Monday, June 28, 2010

The Established Blogs on Living and Working in Saudi Arabia

Bism Illah wa as salaamu alaykum.

Here is  a list of wonderful blogs that are all about living and working in Saudi Arabia.

Working in Saudi Arabia  Excellent resource for all those labor, immigration, and practical questions that are hard to find reliable answers to, mashaa'Allah.

Desert Diaries Making Hijrah and Living in Jeddah

Hijrah to Allah  A blog by a sister who has made hijrah to different places and now is in Saudi Arabia. She posts information about lesser known jobs, mashaa'Allah, and is open to questions.

Moments in Madinah This blog covered a span of about a year, as the sister and her family left last summer. It proved quite helpful to us, mashaa'Allah. It hasn't been updated in 11 months, since they left Madinah.

Guide to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia This hasn't been updated in  3 years, so the information, in some cases, is outdated.

This should keep you all busy and answer many of the questions you have far better than me. Enjoy!

Taxi Fares and The Roads

Bism Allah wa as salaamu alaykum.

Almost every car and pick-up truck is a taxi in Madinah. There are marked taxis also, but they don't often pick you up. Just hold out your hand and someone will pull over to find out where you want to go. They may ask you to give them directions, but if you're paying they'll take you.

Anywhere within Madinah should cost no more than SR10 unless you are going at a very busy time or are very far away and they know you aren't local, when it may be SR15. No more.

Driving in Madinah is akin to taking your life in your hands on a roller coaster in the wild, wild, west. No, I am not fact it is an understatement. Cars do not pay attention to lanes, will swish and swerve in front of anyone and will turn left from the fifth lane on the right which is only for right turns in front of every other car. It is stressful, unpleasant, and wipes out any thoughts of a pleasure drive. That said, it is much easier to get on with life and function with children, etc. with a car. We bought a used minivan after 4 months here, and it was a huge blessing. 
Don't be surprised to see toddlers hanging out of car windows, fathers driving with babies on their laps, and little boys that look around 12 driving their mothers around. Elementary school age children are left to run the shops and child car seats are nowhere to be seen.

Housing in Madinah

Bism Allah wa as salaamu alaykum.

Location, location, location!

There are two sections of Madinah: inside the Haram area and outside. The area within the Haram is for Muslims only. No non-Muslims are allowed to live there. That is a big incentive for Muslims to live within the Haram boundaries. The area outside of the Haram tends to be further away from the big stores, malls, and supermarkets. It is also where you can get incredible deals on accommodation. However, what we learned is that it pays to ask around. Real estate agents may take you to nice places, but the SR500-1000 service fee is hefty. They do not secure the best deal for you either, as it isn't in their best interest. However, many buildings can be found by simply walking around and looking for empty air-conditioner holes and signs saying in Arabic, lil ajaar (for rent). In addition, once you ask around, people will inform you of all manner of apartments available in their area, which is usually the best way to find something nice, inexpensive, and avoid any service fee.

An example of prices and accommodation is this. The Aziziyah area, outside the Haram but close to Taibah University and the Islamic University of Madinah, is abounding with new construction. DH saw an apartment that was palatial with 6 bedrooms, 3 or 4 bathrooms, self contained maid's quarters, kitchen, a couple of living rooms, and high quality finishing for SR 25,000 per year. It was more rooms than we even knew what to do with, but was a serious consideration if we were to settle for a place outside the Haram. The location was the biggest drawback for us. For a large family however, who planned to get a vehicle quickly, it would be incredible. A two bedroom apartment in the same building cost just SR 16,000. For beautiful accommodation at low prices, this is a great area. It is peaceful, there are enough shops to get groceries, fresh bread, clothing, and household items, and it is less polluted.

Within the Haram, a two bedroom apartment which could be made into a three bedroom by converting one of the sitting rooms, was being offered for SR25,000 with everything to be bought – even the kitchen sink. However, spacious apartments between 2-4 bedroom are easy to find, and there is a choice around the SR 20,000 – 29,000 range that would suit most.

