Is Saudi Arabia Safe to Travel to? Respecting Local Laws

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Saudi Arabia has embarked on a huge tourism drive, opening up to travelers eager to explore a previously elusive country. But what about the strict Islamic laws?

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Sunset at Al-Masjid An-Nabawi Photo © Getty Images/orhandurgut

Before you start booking your trip to Saudi Arabia, find out about visas, local laws and customs, restrictions on what you can and can't do, and safety tips for women and LGBTQ+ travelers.

Tourist visas for travel to Saudi Arabia

It has never been easier to apply for a visa. Members of 49 nations, including the USA, Australia, and most of Europe, can apply for an e-visa online https://visa.visitsaudi.com/ and receive a response within minutes. The e-visa for tourists is valid for one year, for multiple entries of a maximum stay of 90 days each. If you cannot find your country of residence listed on its e-visa website, contact the Saudi Arabian embassy for more information.

Law enforcement in Saudi Arabia

The official system of law in Saudi Arabia is Sharia, which literally means ‘the path to water’. Sharia law has developed from holy scriptures, such as the Qur’an, Islam’s Holy Book, and the Sunnah, the sayings, and records of the Prophet Muhammad. It is as much law, as a guide to moral behavior. While many people baulk at Sharia law, it has to be stressed that as a tourist, visitor, or even expatriate, you are very unlikely to ever fall foul of the law, unless you really choose to ignore the local culture and laws.  

Under the forward-thinking rule of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, known as MbS, and Saudi’s 2030 Vision, the formerly feared religious police, or Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), has today been stripped of most of its powers; flogging has been outlawed, and women given rights to travel alone, drive cars, and work freely.

For visitors, the law has eased to an extend that tourists do not have to cover up, although modest dress (covering shoulders and below the knee for both men and women) is advised. In hotels, even non-married tourists are allowed to share rooms, and single female travelers are welcomed, and are free to go anywhere.

Missionary behavior, such as preaching a religion other than Islam, is treated with extreme prejudice and considered a crime in Saudi Arabia. Yet, talks about building a church for Christian worship within the mega-development of Neom are ongoing, and private practice of other religions is tolerated. Travelers are allowed to bring a religious text, such as a Bible, into the country, but for personal use only.

Lese majeste

Publicly criticizing the King, the royal family, or the government of Saudi Arabia, is against the law, as is posting any criticism of Saudi Arabia’s law, policies, or behavior on social media platforms. Criticism of the flag of Saudi Arabia is considered insulting, as it bears the Islamic declaration of faith. Desecration or any other inappropriate use of the flag can lead to serious punishment.

Foreign nationals, and especially tourists, who breach any of these lèse majesté laws may not get as harsh a sentence as a local would, but could face deportation, even prison, depending on the severity of the criticism.

Restrictions in Saudi Arabia

Alcohol

The consumption, possession, manufacture, and distribution of alcohol is illegal throughout the country. Restaurants do not serve alcohol, although it's generally more lenient within residential compounds for foreign expatriates when it comes to homebrewing. However, anyone caught either smuggling or distilling alcohol in significant quantities can be prosecuted under Saudi law.

With the gigantic tourism developments, such as The Red Sea Development with its 50-odd hotels, and Neom, an entire new city, opening in 2022 and 2023, speculations are rife that alcohol laws are about to change, if only within select tourist resorts.

Ramadan

During the holy month of Ramadan, the date of which changes every year by around 10 days, it is respectful to avoid eating, drinking, smoking, and chewing gum, between sunrise and sunset hours in public. All restaurants are closed during the day, but many remain open between 5pm and 5am.

Drugs

Personal use, trafficking, or smuggling drugs in Saudi Arabia is illegal and punishment can include the death penalty. If you are bringing medication with you, carry a doctor’s prescription, preferably translated into Arabic.

Imports

Beyond the general importation ban of illegal drugs and weapons, alcohol, pork, and pornography are also expressly prohibited.
Pornography is widely defined and may include publications such as women’s fashion magazines. On occasion, portable media devices can be seized for inspection by authorities, and you may lose your device if it has anything deemed to be forbidden on it.

