Postcard from… Saudi Arabia

Living in Saudi Arabia as a lawyer means a lot of travel, because you are covering a country roughly the size of Western Europe, with its main business centres Jeddah on the Red Sea, Riyadh in the centre and Dammam on the Arabian Gulf, plus a fair number of out-of-country meetings in neighbouring Dubai and Bahrain.

More than $600bn worth of projects are in progress and in the pipeline, so there is plenty of quality work going round. The local weekend falls on Thursday and Friday. Work never really stops if you service international clients, because one cannot switch off when the rest of the world is busy. At least with a BlackBerry one is no longer tied to one’s desk as much as one used to be in days gone by. Moreover, when you look after clients in Tokyo and New York, your working day can be rather stretched out.

Makkah, the holiest city in Islam, is only 40 miles from Jeddah, which is an obvious attraction for Muslims. Performing Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage, can be done easily in three hours from leaving home in Jeddah until your return. Alcohol is forbidden throughout Saudi Arabia, and women are required to wear a black cloak and head scarf when in public places. Moreover, women are not allowed to drive, so that a family driver is standard issue when living in Saudi Arabia. Indeed, with all the restrictions, life is definitely harder on women than on men.

Without bars, cinemas or theatres, Saudi Arabia may not be ideal for bachelors, but it is well suited for raising a family. Most expatriates live in high security compounds, some of which are self contained villages, and with year-round sunshine the children have plenty to occupy them. A decent villa on a good compound in Jeddah costs between £30,000 to £65,000 per annum, and there are waiting lists. Domestic help is readily available, which takes much of the drudgery out of day-to-day life. There are good English, American, German and French schools, some of which are on or next to compounds, so that the children can walk to school.

Driving can be entertaining, if you have the appropriate sense of humour. Check out driving Saudi on Youtube. What you see there would not strike any resident as unusual.

Most people spend their weekends by the sea. Scuba diving, sailing and windsurfing in the Red Sea are world class, and, of course, available all year round. Weekend travel in the desert is another popular pastime, and it is worth opting for a 4-wheel-drive if you intend to go exploring. There are a number of good riding stables round Jeddah, and every compound has swimming pools, tennis courts and a gym. The weather is like a pleasant South European summer from November to April, and extremely hot from May to October. However, one is never out of airconditioning unless one wants to be.

Andreas Haberbeck is a partner in the Jeddah office of Hatem Abbas Ghazzawi & Co.