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07/01/2011
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Travel & living abroad

Middle East and North Africa

Saudi Arabia

Flag of Saudi Arabia
Still current at: 07 January 2011
Updated: 04 January 2011

This advice has been reviewed and reissued with a minor factual amendment to the Health Section. The overall level of the advice has not changed; there are no travel restrictions in place in Saudi Arabia.

(see travel advice legal disclaimer)

Travel advice for this country

Travel Summary

  • We are aware that the Saudi authorities are concerned about an increased threat of terrorism in the Kingdom. The Saudi authorities announced, in November 2010, the arrest of 149 people involved in terrorist activity. We remain in close contact with the Saudi authorities. All British nationals should continue to exercise vigilance, and check this advice on a regular basis.

  • There is a continuing high threat of terrorism in Saudi Arabia.  We continue to believe that terrorists are planning further attacks, including against Westerners and places associated with Westerners in Saudi Arabia. On 4 August 2010, the US Government warned that terrorists may be planning to attack Westerners working and living in Al-Qasim. We believe aviation interests and oil infrastructure also remain possible terrorist targets.

  • Because intermittent clashes have occurred close to the Saudi-Yemen border since early November, and given that there is a risk of further such clashes, we advise travellers to exercise caution in all areas close to the Saudi-Yemeni border.

  • Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country in which Islamic law is strictly enforced. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend other cultures or religious beliefs, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas.

  • 47 British nationals required consular assistance in Saudi Arabia in the period 1 April 2009 – 31 March 2010. See General - Consular Assistance Statistics.  A significant proportion of requests for consular assistance were received from pilgrims performing Hajj or Umrah, particularly in relation to disputes and dissatisfaction with tour operators. See the Safety and Security - Pilgrimage section.

  • Saudi Arabian Customs officials have authority to screen all electronic devices (laptops, mobile phones, PDAs etc) that enter or leave the country. Saudi Arabian export and import laws may also require all passengers and their luggage to be subject to verification and/or inspection at international airports. Anyone found to be carrying pirated, explicit, or other prohibited materials will have these items confiscated. Refusal to comply with this rule will result in detention and/or deportation.

  • You should take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling. See General - Insurance.

Safety and security

Safety and Security - Terrorism
There is a continuing high threat of terrorism in Saudi Arabia. We continue to believe that terrorists are planning further attacks in Saudi Arabia, including against Westerners and places associated with Westerners. The US Government warned on 4 August 2010 that terrorists might be planning to attack Westerners working and living in Al-Qasim. We believe aviation interests and oil infrastructure also remain possible terrorist targets.

We are aware that the Saudi authorities are concerned about an increased threat of terrorism in the Kingdom.  The Saudi authorities announced in November 2010 the arrest of 149 people involved in terrorist activity.  We remain in close contact with the Saudi authorities.  The Saudi security forces continue to take action against terrorist groups.  A number of terrorists have either been killed or imprisoned, and terrorist activities have been disrupted.  This success should not give rise to complacency.  Although terrorist networks are disrupted, we continue to believe that opportunistic attacks on western targets may still occur.

All British nationals should continue to exercise vigilance, and check this advice on a regular basis.  You should take all necessary steps to protect your safety and should make sure that you have confidence in your individual security arrangements.  You should maintain a high level of vigilance, particularly in public place, and take sensible precautions for your safety and that of your vehicle.  You should avoid any large gatherings or demonstrations.  You should follow news reports and be alert to regional developments.  Any increase in regional tension might affect travel advice.  

Terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia have taken various forms.  At their height in 2003 and 2004 they included: kidnapping, large-scale truck bombings of residential compounds and Saudi government offices, an attack on the US Consulate in Jeddah, targeted shootings of individuals, small-scale car bombings, parcel bombings, and bombing of shopping areas.  In February 2006, terrorists attacked an oil-processing centre in Abqaiq, Eastern Province, detonating two car bombs, but were prevented from doing damage that was more serious; in February 2007, four French nationals were shot dead in an incident near Medina.  On 27 August 2009, there was an unsuccessful suicide bomb attack against a Saudi Government Minister in Jeddah.  In an incident at a checkpoint in Jazan, about 110km north of the Saudi-Yemen border, on 13 October 2009 two terrorists were killed, one arrested, and one policeman killed.

See our Terrorism Abroad page.

Safety and Security - Security
There have been clashes with Yemeni rebels on the Saudi-Yemen border. Between August 2009 and February 2010, there was fighting in Northern Yemen between a rebel group and the Government of Yemen and this spread to the border region of Saudi Arabia in early November 2009 when Yemeni rebels crossed the border into Saudi territory. While fighting in the region has since subsided, following a ceasefire agreement between the Government of Yemen and the rebels in February 2010, the risk of renewed fighting remains high. Travellers should exercise caution in all areas close to the Saudi-Yemen border. Please check this advice regularly for further updates.

