The challenges and rewards of living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia according to South African expat Laura

Laura has learned about a different way of life since moving from South Africa to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia more than two years ago. She gives us a glimpse into aspects of her life as well as those of the locals, such as the limitations on rights that people in other countries take for granted, the cost of living, and how being open-minded can help one adjust to the local culture.

Laura van Niekerk

-Where were you born?
Cape Town, South Africa

-In which country and city are you living now?
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

-Are you living alone or with your family?
With family, I have a 9-year old daughter.

jeddah-How long have you been living in Saudi Arabia?
Two and a half years

-What is your age?

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Saudi Arabia?
My husband was offered a job here, and we came for the attractive salary and benefits.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
It took a long time, and a lot of paperwork and checks, including medical certificate, police clearance, etc. My husband had to come here first, and then apply for us to join him, which took over 2 months.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
No, Bupa was offered as part of my husband's package

-How do you make your living in Saudi Arabia? Do you have any type of income generated?
My husband works for a joint venture between a South African company and a Saudi company. I do freelance writing from home.

-Do you speak Arabic and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I speak only little Arabic. Most people here can speak English, so you don't really have to learn it.

It is vital that expats respect local cultural and religious customs. Saudi is a highly conservative Islamic country and no other religions are allowed to be practiced here. Women of all religions are required to wear a black abaya over their clothes and in more conservative areas a black headscarf. If not, the religious police and even some locals may reprimand them. Women are not allowed to drive, and only about 7% of Saudi women work. Foreign women struggle to find jobs, which are badly paid and mostly either teaching or medical.

One third of all people in Saudi are foreigners, mostly from the Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Africa, America, the UK, Europe and other Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Women are not allowed to drive, so use drivers and or taxis or buses/limos provided by compounds. Most Westerners and foreigners live in gated and guarded compounds.

fisherman-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Sure, I miss them from time to time – especially the freedom. Here there are no movie houses, bars or pubs, etc. So driving/camping in the desert is a fun thing to do, or to go to the private beaches if you live by the sea. Expat parties can be great fun. Many foreigners travel internationally as flights are cheap from here.

-Do you have other plans for the future?
We're going to Mumbai, India in 3 months.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
We live in a villa in a compound. My husband's company pays for it, and it is standard practice for 'white collar' workers. We pay around Saudi Riyals 120 000 per year for the villa, which is fully furnished and has 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms. The price includes water and electricity and all maintenance.

-What is the cost of living in Saudi Arabia?
Cost of living is cheap in Saudi. A can of Coke still costs only Saudi Riyal 1. Groceries would be around SAR 4000,00 a month, at the most, for a family of 3. There isn't much to spend your money on!

-What do you think about the Arabs?
The Arabs are courteous, but they rarely socialize with non-Saudis, or non-Muslims. Some people live here for years, and never even meet a Saudi.

mosgue-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Saudi Arabia?
Positive: lots of money to spend, or save. You make great friends with people from all over the world, who live in your compound. Peace and quiet. Good education for the children. The compounds are really safe and the children love it. Great restaurants, and the old souks are wonderful to shop at. Lots and lots of shopping to be done, in fact, and electronics are especially inexpensive.

Negative: you cannot walk down the street and have coffee at the corner cafe. Even if restaurants do have outside seating, women aren't allowed to sit there. Restaurants are all divided into family sections, and bachelor sections. So the sexes are segregated in every respect. No movies (everybody buys DVDs), no theatres, no alcohol, no pork, Internet is censored, and unless you are covered, people will glare at you. It's difficult to live here. And in summer it is really, terribly hot. Most people leave over the hottest months of July/August, when schools are closed, for cooler countries.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Saudi Arabia?
If you have a sense of adventure, and an open mind, you'll love it.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Saudi Arabia?
Google "Laura of Arabia" and "" for more info on Saudi as seen from an expat's point of view.

