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Saudi Arabia travel guide

About Saudi Arabia

No country in the world is as misunderstood as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and perhaps no other country is worthy of a visit.

Saudi Arabia is an incredibly dynamic tourist destination, boasting seemingly endless sand dunes, palm-shaded oases, dramatic mountaintops and numerous marine reserves and wildlife sanctuaries.

In the west of the country you will find untamed stretches of coral-filled Red Sea coast and southwestern mountain towns such as Taif, famed for producing rose oil and rose water. The ancient history in the north is perhaps one of the country's greatest draws – the region of Al-Jouf is packed with ancient castle ruins and massive pillars carved from sandstone dating back thousands of years, while the city of AlUla is the gateway to the Hegra Archaeological Site, which features a collection of stone dwellings similar to Petra in Jordan.

A large part of the country is desert and the sands are wondrous. The Empty Quarter (Rub' al-Khali), a beautiful expanse of undulating dunes unlike anywhere in the world, is a must-see.

Then there are the cosmopolitan cities of Jeddah (on the Red Sea coast), Riyadh (the capital), and Dammam (on the Persian Gulf), all of which have undergone a remarkable cultural transformation, successfully blending ancient customs and ever-evolving lifestyles in the modern world. Here, visitors can also find world-class museums, fine-dining options, and fantastic shopping choices.

Saudi Arabia is also rich in culture and heritage. It is, after all, the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad and home to the two holiest sites in Islam: the Grand Mosque (Masjid al-Haram) in Makkah and the Prophet's Mosque (Al-Masjid an-Nabawi) in Medina; both of which draw millions of visitors each year. Understandably, the Saudis take pride in protecting the integrity of this holy land.

Saudi Arabia is perhaps an elusive and mysterious place, steeped in religion and cultural tradition to a novice visitor. But if you're willing to come for a visit, you'll discover a magnificent country with much to offer.

Key facts


2,149,690 sq km (830,000 sq miles).


34.81 million (2020).

Population density:

16 per sq km.




Absolute monarchy.

Head of state:

King and Prime Minister Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud since 2015.

Head of government:

Crown Prince and Prime Minister Muhammad ibn Salman since 2022.

Travel Advice

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice

Areas where FCDO advises against travel  

Your travel insurance could be invalidated if you travel against FCDO advice. 

Saudi Arabia-Yemen border  

FCDO advises against:  

  • all travel to within 10km of the border with Yemen 
  • all but essential travel to areas between 10km and 80km from the border with Yemen 

Abha International Airport  

FCDO advises against all but essential travel to Abha International Airport in Asir province.  

Find out more about why FCDO advises against travel.

Arriving in Saudi Arabia from Sudan 

If you’re arriving in Saudi Arabia from Sudan, contact the Saudi authorities for the latest entry clearance procedures. See the latest Sudan travel advice for information about how to leave Port Sudan.

Before you travel 

No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide and see support for British nationals abroad for information about specific travel topics. 

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this advice is updated. 

Travel insurance 

If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency. 

This advice reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK for the most common types of travel. 

The authorities in Saudi Arabia set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the Saudi Embassy in the UK

COVID-19 rules 

There are no COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for travellers entering Saudi Arabia.

Passport validity requirements 

Your passport must have an ‘expiry date’ at least 6 months after the date you arrive. 

Check with your travel provider that your passport and other travel documents meet requirements. Renew your passport if you need to.  

You will be denied entry if you do not have a valid travel document or try to use a passport that has been reported lost or stolen. 

Previous travel to Israel 

You may not be allowed to enter Saudi Arabia if your passport shows that you have travelled to, or were born, in Israel. 

Visa requirements 

You must get an e-visa or an electronic visa waiver (EVW) either before you travel or on arrival at any of Saudi Arabia’s international airports. The type of e-visa or EVW you choose depends on your reason for travelling and how long you want to stay.

If you overstay your visa, you could face large fines, detention and deportation. You could be banned from returning to Saudi Arabia.  

Applying for an e-visa 

You can apply for an e-visa if you are a tourist. You must get an e-visa to perform Umrah. 

E-visas are: 

  • valid for 365 days from the date of issue 
  • for visits of up to 90 days 
  • for multiple entries  

Apply online or on arrival at any of Saudi Arabia’s international airports.  

You will need a separate visa for Hajj. See Pilgrimage

Applying for an electronic visa waiver (EVW) 

You can apply for an electronic visa waiver (EVW) if you’re travelling for: 

  • tourism 
  • business 
  • medical treatment 
  • study 
  • Umrah (outside of Hajj Season)

An EVW allows you to enter Saudi Arabia once and stay for up to 6 months.  

