Foreign travel advice

Saudi Arabia

Summary

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all travel to within 10km of the border with Yemen and against all but essential travel between 10km and 80km of this border. If you’re currently in an area to which the FCO advise against all but essential travel, you should consider whether you have an essential reason to remain. If you don’t, you should leave the area.

The Saudi Arabian authorities have announced the suspension of diplomatic relations with Qatar. All air and sea points of entry between Saudi Arabia and Qatar will be cut in the early hours of 6 June 2017. If you have a query relating to your travel plans you should contact your airline or tour operator. There are further restrictions on travel and residence affecting Saudi Arabian and Qatar nationals. For more information see this Official Saudi Press Agency announcement and Saudi Arabian government announcement

Ballistic (Scud) missiles have been fired occasionally from Yemen, most of which have been intercepted and destroyed by Saudi air defence systems. Military facilities in Najran province, Asir province, Jazan province and the most south-westerly part of Riyadh province may be targeted by missiles but it’s also possible that attacks could be made on other locations, both in Saudi Arabia and in the Red Sea. In early October 2016, an Emirati-leased ship came under rocket fire in the southern Red Sea and sustained serious damage.

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia has been leading coalition air strikes in Yemen following the request for support from President Hadi to deter continued Houthi aggression. Clashes along the Saudi-Yemeni border continue, resulting in both military and civilian casualties.

The Saudi authorities have declared ‘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. Violations are punishable by up to 30 months’ imprisonment and a SAR 25,000 fine. Land border crossings remain open and the authorities have announced that signs are being placed in areas where vehicles are allowed to cross.

Tourist trips to military zones or border posts are banned by the Saudi Tourism Authority.

Public demonstrations are illegal in Saudi Arabia. Follow local media and be alert to local and regional developments which might trigger public disturbances. You should avoid public gatherings or demonstrations.

Despite warnings issued by the authorities, demonstrations do take place from time to time, mainly in the Shia communities in the Qatif area of Eastern Province, including Al Musawara village in Al-Awamiya, and Al Hasa. Violent clashes have occurred between demonstrators and security forces.

Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Saudi Arabia.

There’s a heightened risk of terrorism against aviation. Additional security measures, which restrict electronic devices on-board planes, have been in place on flights departing from Saudi Arabia to the UK since March. You should co-operate fully with security officials. For more information about how this may affect your flight, including if you’re transiting through Saudi Arabia on the way to the UK, read this guidance page and contact your airline or travel company if you have further questions.

Cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in patients from Saudi Arabia continue to be reported to the World Health Organization. For the latest information and advice, see the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre.

Each year around 3.7 million pilgrims participate in the Hajj. If you’re travelling to Saudi Arabia to take part in the Hajj or Umrah, read the information and advice in the Pilgrimage and Health sections of this travel advice.

If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.

Safety and security

Political situation

Public demonstrations are illegal in Saudi Arabia. Follow local media and be alert to local and regional developments which might trigger public disturbances. You should avoid public gatherings or demonstrations. Despite warnings issued by the authorities, demonstrations do take place from time to time, mainly in the Shia communities in the Qatif area of Eastern Province, including Al Musawara village in Al-Awamiya, and Al Hasa. Violent clashes have occurred between demonstrators and security forces.

Saudi Arabia-Yemen border

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all travel to within 10km of the border with Yemen, and against all but essential travel between 10km and 80km of this border. If you’re currently in an area to which the FCO advise against all but essential travel, you should consider whether you have an essential reason to remain. If you don’t, you should leave the area.

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia has been leading coalition air strikes in Yemen following the request for support from President Hadi to deter continued Houthi aggression. Clashes along the Saudi-Yemeni border continue, resulting in both military and civilian casualties. Ballistic (Scud) missiles have been fired occasionally from Yemen. Military facilities in Najran province, Asir province, Jazan province and the most south-westerly part of Riyadh province may be targeted by missiles but it is also possible that attacks could be made on other locations in Saudi Arabia.

Airports near the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border have been closed temporarily from time to time: you should check with your airline before travelling to airports near the border.

Saudi Arabia-Iraq border

Take great care in all areas close to the Saudi Arabia-Iraq border. On 5 January 2015, 3 Saudi Arabian border guards were killed in clashes close to the Arar crossing point.

Crime

Although the crime rate in Saudi Arabia is low, there have been some isolated incidents of more serious crimes. Take particular care when travelling outside towns and cities.

Petty crime does also occur.

