Postcard from…Riyadh

When I was first asked to write an article about life as an expat lawyer in the Magic Kingdom, I was a little intimidated by the task. Why?

When I first informed my friends and family that I was moving to Riyadh, they thought I was out of my mind or that the lemonade I was drinking was not really a lemonade! So this article, for me, represents an opportunity to illustrate that life in Riyadh is quite good despite the preconceptions.

I moved to Riyadh from London around four months ago, and, no, I was not credit crunched into Saudi Arabia. I had actually accepted my offer in June 2008, but I needed to work out my notice period.

I must admit that when I first moved to Riyadh, I was a little apprehensive because of what everyone was saying about how life would be there. I am glad to inform everyone that I was pleasantly surprised. While it may not have the glitz and glamour of our neighbours in Las Vegas (I mean Dubai), Riyadh is quite modern and very easy to navigate. Geographically, Riyadh is centrally located within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and as a result is hot and dry.

Denton Wilde Sapte’s Riyadh office is situated in a brand new office tower with very charming views to the outside world. My residence is off a popular street in Riyadh called Olaya Street. Although my residence is only a short distance from the office, I do actually own a car because the concept of public transport does not really exist in Riyadh. Not that I miss London public transport that much. It is actually quite convenient and simple to drive to the office. We also have an underground car park which I am glad to report has no parking attendants.

I did buy a convertible despite getting advice to buy an SUV or something of the sort due to the unique way in which driving is conducted over here. I was rather optimistic but I’m actually enjoying the experience and I’m definitely glad I did it because I get to enjoy the sun all the time.

The office environment is very friendly and our managing partner is quite flexible and very motivated. We have a good mix of expat lawyers, from the UK and US, and Saudi Arabian lawyers. The work environment is fairly challenging due to the novelty of some concepts of the Saudi Arabian legal system, but with the help of our Saudi Arabian team we always manage to overcome any hurdles.

In terms of socialising, I have my favourites: the amazing Globe Restaurant, which is at the top of a 40-storey building, is in the shape of a ball and has breathtaking views over the Riyadh skyline, particularly at night; Havana Club, a private cigar club with the biggest walk-in humidor I have ever seen; Lebanese Corner Restaurant and the lobby of the Four Seasons and Faisaliah Hotel. I have been reliably informed that horseback riding is available and there is a racing circuit for private users.

Professionally, Riyadh is a challenging place to be in but it is also one of the most rewarding. Of course you can argue that living in a Western society has its advantages, but I genuinely believe that working in Riyadh is a great experience professionally and personally as well.

Walid Salib is an associate in Denton Wilde Sapte’s Riyadh office