Beginner’s Guide to Moving to KAUST – Part 3

By | August 21, 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 the last of 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.

Unpacking. Image from ianivarieanna on Flickr

After you arrive at KAUST

Things and Stuff

When you first arrive at Kaust, you’ll probably only have a few suitcases of stuff until your air/sea shipment arrives. Our air shipment arrived 4 weeks to the day from the day they picked our stuff up in England. We’ve been here for 6 weeks now and there is no word on when we will receive our sea freight. It will come inshallah.

Here are a few places to get things in your first few weeks here:

On the compound:

  • Big Tamimi (website only available on compound) is the main supermarket here at KAUST. This store is easy to get to, does free delivery of non-perishable items, and has loads of items that will help you settle into your first few days and weeks in the Kingdom. Besides groceries, this is a great place to buy simple kitchen and bathroom wares, laundry supplies, cleaning supplies like mops and brooms, electrical appliances, and adaptors (You’ll need european plugs). We did a big shop here in our first 24 hours which was an excellent way to get all of our immediate needs met.
  • The gift shop in the souk area of KAUST has lots of decorative items for your home including rugs, lighting, mirrors, and more. It’s all very middle-eastern in style and of high quality.
  • The book store in the souk area has notebooks and pens for your first day in class or at work
  • Banaweer bike shop also in the souk area has bikes for sale. I really recommend bike as the best way to get around here at KAUST! They also sell scooters and quadbikes there as well, I believe.

Off the compound

Visit the Saco World Website

  • Saco World – we always see other westerners in this store. It has loads of household items ranging from furniture to light bulbs. There is stuff for your kitchen, office, bedroom, bathroom, garden, etc to make it nice and livable. Pool floats, plastic storage bins, hoses, blenders, etc… you name it!
  • Ikea – This store has everything you could need to settle in. It’s pretty cheap in terms of cost and quality, but it’s a great start at least.

Getting Things Done

Things work a bit differently in Saudi than in other places I’ve lived. Expect that you will need to have 4 phone calls and 2 trips to an office before you get clarity sometimes. The best way to deal with this is simply to relax and take it all in stride. Getting mad definitely does not help the situation!

Here are a few of the services I needed in my first few days and weeks:

Building 16

  • Emergency contact – Okay, I didn’t need this, but it’s good to have on hand! On a campus phone dial 911 in an emergency. For any other 0n-campus emergency dial 02 808 09 11. In the event that you are off campus and have an emergency (detained? car accident?) dial 05 44 70 1111 for help from KAUST.
  • HR – once you get to KAUST and get your new home, you will probably be directed to go to HR in building 16 on campus. If your house is not acceptable or there are any problems upon your arrival, contact your HR representative for assistance.
  • Taxi – We had the luxury of having a car to borrow during our first week here. You may want to hire a taxi for short journeys in your first few days. Here is more info about Taxis (website only accessible on compound). Or call Saudi Oger at 808 5017 or Hanco at 808 5647
  • Bus – There is also a bus to get around. I have been borrowing a bike so haven’t yet used the bus, but many people do. Here is more info about buses (website only accessible on compound).
  • Opening a bank account – The people at Samba bank are very helpful! You must wait until you have your Iqama (longer-term employment visa) to open an account at Samba. Once you have this, go to the bank and they will set you up with an account. Note: a non-Kaust-employed spouse cannot have access to the account until s/he has an Iqama as well. Additionally, the Samba bank cards are not set up for online shopping, so I recommend that you keep an account open in your home country as well!
  • Phones – you will need to contact IT to get your home phone set up. Here is the process (website only available on compound).
  • Gardening– Your front garden will be tended by KAUST. Your back garden is your responsibility. Call
    808 5480 if you want to hire someone to do this for you.
  • Cleaning – If you want a cleaning crew to come to your house when you first arrive or on a regular basis call 959 on your home phone to request a crew.
  • Dry Cleaning and Ironing can be done at the big Tamimi supermarket (more info about Tamimi above).
  • Medical – When you arrive you will be able to sign up for health insurance. There are excellent medical and dental facilities on campus including a pharmacy. When it’s time for your first appointment, go a few minutes early and be sure to bring the bupa certificate which you can print out from your bupa login area on the website (ask HR for your login), your passport and/or Iqama, and your KAUST ID. You can call the health center to book an appointment or get more info at 808 4111.
  • Mailbox – Setting up a mailbox at Fedex literally took us 4 trips to the Fedex office. You need to fill out a form (which you get at the fedex office) and the person who works at KAUST needs to be present with their KAUST ID.
I’m sure there are other services that are useful in the first few weeks too, and if you’re struggling I’ll be happy to help where I can. Please just leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to help you find a solution.
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  • Ali

