Saudi Arabia

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Thursday, 16 January 2014.   It contains new information under Safety and Security (on 13 January 2014, gunmen fired on a vehicle carrying two German diplomats at Awamiya, Eastern Province). We continue to advise Australians to reconsider their need to travel to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia overall

Summary

  • We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Saudi Arabia due to the threat of terrorist attack. Terrorist attacks could occur at anytime, anywhere in Saudi Arabia, including in Riyadh, Al Khobar, Jeddah and other major cities.
  • Piracy occurs in the southern Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. We strongly advise Australians to maintain a high level of vigilance and to exercise extreme caution when anywhere near these waters.
  • We strongly recommend that you register your travel and contact details with us, so we can contact you in an emergency.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
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Entry and exit

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Saudi Arabia for the most up-to-date information.

Applicants for Saudi visas need to provide fingerprints with their applications.

For information about visa requirements for pilgrims wishing to undertake either the Hajj or Umrah, contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Saudi Arabia or visit the Ministry of Hajj website.

One-time visitors on a single-entry visa do not need an exit permit to depart Saudi Arabia. However, foreigners holding Saudi work and/or residency permits who wish to depart Saudi Arabia need to obtain an exit permit. The request for these permits is submitted to the Saudi Ministry of Interior via the foreigner’s Saudi sponsor.

Persons involved in business or labour disputes or employment dismissal disputes are generally not granted an exit visa until the case is resolved in the courts or abandoned. This may take many months. Saudi sponsors have substantial leverage in such dispute negotiations.

Visitors to Saudi Arabia who overstay their visa are subject to a fine of 10,000 Saudi Riyals (approximately A$2,700) and incarceration pending deportation proceedings.

Women and children residing in Saudi Arabia as members of a Saudi household need permission from a male relative to depart Saudi Arabia. Women visitors and residents travelling alone who are not met by sponsors have experienced delays before being allowed to enter the country or to continue on other flights. Since February 2008, a Saudi man who wants to marry a foreign woman must sign a binding agreement to allow her and their children to travel freely to and from Saudi Arabia. This requirement does not apply to marriages before 20 February 2008.

All passengers must declare any cash, transferable monetary documents or precious metals worth more than Saudi Riyals 60,000 (approximately AU$15,000) on arrival to and departure from Saudi Arabia. Saudi customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning the importation into the country of banned items such as weapons, and items held to be contrary to the tenets of Islam, such as pork products, alcohol products, pornography (including images of scantily clad people, particularly women), religious books and materials (other than those reflecting orthodox Islam). For more information and declaration forms, visit the Saudi Customs website.

Saudi Arabia requires all travellers under the age of 15 years travelling to Saudi Arabia from countries reporting polio outbreaks to provide proof of up-to-date polio vaccination. Travellers should contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Saudi Arabia for further information.

A valid yellow fever vaccination certificate is required for entry into Saudi Arabia if you have come from or transited an area with a risk of yellow fever.

You may be refused entry to Saudi Arabia if your passport or luggage has evidence of travel to Israel, such as Israeli entry or exit stamps or any stickers with writing in Hebrew.

Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Safety and security

Terrorism

We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Saudi Arabia due to the threat of terrorist attack. Terrorist groups are active in the country. However, Saudi authorities continue to detain and prosecute suspected terrorists.

On 13 January 2014, gunmen fired on a vehicle carrying two German diplomats at Awamiya, Eastern Province. The occupants of the vehicle were not injured. A number of other shooting incidents have been reported in the Eastern Province since December 2013.

Terrorist attacks could occur at anytime, anywhere in Saudi Arabia, including in Riyadh, Al Khobar, Jeddah and other major cities. Terrorist tactics could include bombings or smaller-scale attacks, such as drive-by shootings and kidnapping. Past attacks have killed many people, including Australians.

If you do travel to Saudi Arabia, you should exercise extreme caution. If you are in Saudi Arabia and concerned for your safety, you should consider departing.

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. You can find more information about this threat in our General advice to Australian travellers.

For more information about kidnapping, see our Kidnapping threat travel bulletin.

The Australian Government's longstanding policy is that it does not make payments or concessions to kidnappers. The Australian Government considers that paying a ransom increases the risk of further kidnappings, including of other Australians. If you do decide to travel to an area where there is a particular threat of kidnapping, you should ensure you have personal security measures in place, seek professional security advice and take out kidnapping insurance.

Civil unrest/political tension

Demonstrations are illegal under Saudi law. You should avoid all protests and demonstrations as they may turn violent and you may be detained in the vicinity of the event.

You should take particular care in the period surrounding Friday prayers.

