Beginners Guide to Moving to KAUST – Part 2

By | August 14, 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 is a three part series: Part 1 covering the time before the move, Part 2 covering moving day(s), and 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.

Image Courtesy Yousef Raffah on Flickr

Moving Day

Congrats! It’s time to move! Here are a few of our lessons learned for the time between when the movers come to take your stuff away and arriving at KAUST on your first day in the Kingdom.

Things and Stuff

It’s important to be ready for the movers. You’ll want to know ahead of time where every thing in your house is going, what you’ll need with you, and what can get to you in a few weeks time.

  • Be organized. Pick spaces in your house where you place the stuff that’s getting to Saudi via different methods (luggage, air freight, sea freight). Our guest room was for the stuff coming with us on the plane, the living room for the air freight and the kitchen for the sea freight. This helped the movers and it helped us.
  • Pack wisely. You’ll be amazed about the decisions you’ve made about stuff once you get here. Our air shipment arrived the other day and we had packed hoodies and sweatpants in air shipment, but not the dog’s favorite toy. We’re desperate for the toy, and the hoodies have gone into deep storage! Here are a few items we couldn’t have lived without/wish we had brought on the plane with us: computers, vonage, unlocked cell phones, bathing suits, water bottles, backpack, sandals, camera. Update Oct 2013: Also, keep in mind that your shipment will not be sent until you are issued an iqama (residence permit), so it will be awhile before you see your stuff again – plan for this!
  • Bring several months of prescriptions with you on the plane… just to be on the safe side.
  • This one is important: Don’t put your passport in your air or sea shipment!!
  • Women: it’s best to travel in an abaya. If you already have one, be sure to bring it in your hand luggage. It may make it easier to get through immigration.
  • Pack a few snacks for the airplane. You’ll probably want a snack between the time you land and the time you make it to a place with food (your first stop once you get on campus is your new house – no food there!).
  • Pack some tissue in your hand luggage. You might not have toilet paper in the airport or at your house.
  • Your new house should have new sheets on the beds and utensils in the kitchen, so once you get there you can take a nap and order carry-out (Here’s the restaurant list)
  • UPDATE October 2013: Pack the maximum number of bags allowed by the airline on your flight with you. This way you have more when you arrive. Bonus points if you distribute each persons’ clothes among all your bags in case one (or more) gets delayed en-route.

What should I be doing?

Packing, inventorying, and sorting! But besides that:

  • Be good to your movers and they will be good to your stuff! Offer them soft drinks and pizza, for instance.
  • Make time to see your closest friends or family the night before your move.
  • Make sure to close out all your final bills in your home country. It’s easier to do that while you’re still there.
  • Take a tour of your town before you go!
  • At the airport and in customs: Women will probably find it simpler if they don’t speak to the airline reps/customs officials unless they speak to you first. I’ve learned from personal experience that this can cause problems.
  • Once you reach your house: Inspect your house before signing anything. Look especially for dirty furniture, floors, or wet spots on walls or ceilings. If you’re not comfortable with the house, request a new one.

What to expect when you get off the plane

If you haven’t had the chance to visit KAUST before you move here, it may be hard to know what to expect upon your arrival. I’m sure there are slight variations for every move depending on a lot of factors (including job grade), but here’s how it happened for us.

When we got off the plane, we were greeted by two nice men. One was from KAUST and the other was a cab driver. The man from KAUST instructed us to go to our house then report to our move coordinator in building 16 (the administration building). We then got in the cab and drove an hour north to KAUST.

Once going through KAUST security, we were escorted to our house where several reps from the housing office met us. They gave us a bunch of welcome paperwork with information about busses, facilities and amenities etc. They also showed us around our new home and had us sign some paperwork.

When they left, we then had time to take a nap which was such a bonus. And, as I said before, there were even new sheets and towels on the bed when we got here! We then walked up to building 16, talked to HR, and grabbed some food.

I had feared the first day’s unknowns before we arrived, but now that I look back, it was all really relaxed and easy!


Are you moving to KAUST? What are the unknowns for you? I’m happy to help shed some light if I can!

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  • Rukhi00

    Hi, will there be any duvet’s or blankets or should we bring our own on the plane?


