Saudi Arabia expat housing shortfall
Saudi Arabia remains as popular as ever with expats looking to enjoy the opportunities provided by the wealthy country, and this is causing some problems that need addressing.
As has been noted, Saudi Arabia’s labour ministry is, rather controversially, attempting to enforce a new rule which fines businesses that employ more expats than local professionals.
While this is currently being contested – most visibly by the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia – there are other more pressing issues emerging in the oil rich country. This includes the increasingly depleting amount of suitable housing available for expats.
The Telegraph reported that this is most prevalent in the capital city Riyadh, which has seen rents increase over the last four years by an average of ten per cent. The main issue is with expatriate compounds.
These spaces effectively allow non-Saudi residents to enjoy a greater level of autonomy that is not otherwise possible in a country known for its strict Islamic laws.
As the economy has grown, so too has the demand from expats for “compound-style living”. However, development of what is effectively an isolated community space has not kept up.
The newspaper reported that while the construction of new compounds is on the cards, they will be rather costly. On average, they will cost a professional 200,000 riyals a year to rent, which is the equivalent of £33,000.
“Compounds are the only choice really for expats, especially those worried about security, as they are patrolled by the National Guard,” Len Mason, a British expat working in Saudi Arabia’s oil industry, told the Telegraph.
“You could live in cheaper villas which offer more space, but you have to abide by local laws more.”
This is important to be aware of. Eight years ago, an expat by the name of Fiona Moss gave a revealing insight as to what life was like in a compound. Writing in the newspaper, she said, by way of example, that in a compound, women can put on their “Capri pants and kitten heels”, swim in a unisex pool and go for a drive.
“By night, a standard of restaurant and cinema commensurate with the classiest tourist destination beckons,” she added. “It’s a good life, as I can testify from family breaks spent in the Emirates, and you don’t even have to remind yourself that you are in the Middle East.”
Another expat, Robyn Law, who works as a raw food chef, observed as much. Writing in 2011 on her website, she described how compounds are like small cities, so large that they can be comprised of not just one supermarket, but two, have plenty of swimming pools and gyms to access, a golf course and even hospitals.
“Although we have most things we need for day to day living within the walls of the compound – I haven’t left for weeks sometimes – there are malls and restaurants outside the compound that we sometimes visit”, she wrote, “However we need to adhere to Saudi law (i.e. no women driving, wear an abaya, and women are not supposed to be with a man whom they are not related or married to).”