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Interview with Elriz – a Filipino expat living in Saudi Arabia

Updated 14 Oct 2019

Elriz is an expat from the Philippines. He has been living in Saudi Arabia since November 2011. He currently lives in Al Khobar in the Eastern Province, though his work takes him all over the country. To learn more about Elriz’s life as an expat, follow him on Twitter or check out his blog.

Read more about expat life in Saudi Arabia in our Expat Arrivals Saudi Arabia country guide.

About ElrizElriz_Saudi.jpg

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I am originally from the Philippines.

Q: Where are you currently living?
A: Currently I live in Al Khobar in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Although, our projects are all over the Kingdom which requires us to live temporarily in different areas.

Q: When did you move here?
A: I came to Saudi Arabia in November 2011.

Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: Yes.

Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I moved here alone.

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: My main motivations were salary and career growth. The pay in Saudi Arabia is generally much higher than compared to home. I am a communications engineer and mostly do field work.

Living in Al Khobar

Q: What do you enjoy most about Al Khobar? How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country?
A: I would say one thing I enjoy the most here in Al Khobar is the fact that it is a coastal city. I love the sea and although it is not as great as what we have back home, it is something I am grateful for. Life is so different here. I would say it is much better in terms of finances and healthcare. 

Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: Nothing drastic, but I've had a few minor encounters with impolite locals, especially youngsters. I definitely miss my family and close friends. And the monsoon!

Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: The first thing was the climate. It was the start of winter when I came here, and it was very different back home. The summer here can become unbearable. The language was a huge challenge too. I had to learn the basics. 

Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in Saudi Arabia?
A: The prices back home are generally cheaper. However, the more expensive commodities here are still relatively cheap because of the higher wages. One thing which is ridiculously expensive here is getting a haircut. It’s like five to ten times more expensive here than in the Philippines.

Q: How would you rate the public transport in Al Khobar? What is your most memorable experience of using your city’s transport system?
A: Taxis are the only mode of public transportation in Al Khobar. There’s Careem and Uber too, but I haven't used them in the last six years, as we have a company car that we can use. There is nothing memorable that stands out, but I would always try to be chatty with the drivers and have some small talk. 

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Al Khobar? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences regarding doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: The healthcare is good. One thing I noticed though is the common practice of doctors giving patients a ton of prescription medicine after a check-up. There is one particular hospital whose health insurance department isn’t good and getting approval for some lab tests is not as easy as at other hospitals where getting approval is a breeze. Older hospitals are generally better.  

Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Saudi Arabia? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: I find Saudi Arabia generally safe, except for the recent attacks on gas plants. We work close to some gas plants and security has become stricter. I don’t feel any tension in public areas though. I guess everyone should be vigilant of such incidents these days.

Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Al Khobar? What different options are available for expats?
A: Our accommodation is provided by our company which is a furnished flat. One may opt to ‘live-out’ and rent a separate flat.

Q: Any areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: Thuqbah and Bayoniyah are peaceful neighbourhoods with easy access to many shops but are more popular with locals and Asians. Aqrabiyah is another good choice.

Q: What are your favourite attractions and activities in the city?
A: Aside from malls (which are excellent to hang out in especially during summer weekends), Khobar has a beautiful park by the beach, the Corniche, where you can have a picnic, walk or run, and even fish.

Meeting people and making friends

Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular groups? Have you ever experienced discrimination in Al Khobar?
A: Saudis are generally friendly towards Filipinos, especially in the workplace and with clients. Thankfully I haven’t experienced any discrimination.

Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: I get to meet a lot of people because of my work. Making friends with local coworkers is easy. Whenever I meet someone new, especially if I know I’ll be working with him for some time, I try to start conversations and slowly try to find out about his interests (can’t be always about me). 

Q: Have you made friends with locals, or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals? 
A: I have made a few local and foreign friends. One thing that has proven to be effective when trying to get someone's attention and interest, is trying to speak their language (be it Arabic or Hindi). Oftentimes, locals (or other foreigners) are amused by how I try to speak and understand a few phrases, and it almost always becomes a conversation starter.

Final thoughts

Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Al Khobar or Saudi Arabia?
A: Khobar is a very vibrant coastal city and is now developing faster. Like any other city in the Kingdom, as an expat, respecting the local religion is of utmost importance. Taking photos of government buildings and offices is not allowed, as well as many other industrial facilities. Be careful when taking pictures in crowded places, especially where there are women and children present. Do some research to be aware of rules and laws being implemented like proper attire in certain places, playing loud music during prayer times, etc., to avoid getting fined. For me, rules like these may sound too restricting, especially for newcomers, but you will adjust in no time. Finally, Saudi Arabia may look boring, but it offers a lot of beautiful places to visit. So once you’ve adjusted, consider exploring other regions to learn more about this country.

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