Just last year, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia issued electronic visas for residents and citizens of 49 countries. One notable country included in this list is the United States of America. This is unprecedented since in the past, visitors were only allowed to go in Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage or for business. Now, anyone 18 years old or older can avail of an eVisa and stay in the country as a tourist for at most 90 days.
The main question though is whether Saudi Arabia is a safe place to visit. Well, the short answer to that question is: Yes! Absolutely! The longer answer is a more detailed look into the Kingdom’s safety through the article below.
Everything You Need to Know About Safety in Saudi Arabia
The initiative to open Saudi Arabia’s doors to tourism is part of the governments Vision 2030, which aims to find alternatives to oil money, and venture more into entertainment and tourism .
Of course, with the current global health crisis, travel has reduced significantly all across the globe. But when things go back to normal, hopefully soon, one important question that needs to be addressed is this: is Saudi Arabia safe for tourists, expats, businesses and others? The short answer to this question is “yes,” but we’ll look into more of the details in this article.
Local customs and rules
Saudi Arabia is safe for tourists. Just like any other country you can visit, you must respect the local customs and rules. It also helps to read travel advisories and be diligent with your preparations prior to travel.
Here are some important rules and customs you need to follow while in Saudi Arabia:
- Segregation in public – it may come as a surprise to you that Saudi Arabia still followed segregation practices especially in public spaces. This is expected for a devout Muslim country. You will find that entrances and seating areas are separate for men and women.
- Public displays of affection – this is not just discouraged; like most of the entries here, failing to comply is punishable according to Saudi Arabia’s public code of conduct.
- Dress code – if you are a female tourist, you don’t have to wear the abaya. This was required by the government before, but now you just have to dress moderately. This applies to men as well. Dressing moderately means not wearing revealing clothes and clothes that are fit tightly into the body. If you want to know more about dress code guidelines, visit the Saudi Arabian government’s tourism website here.
- On alcohol – if you’re a fan of alcoholic drinks, then you’ll need to abstain when you visit Saudi Arabia. Selling, purchasing or consuming alcohol in the country is illegal.
Other important local customs and rules – you should visit the government website for a more comprehensive list of customs and rules you need to be aware of.
The seemingly rigid rules in society may give the impression that Saudi Arabia has strict and serious citizens. The truth is, locals are quite hospitable and generous.
While staying in the country, you will soon have local friends who will invite you over to their house and share a meal, coffee or their famous dates.
Some locals go so far as to go beyond welcoming you to actually giving you food or small gifts. If you’re one of the lucky ones, never refuse; according to local customs, rejecting a gift is a rude gesture.
Here are some other social customs you need to be aware of:
- What to say before meals – Say “Sahtain” when the food is being served. This is the equivalent of “bon appetite” in France. You can also say “Bismillah,” which means “in the name of God.”
- What to say after meals – Say “Daimah,” a word which means something like may you always have lots of food at your table.
- Eating with hands – never use your left hand to eat with your bare hands. Always use your right hand. Of course, you have to wash your hands before eating; almost all restaurants in Saudi Arabia have dedicated washrooms anyway, so that won’t be a problem.
- Using utensils – hold the spoon with your right hand if you’re right handed. If you need to use the fork, put your spoon down and grab the fork with the same hand.
- Removing your shoes – when one of your local friends invite you to their house, it is customary to remove your shoes before entering. You can only keep them on if your friend insists you do so.
- Don’t talk about religious or political topics – Saudi Arabians love talking to foreigners about their culture. However, you need to be locally sensitive as well, and avoid these topics.
- Rituals and greetings – by learning more about common greetings and rituals, you will make your local friend quite happy and you will leave a good impression. Practice saying “Marhaban!” A greeting you can use which means Welcome!
- Don’t shake a Saudi woman’s hand – you can only do so if a woman extends her hand first. You can always just say hello with your right hand over your heart. That’s a safe and respectful alternative.
Safety and security
Here are some of the most important aspects you need to be aware of when it comes to the safety and security in Saudi Arabia:
- Political situation – when you’re in Saudi Arabia, it is best not to participate in any political rallies, demonstrations and protests. While this is illegal, and officials and authorities are constantly warning locals to refrain from doing so, rallies still occur especially in the Eastern provinces.
- Traveling locally – it is nice to explore Saudi Arabia, enjoy its culture, sights and sounds, and enjoy its tourist destinations. But there are places that you just can’t enter because of security operations. If you disregard this, you might be imprisoned and pay a hefty fine. One region in particular is a 20 kilometer zone including the entire north border.
- Crime rate – crime rate in Saudi Arabia is quite low, thanks to effective implementation of laws and effective law enforcement agencies. However, you should still always be careful and vigilant, and this is true wherever you go anywhere in the world.
