Country guides Middle East
Electrical current is 220 volts, 60Hz. Three-pin, flat-bladed plugs are in use, in addition to round/flat-bladed two-pin plugs, as well as flat-bladed two-pin plugs with a third, round pin for grounding.
Arabic is the official language in Saudi Arabia, but English is widely understood.
The Saudi currency is the Riyal (SAR), divided into 100 halala. Foreign currency can be changed at banks and exchange bureaux. Banking hours are generally Saturday to Wednesday from 8am to 12pm. Some banks also choose to open again later in the afternoon and stay open into the evening, from 5pm to 8pm. All major credit cards are accepted at shops, hotels and restaurants in Saudi Arabia, with ATMs being widely available.
Service charge is usually included in bills at hotels. Elsewhere a tip of 10 percent can be offered for services rendered. Taxi drivers can be given 10 percent of the fare.
Anyone arriving in Saudi Arabia from a country infected with yellow fever requires a vaccination certificate for entry. People travelling to perform Hajj and Umrah are required to be inoculated against meningitis before travel and must present a vaccination certificate on arrival. Respiratory infections are common among pilgrims during the Hajj and Ramadan season.
There is a malaria risk in the south and parts of the western region of the country and visitors should take advice on anti-malarial precautions at least four weeks before leaving. Both an outbreak of cerebral malaria and Rift Valley Fever have occurred in Jizan, with Dengue fever also having been reported.
Food poisoning is a risk outside the good hotels and visitors should only drink bottled water. The standard of medical care and facilities in Saudi Arabia is high, but treatment is expensive so travel insurance is strongly advised.
Safety in Saudi Arabia is a concern to some extent. All travel within 60 miles (100km) of the border with Yemen is not advised due to the clashes along the Saudi-Yemeni border.
Travellers should ensure they have individual security arrangements, remain vigilant and avoid public gatherings. Visitors should be particularly alert in public places frequented by foreigners such as shopping malls, restaurants and hotels and in the desert outside Riyadh.
Pilgrims are increasingly being targeted by pickpockets in Mecca and Medina and are advised to take care of personal possessions. In recent years pilgrims have died due to overcrowding and stampedes at events during Hajj. Religious police patrols rigorously enforce codes of behaviour and dress prescribed by Islamic law and visitors should respect these.
Saudi Arabia is an Islamic country, meaning Sharia law is strictly enforced. No alcohol, pork products or religious books and artefacts not related to Islam are permitted in the country. There are no bars in Saudi Arabia, and alcohol is served nowhere to anyone of any religious persuasion.
Dress should be conservative at all times, and women should take particular care not to offend. Visitors are advised to familiarise themselves with behaviour and dress codes before entering the country. Homosexual behaviour and extramarital sexual relations are illegal and can carry the death penalty. It is also illegal to be transgender.
Photography of local people, government buildings, military installations and palaces is not allowed. Religious customs should be respected, particularly during the month of Ramadan when eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours should be discreet as it is forbidden by the Muslim culture. The right hand should be used for everything, including eating and the giving and receiving of things, as the left is considered unclean. It is illegal to hold two passports, and second passports will be confiscated if discovered by immigration authorities.
If you are looking to do business in Saudi Arabia, prepare yourself for a unique experience. The Saudi corporate world is perhaps the most foreign of any of the Gulf nations, and in all likelihood you are going to have to remain flexible and to learn new skills, in order to make a real success of your time in the country. It is vitally important to understand that Saudi society is underpinned by fervent belief in the tenets of Islam.
The business culture of Saudi Arabia is prototypically Arabic, in that a great emphasis is placed on personal relationships between business associates. Saudi businessmen will always prefer to do business with people they are familiar with, or people who they feel they can trust, so it's worth putting in the time and effort to cultivate business relationships. In Saudi Arabia, business meetings will most likely be lengthy and subject to numerous interruptions and personal digressions. You will be judged on your conduct in meetings, so treat them as necessary parts of the relationship-building process.
Despite the heat, business dress in Saudi Arabia is strictly smart, formal and conservative, especially for women, who must take extreme care not to wear anything too revealing. The official language of Saudi Arabia is Arabic, though English is widely spoken and widely understood in the business world. Hours of business are generally from 8am to 12pm, and then 3pm to 6pm, from Sunday to Thursday.
Travellers to Saudi Arabia do not have to pay duty on 600 cigarettes or 100 cigars or 500g tobacco, perfume or cultured pearls for personal use, or goods up to the value SAR3,000. Duty is payable on cameras and other electronic goods, and refunds on these are available if the articles are re-exported within 90 days.
Strictly prohibited are pork, narcotics, alcoholic drinks, anti-Islamic goods and publications, gambling devices, weapons and ammunition, explosives, fireworks, unlabelled medication, goods which prominently display flags of another country, goods bearing names and pictures of celebrities, wild animal hides, counterfeit money. Other prohibited items include formula milk, natural sand, and natural pearls.
The international dialling code for Saudi Arabia is +966. Mobile telephone coverage is extensive, even in remote parts of the country. Internet facilities are available in most towns and cities.
Passport & Visa
All visitors require a visa to enter Saudi Arabia, and visas are only granted to those with sponsorship in the country. Tourist visas are hard to get, granted only to selected groups on a limited basis. Everyone who enters the Kingdom should have a valid passport with at least six months validity in addition to the appropriate visa and a return ticket, with all necessary documents. Muslim women entering the Kingdom alone must be met by a sponsor or male relative and have confirmed accommodation for the duration of their stay. Entry may be refused to any visitor arriving in an intoxicated state, men wearing shorts, women in tight clothing or with legs and arms exposed, and to couples displaying affection in public. There are special requirements for pilgrims undertaking the Hajj or visiting holy sites. It is strongly recommended not to hold passports containing any Israeli visa or stamp when entering or transiting Saudi Arabia as entry may be refused.
US citizens require a passport and visa to enter Saudi Arabia, and must be valid for the duration of their stay.
British passport holders require a passport that is valid for a minimum of six months from the date of arrival, and a visa to enter Saudi Arabia.
Canadians require a passport that is valid for a minimum of six months from the date of arrival, and a visa to enter Saudi Arabia.
Australians require a passport that is valid for a minimum of six months from the date of arrival, and a visa to enter Saudi Arabia.
South Africans require a passport that is valid for a minimum of six months from the date of arrival, and a visa to enter Saudi Arabia.
Irish passport holders require a passport that is valid for a minimum of six months from the date of arrival, and a visa to enter Saudi Arabia.
New Zealanders require a passport that is valid for a minimum of six months from the date of arrival, and a visa to enter Saudi Arabia.
The Supreme Commission for Tourism, Riyadh: +966 (0)1 480 8855 or www.scta.gov.sa.Emergencies: 999 (Police), 997 (Ambulance), 998 (Fire).
Embassies / consulates in other countries
Saudi Arabian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 342 3800.
Saudi Arabian Embassy, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 (0)20 7917 3000.
Saudi Arabian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 237 4100.
Saudi Arabian Embassy, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 (0)2 6250 7000.
Saudi Arabian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa +27 (0)12 362 4230.
Embassies / consulates in Saudi Arabia
United States Embassy, Riyadh: +966 (0)1 488 3800.
British Embassy, Riyadh: +966 (0)11 481 9100.
Canadian Embassy, Riyadh: +966 (0)11 488 2288.
Australian Embassy, Riyadh: +966 (0)1 488 7788.
South African Embassy, Riyadh: + 966 (0)1 422 9716.
Irish Embassy, Riyadh: +966 (0)1 488 2300.
New Zealand Embassy, Riyadh: +966 (0)1 488 7988.