Life at Kaust – 3 Weeks In!

By | July 31, 2011

Thank you to several friends on Facebook for inspiring this post!

We arrived in the Kingdom 3-weeks ago tomorrow – in the short time we’ve been here, we’ve learned a lot about what it’s like to live at Kaust. I hope to share a few of my initial reflections in this post…

The community that supports this vibrant university is very diverse. We have met people from all over Saudi and all over the world – I honestly think we’ve met people from every continent so far (well, except Antarctica of course!). One thing that’s really great about living on a compound like this is that nobody is a local, which levels the playing field a bit. Everyone has been here for 2.5 years or less, and everyone seems eager to be inclusive and willing to make new friends. Everyone here is “new” to some degree.

I’ve heard a couple of different estimates for the number of people that live in the compound/community that supports the university. I believe it’s somewhere between 3 and 5 thousand people when everyone’s here, and growing everyday. This being summertime however, many of the students and faculty are away for the summer – just as they are at many universities in the US and the UK. It’s a bit of a ghost-town around here at the moment.


So, what do you do when everyone’s out of town and the heat index is 110 F? There are many facilities here on the campus – there is a large and exquisit gym facility, a green golf course (one of the few green courses in the country), a beach, bowling, a movie theater, and water activities like snorkeling, diving, sailing, kayaking and windsurfing.. and more.

My dad at the KAUST beach

I am REALLY loving the gym’s services. In the mornings, I walk Muttley then go straight to the gym with my mom for a workout then an exercise class– and sometimes I’ll go to the pool after that too. The pool is great because it’s heated in the winter and cooled in the summer. Seriously – a chilled pool!! There are loads of exercise classes including yoga and spinning which I particularly like. Would you believe I had 4 workouts yesterday? – Dog walk, gym, pool, and yoga in the evening. I’m in endorphin heaven!

The movie theater is a bit more unique. I’m not sure if there are any other movie theaters in the Kingdom – they are a sticking point in the political atmosphere and some conservative religious groups condemn them. So, the fact that we even have a movie theater here is very exciting! They have two new movies every week for people to view – this week they’re playing Takers and Nanny McPhee. Kev and I are not big movie watchers and haven’t made it to the theater yet, but we hear it’s pretty great.

There are other facilities too. We have two supermarkets, called Tamimi, which are run by (in partnership with?) Safeway. They have a great mix of Saudi goods and imported goods from the US and the UK. One thing we’ve learned quickly though is to watch the prices. Because some products are imported, you can find vastly different prices for nearly identical items. And, if you buy Saudi items you can get a great deal! Bath mat = 1USD. Sun Screen = $20USD… go figure!

Image courtesy Travella,

We have a community library, several iZone computer shops, a Giordano clothing shop, a Kanoo travel agent, and several restaurants (Coffee shops, cafes, restaurants, and fast food). There is also a campus dining hall that serves really great food – especially the fish!

The Feel

No matter what you do here at Kaust, you are reminded that you live in a multicultural society. There is a really interesting juxtoposition of muslim cultural norms, western cultural norms, and many other cultures mixed together.

For instance, the salon and gyms are segregated – men are not invited into the women’s areas at all. There is a women-only pool and men-only hours at the mixed-pool. The houses, upon first glance, feel western. They have front yards there are no walls around the front of the house. They are not compounds intended for many family members (which is the norm in Jeddah at least) but single-family homes. You will notice however, that they are much more private than western-style houses and they do not overlook the neighbors very much.

Prayer time is announced via large loudspeakers atop the mosques 5 times each day. At those times, many restaurants and services close and workers leave their offices to pray. It’s really amazing to hear — here’s a quick clip I captured:

Women in the compound are not required to wear the abaya as they are in public areas around the rest of the country. Many women chose to wear it, and all women are requested to dress modestly. So, even in 110 F heat index – it’s long sleeves and trousers here!