- Driving locally – when driving in Saudi Arabia, as is true in any foreign country you drive in, the safest practice is to stick to driving in the major roadways. If you have to travel in rural areas, it is safest to do so in the daytime and with other people you know driving their own cars as well.
- Traffic situation – compared to the highest global standards, the traffic and driving situation is not ideal. Always wear your seatbelts. Driving from one city to another usually involves a long drive since cities are so far apart from each other, so much so that it may take a while for emergency help to arrive when accidents occur during inter-city travels.
The global health crisis
While commercial travel around the world was, at some point during this pandemic, totally banned, many countries are now easing restrictions, albeit at a limited scale, while improving health safety measures.
Saudi Arabia is no exception. The country is now allowing international commercial flights through limited routes. For more information, you should contact a travel company in case you plan on travelling to Saudi Arabia soon.
Lifting bans and curfews – Saudi Arabia has lifted curfews and bans related to the health crisis, and it started last June 21.
Public transport – trains, buses, taxis and other public transportation vehicles are now allowed to operate even at full capacity.
Wearing of face masks – wearing face masks in the public is mandatory, as well as other measures for preventing the spread of the virus, including social distancing.
Keep up to date – the information presented here may change at any time, and local lock downs may take place because the virus may spread unexpectedly.
Finding a place to stay – you can always rent private accommodations or book hotels now that the lockdowns are eased. However, preventative measures are put in place. Hand sanitizers are readily available and your temperature will be checked several times.
Here are some of the most important things you need to consider regarding health while in Saudi Arabia.
Travel vaccination – before going to Saudi Arabia, you are required to have certain vaccinations. According to the World Health Organization, you need to have the following vaccinations before going to Saudi Arabia:
- Hepatitis A and B
- Yellow fever
- Mumps and Rubella
- Tdap (Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis)
Mental health – Traveling is fun and exciting, but sometimes it can be a challenge. This is especially true if you have a history of mental illness. Also, mental health affects physical health. One practical thing you can do is get proper insurance which can help you pay the costs of emergencies or expensive health care bills.
Local healthcare – the great thing about the major cities in Saudi Arabia is that they have excellent hospitals and health-related facilities. Moreover, if you’re in one of the more rural areas of Saudi Arabia, you’re still in good hands as they have basic hospitals and town centers.
So what are the natural hazards that could possibly occur in Saudi Arabia? Well, the country is relatively prone to various types of natural disasters.
For example, the country’s Northwestern region has had several earthquakes and volcanic disasters.
In addition, the central and Western parts of the country experience flooding. In the South western mountainous regions, there have been several landslides.
Finally, in the eastern and central regions of Saudi Arabia, dust storms occur relatively frequently.
Natural resources have also been polluted. Frequent use of fertilizers in agricultural locations have led to the pollution of aquifers and groundwater. The results are devastating to the health of the people in the surrounding areas.
To mitigate the problem of pollution, the government of Saudi Arabia, in cooperation with its leading universities, have led the way forward to not just finding solutions to ease the problem, but also to educate the people.
General travel tips
Download the Muslim Pro app – this app will, among other things, allow you to know more about prayer times in Saudi Arabia. These times are considered highly important in the society.
Speaking English – don’t worry about knowing the local dialect when you’re in one of Saudi Arabia’s big cities. While that is a plus, take comfort in the fact that practically everyone can speak great English in these cities.
Driving – women were finally allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia starting last June 2018. Traffic can be congested in big cities so you need to drive safely.
Ramadan – don’t eat, drink or smoke during the daylight hours of Ramadan.
Alcohol and pork – these two foods that you may enjoy are strictly forbidden in Saudi Arabia. Even if you’re not a local, you’re not supposed to import these goods into the country. Otherwise, there will be consequences as mandated by the law.
Summer months – Summer is Saudi Arabia is quite long, usually from May to October. To some visitors, the climate during these months is too hot, and they prefer visiting the country during the later months starting October, when the weather gets cooler.
Terrorism – according to a travel advisory by the US state department, Saudi Arabia is dealing with terroristic activities from certain groups. The country also identifies the border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen as a dangerous area where missile attacks occur.
Saudi is for everyone! – Saudi is a huge country. In fact, it is the fifth largest country in Asia. Saudi offers everything for anyone. For example, if you’re adventurous, you can go to the sea. You want to explore culture? The diversity of culture in Saudi is so immense, and historical sites are a must see.
There you have it. These are some of the most important facts about the safety of Saudi Arabia. Indeed, this country is safe! In fact, there have been numerous stories online about solo travelers, male or female, going to the country alone and enjoying the hospitality of the people and all the wonderful things Saudi has to offer.