    Hi Claire,

    I am being interviewed for a new job at KAUST, any suggestions in terms of the jobs grading and how does that affect your housing and other employee benefits.

    Bets regards,

  • Hi Ali – thanks for your question, It seems like most employees have the same housing benefit: we pay rent on a home on campus and there are various types of homes to choose from. The only exception is very high level employees which may be eligible for a higher quality home. Other than that, I don’t really have any suggestions. I encourage you to speak to HR about this and be sure that you fully understand the system before you accept an offer.

    You may also want to see my post about KAUST housing:

  • zahra

    Hello Claire, I love your blog– so practical and full of interesting insights into Saudi and KAUST. My husband is about to accept a research position at KAUST, and we are trying to plan what to take. I know you mentioned the homes are furnished with sheets, towels, etc. Should we bring our plates and pots, etc. from here? Or is that something that they also take care of? Or maybe you recommend just buying everything from around KAUST? Thanks so much.

  • Hi Zahra – congrats! I hope you like it here as much as we do.

    Our house was furnished with plates, cups, mugs, silverware and a few pots and pans. Some people received much more including a full set of pots and pans as well as a kettle, iron etc. There are also lots of places in Jeddah to buy this kind of thing – from super cheap to very high end in price and quality.

    Unless you are particularly in love with your kitchenware, I’d suggest just buying anything else you need when you get here. For instance, we brought our knife block, but not a full set of dishes or pots and pans.

    Hope this makes sense!

  • Francisco

    Hi, I’m Spanish and I’m moving to Saudi Arabia at end of this year, for the high speed train project near to KAUST, and I was wondering if house rentals are only for staff and students of the university or for anyone? if not I would appreciate any information on good housing area or foreigner compounds near bye, Thank you.

  • Trojan Ryder

    Hi Claire,
    I am invited for doctoral telephonic interview. Any Idea is it technical or general?

  • Hi Trojan, I’m sorry but this is not something I would know. I hope your interview goes great!

  • Hi Francisco – KAUST is pretty locked down. As far as I’ve ever heard, the community on the compound is only open to people who are affiliated with the University.

    Big congrats on moving to Saudi and working on the high speed train project. We’re all very excited for it to come to KAEC and have been eagerly watching as construction has begun in nearby areas. Are there any websites for the general public to learn more about the project?

  • Francisco

    Hi Claire, thank you for the response, their are no official web-site, There are some drawings of the future station in King Abdullah (don’t know if its written that way) Economic city web-site, but the train is going too be pretty much exactly the same as the Spanish AVE, you can look up for some photos or videos; AVE high speed train. Regards.

  • Ooooh… that looks fancy! I hope the project goes great… and I hope it means that I’ll have an easy train trip to the airport!!

  • Francisco

    If finally found some videos (unfortunately in Arabic); the first high speed line will connect Mecca and Medina hopefully in the future Jeddah and Riyahd also will be connected with the rest, I was wondering around KAEC sites, and found some apartments and houses built already, but i don’t know if they are finished or opened yet, by chance you wouldn’t know anything, would you?

  • Hey Francisco — sorry for my late reply. Thanks for sharing the video — looks really amazing! A high-speed train to Riyadh would be unreal!

    I really don’t know too much about what’s going on at KAEC. All I know is that they opened a school this year, but that most of the students are coming from Rabigh. I wish I knew more – keep us posted on what you find out!

