Join InterNations

The world's largest expat community

What You Need to Know When You’re Moving to Jeddah

  • Connect with fellow expats in Jeddah

  • Join exciting events and groups for expats

  • Get information in our expat guides

  • Exchange tips about expat life in Jeddah

  • Javier Vazquez

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

Relocating to Jeddah

  • Given that many of Jeddah’s employees and executives are expatriates, the population is very diverse. However, expatriates still must respect the traditions and culture of Jeddah.
  • The visa application process can be difficult, so make sure you research it thoroughly and contact a nearby embassy if you’re struggling. You should also bear in mind that you need two blank passport pages beside one another.
  • Living in a compound gives you a lot more freedom to enjoy a ‘western’ lifestyle. However, properties within a compound can be fairly pricey.

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, Jeddah also rose to a place of international prominence. 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 now Syria, Iraq, Egypt, or Turkey. Jeddah thus acquired a regional identity apart 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 the 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.

A Diverse Population: Foreigners Keep It Cosmopolitan

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 new urban sprawl. According to recent estimates, the city includes as much as 1,680 km² – urgently needing space to house its growing population.

At the time of writing in 2016, the metropolis has an estimated 3,578 million residents housed in 135 districts. 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 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, Climate and Keeping Safe

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 fatal 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. However, some of the things listed above may be available in your compound.
  • 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 cultural dress code (abaya for all foreign women, abaya and hijiab 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 however 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, 2011 and more recently in 2015.

Expats in Jeddah: Visas and Permits

Visa Categories for Saudi Arabia

Since Saudi Arabia does not issue visas to leisure tourists from abroad, there is no such thing as a visa category for purely social visits. If you would like to go on a fact-finding trip to Jeddah before moving there, you might combine this with business travel.

Saudi Embassies and Consulates offer the following main visa categories:

  • Business Visa (aka Commercial Visa or Work Visit Visa)
  • Diplomatic and Official Visa
  • Employment Visa
  • Family Visit /Personal Visit (for short-term stays)
  • Government Visit
  • Pilgrimage Visa (for hajj and umrah)
  • Residence Visa
  • Student Visa

Employment Visa

Expats moving to Jeddah to take up paid work obviously need an Employment Visa to legally enter Saudi Arabia. Basic requirements for the visa application include:

  • passport (valid at least for the duration of the job contract) with two or more blank visa pages
  • several recent passport photographs (full-face shot, color, white background)
  • complete application form
  • reference note with number and date of your work permit from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • original sponsor letter (certified by the Saudi Chamber of Commerce and the MoFA)
  • certified and notarized copy of university diploma / professional qualifications
  • copy of signed employment contract (both in Arabic and English)
  • three copies of a recent medical report (issued within the last three months) and several passport photographs
  • police report / certificate of good conduct (issued within the last six months)
  • proof of payment for visa fee
  • online visa request number (available via EnjazIT)

These requirements may vary slightly depending on your country of origin. Sometimes, you need to enclose additional documents, such as a copy of your flight reservation, or attach a different number of photographs, etc. Therefore you should always contact your local Saudi Embassy or Consulate.

Residence Visa

The requirements for a residency visa are the same as an employment visa but, be aware, a residency visa does not give you permission to work.

These requirements may vary slightly depending on your country of origin. Sometimes, you need to enclose additional documents, such as a copy of your flight reservation, or attach a different number of photographs, etc. Therefore you should always contact your local Saudi Embassy or Consulate.

Local Residence Permit

Once you have arrived in Jeddah, you need to acquire your residence permit (iqama) as soon as possible. In most cases, the employer’s HR office takes care of applying for your iqama and those of your family members. Nevertheless, it may come in handy to know how the application process in general works.

To get an iqama, expats usually need the following documents:

  • valid passport
  • valid entry visa issued in their country of origin
  • complete application form (signed and stamped by the employer or signed by the guardian)
  • several recent passport photographs
  • copy of employer’s civil ID
  • proof of payment for application fee (to be paid at selected local banks)
  • medical report for expats with specific jobs (e.g. chef, maid, driver)

The iqama also serves as your official ID as long as you are living in Jeddah. If it is damaged, stolen, or lost, please notify the local authorities within 24 hours and apply for a replacement.

Foreign residents of Jeddah are required to have their iqama with them at all times. It is very important to carry a valid ID at all times. Otherwise, you might incur fines for your failure to show the iqama to the police or other officials.

Do make sure that you know when your ID should be renewed. The period of validity may be indicated on the card in Arabic numbers. Have the date translated for you if necessary.

Contact Details

Iqama cards are issued by the General Directorate of Passports, a department of the Saudi Ministry of Interior.

  • The directorate’s general telephone number for interior calls is +966 (0) 011-477 1100-01.
  • The department for the Makkah region (where Jeddah is located) has the number +966 (0) 02-6315858.

