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Saudi Arabia

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Summary

  • Reconsider your need to travel to Saudi Arabia due to the threat of terrorist attack.
  • Do not to travel to areas within 30 kilometres of the border with Yemen because of ongoing sporadic cross-border attacks.
  • Military conflict in neighbouring Yemen is ongoing. Cross-border missiles, rocket and drone attacks could occur from Yemen deep into Saudi territory. Ballistic missiles targeting Riyadh have been intercepted several times since November 2017. See Safety and security
  • Security threats remain in the Eastern Province, where numerous attacks have taken place, including around Shia mosques. In June and July 2017, there were several violent clashes between security forces and armed elements in Al Qatif. See Safety and security
  • There have been terrorist attacks in recent years. Further terror attacks are likely. An attack could happen anywhere and at any time. See Safety and security
  • The annual death toll on Saudi roads is extremely high. Take particular care when travelling by road. See Local travel
  • On 5 June 2017, Saudi Arabia indefinitely closed its air, sea and land borders with Qatar, disrupting regional passenger and cargo movements. If you're planned route includes Qatar, verify plans with your airline or travel agent. Monitor developments. See Local travel
  • It's illegal to display sympathy towards Qatar, or to object to the Saudi Government's current policy in relation to Qatar, including on social media. See Laws
  • It's illegal to make comment on social media that ridicules, mocks, provokes and disrupts public order, religious values or public morals, or is critical of the Saudi royal family, Saudi Arabia, its leadership or Islam. See Laws
  • If you travel to Saudi Arabia despite the risks, be alert and adopt appropriate security precautions. Monitor media and other sources for developments that may affect your safety.

Entry and exit

Entry visas

You'll need a visa to enter Saudi Arabia. You'll need to provide your fingerprints with your visa application.

If you wish to visit to undertake either the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimage, contact an Embassy or Consulate of Saudi Arabia for information about special visa requirements.

Entering by a land entry port (for example the King Fahd Causeway from Bahrain) on a business/visit visa that is annotated “via air’’ may not be allowed. Carefully read and understand the restrictions of your Saudi business/visit visa. If you are planning to enter by land you will need to ensure your visa is not limited for entry “via air” (noting that this may be written in Arabic). Authorities may refuse entry for travellers with this annotation. 

If you’re transiting through Saudi Arabia, you may need a transit visa.

If you overstay your visa, you'll face a fine of 10,000 Saudi Riyals and imprisonment pending deportation proceedings.

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (including currency, customs and quarantine regulations) can change at short notice. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Saudi Arabia for up-to-date information.

Exit visas

Visitors on a single-entry visa don't need an exit permit to depart Saudi Arabia. But, if you hold a work or residency permit, you'll need to get an exit permit from the Saudi Ministry of Interior through your Saudi sponsor.

Visitors involved in business, labour or employment disputes may not get an exit visa until the case is resolved in the courts or abandoned. This may take many months. Saudi sponsors have substantial leverage in such dispute negotiations.

Women and children residing in Saudi Arabia as members of a Saudi household need permission from a male relative to depart Saudi Arabia. Since February 2008, a Saudi man who wants to marry a foreign woman must sign a binding agreement to allow her and their children to travel freely to and from Saudi Arabia. This requirement does not apply to marriages before 20 February 2008.

Other formalities

If you're travelling from or transiting an area with a risk of yellow fever, you need a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate for entry. More information: Yellow fever risk and certification requirements (by country, WHO)

Travellers under the age of 15 travelling from countries with polio outbreaks are required to provide proof of up-to-date polio vaccination. More information: Embassy or Consulate of Saudi Arabia

You may be refused entry if your passport or luggage has evidence of travel to Israel, such as Israeli entry or exit stamps or any stickers with writing in Hebrew.

It is illegal to import certain items including weapons and items held to be 'contrary to the tenets of Islam'. This includes: pork products, alcohol, pornography (including images of scantily clad people, particularly women), and religious books and materials (other than those reflecting orthodox Islam). More information: Saudi Customs

Women visitors and residents travelling alone who are not met by sponsors have experienced delays before being allowed to enter the country or to continue on other flights.

