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Moving to Jeddah

A coastal city of contrasts, Jeddah is home to both an ultramodern industrial centre and a centuries-old historic district. As the principal gateway to Mecca and a thriving economic power, Jeddah is one of the most important cities in the Middle East, both in terms of religion and commerce.

Each year, Jeddah welcomes thousands of Muslims from all over the world as they complete their Hajj. Many devotees stay long after, joining the countless foreigners who've moved here for employment opportunities in one of the city's many strong industries.

Despite quotas imposed on local companies by the government, Saudi participation in the labour force remains fairly low with the majority of Jeddah's labour force coming from abroad, ranging from North and East Africa, Iran, Turkey, Yemen and Southeast Asia to Western Europe and North America. New arrivals often find support in existing expat communities.

Though Jeddah is ruled by Sharia law, as is the rest of Saudi Arabia, it is the country's least conservative city. Respecting the cultural and religious norms remains important, but expats will find themselves under less scrutiny than they would be in other areas of the Kingdom.

Jeddah can be a salty breath of fresh air in a country where there are many restrictions. Though it may take expats some time to adjust to life here, respecting the local culture and being open to learning will make it easier to settle in.

Accommodation in Jeddah

Expats moving to Jeddah are most commonly housed in compounds. Some consist of just a few houses and others are like villages with numerous villas, apartments and shared amenities.

There tends to be more freedom for expats in the compounds, where they often live far removed from the restrictive rules governing everyday life in Saudi Arabia. Women don’t need to cover up and expats at larger compounds can socialise at facilities such as shops, sports grounds, swimming pools, parks, restaurants and daycare centres. Staying at some of the more exclusive compounds in Jeddah can even be likened to living in a holiday complex.

Types of accommodation in Jeddah

Accommodation in Jeddah is typically expensive due to high demand and limited supply. Housing allowances are a fairly standard part of Saudi employment contracts and may include a specific amount, a percentage of the employee’s salary or, in the case of larger employers, even the provision of a property. Rental agreements are often between the employer and the compound.

Compound housing in Jeddah tends to be fully furnished. However, it is possible to find unfurnished accommodation at slightly lower prices. For a bit extra, expats who prefer to travel light can also arrange a 'soft package' which includes bedding, towels, cutlery and crockery. Otherwise, numerous shops sell good-quality household items.

Ultimately, expats could ship all their furniture to create a home away from home, though this is a significant expense. Moving with personal items only and living with what the compound provides is what most expats do.

Expats who are hired to work in Jeddah on lucrative employment packages will usually find that their accommodation needs are well taken care of and they are either provided with fully-furnished housing or are given a sizeable shipping allowance to help them bring their personal goods to Saudi Arabia.

Finding accommodation in Jeddah

Demand for compound housing in Jeddah considerably outstrips supply, so finding the right home can take some time. When choosing a compound, expats should think about the location and general lifestyle, rather than just the house itself – the livability of a fantastic property is greatly diminished in the wrong location. It’s also worth bearing in mind that it's easier to change houses within a compound once expats have moved in, than it is to move from one compound to another.

Information about compounds in Jeddah is available online through individual property websites and listings. But many companies don’t update their sites regularly, and expats shouldn’t be surprised to find outdated images and information. Most people get advice from work colleagues and other expats once they arrive in Saudi Arabia.

Luckily, the majority of expats moving to Jeddah have the hassle of finding a suitable compound taken care of as employers usually arrange expat accommodation prior to their employees moving to Saudi Arabia. In most cases, expats are housed in close proximity to colleagues and other foreigners, which makes the transition into expat life in Jeddah much smoother. 

Renting accommodation in Jeddah

Compound contracts tend to be on a rolling annual basis with rent paid at the start of each year or every six months. Deposits are usually around 10 percent of the annual rent. Electricity, water and internet normally cost extra; service charges are usually included, while the compound is responsible for maintaining the property.

Any necessary changes to the property should be done during the process of contract negotiation. Most properties are repainted when tenants move out, but fixtures and fittings can be worse for wear. It’s best to have any changes made before moving in.

Healthcare in Jeddah

The standard of healthcare in Saudi Arabia is among the best in the Middle East. Hospitals in Jeddah are no exception, with many facilities being among the region's finest. 

Both public and private facilities have high standards. However, most expats prefer to use private healthcare in Jeddah. A few hospitals cater specifically to the expat community and are often staffed by expats or foreign-trained local doctors.

Private healthcare can be expensive and expats working in Jeddah are required by law to have private health insurance. Employers often cover this, and it's something that expats should discuss as part of their contract negotiations.

