Saudi Arabia and Where The Single Expat Woman Can Live

saudi villa

I have been asked multiple times on whether a single expat woman can live outside of a compound in Riyadh.  More specifically the question has focused on whether a single expat woman can live by herself in a villa in a residential area.  To begin with I suggest for anyone trying to determine what kind of accommodation would be best to have in the Kingdom, please read this earlier post which identifies and provides distinctions between housing options such as a compound, private villa or an apartment.

First, it may not be easy to find a landlord who would agree to rent a villa to a single woman.  Chances are likely that her sponsor or some other authorized male would need to facilitate such an arrangement.  I know of Saudi women who are either divorced or widowed who live by themselves in a villa but in my personal experience, I know of only one western expat woman who chose to live in a villa.  A single expat woman needs to calculate carefully whether the risks and challenges of renting a private villa in a local residential area are worth it.

A single expat woman living by herself in a regular residential neighborhood rather than a compound or protected area such as within the diplomatic quarter will be at higher risk for personal security and safety.  She would likely fall under greater scrutiny and particularly of her comings and goings as well as who comes to visit her.  If any maintenance, repairs or services are required to the villa, does she have the language capabilities to communicate?  She must further take into account that any maintenance, repairs or services at the villa will most likely be performed by an unknown male(s).  She would neither want to be alone at the villa with an unknown male inside her home, nor should she allow an unknown male unaccompanied access into her home.

What will the woman do for transport?  Would she have her own private driver and if so, could she trust him enough to let him live on the premises?

It may be more difficult for a single woman to make friends outside of her workplace.  Unlike compound living which generally has open housing and naturally lends itself to socializing, there may not be as much fraternizing among neighbors in a residential area.

The perception, from Saudis and others, of a single expat woman living alone in a residential area should be taken into account as that could impact on the woman’s reputation.

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23 Responses

  1. I have not lived in the Kingdom but my best bet has always been having my sponsors handle my accomadations. While most contracts I had has a housing allowance option, I prefer not to have the hassle of dealing with a landlord, cable hook-up, e.t.c. stuff I take for granted in the states but seems to pose a challenge overseas. I did it once, meaning I rented a place and yes indeed the landlord kept the comings and goings of my place. I had virtually no privacy and practically no recourse. Also, the place had electrical and gas problems and I had to sort it out myself in a foreign language–not fun.
    I suggest any women planning to live in the Kingdom to just go with the accomadations given by the sponsor. It might not be the Taj Mahal but the last thing one wants to worry about are landlord and moving adjustments on top of getting settled in a different culture.
    I have been an expat for years and until I am totally settled and 100 percent comfortable that I am staying in the job for five years or more I will remain in companies accomadations. I think even the most seasoned expat still depend on their sponsors–at least in the Gulf region that is.

  2. I agree….don’t live in a villa unless you have your husband with you if you are a woman. Even if you have a trusted driver, he might become sick, may quit, etc. and then you would be on your own. Compound living for women is a must!

  3. I didn’t even know single expat women were allowed to live in SA!

  4. very informative post

    till date, was not aware – what is compound – was thinking its peculiar to saudi! oh! such houses are common in indian cities – we lived in these types of houses, since my childhood 🙂

    thanks again

  5. Expat compounds are where a expat woman can have fun

  6. @Halem, Many single women work in Saudi, especially in the medical field. There are many restrictions of course. The typical arrangement is for employer sponsored living.

    @Abu Mazen, Bravo for another comment with sick undertone, which we have gotten accustomed to hearing from you.

  7. Saudi in US – It’s true that expats can have a lot of fun on compounds because there are usually social functions for the residents including beach outings for the ladies on Thursday mornings as well as shopping trips for groceries and/or for books/clothes. They have access to the pools and gym as well, and sometimes even to tennis courts. There are always helpful neighbors nearby so that you don’t feel lonely. I have never lived on a compound, but I have friends who do and most of them have had wonderful neighbors.

  8. @RoseColoredGlasses, Yes, that would be my interpretation if that comment came from someone with rose colored glasses 🙂

    But not some of the sickest commentators here.

