Saudi Arabia Country Brief
Security travel advice for Saudi Arabia
Threat level: Low-Medium
The current travel safety advice for travelling to Saudi Arabia is to remain extra cautious as there is a high possibility of a terror attack against Western interests by ISIS/ISIL related groups. Since 2015, there have been a number of attacks on mosques in which ISIL has claimed responsibility for.
ISIS/ISIL have released videos and websites calling for attacks upon westerners at various locations including expat workers, military, transport and logistic hubs, tourist locations and schools.
Saudi Arabia is at war with rebels in Yemen since 2015 (Code-named Operation Decisive Storm) and is supporting the Yemani Hadi government, leading a Arab coalition of nine African and Middle East countries; coalition involvement includes deployment of ground forces into Yemen (thought to be mainly Specail Forces); naval blockades, air-strikes, intelligence and logistical support.
It is reported that Saudi Arabia king, King Salman is to step down and hand over the Crown to his 32-year-old son Prince Mohammed bin Salman; formal announcements are yet to be made.
The Crown Prince, Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Novemner 2017 led a crackdown on corrupt members of the Saudi Royal family and officials. This has not affected foreign nationals in Saudi.
Recent Security Risk Events
Attacks could be carried out not only by ISIS/Daesh/ISIL but also other extremist groups such as Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The AQAP have carried out attacks against facilities such as housing compounds, shopping areas, international schools, hotels, government facilities, food and entertainment locations. Festivals can be a target of attack; a previous plan to attack the Al-Janadriah festival had been prevented in early 2016.
In January 2017 two suicide bombers were killed by a police officer before they were able to detonate an explosive device in the Riyadh district. It is thought that Islamic State were behind this failed attack.
In July 2016, four Saudi security forces were killed by suicide bombers outside one of the holiest sites in Islam, the Prophet Mosque in Medina. Despite the lack of ownership of the attack, similarities with other attacks makes it likely to be ISIS-related.
On September 11th 2015, a crane had collapsed upon the Holy Mosque in Makkah killing 100 persons and injuring many. Please take appropriate safety measures when making a pilgrimage participating in the Hajj, as gatherings have resulted in fatalities due to crushing. One case was an incident on 25th September 2015 in Mina where 750 persons had died. You will need to check that your visa will be permitted as there is an ongoing effort to reduce visitor numbers by the Ministry of Hajj.
Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country and as such local laws, customs and traditions must be respected. Please make sure your behaviour reflects this and does not cause offence, as these are strictly enforced. Please note that in Saudi Arabia you can be held without charge by the police force.
Be aware that there is a higher risk of pick pocketing and petty thefts during times where large crowds gather, this has been prominent in the Grand Mosque, Makkah and also Midina.
One area of concern surrounds the possible spread of infectious or contagious diseases during Hajj and Umrah with so many people in one small area, many from under developed countries with little disease control. Extra personal hygiene precautions should be taken at these times and you should avoid personal contact with others.
Please heed caution when booking and planning your itinerary for travel, select residence based on security measures and vary your routes and travel to aid keeping a low profile. Take care when using your vehicle and carry out appropriate safety checks before departure.
Although the crime rate in Saudi Arabia is low please note that there have been previous incidents of kidnapping of western nationals, and as such adequate personal security precautions should be taken.
Demonstrations are illegal so unlikely to occur however there have been violent clashes between security forces and demonstrators when these have happened. Please avoid demonstrations and take appropriate measures to ensure your safety. Popular destinations of demonstration breakouts occur within the Shia communities in the Qatif area of Eastern Province and Al Hasa.
There is great concern that the situation on the border of Saudi Arabia-Yemen may get worse and deteriorate. The situation across the border in Yemen involving The Houthis, a rebel group, part of a branch of Shia Islam known as Zaidism is getting worse and in March 2015 the Saudi Military launched air strikes against them in an action to halt their aggression the in region. The conflict is still ongoing. Please do not travel within 50km of the Yemen border.
