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Monday, July 8, 2013

Best Advice About Saudi Arabia: Get a Cell Phone!

Put getting a cell phone at the top of the list of things to do to help you get settled in.

Saudi Arabians use text messaging, and phone each other constantly. They use their smartphones and Blackberries all the time. You’ll soon discover it’s easiest if you do too.

In case you are wondering, Saudi Arabia does not have public phones  as you may be used to, or phone books and public directories as we know it, and wifi coverage is spotty.
I suggest that you start making a list of important numbers and personal contacts as soon as you arrive.  Better yet, look up a lot of phone numbers before you even arrive in  Saudi Arabia, so you have numbers to add to your contacts immediately and can start living rather than just planning for it.

  • the recruiting company`s phone number(s) / employer`s contact info
  • best hospitals for foreigners (check online forums before you arrive in Saudi Arabia)
  • travel agencies that work within Saudi Arabia (look online before you arrive)
  • airlines and charter companies (access to the internet is not easy or reliable)
  • your country`s embassy number (the local number)
  • international phone numbers for calling your people back home (on speed dial)
Note: Most phones come with pre-programmed emergency numbers ( fire, ambulance , police), but you need to speak Arabic to use these services.  Don`t expect the people to answer to speak English.

Also,don`t count on being able to use Skype when you want to.  Access to the Internet is not as reliable as in a lot of other countries, and Skype needs a lot of bandwidth, so calls often cut off half way through.  The situation is compounded for women since they are usually allowed to use cyber cafes, and it’s hard to find cyber cafes anyway. 

Expecting to be able to look up information online about stores is problematic for a few reasons in addition to unpredictable Internet connections. Many stores have websites only in Arabic, if they have a website at all, and they are not always organized out as 'westerners' are used to. As a result, you can spend a lot of time hunting online for the information you need on the English versions of websites. It`s usually better to phone to find out store hours, their location, and other details.

Travel guide books are a great source of useful phone numbers and location information. Check that they are still in service, though. 


To get a cell phone is not hard. Just go to the nearest mall. They all have kiosks that sell phones. So do the major supermarkets like Carrefour. Bring your passport with you as they will check your VISA stamp and ID. To get an internet data plan, you will an Iqaama, or someone with one to sign for you.

Ask around to find out the best local company with the best coverage to go with. There are some big differences in the quality of service between and among cell phone companies.

'Pay as you go' minute packages are a good way to start until you see what your usage is going to be on average per month and  are ready to get an internet data plan. Most supermarkets sell plastic 'credit cards' on the stands right by the check out counter(s). 

Pick a cell phone company that is well known, even if it is not the cheapest. I made the mistake of going with a less popular company because there was a special offer and a bit cheaper, and thereafter could rarely find places that sold the phone minute cards I needed, let alone in the denominations I wanted, and the service area coverage wasn`t as reliable or extensive as with other companies.

  • numbers of  punctual and trustworthy taxi drivers that speak English well (ask around; they are hard to find on your own, and can save you countless hours of driving around in circles trying to find places and explain where you want to go) 
  • number of your apartment's general manager or hotel reception( if they speak English)
  • hair dressers (usually they are located in compounds and malls)
  • numbers of other foreigners (get them in your  cell phone contacts list even if you don`t expect to become best buddies-- it's handy to have a wide range of contacts and people to phone and ask questions on any number of topics in this verbally based economy).
  • numbers of restaurants with delivery service that you expect to use often (handy when you are hot and tired and don't want to spend your energy looking hard for meal options)

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