A coastal city of contrasts, Jeddah is home to both an ultramodern industrial centre and a centuries-old historic district. As the principal gateway to Mecca and a thriving economic power, Jeddah is one of the most important cities in the Middle East, both in terms of religion and commerce.
Each year, Jeddah welcomes millions of Muslims from all over the world as they complete their Hajj. Many devotees stay long after, joining the countless foreigners who've moved here for employment opportunities in one of the city's many strong industries.
Though Jeddah is ruled by Sharia law, as is the rest of Saudi Arabia, it is the country's least conservative city. Respecting the cultural and religious norms remains essential, but expats will find themselves under less scrutiny than they would be in other areas of the Kingdom.
Despite quotas imposed on local companies by the government, Saudi participation in the labour force remains fairly low with the majority of Jeddah's labour force coming from abroad. Expats working here come from all over the world, ranging from North and East Africa, Iran, Turkey, Yemen and Southeast Asia to Western Europe and North America.
Living in Jeddah as an expat
Living in Jeddah as an expat can be both rewarding and challenging. The city offers a range of activities and amenities for expats, including international schools, modern healthcare facilities, parks, beaches and shopping malls. Expats may also find a sense of support and community through the city's close-knit expat networks.
However, it's important to note that Saudi Arabia has a conservative culture, and expats may need to adjust to different social norms and customs. Expat women, in particular, may find the adjustment challenging, as life inside the compound can be very insular, while gender segregation outside is the norm.
Cost of living in Jeddah
The cost of living in Jeddah for expats is relatively high. Mercer's 2023 Cost of Living Survey places Jeddah at 101st out of 227 cities surveyed, but the average expat wage in the city is also fairly lucrative. It is critical to note that there is a stark difference between how Western expats and those from Africa, the Middle East and Asia are compensated in Saudi Arabia, and this can lead to a very different quality of life.
Accommodation and food can be quite expensive, especially in the central and affluent areas of the city, although living outside the city centre and shopping at local markets can bring down costs. The cost of entertainment and leisure activities can also add up quickly. Expats should expect to pay a premium for certain imported goods and services, but there are also many local options that can help reduce costs.
Families and children in Jeddah
Jeddah is home to a significant expat population, and many families find the city to be a welcoming and accommodating place to live. Healthcare in Jeddah is available through a mix of public and private hospitals, with many private hospitals offering high-quality medical care. By law, expats in Saudi Arabia are required to have health insurance, which is typically provided by their employer.
Education in Jeddah is also available for expat families, with a range of international schools offering curricula from countries around the world, including the UK, the US and France. These schools typically have modern facilities and experienced teachers, and they can provide a smooth transition for families moving to Jeddah from abroad.
Climate in Jeddah
Located on the Red Sea coast in Saudi Arabia, Jeddah has a desert climate with very high temperatures throughout the year. The summers are long and hot, with temperatures frequently exceeding 40°C (104°F) during the day. The humidity is also high, which can make the heat feel more intense, but expats can adjust to the climate and will learn to escape the worst parts of the day and enjoy the city's indoor spaces and attractions.
Jeddah can be a salty breath of fresh air in a country where there are many restrictions. Though it may take expats some time to adjust to life here, respecting the local culture and being open to learning will make it easier to settle in.