Saudi ArabiaOfficial Name: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
For more information about planinig a trip to the Hajj please see our Hajj Fact Sheet
Six months at the time of entry
BLANK PASSPORT PAGES:
One page required for entry stamp
TOURIST VISA REQUIRED:
Required for certain visa classes
CURRENCY RESTRICTIONS FOR ENTRY:
Over $16,000 must be declared
CURRENCY RESTRICTIONS FOR EXIT:
Over $16,000 must be declared
Embassies and Consulates
Abdullah Ibn Hudhafah As Sahmi Street
Roundabout no. 9, Diplomatic Quarter
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Telephone: +(966) (11) 488-3800
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +(966) (11) 488-3800
Fax: +(966) (11) 488-7670
U.S. Consulate General Dhahran
Between KFUPM and King Abdulaziz Airbase,
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
Telephone: +(966) (13) 330-3200
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +(966) (13) 330-3200
Fax: +(966) (13) 330-6816
U.S. Consulate General Jeddah
Falasteen Street intersecting with Al-Andalus Street,
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Telephone: +(966) (12) 667-0080
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +(966) (12) 667-0080
Fax: +(966) (12) 669-3098
Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by a king chosen from and by members of the Al Saud family. The king rules through royal decrees issued in conjunction with the Council of Ministers, and with advice from the Consultative Council. The king appoints members of both councils. Saudi interpretation of Islamic law is the basis of the authority of the monarchy and provides the foundation of the country's conservative customs and social practices. Saudi Arabia has a modern and well-developed infrastructure, and facilities for travelers are widely available. Read the Department of State’s Fact Sheet on Saudi Arabia for additional information.
Entry, Exit & Visa Requirements
A passport with at least six months validity and a visa are required for entry. In May 2008, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs agreed to issue five-year multiple-entry visas to U.S. visitors and students. Visas are issued for business and work, to visit close relatives, and for transit and religious visits by Muslims. Business visas DO NOT grant the applicant the right to work or to reside in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. All visas require a sponsor, can take several months to process, and must be obtained prior to arrival. Visas are not available at airports, land borders, or seaports. All Saudi embassies have the authority to issue five year visas, but only the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., and Saudi consulates in the United States appear to do so with some consistency for business visas. Avoid long layovers, as no transit visas are available.
Women visitors and residents must be met by their sponsor upon arrival. Women who are traveling alone and are not met by sponsors have experienced delays before being allowed to enter the country or to continue on other flights. Women who are under their husband’s sponsorship and entered the Kingdom as “housewives” are not permitted to work and may have difficulty in transferring sponsorship to an employer. Male children reaching age 21 may be able to transfer their own sponsorship to an employer to work and continue to reside in the Kingdom.
Travelers should carefully read and understand the limitations of their visas. People planning to enter Saudi Arabia by land should be sure that their visas are not limited for entry via air. For example, some first-time travelers to Saudi Arabia who have flown into Bahrain and expected to drive across the Causeway have been turned back when it was discovered that their Saudi visas were annotated “via air.”
Women considering relocation to Saudi Arabia should be cautioned that married women, including non-Saudis, require their husband's permission to depart the country, while unmarried women and children require the permission of their father or male guardian. Many U.S. citizens have been prevented from leaving the country. Women and children who are considered members of a Saudi household (including U.S. citizen women with Saudi husbands, adult U.S. citizen women who are the unmarried daughters of Saudi fathers, children born to Saudi fathers, and U.S. citizen boys under the age of 21 who are the sons of Saudi fathers) require the permission of the Saudi male head of their household to leave the Kingdom. Mothers are not able to obtain permission for their minor children to leave without their father's permission. Children visiting their fathers in Saudi Arabia, even when there is a custody agreement by a non-Saudi court, may be kept there until the father consents for them to leave.
A Saudi man who wishes to marry a foreign woman is required by law to seek the permission of Saudi authorities. A regulation, enacted February 20, 2008, requires Saudi men to sign a document giving irrevocable permission to their foreign wives and the children born of their union to travel in and out of the country without restrictions. In practice, however, authorities rarely require this document and it is not retroactive when signed. Even with such documentation, foreign spouses and their children may still have difficulty leaving Saudi Arabia freely. Also, if a couple consisting of a foreigner and a Saudi living in Saudi Arabia divorce, the foreign parent cannot under any circumstances leave the country with the children born of their union even if he or she is granted custody rights.
