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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  • Zoe

    I’ve moved internationally three times. The first two I was a kid, and the third was (I thought!) culturally very similar – Australia to the UK.

    I recommend:

    1. Arrange long-term storage for your things in an environment that’s safe (dry, flood proof, not in a rented property when other people will move your things)

    2. Know what arrangements you’ll need to make for banking

    3. Acknowledge that you will mess up. The specific thing you mess up on will always stick out – just remember, it was always going to be something, and it happened to be that thing. It’s fine.

    4. The people who live where you’re moving to are insane. Know this, and forgive them every time they act insanely. (6 months later you will reassess your definition of ‘insane’.)

    5. Photocopy everything, always.

    6. Take it easy. You won’t know you’ve pushed it too far till you have, so relax at every opportunity.

    7. Take photos early.

    8. Practice your stories – you’ll be telling them, with a smile, the rest of your life.

  • Robin

    Hi Claire,

    Sounds absolutely fascinating – what an adventure.

    I’m going to KAUST too, as a researcher. For mobile phones, can you buy local SIM cards there, or do you have to go to Jeddah?


  • Claire

    Hi Robin — you can buy a local sim card at the big Tamimi – the grocery store here on campus. You won’t get a huge amount of choice, but if you’re only looking to make calls (not data) it seems like a reasonable rate to me. If you want to shop around though, you’ll probably need to head into Jeddah.

    Some people are issued phones through their work, so you may want to check if you’re eligible for that…

    When will you arrive?

  • Hey Zoe — sorry for missing your comment ealier! These are great great great pieces of advice. I love in particular the “take photos early” piece. It’s embarrassing to be a tourist in your own town after a certain point. Capitalize on being the new kid while you can!

  • Cat

    I think some of this advice works for any international move – I know I definitely used the “piles” concept and the “roll with the punches.” Cheers to you, Claire, for putting this down to help others!

  • Anonymous

    this is a wonderful resource for anyone moving internationally! i’m even facing culture shock returning to my home country… :)

  • Eric

    Hello Claire,
    Thanks for the blog. I’d like to make some pragmatic suggestions that may easily be overlooked:

    1. The home soft pack does NOT include toilet paper. May want to throw a roll in the suitcase. I arrived at 3 AM and there were no stores open.

    2. If there is a Taxi driving you around on the first day, you can ask your dept. if they’ll pay for you to use it for an extra hour or so, so you can do an initial shopping.

    3. There is no food or coffee or tea stocked, so you may also want to bring that with you too. Your phone will not allow you to order burger king or whatever until it is activated.

    4. If one has a VPN for their computer, you can use it to log onto popular sites such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video as it will give you a US IP address.

    5. There is a computer store down near the IT building and it is about 1/2 the price as the electronic store near the Discovery Square.

    6. There is a greenhouse / nursery where you can purchase indoor and outdoor plants.

  • Hi Eric – Thanks so much for sharing all of these tips!

    The toilet paper is key… not sure how I missed that in my blog post! In fact, that’s important any time you leave the compound. Always carry TP :-)

  • Georgina

    Hi Claire.
    Thank you for a great blog. My husband and I just accepted a job with KAUST school for 2012-2013 school year. I was wondering if you happen to have photos of the townhouse accommodations and/or the location? As well, would you know if people at KAUST often seem to purchase cars and the process they go through for that? Thanks again.

  • You inspired me to write a whole post on your questions, Georgina. Here it is:

    Looking forward to having you join us at KAUST!

  • Robturner73

    Hi Claire,

    I’ve just handed in my notice with my current employer here in England, and have started the countdown to my move to KAUST!

    I just wanted to say a big thank you for putting this guide up here! I feel a bit lost as to what I have to do and how to get organised, so your guide is extremely useful!

    Robert :)

  • Hi Robert – Congrats! When will you be moving? What will you be doing here? I’m so glad that the guide is helpful to you. Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll see what I can do to help answer them!

  • Tmedia

    and how is it to move with young children? 1 and 3 years old? Schooling? daycare?

  • Hey Claire, I’ve moved to Kaust three days ago. It wasn’t my first time, or one of the first times, i’ve changed countries so the moving itself went smoothly, however i’d like your advice on where to get the sim card in KAUST, do i have to go to Jeddah for that? Thanks.

  • Hi Milan – welcome to KAUST! Tamimi sells sim cards – they’re usually second-hand and phone-only though. Alternatively, I understand you can get a sim card for personal use through IT (you pay for the service – not KAUST). I’m guessing you can get this via the IT service desk:

    Or… you can always go to Jeddah.

  • chan

    Hii claire,

    I am a student from India. Your blog seems to be very very helpful for new comers to KAUST. I got an opportunity for an internship in KAUST for a 3 month period and am moving to saudi in a few weeks. I want to ask you about the cost of living in the campus for a visiting student like me. My supervisor agreed to provide accomodation and a 2k riyal as monthly stipend. Will that be enough to cover all the basic needs (food,internet,phone with international call service..etc)..And how about the local SIM card, does it works for international calls? and what would be the cost for a call…

    I am trying to know more about the living in the campus and your blog information seems to be promising. The information provided here is of a year ago. What is the scenario there now. Same or different??