Developments in Iraq and on the Middle East Peace Process continue to have an impact on local public opinion in the region. You should be aware of local sensitivities on these issues. You should follow local news reports and be alert to local and regional developments, which might trigger public disturbances. You should take sensible precautions for your personal safety and avoid public gatherings.

Safety and Security - Pilgrimage
Each year around 2.5 million pilgrims participate in the Hajj.

Before you travel for the Hajj, you should carefully consider the information provided on the website of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London, and check the Health section below.

Pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia through other countries should check for advice on travel restrictions with the relevant Embassy in London.

Saudi government regulations stipulate that British pilgrims performing Umrah and Hajj can only travel with UK travel agencies accredited with the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. You should confirm the full itinerary for your pilgrimage before departure. If you find yourself in difficulties during your pilgrimage, you or your relatives should contact the British Consulate-General in Jeddah (tel: +966 2 622 5550/5557/5558).

In recent years, there have been improvements in the way the Hajj Pilgrimage is organised; the last time deaths or injuries resulted from stampede was in 2006. As with any gathering with large numbers of people care should continue to be taken.

There has been an increase in the number of reported cases of pickpocketing and other forms of theft in Mecca, particularly in the region of the Grand Mosque and in Medina. You should take additional care with travel documents, tickets and other valuables while visiting these two areas. We also recommend that you should make a copy of your passport before you travel, and keep it in a safe place.

The Saudi authorities have issued instructions forbidding the taking of photographs (still or video, including mobile telephone photographs) at the Holy Mosque at Makkah or at the Prophet's Mosque at Medina. This restriction also includes the courtyards surrounding these two holy sites. Any violation of these instructions is likely to lead to the confiscation of either film and/or camera.

See our Hajj Pilgrims page.

Safety and Security - Crime
Although the crime rate is low, and is not usually a problem for travellers in Saudi Arabia, petty crime does occur; especially in crowded areas. British nationals have occasionally been the victims of more serious crimes. In April 2010, a British national was assaulted outside a shopping mall in Riyadh. You should exercise caution when travelling outside urban areas.

See our Victims of Crime Abroad page. 

Safety and Security - Local Travel - Road Travel
Standards of driving in Saudi Arabia are poor and this, combined with large, open and straight roads which allow people to drive fast, results in a high number of serious motor vehicle accidents each year. You should take care when travelling by vehicle; you should wear seatbelts at all times. When travelling between cities it is important to be aware of the large distances between urban areas and the fact that it can take emergency services some time to get to any accidents or emergencies.

Safety and Security - Local Travel - Sea Travel
Shipping serving the oil installations should be aware that oil infrastructure remains a possible terrorist target. Shipping must ensure that their SSPs are implemented fully and robustly while operating in the area. All ships are to maintain a high state of vigilance while in Saudi Arabian ports, and report anything suspicious to the appropriate authorities.

Many areas of the Gulf are highly sensitive, including near maritime boundaries and the islands of Abu Musa and the Tunbs in the southern Gulf.  Vessels entering these areas have been detained and inspected; there have been occasional arrests.  Mariners should make careful enquiries before entering these waters or considering visiting ports.  

There have been acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships in and around the Red Sea.

See our River and Sea Safety page.

Safety and Security - Political Situation
Saudi Arabia Country Profile

Local laws and customs

Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country in which Islamic law is strictly enforced. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend other cultures or religious beliefs, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas. See our Travelling during Ramadan page.

The public practice of any form of religion other than Islam is illegal; as is an intention to convert others. The Saudi authorities do, however, accept the private practice of religions other than Islam, and you may bring a Bible into the country as long as it is for your personal use. However, importing larger quantities than this can carry severe penalties, as it will be viewed that it is your intention to convert others.

Islamic codes of behaviour and dress are also rigorously enforced. You should respect them fully. Homosexual behaviour and adultery are illegal and can carry the death penalty.  

The penalties for the possession of, or trade in, alcohol are severe. Both result in prison sentences. The punishment for importing drugs includes the death penalty. You should not arrive in Saudi Arabia under the influence of alcohol: the consequences could be serious. You should carry with you a doctor’s prescription for any medication you have with you. The importation of pork products is also forbidden. The possession of pornographic material, or of illustrations of scantily dressed people, especially women, is prohibited.

The Saudi legal system differs in many ways from the UK. Suspects can be held without charge and those detained have in the past not been allowed legal representation. The Saudi authorities have detained witnesses and victims of crimes. If you require consular assistance our staff will seek to visit you as soon as they are aware of the case.  However, in some instances they have not been permitted to do so immediately or have had limits applied to access once granted. We have raised our concern about reports of mistreatment of some suspects during their detention.

Photography of government buildings, military installations, and palaces is not allowed.  You should avoid photographing local people. It is illegal for women to drive.

