Local laws and customs - Saudi Arabia travel advice (2022)

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

You can read more about living in Saudi Arabia here.

In 2023, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 22 March and finish on 21 April. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. Saudi authorities advise that it is respectful to avoid eating or drinking in public during the day at this time. See Travelling during Ramadan.

With the launch of the tourist e-visa on 28 September 2019, Saudi Arabia announced new regulations related to public conduct and decency. Men and women are required to refrain from public displays of affection, and avoid using profane language or gestures. Taking pictures or recording videos without permission is not permitted. Visitors to Saudi Arabia should familiarise themselves with public decency laws.

As of June 2018, women are legally able to obtain a licence to drive a car, motorbikes and scooters. You should seek guidance from the local authorities on how to apply for a local licence.

LGBT / Sexual relations outside marriage

Homosexual or extra-marital sexual relations, including adultery, are illegal and can be subject to severe penalties. It’s also illegal to be transgender. Transgender people travelling to Saudi Arabia are likely to face significant difficulties and risks if this is discovered by the authorities. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.

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Living together whilst unmarried is prohibited. Any intimacy in public between men and women (including between teenagers) can lead to arrest. Penalties can include arrest and a potential court case where the judgement can include a fine, a custodial sentence and deportation once the sentence is complete. This is especially so where the behaviour has caused offence.

Due to the laws on sex outside marriage, if you become pregnant outside marriage, both you and your partner could face imprisonment and/or deportation. Doctors will ask for proof of marriage during antenatal checks. An unmarried woman who gives birth in Saudi Arabia may also encounter problems when registering the birth of the child in Saudi Arabia, and could be arrested, imprisoned or deported. To get a birth certificate from the Saudi authorities, you must provide a marriage certificate and the authorities may compare the date of the marriage against the estimated date of conception.

Importing goods and customs

Saudi law prohibits the importation of weapons, alcohol, narcotics, pork and pork products, pornographic materials, distillery equipment, re-treaded or used tires, used clothing and certain sculptures.

Personal videos, books, and magazines may be subjected to scrutiny and be censored on arrival. In addition, electronic devices may be screened by customs officials on arrival and departure.

Special approval from the Saudi authorities’ on items such as agricultural seeds, live animals, books, periodicals, movies, and tapes; religious books and tapes; chemicals and harmful materials; pharmaceutical products; wireless equipment and radio-controlled model airplanes, and archaeological artefacts’ requires. For additional information, please visit The Saudi Standards, Metrology and Quality Organization (SASO)

Drugs and narcotics control

There is zero tolerance for drugs-related offences in Saudi Arabia. The penalties for the use of, trafficking, smuggling and possession of drugs (even residual amounts) are severe.

Punishment can include lengthy custodial sentences, heavy fines, deportation, and death penalty. For further information, please visit the Saudi Ministry of Interior

(Video) 10 Things NOT to do in SAUDI ARABIA

Some prescribed and over the counter medicines may be controlled substances in Saudi Arabia. If you need to bring in controlled/prescription medication, ensure you carry your official doctor’s prescription, hospital note or a letter from your GP, detailing the drug, the quantity prescribed and dosage. This note or letter should also be signed by the doctor / consultant and stamped by the hospital. A list of narcotic, psychotropic and controlled drugs where this rule applies, allowed quantities and documents to present can be found on theSaudi Food & Drug Authority (SFDA) procedures and controls of narcotics and psychotropic substances

Alcohol

It is an offence to drink alcohol or be drunk in public. British nationals have been detained under this law, usually when they have come to the attention of the police on a related matter, such as disorderly or offensive behaviour. Penalties for the possession of, or trade in alcohol are severe. Both result in prison sentences. Do not arrive in Saudi Arabia under the influence of alcohol.

Religion

The public practice of any form of religion other than Islam is illegal; as is an intention to convert others. However, the Saudi authorities accept the private practice of religions other than Islam, and you can bring a religious text into the country as long as it is for your personal use. Importing larger quantities than this can carry severe penalties.

Rules of behaviour

Swearing and making rude gestures are considered offensive acts and violators can be subjected to the local laws. Penalties can vary from fine to imprisonment and/or deported. Take particular care when dealing with the police and other officials. For more information on rules of behaviour in Saudi Arabia, please refer to the official page of Visit Saudi.

Dress code

Local laws require men and women to dress modestly covering shoulders and knees in public, avoiding tight-fitting clothing or clothes with profane language or images. It is not mandatory for female travellers to wear the traditional robe or abaya. Information on important laws and etiquette around dress codes is available to visitors on the Visit Saudi website.

