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Blog>Things To Know Before Visiting Saudi Arabia | Travel Advice

Things To Know Before Visiting Saudi Arabia | Travel Advice

Ready to embark on an unforgettable journey to Saudi Arabia? Get set for an exciting adventure with our informative guide by your side. We're here to help you breeze through visa procedures, travel rules and cultural tips so you can make the most of your trip.

Safety is key! From dressing modestly to exploring transportation options, we've got you covered. Plus, we'll cover friendly interactions, basic Arabic phrases and cultural dos and don'ts – all the things that make your journey more meaningful and less stressful.

So, step onto Saudi Arabian soil with confidence. Our guide is like a friendly companion, making sure you navigate respectfully and soak up the incredible experiences this nation has to offer.

Travel Advice and Tips When Visiting Saudi Arabia

Visa Application

Before you can enter Saudi Arabia, you’ll need to think about the country’s visa requirements. The visa application process will vary depending on your nationality and the purpose of your visit. If you’re a resident of the UK, US or the EU, you should be able to easily apply online with an e-Visa application. You can also apply for a tourist visa on arrival at any of Saudi Arabia’s international airports. With Saudi’s e-Visa, you can choose between a 30-day visa and a 90-day visa. However, please be aware that if you stay any longer than your visa allows, you will be deported and fined! Find out more about Saudi Arabia's visas here at Alternative Airlines.

Required Documents

This may sound obvious but there are certain documents you will need with you in order to enter Saudi Arabia, other than your e-Visa. 

  • Firstly, you’ll need a valid passport - make sure your passport has at least 6 months of validity before the date of your departure. You may be required to have 2 recent passport-sized photographs with you as well! Learn more about passport expiry rules here.
  • Your visa application form is essential - you need to make sure it’s accurate too!
  • Don’t forget your travel itinerary - go into detail about your travel plans, why you want to visit Saudi Arabia, where you plan to stay, and your intended arrival and departure dates.
  • You will be asked for proof of accommodation - this could be a hotel reservation or an invitation letter from a host.
  • Make sure you provide proof that you can cover your expenses during your stay - this can be in the form of bank statements.
  • If you’re entering Saudi Arabia for religious purposes (such as for Hajj or Umrah), you’ll need to show documents related to your pilgrimage plans.
Passport in a pocket on a bag

Travel Regulations

Got your e-Visa sorted and all other required documents ready? Now it’s time to consider other important travel regulations before you set off on your journey to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia follows conservative Islamic practices. This means you need to dress modestly with clothing that covers your shoulders, arms and legs. If you’re visiting Saudi Arabia with your partner or spouse, avoid public displays of affection as it isn’t acceptable. You’ll also need to adhere to local customs and traditions, such as avoiding criticism of the royal family and respecting prayer times. We'll go into more detail on these points later on.

Another important factor to consider for your trip is travel insurance - while it’s not mandatory, having comprehensive travel insurance is highly recommended. This will cover you for medical emergencies, trip cancellations, lost belongings and other unforeseen situations, giving you peace of mind for your trip to Saudi Arabia. Make sure you’re up to date with any required vaccinations and health screenings before you travel. You’ll also need to be prepared for thorough security screenings at Saudi Arabian airports and cooperate with authorities if necessary.

Currency and Travel Budget

The official currency of Saudi Arabia is the Saudi Riyal (SAR). Keep an eye on currency exchange rates before your trip to get an idea of how much your money will be worth in Saudi Riyals. It’s worth noting that most major credit and debit cards are accepted in hotels, restaurants and shops, however, it's always a good idea to carry some cash for smaller establishments or places that may not accept cards.

To help you keep an eye on your budget for your Saudi Arabia trip, research and plan your expenses in advance, factoring in accommodations, transportation, meals, sightseeing and shopping. If you’re concerned about spending too much money during your travels, you can opt for cheap activities such as eating local street food, using public transportation, purchasing souvenirs and handicrafts, visiting mosques and historical sites, and exploring local markets (souks), all of which are budget-friendly options. On the other hand, if you plan to splash out and are ready to spend a lot of money, you can choose to stay at luxury hotels, opt for fine dining restaurants, purchase luxury brands and book private tours/exclusive experiences, which won’t be hard to find in Saudi Arabia.

