Expatriates Jeddah: Expat Living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia as an expat? In this interview, Noel will discuss the cost of living in Jeddah, good and bad things about living in Jeddah, places to go in Jeddah and more!
1. About Jeddah
Jeddah is a port city in Saudi Arabia and is the home of the two most holy places among Muslims, Mecca, and Medina. During the seasons of pilgrimage, Jeddah could be crowded with people from the rest of Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world gathers in the city.
The temperature could go as high as 45 degrees Celcius during summer and could go as low as 16 during winter. Gender segregation is observed in public places, and women are required to wear a long garb called the abaya.
Here is a video of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
2. What was your procedure for moving to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia?
I was born in the Philippine but currently working as a Quality Assurance Engineer at an air-conditioning manufacturing company in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Back in 2011, I was applying for an online job posting for South Korea but for some stroke of faith, the manpower recruitment agency placed my application for a job post in Saudi Arabia and on June of the same year, I got hired by the company and was soon dispatched to Jeddah. Everything happened so fast.
When I arrived in the city, I only brought with me in a small suitcase five shirts, two pairs of jeans, a mobile phone, and my old laptop computer. But after staying in Jeddah for more than six years, my room got too cluttered and ten luggage won’t be enough to fit all the stuff I now own.
3. Why did you choose to live in Jeddah?
The move to live in Jeddah wasn’t actually a choice, it was purely for work. Due to several negative stereotypes about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I told myself that I would never ever step a foot in this country.
However, faith has it that a company called me for work and still thankful for the opportunity to live and get to know this city better.
For all I experienced, Jeddah is one of the least conservative cities in Saudi Arabia and with all the expat communities here. Therefore, I would say this country is one of the safest choices when choosing to live in the Middle East. The only thing you can’t have here is the booze. Saudi Arabia has zero tolerance for alcohol.
4. How to prepare to move to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia?
The company I was working for actually prepared everything for me. Accommodation, food, and transportation to and from the workplace are all provided. However, I still prefer to cook my own food from time to time.
Being in a city that has a long history of expats, sourcing for ingredients (or least local counterparts) in preparing Filipino food has not been a problem. There are three small stores near our apartment offering various ingredients from different cuisines – Filipino, Indian, Middle Turkish, Egyptian. I’m not sure what else they have, but they have at least the basics I need.
5. Cost of living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Prices of accommodations in Jeddah could be different depending on the area. As Jeddah is a multi-national city, specific nationals tend to stay in one area which makes the prices different. But on the average, you could rent a single room with shared bath and kitchen for 10,000 to 15, 000 riyals per year. For flats with two to three bedrooms and private bath and kitchen, the price range is between 18,000 to 24,000 per year.
Accommodations are usually arranged for a contract of at least one year.
For food, the basics will usually go for 500 riyals per week for one person if you would cook your own meals. But if you’d eat outside, rice and kebab or grilled half chicken would usually start at 15 riyals. Decent burger meals in fast foods start at 18 riyals. International steakhouses start at 80 riyals per set.
If you would take Uber or Careem, it would cost you around 10 riyals for three kilometers distance without traffic.
Premium gasoline costs 0.9 riyals per liter and we don’t pay taxes.
ADSL internet starts at 200 riyals per month a 10 MBPS, increase the monthly cost and you could get faster internet speed.
Note: 1 USD is equivalent to 3.75 Saudi Riyals
6. What are the difficulties of living in Jeddah?
Though we have three vehicles taking us to the workplace was provided, the drivers do not usually take us out somewhere else unless we get to bribe them. But, of course, the drivers could not take us anywhere, anytime we want. Which makes general transportation a difficulty.
Jeddah does have a public bus system but you wouldn’t want to try your luck getting into one. It’s not safe, to say the least. The only other option was the local taxis and they charge a lot because no one uses and follows the meters.
Good thing Uber and another local car-sharing company, Careem, became available sometime in 2016 so going anywhere, anytime we want became possible.
b) Negative stereotypes
Aside from transportation, the only thing that made my early life in Jeddah difficult was all the negative stereotypes about Saudi Arabia I used to believe in. Things like getting beheaded merely for staring at a woman, the people of Islam being equated to terrorists, getting raped by random men in the streets, things like that.
I never actually wanted to go out of the house unaccompanied.
Good thing I had several friends – locals and from other countries; Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and the non-religious – who all helped me understand and break all the negative stereotypes that had been preventing me to live a full life in the city.
7. Did you experience any discrimination in Jeddah?
The locals are actually friendly and are accustomed to all the different nationalities in Jeddah. Some of them actually know a few words from different languages, especially the bad ones, which they often use to cracked the cultural barriers when trying to engage in some of the conversations.
8. How to overcome culture shock in Jeddah?
It could actually quite shocking to pass by a group of locals engaging in some conversations as they talk really loud in a sense that they’d sound like they’re arguing. If you’re not familiar with their manner of speaking, these kinds of scenarios would always cause you to flee for your life as they really sound like a sword fight would always ensue at a moment’s notice. But they just talk loudly, nothing to worry about.
9. What do you like about Jeddah?
Jeddah is one hot city, the temperature could reach up to 45 degrees Celcius at most. However, having cheap electricity, you can always afford to have your air-conditioning units in full blast, 24 hours a day. Though I don’t necessarily need that.
Also, Jeddah being a coastal city, we have an easy access to the Red Sea where we could just chill out at the beach, or go hunting crabs during weekends.