It is illegal to work for anyone other than your current sponsor/employer. Violations are punished with fines, detention, deportation and a ban from entering Saudi Arabia.

Restrictions may apply on entering Jeddah, Madinah, and Taif for non-residents of Saudi Arabia before and during Hajj time.

Passport

Saudi authorities won't allow you to enter Saudi Arabia if you're travelling on an emergency passport. You must have a full validity passport to enter.

Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months from the date you intend to return to Australia.

Your passport is a valuable document and attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. Always keep it in a safe place.

Be aware of attempts to obtain access to your passport by deception. If you are forced to hand over your passport, contact the Australian Embassy in Riyadh for advice. See Where to get help.

If your passport is lost or stolen, you must notify the Australian Government as soon as possible.

Money

The local currency is the Saudi Arabian Rial (SAR). Declare any cash, transferable monetary documents or precious metals worth more than SAR 60,000 on arrival to and departure from Saudi Arabia.

You can exchange Australian dollars at commercial banks and exchange bureaux. ATMs can be found throughout the country. Contact your bank to make sure that your cards will work while away.

Safety and security

Terrorism

Terrorism is a significant threat in Saudi Arabia. An attack could happen anywhere, at any time.

There have been several terror incidents in Saudi Arabia in recent years. Attacks commonly target the minority Shia community, including Shia religious sites, and members of the security and police services. Expatriates have been injured or killed in attacks targeted at others.

Recent terrorist attacks include:

  • In October 2017, two Saudi guards were killed and several injured in an attack on the royal palace in Jeddah
  • In July 2017, a Saudi soldier was killed and another wounded in a shooting attack on their patrol vehicle in the Eastern Province
  • In July 2016, three bombings took place at three separate locations across Saudi Arabia (Jeddah, near the US consulate, Al Qatif in the Eastern Province and Medina)
  • In April 2016, a senior Saudi security officer was shot dead west of Riyadh and an expatriate was killed when two Improvised Explosive Devices exploded at a police station in Ad-Dilam, about 100kms south of Riyadh.

The threat of terror attack is particularly high in the Eastern Province and surrounding areas, where gunmen have periodically targeted security patrols and Shia places of worship.

  • In June and July 2017, a number of clashes between security forces and armed elements in Qatif resulted in deaths and injuries, including of civilian bystanders.
  • On 4 July 2016, an apparent suicide bombing took place at the Sheikh Farajal-Omran mosque in Al Qatif.

Further attacks are likely. Other possible targets include shopping malls, restaurants, recreational facilities and other symbols of Western culture. Attacks may be planned, opportunistic or indiscriminate. Tactics could include bombings or smaller-scale attacks such as drive by shooting and kidnapping.

Saudi authorities have increased security at various locations throughout the country.

  • Reconsider your need to travel to Saudi Arabia.
  • Be alert to possible threats throughout the country.
  • Avoid possible targets for terror attack
  • Wherever you go, have a clear exit plan for if there is a security incident.
  • Monitor the media for any new or emerging threats.
  • Report any suspicious activity or items to police.
  • Take official warnings seriously.
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.
  • If there is an attack, leave the affected area immediately if it is safe to do so. 
  • Avoid the affected area in the aftermath of an attack because of the risk of secondary attacks.

More information: Terrorist Threat Worldwide

Kidnapping

The Australian Government's longstanding policy is that it doesn't make payments or concessions to kidnappers.

If you decide to travel to an area where there is a threat of kidnapping:

  • seek professional security advice
  • take personal security measures.

More information: Kidnapping

Civil unrest and political tension

Ballistic missiles fired from Yemen have targeted Riyadh and other cities. Saudi Arabia-led airstrikes have been conducted against Houthi positions in Yemen since March 2015. Cross-border attacks, including missile, rocket and drone attacks into Saudi Arabia, occur sporadically. Several missiles have been intercepted over Riyadh since November 2017.

Demonstrations are illegal but political developments in the region and international events may prompt demonstrations or civil unrest.