Road travel

Where possible, keep to major roads. When travelling to more rural areas, take precautions such as travelling in convoy and during daylight.

Standards of driving are poor and there are a high number of serious accidents. You should wear seatbelts at all times. Distances between cities are large and emergency services can take some time to get to any accidents or emergencies.

Some Saudi cities have implemented an automated traffic system. You’ll need to pay any fines issued through this system before leaving the country. You can pay at the airport but only during regular Saudi office hours.

Sea travel

Oil infrastructure remains a possible terrorist target. Shipping serving the oil installations should make sure SSPs are implemented fully and robustly while operating in the area. All ships should maintain a high state of vigilance while in Saudi Arabian ports, and report anything suspicious to the authorities.
Vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, Northern Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Bab El Mandeb areas may be at increased risk of maritime attack from pirates. For more information and advice, see our Piracy and armed robbery at sea page.

Terrorism

Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Saudi Arabia. The main threat is from Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL). Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners. Opportunistic attacks on Saudi or western targets are also possible. You should be vigilant and follow the advice of the local authorities.

The Saudi security forces have successfully disrupted a number of attack plots, but the scale of extremist activity is significant and attacks continue to take place.

Be especially vigilant during periods of religious significance (including the holy month of Ramadan) and public holidays; terrorist groups sometimes call for attacks at these times. Terrorists carried out several attacks in Saudi Arabia during Ramadan in 2016.

There are posts on jihadist websites and social media encouraging attacks against British, western and other interests, including teachers, schools, oil workers, residential compounds, military, transport and aviation interests, as well as crowded places, including restaurants, hotels, shopping centres and mosques. Further attacks are likely.

If you’re living in Saudi Arabia, you should regularly review and make sure you’re satisfied with the security measures provided by the management and local authorities at the residential compound where you live, the place where you work and the school where your children study.

On 7 October 2017, two Saudi guards were shot dead and three others injured when a man drove up to the gate of the royal palace in Jeddah and began shooting. On 5 October, two suspected terrorists were killed during a security operation which took place across three sites in Riyadh.

Since May 2017, there have been 10 attacks in Qatif, Eastern Province. Most of these have taken place in and around Al Musarawa village in Al-Awamiya. They have included shootings by gunmen as well as the use of rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and explosive devices. The majority of those targeted have been members of the Saudi security forces. Saudi security forces have conducted a number of security operations against suspected terrorists in the area.

On 23 June 2017, Saudi security forces disrupted an imminent terrorist attack targeting the Grand Mosque in Makkah. During the security operation, which took place at one site in Jeddah and 2 sites in Makkah, a suicide bomber injured 11 people, including 5 members of the security forces.

On 7 January 2017, 2 suspected terrorists were shot dead by police in the Yasmeen district of Riyadh. One police officer was injured during the exchange of gunfire.

On 4 July 2016, 4 suspected suicide bombers were killed, in separate incidents. One detonated a device near the US Consulate in Jeddah. Another 2 detonated a device at a mosque in Qatif, Eastern Province. A fourth detonated a device when intercepted by police officers close to the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah; 4 police officers were killed and a number of others injured.

There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.

Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.

Pilgrimage

Each year around 3.7 million pilgrims participate in the Hajj. The approximate dates for the 2017 Hajj are 30 August to 4 September.

Since 2013 the Ministry of Hajj has been imposing a global 20% reduction in the numbers of Hajj pilgrims due to infrastructure works in Makkah. These reductions are expected to end in time for Hajj 2017. Pilgrims who have performed Hajj in the past 5 years won’t be granted a visa, although certain exemptions may be applied, eg for those accompanying disabled pilgrims.

A crane collapsed at the Holy Mosque in Makkah on 11 September 2015 resulting in over 100 fatalities and casualties. On 25 September 2015 a crush in Mina resulted in over 750 fatalities and many more casualties. According to media reports, the crush on 25 September 2015 in Mina resulted in over one thousand fatalities and many more casualties. The Saudi Arabian government announced that it would hold investigations into the incidents and publish the findings.

Before you travel for the Hajj, you should carefully consider the information and advice on the website of the Saudi Arabia Embassy in London, and in the Health section of this travel advice.

Saudi government regulations require British pilgrims performing Umrah and Hajj to travel with a reputable UK travel agency that is accredited with the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. and covered by ATOL.
If you don’t use an approved travel agent, or get a valid visa and permit, you may risk immediate deportation, detention, a fine or a ban on future travel to Saudi Arabia.