Both men and women are advised not to wear shorts or sleeveless tops, when going to government buildings, airports, health care facilities or malls. If you do not dress modestly, you may be asked to leave or be denied entry to these locations. Dressing modestly is important especially during the holy month of Ramadan.

Photgraphy and media

Be aware of cultural sensitivities. Filming or photographing government buildings, military installations, and palaces is not allowed. You should avoid photographing local people.

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Posting material (including videos and photographs) online that is critical of the Saudi government, or appears to insult/ridicule/criticise the country’s culture and belief, the country, authorities, or its culture, may be considered a crime punishable under Saudi law.

If you wish to carry out media activity related to the production, transmission and/or distribution of printed, digital, audio, video and/or visual information, you will be required to obtain the appropriate permission from the General Commission for Audiovisual Media (GCAM) in advance. Failure to do so could result in imprisonment and a substantial fine.

Techincal equipment

Binoculars should not be brought into Saudi Arabia and may be confiscated at the port of entry.

Equipment like satellite phones, listening or recording devices, radio transmitters, powerful cameras or binoculars, may require a licence for use in Saudi Arabia. Seek advice from the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in London.

Carrying two passports

It is illegal to hold two passports in Saudi Arabia. The immigration authorities will confiscate second passports if they are discovered.

You should carry a photocopy of your passport for identification. Make sure you have included emergency contact details.

Legal system and due process

The Saudi legal system differs in many ways from the UK. Suspects can be held without charge and are not always allowed quick access to legal representation. The Saudi authorities have detained witnesses and victims of crimes. If you need consular assistance, British Embassy staff will try to visit you as soon as they are aware of the case, but in some instances, Embassy staff have not been permitted to do so immediately or have had access limited.

(Video) General Information for British visitors to Saudi Arabia

Financial crimes

Financial crimes, including fraud, bribery, embezzlement, giving somebody a cheque which bounces (including post-dated and ‘security cheques’) and non-payment of bills (for example hotel bills or car hire) can result in imprisonment and/or a fine and deportation in Saudi Arabia.

Bank accounts and other assets may be frozen. You may also be liable for cheques that you have signed on behalf of a company.

If you have unpaid loans or financial commitments you won’t be able to cancel your residence permit, and may find yourself subject to a travel ban which will prevent you from travelling or leaving the country. All debts should be settled in full before you leave the country. Ask your bank for a certificate to confirm you have no outstanding debt once you have cleared the balance.

Equally, you may find that there is a block on your government services, which prevents the renewal of your residents ID, issuing the re-entry/exit visa, or transferring to a new sponsor (employer) and any end of service benefits you may be entitled to could be used to offset the outstanding debt.

Commercial disputes

Anyone involved in a commercial dispute with a Saudi company or individual may be prevented from leaving the country pending resolution of the dispute. Government bodies often retain passports for official purposes; sponsors also sometimes retain passports, although this is illegal.

Deportation

Should you be found guilty of committing an offence, the Saudi authorities reserves the right to issue an Administrative Deportation order. This is regardless of whether the judgement included deportation. If you are employed in Saudi Arabia this will obviously, impact your employment and may affect your ability to return to Saudi Arabia in the future.

FAQs

What should a tourist avoid doing while in Saudi Arabia? ›

Here's a closer look at a few things you should avoid doing if you're visiting Saudi Arabia as a tourist:
  • Arriving in the country while drunk. ...
  • Dabbing. ...
  • Dancing in public. ...
  • Playing loud music. ...
  • Filming people without their consent. ...
  • Wearing "inappropriate" clothes in public. ...
  • Insulting religion.
10 Oct 2019

What are you not allowed to do in Saudi Arabia? ›

Men and women are required to refrain from public displays of affection, and avoid using profane language or gestures. Taking pictures or recording videos without permission is not permitted. Visitors to Saudi Arabia should familiarise themselves with public decency laws.

Can you wear shorts in Saudi? ›

Men are required to wear clothes covering their shoulders and legs at all times. Make sure to avoid skinny jeans, sleeveless shirts and shorts in public. If you are at a workplace, a shirt, tie and a dark business suit are appropriate.

What are some taboos in Saudi Arabia? ›

Taboos
  • Don't point at anyone or show the soles of your shoes.
  • Don't stare at women.
  • Don't point at people – keep your hand flat and gesture instead.
  • Don't wear tight clothing.
  • Don't say anything critical of the royal family, Islam or a person's family.
  • Don't show affection to the opposite sex in public.

