Beginner’s Guide to Moving to KAUST – Part 1

By | August 7, 2011

In the last few weeks, several people have reached out to me after reading my blog to say that they are moving to KAUST soon and that my blog posts have been helpful in their own planning. So, I thought I’d put together a few thoughts on some of my lessons learned from moving here.

This will be a three part series: Part 1 covering the time before the move, Part 2 covering moving day, Part 3 covering the first few weeks at KAUST.

I’d love your input on my guide. What have I missed? What did I get wrong? Feel free to add your ideas in the comments below.

Before Your Move

Things and Stuff

Now is the time to be getting rid of stuff you won’t need and buying things that you may struggle to get in Saudi Arabia. There are plenty of shops in Jeddah where you can buy house items, but as with moving to any new country, you might not necessarily find all of the items you’re expecting.  If you’re picky, or have specific things you know you’ll want while you’re in Saudi, I suggest shipping things from home in your shipping allowance which will arrive about 3 months after you do. (UPDATE: Just a heads up that students do not receive a shipping allowance).

There is a Fedex here on campus, but it’s difficult to get many online shops to ship to the Kingdom or they have very high shipping prices.

Here are a few things that I bought before we moved and I’m so glad I did:

  • A nice pair of polarized sunglasses
  • Several bathing suits – including a one-piece
  • Water shoes – the beach is a bit rocky
  • Clothes that are covering but light weight (for women, mostly) – Abayas are not required on the compound (as they are in public areas in the Kingdom), though many women do wear them. Women who choose not to wear the abaya will likely feel most comfortable in long sleeves and trousers on campus for cultural reasons, but the heat here can be intense. Prepare for this reality before you move.
  • A bike! There is a shop to buy them here, but the choices are limited. Biking is one of the best ways to get around the compound.
  • A water bottle
  • Computer equipment, including a wireless router
  • Vonage hardware (Vonage is a broadband based phone service which is great for international calling)
  • Pet supplies if applicable – like toys, baggies, and any special treats

Update: Other recommended items from some of my KAUST friends include:

  • Front and back bike lights and a bike lock
  • Cash. Get some Saudi Riyals in your home country so you have money when you get here. It may take a few days for your bank account to get set up, and a few weeks before you get your first paycheck. The bank on campus is Samba Bank.  In some places, it can take quite awhile to order Riyals (one person said they needed to order it 6 weeks in advance in their home country!)
  • If you’re from the US, don’t plan to bring a lot of electrical items. You’ll need a converter to convert from 110v to 220v which is annoying. If you don’t do this, your item will go bust… and possibly burn down your house.
  • Holiday decorations
  • Plug converters. For some reason our grocery store stopped selling them. We have euro-2-prong plugs in the houses here. Most of the appliances are sold with UK-3-prong plugs so you need some converters for that… and some that converts your home items to the euro. Pack one or two with you on the plane and a bunch more in your shipment.

What should I be doing?

One of my main problems with moving to Saudi was that I didn’t really know what I was supposed to be doing at each step of the way. I always felt like I was missing something or that I should be doing more to prepare. Here are a few of my tips for staying ahead of the game:

  • Ask questions. The main thing in the weeks leading up to you move is to ensure that you’re on top of everything with your move coordinator. If you don’t understand some part of the process, ask.
  • Go to the doctor to get immunizations for Saudi. They’re not fun, but neither is getting sick. While you’re there, get copies of all of your medical records – you never know when they might come in handy.
  • Learn about Saudi. Start seeking out news about Saudi, and reading books about the region.
  • Read about Kaust on the Kaust Wiki. Note: one thing I didn’t realize before we got here is that there are a LOT of other resources about Kaust online that you can’t access off campus. So, don’t worry if you don’t know much about the particulars of living at Kaust right now. Once you’re on the network, finding that information will get a lot easier.
  • Unlock your cell phone – so you can switch out the sim for a local one.
  • Scan and save or print everything important! You’ll need them once you get to saudi. I’m talking: passport, visa, marriage certificate, birth certificate, driver’s licence, highschool and university diplomas, cv, passport photo, etc. In addition to scanning a passport photo, go ahead and make 20 or so copies.
  • Plan a going away party with all your friends and family – it’s so hard to say goodbye, but it really helps to get to see everyone you know and love before you go. Bonus points if you can get them to take all your stuff you don’t need at the party!

