Expats moving to Jeddah can expect a slightly less conservative city than strictly religious Riyadh. Jeddah is one of the most important cities in the Middle East, both in terms of religion and commerce.
The principal gateway to Mecca, Jeddah welcomes thousands of Muslims from all over the world every year. Many devotees stay long after their Hajj to join the countless foreigners who've moved here for employment opportunities. As a result, the Red Sea port city has developed a more cosmopolitan character than most of the Saudi Kingdom.
Jeddah is one of Saudi Arabia's largest industrial cities, a commercial port with a booming logistics industry, and the seat of several major Islamic banks and the Arab media. The city is also a fertile incubator for Saudi art. An impressive collection of galleries and open-air installations afford it an atmosphere lacking in many other Middle Eastern destinations.
Despite the 'Saudisation' quotas imposed on local companies by the government, Saudi participation in the labour force remains rather low. The majority of Jeddah's labour force comes from abroad. Expats in Jeddah hail from a variety of different destinations ranging from North and East Africa, Iran, Turkey, Yemen and Southeast Asia to Western Europe and North America. This diversity serves to create a cosmopolitan ambience in the city. Expats working in Jeddah enjoy a mix of traditional culture and modern enterprise. New arrivals often find support in existing expat communities.
Expat's relocating to Jeddah will find the city to be less strict than Riyadh. Despite the fact that the rules governing public behaviour may be less harsh on Jeddah's exclusive beach resorts and hotels with men and women socialising more openly, it is important to always bear in mind that Saudi Arabia remains a very conservative country. Expats, especially women, need to take the necessary steps to ensure they adhere to local laws and religious sensitivities at all times.
Sadly, Jeddah's oceanfront aesthetic is often obscured by air pollution, especially during hot summer days. Industrial zones to the north and south of Jeddah are known to sandwich the centre in smog, which is made worse by landfill and bush fires. Summer highs can soar to above 104°F (40°C) in summer. However, one can overcome the heat with Jeddah’s convenient access to well-kept beaches and an 80km-long waterfront promenade that’s perfect for ambling away empty hours.
Jeddah can be a salty breath of fresh air in a country where most aspects of life are restricted.
'The culture here was a challenge. I was used to working full time back home, but now I have to rely on my husband for money and transport as I can’t work or drive in this country' Read more about Brenda's experiences as a traling spouse in Saudi Arabia in her interview.
'Apart from the crazy drivers on the streets, I’ve always said Saudi is the safest place I’ve ever lived. That may seem like a far-fetched statement but you can’t believe everything you see and hear from Western media.' Get more advice and insights from James in his interview with Expat Arrivals.
►See Accommodation in Jeddah for more on housing.
Are you an expat living in Jeddah?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Jeddah. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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