  • Mohammed

    Thanks for your insightful blog. I am in the process of moving to KAUST. Do the houses have 110 volt power outlets? or only 220 volts? I am moving from USA and I don’t know if I can bring any electric stuff. My other question is; are there any good store in the area outside KAUST other than having to go to Jeddah?

  • Hi Mohammed —

    Per your questions about voltage/electricity, the voltage is 220 and your 110/120 stuff will go bust if you don’t have a proper voltage transformer. Here’s more:

    For your questions about shopping, what do you mean by “good store”? There are lots of facilities nearby either on campus or in the nearby villages – including car mechanics, banks, grocery stores, restaurants, etc. But if you’re talking about shopping for furniture, clothing, and electronics or any other specialty items, you’ll likely need to go to Jeddah. Jeddah is about an hour drive, but it’s an easy trip. We do it about once per week. Here’s more:

    Hope this helps!

  • Mohammed

    Thanks for the quick response. Do you recommend I bring a voltage transformer with me? or is that something I can find in the store there? Also, Which days do they give off as a weekend at KASUT? Saturday-Sunday, Thursday-Friday…etc?

  • Hmm.. I actually moved from the UK so don’t know about the transformer question. I’m sure you can get one in Jeddah, but how easily, I’m not sure. It may be worth bringing one with you… Alternatively: you could think of it this way- what electronics do you really need a transformer for? Your computer may not need one (I bought my computer in the US, but the voltage is fine). Your hairdryer? Probably easily enough just to get a new one here. Microwave? One is provided, so you don’t need to ship one… Just something to think about.

    The weekend in Saudi and at KAUST is Thurs/Fri.

  • I asked a friend about this today and she said you can get transformers at Saco World (info listed in the above post). Not sure the price.

  • salman saeed

    which store u are asking about??? there is one super market where u can purchase your daily stuff.

  • salman saeed

    u will have to live in jeddah ( its approx.80-90 km from KAUST) as nearby locality around KAUST is not livable.

  • Gabriel Espinosa

    Hi Claire,

    First of all, I want to say thanks. Your post is amazing. It’s very clear and informative, it is both well redacted and have a family style that make the reader feels in home ;-).

    I just have few days here at Kaust. I noticed that we can use my favorite vehicle, “the human power bike” ;-).

    It seems to be the most useful vehicle to use here in Kaust ,and that’s wonderful cuz I like a lot bikes.

    However, I didn’t bring one with my travel stuff, and I also noticed that the bike store is temporary close.
    Because of your blog, I realized that there is a Kuast for Sale facebook group. However, I don’t have a facebook account. Instead, I have a G+ account or my personal gmail. I just wonder if it could be possible to me to access the group sales through other way. I can access the facebook account of my father in order to join to the group. I just want to buy a used bike :-).

    Let me know what else I can do to achieve this.

    Warm Regards,

  • Abdou

    Thanks Claire for the information, it really helped me through my first week at KAUST. Could you please explain where I can find the souk area of KAUST? Thanks..

  • Hebah

    Hello Claire. Great blog…you are doing a great service to many people by giving us access to the info about KAUST! My family will be visiting KAUST for a month and they said we will be staying in KAUST Inn. I have a few questions when you have time (know you are busy with baby!):
    1. Do you mind telling me if the Inn is on the Sea or not.
    2. Also, you mention a cleaning crew….is housekeeping included or does it cost extra? Is the Inn different from the homes?

    3. We will want a stroller for my 5 year old when we go to Mecca to make Umrah…is that something I can buy easy/cheaply at KAUST?

    4. Are there any arabic tutors available for private lessons on campus?


  • Claire Sale

    It’s the area around the community library, the salon, banaweer, and Kanoo… Some of it is under construction at the moment.

