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Lynne Charnley, Riyadh

My name is Lynne Charnley and I worked in Riyadh and Dammam in Saudi Arabia from May 2008 to November 2009. Having been made redundant in the UK I was looking for work, and a friend of mine was acting as a consultant to a Saudi airline, he suggested me to the airline and it all happened from there.

The hardest part was getting into Saudi and obtaining an Iqama (work and residency permit). This is normally done through your sponsor but I had to have 2 medicals – 1 in the UK and another in Saudi, the paperwork must be handled by a licensed agent in the UK. You cannot do anything without an Iquama – rent property, set up a bank account, get a driving license/buy a car (only applicable to males – women cannot drive in Saudi) or buy a mobile phone without one. Married women and children share their husband’s/fathers Iqamas. Your forum and a copy of the Lonely Planet Guide to Saudi Arabia were a Godsend before I actually moved.Can you tell us something about your property?

Expats cannot buy property in Saudi, most expats live on compounds which sounds grim but they are generally very nice; however don’t be put off if your first view of the compound is concrete, barbed wire and guards with guns, inside the atmosphere is very much like a Mediterranean holiday village with swimming pools, shops, restaurants and villas. The prices are going up e.g. I had a large 1 bed apartment on a compound called Arabian Homes which cost me 80,000 SAR for 12 months, payable up front, the second year it had gone up to 96,000 SAR. I managed to get this by word of mouth and by knowing people on the compound but generally your company would help with finding you accommodation.

Were you employed or self-employed? What challenges did you face in either finding employment or running your own business?

As I said the job came to me, but you can’t get into Saudi without a reason to be there.

Were there many other expats in your area?

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Yes lots of expats from all over the world but English speaking mainly from USA, UK, and Ireland.

What was your relationship like with the locals?

Difficult to have a relationship as such with ‘the locals’ but the Saudis that I did work with were very private people; other expat Arabs which make up huge part of the labour force were great once you got to know them. I didn’t have a problem with not speaking Arabic, but do take the trouble to learn a few words of Arabic especially the niceties and numbers.

What did you like about life where you were?

Although I’m home now I miss the weather, the life style, especially the social side, the food, my friends and the tax free salary.
Kingdom Tower just before the sandstorm hit

What did you dislike about your expat life?

Being unable to drive was difficult at first, but in truth even if I could have driven I wouldn’t have, Saudi drivers are notoriously bad and red lights are there to be broken. Not being able to have a nice glass of wine with the fab food was difficult!

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

Make sure it’s in your contract!
Get a mobile as soon as possible.
Get yourself on the list of a reputable driver as soon as possible.
Accept the fact that it’s incredibly bureaucratic and you will hear the word Inshallah (God willing) in virtually every sentence.
Do not flout the rules, you will end up in trouble – if you are female always carry a scarf and don’t attempt to argue if you are asked to cover your head.
Stock up on DVD box sets and books.
Join as many societies as you can e.g. Riyadh Group of British Business Men (RGBB) The Caledonian Society, The English Society to mention a few, most nationalities will have a society relevant to them.
Register with your Embassy.

What are your plans for the future?

At the moment I have 2 possibilities of employment overseas, Cyprus and Russia; so I’m sure I’ll be visiting your forum again asking for advice from your expats.

If anyone wants to contact me I am happy to answer any questions and if I don’t know the answer I could probably find someone who does. My email address is Lynne.Charnley@btinternet.com

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