Most Muslims will visit Mecca at least once in their lifetime, and every year millions of Muslims from all over the world descend on Mecca to fulfil the pilgrimage of Hajj. Mecca is known as “The Holy City” as the birthplace of Muhammad, and the site of the first revelation of the Quran. It is home to the Kabaa, the most sacred place in Islam, which is situated in the middle of the Al-Masjid al-Ḥarām, the largest mosque in the world. Over the past few years, Mecca has grown into one of the biggest cities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and there are more Saudis and expats living in Mecca than ever before. While the city can get frenetic during the Hajj period, in quieter seasons it is like any other Saudi city, and expats living in Mecca can explore the local sites at their leisure, such as the Qishla of Mecca, a fortress built in the 18th century to defend the city from attack. As the holiest city in Islam, Mecca is closed to non-Muslims. In fact, as you drive out of Jeddah towards Mecca, you will come across a series of unique road signs saying “Non-Muslims exit here”. If you are worried about what to expect from living in such a religious community, speak to some fellow expatriates in Mecca via the InterNations’ discussion boards, to learn more about Saudi life.
Get trustworthy advice and local insights from fellow members in our Saudi Arabia expat forums.
Even for practicing Muslims, moving to Mecca can be difficult. You will need to begin your visa process well in advance of your planned arrival. Do not make any travel plans during this time, as your passport could be held at the Saudi embassy for several weeks. If you are a woman moving to Mecca, the law requires you to travel with your husband, father or other male relative, although some exceptions can be made. For all women moving to Mecca, a very strict dress code is in force: a black, loose-fitting abaya which falls to the ankles and a black hijab which covers your hair at the back, and your eyebrows at the front. Men moving to Mecca should similarly avoid shorts and vest tops, and stick to loose-fitting, white or pale-colored shirts and trousers, or variations on the Arabian dishdasha. You won’t be the first expatriate to struggle with a headscarf or robe – don’t be afraid to ask for tips from other expats on the InterNations discussion boards and forums, and share a few hints of your own!
Working in Mecca is like working in any other Muslim city – except you can actually see the Kabaa when you break for prayer! The Saudi working week is Sunday to Thursday, and each morning the local imams will dictate the daily prayer times, during which all work will cease. In the summer months, temperatures can reach more than 50 degrees Celsius, and some offices will close for a few hours during the day. Likewise, during the weeks of Ramadan, some offices will close early or amend their working hours to accommodate fasting employees. Women are forbidden to drive in Saudi Arabia, so if you are a Muslim woman working in Mecca you will need a male relative to drive you to and from your place of work. The Saudi working week can be challenging for some expatriates in Mecca, so do some research before you start work in Mecca - read our Expat Magazine for articles on various expatriation-relevant topics and pieces written by our members on their own expat experiences.