  • Claire Sale


    1. The inn is not on the Sea, but it’s right near the canal and a 10 minute walk from the sea.
    2. I have no idea about cleaning at the Inn, but I assume it’s like any other hotel that gets cleaned on a daily basis. Cleaning in the houses is an additional cost and I don’t think any answers about house cleaning would be pertinent to the inn.
    3. There is a bike shop here that sells strollers, but they may not be cheap. There are tons of baby stores in Jeddah though – you could get a taxi to take you. Also, there is a good second-hand market for this type of thing on the KAUST for-sale facebook group:
    4. You can ask the facebook group mentioned above for private arabic tutors. Or, you can sign up for group classes at the library – although they only start at the beginning of semesters.

    good luck!

  • Claire Sale

    It’s near the library, banaweer, and kanoo. I guess people don’t really call it the souk anymore, but it’s where the shops are that are near discovery square.

  • Hebah

    Thanks for responding!!!! We are here now and find it even lovelier than we expected! Found out we cannot take strollers in to the Mosque area in Mecca so I guess no need to buy a stroller. Hope all is well with you. -Hebah

  • Crusty

    Hi, just wondering if the university covers the cost of utilities such as electricity/gas/water or will this need to be managed by the occupant?

  • Yes, electricity, gas, and water are all covered by KAUST. High speed internet access and basic TV service are also covered.

  • Funnyme

    Hi Claire
    Me n my husband newly got an offer single single contract from KAUST will we get a shared housing…we r to work at the hospital as PT u have idea about timings? And wat about daycare 4 a 3 year old?

  • Hi Funnyme-

    Congrats on your offers! I’m guessing you’ll arrive soon, but I’m sure you know much more about timings of all this than we do!

    As for daycare – there is a provider here, but it can be hard to get in as there are far more children at KAUST than they originally anticipated! Considering that you and our spouse are both working, I think you will get priority though. Ask your relocation provider to tell you more about Building Blocks Daycare.

    Good luck with your move!

  • Scott

    Hi Claire, great information, I was wondering is there a florist on site, I would like to organise my a bunch for someone who works there, but can not find anything on the net.
    Any information you can supply would be great.

  • Hi Scott — I’m really sorry for my delay in responding! This went to my spam folder for some reason.

    There aren’t any delivery flower or specialty food services here that I know of. We do have a florist at the grocery store, and a nice saddadin pastry shop, but I don’t have any idea how you would organize delivery.

    If you’re still interested, I could probably hunt down an email address for both shops if you’d like… Let me know!

  • Michelle Ponto

    Hi Claire,
    Your blog has been a life saver. I’m moving in 2 weeks and in the final running stretch of making sure I have everything.
    Just checking on the following:
    1) Do I need to buy a wireless router here or should I wait until I get there? I’m staff at KAUST, but doing a masters program online while there so I’ll need access to US websites to participate in the class and find out the assignments etc.
    2) I have a fancy road bike, should I buy a cheap cruiser here for traveling around the campus or will they have second hand ones there that I can buy from people who have left?

  • Hi Michelle, I’m so glad that the blog has helped you as you prep for your move!

    For the wireless router – it’s up to you. You can plug into the wall when you get here if you don’t want to bring a router. Also, if you live in the states you might want to wait because the voltage here is 220. As far as accessing US websites, this shouldn’t be a problem – most sites are not blocked. (Also: Your router won’t get you access to blocked pages – for that you’ll need VPN)

    There is a bike store here at KAUST but the bikes are expensive and not very good quality. There is a good market for second-hand bikes, and a bike store in Jeddah as well so you could definitely wait if you wanted to.

    Hope this helps!

  • Michelle Ponto

    That does help. I’ll check out the second-hand bikes when there. I’ll still get my road bike shipped for weekend fun, but figure I’ll need a bike right away to get to school and get around –so a second hand one will be perfect.
    I just have three more questions (this is packing week – so in the pile making mode):
    1)Photo albums: Will they be a customs nightmare to air ship? Should I remove photos of baptisms and Christmas?
    2) Books – I know magazines, religious and books about alcohol are not accepted. How about other fiction books?
    3) Art work: Is all art work not acceptable or just those with racy images or religious things? I have a couple small prints that a friend made.

