Jeddah at a Glance
Moving to Jeddah
After moving to Jeddah, you will be living in one of the most important cities in the Middle East, as far as religion and commerce are concerned. Jeddah, the “Bride of the Red Sea”, is located between that inlet of the Indian Ocean and the Al-Sarawat Mountains of the Arabian Peninsula.
Until the 7th century, Jeddah used to be a small town dedicated to fishing and trade. With the rise of Islam, the place rose to prominence too. Since it is only 70 km from Mecca, it became the Holy City’s seaport. Jeddah turned into a major destination for Muslim pilgrims and merchants from North and East Africa, as well as South and Southeast Asia.
A Brief History
The western coastal region of Saudi Arabia was often under foreign rule, forming part of a wider Islamic state. This area, called Hejaz, belonged to empires administrated from what is Syria, Iraq, Egypt, or Turkey today. Jeddah acquired a regional identity different from the rest of the Arabian Peninsula. Local residents and merchants prided themselves on their cosmopolitan outlook. In 1925, however, Jeddah fell under the rule of Abdulaziz bin Saud, who was to become the first king of a united Saudi Arabia.
As a contemporary Saudi city, Jeddah is no longer the heart of Hejaz. The traditional region was split into several administrative areas. Jeddah is the capital of Makkah province. Pilgrims from around the world keep moving to Jeddah for the hajj or umrah. Moving to Jeddah also promises economic opportunities. It is one of Saudi Arabia’s largest industrial cities, a commercial port with a booming logistics industry, and the seat of several Islamic banks and Arab media.
Since the modern Saudi state was established, Jeddah has expanded far beyond its traditional city limits. The old town was defined by its 16th-century fortifications – built as protection against Portuguese naval attacks – which were slightly modified in the 1800s. The historic part of Jeddah is merely the core of today’s urban sprawl. According to recent estimates, the city includes as much as 1,680 km² – urgently needed space to house its growing population.
In 2012, the metropolis had 135 districts and an estimated 5.32 million residents, and it’s the people moving to Jeddah that keep its economy going. Though the “Saudization” quotas of local companies are on the rise, the Saudi participation in the local labor force is still rather low. The majority of Jeddah’s workers, employees, and executives come from abroad, from North and East Africa, Iran, Turkey, Yemen, South and Southeast Asia, Western Europe, North America, and Japan. The numerous foreigners moving to Jeddah keep some of the former cosmopolitan ambience alive.
Customs and Safety
In some respects, Jeddah is less strict than Riyadh. In exclusive beach resorts, wealthy Saudi families may flaunt some of the country’s severe rules to regulate public behavior. Outside such private beaches for the upper crust, expats moving to Jeddah will occasionally see men and women socialize or notice some muslimahs literally letting their hair down. Nonetheless, you should not forget that you are now living in a socially very conservative country. You should thus keep a few things in mind:
- Register with your general consulate and check their safety information regularly. The last terrorist attack on Western expats moving to Jeddah took place several years ago, but you should stay informed and keep a low profile.
- When moving to Jeddah, remember that alcohol, pornographic media, pork products, and drugs are forbidden. Drugs may include some prescription meds available in your country. Contact the nearest Saudi Embassy for advice.
- If possible, keep your original passport and your visa (or a notarized copy) in a safe place.
- Don’t get into debt, and settle all outstanding bills and fines (e.g. for traffic offenses) before leaving the country.
- Adultery, prostitution, and homosexuality are criminalized in Saudi Arabia. This applies to Jeddah as well. Even if you dislike the mutawwa (religious police) and their decrees, you do not want to see the inside of a Saudi prison.
- Topics like Islam, the Saudi government, and the royal family should not be criticized in public.
- Expat women moving to Jeddah have to respect the local dress code (abaya for all foreign women, abaya and hijab for non-Saudi Muslims). Also take care not to mingle in public with men that aren’t related to you. However, in expatriate compounds, you can dress like you want and move freely.
- Respect Ramadan, prayer times, and Islam in general.
- Depending on where they come from, expatriates moving to Jeddah may suffer from the harsh climate (warm winters, hot summers with up to 52°C). In addition to frequent dust storms, occasional thunderstorms cause heavy rainfall and temporary flooding. There were serious inundations in 2009 and 2011.