Expats moving to Jeddah can expect a slightly less conservative city than strictly religious Riyadh. Jeddah is one of the most important cities in the Middle East, both in terms of religion and commerce.
The principal gateway to Mecca, Jeddah welcomes thousands of Muslims from all over the world every year. Many devotees stay long after their Hajj to join the countless foreigners who've moved here for employment opportunities. As a result, the Red Sea port city has developed a more cosmopolitan character than most of the Saudi Kingdom.
Jeddah is one of Saudi Arabia's largest industrial cities, a commercial port with a booming logistics industry, and the seat of several major Islamic banks and the Arab media. The city is also a fertile incubator for Saudi art. An impressive collection of galleries and open-air installations afford it an atmosphere lacking in many other Middle Eastern destinations.
Despite the 'Saudisation' quotas imposed on local companies by the government, Saudi participation in the labour force remains rather low. The majority of Jeddah's labour force comes from abroad. Expats in Jeddah hail from a variety of different destinations ranging from North and East Africa, Iran, Turkey, Yemen and Southeast Asia to Western Europe and North America. This diversity serves to create a cosmopolitan ambience in the city. Expats working in Jeddah enjoy a mix of traditional culture and modern enterprise. New arrivals often find support in existing expat communities.
Expat's relocating to Jeddah will find the city to be less strict than Riyadh. Despite the fact that the rules governing public behaviour may be less harsh on Jeddah's exclusive beach resorts and hotels with men and women socialising more openly, it is important to always bear in mind that Saudi Arabia remains a very conservative country. Expats, especially women, need to take the necessary steps to ensure they adhere to local laws and religious sensitivities at all times.
Sadly, Jeddah's oceanfront aesthetic is often obscured by air pollution, especially during hot summer days. Industrial zones to the north and south of Jeddah are known to sandwich the centre in smog, which is made worse by landfill and bush fires. Summer highs can soar to above 104°F (40°C) in summer. However, one can overcome the heat with Jeddah’s convenient access to well-kept beaches and an 80km-long waterfront promenade that’s perfect for ambling away empty hours.
Jeddah can be a salty breath of fresh air in a country where most aspects of life are restricted.