The culture shock in Jeddah can be challenging to overcome, but if you research your options thoroughly, you will see that there are plenty of opportunities for foreigners to avoid the strict local traditions.
The Saudi Arabia public healthcare system is of a high standard - just make sure you research health insurance and vaccinations to ensure you are prepared on arrival.
There is still no extensive public transportation system in Jeddah, and the easiest way to get around is by car, whether it be a taxi or with a private driver.
Sometimes, expats-to-be are a little skeptical as far as life in Jeddah is concerned. Both the extreme climate and the rules that regulate public behavior make living there seem somewhat off-putting to the outsider. However, while Jeddah can indeed be a bit quiet, it is far from dull.
First, as we have mentioned in our guide on moving to Jeddah, life in Jeddah’s expat compounds is often a fairly luxurious affair. Most upscale residential areas for foreigners have a number of amenities, especially sports grounds – and satellite TV for the couch potatoes. Furthermore, compounds are off limits to Saudi Arabia’s religious police. So this is where expatriates living in Jeddah come for the local nightlife. Every weekend there is usually a party in at least one compound. Rumor has it that even alcohol flows freely when there are non-Muslim expats celebrating. Although alcoholic beverages are outlawed in Saudi Arabia, this does not appear to deter people from brewing moonshine or purchasing smuggled booze.
If partying isn’t your cup of tea, the compounds offer plenty of other opportunities for socializing. Expat women living in Jeddah are often particularly grateful for the social opportunities they provide. Since many women are traveling spouses without a work permit, they can spend much of the day together. Compound life in Jeddah also offers the chance to find a language-learning partner for Arabic classes, other music lovers for an a cappella ensemble, or whatever you need or desire. Nonetheless, it’s important to get out of the compound every now and then, to avoid a sudden case of ‘cabin fever’.
In comparison to Riyadh, Jeddah has the advantage of being located on the beautiful Red Sea coast. Sports enthusiasts living in Jeddah’s expat circles will rejoice. In addition to golfing and horse riding, fishing, sailing, water skiing, and wind surfing are all practiced here. Ask at the marina, a beach club, or a private seaside resort where you can find the best offers for your favorite sport. Just like compounds, a few resorts cater to well-off foreigners living in Jeddah. Here expatriate women can shed the abaya to play beach volleyball or bronze in the sun. While you are living in Jeddah, you should try diving at least once. Even though the area suffers from some pollution, the Red Sea still possesses a fascinating eco-system. Among the coral reefs, you might spot a whale shark, a manta ray, or a triggerfish.
When it comes to cultural life in Jeddah, you should remember to check out the city’s many consulates. They often host cultural evenings and festivities. Occasionally, international companies based in Jeddah also have promotional events that are accessible to the public. For instance, fashion launches and cooking shows, as well as sponsored activities for families and kids, are perennial favorites.
Going out to enjoy a good dinner is very popular among those living in Jeddah: some people like to quip that dining and shopping are Saudi Arabia’s national hobbies. For both, there are lots of opportunities in Jeddah. Fans of international cuisines new to the city will find plenty of options: Chinese, French, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, Lebanese, Mexican, Thai, Turkish, and US American meals are within easy reach. Of course, you should make sure to taste some seafood specialties as well.
But Jeddah has a lot more going on than its many delicious eateries. Although the city may revel in the glories and landmarks of its ancient past, the construction boom, which is still going strong as of 2016, means that there are constantly new things to do and try. You can pay an early visit to the local fish market, explore the Corniche with its numerous open-air sculptures, or take your kids to a theme park or an ice rink. You can also stroll through a souq in Al-Balad, the old center of town, or book a guided camping trip to the Arabian Desert. If you really need a break from living in Jeddah once in a while, Istanbul or Dubai is just a short flight away.
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