  • Do not travel to areas within 30 kilometres of the Saudi border with Yemen.
  • Avoid all protests and demonstrations as they could turn violent and you could be arrested.
  • Plan your activities to avoid potential unrest on days of national or commemorative significance.
  • Take particular care in the period surrounding Friday prayers.
  • Monitor the media and other sources for news of planned or possible unrest. Avoid affected areas.
  • Be prepared to change your travel plans in case of disruptions.
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.
  • If you're affected by transport disruptions, contact your airline, travel agent or insurer for assistance.

Crime

Opportunistic thefts occur, particularly in crowded places and from vehicles.

  • Carry only what you need. Leave other valuables in a secure location.
  • Take care of your belongings, especially in crowded places.
  • Keep vehicle doors locked, windows up and valuables out of sight, including when moving.

Local travel

The annual death toll on Saudi roads is extremely high. An average of 20 people die on Saudi roads each day. Many drivers break road rules. Visibility can be affected by dust storms.

Saudi Arabia has an extensive network of checkpoints where you must present identification papers.

If you plan to drive:

  • check you have adequate insurance cover and familiarise yourself with local traffic laws and practices including in the case of an incident or accident
  • check with Saudi authorities whether you need approval to travel outside the main cities
  • drive defensively
  • keep your car windows and doors closed and locked at all times, including when moving
  • some Saudi cities have applied an automated traffic ticketing system. All fines issued through this system must be paid before leaving the country.

A ban on women driving was lifted by the Saudi government on 24 June 2018. The government has issued laws to discourage any harassment activities, including on roads. The numbers of female drivers are relatively small. Support mechanisms for these drivers are still being developed.

More information: Road travel

Driver's licence

You can drive in Saudi Arabia with a valid Australian driver's licence and an International Driving Permit (IDP). You must obtain your IDP before departing Australia.

If you are a resident and hold a resident permit (iqama), you'll need to obtain a Saudi driver’s licence.

Motorcycles

Check with your travel insurer whether your policy covers you when using a motorcycle, quad bike or similar vehicle. Your policy may not cover you for accidents that occur while using these vehicles. Wear, and ensure your passenger wears, a correctly fastened and approved helmet.

Taxis

Only use registered taxis and limousines, preferably those arranged through your hotel. Uber is an alternative to taxis.

Public transport

Inter-city bus and rail services operate throughout the country, though foreign travellers are more likely to use limousine services for long-distance travel.

Boat travel

Many waters near Saudi Arabia are sensitive because of territorial disputes and security issues. There are a number of military vessels in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea as a result of the military conflict in Yemen. Jurisdiction over the islands of Abu Musa and the Tunbs in the southern Gulf is disputed. There have been reports of vessels being inspected and crews detained.

Piracy occurs in the southern Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. All forms of shipping are attractive targets for pirates, including commercial vessels, pleasure craft and luxury cruise liners. There have also been recent attacks against naval vessels. The International Maritime Bureau issues piracy reports.

If you travel by boat to or near Saudi Arabia, despite the risks:

More information:

Air travel

Flights from airports in the south of the country, including Jazan, Abha, Wadi Aldwasir, Bisha, Sharourah, Najran and Baha, can be cancelled or rescheduled at very short notice due to the conflict in Yemen. Check with your travel provider for the latest information on flight disruptions. Operations at Riyadh's King Khalid International Airport have not been affected by the situation in Yemen.

The Australian Government does not provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety in Saudi Arabia.

More information: Air travel

Laws

You're subject to all local laws and penalties, including those that appear harsh by Australian standards. Research local laws before travelling, especially for an extended stay.

If you're arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our Consular Services Charter. But we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

In recent years, a number of Australians have been arrested while travelling or living in Saudi Arabia. Local authorities did not report these cases to the Australian Embassy in Riyadh.

The Australian Embassy will make every effort to gain consular access to detained Australians at the first available opportunity. But consular officials are required to obtain prior approval for their visits from Saudi authorities. Approvals are not granted automatically. Keep family and friends updated throughout your stay.

More information: Consular Services Charter

Drug laws

Penalties for trafficking, possessing or using drugs are severe and can include the death penalty.

Other laws

Seek professional advice for local legal matters, particularly regarding family law (divorce, child custody and child support), business or employment matters. Make sure you understand your rights and obligations.

If you become involved in a commercial dispute with a Saudi company or individual, you may be prevented from leaving the country until the dispute is resolved.