You should confirm the full itinerary for your pilgrimage before departure. The British Embassy receives a large number of requests for help in relation to disputes and dissatisfaction with tour operators. The British Embassy can’t become involved in commercial disagreements or disputes between pilgrim and tour operators.

For pilgrimage, you must have:

Make sure you keep your permit and identification card with you at all times. The Saudi Arabian government enforces strict penalties (fines, detention, and travel bans) for people who perform Hajj without this permit.

When performing Umrah, make sure you have guaranteed accommodation and transport in Saudi Arabia and carry details of your Saudi tour operator. These details should be provided by your UK travel agent before you travel and are written (in Arabic) on the visa.
Don’t overstay your Hajj or Umrah visa. Penalties for overstaying may include fines amounting to thousands of pounds, detention pending deportation proceedings and a ban on returning to Saudi Arabia in the future.

British citizens living in Saudi Arabia wishing to perform Hajj must travel with sponsor groups approved by the Saudi government. There are no restrictions on when British nationals living in Saudi Arabia can perform Umrah, with the exception of the restriction applicable to all pilgrims in the run up to and during Hajj.

Visa information

The Hijiri calendar is used in Saudi Arabia for all official functions. You should review the dates on your visa carefully and make sure you know when it expires.

Don’t overstay your Hajj or Umrah visa. Penalties for overstays may include detention pending deportation proceedings and a ban on returning to Saudi Arabia in the future.

Umrah visas are typically valid for 30 days from the date of entry to Saudi Arabia. You must depart before the visa expires. The local tour operator’s name will be printed in Arabic on your visa page.

Ask your travel agent to let you know if the Saudi government revises its entry requirements for Hajj and Umrah.

Hajj and Umrah visas are valid for travel only in the areas of Jeddah, Makkah and Medina, and for travel between these cities. Unapproved travel outside these areas may be considered an immigration violation and may result in penalties.

Hajj and Umrah visas aren’t valid for work or residency.

Pilgrims aren’t allowed to stay in Saudi Arabia after the completion of Hajj.

If you’re unsure about the permitted areas of travel and duration of stay, ask for clarification on arrival.

Female pilgrims

Saudi visa rules require women below the age of 45 to be accompanied by a ‘mahram’ (usually a close male relative) for Hajj or Umrah. Women must travel with their ‘mahram’, or be met by them on arrival in Saudi Arabia. Otherwise, you may experience significant delays and/or be denied entry.

The Saudi Arabian government allow women over 45 to perform Hajj or Umrah as part of a tour group and without a ‘mahram’ provided they submit a notarised letter of no objection from someone who could be considered their ‘mahram’, authorising travel for Hajj or Umrah with the named group.

People with disabilities

You should be prepared for different standards of accessibility and accommodation to those in the UK. For more information about facilities for people with disabilities see the Ministry of Hajj website.

Transport

Expect crowded terminals at the airport. Due to the vast number of people being processed at King Abdul-Aziz international airport in Jeddah, disembarkation, immigration and customs processing may take several hours.

Expect a lengthy wait in hot and humid conditions before leaving the airport. Some Hajj pilgrims now fly directly to Medina and proceed to Makkah by road. There’s no option to fly to Makkah.

Between ritual sites

The Saudi government imposes strict timetables on Hajj groups for all travel (bus, light rail and foot) between the ritual sites. All routes and methods of transport will be extremely congested. You should prepare for long delays.

Light rail trains are typically overwhelmed, with pilgrims waiting several hours at the train stations at Arafat and Muzdalifah on crowded platforms before being able to board a train. Train cars will also be very crowded. Timetables and light rail movements are outside the control of travel agencies.

There’s been an increase in the number of reported cases of pick pocketing and other forms of theft in Makkah, particularly in the region of the Grand Mosque and in Medina. Take extra care of your passport, tickets and other valuables while visiting these areas. Make a copy of your passport before you travel (including the pages that are stamped with your Saudi visa, which will have the name of your local tour operator) and keep it in a safe place.

Saudi authorities forbid taking photographs (still or video, including those taken with your phone) at the Holy Mosque at Makkah or at the Prophet’s Mosque at Medina. Any violation of official instructions could to lead to the confiscation of your device.

Zamzam water

Check with your travel agent and airline for guidance. Most airlines limit each traveller to one container of up to 5 litres of Zamzam water as checked baggage.