Photography

Taking photos in Saudi Arabia can be a touchy subject. Avoid taking pictures of government or military facilities, but, as a tourist, you won’t incur anything but a ticking off from the police if caught.

If you wish to take pictures of locals, and especially of women, simply ask. Many are more than happy to pose for an interested traveler, just do not attempt to do it sneakily, as that might just upset the wrong person.

Personal ID

Always carry your identification with you at all times, whether it's a photocopy or your actual passport. Saudi authorities reserve the right to check your identification, and this is a common occurrence especially if you are passing through security checkpoints.

Safety tips for women travelers

Female travelers can wear moderate clothing, which covers shoulders and ends below the knees, without any problems whatsoever in Jeddah, Riyadh, and tourist hot spots such as AlUla. If exploring more remote areas, you might feel more comfortable wearing a loose abaya, the long, flowing robe, typically black, but available and worn in many colors.

Neither local women nor female travelers have to cover their head, even if many choose to do so. It’s a simple and good idea to carry a scarf and abaya in your bag, for occasions where you might feel a little underdressed.

Women travelers can hire cars, and drive without a male chaperone. Despite the obvious separation of genders in many places, travelers have reported that locals are attentive, welcoming and go out of their way to make sure you feel comfortable and safe.

That said, lone female travelers are always at risk to some extent, whichever country they are in, and common-sense precautions should always be taken.

Find out more about important dress code laws and etiquette on the Visit Saudi website.

LGBTQ+ travelers

This is one issue where Saudi Arabia has not relaxed the laws, and LGBTQ+ relationships and being transgender are illegal. Punishments can range from fines to jail, or even the death penalty. Even if this is relatively unlikely to happen to tourists, it is still advisable to not be overtly LGBTQ+ in public, and to act modestly and respectfully.

Public displays of affection are not recommended, regardless of whether you are LGBTQ+ or not. Men and women must refrain from public displays of affection and avoid using profane language or gestures. Discretion is everything.

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40 Comments

  • Shaikh Shaibaz said

    Mecca is best place in the world

  • Abass & Tpin said

    I am very glad to come across this forum.....
    I am only worry about my wife, she left to jeddah there in saudi arabia on May 12 2016 landed and arrived to one of recuirting agency hostels there in jeddah. After her three to four days i was able to reach her and she was able to reach the family back here in Nigeria through phone calls and social media communication and told us that she was doing fine and they were really taking care of her . After two to three weeks stayed in the hostel where she had certifications to permit her to Work in Saudi arabia spoke to us through social media that she moved to Medinah on the June 12 2016 to work for under an Arabic dentist woman. Her communication with us continues till Wednesday 16 June. .....well, to cut the story short that Wednesday 16 was the last time we heard from her from the both calls and social media, even all her phone numbers that we used to call her to keeps saying the lines are switched off . And this is really bothering us here that how come all her lines would be switched off in non power failure country?.
    Please we need an advice on how to reach her there in Medinah.We are worry here .
    Will appreciate to read from you guys as soon as possible .
    Thanks

  • Ahmad Ibrahim said

    Mecca is best place in the world, Madina is alsoas well as ATTUR mountain in SINNA

  • kels said

    pls how can I get a working visa in Saudi.

  • Zara said

    Is it true that most Saudi Arabian guys marry their cousins? I am dating a Saudi boy but what are the chances of been married to a Saudi? I am not Saudi but I am a Muslim.

  • Dorty said

    Hi, my husband is in Saudi right he said it's really boring there amd hesitate to bri g me thetetcos it will be boring for us and will no entertainment. We will not allowed to enjoy activities together like shopping or eat in the restaurants. Is that true? can anyone give some ideas?