Scud missiles have been known to cross the border into Saudi Arabia, mainly the south-west province. The Saudi government have announced an ‘out of bounds’ a zone of 20km from the entire northern border of the country, and from the border in the Hafr Al-Batin and Khafji areas in the Eastern Province. If you fail to adhere to these restrictions you can face a fine penalty or a lengthy prison term. Signs have been placed in locations where it is safe to cross.
The international relations of Saudi Arabia have sometimes been strained with its bordering countries, there is an on-going conflict within Yemen, of which Saudi Arabia has been carrying out airstrikes upon. Being one of the largest oil producers in the world it has many global corporate and diplomatic ties, however there is concerns with regards to its relations with the US, the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, Iraq, the perceived threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran, although these are thought to be improving with the western authorities with diplomatic talks ongoing.
If you are planning to travel for any distance outside of large town and cities it is advised that you ensure that you are carrying spare fuel, food and water and that you have good, working satellite communications and navigational aids.
It is advised you do not travel near to the Saudi-Iraq border due to a higher risk of incident.
Standards of driving can be questionable, especially away from many city locations. Please take normal safety precautions when driving and always wear a seat belt. Road travel in Saudi Arabia is dangerous and road conditions in rural areas are very poor as can be expected. Saudi Arabia has one of the worst records for deaths on the road. In 2010, 6800 deaths were recorded.
Saudi Arabia is a typically dry country, however some flooding occur when there are heavy rains in the period between November and February.
Currency: Saudi Riyal
Time now in Riyadh:
All visitors to Saudi Arabia require a visa and this can be difficult to obtain in the run up to or during the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Hajj. All Muslim visitors during Hajj will require a valid Hajj visa and all non-Muslim travellers will need to show evidence of reasons for their stay. This is particularly important for any travel to Jeddah and you should allow plenty of time for your visa to be processed and accepted. Females travelling alone will require a sponsor to meet them at the airport or they will not be permitted to enter the country. Visitors from all other countries should check with their Embassy or Consulate.
All Hajj and Umrah pilgrims are required to present a certificate of vaccination against meningococcal meningitis infection ACWY. This is a necessary condition for visas to be granted.
It is advised that visitors to Saudi Arabia are up-to-date with primary boosters such as MMR. You should ensure that you have been further vaccinated against diseases such as Tetanus which is usually administered when you are a young baby. You may also want to consider a Hepatitis A vaccination.
Travellers arriving from the following countries will be required to show evidence that they have received a polio vaccine at least 4 weeks prior to departure to Saudi Arabia: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Cameroon, Nigeria, Somalia, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza), Syrian Arab Republic, Madagascar, South Sudan and Yemen. You will also be administered a dose or oral polio vaccine upon arrival to the country. Your doctor should be able to give you more information.
Although there is no direct risk of Yellow Fever in Saudi Arabia, if you are coming from a country where there is a risk of the disease, or transiting for longer than 12 hours in an at risk country, you will be required to provide a vaccination certificate. Check with your local health professional prior to travel if you are unsure.
Other health risks
Medical care varies greatly out of the main cities and large towns and can prove costly. Within the larger cities, the standard of treatment is excellent and efficient. Ensure that you have adequate health and travel insurance to cover the cost of any necessary medical care.
Personal hygiene must be paramount and with many Middle East countries it is advised to drink bottled water.
Be aware that during Hajj and Ramadan, diseases and illnesses can spread quickly through the vast number of people visiting the country and gathering together in areas. You should bring sufficient supplies of basic medication to last the entirety of your trip and ensure that your personal hygiene is paramount.
U.S. Embassy Riyadh
P.O. Box 94309,
Telephone: +966 114 883800
Telephone: +966 126 670080 (Jeddah)
Telephone: +966 0114 819100
Other useful info
Police emergency: 999
Traffic Police (Al Maroor): 993
Fire emergency: 998
Medical emergency: 997
Saudi Arabia is a very strict country with many religious laws and traditions. It is very important that visitors respect the cultural of Saudi Arabia at all times. Further advice can be found here: Cultural advice on visiting Saudi Arabia