Safety and emergency information

For the Saudi Arabia emergency services, call 911

Emergency contact information for Hajj authorities:

The National Tawafa Establishment for Pilgrims of Turkey and Muslims of Europe, Americas, and Australia
Makkah Al Mukarramah,
Al Nuzha Road (near Alnuzha Bridge)

Telephone: +966 920012013

Fax: 966 920006620

When dialling the Jeddah area (includes Makkah and Taif) from the UK, use country code +966 and city code 12. When dialling the Riyadh area, use city code 011.

The British Consulate General’s 24 hour emergency contact number for the Hajj period is +966501004268.

Local laws and customs

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 of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas. It is forbidden to eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours during the month of Ramadan. The law is strictly enforced.

In 2018, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 15 May and finish on 14 June.

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 Bible into the country as long as it is for your personal use. Importing larger quantities than this can carry severe penalties.

Islamic codes of behaviour and dress are strictly enforced. Women should wear conservative, loose-fitting clothes as well as a full length cloak (abaya) and a headscarf. Men should not wear shorts in public.

It’s illegal for women to drive.

Homosexual acts and extra-marital sexual relations, including adultery, are illegal and can be subject to severe penalties.

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.

If you bring medication with you, carry a doctor’s prescription. Importing pork products is forbidden. The possession of pornographic material, or of illustrations of scantily dressed people, especially women, is prohibited. Electronic devices may be screened by customs officials on arrival and departure.

The punishment for smuggling drugs includes the death penalty.

Photographing government buildings, military installations, and palaces is not allowed.  You should avoid photographing local people. Binoculars should not be brought into Saudi Arabia and may be confiscated at the port of entry.

It’s illegal to hold 2 passports in Saudi Arabia. Second passports will be confiscated by the immigration authorities if they’re discovered.

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

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.

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.

Entry requirements

The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.

The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.

You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.

Visas

All visitors, including pilgrims, need a visa to enter Saudi Arabia. You should apply for a visa through visa agencies accredited to the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. If you overstay your visa you will be fined and deported.

The Saudi authorities have announced that all Muslims not holding Hajj visas will not be permitted to enter Saudi Arabia via Jeddah or Madina airports until after the Hajj. The only exceptions are those holding Saudi residency permits, although anecdotal evidence has suggested that in recent years even Muslim residency permit holders have had difficulties boarding flights to Jeddah and Madina in the days immediately before Hajj. These rules don’t apply to entry via Saudi Arabia’s other international airports.

If you’re a non-Muslim visitor travelling to these destinations, you may be asked to explain the purpose of your trip or asked to show evidence of an appointment before being allowed to board a flight to Jeddah. For further detailed advice on visa requirements for Hajj and Umrah, contact the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in London.

British residents in Saudi Arabia will need a valid exit or re-entry permit from the Saudi Ministry of Interior to leave the country.

Passport validity

Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Saudi Arabia.

Yellow fever certificate requirements

Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.

UK Emergency Travel Documents

UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) aren’t valid for entry into Saudi Arabia or for transiting through Saudi Arabia. However, ETDs are accepted for exit from Saudi Arabia.

Previous Travel to Israel

You may be refused entry to Saudi Arabia if your passport contains evidence of previous travel to Israel or indicates Israel as your birthplace.

Female Travellers

If you are a female visitor or resident you must be met by your sponsor on arrival. Otherwise you may face delays before being allowed to enter the country or to continue on other flights.

Foreign women married to Saudi nationals must have permission from their husband  to leave Saudi Arabia.

Health

Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.

Healthcare facilities in major cities are of a high standard. Most towns have a health centre or basic hospital. Serious cases may mean a transfer by ambulance or by air to hospitals in a major city that might be some distance away. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.

Contagious diseases spread quickly, particularly during Hajj and Ramadan. Flu, colds and respiratory problems are very common. Bring basic medicines with you and consume adequate liquids and salts. During the period of Hajj and Umrah, pilgrims must have a valid certificate of vaccination against the ACWY strains of meningitis.

Cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus in patients from Saudi Arabia have been reported to the World Health Organization. For the latest information and advice, see the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).

If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 997 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Natural disasters

Flooding

Heavy rains can cause flooding between November and February. During this period you should check weather forecasts in the two English language newspapers (Arab News and Saudi Gazette) follow any advice issued by the Civil Defence.

Travel advice help and support

If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).

Foreign travel checklist

Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.

Travel safety

The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.

When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.

Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.

Refunds and cancellations

If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.

For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Registering your travel details with us

We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.

Previous versions of FCO travel advice

If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for there, send us a request.

Further help

If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.