Pretty much everything involves a certain sense of modesty, moderation, and respect. It’s not very nice to inadvertently offend someone, so people talk openly and honestly about what is “acceptable” behavior here on the compound. Thankfully, to want to move to a place like this, you are already likely to have a sense of adventure and appreciation of cultural norms, so pretty much everyone is on board for cultural compromise.

Off Campus

One of the main topics of conversation here at KAUST is about getting off campus or about getting out of the country. Many people like to go shopping or out to dinner in Jeddah (a large city 1 hour south of us), Thuwal (a fishing village with a few restaurants about 10 minutes south of us) or The King Abdullah Economic City (a new compound about 20 minutes north of us).

Houses in Jeddah, Courtesy the Kelmah Blog

It’s really great to go to these places because suddenly you’re back in the middle east again. Being on campus is unique, but being off campus, you are reminded of the vibrant community that exists in the rest of the country.

Also, many people here are adventurers and enjoy traveling the world. We look forward to that part, too! Everyone raves about going to Beirut, Turkey, Egypt etc… We look forward to going to all those places and more!


Tomorrow is the start of an exciting time in the Muslim calendar – it’s the start of Ramadan! We’re really excited to experience our first Ramadan here in the Kingdom. Soon, I’ll write about that. But until then: Ramadan Mubarak!

Image courtesy America's Gypsy

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  • Hi OTConcerned —

    Congrats on your offer!

    SFH is going to be KAUST’s new healthcare provider on compound starting October 1 (it is currently the IMC). So, I don’t have any insights for you as everything is about to change for us here.

    I also don’t know who gets housing here. I know certain people from the IMC do, but others do not. I would check with your employer about this.

    Good luck! Hope all goes well.

  • Hmm… I’m not really sure actually! Most of us have PO Boxes that we use, but I think if you send it without, it will eventually find him. If you don’t want to ask him for his PO Box, I would try:

    *His Full Name*
    *His Department*
    4700 KAUST
    Thuwal 23955-6900
    Saudi Arabia

  • OTcobcerned

    Thanks Claire for your prompt reply I wanna know how long ago was IMC with KAUST n how long is the contract with DSFH ne ideas on that. I wanna know as u r employed at the hospital r there any rehab facilities there……can u please give me ur mail I’d where I can directly talk to you….it would b of great help as I have a 3.5 year old daughter n both my husband n me have got ingle contract so v wondering about housing daycare etc.
    Please help me…a concerned mom

  • victoria

    thank you, I will try that! :D

  • Hi OTcobcerned-
    The IMC is currently the provider at KAUST. It’s transferring to SFH Oct 1. I don’t know how long the contract will be.

    I am not currently employed at the hospital and don’t know anything about the new vendor. I don’t know about the rehab facilities or anything about your contract or housing options.

    Will you be living at KAUST? If so, I may be able to answer some of your questions about housing and daycare. Please let me know your questions here and I’ll do what I can to help!


  • Rahaf


    I want to know if you finished your studying at KAUST will they offer you a job in the same town?

  • I do know of some students that have been offered jobs associated with the research park here at KAUST. These have all been the best-of-the-best students though, and I would not expect a job just because you got a degree. Jobs are very competitive here — just like everywhere else.

  • Joel

    I prefer to keep discussion in the public domain so others may benefit in the future. However, if you wish you may email me at

  • Rahaf

    Thank you for your opinion. I’m thinking about studying at KAUST but I’m confused about what major will suits me :]
    I’m a high school senior. how can I register to take the bachelor’s degree in KAUST? I know that they only teach master degrees but I heard that they send you to somewhere to study the bachelor then get you back to them to complete the master. and sorry for my English it’s not my mother language xD

  • tayyaba

    Hi Claire! Great blog! I am a female chartered accountant, does KUST provide offer jobs to fresh graduates of other nationals? How to het more information related to this? Shpuld I visit KAUST myself, would it help ( as I am in Jeddah). Thanks

  • Hi Rahaf – Yes, you’ll need to decide your focus and go to another school for your undergraduate degree, then you can come to KAUST after that for your graduate degree. I don’t know if KAUST is still assisting some students with their undergraduate educations – I’m not up to date on this program and it may have been discontinued. You can learn more and get the graduate admissions contact info at

    Ps: your english is great :-)

  • Hi Tayyaba — that’s great that you want to work here! Yes, KAUST does hire all sorts of people.. I encourage you to check out the list of jobs at (be sure click through to get more than just the one or two “featured jobs”).