What are the customs of Saudi Arabia? ›

Saudi traditions are rooted in Islamic teachings and Arab customs. The highlights of the year are the holy month of Ramadan and the Hajj (pilgrimage) season, and the national holidays that follow them. The holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, culminates with the Eid Al Fitr holiday.

What is the new law in Saudi Arabia? ›

On March 9, 2022, the king of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, issued Royal Decree No. M/73 (the decree), promulgating the first legal instrument to regulate family matters in the kingdom (the legislation).

What is the Basic Law of governance Saudi Arabia? ›

The Basic Law (in Article One) states that the constitution of Saudi Arabia is "the Holy Qur'an, and the Sunna (Traditions)" of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. However, the Basic Law contains many characteristics of what might be called a constitution in other countries ("The Law of Governance", "Rights and Duties").

Can I take ibuprofen to Saudi Arabia? ›

It's important to realize that importing illegal medication or drugs in Saudi Arabia carries stiff penalties – including imprisonment and fines. However, travelers who take prescription medicines such as sleeping pills, painkillers and treatments for ADHD can import these into Saudi Arabia.

Can you hold hands in Saudi Arabia? ›

This one you most probably also guessed – any public display of affection is strictly forbidden and seen as haram (forbidden). Yes, this includes holding hands as well. Even if you are married, although the penalty will be considerably more severe if you are caught holding hands if you aren't married.

Can you drink in Saudi Arabia as a tourist? ›

Tourists are not exempted from the ban on alcohol in Saudi Arabia. Tourists are not allowed to consume alcohol while in the country even while en route to the country. You can be arrested if you cross the Saudi border while intoxicated, in possession of alcohol or even just smell like alcohol.

What are the key requirements in Saudi Arabia to meet safety requirements? ›

Employer obligations
  • maintain the worksite in a clean and hygienic condition, provide adequate lighting, supply drinking and washing water, provide antiseptics and provide appropriate WCs.
  • take the necessary precautions to protect the workers against hazards, occupational diseases.
18 Nov 2015

Is there a dress code in Saudi Arabia? ›

In public places, wearing short skirts, tight trousers, and revealing tops will attract negative gazes and disapprovals. Instead, female tourists should choose a loose outfit or dress covering the shoulders, chest, and legs. Another critical consideration while dressing for Saudi Arabia is to wear only opaque fabrics.

Do you shake hands in Saudi Arabia? ›

In Saudi Arabia, when we greet each other, we say “Salam Alaykum,” which means “peace be upon you.” It is usually followed by a handshake if it is a formal meeting, or a kiss on the cheek if it's been a while since meeting that person — especially if they are family or a close friend.

Do you have to cover your hair in Saudi Arabia? ›

Covering your hair in Saudi Arabia and wearing a Hijab in Saudi Arabia is not needed unless you go inside a Mosque and unlike the Abaya culture and law, you will feel fine with you hair out in public as a tourist and non-Muslim in Saudi Arabia.

Can you show your ankles in Saudi Arabia? ›

Here is a checklist for women to follow before heading out: You aren't showing any skin: you are covered up to your wrists and your ankles and your cleavage isn't visible. You aren't wearing any tight clothes that show off your curves.

What items are not allowed in checked luggage in Saudi Arabia? ›

Saudi Arabia Prohibited and Restricted Items
  • Adult Toys.
  • Alcohol and alcohol related items.
  • Alcohol and Alcoholic products including spare parts & equipment's which are used for alcohol production, bottle caps and labels for Alcoholic products.
  • All kind of DG & Non-DG Chemicals.

Can you drink coffee in Saudi Arabia? ›

Perhaps because of its long history in the region, coffee is a symbol of hospitality throughout the Middle East. “It is the first beverage offered to any Saudi guest,” says Majed Al Muhanna, a heritage food documenter.

Is free speech allowed in Saudi Arabia? ›

Saudi Arabia is distinct from other Gulf Cooperation Council countries in that its constitution does not protect freedom of expression. The Basic Law of Governance, enacted as an informal constitution in 1992, formally specified limits to free expression.

Are Saudi people friendly? ›

People in Saudi Arabia are friendly, welcoming, and very steeped in their culture. This guide serves as an overview of what to expect there. In many ways, Saudi Arabia is a paradoxical country and culture. The people are hospitable but insular; friendly in some ways and rigid in others.

