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, the good and bad things about living in Jeddah, places to go in Jeddah, and more!
Useful information 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 pilgrimage seasons, 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 as low as 16 during winter.
Gender segregation is observed in public places, and women must wear a long garb called the abaya.
How did you move to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia?
I was born in the Philippines but currently working as a Quality Assurance Engineer at an air-conditioning manufacturing company in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
In 2011, I was applying for an online job posting in South Korea, but for some stroke of faith, the human resources recruitment agency placed my application for a job post in Saudi Arabia.
In 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 pieces of luggage won’t be enough to fit all the stuff I now own.
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Why did you choose to live in Jeddah?
The move to live in Jeddah wasn’t a choice. It was purely for work.
Due to several negative stereotypes about Saudi Arabia, I told myself that I would never step 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.
From 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 living in the Middle East. The only thing you can’t have here is the booze. Saudi Arabia has zero tolerance for alcohol.
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 provided. However, I still prefer to cook my food from time to time.
Being in a city with a long history of expats, sourcing ingredients (or at 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, and Egyptian.
I’m not sure what else they have, but they have the basics I need.
The 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, making the prices different.
But on average, you could rent a single room with a shared bath and kitchen for 10,000 to 15 000 riyals per year.
For flats with two to three bedrooms and a private bath and kitchen is 18,000 to 24,000 per year.
Accommodations are usually arranged for a contract of at least one year.
For food, the basics will often 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 food start at 18 riyals. International steakhouses start at 80 riyals per set.
Taking Uber or Careem would cost you around 10 riyals for three kilometers without traffic. Premium gasoline costs 0.9 riyals per liter, and we don’t pay taxes.
ADSL internet starts at 200 riyals per month, 10 MBPS, increases the monthly cost, and you could get faster internet speed.
Note: 1 USD is equivalent to 3.75 Saudi Riyals
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 wanted, making general transportation difficult.
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, which 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.
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, and stuff like that.
I never actually wanted to go out of the house unaccompanied.
Good thing I had several friends – locals from other countries, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and non-religious – who all helped me understand and break all the negative stereotypes preventing me from living a whole life in the city.
Did you experience any discrimination in Jeddah?
The locals are friendly and are accustomed to all the different nationalities in Jeddah.
Some of them know a few words from different languages, especially the bad ones, which they often use to crack the cultural barriers when engaging in some conversations.
How to overcome culture shock in Jeddah?
It could be pretty shocking to pass by a group of locals engaging in some conversations as they talk loud in the 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 sound like a sword fight would still ensue at a moment’s notice.
But they just talk loudly; nothing to worry about.
What do you like about Jeddah?
Jeddah is a 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 easy access to the Red Sea, where we could chill out at the beach or go hunting crabs during weekends.
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, alcohol and pork 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 sand.
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 lying on the grounds.
And there are no movie houses.
What are your favorite things to do in Jeddah?
The government paved several places in Jeddah for morning strolls and exercises.
If not on the beach, we would usually visit the parks and do several kilometers of running or brisk walking until the sun becomes too hot.
Then we would have breakfasts at Ikea near the and recover all the calories we had just lost. Afterward, 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 on the internet. The internet in Saudi Arabia is relatively fast at 10 to 20 MBPS.
Where do you recommend visiting in Jeddah?
If you have a car, I recommend you visit the Red Sea.
Though I must warn you that the beaches in 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 can enjoy viewing the marine life from the Red Sea and watch a dolphin show for an additional fee.
And if malls and shopping are your things, you can’t have enough in Jeddah. Two of the more popular ones are the Mall of Arabia and the Red Sea Mall.
Is it easy to make new friends in Jeddah?
From my observation, Saudi Arabian expats don’t usually stray from their group.
They go in packs but stay with their fellow citizens. Should you desire to mingle with other nationals, the best way is to make friends with your colleagues.
Football is the only thing that brings different nationals together in Jeddah.
Though recently, several nationals have been arranging Couchsurfing meetups. I haven’t been to one so far, but I’m looking forward to it.
I just had to find time, as they usually hang out on Thursday nights, but I still had to work most Fridays and Saturdays.
Do you hang out with locals or foreigners mostly?
I don’t usually hang out with foreigners either, but I have Saudi national friends who go out for dinner at restaurants or 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 meet other expat communities.
There was a time when I got invited to a Sudanese wedding, but the venue was in Mecca, which is only accessible to Muslims.
Do you interact with any expat communities in Jeddah?
I love hanging out along the corniche on weekend mornings and the Red Sea at night during long holidays.
They are the closest things to nature parks. I have easy access to 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.
A memorable experience in Jeddah
There are several reckless drivers in the city, and it is 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 into another on the road.
When both drivers came out of their vehicles, they’d just exchange greetings and would talk like nothing happened, completely ignoring the fact that both their cars were now heavily dented, if not almost totally wrecked.
Did you change your perspective about Jeddah after living here?
Living in Jeddah has greatly changed my perspective on the country and Muslim people in general.
As earlier mentioned, Saudi Arabia and Islam have been known outside the country for public lashing and executions, terrorism, 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, Muslims are the most kind-hearted and God-fearing people, and there is no way a Muslim will favor terrorism.
What are your 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.
Would you recommend others to live in Jeddah?
I would not strongly recommend people to move to Jeddah as some rules 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 a work opportunity, Jeddah is a livable city if you can afford to lose some of the social norms you grew up with.
What have you learned from living abroad?
When you live abroad, you get to break many stereotypes about others’ cultures and social norms.
As you are a 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 ways of life are different. Just accept the differences, and you’ll be okay.
I am Noel Cabacungan, and I document my travels on my blog, Ten Thousand Strangers.
When not busy tinkering with my blog or daydreaming 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. In particular, Noodles are so easy to consume, especially with a pair of chopsticks.
Read more interviews in this Expat Interview series:
- Living in Beppu, Japan.
- Expat Interview: Living on the Marshall Islands
- Expat life in San Diego, CA
- Live in Prague, Czech Republic
- Expat life in Germany
- The Ultimate Guide to expat life in Madrid
- Living in Paris as an expat
- Expat life in Macau
- Living in Bangkok, Thailand
The opinions expressed here by Expatolife columnists are their own, not those of Expatolife.