Hospitals in Jeddah

Abdul Latif Jameel Hospital for Medical Rehabilitation

Address: Prince Mutaib bin Abdulaziz Rd, Al-Safa, Jeddah 23341

Al Ryan International Polyclinic

Address: Al-Baghdadiyah Al-Sharqiyah, Jeddah 22241

Dr Soliman Fakeeh Hospital
Address: Falastin, Al-Hamra'a, Jeddah 23323

International Medical Center
Address: Hail Street, Al-Ruwais, Jeddah 23214

Education and Schools in Jeddah

Expats moving to Jeddah with children will certainly consider education and schooling a priority. The quality of a child's schooling has a huge impact on their transition into expat life. This is especially true in a country with dramatically different cultural norms to those that expats kids may be used to.

The expat community in Jeddah is fairly sizeable. While expats have access to public schools in Saudi Arabia, the cultural and language barrier leads most families to opt for private international schools. Fortunately Jeddah is home to a good selection of international schools.

International schools in Jeddah

Several private international schools cater to the expat community in Jeddah, allowing foreign children to study curricula similar to what they had back home – but they can be pricey and space is limited.

It’s important for expat parents to apply to several schools as early as possible. For the most part, schools don’t restrict who can attend, but some may give preference to certain nationalities and students with strong academic records. Admission requirements vary according to the institution, so it's best to contact each school directly to find out more about enrolment procedures. Some schools require references from previous schools and others may require potential students to take entrance exams. 

Being charged a non-refundable application fee is standard. Expat parents should also budget for additional expenses such as textbooks, extra-curricular activities and school excursions. 

The school year in Saudi Arabia runs from September to June. It is normally divided into two or three terms, depending on the school. The school week is Sunday to Thursday, with Friday and Saturday being the weekend. School days are shortened during the holy month of Ramadan.

Homeschooling in Jeddah

Homeschooling is not generally recognised in Saudi Arabia and expats living in Jeddah may struggle to find resources. However, it is not illegal and so numerous expats do follow this option, even if just temporarily until they manage to secure a place for their child at an international school.

Special-needs education in Jeddah

As expats are largely reliant on international schools, there aren't standard policies across the board and special-needs provisions can vary significantly between schools. Some schools are better equipped than others to provide support for students with special educational needs – networking with fellow expat families and researching schools in depth can help determine which school is most suitable.

Tutors in Jeddah

Local families often employ tutors to help children become proficient in English as a second language. Non-English-speaking expat families in Saudi Arabia can benefit from doing the same, especially if children are attending an English-speaking international school, while those looking to learn or improve their Arabic should opt for a local Arabic tutor. Major upcoming exams and trouble subjects are also well served by tutors.

International Schools in Jeddah

While expat children are eligible to attend public schools in the Kingdom, cultural and language barriers lead most expat families to opt for international schools in Saudi Arabia. Those relocating to will find plenty of options for international schools in Jeddah. These schools offer the curricula of various countries around the world, including the British and American school systems.

Below is a list of some of the most popular international schools in Jeddah.

International schools in Jeddah

American International School of Jeddah   

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: American
Ages: 3 to 18

British International School of Jeddah   

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate and Cambridge IGCSE
Ages: 3 to 18

L'école Française Internationale de Djeddah

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: French
Ages: 3 to 18

Jeddah Prep and Grammar School   

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: English National Curriculum, Cambridge IGCSE and A-levels
Ages: 3 to 18

Lifestyle in Jeddah

Well known as Saudi Arabia's most liberal city, Jeddah offers a more relaxed lifestyle than many other parts of the Kingdom.

Being a point of entry into Saudi Arabia, the city has been significantly shaped by the diverse people who pass through it, either for economic reasons or en route to Mecca and Medina.

Its sparkling beaches, seemingly endless waterfront promenade, public art and foliage make for outdoor spaces that are an appealing combination of natural and manmade aesthetics.

Shopping in Jeddah

Widely believed to be the number one Saudi pastime, there’s a multifaceted realm of shopping in Jeddah. From traditional souks to vast shopping malls, there's plenty to choose from.

Red Sea Mall is Jeddah's largest mall and a fantastic place to while away a few hours. The Mall of Arabia is another favourite well worth visiting.

Traders hawk jewellery, clothes, fabrics and traditional foods at the bustling old souks of Al Balad. It can be frantic, but it’s a good place for expats to have a local experience and try out their bartering skills. The gold souks, where clusters of shops sell gold by weight, shouldn’t be missed either. These special bazaars can be found in the Al Balad area and in several shopping malls.

Eating out in Jeddah

Expats will be more spoilt for choice than they may have expected when it comes to restaurants in Jeddah. While a large portion of eateries serve Middle Eastern fare, there's a good spread of continental cuisines too.

The city's larger hotels usually feature internationally-inspired menus that should satisfy those looking for high standards in a familiar setting. Alternatively, multinational fast food chains are also well represented.

Expats should remember that most restaurants in Saudi Arabia are separated into sections based on gender and family arrangement.

Outdoor activities in Jeddah

Weekends in Jeddah are often spent around the Red Sea coast. Picnicking is a popular activity and in winter the Corniche and the city’s parks are filled with families. Expats should go early in the day to avoid evening congestion.