Visitors who overstay their visits in the Kingdom are subject to a fine of up to15,000 Saudi Riyals (or 2,667 USD) for the first violation and incarceration pending deportation proceedings. The U.S. Embassy is unable to intercede, reduce fines, or prevent incarceration for visitors who violate Saudi immigration law. You should request clarification from Saudi immigration authorities upon arrival as to your permitted length of stay. A common mistake among visitors is confusing the validity of a Saudi visa with the permitted length of stay in the Kingdom. Dates are calculated in accordance with the Hijri calendar. The U.S. Mission in Saudi Arabia has received several reports of U.S. citizens fined for inadvertently overstaying their permitted time in the Kingdom. It can take several weeks to resolve such an error with Saudi immigration authorities. You may now check your permitted length of stay online at the Visa Validity Service website by typing in your passport number and Saudi visa number. The Saudi Passport Department has also recently launched an online service to issue and renew residence permits, which requires registration and a PIN to access. Visitors who have previously had problems with immigration or law enforcement can be denied entry, and detained until they are deported.
Foreigners holding Saudi work and/or residency permits require exit visas to depart Saudi Arabia. Their sponsors must request exit or exit/reentry visas on their behalf from the Saudi Ministry of Interior Passport Office. It is generally not possible to leave the country without their sponsor’s approval. Persons involved in legal proceedings, or business or labor disputes, such as employment dismissal disputes, are generally not granted exit visas until their cases are resolved. Such cases may take months or even years to resolve. Saudi sponsors have substantial leverage in the negotiations and may block departures or bar future employment in the country. People in this situation are typically prevented from working as well. The U.S. Embassy is unable to intercede in court proceedings or issuance of exit visas.
Visitors on a single-entry or multiple-entry visa do not need an exit permit. All travelers to and from the Kingdom carrying cash, transferable monetary instruments, or precious metals exceeding 60,000 Saudi Riyals (or 16,000 USD) are required to declare them to Saudi Customs. Customs forms are available at all Saudi ports or downloadable from the Saudi Arabian Customs Office website. Failure to declare or provide accurate information can lead to prosecution, legal penalties, and confiscation.
Visitors to Saudi Arabia should obtain a meningitis vaccination prior to arrival. Hajj and Umrah pilgrims should check vaccination requirements at the Saudi Ministry of Health website. To obtain work and residence permits, foreigners are required to obtain a medical report or physical examination confirming that they are free from contagious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis. Any worker testing positive for HIV/AIDS will not be allowed to work in the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia has not imposed HIV/AIDS travel restrictions on other categories of travelers. Please inquire directly with the Embassy of Saudi Arabia before you travel.
Travelers transiting through Saudi Arabia are subject to the country’s laws and regulations. Persons suspected of violating local law may be subject to criminal prosecution as well as incarceration during the period of investigation.
Note for Dual Nationals: Several U.S. citizens of Saudi descent have encountered difficulty leaving the Kingdom after entering on a Saudi Laissez Passer (temporary travel document) rather than a Saudi or U.S. passport. If a U.S. citizen has a claim to Saudi citizenship, Saudi missions abroad sometimes propose to issue a Laissez Passer to facilitate travel into the Kingdom. This only leads to difficulties when the traveler wishes to depart the Kingdom, however, as the traveler must first obtain a Saudi passport before leaving Saudi Arabia. Saudi citizens are required to enter and exit the country on Saudi passports, regardless of other nationalities. U.S. citizens of Saudi descent should understand that Saudi nationality is not confirmed quickly or easily, and documentary requirements encountered in Saudi Arabia may differ from those described by Saudi missions abroad. On average, the processing time for a Saudi passport in these cases has been six to 12 months and often longer. Obtaining a U.S. passport at the Embassy will not help, as you will not have a visa, and will be prevented by the Saudi government from leaving. We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens who also have Saudi nationality enter Saudi Arabia with either a Saudi passport or a U.S. passport and Saudi visa, and not with a Laissez Passer.
For further information on entry/exit requirements, travelers may contact the following Saudi government offices in the United States:
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, 601 New Hampshire Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20037, tel: (202) 342-3800.