    Thanks in advance :) :)

  • Cazbiss

    Hi Claire. Are you still living at KAUST?

  • yes.

  • Sara Brady

    Hi Claire! My fiance lives in KAUST, I have tons of questions that i can´t find online.
    1. What paper work do I need to live there?
    2.I have a baby girl but it´s not my fiances daughter will there be a problem?
    3.Is there day care facilities? and are they good?
    4. Inside KAUST you cant wear tank top or sleeveless clothes?
    Oh my I´m so stressed I just want everything to go smoothly

  • Hi Sarah — sorry for my delay in responding. I just had a baby so things have been a bit busy around here :-)

    Let me answer your questions:

    1. You need an iqama – when you move here, the university government affairs team will help you get this. If you have questions about paperwork, please talk to your HR rep.

    2. I don’t think this is a problem, but be sure to find out before you make any decisions. Again – this is something to bring up with HR.
    3. Yes there is daycare and it is good, but there is a long waiting list. Again, ask HR for details.
    4. You need to dress conservatively at KAUST, but tank tops aren’t specifically banned in the community. On the university campus though, most women wear long pants and at least 3/4 sleeves. There is an official policy you can ask HR about.

    Sorry to say “ask HR” for all your questions, but they really do have all the answers to your questions!!!

    Best of luck in your move.

  • carryn

    hi, have you seen student’s (i mean for those pursuing master and phd’s ) residence before?

  • Claire Sale

    Yes, but I don’t know all the details. Most students are either in apartments or shared houses.

  • ihab

    Hi Claire, I wonder if you can write something up regarding applying for a visa to SA from a western country eg USA. That would be helpful. Thanks

  • Hi Ihab — there are no tourist visas to Saudi as far as I know. You must be coming on a umrah or hajj visa, visiting immediate family, or are being sponsored by a company.

  • ihab

    I will be sponsored by KAUST. I was curious to know the steps you followed to get the visa. Mainly the medical report, did you have to submit lab tests results with your visa application or just the medical report filled by a doctor. Thanks

  • Oh I see! That’s great!

    I think this depends on where you’re coming from. I believe we needed to get vaccinations and submit our blood test and medical reports from our doctor. Then when we got here they wanted another blood test. This may have changed though.. talk to your relocation coordinator for details specific to you.

  • Ihab

    Thanks! I know that KAUST helps with providing movers in US/UK but do they pay for them or we do from the relocation allowances.

  • Claire Sale

    When we came, they paid. You’ll need to verify this with your relocation coordinator though. Things like this can change rapidly!

  • Julie Piper

    Claire, we are coming from the US, thought we would be there by now. Watching the news and wondering how things are over that way?

  • All is well! We feel very safe at KAUST and feel very removed from the news of embassy closures, as well as the problems in Egypt and Syria. All of it is terrible news of course, but does not affect us or our decisions on a day-to-day basis.

  • Julie Piper

    Thank you for your response. It seems as though we will be arriving the first week of September. So much to do in the next couple of weeks, but thanks to your blog, I am not feeling too overwhelmed.

  • Aww, I’m so pleased that I have been able to help you in some small way during this stressful time. I know all-too-well how hard it is to move country! Good luck with the move!

    And remember: things have a way of working themselves out. Sometimes you need to be assertive with what you need though. I had the distinct feeling that things would not be “for sure” until we got on the plane!

  • Sherry

    Great Job Clair!! I would suggest you put (for US people) not to bring too many electronic items or they will need a converter. And it takes 3 to 4 months before you receive your personally shipped items. I purchased a bike online and had it shipped to my US house, that
    way it was already boxed up to come the KAUST :-) I would also suggest if the
    spouse wants to work at KAUST that they scan in all of their employment documents.
    KAUST may ask for a copy of your credentials if they cannot verify them. For example: I scanned my high school diploma because my school no longer exist.

  • SmileDC

    Thank you so much, this is beyond helpful. One question which might sound silly, are there dog sitters/walkers over there? I scanned the threads so If I did miss it, my sincere apologies :)

  • Hey SmileDC –

    There are not professional dog sitters/walkers per say, but there are a lot of teenagers looking for work as well as other people around that may be interested to help. Sometimes the full-time domestic helpers will do this on the side for extra money, or if you ask around there is always someone who can help. Because we’re so remote everyone seems to try to help everyone — especially the people with dogs of their own! Over the summer and during the eid breaks, it can be a bit tougher to find someone to take your pet, but if you think about it far enough in advance (a few months) it should be fairly easy to find someone. Having an “easy” dog helps too.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that KAUST does see this as a problem and are actively working to build kennels and additional facilities for the animals. But, it’s been in the works for a long time and I don’t think they’ve even broken ground yet. Slowly, slowly….


  • Hi Sherry — thanks for your suggestions! I just updated the post. What do you think?