    Do not just come visit KAUST. There is a lot of security here, and without the proper invite and advanced paperwork they will not let you in. They are quite serious about this!

    Good luck with the job hunt!

  • Amani Zalzali

    Hi Claire, thank you so much for this website, it is amazing! I am planning to visit KAUST for week end of this month. My husband lives in Jeddah. I live in Beirut and I will be moving to Jeddah soon. I want to get FULL KAUST experience. I am applying for PhD in Mechanical Engineering at KAUST. I have MS in Plasma Physics and Fluid Dynamics.

    Do you think it is possible to have accommodation on CAMPUS with the female in a double room in the dorms? Do you have an idea of the procedures? I will be meeting a professor from the mechanical engineering department, he can send an email to support my request. What do you think I should do?

  • Hi Amani –

    I’m happy for you and hope that your application is successful. Unfortunately though, I don’t work at KAUST and don’t know the answer to this question. I suggest you talk to whoever is coordinating your visit.

    Best wishes!

  • samer

    HI Claire,
    Thanks a lot for all these lovely and helpful tips.
    Just quick question please
    I have been offered a Consultant ED job in Soliman alfakeeh hospital but they want me to be in KAUST!!
    Do you know what the relation between both is?
    Do you have a lot of Physician lives in KAUST and work in DSFH? How do they go everyday, any Idea?

    Trying to get my head around it


  • Hi Samer. I’m not sure I know what ED stands for… can you clarify?

    Congrats on your job offer. We have a DSFH clinic located on the KAUST compound. So I imagine you would be serving specifically the KAUST community. DSFH just became our new service provider so things may have changed, but historically our main full time doctors all live at KAUST and work in the clinic here. The nurses and support personnel commute from Jeddah every day. Is it possible that this is the situation for you?

  • samer

    Hi Claire,
    really big thanx for your replay.
    ED means Emergency Department,ie Accident and Emergency.
    i think i will be based in KAUST but might give some support in Jeddah as Consultant.
    to be honest with you i am really not sure yet ,i think there will be lots of deffrences between UK and Saudi,do not you thing????
    is it true that there are very few restaurants and shops ,so you have to drive to jeddeh for everything?

  • Hi Samer,

    Thanks for the clarification – I understand now.

    I encourage you to read around the web about KAUST. It’s not like the rest of Saudi. I wouldn’t say it’s like the UK either (I lived there for 2 years before moving here, for what it’s worth). It’s a very, very international community and is populated by very well educated people.

    That said, it is only a small compound. It’s not a terribly *happening* place because it’s quite small. We have about 20 restaurants and two grocery stores so you can get most of the things you need on a day-to-day basis here. In terms of shopping for clothes and house supplies you usually need to go to Jeddah. We tend to make the trip every month or two – and prefer staying on the compound. We also try to travel out of the country for a bit more excitement several times throughout the year. Other people prefer to go to Jeddah every weekend, but honestly I think there is a lot more fun stuff to do here than there! Snorkeling, diving, going to the beach or pool, bowling, golf, etc. it’s all here.


    Hi Claire
    How u doing?
    Im not living at KAUST we will be in KAEC or placed in Jeddah
    I visited the KMC
    n will be starting clinics soon next week
    Please spread awareness regarding
    OT services seeing patients for upperlimb rehabilitation post fractures, nerve cuts, post stroke the OTss there for u

  • Susan E

    Hi Claire, thanks so much for this informative post. I’m visiting the country and I’m currently staying in KAEC nearby. I was hoping to stop by at KAUST for an evening to check it out and maybe even go to some of it’s entertainment facilities. I did notice however that you mentioned guests “can’t just show up”. Do you have any idea what I can do ahead of time to get permission to enter KAUST? I would really appreciate any tips you might have. Thanks in advance!