Anyone involved in a commercial dispute with a Saudi company or individual may be prevented from leaving the country pending resolution of the dispute. Sponsors and government bodies often retain passports for official purposes. You should carry a photocopy of your passport. Make sure you have included in your passport details of those who should be contacted in an emergency.

It is illegal to hold two passports in Saudi Arabia; second passports will be confiscated by the immigration authorities if they are discovered.

See our Your Trip page.

Entry requirements

Entry Requirements - Visas
All visitors, including pilgrims, require a visa to enter Saudi Arabia. You should apply for a visa through visa agencies accredited to the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. Please note that during the Hajj, all Muslim visitors travelling to Jeddah and Medina will need to have a valid Hajj visa. Non-Muslim visitors travelling to these destinations may be asked to explain the purpose of your trip or asked to show evidence of appointments before being allowed to board a flight to Jeddah if you are not travelling for the Hajj. Any Muslim visitor arriving in Jeddah or Medina without a valid Hajj visa will be refused entry. This requirement does not apply to other airports or British residents in Saudi Arabia.

British residents in Saudi Arabia should remember that they require a valid exit/re-entry permit from the Saudi Ministry of Interior in order to leave the country.
 
On occasion, Saudi visas have been refused when passports have reflected travel to Israel or indicated an Israeli birthplace.
 
Entry Requirements - Passport Validity
Passports must have a minimum validity of six months on arrival to allow the holder entry to Saudi Arabia.

Entry Requirements - Female Travellers
Saudi law requires female visitors and residents to have their sponsor meet them on arrival. Solo female travellers not met by sponsors have experienced delays before being allowed to enter the country or to continue on other flights.

Foreign women married to Saudi nationals require permission from their husbands for themselves and their children to leave Saudi Arabia.

Entry Requirements - Travelling with Children
Single parents or other adults travelling alone with children should be aware that some countries require documentary evidence of parental responsibility before allowing lone parents to enter the country, or in some cases, before permitting the children to leave the country.

Foreign women married to Saudi nationals require permission from their husbands for themselves and their children to leave Saudi Arabia.  

Health

Healthcare facilities in major cities in Saudi Arabia are of a high standard. Most towns outside these areas have a health centre or basic hospital. Serious cases generally mean a transfer by ambulance/air to hospitals in a major city that might be some distance away.

There have been cases of Rift Valley Fever (RVF) in south-west Saudi Arabia, mainly in the Jizan area. There have also been cases of cerebral malaria but only in Jizan itself. The outbreaks of cerebral malaria are local and do not affect Jeddah or any other areas of Saudi Arabia.  If you intend to visit the Jizan region, you should seek medical advice on RVF and cerebral malaria before travelling. There have been a number of cases of dengue fever in Jeddah over the last year. You should take sensible precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

Contagious diseases spread quickly, particularly during Hajj and Ramadan, and pilgrims should take basic medicines with them and consume adequate liquids and salts. During the period of Hajj and Umrah, visa requirements for Saudi Arabia mean pilgrims must have a valid certificate of vaccination against the ACWY strains of meningitis. Visitors without this certificate risk being refused entry. See NaTHNaC’s advice for pilgrims for the Hajj and Umrah at: http://www.nathnac.org/pro/factsheets/Hajj_Umrah.htm

You should exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS. See our HIV and AIDS page. You should seek medical advice before travelling to Saudi Arabia and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date. For further information on vaccination requirements, health outbreaks and general disease protection and prevention you should visit the websites of the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) and NHS Scotland’s Fit for Travel or call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. For more health information see our Travel Health page.

General

General - Insurance
You should take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance for the whole duration of your proposed trip before travelling. You should check any exclusions, and make certain that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake. See our Travel Insurance page.

If things do go wrong when you are overseas then see our When Things Go Wrong page.

General - Consular Registration

Register with our LOCATE service to tell us when and where you are travelling abroad or where you live abroad. This helps our consular and crisis staff can provide better assistance to you in an emergency. 

General - Consular Assistance Statistics
47 British nationals required consular assistance in Saudi Arabia in the period 1 April 2009 – 31 March 2010 for the following types of incident: 22 deaths; seven hospitalisations; and eight arrests, for a variety of offences. During this period, assistance was also requested about lost or stolen passports (79 cases). A significant proportion of requests for consular assistance were received from pilgrims performing Hajj or Umrah, particularly in relation to disputes and dissatisfaction with tour operators. See the Pilgrimage section of this Travel Advice.

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Contacts

Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, British Embassy

Address:

British Embassy
PO Box 94351
Riyadh 11693
Saudi Arabia

Telephone:

+966 (0) 1 488 0077

Fax:

+966 (0) 1 488 2373
+966 (0) 1 488 0623 Management
+966 (0) 1 481 0686 Consular

Office hours:

GMT:
Sat-Wed: 0500-1200

Local Time:
Sat-Wed: 0800-1500

Website: http://ukinsaudiarabia.fco.gov.uk/en/

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