Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Report of what it's like to live there - 08/03/15

Personal Experiences from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia 08/03/15

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Yes, but we've been on temporary assignments to several other cities (Port-au-Prince, Amman, The Hague, Lima, Brasilia)

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

State-side is SLC, Utah - 1 connection in Paris but approximately 20-24 hours total. It costs about US$1200 round-trip.

Germany - we can get there in 6-12 hours, depending on whether we can get a direct flight. It costs about US$600-800 round-trip.

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3. How long have you lived here?

1.5 years

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

State Department

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

2 compounds - Al Basateen Village and Sierra Village - both in North Jeddah. The compounds are both very nice, maybe a little dated, but have great pools, tennis courts, beach volleyball, playgrounds and restaurants. The British International School is attached to Al Basateen Village, and the American International School is attached to Sierra Village, so most families with school-aged children live in Sierra.
In the future Consulate, which is supposed to be finished in 2016, the majority of staff will live there.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Due to the big expat community, availability of Western and Asian products is great, but not perfect. As in many other countries, expect to pay a lot for some Western products like Greek yogurt and almond/soy milk. Pork and alcohol are not available.
Riyadh based U.S. military provides many items not available on the Saudi market.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

More carpets for our house.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Many fast food places and familiar American chains (McDonalds, Hardees, Cheesecake Factory, Red Lobster, FireGrill, Papa Johns, Dominos, Pizza Hut, Shake Shack, and Texas Road House (no pork). Costs are about 20% higher than in the U.S.
There are plenty of Middle Eastern and Indian restaurants with relatively cheap prices.
There are also some Asian restaurants (sushi, Japanese, Korean,...)

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Mosquitoes, especially when it gets "colder", but it's not that bad.
Some people also have problems with ants. We only get ants when we leave out food.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

For U.S. Consulate staff, APO and pouch mail are available and fairly unrestricted.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Going rate seems to be US$7 per hour.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

On compound gyms are available at no cost to Consulate employees. Housing compounds usually offer it as well. Gold's gym for serious gym goers are also available at a cost, but we've heard that they are pricey.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Both are widely available, easy, and safe to use. Less modern stores are cash only.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Islam is the only permitted religion in Saudi Arabia. CLO office has more details.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

None, English gets you by well here. Arabic helps though in downtown areas and hole in the wall restaurants.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes, it is not a handicap (or stroller) friendly city.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

USG employees are not allowed to take taxis or buses. A POV is highly recommended and necessary for a normal life.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

I'd bring something with good road clearance as rare rainstorms flood the streets - not a must, though. For brands, Hyundai, Toyota, and Kia are most popular.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, but the local company can be difficult to work with. Cost is approximately US$30-55 per month.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Local options for unlocked phones available. Local phones available to purchase as well.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

Yes, there are restrictions, but not familiar about the rules.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

No, but there are several jobs on the Consulate for EFMs and a few positions at the international schools.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Perhaps at the schools, but not really aware of this.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business casual and business formal for work at the consulate - depending on the section that you're in.

Women are encouraged to wear the abaya in public and as typical for men in the middle east, shorts are discouraged.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Due to Islamic extremism, there are some concerns, but they're not noticeable on a daily basis.
Small numbers of Westerners are attacked every year, but it's usually more on the Eastern part of Saudi Arabia or close to the Yemeni border.
We feel safer than we thought we would before coming here.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Health care services look good at some hospitals, but can be lacking in some regards.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

It's okay. Not great, but also not bad. It's very dusty, but we haven't had any health issues because of that.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Lots of dust/sand for those who are allergic to that.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot and humid from April to October. Pleasant and less humid fall and winter months. It's never cold during the day, but it can get a little chilly in the evenings from Dec-February.
It rarely rains here, maybe 3-5 days a year, but when it rains, it pours and parts of the city are flooded.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

We have no kids in school, so we don't know too much about this. Most, if not all, children either go to the British International School or the American International School.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

44 American FTE @ the Consulate. Many others working for companies in the Kingdom. Overall, there is likely 3,000+ western expats.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

All things revolve around food it seems like. Hosting people for dinner, going out to dinner.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Good for couples and families, but bad for singles, especially for female singles. Dating is restricted and mingling is rare.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

No. But even for heterosexuell couples, public display of affection is not allowed here. During our time here, we've only seen one young couple so far holding hands in public - that's it.
We heard that there is a small gay scene here, but we don't know more about it.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Non-Arab and non-white colleagues have faced issues, but not as bad as in other places.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Definitely our trip to Mada'in Saleh - "Saudi Arabia's Petra". 7-hour drive away from Jeddah.
Some people find a lot of things to do, but with a new baby and the bad traffic here, we haven't been too adventurous around the city.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Al Balad - old downtown area, fish market, grilled fish restaurant "Al Murjan," Al Wahbah crater, Taif region, several souks, plenty of Western-like malls, but they aren't unique shopping destinations. We haven't done too much exploring outside of the city.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Before coming here, we thought that it would be easy to find neat Middle Eastern decorations, but we have yet to find something we like. We have found a few things we liked, but the cost has been a lot higher than expected.
Some people buy dresses, carpets here, but we've heard that other Middle Eastern countries have even better prices and selection.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Great flight connections out of Jeddah to the Middle East, Europe, and even some to Asia.
High differentials allow easy saving as long as you don't go too crazy on travel. Although many stores are available in Jeddah, most are either out of our price range, only sell junk or are too cumbersome to go to.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes, if you don't go too crazy on travel.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

When we first got to this post, people told us that most people get tired of being here and that they need to get out of the country every once in a while. Being on our 2nd year here, we can see what they mean. Save your R&Rs for your 2nd year :-)
It's really not a bad post, but it does feel nice to get out. Especially for women, who are not allowed to drive here and have to wear the dark abaya every time you leave the compound.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Probably. We've had a good time here so far.
It hasn't been as culturally enriching as we hoped it would be, but we really like the community here and made many good friends.
We've also been able to save money as we had expected. For women who are more independent and see the Saudi social norms as significant disadvantage may want to seek another post.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

anything that's warm - winter clothes, thick bedding,...
road rage and most driving rules you've learned

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4. But don't forget your:

diving and snorkeling gear

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Wajda - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2258858/

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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