  • When we arrived, there were new sheets and blankets on the bed all ready for us. Towels too… though no soap or toilet paper. But, it seems that the welcome pack has evolved over the years (we didn’t get a kettle or ironing supplies, but others did) so I recommend checking with your relocation liaison if this is something important to you. Also, cheap blankets, sheets, towels and other first week essentials can be found at the Tamimi supermarket here on the compound.

    hope you have a great journey here!

  • Rukhi00

    Thanks……really looking forward to the move :))

  • Sabah Kharbatia

    Hi Claire really love your blog and all the helpful information, I just have one ? who does the packing…..thanks

  • I recommend asking your Move Coordinator this question. When we moved, a company called Four Winds came to our house in the UK and packed everything for our air and sea shipments and sent it off to saudi. I understand that students don’t get a shipping allowance, though, and I’m not sure if any of the process has changed since we moved.

    Thanks for your kind feedback! Hope my reply helps!

  • Sabah Kharbatia

    Thanks so much Claire I will ask our Move Coordinator, you’ve been a great help and you never know maybe we’ll end up being neighbors

  • That’s no joke! One woman I met through this blog ended up being my next-door-neighbor!

    When will you arrive?

  • Sabah Kharbatia

    Hopefully if everything goes as planned will be there by New Year’s Eve. We want the girls to settle down before school starts.

  • oh Mashallah! Safe travels!

  • fatimah

    Hi, can someone please tell how is the personal interview for grad studies at kaust like? What do they ask and how should one be dressed? Since I am a girl from Pakistan, would it be okay to wear a shirt that is knee length? Or is it better to wear trousers and a blouse?

  • Nadia

    Thank you for all the great info and pictures. Our movers come in just a few days and I was wondering if the interior walls of the detached homes are cement like in other middle eastern countries I have been to? My kids have a few things they would like to hang and I’m not sure if we can nail it in or if I should invest in a bunch of command strips. Also, does Tamimi or other stores in Jeddah carry Dove branded bath products? I have very sensitive skin. Thank you in advance for any answers you can provide :)

  • A

    Hi, I will be moving to KAUST soon while my family stays in the US. As a single woman what challenges should i anticipate?

  • Things at KAUST are pretty similar to the US. Outside of the KAUST compound, you’ll find that things are different. For instance: You can’t drive, so you’ll need to take a taxi or bus into town. You’ll also need to wear an abaya when you leave the compound. And, there are many areas of Jeddah and Thuwal that are predominately male only and you may feel uncomfortable walking in those areas by yourself.

    Are there things you are particularly worried about? I’m happy to shed some light…

  • Hi Nadia — I think some of the walls are cement and very hard to nail into. Others are drywall and not a problem at all. So, you may want to bring some command strips — or you can buy them at Saco world in Jeddah once you get here.

    Tamimi has an unusual supply chain and sometimes products come and go. For instance, yu might see a whole lot of boxes of raisin bran one month then not see it again for 6 months. I have noticed and bought Dove branded products there before, so I know they at least have it sometimes! And, I yes, I’m sure you can buy dove products in the Jeddah super markets too.

    Hope you have a safe and easy move!

  • Hi Fatimah — I’m sorry but I don’t know anything about the personal interview for grad students. Hopefully another reader will see your comment and weigh in!

  • A

    Thank you Claire.

  • Chebu

    Hello Claire, could you tell me if the following appliances are provided in the house at Kaust: microwave, ironing board, vacuum cleaner. We will be moving in the summer and I don’t know if these things are provided. Thanks in advance

  • Hi Chebu – these really haven’t been supplied consistently. I suggest you ask your relocation advisor to ensure you know what to expect.

    From the list you provided we were supplied only a microwave. I know some people got irons and ironing boards as well, but we ended up needing to buy ours.

  • Umar

    You should just ask KAUST directly by email

  • Chebu

    Claire, thanks a lot.

    I’ll take the iron, not a board. I’ll buy a vac and ship it probably. I know there is a limit for shipping. Could be a problem for us…I got to many things I want to take, toys, bikes, more toys…

  • I know it’s hard, but honestly there are so many stores in Jeddah where you can buy stuff. You can buy a good quality vacum at saco world for instance.

    I can relate though. We literally came within 1/2 of a pound of our shipping limit. Completely by accident!