  • JLK

    I am currently living in Qatar with my husband and kids. I have recently been offered a position at KAUST. I think we are going to make the big move. My husband will also be looking for work, either at KAUST or in Jeddah.

    We have a lovely nanny who has become part of our family. She has been caring for my young girls for three years. I am trying to figure out if there is a way to bring her to Saudi. Since both my husband and I will be working, we need a childcare solution – plus she is like a Grandma to my daughters.

    I have seen very little on the Internet about sponsorship rules. What I have seen is that nannies/maids need to be sponsored by Saudi nationals. I am not sure how that works, as I know there are so many expats with nannies. Do you have any information about how the rules work and how expats hire someone? If not, can you point me in the right direction to find the information?

    Any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

  • Hi JKL –

    Congrats on your offer! Very exciting.

    I have never heard that domestic helpers need to be sponsored by Saudi nationals. I know many expats with domestic helpers here.

    I do not know the process or rules, but if you get in touch with your KAUST recruiter or relocation advisor they should be able to point you in the right direction.

    Good luck and I hope it all works out for you.

  • Hi Susan –

    I’m very sorry for my delay in responding. I have been out of the country. I assume that you have long since left KAEC by now but I would still like to answer your question.

    All KAUST visitors must be accompanied by a KAUST resident. This is a private compound and unless you know someone here or have business/academics to do here, there isn’t really a process for you to be let through security. Security is very tight here. Sorry, I know that isn’t a very welcoming reply. It’s just the way this place operates.

    I hope you had a nice visit to KAEC!

  • Ramela

    Hi Clare

    I would like to thank you for this blog, it was a wonderful resource as we prepared to come across. Full of useful help and advice. Hopefully we have now arrived as prepared as we can be.

    The question I have is where are all the people. We have been at KAUST for just over three weeks the roads outside the houses are always empty of people. Children you see at the beginning of the day and end of school day. The buses always punctual. Yes there are an assortment of nationalities from all over the world, but appear to be sticking in their nationality groups unless working together. I would love to become involved in this lovely varied community, how do I become involved and get to know fellow expats.

  • alexa

    hi there.

    i stumbled across your blog while researching KAUST and thought what a great opportunity to ask a few questions!

    There is a possibility that we may move to KAUST and I am wanting to get some kind of sense of what it is like. We have two small kids so obviously day care and schools would be necessary. Could you give me any feedback around these options? what is the quality of education like? Facilities?

    i also noticed that you mentioned your dog once previously. Are pets generally allowed? what limitations exist around this?

    I don’t know what working opportunities there would be for me in the compound. I am a clinical social worker and my husband would be working at the university. Im not sure if work would even exist for me?!

    At this stage Im really just wanting to get an idea of what it is like to live there and the kind of life we would have. i know the heat must be quite uncomfortable…

    Any kind of feedback would be great.

    Thanks so much!

  • partha

    If i move there to pursue a phd and my wife comes with me, will there be any employment opportunities for her? She has management skills and a bachelors degree in commerce.

  • MayDahlia

    Hi Claire thank you for taking your time to do this posts. I certainly find it very helpful. My husband is in the process of doing his post doc in KAUST. We are bringing our 2 young boys; 3yrs and 6months. You mentioned earlier that some expats have domestic helpers, is it possible for me to get a nanny in KAUST? Also can my family members stay with us when they come and visit us?

  • Moazzam

    hi. I want to know that can I come to watch movie in kaust movie theatre. I live in jeddah. is there any requirement or condition

  • John Hughes

    Hi claire. Im just wondering when the campus is left and as a irish woman heading to jeddah is she protected by men as wemon dont have reconision outside KAUST or am I totally off the mark. Secondly if something was to happen my partener who there always be someone to care for my daughter till I arrived and would I be accepted in being the rest of my family is on the campus. Thankyou in advance much appreciated john.

