10 Things you Need to Know About Living in Jeddah Saudia Arabia

living in jeddahMoving to Saudi Arabia


Thanks to all those people who supported me by leaving comments about this blog. Because of you I won Silver. 🙂


In 2012 my husband’s was approached by an KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) company to come for a job interview. He was flown by the company to Jeddah KSA where he stayed in a hotel overnight, then went for the interview the next day. Firstly as is the custom in Saudi Arabia, he was greeted and taken to some lounge chairs where he was served lots of different types of dates and had to drink copious amounts of Arabic coffee. Saudi’s like to get to know you first. It is only after this that he could begin the interview which went well. My husband came back home to Australia. Then the waiting game began. (Saudi’s do not make decisions in a hurry!) After much time – 3 months he found out that he had secured the job. So thus began the journey of becoming and expat, getting his residency visas and the Igama. (A residency ID card of Saudi Arabia) It took from July until November to get his Igama.

Once he arrived in Jeddah he then had the task of finding a compound for us to live in. I had stipulated that “I need to have greenery around me and I don’t want to stare at a giant wall withrazor wire on it.”  I was beginning to get cold feet because I would be leaving my Daughter and granddaughter behind. My daughter said to me, “The way you are Mum, you will end up in the dessert buried up to your neck in sand.”  Meanwhile, my husband spent a lot of time after work, looking at compounds and finally found one that had a villa, with greenery around it, and no wall with razor wire.

He sent photos of the villa and surroundings to me to have a look. (big mistake – HUGE!!!!!) I loved the gardens and pools, but was horrified when I saw the villa inside. It had filthy rotting carpet on the floors, it looked dark and dingy, and paint was coming off the smoke stained walls. The kitchen had an old stove and fridge. The bench tops melamine was peeling off. The net curtains in the lounge were disintegrating.  The bedroom wardrobes looked discussing with handles broken and hanging off and encrusted dirt on the doors. The tiles on the bathroom walls and floor were cracked, mouldy, chipped and dirty. The toilet bowl was yucky brown stained and the seat cover was supposed to be white was discoloured yellowy brown and cracked. I was mortified! NO WAY!!! I thought. I immediately rang my husband and said “I am NOT coming!”

Poor husband was feeling rather anxious by this stage. He assured me that the villa was going to be completely renovated before we moved in. He said I could pick the colours of the paint, curtains etc… I wasn’t convinced that it was going to happen, but as I chose the paint for the walls and asked for various things to be done it did happened. He sent me photos of the renovations as they happened.  The whole villa had been painted, new kitchen installed with new stove and fridge. Carpets removed new tiles on all the floors. New toilet installed. All the wardrobes were painted with new handles. I was amazed, it was a dramatic change! I thought “YES” I could live there.  So I then started reading everything I could about Saudi Arabia and its culture.

Nearly one year on I love living in Jeddah Saudi Arabia. I have had some incredible, amazing experiences. The key to living as an expat in Jeddah is to accept and embrace the culture. It is all to do with having a positive mental attitude.

These are the top 10 things you need to know about living in Jeddah.

1.       10 words you need to know:
Waahid (one)
Ithnaan (two)
Thalaatha (three)
Yameen (right)
Yasaar (left)
Aalatoola (along straight)
Halass (finish, end, no more, that’s it, stop)
Shukran (thankyou)
Kam al-thamen (how much is the price)
Laa  (no)

2.       Yes does not always mean YES – When shopping if you ask a Saudi man if this item whatever it is can do a certain thing. They will usually say yes. It is their custom not to say no it is impolite. So even if they don’t know the answer they will often say yes, they will not say they don’t know. The same goes with directions. If you ask where is a particular shop they will point in any given direction and tell you it is down that way. You will soon find out that it isn’t.

3.       Taxi’s – Most of the taxi drivers are Pakistani, Indian, Yemen and Egyptian, and tend to have little or no English. So before you get in make sure they understand where you want to go. Agree to a fare also before you get in. (get advice from local western expats on prices) they do have car meters but don’t use them.  Many of the drivers go by landmarks, such as Malls, not street names. So I usually print out a map with directions. This is not foolproof as many roads and street names have been changed. It is not uncommon to find that there is another street not on the map. You also cannot go by street numbers as most houses and shops do not have them. Nearly everybody has a PO Box. If you ask someone their street address they will not be able to tell you. You will get a series of direction for e.g.: Go along Hira until you get to the Hilton, then turn right, then turn left at the third street, I am the fourth house on the right, the one with the fabric hanging on the door. Very challenging at times as these directions can often be wrong too. Now days I know my way around. I usually say “I tell you where to go” if it is complicated and they don’t speak English. I pick a landmark near to where I want to go, then I use my limited Arabic word to navigate yameen, yasaar, alatoola. It seems to work for me.

