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5 Tips for Living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

By Betsy Burlingame

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Expats in Jeddah offer advice about living on compounds vs living out, where to meet other expats, international schools, raising kids in Jeddah and much more.

Obeying the Rules in Jeddah

"There is only one religion allowed. Wahabi Islam. Bible banned - no crosses allowed. Women must wear and abaya- and in some places it is wise to waer headscarf. Men should cover kness and wear long short and long sleves. In Ramadan- no drinking, eating of smoking from dawn to dusk. Stay at home. People though are mostly really friendly if you obey rules," advised one expat in Jeddah. Another said, "it's important for non-Muslim visitors to note that dress is very conservative, and that alcohol is absolutely forbidden throughout the country."

To Live on a Western Compound in Jeddah or Not

"Many western residents live in housing compounds, some of which are very well equipped; life in these areas is not widely different from living in the West," explained one expat in Jeddah. "Only accept a job that provides accommodation on a western compound (key to access of facilites/ friends/ parties) especailly for women- it would be a nightmare for a western woman to live out," recommended an expat in Jeddah. "Living on a compound also gives me additional peace of mind. I am nearly 100% sure I'll have get my house robbed or raided by thugs. I know my car is not going to get broken into. I live in an operationally safe place. I really enjoy my life. I have five children, and my oldest is 8 and my baby is not even a year old. For us, this is like a dream come true. We have sooooo many friends on our compound who we have really become to love. Our kids have more good friends than ever. I know they are safe when they go out to play. We have excellent amenties....what more can I ask for?? My husband has a wonderful job and between the salary and benefits we have more savings that in the U.S and he's a physician," commented another expat in Jeddah. Another expat said, "most of the expat faculty from the American School live at a compound called Saudi City. This compound is massive. Literally a city within a city. There are several pools, tennis courts, shops, etc. It's nice because as a woman you'll have space to go for a long walk, run, or bike ride."

An expat offered a differing opinion, "[I am] an American, I've lived in Saudi Arabia for 25 years. An up-to-date, well-maintained compound is nice, but many expats live very happily outside the compounds. Female compound dwellers have the hassle of finding transportation to get out to the city, if the bus schedule doesn't exactly match their needs. Remember: women don't drive outside the compound walls."

Meeting People in Jeddah

One expat generously shared a long list of activities and places where you it's easy to meet other expats in Jeddah. The list included Hijaz choir, diving clubs, Al Bilad beach, Sheraton beach, Silver sands beach, ABJ (American Business Group of Jeddah), BBJ (British Business Group Jeddah), Jeddah Rugby Football Club and many other ideas. Another expat said, "because Jeddah is the port of Makkah, it is more cosmopolitan than other Saudi cities; visitors of every nationality are commonplace. There is little in the way of entertainment; there are no theaters, and women are not allowed to attend football (soccer) games. Two major football teams are based in Jeddah, but the major recreation involves hanging around malls and boating. (Wonderful coral reefs for diving, and women as well as men belong to diving clubs.) Another popular activity is camping in the desert."

Raising Kids in Jeddah

"Your children will have classmates from all over the world, and you and they will forge new friendships that will last for many years. Your kids will grow up with two languages, and very likely, three. Mine are expert in English, Arabic, and Urdu, the last learned from classmates. BTW schools usually offer a European second langauage such as French. You can choose between American and British curriculums,"

International Schools in Jeddah

A parent with kids at The British International School of Jeddah said, "the facilities are great. Extra-curricular activities are somewhat limited, but what is available is very well run. There is a shaded swimming pool, heated in the cooler months, indoor sports facilities, climbing wall, squash courts, etc. This is a great school. I would strongly recommend it. If your child has any learning difficulties I would suggest you have a report from a Educational Psychologist with recommendations before you arrive, and as long as the difficulties aren't severe, the school does have a very positive attitude about accommodating such students. I would specifically ask that my child be placed with a teacher who is geared towards this however, as some are definitely better than others.

Another parent with children at the American International School of Jeddah said, "the school has a reasonable range of facilities, but they are very old. There is no pool, and no track. There is a grass field for soccer, and an indoor area for basketball or volleyball, but this area is also the meeting area for school-wide events (the gym). Buildings themselves are very old and in a poor state of disrepair."

Other schools include Jeddah Prep and Grammer School and Jeddah International School.

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.


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