  • Julie Piper

    As we wait for our visas we are preparing for our move. Your info has been so helpful. I can’t tell you how many times I have said to my husbsnd “Claire said….” My hope is to arrive prior to the start of school so my children are present on day 1. Looking forward to possibly running into you soon.

  • Lol! That’s awesome! I hope that I have given you good information :-) And, please keep track as you go — if there are updates or other information you think should be included as you move here, let me know and I will happily update my blog posts.

    Hope you have a great move. I’m sure we’ll see eachother around, please introduce yourself if you recognize me!

  • Eirini

    Hi Claire, I’am Eirini (from Greece) coming to KAUST with my family this August. I went through your notes about moving and noticed this “Bring several months of prescriptions with you on the plane… just to be on the safe side”. We have two children (almost 8 and 10y) who take various medication because of allergies. Should we make provisions for the first two months? Aren’t we supposed to be able to meet a “local” pediatrician just as we arrive or isn’t that so easy?

  • Hi Eirini – Congrats on the new job!

    You can always double check this information with your relocation coordinator, but it is my understanding that you must first get your insurance card issued, then register with the KMC. This process should only take a few days, especially if there is some urgency, but I would advise like to bring some extra medicine especially if it is essential. You never know: there could be some hold up with the insurance that is outside of your control.

    I like to err on the side of caution when it comes to this stuff :-)

  • Eirini

    Thanks Claire! That’s how I feel too!

  • Um Hadi

    Hi Claire – I live here in KAUST and wanted to get in touch you regarding community activities – can I please have your email – thank you.

  • Muna

    Hi Claire, I am moving to KAUST with my family this August. My Husband got a job offer with KAUST and I am going to have an interview once we arrive. I have two kids, 9 years old and 9 months. Is it easy to find a babysitter?
    I was thinking to ship my baby’s crib or do you think they might provided one with the furniture?
    Can I ship some personal pictures with the air shipment?

  • Hi Muna –
    They will not provide a crib, but they are easy to find in Jeddah. Mothercare, centerpoint, ikea, and pottery barn are among the many locations you can get a crib.

    As for bringing photos, this is up to you. I don’t think you’ll have any problem bringing them, but also keep in mind that if they have something questionable in them then the *could* be confiscated. I’ve never actually heard of this happening though. You need to do your own research on this and see what you feel comfortable with in terms of import regulations. I think mostly they’re looking for items that are much more questionable than personal photos.

    As for finding a babysitter, there are a few options: daycare is available for the little one and after school activities for the older one. You can also hire saudi oger nannies but they seem to be a bit expensive and can be hard to book especially at the last minute. Lastly, you can hire your own full-time help who can help with childcare, cooking, and cleaning, which many people at KAUST prefer to do as this is usually the most cost-effective option.

    Hope this helps!

  • Muna

    Thank you Claire. That’s very helpful!


    Hello Claire,
    How about household and electronic items safety in KAUST? Whether you have faced or heard any burglar activity so far. Especially I want to ask you about the road and personal safety of children. Will it be safe for children to go out and come back on their own. Thanks in advance for your comments.

  • Hi Sumithira – We are not some utopia completely immune to the woes of the world. Of course there is the occasional robbery or speeding car. I encourage you not to leave your house unlocked or valuables on the seat of your car. I encourage you to look both ways when you cross the street and to obey the driving rules. There are many cultural differences in terms of road safety which is interesting to see here, so care and caution are always important.

    That said, this is by far the safest place I’ve ever lived. The problems are rare, and people are quick to get them sorted when they do occur. I feel much safer here than I did in Washington, DC, or even Cambridge, UK (where the biggest issue is bike theft!)

    Our kids have much more freedom here as well. At a young age they can walk around Discovery Square on their own, and learn to ride bikes to and from school at a young age too. I think kids have much more freedom here than in other places in the west because it is so much safer.

    Hope this helps!


    Thank u so much Claire for ur reply, am very delighted to c ur post which helps us a lot in knowing things better

  • Happy I could help!

  • trisna

    hi Claire,
    what kind of clothes should me pack ?for me and my husband and 12 month baby girl

  • Hi Trisna – your relocation advisor should be able to provide the dress code policy. Basically, women should wear conservative, non-revealing clothing. Your baby and husband will likely be fine in their normal clothes from home.