  • yaleme

    Hi Claire, can you tell me more about baby products at Kaust? I have a 13 mth old with allegies. What kind of whole milk are at the store, baby diapers/wipes (pampers sensitive?), types of baby food brands, detergent soap for laundry, dove sensitive, vaseline? Etc… thanks

  • Hey Yaleme –

    My baby had a dairy intolerance until recently, so I’m a good person to ask. The main thing to keep in mind about buying specialty items here is that they might have a huge stock of an item one week, then you won’t see it again… ever. So, for things like soy/almond/carob milk – we have it — but I never trust that it won’t disappear and I always had a couple of extra cartons on hand just in case. This goes for all products.

    Specifically to your questions: I can find pampers active baby and I don’t think I’ve ever seen papers sensitive here. I can usually find huggies natural wipes (which still seem chemical-laden! and I’ve seriously been considering making my own wipes). The baby food is generally crap – I couldn’t find anything that was dairy free, and even if it DF, it’s full of sugar, so we just stuck to making our own baby food. Detergent — we’ve got tide and a few other brands, but I don’t recall anything specific for babies or sensitive skin. Not sure about dove sensitive. I’m guessing you can find vaseline though. And, I’ve found coconut oil here before – which if you don’t know about it, google it, it’s amazing for sensitive babies.

    All that said, there are many grocery stores in Jeddah – and many people do make regular grocery shops in Jeddah. My guess is that you could find all of the products you are seeking at a larger grocery store in the city.

    Hope this helps! And, good for you, momma, for taking such good care of your allergy babe!

  • Yaleme

    Thank you so much for responding! Sounds like we should have some things shipped til we get settled. Will be there sometime in December! Have some butterflies anxiety going but guess that’s normal w any move.

  • Ain’t that the truth! Good luck with the move!

  • Julie

    Hi Claire! I just recently accepted a job at KAUST, and we are now in the relocation pipeline. We are very excited! Your blog has been most helpful in figuring out what to pack and bring. I’m coming with my husband and two kids, ages 8 and 5. I have a question about the money…
    You recommend bringing some Riyals. Is there an ATM on campus that would accept a foreign ATM card so that we can tap into our US bank account? That is normally how we access foreign currency when we travel. How about changing money at the airport? Just trying to get an idea of how much we should get before coming over.
    I’m sure I’ll have more questions as we go through this. Thank you so much for being such a great resource!!!

  • Hi Julie — Congrats on your move! I hope you like KAUST as much as we do.

    There are several SAMBA Bank ATMs here at KAUST but they can be a bit hit and miss in terms of using foreign bank cards- works for some and not others as far as I know (no idea which ones though). I’m not sure if there is a money exchange at the airport but there are several ATMS from different banks there which may be worth a try. But the fool-proof way of managing this is by bringing some cash to get you started – at least a month is probably a good idea.

    The Tamimi Supermarket here at KAUST accepts USD as well, fyi.

    Let me know what else I can do to help!

  • Julie

    Thank you Claire! This is helpful! The shipping company is coming next week to do the survey, and I’ve been reading through the paperwork. It says we are not supposed to bring Christmas goods. Yikes! We had planned to bring a Christmas tree, ornaments, and decorations. Have you heard of this being a problem to bring into the country? I thought I had read on here or other blogs to specifically bring them since you can’t get them there. Any thoughts on this?

  • If your paperwork says not to bring something, then I recommend not bringing it. You’d be surprised how much christmasy stuff you can find here!

  • Julie

    6 days to go! Some silly questions as we finish our packing. Do the homes come with hangers in the closets/wardrobes? How about any clocks or time pieces? We received a survey of home items that will be provided, but it only listed furniture. It didn’t give us a good description of kitchen goods, soft goods, etc that I have heard are provided. Thank you!!!

  • Hey Julie — unfortunately from what I understand the soft goods pack changes from time to time. You should contact your relocation advisor to ask what it includes. It should DEFINITELY include sheets, pillows, blankets, duvet covers etc for all beds, and new towels for all the people. There should also be an array of kitchen items but just what has varied over time. If you do not have bedding and towels upon arrival, ask the person who let you into your house to provide it before you sign anything.

    I do not think they provide hangers or clocks. Wire hangers are pretty easy to come by though, many people use the dry cleaning service here which provide wire hangers and lots of people have extra. If you need them, just post on the KAUST for sale facebook page and I’m sure someone will give them to you for free.

    More about the facebook groups here:

  • amyjord

    Hi Claire, my name is Amy and I am hoping to get a position at KAUST. I have a few questions:

    1. Is it easy for a single female to travel out of the compound, and especially to the airport? Do you know the process?

    2. How are the workout facilities? I like to lift weights.

    3. Are there non-Muslim religious activities within the community – perhaps I should ask around?

    Thank you for your blog!

  • amyjord

    Claire – I also wanted to know if you are aware of any chiropractors near KAUST? Thanks!

  • I recently came across one in Jeddah. I haven’t heard of any personal reviews, I just found it on the internet. American Spine Center – +966 2614 3630 or