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Saudi Arabia
Official Name:

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Last Updated: September 26, 2016
Further Safety and Security Information

Travel Warnings: Issued when Protracted situations make a country dangerous or unstable. Defer or reconsider travel.

Travel Alerts: Issued when short-term conditions pose imminent threats. Defer or reconsider travel.

Embassy Messages: Issued when local security issues arise.

Assistance for U.S. Citizens

Assistance for U.S. Citizens

U.S. Embassy Riyadh

Abdullah Ibn Hudhafah As Sahmi Street
Roundabout no. 9, Diplomatic Quarter
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

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Quick Facts
PASSPORT VALIDITY:

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Valid Passport. 

BLANK PASSPORT PAGES:

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One page required for entry stamp.

TOURIST VISA REQUIRED:

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Yes

VACCINATIONS:

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Required for certain visa classes

CURRENCY RESTRICTIONS FOR ENTRY:

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More than 16,000 USD must be declared. Customs details are here.

CURRENCY RESTRICTIONS FOR EXIT:

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More than 16,000 USD must be declared. Customs details are here.

Country Map

U.S. Embassy Riyadh

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

The normal work week in Saudi Arabia is Sunday through Thursday.

Consulates

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

Read the Department of State’s Fact Sheet on Saudi Arabia for information on U.S. – Saudi Arabia relations

See the Embassy of Saudi Arabia’s website for visa information.

Saudi Requirements:

  • Final exit or exit/reentry visas are required to leave Saudi Arabia.
  • You will not be allowed to leave the country without a visa, even if you are an American citizen.

Further information can be found on the website of the U.S. Mission in Saudi Arabia.

Do not enter the country on a Saudi Laissez Passer (temporary travel document), or you may encounter difficulty leaving the Kingdom. We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens enter Saudi Arabia on a Saudi passport or a U.S. passport and Saudi visa, but not a Laissez Passer.

To facilitate travel into the Kingdom, Saudi embassies sometimes issue a Laissez Passer for presumed Saudi citizens, such as children of a Saudi parent or parents who were married outside of Saudi Arabia; however, the traveler must then obtain a Saudi passport before leaving.

Saudi nationality is not conferred quickly or easily, and the processing time for a Saudi passport in these cases has often been six months or more. Obtaining a U.S. passport at the Embassy will not help, as you will not be able to leave Saudi Arabia without a visa.

Saudi Arabia does not recognize dual nationality. At times, Saudi authorities have confiscated the U.S. passports of U.S-Saudi dual nationals applying for Saudi citizenship. If this happens to you or someone you know, report the incident to the U.S. Embassy. This does not constitute loss of U.S. citizenship.

Length of Stay:
If you overstay your visa, you face fines, detention, and/or deportation.

Upon arrival, confirm your permitted length of stay with Saudi immigration authorities. Dates are calculated in accordance with the Hijri calendar, which is significantly different from the Gregorian calendar. Resolving such errors can take several weeks.

The U.S. Embassy is unable to intercede, reduce fines, or prevent incarceration if you violate Saudi law.

Travel Bans: When placed under a travel ban, you cannot exit the country, even if you are a U.S. citizen. Travel bans are rigidly enforced and can take months or even years to resolve. Only Saudi Arabian authorities and sponsors can remove travel bans.

The government may issue travel bans on people who are:

  • charged with criminal offenses
  • under investigation
  • involved in financial or labor disputes/have unpaid debts

Private citizens may also initiate travel bans against other private citizens for various reasons.

Yemen Travel:
We strongly advise U.S. citizens against travel to Yemen. For U.S. citizens departing Yemen we strongly discourage departing via the Yemen-Saudi Arabia border because it can be dangerous and U.S. citizens who attempt to do so are routinely detained or turned away by Saudi authorities.  See our Yemen Crisis webpage for further information.

Residency Permits: If you are seeking residency in Saudi Arabia, make sure you have all required legal documents authenticated before arriving. The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh cannot provide this service.

You should have all U.S. issued documents authenticated by the Department of State Office of Authentications (202-485-8000), and attested by the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington D.C.

