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Interview with Susie – an American living in Saudi Arabia

Updated 29 Jan 2010

Susie is an American woman living in Jeddah since October 2007. She has been married to her Saudi husband for over 30 years. She finds her new home interesting, fascinating, and colourful, with people that are warm and courteous.  She writes the award-winning blog

Read more about expat life in the kingdom in the Expat Arrivals guide to Saudi Arabia, or read more expat experiences in Saudi Arabia.

About Susie

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: The United States of America

Q: Where are you living now?
A:  Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Q: How long have you lived here?
A: More than two years

Q: Did you move with a spouse/ children?
A: Yes, with my Saudi husband and a teenage son

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: My husband wished to return to his homeland after living in America for 30 years

About Jeddah

Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city, how’s the quality of life in Saudi Arabia?
A: The cost of living in most respects is much cheaper than in the States. The quality of life for women who are used to having freedoms taken for granted in the West is greatly diminished, although women who live within compounds have easier access to transportation, building friendships, and availability of activities. 

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: There are many more drawbacks for women than men. Women must wear a black cloak when out in public. For women who don’t work, life can be pretty boring. I miss my family and my personal freedom. I also miss going to the movies, as there are none here.

Q: Is Jeddah safe?
A: I feel very safe here, but I am leading a much more sheltered life than I did in the States. 

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Jeddah as an expat?
A: I would recommend living in one of the nicer compounds for expats, and there are many. Some offer more amenities than others, but it would be advisable to choose one closer to where you might be working because the traffic is so horrible here.

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Saudi Arabia?
A: Our building is newer, and the apartment is larger than our 3BR/2BA home in Florida. From what I have seen of the compounds I have been in, they are quite nice.

Q: What’s the cost of living in Saudi Arabia compared to America? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Food is incredibly cheap, and I believe most things are cheaper than in America. I would say that some things, like electronics and some services like mobile phones or satellite TV, are probably about the same as back home. 

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: Since my husband is a local, I mix with both. But socializing in mixed company is not allowed unless you are within the confines of a compound. 

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: Once I got hooked up with some online groups, it was easier to form some friendships. The Saudi people are warm and friendly. However, at the same time, they are very private. Making friends with Saudis is not that easy. 

Family and children in Jeddah

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: It is difficult coming from a free society and coming to a place like this which is so restrictive for women and where the culture is so very different from America. 

Q: Did your children settle in easily?
A: My teenage son has had a difficult time adjusting to the way of life for many of the same reasons as me. Life here can be boring, getting around can be difficult if not impossible, and there are not many activities families can do together. What most families do here is going to the mall, where most are equipped with indoor family amusement areas.

Q: What are the schools in Saudi Arabia like, any particular suggestions?
A: My son attends the American International School, and we like it, although the tuition is high. I would recommend stipulating the tuition cost for your kids as part of your employment package. 

Q: How would you rate healthcare in Saudi Arabia?
A: So far I have personally had very good experiences in my dealings with medical care here, although we haven’t really had major health issues. My son got braces here for less than half the cost of what we were quoted in the states prior to coming here, and we are very happy with the care and the results that he has gotten. He also had minor surgery with an overnight stay in the hospital, and we were very pleased with his care. We do not have to make appointments, but we also do not have health insurance either. The cost of medical care and medications is oftentimes what we used to have to pay for our deductible in the States.  

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: My situation is not the typical expat experience, especially since we do not live in a compound and because my husband is a local. From my friendships with expats who are here to work and are living on compounds, they really do enjoy the lifestyle here. Since I don’t have access to much of what they do, my experience here has been much more negative. I would highly recommend any person considering a move here to join the Yahoo online group for Saudi expats. It contains a wealth of information from past posts, and the group members are extremely helpful. 

~ Interviewed January 2010

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