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A Comprehensive Guide about Living in Jeddah

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Life in Jeddah

  • 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.

Compound Life: The Westernized Saudi Arabia

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’.

Sun, Sports and Social Events

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.

Dining and Sightseeing

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.

Healthcare for Expats in Jeddah

Vaccinations and Viruses

If you are planning on living in Jeddah, you should take good care of your health. Before you leave for Saudi Arabia, make sure to get booster shots for all standard vaccinations (mumps, measles, rubella; diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus; polio, influenza). Moreover, you should get immunizations for typhoid fever, hepatitis A and B, rabies, and meningitis.

Fortunately, Jeddah is a malaria-free area. However, in 2011 and 2014 local health authorities registered several cases of Dengue fever and other – albeit less dangerous – insect-borne diseases. Talk to your family doctor at home about the best ways to prevent insect bites.

A novel Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) exists within in the Arabian Peninsula. This strain of viruses can cause anything from the common cold to SARS. So far, there hasn’t been an epidemic of dangerous viral infections in Saudi Arabia yet. However, if you have a chronic illness or a weakened immune system, be particularly careful. And if a cold or cough just won’t go away, it’s safer to see a doctor instead of “sitting it out”.

Other than that, there are no known health risks for expats in Jeddah. Depending on where you come from, however, it may take you some time to get accustomed to the climate. Compound villas, offices, and public buildings have air-conditioning. During the hottest hours of the day, i.e. around noon and during the early afternoon, you should stay indoors, if possible. Remember to drink plenty of water, too, and you should be just fine.

The Public Healthcare System in Saudi Arabia

Since the modern Saudi state started profiting from its oil resources, the government has taken a commendable effort to build a comprehensive healthcare system, more or less from scratch. Today Saudi Arabia has plenty of primary health centers for local patients, public hospitals for secondary care, and specialist tertiary clinics (e.g. for diabetology, oncology and hematology, ophthalmology, or neurology). Most of the latter are located in Riyadh, though.

Generally speaking, the healthcare available in major cities is superior to facilities in small towns and isolated areas. Medical standards in Jeddah – one of the country’s biggest urban centers – are very good. Many members of the medical staff are either expatriates themselves or Saudis who were trained abroad. Therefore, most nurses and doctors have at the very least a working knowledge of English: you needn’t worry about the language barrier.

Medical Insurance for Expatriates in Jeddah

As a foreign resident, you no longer have free access to the national healthcare system. Since 2005, expatriates living and/or working in Saudi Arabia need to have medical insurance. In many cases, their employer offers a healthcare policy to them and their dependents, but it’s highly recommended to check the small print. Sometimes, the insurance cover may not include treatment of pre-existing conditions, dental care, or other medical services.

You might therefore decide to take out top-up insurance or shop around for coverage on your own. Well-known Saudi providers are Bupa Saudia Arabia, MedGulf Arabia, and Tawuniya. Most big international companies have policies for expats in Saudi Arabia as well. Due to the high competition on the Saudi insurance market, prices should be relatively reasonable.

Tips for Choosing Your Health Insurance Policy

If you are looking for medical insurance to cover your stay in Jeddah, check all quotes very carefully:

  • Do they include all pre-existing conditions?
  • Which treatments does the policy cover (e.g. dental care, mental health services, maternity care, etc.)?
  • Is the contract written in a language you can read fluently?
  • Do they have a contact hotline for their customers? Is it available 24/7? Which languages does the service staff speak?
  • Does your insurance include emergency evacuation and repatriation costs?
  • What about travel insurance, e.g. for neighboring countries?
  • Is the company known for suddenly raising its premiums?
  • Are your dependents insured, too? Maybe even at a special rate?

Medical Services in Jeddah

In the case of sudden onset illness or accident while living in Jeddah, local emergency numbers are as follows: 993 for the traffic police and 997 for ambulance services. If you know the nearest hospital, you could call their ambulance hotline directly. Expatriates usually prefer these clinics:

To purchase over-the-counter medication, the Al Nahdi pharmacy chain is usually sufficient. Stores can be found throughout Jeddah and usually at larger shopping malls. Expatriates often buy their prescription medication at the hospital pharmacies of Dr Erfan & Bagedo, Dr Soliman Fakeeh, GNP, or United Doctors.