Top Tip: Book your flights to Saudi Arabia and pay later using a flexible Buy Now Pay Later plan at Alternative Airlines, including Tabby, Afterpay, Klarna and more!

Contactless payment

Travel Advice You Need To Follow

So, you made it into Saudi Arabia - what now? Keep reading to find out more travel tips that can help you safely and respectfully navigate the beautiful nation of Saudi Arabia. Once you’re in Saudi Arabia, you’ll need to consider keeping yourself safe, respecting local laws and customs and dressing modestly. If you’re visiting Saudi Arabia’s bustling cities, such as Riyadh or Jeddah, make sure you are vigilant in crowded areas, especially during events or religious gatherings. 

Dressing Modestly

Get to know the Saudi Arabian laws and avoid behaviours that could be considered disrespectful or offensive to the local culture. You can be respectful by dressing modestly as Saudi Arabia has a conservative dress code, especially for women. Women are advised to wear loose-fitting, modest clothing that covers the arms and legs - this could be a long tunic or top that extends below the hips and paired with pants or a long skirt. Women can also choose to wear an abaya (a loose-fitting black cloak). It’s not mandatory for non-Muslim women to wear a headscarf (hijab) however carrying one to cover your head in certain situations can be a sign of respect.

Men also need to dress modestly and avoid clothing such as shorts and sleeveless shirts. Wearing long trousers and a shirt with sleeves is recommended to avoid being disrespectful.

But what about swimwear? It’s generally acceptable to wear swimwear at private hotel beaches or pools, however, it is very inappropriate to wear revealing swimwear in public areas in Saudi Arabia. Try to opt for more modest swimwear options wherever possible.

It’s worth noting that the degree of enforcement of dress codes may vary depending on the region you’re visiting. Riyadh and Jeddah are considered to be more cosmopolitan than other regions of Saudi Arabia, therefore there may be more flexibility with what you can wear. But to avoid any trouble, try to dress as modestly as possible.

A woman and a man looking out to the desert in Neom, Saudi Arabia

Be Respectful

As well as dressing modestly, there are a few do’s and don’ts that you should follow when visiting Saudi Arabia.

  • Do not show any public displays of affection (such as holding hands or hugging). This is considered to be inappropriate and offensive. Physical contact between unrelated men and women in public is also discouraged.
  • Avoid criticising Islam or the Royal Family. Don’t engage or encourage any discussions around criticism of Islam or the Saudi royal family as this is not only highly offensive but also illegal.
  • Respect religious practices. Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam - show respect during prayer times, avoid disruptions at mosques and don’t enter prayer areas unless you’re a Muslim.
  • Respect gender segregation. In many public places in Saudi Arabia, there are separate areas for men and women. You need to respect these designated spaces and adhere to any gender segregation guidelines.
  • If you’re a non-Muslim visiting Saudi Arabia during the holy month of Ramadan, you need to avoid eating, drinking and smoking in public areas during daylight hours out of respect for Muslims who are fasting from sunrise to sunset.
  • We all love to take photos while travelling, but in Saudi Arabia, you need to avoid taking photos of government buildings, military installations and sensitive areas. It’s a given, but you should also ask for permission if you wish to take photos of people, especially women.
  • If you’re visiting Saudi Arabia for a business trip, avoid scheduling meetings or appointments on Fridays as this is the Muslim holy day.

Whether you’re visiting Saudi Arabia as a tourist or for business purposes, following this advice means you’ll be able to demonstrate respect for the Saudi Arabian culture and create a positive impression.

Getting Around Saudi Arabia

You’re probably thinking “Great, I now know how to respect the Saudi Arabian culture and customs, but how do I actually get around the country?”. Saudi Arabia has a continuously expanding transportation network. Depending on the city you’re visiting, different modes of transportation will be available.

Public Transport

Saudi Arabia has been investing significantly in its public transportation network in order to improve connectivity between its cities and regions. Major cities like Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam have developed modern and efficient bus networks that provide an affordable and convenient way to get around. There’s no need to worry about getting too hot in a stuffy bus - Saudi Arabia’s buses are equipped with air conditioning and are always on time, making it a popular mode of transportation for both locals and tourists.

Other than buses, Saudi Arabia has introduced a high-speed railway system called the Haramain Train. This train connects key cities such as Mecca, Medina, Jeddah and King Abdullah Economic City. It’s a comfortable and efficient way to travel between these destinations, especially for those on pilgrimage leisure trips!

