A large percentage of foreign visitors to the Kingdom are Muslim pilgrims. The late King Fahd first adopted the title “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” proclaiming it as a replacement for “Majesty.” Pilgrims are primarily traveling to Mecca, the spiritual center of the Islamic world. The City of Mecca (referred to officially–when English is being used–as Makkah) is closed to non-Muslims, along with most parts of Medina (or Madinah), the second holy city. Muslims from throughout the world seek to visit Saudi Arabia, particularly for the Feast of the Sacrifice, or Eid al-Adha. This late fall pilgrimage is also referred to as the Haj. All government offices and some businesses close for one to two weeks at this time, to facilitate–and in recognition of–the Muslim pilgrimage.
Mecca is located closest to the city of Jeddah, (or Jiddah–when it comes to spelling, there is no exact translation from Arabic to English). As an ESL teacher assigned to a Jeddah school, one might personally witness many Muslim pilgrims; large numbers enter the Kingdom by way of Jeddah, via plane or boat.
For years, Jeddah was a second, administrative capital city of Saudi Arabia, although foreign embassies are now located in the Royal Saudi capital, Riyadh, in a rather unique Diplomatic Quarter. Some countries–for example, the U.S. and the U.K.–still maintain consulates in Jeddah, as well as in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.
If you come to Saudi Arabia, you may notice many other foreigners working alongside you, particularly if you are assigned to a school in the oil-rich Eastern Province. It is estimated that there are five to six million such foreigners in-country at any given time, out of a total population of around thirty million. On the other hand, there is an obvious, concerted–and successful–effort to maintain a traditional, family-based Saudi society, despite the presence of many foreigners.