Saudi Arabia Law - Know Before You Go

Saudi Arabia is governed by strict Islamic law but the country and its people are welcoming and hospitable. Find out what you need to know to have a safe and trouble free trip.

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Law Enforcement in Saudi Arabia

The official system of law in Saudi Arabia is Sharia, which is derived from various Islamic texts and governs all members of the faith in the country. Something which you may consider to be normal in your home country can cause offense in Saudi Arabia; landing you with a public flogging, jail time, deportation or even death. 

Aside from general police, Islamic codes of morality are enforced by the muttawa, an organization of volunteers and officers that enforce Sharia law on behalf of the governing royal family, specifically the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.

In Saudi Arabia, everything runs around the five (20-30mins) daily prayers. More or less everything closes during each prayer, except hospitals, airports, public transport, and taxis. The religious police will patrol the streets and send loiterers off to the nearest mosque. So it's best to avoid being out on the streets during these periods unless you want some hassle from the muttawa.


Anything that looks like preaching or proselytizing a religion other than Islam is treated with extreme prejudice and treated as a crime in Saudi Arabia. However, private practice of other religions is accepted and travelers are ok to bring a religious text e.g  a bible with them, as long as it's for personal use only.

The Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has introduced several reforms for the muttawa as a part of his Vision 2030 initiative which aims to boost tourism in the country. These include restricting patrols to business hours and removing the ability to detain or arrest anyone.

Lese Majeste

Publicly criticizing the King, the royal family, or the government of Saudi Arabia, is not tolerated and will attract the attention of the muttawa or other police. This includes social media platforms.

Foreign nationals who breach any of these lese majeste laws may not get as harsh a sentence as a local would, but could include corporal punishment (such as public floggings), weeks or months in prison, deportation, or all of the above.

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.

Restrictions in Saudi Arabia

Alcohol

Alcohol is forbidden and illegal throughout the country, although things are generally more lenient within residential compounds for foreign nationals or expatriates. Some of these even have English-style pubs, serving home-brewed beer and wine which the civil police generally turn a blind eye to. However, anyone caught either smuggling or distilling alcohol in significant quantities can be prosecuted under Saudi law.

Be careful of the local brew, Arak. In addition to being illegal, it's very strong (up to 90% proof) and may contain harmful impurities such as methanol.

Drugs

Personal use, trafficking or smuggling drugs in Saudi Arabia is illegal and punishment can include the death penalty.

Imports

Beyond the general importation of illegal drugs and weapons, Saudi Arabia has very strict rules on imports. Alcohol, pork, and pornography are all expressly prohibited.
Pornography is very widely defined and may include things such as swimsuit calendars. 

Electronic equipment other portable media devices have been seized for inspection on occasion by authorities, and you may lose your device if it has anything deemed to be forbidden on it.
This also applies to printed materials such as magazines and books.

Photography

Taking photos in Saudi Arabia is a very touchy subject. If you get a feeling you probably shouldn't take a photo of something, then don't. Anything that's government-related including ministries, airports, military facilities or looks like it could be a government building, don't take a photo of it. You risk being hauled off to jail for spying offenses which really isn't a joke.

Don't take photos of locals, especially women or it will land you in trouble with the muttawa or civil police.

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

As a part of his Vision 2030, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has announced that women can decide whether they want to wear the abaya (a long and loose robe, commonly black in color) or a hijab, (headscarf). In an interview with CBS in March 2018, the Crown Prince said, "The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of Sharia: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men." As a result of this and other announcements, the jurisdiction of the muttawa has been reformed in terms of women's issues. To respect local customs and traditions, women travelers should wear an abaya or loose conservative clothing.

While not compulsory wear, it can be handy to carry a headscarf with you if you feel the need to be a bit more incognito or if entering religious buildings.

Women travelers also don't need to travel with 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. Local women will often travel about town with their children sans male chaperone.

In June 2018, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's announcement allowing women to drive came into effect, ending a long-held ban. 

LGBTQ Travelers

LGBTQ relationships, marriage, and rights are outlawed in Saudi Arabia; punishable by public flogging, jail, and even the death penalty. In 2014, a local Saudi man was arrested and sentenced to three years jail for organizing dates with other men via Twitter. He was caught out by a police officer posing as a potential date. In 2017, two Pakistani transgender women were placed in sacks by local police and bashed to death. 30 other transgender people were arrested at the same time.

LGBTQ travelers must take caution when traveling to the country and as long as you show respect to the local laws and customs, act discreet and respectful you are unlikely to encounter any issues. Public displays of affection are a no-go regardless if you are LGBTQ or not.

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23 Comments

  • Scott said

    With all these limitations and restrictions what is the point of going to this backwards country?

  • 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

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