  • eso said

    @Abass & Tpin
    Bro, I hope you get to see this message!! Please try and get in touch with me via email asap so I can see how to help you. I can put a call to the embassy in Riyadh.
    I am a Nigerian Doctor working here in KSA and I really hope all is well with your wife!
    In the mean time try and contact the Nigerian embassy in Abuja about the problem quoting your wife's passport number and also contact the recruiting agency so they can make contacts!!
    Pls mail me: websniffersconcepts(at)y****.c**
    All the best, it is well

  • Ibrahim said

    Dear Dorty,

    It is absolutely fine to go and have a dinner with your husband but you need to make sure that your dress isn't revealing when heading out publicly. You don't need to cover your hair and face as it is only part of culture and religion. If your husband thinks that the place is boring it's probably because he haven't made many friends or haven't made any Saudi friends. Maybe another thing that made him bored is because we have plenty of time in Saudi Arabia, maybe even too much time. Shopping malls are really big and widespread as well as being clean and cool, mostly because it's too hot and too empty outside. Lots of Saudi people sadly don't do sports, so don't expect many areas to practice sports ( except soccer ). As you know, gas is pretty cheap in Saudi Arabia, so many people go on trips to the desert which has plenty of activities. The temperature in the desert is slightly cooler than the cities and the desert gets kind of cool after sunset. I would suggest your husband to meet new Saudi friends and they can do lots of activities together, but be warned that us, Saudis are really chatty people so better be prepared.

    I totally understand if you don't want to come here as other countries are a lot more open. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't pay Saudi Arabia a visit, we would be glad to have you.

    Best regards.

  • Manoj said

    Hi am going to saudi.As 4star hotel employ isn't safe to go there. Please guide me.

  • sajib said

    if any other country's men arested in soudi arabia & send him his own country. Then he want to go soudi arabia. can he go?

  • sulaf said

    sauid arabie is the best and howthe isnt so help us please
    and we will help you becuse the are chraing to kill us

  • Timothy said

    I am a foreigner Can I date someone secretly from Saudi Arabia

  • Laura said

    For anyone wanting to know about what life in Saudi Arabia is really like, you should go and read the Blue Abaya blog, written by a Finnish woman in Riyadh with a Saudi husband. www.blueabaya.com

  • James said

    Guys i am from spain and I've been living in riyadh for 3 years believe me it is very safe in here and dont believe the things that the author says about taking pictures and stuff. life here is like living in any country but with few restrictions and thats it and there are alot of activities to do here. And please dont take the wrong idea about saudi arabia

  • glenn cruz said

    I want to be a law abider here in Saudi Arabia. Can you help me by telling the right way or the right place to stay during prayer times especially magreb and asha. I am a christian and working in a retail shop. Do I need to stay inside the shop while the shop is closed or should I go out and sit outside the shop. The police one time took me to the police station while I was sitting outside the shop during magreb. I am bit confused on which is the best way to follow. The police told me to stay in my house during prayers. But the problem is my house is quit far from where I daily work. It will take me around 20 minutes to walk from my house to the shop. Can you please enlightened me with your wisdom regarding this matter. Thank you. Assalam Alaikom.

  • Ruggero said

    We spent 3 fantastic years in KSA. A lot of fun reading stories from newspapers or web sites that are not true or partially distorted to create hype.

    If you want to read about expat life in Saudi and get a better idea of what it's really like, there are many blogs. I run my own at

    www.ruggeropellegrin.com

  • Dinesh said

    I want to work in Saudi Arabia & I'm an indian,
    What is the rule & procedures for Visa

  • Jen said

    Hi. I'm Nigerian and my friend(male) invited me to Saudi Arabia. Please is it safe? Can I walk with him on the streets? Must I wear abaya? I need help really.



    Thanks

  • ALi said

    wow i like Saudi Arabia i am here to doing auction sale of motorbikes is various model in afforded price if anyone is interesting he should contact me for any question or more detail of the bike
    the bike is in great condition clear both outsides and insides connect me via at whats App +1 (819)201-2702

  • fahad said

    As a Saudi I felt offended. it is obvious that who wrote this article didn't visit Saudi Arabia ever. if y'all have any questions I am more than happy to answer them.

  • Azeez said

    How can a Nigeria woman who went to Saudi Arabia to work for just five months get out of there later on when she is done working there.

  • Tariq hafeez said

    KSA is a great country ,I love to be the part of this beautiful cultur, very rich culture, if u love humanity, respect then u should visit great KSA

  • Hugh Fergo said

    I lived in KSA for 2 year and three months, and I was only there that long for the same reason as other foreigners, which was the money.