There are beaches just to the north of Jeddah where expats can hire boats and jetskis. Here there are a number of private beach clubs with swimming areas, restaurants and cafes. They are family friendly and expats can access them by buying a day pass or becoming a member.

Diving is one of the most popular activities for expats living in Jeddah. The Red Sea is one of the world’s premier dive locations. Its warm water is home to an abundance of fish, turtles, sharks and octopuses. Even those wary of underwater life will find it hard to resist the draw of the deep, and inexperienced new arrivals can learn at one of the city’s diving schools. Expats can dive at most beach clubs and charters regularly run trips to offshore reefs.

For those who don't have the disposition for deeper water, snorkelling allows for fantastic insight into this underwater world from the surface. Snorkelling gear can be rented or bought at dive shops or most beach clubs.

See and Do in Jeddah

Expats living in Jeddah have access to a wealth of history while simultaneously living in Saudi Arabia’s most cosmopolitan metropolis – between these two contrasts living side by side, there’s plenty to see and do in Jeddah.

Expats will be surrounded by remnants of the cultures that have passed through the city, and they can experience its past just by wandering around Old Town.

New arrivals are often taken aback by the city’s greenery, and a shoreline promenade that gives way to white beaches. The Corniche sweeping along the coast is one of the most popular attractions in Jeddah, but it isn’t the only way to spend one's free time. Here are a few of the most popular attractions in Jeddah for expats to explore.

Attractions in Jeddah

King Fahd's Fountain

King Fahd's Fountain, also known as the Jeddah Fountain, sprays a jet of seawater reaching up to 1,024 feet (312m) into the Saudi skyline, while the Al Salam Palace acts as a beautiful backdrop. It looks especially stunning when illuminated by over 500 spotlights at night.

Al Balad

The old quarter’s labyrinth of alleys gives visitors a glimpse into the towns and villages of Saudi Arabia's past. Its coral and limestone buildings also house numerous street vendors, making it a popular shopping destination. 

Matbouli House Museum

Situated in Al Balad, the Matbouli House was built in the 1600s and offers a fascinating look at an authentic traditional Hijazi merchant’s home. Constructed from coral, this home is filled with traditional artefacts dating back centuries.

Al Rhama Mosque

Fondly known as the Floating Mosque, Al Rhama Mosque is a must-see and one of Jeddah's most sacred sites. Adjacent to the shoreline, when the tide comes in, it appears to float whimsically on the water below. It’s only made more marvellous by its decor and architectural beauty.

What's On in Jeddah

Many of the events in Jeddah are influenced by Islam. Most notable are the celebrations at the start and end of Ramadan, and the period when the city is filled with pilgrims from around the world in anticipation of the Hajj.

The few social festivals Jeddah does have are designed to attract tourists and investment. Here are a few of the main annual events in Jeddah.

Annual events in Jeddah

Jeddah Summer Festival (June/July)

Known locally as Jeddah Ghair, the city’s summer festival attracts more than a million every year. Numerous events and activities take place over several weeks. This includes art exhibitions, sports, food and craft markets, children’s entertainment and spectacular fireworks displays.

Jeddah Season (June/July)

One of 11 Saudi Seasons events held throughout the Kingdom, Jeddah Season celebrates the best in the arts – from theatre and music performances to comedy shows and art exhibitions.

Saudi National Day (September)

This public holiday held on 23 September marks the unification of the Kingdom by King Abdul in 1923. The festivities feature airshows, fireworks and parades. Locals and expats alike join in the celebrations.

Eid Al-Fitr Festival (ninth month of the lunar calendar)

Eid Al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan and is by far one of the most popular festivals in Jeddah. People come from far and wide for this week-long celebration, decorate their houses and prepare sumptuous meals for family and friends to break the previous month’s fast.

Shipping and Removals in Jeddah

Jeddah is one of the world's largest seaports, with plenty of competition between logistics and removals companies, which means expats generally have few problems shipping items here.

Expats should get quotes from several companies, and compare their prices and reputations before settling on one.

That said, not only is shipping expensive, but expats would easily be able to purchase most of their household items locally, and accommodation in Jeddah often comes furnished anyway. Expats moving to Jeddah should therefore think carefully before deciding what to bring with them.

Air vs sea freight

Air freight and courier services are good for delivering smaller packages. They're efficient, but the costs are proportionately higher.

All shipped items must pass through Saudi Arabian customs and the sender has to complete the appropriate paperwork. Customs clearance depends on whether goods are classified as having no commercial value. Dutiable goods are taxed.

Shipments can sit in customs for quite some time before they're allowed to be claimed. In some cases, the goods recipient may have to pay for storage during this period.

Using a shipping company with warehouse storage can be worthwhile as expats won't have to worry about extra costs if they can't claim their goods from customs immediately.

The list of prohibited items is long and constantly changing but generally tends to include pornographic material, weapons, alcohol, narcotics and pork.