Work Visas: If you plan on working in Saudi Arabia, you must obtain a work visa before you arrive. If you work on another visa type, you risk financial penalties and deportation.

HIV/AIDS: To obtain work and residence permits, you are required to obtain a medical report or physical examination confirming that you are free from contagious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis. If you test positive for HIV/AIDS, you 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.

Vaccinations: Visitors to Saudi Arabia should check vaccination requirements at the Saudi Ministry of Health website.

Find information on dual nationality, prevention of international parental child abduction, and customs regulations on our website.

The Department of State urges you to carefully consider the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia. See the travel warning here. There continue to be reports of threats against U.S. citizens and other Westerners, as well as locations frequented by them. ISIL and AQAP continue to encourage individual acts of terrorism in the Kingdom.

Furthermore, continuing violence in neighboring countries such as Yemen has a potential to spill over into Saudi Arabia.

U.S. government personnel are restricted from traveling within 50 miles of the border with Yemen, which includes the cities of Jizan and Najran, without permission from Embassy security officials. U.S. government personnel are similarly restricted from traveling to the city of Qatif in the Eastern Province and its surrounding suburbs, including Awamiyah, and to the town of Hofuf and its surrounding suburbs in the Al Hasa Governorate due to violent episodes that have occurred there in the past. Please take this into consideration when planning your travels within Saudi Arabia.

You can find additional details relating to safety and security in our travel warning and the website of the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh.

Crime: Crime in Saudi Arabia has increased over recent years, but remains at levels far below most major metropolitan areas in the United States.

  • You should be aware of your surroundings, keep valuables out of sight and secure, and travel with a companion, if possible.  
  • 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.  
  • Saudi Arabian police have detained potential witnesses to crimes without charges or access to legal counsel. 
  • 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.

See the websites of the Department of State and the FBI for information on scams.

Victims of Crime: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime, you should contact the local police at “999” and contact the Embassy or one of our two Consulates in Dhahran or Jeddah.

Remember that local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting the crime.

See our webpage on help for U.S. victims of crime overseas.

We can:

  • help you find appropriate medical care.
  • assist you in reporting a crime to the police.
  • contact relatives or friends with your written consent.
  • explain the local criminal justice process in general terms.
  • provide a list of local attorneys.
  • provide our information on victim’s compensation programs in the U.S.
  • provide an emergency loan for repatriation to the United States and/or limited medical support in cases of destitution.
  • help you find accommodation and arrange flights home.
  • replace a stolen or lost passport.

Domestic Violence: U.S. citizen victims of domestic violence may contact the Embassy or Consulates for assistance.

For Further 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.

We do not pay medical bills. Be aware that U.S. Medicare does not apply overseas.

Medical Insurance: Make sure your health insurance plan provides coverage overseas. Most care providers overseas only accept cash payments. See our webpage for more information on insurance providers for overseas coverage.

We strongly recommend supplemental insurance to cover medical evacuation.

Always carry your prescription medication in original packaging, along with your doctor’s prescription.

If traveling with prescription medication, check with the government of Saudi Arabia to ensure the medication is legal in Saudi Arabia.  Always carry your prescription medication in original packaging, along with your doctor’s prescription.

For health-related information on the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), formerly called “novel coronavirus,” visit the CDC’s MERS-CoV webpage

Be up-to-date on all vaccinations recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For further health information, go to:

Criminal Penalties: You are subject to local laws. If you violate local laws, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested, imprisoned, subject to physical punishments, or even executed. 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 is death.

Furthermore, some laws are also prosecutable in the U.S., regardless of local law. For examples, see our website on crimes against minors abroad and the Department of Justice website.

Arrest Notification: If you are arrested or detained, ask police or prison officials to notify the U.S. Embassy or Consulate immediately. In the case of dual nationals, the Saudi Government may recognize only the nationality of the document used to enter the Kingdom. 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. See our webpage for further information.

Faith-Based Travelers: Islam is the official religion of the country and pervades all aspects of life in Saudi Arabia. 

  • 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. 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.
  • 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.

LGBTI Travelers: 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, same sex sexual relations, including on social media, may be subject to severe punishment. Potential penalties include fines, jail time, or death. See our LGBTI Travel Information page and section 6 of the Department of State's Human Rights report for further details.