Taxis and Ride Sharing

Taxis are always available in Saudi Arabia. Many taxis in Saudi Arabia don’t have meters so it’s recommended that you negotiate a fare before starting your taxi ride. Make sure to use licensed taxis from reputable companies. You can also use ride-sharing services such as Uber and Careem. With these services, you’ll get upfront pricing and you can track your ride in real-time. Payment is done safely and securely through the app.

Car Rental

If public transportation isn’t your thing, you can opt for a car rental instead. Renting a car for your trip to Saudi Arabia is a great option if you’re planning to explore multiple cities in the country. Saudi Arabia has well-maintained highways and road networks, making your road trip more enjoyable. However, if you’re considering hiring a car, you’ll need to have an International Driving Permit (IDP), as well as a valid driver’s licence from your home country. You’ll need to familiarise yourself with local traffic rules and regulations - seat belts are mandatory for all passengers and mobile phone use while driving is strictly prohibited. 

Domestic Flights

What if you want to explore all corners of Saudi Arabia? The easiest way to do this is by booking multi-city Saudi Arabia flights or domestic flights within Saudi Arabia. Popular airlines that operate these types of flights include Saudia, the nation’s flag carrier airline, Flynas, a Saudi low-cost airline, and Flyadeal. With these airlines, you can visit multiple destinations within Saudi Arabia, including Riyadh, Jeddah, Medina, Dammam, Abha, Tabuk and Gassim, among others. You could even book flights to NEOM

Whichever mode of transportation you choose, it’s crucial that you plan ahead of time the cities/towns you wish to explore in Saudi Arabia so that you can have a stress-free, enjoyable experience without getting lost!

Road in Saudi Arabia

Language and Communication

Lastly, to ensure you have a smooth and respectful travel experience in Saudi Arabia, you’ll want to think about your communication with locals and using the Arabic language.

Basic Arabic Phrases

English is widely spoken in Saudi Arabia, however, making an effort to learn and use basic Arabic phrases can go a long way in enhancing your interactions and showing respect for the local culture during your Saudi Arabia trip. Some greetings you can learn include:

  • “As-salamu-alaykum” (peace be upon you)
  • “Wa alaykum as-salam” (and unto you peace)
  • “Marhaba” (hello)
  • “Shukran” (thank you)
  • “Min fadlik” (please)

Learning these words can help you break the ice and create positive connections with the locals. You should also try to learn numbers as these can be used for everyday transactions, especially if you’re planning to do some shopping while in Saudi Arabia and need to negotiate prices. It’s also a good idea to learn the names of the locations you wish to visit and the landmarks you want to see!

Respectful Communication

Greeting respectfully and politely addressing people is an important cultural practice in Saudi Arabia. When meeting someone, use the appropriate greeting depending on the time of day. Address people using titles and appropriate honorifics, such as “Sheikh” for an older man or “Sheikha” for an older woman.

When communicating with Saudi Arabian locals, you should be observant of non-verbal cues. Non-verbal communication plays a significant role in Saudi Arabian culture. It’s advised to maintain eye contact when speaking as this is a sign of attentiveness and respect. But avoid prolonged eye contact between unrelated men and women as this can be considered inappropriate. In general, maintain a relaxed and friendly demeanour during conversations.

Be wary of using hand gestures when communicating, especially hand gestures that are unfamiliar or potentially offensive to the local culture. Thumbs-up and peace signs are generally understood but it's best to rely on verbal communication wherever possible.

Learning any new language that you’re not familiar with can be difficult - try to be patient and approach every conversation with a friendly attitude, especially when you are trying to convey your needs or understand others. Embracing the Arabic language will enhance your Saudi Arabia travel experience and make it more fulfilling and unforgettable!

Ready to visit Saudi Arabia?

To summarise, embarking on a journey to Saudi Arabia requires a delicate balance of preparedness and respect for its rich culture and traditions. Navigating the visa process, embracing local customs, dressing modestly and effectively communicating through language and gestures are all essential elements for a fulfilling travel experience in Saudi Arabia. By immersing yourself in the beauty of the landscape and engaging with the warmth of its people, you'll create lasting memories while contributing to a mutual exchange of understanding and appreciation.

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