Although demonstrations are illegal in Saudi Arabia, political developments in the region and international events may prompt large demonstrations or civil unrest. These demonstrations could turn violent and should be avoided.

Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

Crime

The crime rate is low. Petty theft does occur, particularly in crowded places. Opportunistic theft from vehicles also occurs and valuables should not be left in view.

Local travel

Driving standards in Saudi Arabia are lower than in Australia. The annual death toll on Saudi roads is extremely high. An average of 19 people die on Saudi roads each day. Many drivers do not adhere to road rules and visibility on roads can be affected by dust storms. For further advice, see our road travel page.

Avoid leaving your vehicle unattended. If you do, carefully inspect the interior and exterior and the immediate vicinity for suspicious objects.

You should check with Saudi authorities whether you need approval to travel outside the main cities. You should travel with a companion if you do leave those cities.

Saudi Arabia has an extensive network of checkpoints where you must present identification papers. For more details, see Local Laws.

Women are not permitted to drive vehicles or ride bicycles.

Travellers entering the Gulf area by sea should be aware that many areas are sensitive in relation to security and territory. In particular, maritime boundaries and the islands of Abu Musa and the Tunbs in the southern Gulf are the subject of jurisdictional disputes. There are reports of detentions and inspections of vessels and arrest. For more information, you should also read our Travelling by boat page.

Piracy occurs in the southern Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. All forms of shipping are attractive targets for Somali pirates, including commercial vessels, pleasure craft (yachts etc) and luxury cruise liners. We strongly advise Australians to maintain a high level of vigilance and to exercise extreme caution when anywhere near these waters. For more information about piracy, see our piracy bulletin. The International Maritime Bureau issues piracy reports on its website.

Money and valuables

Before you go, organise a variety of ways to access your money overseas, such as credit cards, travellers' cheques, cash, debit cards or cash cards. Australian currency and travellers' cheques are not accepted in many countries. Consult with your bank to find out which is the most appropriate currency to carry and whether your ATM card will work overseas.

Make two photocopies of valuable documents such as your passport, tickets, visas and travellers' cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.

While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.

As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering, including theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

You are required to pay an additional fee to have a lost or stolen passport replaced. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports.

Airline safety

Please refer to our air travel page for information about aviation safety and security.

Laws

When you are in Saudi Arabia, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

In recent years, a number of Australians have been arrested while travelling or living in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi authorities did not report these cases to the Australian Embassy in Riyadh. We strongly recommend you register your travel and contact details with us and keep family and friends updated on your whereabouts.

The Australian Embassy will make every effort to gain consular access to detained Australians at the first available opportunity, however, consular officials are required to obtain prior approval for their visits from the Saudi authorities, and approvals are not granted automatically.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

People suspected of committing an offence in Saudi Arabia may be detained without charge or access to legal assistance for months while waiting for the investigation to conclude and an appearance in court.

People convicted of an offence can expect long jail sentences, public floggings, heavy fines or deportation. Penalties for certain offences, such as trafficking, possessing or using drugs, are severe and include the death penalty. Other offences punishable with the death penalty include murder, adultery, rape and abandoning religion (Islam). Penalties for some criminal offences include corporal punishment and deportation. Theft-related offences may be punished with amputation, while offenders may be sentenced to lashes for other crimes.

Saudi authorities do not permit criticism of the royal family or Islam, and the government prohibits the public practice of religions other than Islam. Preaching religions other than Islam may result in imprisonment and corporal punishment. Strict laws apply to blasphemy and religious pilgrims should avoid making statements or utterances that could be interpreted as blasphemy. People suspected of violating these restrictions have been sentenced to long jail terms and floggings.

Homosexual activity is illegal and penalties include the death penalty.

Australians who might engage in activities that involve any local legal matters, particularly with regard to family law (divorce, child custody and child support) and employment contracts, are strongly advised to seek professional advice and ensure they are aware of their rights, responsibilities and obligations.

All Saudis wishing to marry non-Saudis must get a letter of approval from the Ministry of the Interior.

Foreigners are required to carry their residency card (iqama) or their passport with them at all times. The Saudi authorities have the right to check identification and this can occur regularly, due to the large number of security checkpoints both in the cities and on the roads between cities. Some employers in Saudi Arabia retain the passports of their foreign employees and return them only when the employee needs to travel.

Possession of alcohol may result in imprisonment and corporal punishment. Travellers have been detained on arrival in Saudi Arabia when police have detected the smell of alcohol on their breath.