Compared to the UK, rooms and homes are bigger. Floors are tiled, so cleaning is easy. Utility costs are low and if you live in an apartment, then you won't have to pay a water bill.

Our Arrival and First Days

Bism Allah wa as salaamu alaykum.

The long haul flight from Dulles Airport to Jeddah was wonderful – comfortable, enjoyable, and relaxing. The confusion of Jeddah airport was the first taste of the disorganized chaos of “the system” here. Once through it all, we sat waiting for our flight to Madinah, knowing it was all nearly over. Of course, good things are always laced with those extra tests. Despite all the calls to the employer's staff, nobody was there to pick us up. A few more calls and a 20-30 minute wait and the man arrived, speaking no English, to take us to the temporary accommodation. He was driving a RAV4, which was quite interesting when considering we are a family of 6 with 16 pieces of luggage. I sat in the back with the four children, with luggage looming over our headrests. Needless to say, my arm was up straining to keep it from falling on the children's heads.

Several phone calls later, DH understood he should go out and catch a taxi to work in the morning. In the meantime, we made up makeshift beds with bare mattresses, pillows, and one blanket each. DH went out to get something to eat, 2 chickens, 2 big bags of tasty rice, arugula, onion, and chopped salad, for about US$ 9. Masha'Allah, that was dinner for two days.

The first day at work for DH was wonderful, and every day since has been a pleasure wa al hamdu l'Illah. Wonderful brothers, helpful support, and the unfolding of The Perfect Plan have all ensued. Our arrival in late October meant we enjoyed much milder temperatures and lovely, balmy evenings. Our timing meant we were given an offer of an apartment fully equipped in the most ideal location imaginable for just SR22,000 per year. A huge saving for us, and a beautiful home, for far less than if we'd found something within the housing budget and had to equip it ourselves. The funds we took with us were exactly enough to cover the upfront money needed before the payments were issued from the employer.

The next issue, the schools for the children, also was placed in front of us. A few minutes of online activity and a message from the Hijrah to Madinah Yahoo Group said that Al-Fusha Girls' School needed native English speakers to teach English curriculum ESL books. The school was what we wanted, teaching and speaking only fus-ha Arabic. I called and ended up with a deal that all the girls could attend the school and our son attend the boys school for the school allowance provided by the employer and I could work there teaching. That meant I would be there to see how the girls got on the first year and would see first hand how the teaching was. Subhaan Allah! How many thanks can we give to our Perfect Provider?

The Long Road to Madinah

Bism Allah wa as salaamu alaykum.

Where does one begin? The thrill of being offered a position at teaching in Madinah al Munawarrah? The long seeming wait until summer when the departure should take place?

Well, DH was offered a teaching position in March 2009 after being interviewed at the TESOL convention in Denver, Colorado. Money well spent and greatly rewarded, al hamdu l'Illah! We started planning what we would do leading up to our expected departure in August.

However, as time proceeded, nothing came through about visas or anything and we took it into our own hands to get our medicals finished by the end of June/early July. By August, we started getting correspondence asking a for information to prepare visas, but Ramadan hindered the process greatly.
After finally getting our visa letter and rushing down to the Saudi Embassy in Washington DC, we were shocked to be told that we were not allowed to go as a family, only my husband could travel. Fortunately, we thought about all the correspondence and DH called his employer to check. “No!” they said, “you are all supposed to come together.” This began a battle between one woman in the Saudi Embassy and all the applicants for family visas to Saudi universities.

The time for the University to open came and went. The time for classes to start came and went. The time for the children's school to start came and went. But, subhaan Allah! The commencement of classes was postponed because there were so many teachers facing problems and not yet in the Kingdom. The children's school was delayed two weeks, so they wouldn't miss as much as originally thought. The house was taking longer to get sorted out than we thought it would. All these things were blessings and signs of Allah's Perfect Plan.

