outing to the desert organized by the hash house harrier group, and I didn`t see rainjackets or outdoorwear for sale anywhere.

More exercise, workout, yoga, belly dance and dance exercise CDs and videos

Exercise wear for women (including running and hiking shoes- hard to come by in Saudi for women since exercise isn`t generally an encouraged hobby)

Music (mp3s) (couldn`t download things easily once there due to connectivity issues and blocked sites)

Accurate Maps of Riyadh or GIS based apps (Google maps wasn´t accurate or as detailed as I expected and I found I needed something in hand to show taxi drivers and others I wanted to meet up with). Print maps in English are hard to find once you are in Riyadh.

Guide books about Riyadh / information about travel companies that spoke good English and that women could book trips through. Surprisingly, tourist guides were hard to come by once inside the country.

Professional blouses and suits and outfits - it could be hard to find professional attire, let alone in western sizes for women, although it was easy to find long skirts and T shirts and casual wear or super fancy dresses and lovely dress shoes).

Teaching books / teaching activity materials, or digital files / scans of them. Stationery supplies were easy to find at Jarir Bookstore, but there were few teaching activity books or libraries for teachers where I found myself working. Digital scans of books work best since books are heavy to transport.

Saudi Arabian Arabic language learning materials (not just 'Learn Arabic', since very country there has quite a few dialectic differences). Learning as much Arabic as possible before I went would have been a great idea, especially since I had trouble finding materials that were basic enough for me once I had arrived. Since absolutely everything about the language was new to me, I really appreciated the kind of books for kids where you trace the letters following the dotted lines.

Fiction books in general – books I wanted to read for pleasure and about Saudi Arabia/muslim culture. Saudis are very sensitive and a lot of books were not available inside the country that you could easily find outside the country. I never had success buying anything from Amazon – either the site was blocked or the connection timed out before I could complete a  purchase.


Photos for posters and wall hangings (you can print out photos or make them into posters for your walls at local Kodak stores, but downloading photos once inside the country was problematic if the files were big since the connectivity was not great).

Things I was glad I had brought:

- Some teaching activity books and teaching materials (you can get whiteboard markers, paper and printers  at stores and photocopiers at stationery stores, but blu tack /non-adhesive gum, photos, images, and the white plastic film you can put on the walls and write on, then peel off and take with you, were hard to find). I didn`t see any decent teaching activity books for sale in bookstores in Riyadh and there were no libraries with a wide variety of books like I was used to back home.

- My favorite recipes (scanned to digital files from my favorite cookbooks)( I was impressed by the variety of 'international' food and ingredients at the supermarkets like Lulus Hypermarket)

- Some music

- Photos (saved to hard drive; accessing online galleries and downloading often proved problematic),

- A lot of exercise Cds and home workout routine info  (weights and exercise equipment could be bought once in Riyadh)

- Fiction novels ( but I wish I had brought more since I couldn`t access Amazon to buy any once in Riyadh and the local stores didn`t stock fiction I was very interested in)

- Hiking boots, running shoes if you like to jog,  walking shoes, a good wind breaker, sunhat, and outdoor clothes for hiking and desert outings ( they don`t have a lot of outdoor clothing stores, especially that stock things for women)

- Casual clothes and pants (they mostly sell skirts and dresses for women in Saudi, and they carry sizes for short and small people)

- Guide book for the region (they were hard to find in the stores in Riyadh)

- Things to give as little gifts. The Saudis are very generous and gift giving people. 

 Things that are easy and relatively cheap to get once you are in Riyadh:

- Electronics such as cell phones, TVs, cameras ( no import taxes on anything! Check out outlet stores and big distributors like Extra for good prices)

- Shoes

- Women´s dresses and skirts

- Household things and kitchen appliances and TVs and technology in general

- Jewelry

- Perfume

- Food in general (except pork products, as you would expect when in a Muslim country)

A Couple of Other Tips:

Make some local contacts (maybe made through or other international agencies) before arriving to make it easier to meet locals that speak good English and get answers your questions about what to buy, and where to buy things if they are available locally.

Set up a mail forwarding service (e.g. so you can ask people to send you stuff from home that you realize you can`t live without and desperately need. The general mail system was terribly slow and unreliable. None of my postcards sent from Saudi Arabia ever arrived at their intended destinations elsewhere in the world.

Pick a mail forwarding service that  allows you to confirm where to have things sent once you are physically in Saudi Arabia and know which courier outlet is closest to your home. You never know what courier or mail outlet might be closest and most convenient for you until you arrive and are assigned accommodation, and few buildings have street numbers or door to door delivery anyway. Best to use a mail forwarding service`s office address. The next best option is to use courier services like Fed Ex for all mail deliveries.

Bon Voyage!


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