    I've lived abroad in 3 other countries outside my home country and Saudi was the worst. No entertainment options, malls are boring, you can only go to the desert so many times, and the summer heat is brutal. I would make it a point to leave the country at least once a month for a weekend to unwind in one of the more relaxed surrounding countries.

    Its a shit place to be, and if someone is looking for the arab experience they can easily visit one of the surrounding countries without having to deal the hassles of the restrictive kingdom, and most likely save more money in doing so.

    Unless you're looking watch a public flogging or execution then KSA is your place!

  • Sonia flores said

    Pls help me I need to report this employer from saihat dammam saudi Arabia he had a illegal bussiness he had more Filipina cleaners and they work 12hours a day the name of the employer is hussain ali saleh pls help me anybody that can give me a no. Of a police officer nearby in saihat saudi Arabia

  • Jen said

    Hello I want to travel to Saudi to visit a old friend. I'm a female US citizen and 18 years old. Is it okay for me to go alone to visit a male friend (he is Saudi also 18) Would we be allowed to hang out in public or go out ?

  • Sharifa Alshahrani said

    Hey!

    I am a saudi citizen. Life there is SAFE and there are a lot to do if you are living the big cities. if you live in a relatively small city you have to mingle with citizens to guide you where to go and what to do. Saudi people are hospitable and kind, yeah little bit convervative but once you make friendship with them you will see how open-minded they are. what is written above true in old days but now adays life changed there. Women can visit saudi alone and do not need to wear Abya but modest clothes (no short and sleevless). Weather there is amazing in Autum and winter but hot in summer. So, in summer visit (Abha) it is colder and green.

    Activities in Saudi depends on where you live and for how long you are staying there. Definitily, there are a lot to do. I would say culture there is most interesting thing to learn about. I am happy to answer your questions about places in Saudi and such things when I am free. This is my twitter @TheSharifaaa

    The picture of Saudi Arabia in the media is distorted for many reasons (I am not here to mention any). Have fun guys in Saudi and discover the saudi culture, food, people. Again, It is SAFE and people there are so friendly. I have lived abroad in different countries and I can see the differences.

  • magic said

    Is KSA safe place to work? I have stories of brutality.

  • Tori said


    Hi, thanks for sharing the information. I read it with interest. Next year we want to visit Saudi Arabia with a friend.

  • Max said

    Hi, I read corently.

    Currently Saudi Arabia faces various issues, including desertification, depletion of underground water resources, the lack of perennial rivers or permanent water bodies has prompted the development of extensive seawater desalination facilities, coastal pollution from oil spills.

    It's true?

  • Khurram Raja said

    This is one of your best share. Very informative!

  • Nobidy said

    Very sad you're a female in Saudi Arabia you're a third-world person in a third world country you're barely even human you don't even have the basic right to have a bank account or go to school or even walk down the street by yourself you have to have a man with you that's pathetic it's like they think women have no brains and can't think for themselves what's next you going to have to ask them permission to wipe your butt heaven forbid you make that big decision on your own I'd never go to a country with so little rights for females

  • ThrowAway said

    Dear Nobidy,
    Let me clue you in my dear, the things you said are kinda true but, things have changed in the last 5 years.
    Its literally another country. Women can drive now which is really good, they can travel when ever where ever they want. The male privilege your talking about are gone. And women cant go to school? what? what era are you living in? 1800? Women have their own colleges and schools! and they cant have bank accounts?! are you seriously saying these things now ?! this is 2020 not 1800! get your facts right.
    You know whats really sad? is that you think your a "First-world" country when Europe and Amercia cant even quarantine them selves to stop the corona virus from spreading! sorry to burst your pinky bubble my sweet darling, but you guys aint sh*t either.!
    Next time try to search more and expand your knowledge before saying dumb stuff online.

  • Ekanem said

    Am a Nigerian and yet to accept an offer to work in Saudi under the oil & gas industry. The issue is, am still scared cos I have no one there.
    Pls should I accept the offer? Reassurance pls!

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    Can a single female visit a single man in his apartment?

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  • Robbin said

    This article was a great help about the do's and don'ts in Saudi Arabia. Thanks for your suggestions we had a great time. Thankyou!!

  • Abdullah Al Kulaib said

    This article is very outdated. it needs to be updated.

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