If you have to import specific prescription meds for your personal use, be aware that they may be outlawed by Saudi Arabia’s anti-narcotics regulations. Please contact the nearest Saudi mission for advice before you set out for Jeddah. It’s often possible to bring those meds with special permission, and if you don’t have it they can be confiscated by customs.

Transport and Education in Jeddah

Transportation in Jeddah: By Sea and Air

Before the advent of the passenger airplane, Jeddah’s seaport used to welcome thousands upon thousands of Muslim pilgrims and traders. However, its importance for travelers has greatly diminished. While it does remain one of the largest commercial cargo ports in the Middle East, passenger services are limited to leisure cruises and a ferry service across the Red Sea.

Visitors, pilgrims, and expats alike now arrive via the King Abdulaziz International Airport. It opened its gates in 1981 and is continuing to expand, hoping to accommodate up to about 23 million passengers per year by 2020. Although it already has four terminals (one exclusively reserved for the hajjis), new facilities are currently under construction. The first phase of the project is 80% complete and, according to Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation, the doors will open for commercial operations in mid-2017.

Meanwhile, the airport remains open to international traffic from North and East Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, East Asia, Europe, and the US. Passengers can reach the city center of Jeddah by taxi, rental car, or via a shuttle service to most international hotels in town.

Transportation in Jeddah: On the Road

In addition to air and sea traffic, Jeddah is connected to Saudi Arabia’s most important road, the Highway 40, which crosses the entire Arabian Desert to Dammam. Adventurous expats can board an overland bus to Abha, Dammam, Ji’zan, Najran, Riyadh, Taif, or Yanbu. The SAPTCO bus station in Jeddah is located in the Al-Balad district, and can be called via +966-26485661. There are direct connections to Mecca and Medina as well, but these are for Muslims only.

Although the Saudi government has instigated a plan to develop a public transport system in Jeddah, which includes a metro, busses and ferries, and has allocated 48 billion riyal to see the project to complete, it will take at least seven years for it to be up and running. Until this point, however, the city is without a public transport infrastructure. Short-term visitors rely on taxis to get around (white limousines recognizable by the taxi sign on top of the car). The price is usually agreed upon beforehand. As a rule of thumb, a short trip within the city center costs up to SAR 20, a ride to the North Terminal around SAR 60, and a day’s journey approximately SAR 150 or a more. Larger hotel chains provide shuttle services for their guests, and you can usually book a limousine taxi via your compound.

The easiest option for well-off expatriates is probably hiring a driver if their company doesn’t provide one. Women are barred from driving, and male drivers from abroad may not always want to brave Jeddah’s traffic chaos on their own. Foreign licenses and international permits are normally valid for up to 12 months. After that, you need to swap your driver’s license, if possible, or acquire a Saudi one from scratch. Please ask the Jeddah traffic police (a regional sub-sector of the Saudi Ministry of Interior) for advice on this topic.

Education for Expat Kids in Jeddah

Expatriate children living in Jeddah generally attend private schools catering mostly to foreign residents. Saudi secondary schools are often not particularly competitive as far as academic achievements are concerned. Moreover, unless your family speaks fluent Arabic, the language barrier can prove to be an insurmountable obstacle. Lastly, expats often shy away from the narrow focus of the Saudi curriculum on Quran studies and the Wahabitic interpretation of the scriptures.

There are several kinds of establishments providing an international education in Jeddah. Some are genuine international schools, where the language in the classroom is generally English, but where you can find kids of various nationalities. Third-country schools aim at instructing children from specific countries or with particular linguistic and cultural backgrounds, e.g. German or Japanese students. Some other international schools mostly welcome pupils from Jeddah’s wealthy Saudi families, who are interested in raising their offspring with a more cosmopolitan outlook.

International Schools in Jeddah

We have listed some popular private schools in Jeddah below. There is also an Italian, a Korean, and a Turkish school in Jeddah, however, they do not have websites. Please enquire with your local consulate for further information.

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    I met some great Mexican people to spend my after-work hours with, so I immediately felt at home here in Jeddah.

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