Saudi Consulate General in Chicago: Apts. 3106, 3109 & 3110, The Ritz Carlton Hotel, 160 East Pearson Street, Chicago, IL 60611, tel: (312) 560-8298.
Saudi Consulate General in Houston: 5718 Westheimer, Suite 1500, Houston, TX 77057, tel: (713) 785-5577.
Saudi Consulate General in Los Angeles: Sawtelle Courtyard Building, 2045 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025, tel: (310) 479-6000.
Saudi Consulate General in New York: 866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 480, New York, NY 10017, tel: (212) 752-2740.
Visit the Embassy of Saudi Arabia website for the most current visa information.
Information about dual nationality and the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
Safety and Security
Significant enhancements in the capacity and capability of Saudi security and intelligence forces have greatly improved the security environment, but the Department of State urges U.S. citizens to consider carefully the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia.
Terrorist groups, some of which are affiliated with al-Qa’ida, continue to have a presence and may employ a wide variety of tactics in targeting Western interests, housing compounds, hotels, shopping areas, and other facilities where Westerners congregate. These terrorist groups may also target Saudi government facilities and economic/commercial targets within the Kingdom. Terrorists often do not distinguish between U.S. Government personnel and private U.S. citizens.
Some areas of Saudi Arabia are particularly dangerous, including the region along the long, porous border with Yemen. In January 2009, Yemen became the official headquarters for al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a joint organization of Saudi and Yemeni al-Qa’ida members that seek to attack government and Western interests on the Arabian Peninsula and abroad. On July 5, 2014, media reported that members of al-Qa’ida attacked a border checkpoint between Yemen and Saudi Arabia on July 4, leading to the deaths of several of the attackers, as well as four members of the Saudi security forces. The rugged border area dividing Yemen and Saudi Arabia is not clearly defined and U.S. government personnel are restricted from traveling within 50 miles of the border, which includes the cities of Jizan and Najran, without permission from Embassy security officials. Visitors should stay away from this area to avoid falling victim to terrorist and criminal elements operating there.
In addition, in January 2014, two German diplomats were attacked by unknown gunmen while traveling through the Awamiyah neighborhood of the al-Qatif Governorate in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. While the attack disabled their vehicle, the two diplomats escaped to safety. The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia advises all U.S. citizens to avoid Awamiyah.
In October 2014, three U.S. citizens were attacked by a sole gunman at a gas station outside of Riyadh. An investigation is ongoing. One of the victims was killed, another was wounded, and a third was unharmed.
If you choose to visit or live in Saudi Arabia, you are strongly urged to avoid staying in hotels or housing compounds that do not implement stringent security measures. Please note that the U.S. Embassy cannot intervene to improve housing provided by sponsors, or provide security. You should always remain aware of your surroundings, especially when visiting establishments frequented by Westerners. To the extent possible, maintain a low profile, vary times and routes of travel, and exercise caution while driving; incidents of road rage have occurred.
Ensure that your travel documents and visas are current, valid, and secured in a safe place. Carry a photocopy of your travel documents in lieu of the originals. On occasion, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Saudi Arabia may restrict travel of U.S. officials or suspend public services for security reasons. Whenever threat information is specific, credible, and non-counterable, the U.S. Government will make it available to the U.S. public. In those instances, the Embassy and Consulates will keep the local U.S. citizen community apprised through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) and make every effort to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens. Messages to U.S. citizens in Saudi Arabia are available at the U.S. Embassy Riyadh website.
The United States Maritime Administration (MARAD) has advised that regional tensions create risks of maritime attacks on vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, North Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the Bab el Mandeb regions.
MARAD recommends that vessels at anchor, operating in restricted maneuvering environments, or at slow speeds remain especially vigilant, and report suspicious activity. U.S.-flagged vessels that observe suspicious activity in the area are advised to report it, as well as any hostile action to the U.S. Fifth Fleet’s “battle watch captain” at 011-973-1785-3879. All suspicious activities and events are also to be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center at: 800-424-8802, or 202-267-2675, or TDD 202-267-4477. The complete advisory is available on the MARAD website.
To stay connected:
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program so we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements.
- Follow the Bureau of Consular Affairs on Twitter and Facebook.
- Bookmark the Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which contains the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution.