  9. I would go on to say even married expat couples would prefer living on compounds ( though there is a high cost tag involved) primarily due to the hassle free existence that they promise. You can live a fairly normal life with women having access to the pool,gym and social interaction ofcourse.

  10. The “compounds” are areas in SA that look like neighborhoods in the US (meaning they actually have street signs, the houses are numbered, and people actually obey the rules of traffic), lawns are mowed, and the prime areas in which expats live. On some of these compounds, there are Saudi’s; however, there is minimum interaction with them. They don’t speak to us, and generally we don’t speak to them (which is understandable considering that you can’t see their faces). There are the odd exceptions, but this is typically Saudi’s who also want to have fun, so they attend parties thrown by westerners. And, trust me, they are wild (i.e. The Saudi chick who shows up at a party that i recently attended wearing only shorts and a tube top. BTW: none of the other women were dressed this revealing) when they do attend. It is also a place in which westerners can have some semblance of a “normal” life. There are gyms, tennis courts, swimming pools, movie theaters, and women do not have to wear the abaya. And, in my opinion, is the ONLY place a single female expat should stay at while living in SA. Personally, I wouldn’t feel safe on any level, being a single women living off of a compound in SA.

  11. BCIS – I agree with you!
    BTW, This article was run today (Oct. 19th) in the local Saudi Newspaper…Saudi Gazette.
    Blogosphere page 6. Good job BEDU!!!

  12. Right Haleem? Me either.

  13. While the majority of single expat women do tend to live on compounds I know a few who have also chosen to live in either Fasiliyah Towers or Al Khazama Apartments which are part of the respective hotels but offer full security and amenities in a prime downtown Riyadh location. I know of couples who have chosen to live in privately rented villas rather than a compound and after the initial settling in are very happy where they are. True, it took a little longer to meet and make new friends but they enjoy the privacy of the villa in a regular neighborhood. One down side that -can- come along with compound life is the feeling of living in a “fishbowl environment.”

  14. we lived in a villa and also at the diplomatic quarter but i loved the villa, very nice, Yes we didn’t have many friends from the neighbours , but we had our own set of friends from work and F’s other friends, so it was ok.
    The only big issue for me was i had young kids who could have socialized more were we living inthe compound.

  15. Very good points Radha. I highly recommend that expat families live in a compound for the ability to easily socialize and have activities for the children.

  16. I need some help please. I am a western expat and I have 3 children. I have been divorced for many years. I currently live in Bahrain, with my fiance. He is a Saudi National. We want to move to Saudi for a job for him. He has not yet been given the approval to marry me. Is it even possible to get permission to marry me and take me and my 3 children to Jeddah, to live and work? PLEASE can someone with a similar experience reply to me. I can not find ANYTHING about single mothers moving to Saudi, with or without a sponsor (job).

  17. Lynn,
    Did you get a reply. I’m a single woman condidering moving and living in Saudi for a few years. I have no kids but would like to know what are comments you have secured outside this post.

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  20. I am a single expat female living in Riyadh 5 years. I have taken sponsor provided accommodation/transport previously and the problems were as follows:
    Tiny, dark, ill equipped rooms without proper kitchen facilities and no outside space or gym; frequent cutting off of water and electricity, surrounded by colleagues and so no work life balance or privacy; cramped, unreliable transport with dangerous vehicles and drivers. I also lived on a compound for a short while; heaven, except impossible to fund with the paltry allowance received. Final, and best, option? Private apartment let by sympathetic landlord in tolerant area. No probs with anything. Own transport and accommodation worth paying for to avoid daily nightmare of haranguing disinterested employer to improve circumstances. Many single women I know choose hotels run by friendly Yemenis, who treat them as sisters, look out for their safety and welfare and don’t police their movements. Just thought I’d add my perspective as it seems my experience is different.

  21. Claire, this is very interesting, thank you for contributing. Which city where you living in? Did you live in one of these hotels run by yemenis? Is that even allowed?

  22. Hi Claire, I got a job in Riyadh and was told by employer I will not live in a compound. I am so worried now. Should I request other accommodation and what another questions should I ask?

  23. the comments listed here are making me nervous and scared, I am an Indian planning to come down to look for a job and need a sharing accomodation. will call my family in a few months to join me, any advice on the same??

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