I know when we first got to Riyadh, we had a whole host of things we believed that Riyadh did not have until we found out where to go to get them. I'm patching together a long and rambling list of that kind of stuff from memory, for all of you new arrivals out there.
110/220 volt kitchen appliances - SACO
For anyone living on compounds that believe converters fry their machines and want to bring them back home to the West after your stint here, Saco has a wide selection of internation toasters, kettles, etc. SACO is our Canadian Tire, so it contains all kinds of kitchen stuff, but also anything hardware related, so you'll get those extension cables, tools, some patio furniture, lightbulbs, some garden equipment, patio furniture etc. etc.
electronics - EXTRA
Alarm clocks, USB sticks, wireless routers, radios, TV's, electric razors, water coolers...OK, you're probably thinking that it's silly to get a water cooler but on our compound at least, everyone has them. The compound store sells huge jugs for about 2 dollars each, and once you find out how they process their tap water here in Saudi, you will fork over the one hundred beans to get your water cooler as well.
art supplies, english books - JARIR
Jarir bookstore will save you from gouging your eyes out when you don't want to watch TV or surf the net.
favourite foods - TAMIMI SUPERMARKET
You miss Ruffles too? Sour Cream and Onion? Yeah, I hear ya. Wish you had that good ol' U.S. steak? Uh huh. Can't find Ginger Ale anywhere? Been there. Done that. Tamimi is your best bet for meats, sauces, and drinks that you can't seem to find in other grocery chains. It has the widest selection of U.S. products since it's owned by Safeway. This is the only place people in the know go to buy their steaks. Another note on food: every grocery store is different when it comes to stocking specialty items (e.g. seaweed for sushi, wasabi, miso paste), so if you come across something that you haven't seen on your other shopping trips, do yourself a favour and buy extra because chances are they won't be there next time.
a good vegetable peeler - CARREFOUR, Many others I assume...
I don't know why, probably bad luck, but I couldn't find this, even after going to the grocery store many many times. I just didn't know where to look. The "Good Grips" line of peelers, which you will find in the knife section at Carrefour has sharp peelers, and you will be in peeling heaven with their products.
internet - WIMAX from Mobily
This is the current favourite - it's user friendly and easy to set up, but it has gotten very popular and as a result, the speeds have gone way down. I'll report back if something else better has come up
cell phone service - Mobily
generally reliable service, and most importantly, there are outlets all over the city where you can pay your bills through automated machines. Just a few tips - this applies to banks as well. You will likely run into problems. Expect that mistakes will be made and just live with it. Be patient and persistent when you're asking them to fix something, and get names & business cards so you can follow up should a promise not be delivered. If simple paperwork or a correction in the computer needs to be made, stay there and stare at them until they do it. =D Good luck!
**edit** - guys, I forgot to mention that the pay as you go option is probably the easiest thing you can do for yourself. I found out recently that we can put money on our phones at our compound store, which makes it super convenient. This also cuts out the hassle of paying a monthly bill and trying fruitlessly to correct billing mistakes made on your account.
cell phones - ??
sorry, I haven't found a good outlet yet. Why are they so outrageously priced? Until I find a good place to buy one, I suggest that you bring your GSM cell phone from your home country.
**edit** - see my posting on "dirt cheap cell phones"
that dang abaya - KUWAITI SOUK / DEIRA SOUK / KINGDOM COFFEE MORNING
If you buy an abaya at a mall, you are getting royally screwed, a thousand times over. Get yourself to either of the above two souks - probably any souk will do, I just haven't been to other ones - and you should be able to get a nice abaya plus headscarf for 120 riyals. 150 is still okay. Anything above that is highway robbery. Bargain down and be warned: they judge your wealth by your skin tone. Kingdom Coffee Morning is a must for any ex-pat woman new to Riyadh - held on the first monday of every month, this is the place to go to get the abayas with the colourful hoods so that you don't need to bring a headscarf around with you.
shopping malls that do not specialize in sequined material - HAYAT / GRANADA
I've posted about Kingdom mall already. It's really not the best mall. My two favourite malls are Hayat and Granada because both malls have a variety of stores in them, not just women's clothing. Granada is a small mall near the airport, but I have a fondness for it because it has watch stores at a range of prices, it has a traditional arabian store in it if you're not in the mood to go to a souk for a maa-salama gift, a few sports / sports clothing stores, Extra, and a grocery store. And Hayat is a larger version of Granada. For the record, Saudi Arabia has killed my desire to ever see sequins on anything ever again.
home decor - IKEA
also covered in previous posts. It's out in the middle of nowhere, but this Ikea will not fail you. An honourable mention goes out to the Danube at Hayat mall. It has a reasonably nice home decor section and miles of plates, serving platters and related oddities, like ceramic bowls shaped like cupcakes - stuff like that. We bought our nice big fluffy down pillows from the now closed Kika at Riyadh Gallery, RIP. You may still want to check out Mr. Price, it's reincarnation, at Riyadh Gallery for such things as bedding and pillows, though IKEA is probably the first stop I would make for all such items, because it's one stop shopping.
business suits - HUGO BOSS / CANALI
For those with the need for high quality suits, but don't expect the staff to know what they're talking about or have proper tailors in shop.
women's clothing - Stores you'll find in Riyadh in general: Guess, Costa Blanca, Banana Republic, Zara, Urban Behaviour, Marks & Spencers, Mango, Benetton, Esprit, LV, Coach, Gucci, Tiffany's, Debenhams, Harvey Nichols, Nine West, Payless Shoes, Pull & Bear, Promod, Sephora, Body Shop, etc. etc. So basically don't worry about clothes - you'll find whatever you need here, and if you LIKE sequins, you have just won the lottery of your life, my friend.
a car. a huge car. a monstrosity. - GMC / TOYOTA / LANDROVER
Buy a huge SUV for your own safety as you will be rear-ended or worse here, guaranteed. Buy a car that includes a warranty, and choose a common car that will have parts available and a reputable mechanic service. Do not buy a used car older than 5 years. Do not buy a used car from anyone else but the original dealer or another ex-pat who takes good care of it. Be persistent to get your test drive and do your own research. If you're from Europe, cars are cheaper here. If you're not, they're the same price, sometimes more.
I know this is a departure from my usual posts, but I thought it might be useful. Back to our regularly scheduled programming next post.
Change can happen in Saudi Arabia
5 months ago