- Follow the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia on Twitter and visit the Embassy’s website.
- In the event of an emergency, contact us at 1-888-407-4747 toll-free within the U.S. and Canada, or via a regular toll line, 1-202-501-4444, from other countries.
- Take some time before traveling to consider your personal security and check for useful tips for traveling safely abroad.
CRIME: Crime in Saudi Arabia has increased over recent years, but remains at levels far below most major metropolitan areas in the United States. Visitors should take precautions to reduce their risk of becoming victims of crime. Individuals should be aware of their surroundings, keep valuables out of sight and secure, and travel with a companion, if possible. Private Saudi citizens who perceive that a foreigner is not observing conservative standards of conduct or dress have been known to harass, pursue, or assault that person. The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh cautions U.S. citizens that Saudi Arabian police have detained potential witnesses to crimes without charges or access to legal counsel, and with limited or delayed consular access, during the investigative stage of criminal cases, which can take months. On occasion, Saudi authorities have temporarily confiscated the personal effects of detained potential witnesses. Even when released from detention, witnesses to criminal incidents may be prohibited from leaving the country until investigation of the incident is complete.
In 2011 and 2012, the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh received several reports of carjacking incidents in Riyadh and throughout the Kingdom. These incidents involved multiple criminals who, in some instances, used force or a display of force. In other incidents, the criminals created a diversion such as a minor traffic accident or some other ruse to coax the driver out of the car. In the few cases involving Westerners, it appears that they were targeted because of the make of their cars rather than the fact that they were Westerners. As in the United States, most vehicles are stolen for parts. If you are a victim of such an attack, please see the Victims of Crime section below for guidance on reporting the incident to the authorities.
Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are these goods illegal in the United States, they are a violation of local law as well.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. We can:
- Replace a stolen passport.
- Help you find appropriate medical care if you are the victim of violent crimes such as assault or rape.
- Put you in contact with the appropriate police authorities, and if you want us to, contact family members or friends.
- Help you understand the local criminal justice process and direct you to local attorneys, although it is important to remember that local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting the crime and we cannot pay your legal expenses or fines.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line for police is “999.”
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
Local Laws & Special Circumstances
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in Saudi Arabia, you are subject to its laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. To visit incarcerated individuals, the Saudi Government requires diplomatic missions to request visits -- including to police stations -- via formal diplomatic channels, which often causes delays.
Persons violating Saudi Arabian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, imprisoned, subject to physical punishments, or even executed. Suspects may be detained without charges or legal counsel, and with limited access to a consular officer, for months during the investigative stage of criminal cases. Penalties for the import, manufacture, possession, and consumption of alcohol or illegal drugs in Saudi Arabia are severe. Convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences, heavy fines, public floggings, and/or deportation. The penalty for drug trafficking in Saudi Arabia is death, and Saudi officials make no exceptions for U.S. citizens or other foreigners. Customs inspections at ports of entry are thorough. The U.S. Embassy and Consulates General have no standing in Saudi courts to obtain leniency for a U.S. citizen convicted of alcohol, drug, or other offenses. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Saudi authorities do not permit criticism of Islam, religious figures, or the royal family. The government prohibits the public practice of religions other than Islam. Non-Muslims suspected of violating these restrictions have been jailed. Even church services in private homes have been raided, and participants have been jailed. Muslims who do not adhere to the strict interpretations of Islam prevalent in much of Saudi Arabia frequently encounter societal discrimination and constraints on worship.
It is common practice for sponsors to demand that residents working in Saudi Arabia surrender their passports while in the Kingdom. Although this practice is technically illegal, sponsors are rarely, if ever, punished by the Saudi authorities for doing so. Sponsors have wide latitude and responsibilities for employees and family members under their sponsorship, including obtaining residence permits for the employee and for any family members. All residents should be issued a Saudi residence permit (Iqama) for identification and are recommended to carry it at all times. The U.S. Embassy and Consulates General in Saudi Arabia cannot sponsor private U.S. citizens for Saudi visas.
A married woman should be aware that she must have her husband's permission for her and their children to depart Saudi Arabia. This is true even if the woman and/or her children are U.S. citizens and even if her husband does not have Saudi nationality. The U.S. Embassy cannot obtain exit visas for the departure of minor children without their father's permission (See Entry/Exit Requirements section above).