If you wish to marry a Saudi national, your partner will first need a letter of approval from the Ministry of the Interior.

You'll need to carry your residency card (iqama) or passport with you at all times. The Saudi authorities have the right to check identification and this occurs regularly, due to the large number of security checkpoints, both in the cities and on roads between cities. Some employers in Saudi Arabia retain the passports of their foreign employees and return them only when employees need to travel.

If you are suspected of committing an offence you can be detained without charge. You may not have access to legal assistance for months while waiting for the investigation to conclude and a court appearance. Trials are conducted under Islamic law and procedures.

People convicted of serious offences can face long jail sentences, floggings, heavy fines or deportation. Penalties for certain offences, including murder, adultery, rape, homosexual activities and abandoning religion (Islam), are severe and can include the death penalty.

The following activities are illegal:

  • displaying sympathy towards Qatar or
  • objecting to the Saudi Government's current policy in relation to Qatar – including on social media
  • producing or distributing social media that ridicules, mocks, provokes or disrupts public order, religious values or public morals
  • posting images or comments on social media deemed critical of Saudi Arabia, the royal family, the leadership or Islam 
  • preaching or publically practising a religion other than Islam
  • blasphemy - avoid making statements or utterances that could be interpreted as blasphemy
  • homosexual acts – more information: LGBTI travellers
  • failing to carry your residency card (iqama) or passport
  • possession of alcohol – some travellers have been detained on arrival when police detected the smell of alcohol on their breath
  • photographing official buildings such as government buildings, military installations, checkpoints, embassies, palaces, and some religious sites
  • living with a partner, unless you are married.

Hotels may refuse accommodation to couples who can’t prove they are married. Foreign women travelling alone may be refused hotel accommodation, even if carrying a letter from their male guardian giving them permission to travel.

Women are generally expected to wear the abaya, a long cloak that conceals their body shape, in all public places. The abaya is worn over normal clothing. In particularly conservative areas of the country, it's also advisable for women to carry a headscarf that can be worn in case of a confrontation with the religious police (Mutawwa) or a private citizen who takes offence.

Australian laws

Some Australian criminal laws apply overseas. If you commit these offences, you may be prosecuted in Australia. Laws include those relating to:

  • bribery of foreign public officials
  • child pornography
  • child sex tourism
  • female genital mutilation
  • forced marriage
  • money laundering
  • terrorism.

More information: Staying within the law

Dual nationals

The Saudi Government does not recognise dual nationality. This may limit the ability of the Australian Government to provide consular assistance to Australian-Saudi dual nationals who are arrested or detained.

It's illegal to hold two passports in Saudi Arabia – secondary passports will be confiscated by the immigration authorities if they are discovered.

More information: Dual nationals

Local customs

During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, take care to respect religious and cultural sensitivities, rules and customs. During Ramadan, eating, drinking and smoking between sunrise and sunset is forbidden for Muslims. Do not eat, drink or smoke in public during this time. You can be detained (and potentially deported) for doing so. Respect religious and cultural sensitivities, rules and customs. More information: Ramadan

Public events, restaurants, food courts and some shops may be segregated according to gender and family composition.

There are strong codes of dress and behaviour in Saudi Arabia. Any disrespect for these will be equated with disrespect for Islam and cause great offence.

  • Avoid all public displays of affection, including kissing and holding hands.
  • Don't interact with someone of the opposite sex in public, unless you are related (or your or their spouse is present).
  • If you're male, avoid wearing shorts or singlets or being bare-chested in public - security guards at shopping malls and offices may refuse you entry.
  • If you're female, wear the abaya over your regular clothes. Wear or carry a headscarf.
  • If in doubt, seek local advice.

Foreign women have reported incidents of verbal harassment after being approached by the religious police (Mutawwa), usually for not wearing a headscarf. If approached by the religious police, remain sensitive to their authority and seek to end the encounter as quickly as possible by covering your hair with a scarf and leaving the area immediately. The religious police may also approach men for wearing shorts in public places. Seek advice on what is acceptable clothing before you arrive. Take care not to offend. More information: Female travellers

Health

Travel insurance

Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you depart to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation. Make sure your policy includes adequate coverage for any pre-existing conditions.

Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for your medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs. This can be very expensive and cost you many thousands of dollars upfront.

Confirm:

  • what circumstances and activities are and are not covered under your policy
  • that you are covered for the whole time you will be away.

More information: Travel insurance

Physical and mental health

Consider your physical and mental health before travelling, especially if you have an existing medical condition.

  • At least eight weeks before you depart, see your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and implications for your health.
  • Get vaccinated before you travel.

More information:

Medication

Not all medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia are available in other countries. Some may be considered illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian doctor.

Before you leave Australia, check if your medication is legal in each country you're travelling to and find out if any quantity restrictions or certification requirements apply. Consult your doctor about alternatives well in advance of travel

Take enough legal prescription medicine with you to last for the duration of your stay so you remain in good health. Carry copies of your prescription and a letter from your doctor stating what the medicine is, how much you'll take and that it's for personal use only.

More information: Prescription medicines

Health risks

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) cases were recently reported in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Other countries have reported imported cases from returned travellers. More information: MERS Information Card (Department of Health) 

Sandstorms and dust storms

Sandstorms and dust storms occur regularly and can cause allergies and respiratory difficulties.

Insect-borne diseases

Malaria is common in south-western Saudi Arabia except in high altitude areas of Asir province, Jeddah, Mecca and Medina. Chloroquine-resistant strains of malaria are reported. Dengue fever, leishmaniasis and other insect-borne diseases occur. 

Protect yourself against insect-borne diseases:

  • ensure your accommodation is insect proof
  • take measures to avoid insect bites, including using insect repellent and wearing long, loose fitting, light coloured clothing
  • consider taking malaria prevention medication
  • seek medical advice if you have a fever, muscle pain, rash or severe headache.

Other infectious diseases

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including typhoid, hepatitis, brucellosis and rabies) are present in Saudi Arabia, with outbreaks occurring from time-to-time. Serious outbreaks of meningitis have occurred, particularly in association with the Hajj pilgrimage.

  • Use good hygiene practices, including frequent handwashing.
  • Boil drinking water or drink bottled water.
  • Avoid ice cubes.
  • Avoid raw and undercooked food.
  • Don't swim in fresh water to avoid exposure to water-borne diseases such as bilharzia (schistosomiasis).
  • Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering diarrhoea.

Medical facilities

The standard of medical facilities in Saudi Arabia varies. Most facilities in major cities offer high to very high quality services but facilities in minor towns and small cities are generally adequate for routine procedures only.

Private healthcare facilities generally require payment at the time of treatment.

If you become seriously ill or injured, you may need to be evacuated to a destination with appropriate facilities. Medical evacuation can be very expensive.

Natural disasters

Saudi Arabia often experiences extremely high temperatures. During the hottest months of the year (from June to August), the temperature can exceed 50˚C.

Sandstorms and dust storms occur regularly.

If a natural disaster occurs:

  • secure your passport in a safe, waterproof location or carry it on you at all times.
  • closely monitor local media and other sources such as the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System
  • follow the advice of local authorities
  • contact friends and family in Australia with regular updates about your welfare and whereabouts.

More information: Severe weather

Where to get help

Depending on what you need, your best option may be to contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour operator, employer or travel insurer. Your travel insurer should have a 24-hour emergency number.

Emergency phone numbers

  • Emergency Services: 911
  • Police: 999
  • Fire: 998
  • Medical emergencies: 997
  • Traffic accidents: 993

Always get a police report when reporting a crime.

Tourism services and products

For complaints relating to tourism services or products, contact your service provider directly.

Australian Government

Read the Consular Services Charter for what the Australian Government can and can't do to help you overseas.

For consular assistance, contact the Australian Embassy in Riyadh.

Australian Embassy, Riyadh

Diplomatic Quarter
Riyadh
KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA
Telephone: (966 11) 250 0900
Facsimile: (966 11) 250 0902
Website: www.saudiarabia.embassy.gov.au
Twitter: @AusAmbKSA

The working week is Sunday to Thursday, in accordance with local practice. Check the Embassy website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.

If you are unable to contact the Embassy in a consular emergency, contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Additional information

Additional resources