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
  • Pet supplies if applicable – like toys, baggies, bedding, and any special treats. These are all hard to find here.

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

  • Bike gear: Front and back bike lights, a helmet, and a bike lock. Lights and helmets are mandatory at KAUST.
  • 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. Sometimes you can find these at the campus supermarket, sometimes not. 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.
  • Understand the lack of information online: 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 from 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 (see here for a starting place).
  • 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. Our friends 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.