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Expats Relocating with Families and Pets in Saudi Arabia

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: December 2015

Relocating with Families

Moving to a new country with your family can be an exciting adventure for all. Especially within the confines of a gated compound, life in Saudi Arabia is safe and relatively carefree and offers plenty of child-friendly activities. Bear in mind, though, that it will take time to work through bureaucratic procedures, find appropriate accommodation, schooling and childcare and prepare your children. Hence it is crucial to start planning the move well in advance!

First of all, you should look into the entry requirements for moving to Saudi Arabia with family members. This may be problematic as you will not always be able to bring all family members with you at the same time. For detailed information on family member visa requirements, see the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. For more information on family entry requirements, see Family Members and Marriage and the other articles in our Immigration section.

Most Western expats prefer to live in gated compounds, as these are more suitable for families than elsewhere. Hence it is essential to take the time to find an area that has adequate facilities for children, access to good medical care and schooling, and is otherwise family-friendly. To help find such a place, have a look at the relevant municipality website and consult online blogs and forums for first-hand information. See for example the Expat Briefing Forum.

Another important step is to look into schooling and childcare options. Saudi state schools have only Arabic as a medium, do not accept non-Muslims and are essentially Wahhabi indoctrination centres. Hence the vast majority of expats in Saudi Arabia prefer to send their children to private or international schools and nurseries. To help you choose, it is best to do a thorough online research and check online forums for school and nursery reviews. Bear in mind that popular institutions have long waiting lists, and you may need to contact them before you move. For further information on schooling options in Saudi Arabia, see our Education section. To read more on childcare, see Family Life and Childcare.

Last but not least, children can find moving to another country stressful, so make sure you take the time to prepare them. If approached the right way, they will be able to see the move as an exciting new start. Before you leave your home country, tell your children about Saudi Arabia and talk with them about any anxieties they may have. Make sure they are able to stay in touch with their friends in your home country. These days, with online video, email and social media, this is quite easy.

You can also teach your children what you know about the local culture, and, if possible, take them for a visit to their new homeland. In addition, if they do not yet speak Arabic, it is a good idea to enrol them at a language school. For further guidance on preparing children for relocation, see Kids’ Relocation Issues and Crown Relocations.

Relocating Pets

The import of pets into Saudi Arabia is tightly restricted. Only two pets are allowed per family and they must be brought in by plane. There is a long list of dog breeds that are not permitted into Saudi Arabia (see the Pet Travel webpage linked to below). Furthermore, dogs cannot be brought in to the country solely to be kept as pets. They need to have an assigned role, such as guard dog, hunting dog or guide dog. Dogs are disliked in the Kingdom, so if you are considering bringing one into the country, it is worth checking with your sponsor or prospective landlord. Cats are easier to bring in, as are some species of bird, though again this is worth checking beforehand.

A veterinary health certificate, with an enclosed letter addressed to the Saudi Director of Customs is required. This needs to confirm that your pet is rabies-free and has all necessary vaccinations. The certificate must also be endorsed by your home country’s relevant government department and authenticated by the Saudi Arabian Embassy. In addition, it is best practice to get your pet microchipped before you leave for the Kingdom. This must be up to ISO standard 11784 or 11785, and the microchip details must be entered into the animal’s registration document or pet passport.

You will also need to apply for an import permit from the Saudi Ministry of Agriculture. You will also need to write a letter of notification to the Saudi Director of Customs. In the meantime, your sponsor or employer can perform the final step, which is to apply for entrance notification. It is best to get certified Arabic translations of all these documents. Additionally, all cats and dogs over 3 months old need to have been vaccinated against rabies between one and twelve months ago.

Pets can either be brought in as guest baggage or using a pet relocation company. It is a good idea to hire a specialist pet relocation company to help you move your pet to Saudi Arabia. Not only do these companies provide suitable travel containers for pets, they also help with the complicated paperwork. Among the most prominent companies offering pet relocations to Saudi Arabia are:

When you pet arrives in Saudi Arabia, it will need to be collected from the cargo depot. You will then need to complete a customs declaration.