What documents are required for customs clearance in Saudi Arabia? ›

Saudi Arabia's Zakat, the tax and customs authority, requires importers to present a commercial invoice, a bill of lading, and a certificate of origin to import goods into Saudi Arabia. The importer is also required to present additional documents for certain imports.

What are the most common Arabic customs? ›

Long handshakes, grasped elbows, and walking hand in hand by two males is common place in the Arab world. Hugging only occurs between close friends. Only use the right hand to eat, touch and present gifts. Eye contact during discussions is often long and direct.

How much is customs duty in Saudi Arabia? ›

EY Global
Current rateNew rate
0 to 5%7% to 25%
5%15%
5%5.5 to 6.5%
5%10% to 15%
5 more rows
1 Jun 2020

What is the new rules in Saudi Arabia for expatriates? ›

Within a period of 60 days, the worker has the right to move to another employer or final exit, and after 60 days have passed without the expatriate worker taking one of these two options, the status of the expatriate worker becomes “absentee from work” in the ministry's systems and related regulations.

What is Article 79 Saudi labor law? ›

A worker who has been dismissed from work without valid reason may demand reinstatement. Such claims shall be considered in accordance with the provisions of this Law and the Litigation Regulations before the Commissions for the Settlement of Labor Disputes. Article (79):

What law is Saudi Arabia under? ›

Since Saudi Arabia is an Islamic state, its judicial system is based on Islamic law (Shari'ah) for both criminal and civil cases.

Who enforces laws in Saudi Arabia? ›

Law enforcement

The police department of the Saudi Ministry of the Interior is divided into three forces: the regular police, secret police and the religious police.

Which law in Saudi Arabia has considered some of the basic patients rights? ›

Health rights are basic human rights. The right to health care is stipulated in Article 27 and 31 of the Basic Laws of Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Health issued a Patient's Bill of Rights (PBR) in 2006.

What is Saudi moral code? ›

The Saudi people generally share a strong moral code and cultural values, such as hospitality, loyalty and a sense of duty to support their community. They are often highly aware of their personal honour and integrity. However, the country is also highly modernised and industrialised.

Do I have to declare medication at Customs? ›

Declare all drugs, medicinal, and similar products to the appropriate CBP official; Carry such substances in their original containers; Carry only the quantity of such substances that a person with that condition (e.g., chronic pain) would normally carry for his/her personal use; and.

Can I bring vitamins to Saudi Arabia? ›

Commercial shipments of Nutritional Supplements / Food Supplements / Vitamins / Medicine / Drugs require an import permit from the Ministry of Health (MOH) and or Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) and must be obtained by the importer prior to shipment arriving to any port of entry.

Can I take my prescription medication to Saudi Arabia? ›

Request to import prescription drugs must be filed with the branch of the Saudi Food and Drug Authority at the port of entry to which the drugs will arrive.

What is considered disrespectful in Arabic culture? ›

Showing public affection is generally considered rude and disrespectful across the Middle East. Although some cultures within the Middle East might be more tolerant than others, it's generally not a good idea to kiss, hug or openly display intimacy.

How do you greet Sheik? ›

In Saudi Arabia, the most common form of greeting is a handshake and the phrase “Assalaam 'alaikum” (May peace be upon you), to which the reply is “Wa 'alaikum assalaam” (And peace be upon you). Handshakes are most common in business settings and always use the right hand.

Should you tip in Saudi Arabia? ›

Tipping is common in Saudi Arabia, but it is not routine. It is also not required if a service charge is already included in the bill. Saudis usually tip expatriate service people and individual services in hotels despite the overall service charge.

Can you smoke in Saudi Arabia? ›

Smoking in Saudi Arabia is banned in airports, workplaces, universities, research centers, hospitals, government buildings, all public places, places involved with tourism, and in and around all places associated with religion, education, public events, sporting establishments, charity associations, all forms of public ...

Can a woman travel to Saudi Arabia alone? ›

In fact, the country is focused on growing the tourism sector and has been making major changes and investments to help reach this goal. One of the questions I heard a lot was whether a woman could apply for a visa to Saudi Arabia. The answer is yes. Women can even travel solo to Saudi Arabia.

Do they have night clubs in Saudi Arabia? ›

The cultural environment in Saudi Arabia is highly conservative. Religious law forbids the sale or consumption of alcohol throughout the country, so there are no bars or nightclubs.

