Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Report of what it's like to live there - 01/16/19

Personal Experiences from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia 01/16/19


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

No. We've also lived in Africa, other countries in the Middle East, and in Asia

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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?

Washington DC. The trip is long, but there is a direct flight. Jeddah is the gateway to Mecca so there are lots of direct flights to any country with a large number of religious pilgrims.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Almost two years.

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

US mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing is one of the best parts of Jeddah. There are two housing compounds and when the new consulate opens, there will also be housing available on the compound. Our housing compound has a lot of green grass, several pools, playground for children, playroom, a burger restaurant, etc. It's a great place for people with children and most people live their back door unlocked so kids can run around freely.

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

Prices are about the same as they are in the U.S.,if you shop at the grocery markets. Our commissary options are insane, pretty much everything under the sun. It's also much better than Riyadh because we don't have to drive anywhere to access it. In Jeddah, you just send an email and everything is delivered weekly to the consulate for you to pick up.

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

We don't actually long for a lot here. Between the incredibly well-stocked supermarkets and commissary, there's very little I can't get and I could probably get it if I was willing to accept another brand.

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

Eating out is probably one of the biggest activities in Saudi. Tons of western restaurants, every chain in the West (Shake Shack, Cheesecake Factory, every fastfood, Red Lobster, Texas Road House, Nando's, etc.). A lot of Italian, Pakistani, Indian, some excellent Chinese and Japanese restaurants. Lots of healthy places focused on quinoa salads and the like. Pretty much everything will deliver on an app. Talabat, Hungerstation, and Lugmety are the most popular.

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Daily Life:

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

APO and Pouch. Anywhere between two-three weeks.

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

Household help is a struggle. You really have to spend time searching for a good person. People will be late to interviews, unresponsive, and so on. If you stay in the compound pool, help runs about $10 an hour. If you are willing to spend a lot of time advertising and finding someone else who's not already in the pool, it's about $550 a month for full-time, live-in. Big cost difference.

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

There is a free and decent gym on each of the housing compounds, at the current consulate, and at the new consulate. They're all free and usually empty. If you want to take specialty classes (yoga, martial arts, aerial yoga, etc.) there are gyms in town, classes are about $20 per class.

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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?

There's a cashier at the consulate. Credit cards are used in most places that you'll go to, hole in the walls will require cash. I don't use an ATM.

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

There are monthly faith services for Catholics, Protestants, and Church of the Latter Day Saints.

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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?


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

We have blind officers in the mission, but anyone in a wheelchair would have trouble on the sidewalks and lack of elevators.

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

You're only allowed to take the expensive version of Careem, ride with friends, ride in consulate cars, or drive your own car

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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?

Driving is not something for the weak here. Bring something that won't make you cry if it gets hit.

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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?

You can have your social sponsor install it before you arrive if you want.

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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?

Office will provide a phone for you. Always practice good communications discipline.

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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?

No quarantine and okay veterinarians. Since we all just live next door to each other, most people just have someone watch their pet when they go on vacation. We have a pet and haven't found it to be an issue. People will say that dogs aren't liked here, but most of the people you'll interact with are incredibly Westernized and love dogs. They're also common enough that people don't seem to mind them.

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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?

Every person who wants an EFM job at the consulate will get one. There is no bilateral work agreement. Some spouses have telecommuted with their home organizations.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Animal rescue and orphanages.

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

Jeddah is much more relaxed than Riyadh. Definitely no need for a headscarf. Most consulate women don't even carry one around. Abayas are worn completely open and are in all colors and patterns. Not black. A few of us go out in town without abayas, in jeans and tunics and there have been no issues. The difference between Jeddah and Riyadh cannot be emphasized enough when it comes to this.

On the housing compounds, you can wear whatever you want. Same at the beach clubs. Bikinis are the norm. For consulate work, female officers can wear whatever they want. There is no expectation here that female American officers would ever wear an abaya to a meeting and the vast majority do not.

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Health & Safety:

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

Obvious issues in every Middle East post.

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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?

Medical care is hit or miss. There is a health unit on the consulate and a local doctor who is always there. Medevac point is London although some people are planning on giving birth here.

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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 does get dusty so people with allergies can struggle sometimes.

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

It's humid. Into the 100s during the summer; a very pleasant 80s in the winter. Not as humid as the rest of the Gulf.

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Schools & Children:

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

There's an American school, a British school, and a French school. People are generally pleased with the British school and very unhappy with the American school. Part of that is because the American school has not managed their move to a new building very well. This might improve once the move is officially completed.

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2. 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?

Preschools at the international schools are available. The French school is the cheapest. There is also a well-loved daycare on Sierra Compound that is well priced.

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

Swimming classes on housing compounds, gymnastics, soccer, horseback riding, etc.

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Expat Life:

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

Not small, but getting smaller due to economic reforms happening in the country. Expats outside of the diplomatic community tend to have been here for 7+ years. Morale among them is good. In many ways, Jeddah can be an easy life if you're a homebody or happy just hanging out by the pool every weekend. For the consulate community, it's a mix. Few love it, some hate it, most don't mind it but are waiting to leave.

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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?

Beach clubs are huge. Go there to feel like you're escaping the Saudi vibe. Otherwise it's hanging out at people's homes or by pools.

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

Great for families.

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

A surprisingly very, very, vibrant gay scene.

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5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

Yes, but here's the key: you have to make a conscious and solid effort. It's easy to stay on compounds and only hang out with consulate people. If you aren't active in seeking out outside groups, it won't happen. The local scene is a lot of fun, but you have to meet the right person for them to introduce you to it. Once consulate people are in it, they're hesitant to bring in others for fear of it just turning into a massive consulate crowd and defeating the purpose of outside groups.

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

Obviously gender equality issues in Saudi. It's not as obvious with Western women or with the people you will hang out with, but you may sense it in more rural areas and if you are speaking to Saudi women. You'll get used to people not looking at women in the eye or shaking their hands. Do not expect equality like the states.

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

The underground scene here is great if you can find it. Beach clubs which rival the ones found in SE Asia with dance music and quinoa bowls. This place is far superior than Riyadh because at least we can always either 1) go to the beach or 2) hang out at the compound pools and grill or hangout. People living on the DQ in Riyadh don't have either of those options or have to go to the Embassy to use the pool. I prefer to not go to work when I'm not working.

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

Rock climbing, beach, geocaching, dune buggies, and desert camping.

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

Bazaars are big for women. Lots of events organized around shopping, but it's all imported from India/Pakistan/Afghanistan/Lebanon so prices are much higher.

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

This is a 25% differential post with a lot of Western conveniences (nice beaches, western restaurants, and shopping markets). The differential mostly comes from the psychological differences and the social isolation that can happen if you're not getting out there and trying to find out what's happening. If you can overcome that, this is not a bad 25% post where you can bring family.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

It's much better than you think. There are posts with less differential that are much more difficult to live at. That's not too say this is the best post, but it's all relative. I would rather be here than a lot of other places.

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

Yes. I would not come back, but this is an easy post to make some money.

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

Winter clothes.

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4. But don't forget your:


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