Women are legally required to wear the abaya, a long black cloak that conceals their body shape, in all public places. The abaya is worn over normal clothing. It is advisable for women to carry a headscarf that can be worn in case of confrontation by the religious police (Muttawa) or a private citizen who takes offence. In some particularly conservative areas of the country, it is advisable for women to also wear the niqab (face veil).

Photography of official buildings, including government buildings, military installations, checkpoints, embassies and palaces, and some religious sites is illegal and carries harsh penalties.

Business travellers involved in a commercial dispute with a Saudi company or individual may be prevented from leaving the country until the dispute is resolved.

It is illegal for unmarried couples to live together. Hotels may refuse accommodation to couples unable to provide proof of marriage. Foreign women travelling alone may be refused hotel accommodation, even if they are carrying a letter from their male guardian giving them permission to travel.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Local customs

There are strong Islamic codes of dress and behaviour in Saudi Arabia. Any displays of disrespect for Islam will cause great offence. You should take care not to offend. If in doubt, seek local advice.

During Ramadan, eating, drinking and smoking between sunrise and sunset is forbidden for Muslims. Non-Muslims are advised not to eat or drink in public during this time, and can be detained (and potentially deported) for doing so.

Men should avoid wearing shorts, or short-sleeved or unbuttoned shirts. For details on legally acceptable clothing for women, please see Local Laws. You should seek advice on what is acceptable clothing before you arrive and take care not to offend.

Foreign women have reported incidents of verbal harassment after being approached by the religious police (Muttawa), usually for not wearing a headscarf. If approached by the religious police, you should remain sensitive to their authority and seek to end the encounter as quickly as possible by covering your hair with a scarf and leaving the area immediately. The religious police may also approach men for wearing shorts in public places.

Unrelated men and women are not permitted to interact in public spaces unless at least one spouse is present. There have been recent cases of the religious police harassing Australian citizens who were sitting in restaurants with friends of the opposite gender. If approached by the religious police, you should remain sensitive to their authority and seek to end the encounter as quickly as possible by leaving the area immediately.

Public displays of affection, including kissing and holding hands, are considered offensive.

Public events are segregated according to gender.

Information for dual nationals

The Saudi Government does not recognise dual nationality. This may limit the ability of the Australian Government to provide consular assistance to Australian/Saudi dual nationals who are arrested or detained.

It is illegal to hold two passports in Saudi Arabia – second passports will be confiscated by the immigration authorities if they are discovered.

Our Dual nationals page provides further information for dual nationals.

Health

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

The standard of medical facilities in Saudi Arabia varies: most facilities in major cities offer high to very high quality services, while minor towns or small cities are adequate for routine procedures only. Private healthcare facilities generally require payment at the time of treatment. In the event of a serious illness or accident or for complex medical procedures, medical evacuation to a destination with appropriate facilities may be necessary. Medical evacuation costs would be considerable.

Cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus have been reported in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Several other countries have reported imported cases, or cases amongst returned travellers or their close contacts. Further information is available from the Australian Department of Health website. See also the WHO page on coronavirus infections. The Saudi Ministry of Health has also established a website for information on novel coronavirus.

Sandstorms and dust storms occur regularly in Saudi Arabia and may cause allergies.

Malaria is common in south-western Saudi Arabia (except in high altitude areas of Asir province), but the risk is low in Jeddah, Mecca and Medina. Chloroquine-resistant strains of malaria are reported. Other insect-borne diseases (including Dengue fever and leishmaniasis) occur. We encourage you to consider taking prophylaxis against malaria where necessary and to take measures to avoid being bitten by insects, including using an insect repellent, wearing long, loose-fitting, light coloured clothing and ensuring your accommodation is mosquito proof.

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including typhoid, hepatitis, brucellosis and rabies) are present in Saudi Arabia with outbreaks occurring from time to time. Serious outbreaks of meningitis have occurred, particularly in association with the Hajj pilgrimage. We advise you to boil all drinking water or to drink bottled water and avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Do not swim in fresh water to avoid exposure to certain water-borne diseases such as bilharzia (schistosomiasis). Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Where to get help

In Saudi Arabia, you can obtain consular assistance from the:

Australian Embassy, Riyadh

Diplomatic Quarter
Riyadh
KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA
Telephone: (966 11) 250 0900
Facsimile: (966 11) 250 0902
Website: www.saudiarabia.embassy.gov.au

The working week is Sunday to Thursday, in accordance with local practice.

If you are travelling to Saudi Arabia, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we strongly recommend you register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

In a consular emergency, if you are unable to contact the Embassy you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

Saudi Arabia often experiences extremely high temperatures. During the hottest months of the year (from June to August), the temperature can exceed 50˚C.

Sandstorms and dust storms occur regularly.

For parents

For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling with children page.



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.