Despite the Internet being widely available in Saudi Arabia to government agencies, businesses and individuals, I find that there are not enough online resources for expats, especially if you are non-Arabic speakers. You may have more luck on the Arabic web, but as an English speaker, you may find that very little online resources for expats is available.
Looking for opening hours of this or that place? They don’t have a website! or it was last updated in 2001! Want to discover the city and need tips on where to go? The tourism websites are a joke: no up-to-date info, no dates of events, no links to organizing bodies, no contact details. The results is a LOT of frustration and many many missed opportunities to discover Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is a rich and varied country, with cultural, natural, and historical assets that go way beyond what you would imagine when first coming here. Yet, many expats end up living here and seeing nothing. I have been here more than 3 years now and I feel like I haven’t seen anything. Not that I didn’t try… but many times I made the trip, booked hotels, drove with the kids for hours only to find out that what we wanted to see was closed in the winter or that it was only open on the weekend or every Tuesday after 5pm…! It took me 2 years to finally visit one of the most famous museum in Jeddah. I know, right, ridiculous! But don’t laugh, the vast majority of comments on Tripadvisor read something like that: “been living in Jeddah for 30 years and never knew that place existed!” or ” have drove past this place many times, never seen it open, didn’t know what it was!”.
The list below is not exhaustive of course but those 10 online resources for expats have helped me a lot over the years. These are my go-to places when I’m stuck. If you don’t know them already, check them out:
Saudi Ministry of Interior – aka Absher
There is no doubt that sooner or later, you’ll need to use this link. All your information is stored on the MoI portal and you can access it all. You will need first to register (there are a few steps to follow, including fingerprinting, but it’s easier than it sounds) then you will be able to complete many procedures online such as ordering visas, renewing your iqama (residence permit), adding children as dependents and much much more.
Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs
This could also be useful if you plan for instance to invite people in Saudi Arabia under a family visit visa. As you can see if you click on Ministry Services, there are loads of things that this site can help you with.
Once you live in Saudi, you will need to apply for exit-reentry visas in order to leave the country and you may want to check on the status of your visa. This website is where you check whether your visa has been processed or not and how long it is valid for. Absolutely essential link. Save it somewhere!
Facebook Expat Groups
Of course, there are loads of them and you can simply google them. However, those 2 groups – along with their associated websites or blogs- have proved the most useful to me over the years.
Susie of Arabia Facebook Group
It currently has over 17K members, all expats or future expats to Saudi Arabia. Many of them seem to be based in Jeddah, but the main cities of Riyadh and Dammam are also discussed regularly. No matter what you are looking for, simply ask in the group and someone is bound to have the answer. It is my number #1 go-to place for any specific questions about a place, opening times…. anything really. What is great about this group is that you get up-to-date answers to your questions.
Jeddah for Kids Blog (+ Facebook group)
If you have children in Jeddah, then you need to check out this blog. It has been running for many years and the people running it are very thorough in their research of anything kid-related in Jeddah. This means that they have long lists of places to keep the kids busy, schools, kid-friendly activities… Probably the most comprehensive website of the sort. They also have a Facebook group for specific request such as recommendations for a particular school or nursery.
Culture & Tourism
Saudi Tourism Official Website
I was happy to realize when I checked the link for this post that they have a brand new website design and layout (BETA version) and I do hope the new site will be more useful than the old one. Unfortunately, as tourism is just emerging in Saudi Arabia as an economic sector in its own right, the online infrastructure is still poor. The good new is that KSA is investing a lot as we speak to develop this sector and we should see some improvements in the near future.
Jeddah Cultural Exchange Centre (+ Facebook page)
Located in central Jeddah, the centre is home to Arabic classes, cultural adaptation workshops, even an English language book-swap. They also have movie nights with children’s classics or documentaries on Saudi Arabia. They also organize trips and visits in and around Jeddah. Definitely worth checking them out once you’re settled a bit.
Tour Guides / Groups
Saudi Arabia is a country that has long been closed to tourism and as such it is not easy to explore it on your own. You will need the help of some guide or group to make the most of all the amazing sights this country has to offer. Be warned that those trips for expats don’t come cheap so plan ahead.
Tripadvisor *Things to do in Jeddah* Page
This is a bit of a given but you may very well be surprised to find some interesting place or activity to keep you and your family busy.
News in English
Saudi Gazette (+ Facebook page)
I have to admit, I’m not the type of person who reads or watches the news seriously. Too much negativity for my taste but I do like to know roughly what’s going on. If you’re like me, then Saudi Gazette is perfect. You’ll get all the news of Saudi Arabia, you’ll hear about big news, official announcements from the King, changes in the law that could affect you as an expat and so on… Oh and they have those really funny cartoons that are usually spot on to describe cultural aspects of Saudi.