Dealing Emotionally

Moving is stressful. Moving internationally is VERY stressful. Moving internationally where you don’t speak the language or understand the customs is UNBELIEVABLY stressful.

While I’m not exactly a great example of someone who handles stress well, here are a few things I learned about dealing with the stress of moving here:

  • Role with the punches. We found there to be a pretty severe lack of information from KAUST about what to expect once we got here. Just role with it. And, if your struggling to find information you need, ask me!
  • Take one day at a time. A few hours of packing and planning every day will help the transition be smooth and relatively painless.
  • Things tend to have a way of working out. Joe and Anita Branin told us that on our first night here. So very true.
  • Make lists. When you move you will have several piles of stuff: Stuff that’s going on the plane with you, stuff that’s going via air freight, stuff that’s going via sea freight, stuff that’s going into storage, and stuff that you’re giving away/selling/donating/recycling/trashing etc. This get’s to be a bit of a logistical nightmare… keep lists and be organized!

Rounding it all up

Moving can be stressful. You can manage that stress by being organized, inquisitive, and proactive in your approach to your move. I hope that the above tips will help you to make the most of your time and efforts before you move here!

I’d love your input on my guide. What have I missed? What did I get wrong? Feel free to add your ideas in the comments below.

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  • Hi amyjord –

    Thanks for your kind words! Let me answer your questions one by one:

    1. To travel on your own, you simply need to hire a taxi. If you book a day or two in advance, they’re easy to arrange. Last minute is a bit more hit-or-miss though. The taxis at KAUST are of good quality and the drivers are experienced. The airport run is easy and takes about an hour.

    2. The workout facilities are excellent. There is one on campus, one in the harbor area, and one on the island. I’ve never been to the one on campus, but I know that the other two gyms have very high quality equipment including weights. There are also good classes and trainers available.

    3. There are no official non-muslim religious activities.

    Hope this helps!

  • izzy

    Hi, we are moving to kaust next month and want to bring my double bass, do you know anybody who has any experience of how the shipping company or customs handle unusual items like this?

  • It is not uncommon for these companies to pack instruments and other valuable objects. Just keep an eye on the packers while they pack it so that you are sure you’re happy with how they handle it.

    I encourage you to contact your shipping company for more info.

  • Rosemary Mills

    Hi Claire,

    I have found your blog so useful! I am due to arrive in KAUST in November 2014 and I am from the UK. I have a few questions, I hope you don’t mind me asking!

    What is the name of the shipping company? I still haven’t been contacted and am getting quite worried now!

    Also, am I able to buy ladies sports clothing in Jeddah?

    What are the office hours like?

    I look forward to being in touch.

    Thanks again,
    Rosie :-)

  • Jacqui

    Hi Claire,
    Just want to thank you for sharing all this info. My husband and I are moving to KAUST at the moment (he goes on Friday and I follow next month) and your blog has done so much to help us decide if we should take the plunge and accept the jobs. Right now I’ve just finished packing his suitcases, checking your checklist of useful things on this post as I went along. Can’t thank you enough for this wonderful resource!

  • Hi Jacqui – how nice of you to post – I’m so glad that my blog was of some use to you!! I hope he had a great trip here and is settling in well.

    Let me know if you have any suggestions for things to add/remove from the list once you’ve arrived. It’s been nearly 4 years since we moved so maybe some things have changed!

  • Reyhan

    Hi Claire,
    I just got accepted as a researcher at KAUST. Your blog has been really helpful since I dont know many things about live in KAUST. One thing that I’m still trying to figure out is how much Riyals I should have in hand when I first arrive in the country. I will be with my wife. Exchange rate from SGD to Riyal is not that good these days, so I would like minimize the amount.
    Thank you for your suggestion.
    Best wishes

  • Hi Reyhan – I’m not totally sure, but I do know that it can be costly to set up a house and that sometimes getting the payment and banking and all that set up can take a bit of time. Perhaps your relocation advisor can provide some insight on this issue and what to expect.

    It’s definitely worth ensuring that you have access to money when you first get here. Maybe you can take money out of the cash machine here using your home-country debit or credit card? That way you can take it out as you go so you only take out the amount that you need. Just a thought anyways.