My favourite blogs here are Rasheed's World and Saudi Jeans. Both are written by Saudis living here, eager for reform. You can find many more at Saudi Blogs.

The website South Africans in Saudi & Middle East offers great tips on settling and living here.

Moving there

marietta van zyl's picture

We might be moving to Saudi soon. There is a few things I would like to find out:
1. How is the medical care? Do they fly you out or is the hospitals well equipt? is there doctors in the compounds? (I understands compounds as a village?)
2. Can the men go fishing?
3. Is there aircons in the flat/apartment/houses?
4. Meat - quality? Is it available easily? What types? Beef, chicken, lamb, etc?
5. Is it allowed to bring a laptop into the country or should I buy one there? Is there internet connection in the flat/house where you stay? Or do you have to go to an internetshop?
Thanks for your time.
Marietta van Zyl (Marietjie)


marietta van zyl's picture

I was on the net to see if I can find photos of houses or the towns/cities of Saudi when I saw this page. Do you perhaps know where to login to find such info?


marietta van zyl's picture

Can I take my dog with me? I have minature Doberman and he is my baby as my children are all adults. Do you perhaps know how, why en when?

Another thought

marietta van zyl's picture

Is there anything for the woman to do? Maybe join a painting club, scrapbooking, or anything else like pottery?
Also, I would like to know about availability of these goodies mentioned above.

thinking of moving to Saudi

roz's picture

hi there
my husband and i are thinking of moving to Saudi.. we both from u.k.. to be honest i don't know weather to be excited with our big move or be worried about it.. having said that we both very open minded and are ready to move out of u.k as its going downhill.. We have a 9 month old son.. my question is are there any british nurseries there? what about hospitals ?.. i know there isn't much of a social life there.but are there any decent malls there?.. What about baby food like heinz , hipp organic.../nappies/groceries/.baby clothes shops all baby essentials???.. what about men/women fashion? Food?.. cafes

WE both don't drink neither do we go to pubs/bars..and weboth muslims so we do know what islam and religion is all about but we both have lived an independent lifestyle and our baby is very sociable as well and we both like socialising too.. i know women can't go out alone on their own so let alone going to the supermarket just by myself.. but is there atleast some sort of socialising there??.. I mean when my husband goes to work.. it will only be my baby and me. so in terms of getting out of the house so even within the compound what is that like??..

Any kind of help in relation to my questions would be very helpfull


Ghada bar's picture

am British just moved to jeddah 6 month ago, looking for meeting women who do social events, gathering, sharing ideas & cultures.

social events in jeddah????

shelleigh's picture

hi all, i am new to this website. my husband i recently moved from khobar to jeddah. we have been in saudi for 4 years. we are origionally from cape town, south africa.i am interested in finding out about any social events etc coming up. i have been trying to find a moms & babies group, as i have 7 month old twin daughters, does anyone have any info on any such groups.

Figa sebe

ChabrellIgaN's picture

Zdraste! Vot takoi vot u vas horoshiy sait. Spasibki.


Bianca's picture

Can I bring my dog to Jeddah? I'm moving there because my husband's job. I have 2 kids and 1 dog..

Potential move from Bahrain to Jeddah

ANDRE's picture

Hello everyone,

My wife and I are Canadian living in Bahrain. I have a potential good opportunity to work in Jeddah for an important group. Having lived in Bahrain for 2+ years now we are wondering if anyone has made such a move from Bahrain to Jeddah and how did it go?

If anyone has information about compounds and what houses go for? We are looking for something upscale with a beach if possible, can anyone help?

General Info please!

Steve Russell-Rayner's picture

My wife and I currently live in Bahrain and are contemplating a move to Jeddah. Can anyone help with compound details and general info on what is included in packages, ie accomodation, utlities, beach club, air tickets, etc. Do most companies give multi entry visas now? Also is it possible to commute weekly back to Bahrain at a reasonable cost? Any help/guidance gratefully received. Thanks

First time in Riyadh - nervous!

otto's picture

Hey everyone,

I got a job offer from a company in Riyadh and currently considering to accept it. The problem is that I have doubts about how me and my wife would get used to it. Can anybody give me a brief information about living in a compound? In compounds, I heard that women doe not need to wear abaya and they can use the swimming pool with other residents. It is true?