Apply online for an EVW at least 48 hours before your flights, or up to 90 days in advance. You will need to give your flight details.

Travelling overland  

Your visa may only allow you to enter Saudi Arabia by air. If you plan to travel to Saudi Arabia by the Bahrain causeway, check your visa before travelling. Ask your travel agent or the Saudi Embassy if you need help. 

Travelling through Saudi Arabia 

If you’re transferring through Saudi Arabia, you may need a transit visa if: 

  • you will pass through immigration control 
  • you will leave Saudi Arabia on a separate ticket to the one you arrive on 
  • the connecting time between your flights is more than 12 hours 

Check with your airline or travel agency if you require a transit visa.

Exit, re-entry and final exit permits 

If you live in Saudi Arabia, you must get an exit or re-entry permit from your sponsor to leave and re-enter the country. If you leave Saudi Arabia on a final exit permit, you must apply for a new visa to return to the country.  

Wives and children of Saudi nationals 

If you’re a woman married to a Saudi national, you must get a re-entry or final exit permit from your husband to leave Saudi Arabia. This also applies to children of Saudi nationals.

Flight restrictions around Hajj 

If you plan to travel around the time of the Hajj pilgrimage, check with your airline for any flight restrictions. 

The Saudi authorities have stopped visitors who are not performing Hajj from flying to Jeddah, Madinah and Taif. You may need a Hajj visa to board flights to these places during Hajj.  

You will still be able to enter Saudi Arabia through other airports.

Vaccination requirements  

At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the vaccinations and certificates you need in TravelHealthPro’s Saudi Arabia guide

Depending on your circumstances, these may include: 

  • a yellow fever vaccination certificate  
  • meningococcal quadrivalent vaccine

Customs rules 

There are strict rules about goods you can take into or out of Saudi Arabia. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty. 

It is illegal to import: 

  • alcohol 
  • pork and pork products 
  • pornographic material 
  • distillery equipment 
  • weapons 
  • narcotics 
  • re-treaded or used tyres  
  • used clothing except for personal use  
  • certain sculptures such as religious symbols     Other items may be examined, including: 

  • personal videos 
  • books 
  • electronic devices  

You may need to special approval to bring: 

  • agricultural seeds 
  • live animals 
  • religious books (except for personal use) 
  • chemicals and harmful materials 
  • some pharmaceutical products 
  • wireless equipment  
  • radio-controlled model airplanes 
  • archaeological artefacts 

Using technical equipment 

You may need a licence for: 

  • satellite phones 
  • listening or recording devices 
  • radio transmitters 
  • powerful cameras or binoculars 

If you need information on customs rules, contact the Saudi Embassy


There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. You should remain vigilant at all times. 

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad

Terrorism in Saudi Arabia  

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

Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreign nationals. Stay aware of your surroundings, keep up to date with local media reports and follow the advice of local authorities. 

Terrorists have threatened to carry out attacks in the Gulf region, including on: 

  • residential compounds 
  • military, oil, transport and aviation interests 
  • public places, including restaurants, hotels, beaches, shopping centres and mosques 

Be aware of your surroundings, particularly during high-profile events, and avoid large demonstrations.

Military activity in the Red Sea area       

Military activity is currently underway in response to attempts by Houthi militants to prevent movement of international shipping in the Red Sea. While the area of activity is limited to the Red Sea and Yemen, there is a possibility that Travel Advice for nearby countries could change at short notice. You should continue to monitor Travel Advice and follow any relevant instructions from local authorities.

Political situation  

Public demonstrations are illegal. Avoid any protest or demonstration and follow the advice of local authorities.  


The crime rate in Saudi Arabia is low, but there is petty crime. There have also been more serious crimes, including crimes against women. Take care when travelling outside towns and cities. 

Laws and cultural differences  

Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country and Islamic law is strictly enforced. Respect local traditions, customs, laws and religion so you do not cause offence. There may be serious penalties for doing something that might not be illegal in the UK.  

You should avoid: 

  • showing affection in public 
  • swearing and rude gestures 
  • playing loud music 
  • making critical political statements or behaving in ways the Saudi authorities assess disrupt the public order

Penalties include fines, imprisonment and deportation. See Visit Saudi for information on behaviour.

Personal ID 

You must always carry ID. You can get a fine or prison sentence if you do not have any. 

If you’re a tourist, carry a copy of your passport and visa.  