The Saudi government does not permit photography of governmental facilities such as military bases and government buildings. It is also sensitive to photography that may be perceived as portraying the country in an unfavorable light. This policy can be broadly interpreted to include photos of mosques, impoverished areas, the local population, and traditional souks (markets). You should not take anyone’s picture without clear consent, and never take a picture of a woman or a place where women congregate. Be aware of local sensitivities whenever you are taking pictures in public.
Saudi customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning the importation of such banned items as alcohol, weapons, and any item that is held to be contrary to the tenets of Islam, such as pork, anything considered pornographic under strict Islamic principles, or religious materials. Imported and domestic audiovisual media and reading matter are censored.
Saudi customs and postal officials broadly define what is contrary to Islam and therefore prohibited. Christmas decorations, fashion magazines, and "suggestive" videos may be confiscated and the owner subject to penalties and fines. Electronic devices may be subject to inspection upon entry or exit. Please see our Customs Information.
Dual Nationality: The Saudi government does not recognize dual nationality. Saudi authorities have confiscated the U.S. passports of U.S. citizens and U.S.-Saudi dual nationals when they have applied for Saudi citizenship or Saudi passports. This does not constitute loss of U.S. citizenship, but should be reported to the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh or the Consulates General in Jeddah or Dhahran. In the case of dual nationals, the Saudi Government may recognize only the nationality of the document used to enter the Kingdom. For additional information, please refer to the Bureau of Consular Affairs dual nationality webpage.
Importing Animals: The Saudi Ministry of Agriculture must approve all pets imported into Saudi Arabia. Cats and dogs entering Saudi Arabia require a Veterinary Health Certificate and a dated letter from the veterinary private practitioner addressed to the Director of Customs, Saudi Arabia. Both documents must be authenticated by the Department of Agriculture Veterinary Service Office and the State Department's Authentications Office and attested by the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. The certificate must indicate that the animal was examined and is free from disease, and confirm that rabies and other vaccines are current. Information on the name, breed, sex, color, and age of the animal must also be stated.
Birds:The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia expressly forbids the import of any avian species. Do not attempt to bring a bird with you to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Dogs: Any dog that enters Saudi Arabia must be classified as either a “guard dog” or “guide dog.” However, certain breeds are NOT/NOT permitted in Saudi Arabia. Saudi authorities can and have refused to admit animals, and have required them to be immediately shipped back to their point of origin. Given the extreme climate conditions in the Kingdom and limited staffing and facilities at Saudi airports that process the importation of pets, this can be injurious or fatal to the animals.
The Saudi government is known to have forbidden the following dog breeds from entering the Kingdom: Spitz; Akita/Akita Imu; Affenpinscher; Griffon Bruxellois/Brussels Griffon/Brabancon/Belgian Griffon/Hovawart; Boxer; Bulldog (any type); Rottweiler; ALL terriers, including but not limited to Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Dandie Dinmont Terrier; Lancashire Heeler; Swedish Vallhund/Swedish Cattle Dog/Vasgotspets; Newfoundland; Pit Bull; Great Dane/Deutscher Dogge; ALL mastiff breeds, including but not limited to Bull Mastiff, Old English Mastiff, Neopolitan Mastiff; Leonberger; and Doberman.
Employment and Business Contracts: The Arabic text of a contract governs employment and business arrangements under Saudi law. Before signing a contract, U.S. companies should obtain an independent translation to ensure a full understanding of the contract's terms, limits, and agreements. No U.S. citizen should come to work in Saudi Arabia or make a business arrangement without having read and understood the full written contract. Verbal assurances or side letters are not binding under Saudi law. In the event of any contract dispute, Saudi authorities refer to the written contract.
Since the Saudi sponsor generally holds the employee's passport and controls the issuance of exit permits, U.S. citizens cannot leave Saudi Arabia in the event of a labor or business dispute. This is true even in the case of disputes over items clearly stated in the contract. A U.S. citizen who breaks an employment or business contract may have to pay substantial penalties before being allowed to leave. To change employers within the Kingdom, Saudi Arabia requires the written permission of the original sponsoring employer, which is discretionary and can be used to prevent former employees from working at all. Saudi courts take seriously their responsibility to adjudicate disputes. This process, which is performed in accordance with Saudi law and customs, should not be entered into without an Arabic interpreter, generally takes months or years, and may require hiring legal counsel.