    Thanks so much!!!

  • Hey Michelle — On the bike point, it’s definitely the easiest way to get around, but not the only. If you need to take the bus in your early days here, it’s totally do-able. Many people do it on a daily basis.

    I don’t think your photo albums should be an issue. I’ve never heard about these being stopped. But, if they are irreplaceable, then it’s not worth chancing it (that goes for anything you put in your shipment)

    Fiction books and your artwork should be fine as long as they wouldn’t be misinterpreted somehow. Religious or anti religious, political, sexual are the key areas to avoid that I know about.

    NOTE: I am not at all an expert on this… just sharing what I understand from conversations with others. So, when in doubt I’d look into it more carefully :-)

    Good luck!

  • Jose Martin

    Hi Claire!

    I think you are probably the best known person in KAUST by all of us who are moving there. Many thanks for your very useful blog.
    We are packing now and I am thinking of all these music and movies CDs and DVDs. Do you know if it’s ok to ship them to Saudi? I mean, could we expect customs objections on those? Nothing special in them, just that, m&ms.


  • Hi Jose — thanks for your kind words!

    We did have them search – but not remove anything – from our sea shipment. I believe there was a pack of play-doh in there which may have looked a bit sketchy on an x-ray. I haven’t heard first-hand of anyone having their CDs and DVDs examined, but from other blog posts out there I understand it does happen on occassion.

    The following two links are probably worth a read on this topic:

    It’s probably worth bringing with you what you might like to have, but knowing that anything deemed questionable could be confiscated.

    Hope this helps!

  • Muhammad

    Hi Claire,

    My question is about traveling from Jeddah to Kaust. I have been invited for an interview and I am coming from Dammam. What possible options are available to travel from Jeddah to Kaust (Thuwal). I would appreciate your quick answer.


  • Claire

    I recommend sorting a KAUST Taxi via your interviewer.

  • Raihan Jumat

    Hey Claire,

    Rookie question, when we open a bank account with Samba do we get a debit card that we can use to make purchases in the Kingdom?
    Moving over in May, your blog is helping us is so many ways!

  • All questions welcome! Yes, you can easily get a debit card from Samba, it has a chip and pin.

  • Marleen

    Hi Claire, thanks for your very helpfull blog! My husband and I visited Kaust 2 weeks ago and it’s all like you describe it. Most likely we will also move to Kaust… Very exciting! We have 3 children and my husband will work @Kaust, so maybe we will meet in a few months? Can I mail you for some practical questions? Thank you and hope to meet you in real life ;) Marleen –

  • Hi Marleen – Thanks so much for your kind words. I’m glad that you have found the blog helpful. I’m also happy to hear that you enjoyed your stay at KAUST! I always prefer to answer questions here on the blog so others can benefit from the answer. Do you mind sharing here?

  • SarahS

    Hello Claire :)

    I’m currently an undergraduate student who intends to travel next week to KAUST to start the Visiting Student’s Research Program (VSRP). I saw the HR section in this post but no phone number available; so I was wondering if you may have any general contact number to the human resources help-desk that i can call from outside KAUST (ie +966_____) ?

    Thank you for your help!


  • Hi Sarah – I will send you an email.

  • Laura Parisi

    Hi Claire,

    do you know how long it will take to get the iqama once we arrive at KAUST? Can we potentially leave the country before obtaining the iqama?

    We should arrive in a 2-3 weeks time and I am worried we cannot go back to Europe for Christmas!

    Thanks in advance for your answer.


  • Hi Laura – Iqamas can take a few months and you will not be able to leave the country again until you have it (unless in case of emergency I suppose). I think you will most likely have an issue traveling home for christmas considering your timeline. I’d recommend that you ask your relocation advisor about this and if there is any way to expedite the process.

    Good luck with your request and hope you have a good trip over to KAUST!

  • Laura Parisi

    Thanks, Claire! :'(

  • Sorry to be the bearer of bad new. That said, I’m no authority on this subject – please get an “official” opinion. You never know!!!