  • Claire

    KAUST is a closed compound. Unless you have some business or family reason to be here, you will not be given a pass to enter the compound.

  • Claire

    Hi John – I really don’t understand your questions. We are very safe here, if that is your question? You can read a bit about safety/security in my comment at

    KAUST takes very good care of us.

  • Claire

    Hi MayDahlia – Thanks for your kind words. Congrats on your upcoming move. Yes, it is possible to get a nanny – there are part time ones via saudi oger or you can sponsor your own for full time help. As for family, you can sponsor immediate family members into the kingdom for visits – siblings, parents, and children I believe. You can speak with the Government Affairs department about both hiring a full-time nanny and family visit visas once you arrive.

  • Claire

    Hi Alexa – let me answer your questions one by one:
    1. We like the day care for our son very much. It is a nice facility and they spend a lot of time teaching and learning. Likewise, there is an overall sense that the KAUST schools are quite good as well. The facilities for these are all less than 6 years old and have a lot of state-of-the art components (smart boards in all the grade school classrooms for instance).
    2. Whether you are allowed to have a pet depends on your affiliation with the university. Students and contractors are not allowed pets I believe, but I couldn’t be certain. It’d be best to check with your relocation advisor on this.
    3. There may be employment opportunities for you. Best to talk with your relocation advisor about this as well.
    4. The heat isn’t too bad. Here’s my post on that topic:

    Hope this helps!

  • Claire

    Hi Ramela – Welcome to KAUST and sorry for my delay in response to your post. I encourage you to read this post of mine, which I hope will answer your questions:

  • lara

    Hallo Claire!I have a queston if you a’re married with non-Saudi arabia husband but European who work in you have a problem to travel without permission from him?

  • Hi Lara – I’m not sure I understand your question. You do not need your husband by your side to go into Jeddah or to travel in and out of the country. Is that’s what you mean?

  • Noor Mohammed

    Hi Claire.
    Thank you for the informative blog.I would like to ask for some information about KAUST. Are dependent parents are allowed to stay with me during the time of study as a student inside the campus. Info would be very helpful for making the decision to apply for MS/PhD for Spring 2016.thanks in advance-Noor Mohamed from India

  • As far as I know it is not allowed to bring parents as dependents per Saudi immigration policy. You would need to apply and ask your KAUST rep to be sure though.

  • Noor Mohammed

    Thanks for the information Ms. Claire

  • Noor Mohammed

    Hi Ms.Claire
    Hope you are good, I wish to ask another question on studies area, hope it wouldn’t bother you. I am interested to do research on nuclear fusion which is one form of cleaner energy in near future. Has KAUST has the facility for this area of research inside campus. If not please let me know if there are any students working on the areas of research which is not available in hand inside KAUST but still they deputed from KAUST to any related collaboration institutes such as MIT, Harvard, etc.

  • Hi Noor – I don’t know the answer, but I shared your question with some community members via our community-member-only facebook page. Hopefully someone will reply back here soon for you!

  • Hi noor – I got a few responses, and the short answer is no, we don’t. I encourage you to reach out via the KAUST website to get any further clarification.

  • Sara Bee

    Hi there I rly want to know if it’s possible to rent a beach house or Banglo on KAEC for a weekend or so?! And can swim @ the beach coz I asked n Bay lay sun hotel and they don’t have a pool and u can’t swim in the beach

  • I really don’t know. I haven’t heard of anything like this at KAEC.

  • Abdul Basit Khan

    Hi there,

    I was wondering if you were able to take you nanny to Saudia from Qatar. We are in a similar situation. Have a nanny here in Qatar that has become like family and possible opportunity at KAUST and wondering if our nanny can be sponsored in Saudia Arabia.

  • I have no idea. Probably best to ask your recruiter or relocation advisor.

  • Zeeshan Ahmed Shakir

    Hey Clairie, nice blog!
    Few information regarding the admission and tuition fees in KAUST, please?

  • Thanks for your kind feedback. I don’t know so I think it’s best if you ask the admissions folks.