Persons involved in legal cases are not permitted to leave the Kingdom until the case has been resolved or abandoned. The U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulates General cannot adjudicate labor or business disputes or provide translation or legal services. U.S. consular officers can provide lists of local attorneys to help U.S. citizens settle business disputes, but ultimate responsibility for the resolution of disputes through the Saudi legal system, and payment for those services, lies with the parties involved. For additional information on Saudi labor law, please refer to the Ministry of Labor’s information on related regulations.
Teaching English in Saudi Arabia: English teachers comprise a large and growing segment of the U.S. expatriate population in Saudi Arabia. In the past few years, several teachers have complained about rapid dismissals and restrictions on their movement. Teachers should make sure they obtain the appropriate work visa prior to coming to Saudi Arabia. Business visas do not grant the applicant the right to work or to reside in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Employers of English teachers frequently issue short-term, single-entry work visas that coincide with a 90-day “probation” window, during which time the employee or employer can freely end the working relationship. Many teachers facing dismissal have claimed they were unaware of a 90-day probationary period and felt that their contracts were not honored. Because foreign employees reside in Saudi Arabia under the sponsorship of their employer, they must leave the country soon after dismissal or face deportation proceedings. For this reason, and because individuals on a visit visa lack the same rights as a permanent resident in Saudi Arabia, dismissed employees have little, if any, recourse or grounds for appeal. It is important for prospective teachers to consider these factors prior to relocating to Saudi Arabia and to be aware of the type of visa they were issued. Further information can be found in our Guide to Teaching English in Saudi Arabia.
Standards of Conduct and Religious Police: Islam is the official religion of the country and pervades all aspects of life in Saudi Arabia. Public display of non-Islamic religious articles, such as crosses and Bibles, is not permitted. Non-Muslims are forbidden to travel to Makkah (Mecca) and Medina, the cities where two of Islam’s holiest mosques are located. Norms for public behavior in Saudi Arabia are extremely conservative, and the religious police, formally known as the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), and referred to colloquially as the Mutawwa or Al-Hay’a, are charged with enforcing these standards. Mutawwa are required to carry special identification and usually are accompanied by uniformed police; however, in some cases they have detained persons without an accompanying police officer. The CPVPV has accosted or arrested foreigners, including U.S. citizens, for improper dress or other alleged infractions, such as consumption of alcohol or association by a female with a male to whom she is not related. Mutawwa who are accompanied by a uniformed police officer have the power to take individuals to a police station or Mutawwa office. If a uniformed police officer is present with the Mutawwa, an individual must, if requested, hand over his or her residence permit (Iqama) or other identification to the police officer. While most incidents have resulted only in inconvenience or embarrassment, the potential exists for an individual to be arrested, physically harmed, or deported. U.S. citizens who are involved in an incident with the Mutawwa should report the incident to the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh or the U.S. Consulates General in Jeddah or Dhahran.
In most areas of Saudi Arabia, and particularly in Riyadh and the central part of the Kingdom, women wear a full-length black covering known as an abaya, and cover their heads. Women who choose not to conform to this dress code face a risk of confrontation by Mutawwa and possible detention/arrest. Men should also dress conservatively, and not wear shorts in public or go without a shirt.
Many areas of life in Saudi Arabia are segregated by sex to ensure that unrelated men and women have no possibility of mingling (a punishable crime). Some Mutawwa try to enforce this by asking for proof that a couple is married or related. Women who are arrested for socializing with a man who is not a relative may be charged with prostitution. Some restaurants, particularly fast-food outlets, refuse to serve women who are not accompanied by a close male relative. In addition, some restaurants or cafes do not have a "family section" in which women are permitted to eat. Men not accompanied by a close female family member must stay out of family sections, and may not use services (such as registers at supermarkets) designated as “family”. These restrictions are not always posted. This is more common in Riyadh and the more conservative central Nejd region.
Dancing, playing music, and showing movies in public are forbidden.
International Schools: The U.S. citizen community and third-country national populations from Western countries continue to grow. This growth has put a severe strain on “international” schools that cater to Westerners. Travelers with school-aged children are strongly advised to contact international schools well in advance of their arrival to Saudi Arabia. The Embassy and Consulates General are not able to assist with school placement.
