Sunday, 27 June 2010

Compound Living in Riyadh

'What's it like living in a compound in Riyadh?' I often get asked.

It's quite weird saying "I live in a compound".  It has this confinement quality to it.....which in a sense is exactly what it is, but anyway.....

Compounds vary in size, quality and obviously cost.  The smallest I've visited has 25 residences and the largest has around 400 residences.  Compounds, the ones that white collar westerners like, have a reputation of being notoriously hard to get into.  Some have waiting lists of 1 year or more.  To jump the queue (which happens a lot) it's who you know, not what you know.
Compounds are deemed to be safer for westerners than living in 'mainstream' accommodation   (Given the 'incident' of 2003, that's a questionable statement).  They all have security of varying levels, so you need clearance to enter.  If you invite guests to visit, their names must be put at the gate.  This does tend to curb the 'I thought I'd just drop by your compound to see you on a whim' activity, but that's a small price for peace of mind.  Forgetting to put someones name at the gate when you've organised for them to visit does cause a few problems -  mostly for the visitor left waiting in the heat.  Not that I've ever made such a blue, I'm just saying.....

Saudi's are not permitted within most expat compounds, a situation that causes a fair amount of debate for some people and I might write a blog on it one day.  Abaya wearing is also not required (and in most cases, as on our compound, not permitted) either.  One family moved out of our compound because the husband insisted that his wife was to wear an abaya when outside the house.  Management insisted he find other accommodation because this is a Western compound, live it or leave.

Compound dwelling allows you to live free from the restrictions of life 'outside'.   I guess the biggest benefits for me are there's no gender segregation so you can interact freely with your neighbors and you can wear normal clothes.  Normal from a western perspective that is - shorts, T-shirts - that kind of stuff.  About the only thing you can't do is enjoy a glass of red at the end of the day :(

Prior to moving here, The Husband brought me to have a look at Riyadh to see what I thought.  We did a tiki tour of other compounds because he was certain (I don't know why) that I wouldn't like where he's been living for the last 18 months.  He had even handed in his notice.  So much for "I'll wait till you've looked around before I do anything". 

My criteria for a place to stay was:
- a pool I can do laps in,
- a gym
- and my absolute can't live without, a coffee shop. 
Not hard criteria to fill as most compounds have all of these.  As a bonus we have a tennis court, a squash court and an out door badminton/volley ball court.  There's also a games room upstairs with a pool table that is rarely used.

What I really like about this compound is its location.  It's right in the middle of the city.  During the day I can just walk out the gate and head to the shops.  And it's only a 15 minute walk to The Husbands work place.  Women from compounds further out have to wait for compound buses or organize drivers or catch taxis in to town because women are not permitted to drive in Saudi.

Our compound is considered small by western standards but it has a really nice set up and is nicely maintained.  There are only about 60 residences here - a combination of 1 and 2 bedroom apartments and 3 bedroom villas (the villas are huge).   Some come partially furnished (if you ask) or you buy your own.  IKEA is big business in Riyadh.

Our apartment is part of the 'bachelor pad' block - only 1 beddies.  Since arriving I've bought a couch - Mr Batchin-It didn't have one (have you tried relaxing watching a DVD on dining chairs?) - and more recently a water cooler and an oven:

Where's your oven?
Don't have one.
Why not?
Flat didn't come with one.  The hotplates and microwave are all I need.
And the microwave's got convection cooking.
Have you used it?

The Husbands Pantry prior my arrival.  Note the baked beans.  They were on special.

During my reconnaissance mission last August I was informed that the larger compounds tend to have 'clicky' groups that stick together, usually based on nationality, which is fine if you like that sort of thing but if you came for a cultural experience living with 'your own' isn't really the way to get it - my opinion only.  This compound is too small to have that problem (Is that a problem??).  Anyway, there's a nice mix of ethnicity's and age groups living here that I really enjoy and it's a great way to build a network for free holiday accommodation around the world.  Lined up already is an apartment in Paris, a house in the Philippines and a home in Spain.

Sure there are some things we don't have being a smaller place - like free child care (not that I need that), a hair salon (there are plenty just down the road) or a bowling alley, and sure it's not perfect - what place is - but compared to other compounds I reckon it's pretty good.

So, The Husband withdrew his notice - fortunately they hadn't processed it - and we are still living in the same compound in Riyadh.

If you're in the market for a compound in Riyadh then you may want to peruse the list of compounds on this website.


  1. Sounds like a pretty good little condo there,well not little but cool. I like all the amenities it has. I liked the baked beans pantry, typical male ey? Are you still in Riyadh?

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