10. Is there anything that you don’t like about Jeddah?
Being from a tropical country, I missed the occasional rains and the rainforests that Jeddah doesn’t have. Plus the alcohol and pork, which are both illegal in the country.
Also, Jeddah is a bit dirty. You could see plastic bags, pet bottles, and other trash trapped along the roads and loose sands. And if there is one thing that I do not like about the locals, it’s that most of them do not care to clean their mess after having picnics at parks, the beach, and everywhere else. If you would go to parks early in the morning, you’d see mounds of uneaten rice and leftover food laying on the grounds.
And there are no movie houses.
11. What are your favorite things to do in Jeddah?
There are several places in Jeddah that the government paved for morning strolls and exercises. If not on the beach, we would usually visit the parks and do several kilometer run or brisk walking until the sun becomes too hot. Then we would have breakfasts at Ikea near the and recover all the calories we have just lost. Afterwards, we would visit the fish market and indulge ourselves with fresh fish for lunch.
This is how we usually start our weekends before burying ourselves deep in the internet. The internet in Saudi Arabia is relatively fast at 10 to 20 MBPS.
12. Where do you recommend to visit in the Jeddah?
If you have a car, I would recommend you visit the Red Sea. Though I must warn you that the beaches at the south are not developed which means you can’t expect any accommodations or any establishments. But they are free. Just bring your food and picnic mats with you if you’d go there. Up north, however, there are private beaches but they could be costly.
Around the city, you could visit the corniche or the seaside when it’s not too hot. There’s also the Fakieh Aquarium Center where you could enjoy viewing the marine life from the Red Sea and watch a dolphin show for an additional fee.
And if malls and shopping is your thing, you can’t have enough of them in Jeddah. Two of the more popular ones are the Mall of Arabia and the Red Sea Mall.
13. Is it easy to make new friends in Jeddah?
From my observation, the expats in Saudi Arabia don’t usually stray from their group. They go in packs but stay with their countrymen. Should you desire to mingle with other nationals, the best way is to get friends with your colleagues.
Football is the only thing that brings different nationals together in Jeddah.
Though recently, several nationals are arranging Couchsurfing meetups. I haven’t been to one so far but I’m looking forward to. I just had to find time as they usually hang out on Thursday nights but I still had to go to work on most Fridays and Saturdays.
14. Do you hang out with locals or foreigners mostly?
I don’t usually hang out with foreigners either but I have Saudi national friends that I go out for dinner at restaurants or hang out at coffee shops from time to time. I usually go out with fellow Filipinos as we stay in the same apartment and finding the time won’t be a problem. Sometimes, I attend house parties organized by other Filipino communities but I never had a chance to other expat communities.
There was a time that I got invited to a Sudanese wedding but the venue was in Mecca which is only accessible to Muslims.
15. Do you interact with any expat communities in Jeddah?
I love hanging out along the corniche on weekend mornings and the Red Sea at nights during long holidays. They are the closest things to nature parks I have easy access to in Jeddah. When having dinner with friends outside, I love strolling and window shopping around the city center for a few hours before finally going home.
16. A memorable experience in Jeddah
There are several reckless drivers in the city and it would be normal to see heavily dented cars on the road. The locals have a high tolerance for it, I should say. I’ll never forget such incidents when a car would bump on another on the road and when both drivers come out of their vehicles, they’d just exchange greetings and would talk like nothing happened, completely ignoring the fact that both their cars are now heavily dented if not almost totally wrecked.
17. Did you change your perspective about Jeddah after living here?
Living in Jeddah have greatly changed my perspective about the country and the Muslim people in general. As earlier mentioned, Saudi Arabia and Islam have been known outside the country for public lashing and executions, terrorisms, and illegal detentions due to false accusations. Fortunately, I haven’t encountered any of that and if there is one thing I learned about Muslims after living in Jeddah for a while, it is that Muslims are the most kind-hearted and God-fearing people and there is no way a Muslim will favor terrorism.
18. What are your advice and tips for moving/ living in Jeddah?
In case anyone decides to move and live in Jeddah, forget about the booze and pork. Unless you are married, do not mingle with women in public. But don’t think you can’t talk to your female nurses, doctors, and other public persons. If you’re a woman, abide by the dress code.
In short, learn the local customs and you’ll be fine. Everything else, you could do as usual.
19. Would you recommend others to live in Jeddah?
I would not strongly recommend people to move in Jeddah as there are still some rules that must be strictly observed such as gender segregation (unless you’re a married couple). Nightlife can be a bit boring and you will have to rely on the internet and your creativity for other forms of entertainment.
However, if you will have an opportunity for work, Jeddah is a livable city if you can afford to lose some of the social norms you grew up with.
20. What have you learned from living abroad?
When you live abroad, you get to break a lot of stereotypes about others’ cultures and social norms. As you are the foreigner, you have to learn to assimilate. You don’t have to reform yourself or do as the locals do, but you must learn to accept that cultures and the ways of life are different. Just accept the differences and you’ll be okay.
More about Noel
I am Noel Cabacungan and I document my travels on my personal blog, Ten Thousand Strangers. When not busy tinkering with my blog or day-dreaming of being somewhere else for leisure, I take photos of my two six-inch Stormtrooper action figures. Also, I love food. And if there is something that would make me easily assimilated into a place, it would be food. Noodles, in particular, as they are so easy to consume especially with a pair of chopsticks.