What are 3 safety requirements? ›

The Basics of Safety
  • STAY ALERT - and stay alive. ...
  • WEAR THE RIGHT CLOTHES - work clothes should fit properly. ...
  • USE THE RIGHT TOOLS - if you need a hammer, get a hammer. ...
  • LEARN HOW TO LIFT - Lifting takes more than muscle; it is an art.

What are the immigration laws in Saudi Arabia? ›

Mecca has mandated a six-year cap on the residency of foreigners in the country, as part of its programme to control the local job market, and any Hajji or illegal overstayers are met with a mandatory prison sentence followed by swift deportation.

What are the five safety criteria? ›

5 Core Elements of Successful Safety Programs
  • SAFETY CULTURE. ...
  • EMPLOYEE TRAINING AND EMPOWERMENT. ...
  • HAZARD IDENTIFICATION AND CONTROL SYSTEMS. ...
  • FOCUS ON COMPLIANCE. ...
  • CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT. ...
  • LEADERSHIP AND ORGANIZATIONAL BUY-IN. ...
  • THE SAFETY MANAGER ROLE. ...
  • What is a safety manager's job role?
17 Dec 2018

Can you wear makeup in Saudi Arabia? ›

Can I wear makeup? Yes. The Arab women (Saudi women included) are very skilled in the art of applying makeup. Even if you see only the eyes, they are dramatically shadowed and otherwise elaborately enhanced, and their eyebrows waxed into precise shapes.

What is not allowed in Saudi Arabia? ›

Saudi law prohibits importation of the following products: weapons, alcohol, narcotics, pork and pork products, pornographic materials, distillery equipment, retreaded or used tires, used clothing and certain sculptures.

Can I wear Tshirt in Saudi? ›

T-shirts reaching the elbow are generally acceptable. Overall it's best to wear long baggy tops, long pants/trousers, or loose skirts and dresses that reach to the ankle. The only times you should stray from this rule is in your room, or on beaches clearly designated for swimwear.

What is considered disrespectful in Saudi Arabia? ›

Men and women are required to refrain from public displays of affection, and avoid using profane language or gestures. Taking pictures or recording videos without permission is not permitted. Visitors to Saudi Arabia should familiarise themselves with public decency laws.

How do you greet an Arab? ›

Common ways to greet someone include:
  1. As-salaam 'alykum – This is arguably the most common greeting. It means, “peace be upon you”. ...
  2. Ahlan (hello). This can be used for anyone at any time of the day. ...
  3. Marhaba (Welcome) It comes from the word “rahhaba” which means “to welcome”.

How do you say hello in Saudi Arabia language? ›

السلامعليكم(As-sa-lam a-lay-kum) This is a general and slightly more formal way to say hello. With friends you can say مرحبا(mar-ha-ban), though generally sticking with this greeting will work well.

Is Saudi Arabia friendly to tourists? ›

Saudi Arabia is mainly safe but there are extremely unsafe areas, particularly near the border with Iraq and Yemen. Some of the biggest concerns for tourists in Saudi Arabia should be disrespecting their moral codes, as this is followed by severe punishments. What is this?

What do tourists mainly do in Saudi Arabia? ›

Tourism in Saudi Arabia still largely involves religious pilgrimages. Mecca receives over three million pilgrims a year during the month of Dhu al-Hijjah in Hajj, and around two million during the month of Ramadan to perform Umrah.

What should tourists wear in Saudi Arabia? ›

Whilst times are changing, it's still best for a visitor to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, whether male or female, to cover as much skin as possible. You should wear modest opaque loose-fitting clothing at all times and have a headscarf and abaya at hand if you (are female and) plan to visit any religious buildings.

Is it safe to leave in Saudi Arabia? ›

There is a threat of terrorism in Saudi Arabia. An attack could happen anywhere, at any time. Several terror incidents have happened in Saudi Arabia in recent years, including those targeted at Saudi security forces. On occasion, attacks have targeted the minority Shia community in Saudi Arabia's Eastern province.

Is Saudi Arabia hard to visit? ›

“You need to be flexible, willing to ask people for advice, and a little bit lucky. If you are looking for an easy trip, this isn't it—but if you're ready for an adventure, to experience new things, there is so much to see in Saudi Arabia, and the people are wonderful and excited to share their culture.”

What makes Saudi Arabia so special? ›

Its strong economy has made it strategically important to the international community. Home to the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, Saudi Arabia has also become the de facto leader of the Sunni branch of Islam. The country has a crucial influence on the rest of the Gulf and beyond into the wider Muslim world.

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