If you live in Saudi Arabia, carry your residency card (‘Iqama’). Police also accept an electronic version of the Iqama on the Tawakkalna App.  


Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims. The dates vary by year and country. Ramadan in Saudi Arabia will start around 10 March in 2024 and last for 30 days. During this time, do not:  

  • eat, drink, smoke or chew gum in public in the daytime, including in your car  
  • play loud music or dance  
  • swear in public  

Get more advice when you arrive from your tour guide, hotel or business contacts.  

You should also:  

  • check opening hours of shops and restaurants  
  • be aware that if hotels and restaurants are providing food or drink in fasting hours, they may separate you from Islamic guests, for example with screens  
  • follow local dress codes – clothing that does not meet local dress codes may cause more offence at this time  
  • be patient and show tolerance 

Dress code 

Men and women must wear loose-fitting clothing that covers the elbow and below the knees. You should also: 

  • avoid tight-fitting clothing  
  • avoid clothes with profane slogans or images 
  • not wear clothing with symbols or slogans that could be viewed as political and lead to arrest 

Female travellers do not have to wear the traditional robe (‘abaya’) or cover their hair. See Visit Saudi for more information on dress codes. 


It is illegal to practise any religion other than Islam. However, the Saudi authorities accept private practice of other religions.

It is illegal to try and convert people to another religion. You can bring other religious books for personal use. However, you may be prosecuted if you try to import large numbers of religious books. 

Alcohol laws and bans 

Do not bring alcohol into Saudi Arabia or arrive under the influence of alcohol. 

It is illegal to drink alcohol or be drunk in public. British nationals have been arrested for disorderly or offensive behaviour when drinking. You can face severe penalties, including prison, for possession or trade of alcohol.  

Illegal drugs penalties 

There is zero tolerance for drug offences in Saudi Arabia, and the penalties are severe. If you’re arrested for drug offences, you may have a long period of detention before trial. You can get a prison sentence of up to 5 years and a fine of 30,000 Saudi riyals for possessing even small amounts. Drug dealing and smuggling can result in a death sentence.  

Sexual relations outside of marriage 

Sex outside of marriage and adultery are illegal, including for tourists. In the most serious circumstances (for example, those involving Saudi nationals) the penalties could include custodial sentences or deportation. There are special arrangements for visitors and unmarried tourists may share hotel rooms. 

Pregnancy outside of marriage  

If you or your partner becomes pregnant outside marriage in Saudi Arabia, you could both face penalties including imprisonment and deportation. However, in practice legal action is uncommon.  

Doctors may ask for proof of marriage during antenatal checks.  

To get a birth certificate from the Saudi authorities, you must provide a marriage certificate. The authorities may compare the date of the marriage against the estimated date of conception. 

If you’re an unmarried woman who gives birth in Saudi Arabia, you may have difficulties registering the birth of a child in Saudi Arabia. You could be arrested, imprisoned or deported.  

Filming, photography and other media restrictions  

It is illegal to film or photograph government buildings, military installations and palaces. 

If you produce, transmit or distribute printed, digital, audio or video information, you must get permission from the General Authority of Media Regulation (GCAM) in advance. If you do not, you could get a large fine and a prison sentence. 

Only photograph local people if you have their consent. 

Public statements and criticism

It is illegal to say publicly anything that the Saudi authorities deem disruptive to public order, for example to comment verbally or on social media on:

  • the Saudi government or authorities, including the police
  • the King, Crown Prince or Royal Family
  • Islam
  • The country’s culture,  and beliefs and ways of public life
  • issues that could be perceived as political, including wearing clothing with political slogans or carrying flags or banners

Punishment can include long prison sentences, and can be given even for social media posts published outside Saudi Arabia many years ago. 

You’re likely to come under more scrutiny if you’re a British national who also: 

  • carries Saudi citizenship
  • has close Saudi relatives

Carrying two passports 

It is illegal to have two passports in your name in Saudi Arabia. Immigration authorities will take additional passports. You must leave Saudi Arabia using the passport you entered on. 

The Saudi legal system differs from the UK, for example: 

  • suspects can be held without charge during an investigation 
  • suspects are not always allowed quick access to legal representation 

If you’re detained and need consular assistance, British Embassy staff will visit once they know about your case. In some cases, British Embassy staff have not been allowed to visit immediately or have had limited access. 