    Congrats on your new position here. Where will you be working?

  • Reyhan

    Thanks for your advice, Claire. I’m still at the very beginning of the recruitment process, KAUST HR people havent contacted me yet. Maybe, as you said, I should ask them lots of details later. I am just afraid if there will be many unexpected expenses at the beginning (medical check-up, etc).
    I will be working in biological science department. From the web, KAUST experience looks amazing!

  • We love living here. I hope it all works out for you.

  • Laura Wilson

    Hi Claire!
    My husband is considering accepting a position at Kaust, but I am a gallery represented artist in the US and concerned that I will be unable to find paints and canvas in the area. Have you seen any art supply stores over here? Or know anyone who has? Also I am wondering as to the effectiveness of Fed Ex? How limited is it?
    Thanks for taking the time to answer these incredibly specific questions.
    Laura A W

  • Hi Laura – art is a hot topic in Jeddah in the moment. There is a pretty thriving underground movement of artists in Jeddah and I understand there are a few galleries featuring very talented artists. I have two little ones so I can’t say I’m terribly plugged into the Jeddah art scene though.

    That being said, there is also a pretty great art scene at KAUST – with some talented artists here on the compound and an active community group for artists. We have several art installments from community members in the community library throughout the year – one is having it’s opening tonight in fact.

    In terms of materials, I know that you can find some in Jeddah – there is a store called Jarir ( which has the basics, but you might struggle to find the exact brand or size or color that you’re looking for. There are no michaels or anything like that here!

    Shipping things here will likely be a good option. The DHL on campus is reliable – the only problem is that it can be a bit pricey to ship things here. Perhaps you can find a retailer online that does free or low-cost international shipping.

    Many people also stuff their bags with specific supplies when they go back to their homes for holiday. My days of traveling light are over as I do much of my shopping when I’m abroad.

    Lastly, I will add that the best way to get all the tips of the trade is to join the art self-directed group (SDG) when you arrive. Those folks will give you all the best tips with regard to online retailers and specific shops in Jeddah.


  • Laura Wilson

    Thanks Claire! That sounds promising. I have two boys ages 8 and 5, I would love any resources on the school on campus. And, wine? Thanks!

  • Hi Laura – My oldest is starting at the KAUST school in the fall, so I don’t have much first-hand experience with it, but the reputation is very good and the kids seem happy and fulfilled. You can check out the school website and contact them with specific questions.


    PS- It’s a dry country, I’m afraid!

  • Celia Prinsloo

    Hi Claire,

    I’m got a job at the Kaust Medical Centre soon. Have to say at this stage very overwhelming… Could you maybe explain to me if the HR says that the Visa is ready and just have to get authorized to my name and my documents now have to get attested, round about how long it will take for me to leave here. The HR from did hospital didn’t really answer my question, and I’m guessing it’s coz he can’t give an exact date. Just want to get a heads up

  • Hi Celia – Congrats on your new job. Unfortunately, I don’t know anything about DSFH’s HR processes. You should probably ask them these questions. Good luck and looking forward to seeing you around the KMC soon.

  • Sayantan Dasgupta

    Hello Claire, I am going to work in KAUST in VSRP. Do the “Bank of America” debit cards work in SAMBA ATM, or in the supermarkets? How much will be the expense of a single person per week in Saudi Riyals?

  • Hi Sayantan –

    Your BOA debit card should work everywhere here, though the fees will likely apply depending on your situation. Many people choose to open SAMBA bank accounts to save on those fees.

    I don’t know what your expenses will be, but I know many people are able to live quite frugally here. It all depends on if you wish to eat out or cook and if you are willing to travel to Jeddah for groceries that are cheaper than here on campus.

    I hope you find your transition to KAUST a good one!

  • Sayantan Dasgupta

    Well how much will it be without choosing the extra-frugal options, like traveling to jeddah for grocery?

  • I’m really trying to reply with something helpful to you, but I’m struggling. It just depends on what you buy. there is a lot of international imported food which can get a bit pricey and also a lot of local food which is dirt cheap. You’ll just have to see what you like eating – which I am sure is different for you as it is for me and my family.

    Perhaps you can ask your move coordinator to put you in touch with the folks at tamimi supermarket and they can help you price out your items.

