Getting Around in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Woman driver

Women Drivers Not Permitted
Picture by

Driving and getting around in Jeddah Saudi Arabia, can be quite a challenge. Only men are allowed to drive if they have a Saudi licence which they have to apply for once they have their Iqama. Women are NOT permitted to drive in Saudi Arabia. If a women is caught driving she can be whipped. So until the laws change, best not to drive ladies!!!

 Most Expats who live on a compound have a company driver who takes them to various places that they wish to go to.  These drivers know their way around, so usually you won’t have many problems getting from A-B. Some of the compounds offer a limousine service to their residents for a fee.  However if you are like myself and don’t have a driver or choose to use the local taxi’s (limousines) BE PREPARED!

Below are some of the things you will encounter when you first arrive in Jeddah Saudi Arabia.

  • Many of the streets and roads do not have street or road signs. As is the case on many of the intersections.
  • Then you have a few different names for the same streets or roads. It can be extremely confusing.
  • To add to that problem, if you try to get a taxi driver who are mainly Indians, Pakistani’s, Egyptians and Yemanies to take you to a designated marked street on a google map, the majority of times they can’t read maps and/or don’t speak english.

    Also known as Palastine St.



  • The next issue you have is google maps are not always correct. So even if you try to walk to a destination, as I have tried on a number of occasions, it doesn’t mean you will get there without a lot of perseverance, and detective work. This is because on the google maps the streets are called something different, or there are  streets missing from the map.
  •  Another dilemma you have is many of the residence do not know their address or the streets near them. So you can’t ask them for directions because they don’t know. Believe me I have tried.  

This may seem very strange to Westerner expats who all know where they live.  However here in Saudi Arabia most people get their mail from the major post office in Ballad. It has only been in recent times that Saudi people have started to have mail boxes.  This change started to take place after 2007 as you will see by reading the following article from Arab News. (It still is ongoing and more confusing than ever)

The Bike ring road.

Jeddah is known for the round a bouts or as they call them here “Ring Roads”. They have huge monuments or artistic art on these ring roads. The roads here in Jeddah are long and without many crossroad intersections. You have to drive quite a way in one direction then make a U turn and head back in the direction of where you just came from, until you find where you want to turn into.  This takes up a lot of travel time, especially  when many drivers are trying to make a U turn on a main road. Many times it would be far quicker to walk, if you could just cross the road.  But this is not possible unless you use an overpass, because the carriage ways have a concrete dividing wall between both flows of traffic.  You also may have to walk quite a way to get to an overpass, along a road that does not have a footpath. Which can be very dangerous in heavy fast traffic.

Now for the fun bit being in the back seat driven in the traffic. Some of the roads have 2, 3 or four lanes, but amazingly I have been on a 3 lane road with 5 cars fitting across those 3 lanes. All just about an inch or two space between them.  When it first happens you think OMG!!!! You seem to just miss the car at the side as you merge into the one next to you on the other side. Meanwhile there is much tooting and honking of horns.  It really is quite incredible how there is not more accidents.  Many cars have dents and scratches on them. They are very used to travelling close to other cars.

Cars will suddenly cut right across traffic from the right hand far lane to the left lane to turn left. This causes much tooting and honking and the sound of brakes squealing. There is a system but a somewhat chaotic one. They tend to merge somehow without crashing into each other.  Red lights do not mean anything to a lot of drivers. So the drivers have to constantly check that people have stopped at the lights before proceeding.  There are no give way signs. It is a matter of who is there first.  Most drivers toot as the approach a intersection.

If there is an accident and the cars are damaged, they have to stop and are not allowed to move the cars, they have to wait for the traffic assessors to come to the scene of the accident. They will write up a report and assess and apportion blame as to who is at fault. Both drivers must leave their cars and go to the police station with the assessor’s, where the one who is at fault has his licence taken off him, while the innocent one rings and gets three quotes for repairs.  The police decide which quote they will accept, then this is paid by the driver at fault to the innocent driver then and there, for repairs to his car. Once the money is paid the innocent driver is given a permit to pick up his car and take it to be repaired. The driver at fault is given his licence back.

As you can imagine this causes havoc on the roads during peak traffic times. It can be a long time that the cars remain on the road.  So the traffic banks up for miles.  I have seen ambulances with their sirens blaring, but they cannot get through.  They are stranded in the traffic.

I have become accustomed to living here and I really enjoy it.  I no longer watch the road and get frightened by the traffic. I catch taxi’s often and walk on the roads as well.  It is getting too hot to walk now so I catch more taxi’s.  I am good at using some Arabic words such as right, left, stop,  straight, no and home. All necessary for being a passenger in a taxi.



  • Katrina Kumar says:

    i have been in Gassem (central region) for few years and I saw many young boys 12 -13 years old driving big cars. Once a boy just stopped his car behind my hobby’s car when he was reversing. A minor scratch resulted on his car and he started shouting: Anta majnoon (psychoo). My hubby is a bit cool on roads (not inside bedroom) and remained calm and cool. Few passerby men helped us get rid.
    Jeddah is much more crowded than Buraidah and Dammam and its roads are also narrow.
    Best of luck

  • Thanks it can be a challenge at times.

  • Bassem says:

    When you said “whipped” I guess you are using it figuratively, as women will never be whipped for driving a car here!, lately the police announced that any woman caught driving will be fined with a ticket and all cases I heard about are for women been held at police station until husband/ father comes and sign an undertaking for not repeating this action again.

  • Kelly says:

    Hi there! I just wanted to inject a little caution into the post :). I’m not saying that it’s completely unsafe using regular taxis, but you should definitely be vigilant. I’ve had a few really unpleasant experiences with drivers and I now use the compound drivers or compound bus whenever possible. The compound drivers tend to be much safer in general and better drivers. Also, they have to answer to compound management if something goes wrong. If you must take a regular taxi, Be careful to stay on main roads if possible, keep your phone handy in case of emergency, and if you should get any unwanted advances from a driver GET OUT! I know the drivers here are often booked, so if you happen to find a clean, safe driver outside, it’s possible to strike a deal with them and take their mobile number.

    • I agree Kelly, you do have to use discernment. I have refused to go with some taxi drivers as they looked a bit dodgy. I have got a list of about 4 drivers mobile numbers who are very good. As you say it is a good idea to get taxi on main roads, which is what I do.Being older has it’s advantages, not as likely to get advances, however the young girls would definitely be wise to heed your advice. Thanks for your comments.

  • bot says:

    i couldn’t agree more 🙂

  • Susie of Arabia says:

    A good and accurate account of the roadways here. I just wanted to make a comment about one thing you said: “Only men are allowed to drive if they have a Saudi license…” Actually I have seen many young boys under 10 driving here in Jeddah. I’m sure they do not have valid drivers licenses, but nothing is done to stop them - not like they would if a woman was seen driving! Heaven forbid!

  • Christine Plowman says:

    Looking forward to coming back to the mayhelm, at least everyday is a new challenge and another mountain to climb……..;)

    • We are looking forward to you coming back too. Miss you Chris.x

    • Yes Susie, you are right my husband and I saw a young boy about 11 or 12 behind the wheel. He drove in and parked the car like he had done it many times before at a Danube store. We were watching him with open mouths. He got out of the car and looked at us with a big grin on his face. Then his mother/aunty? got out of the car.

      • Rami says:

        it’s illegal of course but the police is sort of flexible that way. I’m 15 years old learned driving when I was 13 and I drive daily to and from school and occasionally other places

Please comment.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.