The Hajj and Umrah: Please review the Department of State’s Hajj Fact Sheet for useful information on traveling to perform the Hajj or Umrah.
WOMEN TRAVELER INFORMATION: If you are a woman traveling abroad, please review our travel tips for Women Travelers.
LGBT RIGHTS: Same-sex sexual relations, even when they are consensual, are criminalized in Saudi Arabia. Violations of Saudi laws governing perceived expressions of, or support for, homosexuality, including on social media, may be subject to severe punishment. Potential penalties include fines, jail time, or death. For more detailed information about LGBT rights in Saudi Arabia, you may review the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013. For further information on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) travel, please read our Information for LGBT Travelers page.
ACCESSIBILITY: While in Saudi Arabia, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what is generally found in the United States.
The Basic Law does not prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities and there is no legislation mandating public accessibility. Newer commercial and government buildings, however, often include such access. The Ministry of Social Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
According to the Ministry of Social Affairs, there are numerous government-sponsored centers for people with disabilities, such as the Noor Institute for the Blind, the Amal Institute for the Deaf, and social rehabilitation and welfare centers for the elderly. Note that Saudi Arabia has extremely limited infrastructure to care for those with mental disabilities. Royal decrees in the past have encouraged institutions and individuals to contribute to charitable activities to assist persons with disabilities.
You can find detailed information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the CDC website. For health-related information on the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), formerly called “novel coronavirus,” visit the CDC’s MERS-CoV webpage. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
Medical care varies greatly in quality, and high profile cases of medical malpractice and errors have occurred. Consult your regular physician if you are considering serious medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.
While Red Sea scuba diving is a popular past-time for many visitors, you should only dive with an experienced boat and crew. Some boats are not equipped with radio communications in the event of an emergency. There are only two recompression chambers for treatment of decompression sickness – one at Jubail Armed Forces Hospital and another in Jeddah – both hours away from Red Sea and Gulf diving sites.
Travel & Transportation
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in Saudi Arabia, you will encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Saudi Arabia is provided for general reference only, and may not necessarily apply to all locations and circumstances.
Saudi Arabia employs an automatic traffic control ticketing and management system called “Saher” to improve traffic safety in major cities. The system is a network of digital cameras linked to the National Information Center of the Ministry of Interior to monitor traffic accidents and violations.
Residents should update their personal details through one of the methods available here to receive SMS notifications once a traffic ticket is issued. Delay in payment of any ticket might result in doubling of the ticket amount. Travelers will need to pay any fines issued through this system before leaving the country; this may be possible at the airport but only during regular Saudi office hours.
Temporary male visitors may drive using their U.S. driver's license. Foreign men employed in Saudi Arabia must obtain a local driver's license from the Department of Traffic Police. Women are not allowed to drive or ride motorcycles, bicycles, or any other type of vehicle on public roads. Article no. 42/3 of the Saudi Traffic Law states that a valid foreign or international driver’s license can be used for either a year or until the expiration date, whichever is closer.
According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2013 Global Status Report on Road Safety, Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s highest traffic accident and death rates. Driving habits are generally poor, and accidents involving vehicles driven by minor children are not uncommon. There is little regard for lane markings, and the right of way is often disregarded. The main causes for accidents are speeding, unauthorized passing, and running red lights. In the event of a traffic accident resulting in personal injury, everyone involved (if not seriously injured) may be taken to the local police station. Drivers are likely to be held for several days until responsibility is determined and any reparations paid. In many cases, all drivers involved in an accident are held in custody regardless of fault. U.S. citizens involved in a serious accident resulting in injury or death should immediately contact their sponsors and the U.S. Embassy or nearest U.S. Consulate. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Air Transit: Air travelers may find lower-cost tickets between countries that include long layovers in Saudi airports. Be advised that Saudi Arabia does not grant transit visas to air travelers, so any layover will be spent entirely in the airport. Past experience shows that this is also true when flights are cancelled or delayed, occasionally leading to lengthy wait times in the gate area without access to other parts of the airport. Services available to travelers may be extremely limited.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Saudi Arabia's Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Saudi Arabia's air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA safety assessment page.