There are any number of retail outlets for gold across Sa’udi Arabia, but one of the most popular gold souqs frequented by expatriates can be found in Dirrah.
Gold jewellery is sold according to its weight, almost irrespective of how much workmanship has gone into the making of it. If the seller mentions the workmanship, he is ‘trying it on’ and you should look elsewhere. Accordingly, before you set off, you should check the local gold rate (look in newspapers such as Arab News) and then keep this figure in mind when you enter the shop.
Ask the shop assistant what their gold rate is for today and if it is higher than what you have read, tell him what you saw in the paper. If he is negotiable you can then beat that price (especially if you are interested in purchasing more than one piece of jewellery).
In 2005, new labour laws were introduced making it mandatory for Sa’udis to be employed in the gold stores. The worst hit were the Indians and the Yemenis, who dominated the scene till the Saudisation drive came into effect to ensure at least 25,000 jobs for young Saudis. Many of the expatriates from the sub-continent had no choice other than to move off to the Emirates and carry on trading from there. Nevertheless, there is still no shortage of gold shops to choose from.
It is little wonder that the Kingdom's gold market is regarded as one of the largest in West Asia. It is estimated at $5 billion. The country has about 6,000 retail shops with Jeddah dominating with 1,300 shops. Nearly half of the gold shops in the country were, hitherto, owned by the expatriates through Saudi sponsors who shared part of the profits by simply lending their names. These expatriates, in turn, employed their kith and kin and carried on the trade for years.
It's a good idea to take a Sa’udi friend with you if you are able as he will often be able to bargain for a much better price for the gold than can a westerner.
The Dirrah gold souq can be found in Ath Thamairy Street, a stone's throw from the Al Musmak fortress.
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