  • Skiintaard

    Hi Claire
    Are guitars and drumkits allowed in the compound?

  • Yes.

  • Sayantan Dasgupta

    Hi Claire, Thanks a lot. That will go a little too far :)
    I was wondering if a car is a must at KAUST, or is it possible to buy a bicycle and live on it?

  • A car is definitely not required here. Riding a bike around the compound is totally bearable even in the summer. The compound is flat and there is a nice sea breeze. For many people, this is their main mode of transportation all year round. There is also an extensive bus system (with AC of course!) and a golf cart rental program.

    New bikes are available to purchase at the gas station and there is a good market for second-hand bikes as well.

  • Katie

    We will hopefully be moving to KAUST from the US sometime this year and your blog has been incredibly helpful. I’m looking for information on cell phones. My current phone is on its last leg and I’ve been trying to keep it limping along until we move but I don’t think it will last that long (it’s a Samsung Galaxy S4 mini and the battery needs to be replaced but it’s impossible to find one). My worry is that I’ll get a new phone here but won’t be able to use it when we move! What do you suggest? I’m not at all tech-savvy so hopefully this isn’t a silly question! LOL

  • Hi Katie — thanks for your kind words. I’m glad my blog has been so helpful to you.

    Unfortunately America is a huge pain in the butt when it comes to cell phones. In nearly every other country in the world, phones and sim cards are totally straightforward. In America, we have big companies that are hijacking the marketplace.

    Rant aside, it means that what you need to find is this: you need to find an UNLOCKED phone – meaning one that is not associated with a particular cellular provider such as AT&T or Verizon. It is possible to buy a new, locked phone and unlock it, however there is a reasonable chance you’ll brick it (break it from a software perspective) permanently. So, it’s best to buy the phone unlocked from the start. I know the category and bands and whatnot matter too, but for the life of me I can’t remember all that, but it’s worth educating yourself on this so you find a phone that will work both here in Saudi and back home in the US or if you’re traveling elsewhere (just swap the sim for each country).

    The other thing to keep in mind is that you’ll probably want to stop paying for your cell plan in America and you’ll need a new solution when you visit home. After 7 years abroad I still haven’t found a good solution to getting cell coverage in America. In pretty much every other country, you just pick up a pre-paid sim at the airport for 10 or 20 bucks and off you go. In America you need to have a plan, even for the pre-paid stuff. I usually drive to a t-mobile store or kiosk a few days after arriving in the US and get a t-mobile pre-paid sim for around 40 dollars for 30 days I believe. But, t-mobile doesn’t have coverage where I need it most (my parents’ house) so if you hear of a better solution please let me know!

    I know this isn’t of great help, but perhaps it’ll get you started! And if you figure out something on this topic, let me know! Maybe it’s the future topic for a blog post???

  • Katie

    Thanks so much for the info! I’ll show my husband too and hopefully we’ll get it all figured out! If I find out anything else I’ll let you know!

  • Katie

    Possibly silly question about shipping books. I’m a big reader and I’d like to bring some books when we move over in June, but I’ve heard mixed things about the Harry Potter books and haven’t been able to get a definitive answer on if they are allowed in the country or not! My kids are just about old enough to start reading them with me and I don’t want to leave them behind when we move! Do you have any insight?

  • Hi Katie – This is a tough one. I don’t know of any definitive list of books that are deemed questionable, though I understand that books are censored at the boarder from time to time. I would imagine that harry potter books would be fine, but I’m certainly no expert on this issue. Things I would consider when bringing books: what is the image on the cover? What is the topic of the book? If these are pretty innocuous, I assume you’d be fine.

    Disclaimer, disclaimer: I am in no way an authority on this topic!

  • Tonya

    I just received an offer from KAUST. Your blog has been most helpful. THANK YOU!!

  • Hi Tonya – that’s such wonderful news! Congrats! I hope you will love kaust as much as we do :)

  • Sam Solami

    This is a great blog, excellent information. I have lived in thawul for 18 years as its my hometown and then lived 6 years in the USA, now I am back to Thawul & KAUST to do my grad school. So excited!!!

  • Wonderful news! It must be great to be coming back. Where have you been in the states?

  • Sam Solami

    Thanks Claire. I have stayed mostly in California (SoCal).

  • Nice – I’ve never been, but it sounds lovely!