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Communications for Expats in Saudi Arabia

Submitted: July 2014

Saudi Arabia is a large country, but mobile phone coverage is generally excellent in the populated areas. The country has a high percentage of mobile phone users and quality of service is usually good.

Saudi Arabia’s standard networks work on the GSM 900 and 1800 standards, so any phone you bring with you must conform to it. For higher quality 3G and 4G you will need to make sure that your wavelength is compatible. For 4G in Saudi Arabia you will require 1800, 2300 or 2600Mhz, this is not the same as the wavelengths for 4G in the USA. Keeping your home service provider is probably not a good idea, as roaming charges are high in Saudi Arabia. When you first arrive, your best choice may be to buy a prepaid SIM card. Once you are settled in Saudi Arabia you can investigate long term contracts.

There are three main network providers in Saudi Arabia:

Competition between providers means that there are a large number of different offers and prices available; so as always it pays to do some research. Also you will have to decide whether you want to use the internet on your phone. Mobile internet phone service is quite expensive and can occasionally be slow during periods of high usage. There is a useful website here which maps the phone coverage for the country, don’t worry about the large number of blanks spots, these are mainly desert. You should realise though that if you go sightseeing off the beaten track, there may not be coverage if you encounter a problem. Once you have settled into your accommodation you can always ask your neighbours if there are any problems with coverage in the area.

Broadband internet based on a landline or mobile (dongle) is pretty much standard in Saudi Arabia. The only landline provider in Saudi Arabia is STC, so you will have no choice but to deal with them. Generally expat accommodation will come with a landline fitted. STC also provides mobile internet services as do Mobily and Zain. Satellite TV is also an option, satellite dishes are common in Saudi Arabia and many compounds will already have one installed. The three main providers of programmes are Arabsat, Nilesat and Hotbird. The choice of English language channels is somewhat limited. STC offer bundled services of internet, phone and TV.   

You should be aware there is heavy censorship in Saudi Arabia. You will soon get used to the forbidden access page on the internet. Gambling, drug-related, sexual education, pornographic, LGBT and non-islamic religious sites are all strictly banned; the full list is much longer. The reasoning behind some specific site bans can sometimes be difficult to fathom. Television and films available will not portray any of these banned activities either, and programmes will also have been censored for any depiction of the drinking of alcohol. This censorship can cause some loss of plot; for example, a man walks towards a building that might contain a bar, in the next shot he is lying dead in the morgue.




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