It took four weeks, couriered letters to the Ambassador, Consul, and Cultural Affairs Mission and a great deal of patience and stress to finally get an edict that all families are allowed to travel with the employee and the backlog of rejected visa applications be dealt with. After over a month planning to leave within 5 days of receiving our visas, we received the call. Our visas were ready on Wednesday, October 14th and we made the bookings on Thursday October 15th for the tickets being paid for by the employer. Friday October 16th we made the booking for the two youngest girls and Fed-Ex delivered our passports and papers all stamped by the Saudi Embassy. We spent the next 48 hours in a state of sleepless frenzy, finalizing bags, clearing out the house, putting all the things to be stored together, and organizing final arrangements with friends. By Allah's Mercy, we made it to Dulles Airport on Sunday October 18th to catch our flight. We were finally going to Saudi Arabia.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cost of Things

Bism Illah wa as salaamu alaykum.

We struggled to get any idea of the cost of day to day items and also household and electronic goods prior to coming to Madinah. Now, we have found a few websites for shops here that give a good idea of what is available and at what price.

Extra Electronics:
Like a Best Buy - large electronic store

Jarir Bookstore:

Sells everything from books, laptops, phones, and craft supplies.

Big hypermarket selling food, clothes, housewares, appliances, and electronic goods.

Big hypermarket selling food, clothes, housewares, appliances, and electronic goods.

These give a very good idea of general prices here and make it easier to make informed decisions about what to bring and what to buy here, as well as formulate a budget for food and household sundries. If you are not brand conscious and simply like nice clothes and matching sets, then clothes are very cheap here, mashaa'Allah. Cotton skirt sets for my daughters, which standardly consist of a long skirt, a t-shirt, sometimes a little matching bolero jacket, and handbag will cost around SAR 20-30, equivalent to $5.00 - $7.50 or UK pounds 4.00 - 6.00. There are lovely denim peasant skirts with beads and embroidery, all manner of designs, colors, etc. Boys' thobes range from SAR 15 to 70, depending on material.

What you need to get to Saudi Arabia/Madinah

Bism Illah wa as salaamu alaykum.

To live and work professionally in Saudi Arabia, the best chance of getting work is to aim for the teaching profession or nursing.

I don't have experience about nursing, but I do know that a Bachelors Degree in nursing is the best way to get a decent job. Bear in mind, however, that there are people from many countries that will come here with the same qualifications for lower salaries. Therefore, someone from the USA, UK, or Canada may struggle to find a decent paying position in nursing because qualified nurses from the Philippines, India, and similar countries will come for a much lower salary.

As for the teaching angle, at minimum, a Bachelors Degree in a given subject is needed. One of the biggest areas where jobs are most available is teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). There is such a big demand that not only do the universities hire directly, there are companies that hire teachers and them supply them on contract to the universities as well. To teach ESL at a university as a direct hire, at present, one needs a Bachelors Degree and a TEFL, TESOL, CELTA, or DELTA Certificate with at least one year teaching experience. The more longer the  teaching experience you have, the better your pay scale.

To get a position that is more secure and better paid, a Masters Degree and more experience is preferred. However, there is a good chance that the MA will have to be in ESL or Linguistics in the future to ensure you are retained.

Contract companies that hire people and then provide them to different universities and institutions often have lower requirements. They sometimes take people with less than a BA, as long as they have an Associates Degree and good TEFL experience. This is an option well worth exploring.

To teach a different subject in a university, one must have either a Masters or a Doctorate in their subject/field. It is easy to see what qualifications are required for each position as they are listed on the job vacancy notice.

To teach in Madinah, one needs to look at Taibah University. Simply go to the website, click on the job opportunities and see the large variety of jobs available. To teach in Jeddah, go to the King Abdul Aziz University website. Basically search for the university in the area you would like to live, and be flexible because if you get a job in Taif, it is only 45 minutes away from Makkah.

One cannot just come and visit and try to find a job. It is possible to job hunt while on an Umrah trip, but the procedure is such that you will be hired from your country of residence and all visas and travel protocol and procedures must be done from there through the Saudi Embassy. Your employer will be bringing you into the country to work.

Okay, that is the beginning of this subject. I hope to post some other blogs, which are very helpful for people trying to live and work in Saudi Arabia, inshaa'Allah.

Barak Allahu feek!