There is no legal aid in Saudi Arabia. You may want to hire a translator if you need to attend a criminal proceeding. Find a translator or interpreter in Saudi Arabia

Unpaid debts and other financial crimes 

You can get a fine, prison sentence, travel ban or deportation for financial crimes, including: 

  • writing a cheque which bounces (including post-dated and ‘security cheques’)  
  • not paying bills (for example hotel bills or car hire)  
  • fraud 
  • bribery 
  • embezzlement 

The Saudi authorities can also freeze your bank account or other assets. You may be liable for cheques you signed on behalf of a company. 

If you have unpaid loans or financial commitments, the Saudi authorities may: 

  • prevent you from cancelling your residence permit 
  • stop you leaving the country 
  • block your government services 
  • not allow you to renew your residency card, re-entry visa or exit permits 
  • stop you transferring to a new sponsor (employer) 
  • use your end-of-service benefits to pay outstanding debts 

Travel bans 

The Saudi authorities may place a travel ban on you if you have outstanding debts or if you’re involved in: 

  • ongoing commercial, financial or labour disputes 
  • legal cases 
  • investigations 

If you’re under a travel ban, you cannot leave the country, even if you’re a British national or dual British-Saudi national. The authorities enforce bans, and they take years to resolve. Get legal advice if you’re placed under a travel ban.  

If you’re in a commercial dispute with a Saudi company, you may not be allowed to leave the country until it is resolved. Government bodies often keep passports for official purposes. Employers (sponsors) may try to hold onto your passport, but this is illegal. 


If you’re found guilty of an offence and sentenced to over 3 months in prison, the Saudi authorities can deport you. Sometimes the authorities deport people with shorter sentences, regardless of whether the judgement included deportation. If you’re employed in Saudi Arabia, deportation will impact your employment and may affect your ability to return to Saudi Arabia in the future. 

LGBT+ travellers 

Same-sex relations are illegal, although legal action is uncommon. All couples should be aware of local customs and avoid showing affection in public. 

Visit Saudi says all visitors are welcome, are not required to disclose their personal information, and will have their right to privacy respected.  

Being transgender is not recognised in Saudi Arabia. Transgender people could also face difficulties with dress code and access to medical care.  

Read more advice for LGBT+ travellers.

Transport risks  

Road travel  

If you’re planning to drive in Saudi Arabia, see information on driving abroad

You can use a UK photocard driving licence for the first 3 months after you arrive in Saudi Arabia. After that, you must apply for a local licence. Hire care companies may require an international driving permit (IDP).

Standards of driving are poor and there are a high number of serious accidents on the roads. You should: 

  • always wear seatbelts 
  • keep to major roads if possible 
  • travel in convoy and in daylight in rural areas 

Some cities have an automated traffic system. Anyone caught speeding or committing other traffic offences will be notified by text of their fine. Fines are recorded on the Absher system, which is linked to your passport, residency or ID card. You must pay any outstanding fines through the system before leaving the country. You can pay at the airport but only during Saudi office hours. 

Sea travel 

Vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, Northern Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Bab El Mandeb areas may be at increased risk of attack by pirates. See piracy and armed robbery at sea

Extreme weather and natural disasters 


Heavy rains from November to February can cause flooding. Check weather forecasts in the Arab News and Saudi Gazette (English language newspapers). In a flood, follow Civil Defence advice or call them on 998.

This section has safety advice for regions of Saudi Arabia. It only covers regions where FCDO has specific advice.  

You should also read FCDO’s overall travel advice and safety and security advice.  

Saudi Arabia-Yemen border  

FCDO advises against:  

  • all travel to within 10km of the border with Yemen 
  • all but essential travel to areas between 10km and 80km from the border with Yemen 

Saudi Arabia has been leading air strikes against Yemen since 2015. While these have decreased, there are still military clashes along the border with military and civilian casualties. 

Yemen has launched missiles, drones and waterborne improvised explosive devices (IEDs) into Saudi Arabia. These are targeted at critical national infrastructure, including aviation and oil infrastructure. Most of these weapons are intercepted and destroyed by Saudi air defence systems.  

The authorities can temporarily close airports near the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border. Check with your airline before travelling to airports near the border. 

Attacks against critical national infrastructure are likely. Attacks have also been made on other locations in Saudi Arabia, including Riyadh and Jeddah, and along the Red Sea coast. There were 11 intercepted missile attacks over Riyadh since the first missile attack in November 2017, the most recent in December 2021. In a missile attack, you should: 

  • stay indoors 
  • monitor local media reports 
  • follow the advice of the local authorities 

Abha International Airport  

FCDO advises against all but essential travel to Abha International Airport in Asir Province.  