Moving to Jeddah with young kids - advice on schools?

ksg99's picture

We're moving to Jeddah in August and would love to hear from folks who have done the same. Where is the American International School located? Is it near the US Consulate? I've tried looking at their websites but can't get a sense as I don't know the city layout yet. Does AIS have a long waiting list for their PK3 program?

Also are there nursery schools for younger children (2 years)? From the AIS and British School websites, doesn't seem to be. Do some of the compounds have nurseries? Would you recommend them?

Last question ... are there places where foreign women can volunteer? Social services, children's orphanages, things like that.

Thanks in advance for your help!

alone in jeddah

sarelvanderwalt's picture

I am an Afrikaans speaking South African fire engineer and is young 61 years of age and working in Jeddah for SACA. I have been here for 1 month and seeking the company of a lady for a platonic relationship that also resides in Jeddah. I am a family man and have no contacts or friends in the Middle East. This is my 1st time after 39 years of marriage that I have left home not because I wanted too but had no alternative.

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

help from jeddah

majed's picture

i woud like to help anyone , im 22 years old from saudi arabia ,im not looking for any kind of relationships i just wana help anyone who needs it for free , i live here and i know the city very well , i know all the nice places , you might wonder y i would wana help you n bother my self , well the answer is that youd be diong me a big fav , youd be helping me practicing my english so we r even ;) . if you r intreasted in going around the city n knowing more about the culture here is my e mail

thanx by the way my name is majed .


emme's picture

my name is emme (eman) iam originaly african from somaliland and now iam saudi iam 23yrrs living in jeddah with 2 of my sis so if anyone need help just add me

saudi tourist ban

drewhalliday's picture


i am uk freelance journalist and i spent my childhood living in jeddah.

i would really like to know how you feel about the saudi tourist ban and how it will effect you.

it's kinda sad for me that i can't return to my childhood hangouts, but what's it like for you?

|Any info On Jeddah

Minstrel's picture

Hi all,
I am a Canadian male teacher (Art & English), considering an offer from My Little School in Jeddah for a 2 year contract.

Any information about the city, the school , and a brief of what i might expect would be much appreciated.
I have traveled and lived in the four corners of the world. But never SA or the Middle East.


Cabin fever

roboya's picture

Hi all

My name is Rob and I'm 27 married and I arrived in Jeddah on Boxing day 2010. I'm English but can speak Arabic very well (My parents are of Yemeni descent).

I have ventured into Jeddah to sample the life but its no fun doing it alone. I've got a 2 bed appartment in Seierra compound, Arabian homes but there doesn't seem to be a gathering place where people can hang out. I really want to meet people from England as I hate being alone.

My wife and step daughter can't join me in until the summer and that feels a million miles away right now. If anyone would like to meet me then please get in touch. my email address is and my mobile is +966-500-079-469. I am looking to take part in social events and make new friends. I would also like to play football too.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Hi all, I am a male. My name

Samalamh's picture

Hi all,

I am a male. My name is Sam. I came from the UK to Jeddah to work here for 2 years. I don't know expats and I don't have friends here.

It would be really nice to hear from you!!



Hi Laura I find it very

sfranco's picture

Hi Laura

I find it very interesting (and an achievement) to freelance write from home in Jeddah.
I am still living in Johannesburg and run my own copywriting business, however I am finding it difficult to break into the international market, as I suspect there is a decent enough demand for English copywriters, especially in the Middle East. I have been to Dubai and am going back there in April, and if I could get a few clients, I would love to move there.

I am from England originially, however, prefer SA to back home :)

Good luck with your move to India.

Suzanne Franco