4.       Shopping Queues – Saudi’s do not know about politeness of other western cultures when queuing in lines. You may start to get in a queue to be served waiting patiently, when you will notice that they push in to get served. They are not being rude, they have not been taught about waiting their turn.  Many times in the beginning I would be in the middle of being served when someone would ask the shop assistant a question of where something was or want to pay for their goods. At first I use to think “HOW RUDE” but then I learned more about the culture. If it happens to me now I speak up. Recently I was at an ATM waiting to get some money out. A Saudi man was in front of me getting his money, when another Saudi man stepped in front of me. I said to him “Excuse me, I was here first, get to the back of the line and wait your turn”, as I pointed to the back of the line. The Saudi man at the ATM said “He is with me.” I said “No he isn’t so he can wait his turn.” The other man said “I no understand”. I said “yes you do, very rude, bad manners.” He stayed there. When the other man had finished, the second man bowed smiled and said “your turn madam”. I said “Shukran, coist kateer shukran” with a big smile. (thank you, very good, thankyou) They both smiled and left. I always make a point of thanking people who show consideration. They appreciate it.

5.       Women of Jeddah –  I have met some lovely Saudi women in the time I have been here. Many of them appear to be aloof or shy, but they are not. Once you talk to them, they are very friendly and like sponges wanting to know all about you. They have many challenges in life that they face. Such as: They are not allowed to drive, so have to rely on drivers chosen by their husbands or guardians to take them everywhere. They are not allowed to catch taxis. They are not allowed to socialize with other men apart from family members. So women do not generally talk to men, only at shops to ask a question about merchandise. A lot do not even say thank you or please in case it is seen as flirting. They can only work in certain sectors, hospitals, schools, beauty, and some sales positions, although this is starting to change, which is great to see. They are very talented, educated and smart. A few of them have their own businesses.

6.       Shopping – When I first came here, I couldn’t get over all the bling in the shops. Beautiful party and ball dresses with lots of colourful jewellery, sequins, embellishments and embroidery on them. I remember thinking when an earth would they wear them. Given that they wear black abayas and head coverings. Little did I know. It was only when I spoke to a young Saudi girl asking her what does she do with her time seeing that she doesn’t work, that I found out. This is what she said to me. “I sleep, I eat, I watch tv, I go shopping and I go to Parties.”

If you are a sewer there are so many souqs and shops to go to selling beautiful fabric and embellishments at very reasonable prices.

7.       Inshallah – This is Muslim saying which means “god willing”. Many Muslim’s say it in conversation frequently. Sometimes it is misused such a when you ask a Saudi to do something. They will say “yes inshallah.” Which is fine. We noticed very quickly that if one inshallah was said it will probably happen. If two inshallah’s are said it’ not looking good. If three inshallah’s are said it is NOT going to happen. You can also tell by the way it is said, if they mean it or not.

8.       Rubbish – When I first came here I was shocked to see all the rubbish in the streets around our compound. It is not their custom to throw rubbish in the bins. Many simply drop the rubbish on the street or throw it out on the street. I have seen a big SUV stop in a car park with all the occupants opening up their doors and emptying the car of all its rubbish. Saudi’s in the past were used to having people come around in trucks at night to clean up the rubbish on the streets. This no longer happens, so they are in the throes of being re-educated.

9.       Cats – They are everywhere. It’s not uncommon to pass by a skip bin and see seven cats and tiny kittens, dirty, maimed, scrawny, and some very scary looking ones. They are wild and don’t have homes. Sometimes they come into the compound looking for food. We adopted one persistent black and white cat “Tails” (he has an extra-long tail) who must have belonged to someone at some stage, because he had been neutered. He defends his territory very strongly if another cat comes anywhere near our villa.

10.   Prayer Times – Muslims pray 5 times a daily. It takes a bit of getting used to, but after a while you don’t notice prayer times. I also found it important to plan when, and where I was going around prayer times. If I am going food shopping, as long as I am in the store before prayer it doesn’t matter. As soon as it is prayer time the staff leave the shop then close the doors and lock you inside, where you can continue to shop until the prayer is over. Once they open the doors and the staff has come back inside, you can then go through the checkout.




Living In Jeddah



Please comment.