Since 2022, Abha International Airport has been the target of a number of attacks, resulting in multiple civilian injuries and one death.  

Qatif region  

British Embassy staff only travel to the Qatif region of Eastern Province in daylight hours due to ongoing security operations in that area.

Military zones and border posts  

The Saudi Tourism Authority has banned tourist trips to military zones and border posts. 

Many British nationals travel to Saudi Arabia each year for Umrah or Hajj pilgrimage.

Entry requirements for pilgrimage  

You should also read the main section on entry requirements

Hajj and Umrah

See the official Ministry of Hajj Twitter and the Nusuk Hajj platform for more information on Hajj 2024 and performing Umrah. 

Health risks and vaccination requirements  

You must have a valid certificate of vaccination against the ACWY strains of meningitis 10 days before arriving for Hajj and Umrah. For more information on health risks and vaccination requirements, read the TravelHealthPro Hajj and Umrah guide.


UK-based organised crime groups target people planning Hajj or Umrah trips. Criminals pick people of any age, gender or location for their scams. Many victims are over the age of 65.  

To avoid scams: 

  • be aware you can only book a Hajj place on the Nusuk Hajj platform 
  • check Saudi Ministry of Hajj information for the procedures you must follow 
  • make sure your travel agent or operator is ATOL protected when booking Umrah  
  • research the travel company before you book, even if family or friends recommended it 
  • be wary of offers too good to be true – criminals advertise fraudulent deals through licensed travel companies 

Paying for trips 

When paying for your Hajj or Umrah visit: 

  • use a credit card where possible 
  • have an audit trail and keep a record of any transactions 
  • get everything confirmed in writing 
  • always ask for written terms and conditions 

Reporting fraud  

If you have been a victim of Hajj fraud in the UK, contact: 

Further information and help  

To plan your visit and keep updated when travelling, see the: 

Consular assistance 

If you require consular assistance that is not related to your Nusuk travel package, contact: 

  • the British Consulate General in Jeddah on +9661 1481 9100 
  • the FCDO in the UK on +44 207 008 5000 

Before you travel check that: 

  • your destination can provide the healthcare you may need 
  • you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation 

This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant. 

Emergency medical number 

Call 911 and ask for an ambulance. 

Contact your insurance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment. 

Vaccinations and health risks 

At least 8 weeks before your trip check: 

Other health risks 

Contagious diseases spread quickly, particularly during Hajj and Ramadan. There is an increased risk of heat stroke and dehydration during the summer months. Bring basic medicines with you and consume adequate liquids and salts.


The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries. Some prescribed or over-the-counter medicines are controlled substances in Saudi Arabia. You may need approval from the Saudi authorities to bring some prescription drugs. See rules on bringing prescription drugs to Saudi Arabia

If you need to bring controlled or prescription medication, make sure you have an official prescription, hospital note or a letter from your GP, which includes: 

  • the amount prescribed 
  • details of the drug and dosage 
  • your doctor’s signature 
  • a stamp from the clinic or hospital 

See narcotics and psychotropic substances information from the Saudi government

Pharmacies are common and can be found easily, particularly in the big cities. All hospitals will have a dispensing pharmacy and international brands can be found in shopping malls and plazas. UK prescriptions are not honoured in Saudi Arabia. Prescriptions must be issued by a doctor registered and licensed by the Saudi Commission for Health Specialities. 

Read best practice when travelling with medicines on TravelHealthPro

The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.

Healthcare facilities in Saudi Arabia  

FCDO has a list of English-speaking doctors in Saudi Arabia.   

Healthcare facilities in major cities are of a high standard. Most towns have a health centre or basic hospital. Serious cases may be transferred by ambulance or air to a hospital in a major city, which might be some distance away.  

Travel and mental health 

Read FCDO guidance on travel and mental health. There is also mental health guidance on TravelHealthPro

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel. 

Emergency services in Saudi Arabia  

Telephone: 911 (ambulance, fire, police) 

If you do not have a Saudi SIM card, call 112 in an emergency.  

Contact your travel provider and insurer 

Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you’re involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do. 

Refunds and changes to travel 

For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first. 

Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including: 

  • where to get advice if you’re in a dispute with a provider 
  • how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim 

Support from FCDO 

FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including: 

Contacting FCDO 

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this travel advice is updated. 

You can also contact FCDO online

Help abroad in an emergency 

If you’re in Saudi Arabia and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British Embassy in Riyadh or your nearest consulate.  

FCDO in London 

You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad. 

Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours) 

Find out about call charges

Risk information for British companies 

The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks. 

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