Travelers Who Require Accessibility Assistance: 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 requiring public accessibility. Newer commercial and government buildings, however, often include such access. According to the Ministry of Social Affairs, there are numerous government-sponsored centers for people with disabilities. Note that Saudi Arabia has extremely limited infrastructure to care for those with mental disabilities.

Students: See our Students Abroad page and FBI travel tips.

Women Residents and Travelers: Women must be met by their sponsor upon arrival according to Saudi Arabia’s regulations. 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.

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.

A mother’s consent will not suffice: minor children must have their father’s permission in order to leave the Kingdom. Children visiting their fathers in Saudi Arabia, even when there is a custody agreement, may be prevented from leaving unless the father consents. This is true even if the child is a U.S. citizen. The U.S. Embassy cannot obtain exit visas for the departure of minor children without their father's permission.

A regulation enacted in 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, 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.

Foreign mothers of Saudi children, regardless of marital status, may apply for five-year permanent residency permits without the need for a sponsor. To do so, they must prove maternity and that they are (or were) legally married to Saudi citizens. If a foreigner and a Saudi living in Saudi Arabia divorce, the Saudi courts rarely grant permission for the foreign parent to leave the country with the children born during the marriage, even if he or she has been granted physical custody.

Also see our travel tips for Women Travelers.

Employment: The Arabic text of a contract governs employment and business arrangements under Saudi law. 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.

  • 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.
  • 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, which could take months or years to resolve.
  • To change employers within the Kingdom, Saudi Arabia requires the written permission of the original sponsoring employer.  
  • The U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulates General cannot adjudicate labor or business disputes, nor can we 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.

Customs:

  • 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, and religious materials).
  • Imported and domestic audiovisual media and reading matter are censored.
  • Christmas and other holiday 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.

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.
  • 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.

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. Foreign employees must leave the country soon after dismissal or face deportation proceedings. Dismissed employees have little, if any, recourse or grounds for appeal. Further information can be found in our Guide to Teaching English in Saudi Arabia.

Standards of Conduct and Religious Police: Norms for public behavior in Saudi Arabia are extremely conservative, and the religious police, 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. 
  • If a police officer is present, Mutawwa have the power to take individuals to a police station or Mutawwa office.
  • An individual must, if requested, hand over his or her residence permit (Iqama) or other identification to the police officer.
  • 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.

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 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.

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 cannot 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 region known as the Nejd.

Dancing, playing music, and showing movies in public are forbidden.

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. 

Road Conditions and Safety: Driving in Saudi Arabia is extremely hazardous due to excessive speeding, aggressive driving, lax enforcement of traffic regulations and a high volume of traffic.

With a valid visitor visa and U.S. driver’s license, male visitors may drive a rental car. To drive vehicles other than rental cars, a Saudi driver’s license and appropriate car registration is required. Police may detain you if you cannot produce these documents.

See the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Interior website for further information.

Traffic Laws

  • Temporary male visitors may drive using their U.S. driver's license, though it may be advisable to also obtain an international 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.

  • A valid foreign or international driver’s license can be used for either a year or until the expiration date, whichever is closer.

  • 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.

  • All drivers, regardless of fault, are likely to be held for several days until responsibility is determined and any reparations paid.

  • 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.

  • 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.

Public Transportation

  • Only use established taxi companies, such as those offering cabs with meters. Taxis are available throughout major cities, in particular at hotels and may be telephoned or summoned via smartphone app to pick up passengers at other locations.

  • Avoid sitting in the front seat of a taxi, do not travel to unfamiliar areas, and do not enter taxis with unknown passengers.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Also, we suggest that you visit the website of the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Interior.

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

Aviation Security Enhancements: The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), in consultation with relevant Departments and Agencies, has determined it is prudent to enhance security, to include airport security procedures for passengers departing from 10 airports, including King Abdul-Azziz and King Khalid International Airports, to the United States. These enhancements will require that all personal electronic devices (PED) larger than a cell phone or smart phone be placed in checked baggage. For more information, please contact your air carrier or visit the Department of Homeland Security website.  

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