General enquiries can be sent via e-mail to

Finding Accommodation in Jeddah

High Cost of Living, Lower Quality of Life?

Expats moving to Jeddah will be glad to hear that it is the least expensive metropolis in the Middle East. In the Mercer Cost of Living Survey2016, Jeddah was listed on rank 230 out of approximately 372 expatriate destinations. The biggest items in the annual budget of an expat family are probably health insurance (not every employer offers all-inclusive healthcare), tuition fees for schoolchildren, and rental housing. Unfortunately, though, the comparatively cheap cost of living is partly due to a lower quality of life.

In the international quality of living rankings, Jeddah has never been among the top 50 worldwide. On the one hand, the city is far safer than the embassies’ detailed travel warnings and the strict security measures at many compound gates can make it seem. However, its disadvantages include limited mobility (especially for expat women, who aren’t allowed to drive), lack of a public transport infrastructure, an extreme climate, a lack of leisure activities, and some environmental issues (water and air pollution from Jeddah’s industrial areas). And yet, if you have a generous salary or housing allowance, you can live very comfortably.

The ‘Gilded Cages’: Expat Compounds in Saudi Cities

In Jeddah, most expatriates move into so-called compounds. These gated communities cater particularly to foreign residents from Anglo-American countries, Continental Europe, and Japan. It is foreigners from such highly industrialized, non-Muslim nations that have sometimes become the target of terrorists. Therefore, employers, estate agents, and landlords will probably insist that they move into a residential area with special security controls. For some expats, this can cause the feeling of living in a ‘gilded cage’; others enjoy the extra safety and the amenities that compound life provides.

In upmarket compounds, facilities include a convenience store or small supermarket, a restaurant, a hairdresser, an info center, management staff, a swimming pool, a gym, various sports grounds, a nursery or daycare center and a playground for resident kids, limousine service and shuttle buses for expatriate women, etc. Obviously, such luxury comes at a price. Due to the city’s demographic growth and construction boom, housing prices are still on the rise. In July 2016, the rental prices for villas (i.e. free standing family housing) ranged from SAR 110,000 to SAR 250,000 per year, and family houses with several bedrooms are even more expensive within compounds.

The Housing Search in Jeddah

There are some factors that may complicate your housing search in Jeddah. First of all, not all compounds have a website. Even if they do, the information available online can be outdated. Contact details like phone numbers may change. Moreover, some popular compounds have very long waiting lists. Once you have get in touch with an accommodation provider, ask them immediately how long you might have to wait for a suitable apartment.

Also remember to find out what exactly is included in the rent. Does it already cover utility costs for water and electricity? Does it include a maintenance charge and fees for extras like satellite TV? Is the villa partly furnished or fully furnished? Which household items do you need to bring?

Before you sign anything, make sure that you have a certified translation of your rental agreement. If there should ever be a dispute, the Arabic version will be the one considered in court, so you should know what’s mentioned in fine print.

Expatriate Compounds in Jeddah

Below, you can find a list of some of Jeddah’s biggest compounds (some with more than 100 housing units each) and popular residential areas. If the property has a website, we have linked the homepage directly, or we have just listed a telephone number as of July 2016. In the Destination Jeddah magazine, you can find a more detailed list with the telephone numbers of many smaller communities (scroll down to compounds).

  • Arabian Homes: older, yet luxurious compound in North Jeddah
  • Al Basateen: located between Prince Sultan Road and King Road
  • Al Hajarayn: in the Al Shatti district of North Jeddah, near the Corniche  +966 (0)12-6542354
  • Al Salam: located in the Al Rehab district, north of Palestine Street +966 (0)12-6717121
  • Belleview: off Madinah Road, at Al Amal Street
  • Binzagr Villas: on Madinah Road, one block after Lexus Showroom +966 (0)12-6672064
  • Kindi Housing: North Jeddah, Al Rabwah +966 (0)12-6910884
  • M&M Compound: North Jeddah, not far from the Amir Abdullah Mosque +966 (0)12-6562544
  • Mura Bustan: at the juncture of Madinah Road with Sary Street +966 (0)12-6910041
  • Sharbatly Village: in Prince Majid Street, not far from the international airport

Connect with like-minded expatriates

Discover our welcoming community of expats! You’ll find many ways to network, socialize, and make new friends. Attend online and in-person events that bring global minds together.

Apr 25, 2024, 7:00 PM
2 attendees

See all upcoming events for expats in Jeddah

Our Global Partners

  • Javier Vazquez

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

  • Ava Sneijders

    InterNations is a very good mix of professional setting and casual atmosphere. Expats on InterNations have and share a global mindset.

Our Global Partners

Other Communities in Saudi Arabia

Like-Minded Expats in Jeddah

Saudi Arabia Guide Topics