Are you thinking of planning a visit to Saudi Arabia? If the answer is yes, then, you’ve come to the right place. In spite of the risks that may come with visiting this country, getting the unique chance of experiencing a different culture is, without a doubt, worthwhile the effort. Nevertheless, to ensure a stress-free journey, you should read our Saudi Arabia safety guide. It aims at answering perhaps the most trivial question on the topic, namely: is Saudi Arabia safe to visit?
Before we introduce you our top Saudi Arabia travel safety tips, we’d like to mention that Saudi Arabia is governed by quite strict Islamic laws. This is something you should carry in mind before planning your visit there. In spite of this, though, the good news is that the people are hospitable and welcoming – for the most part.
Highest Risks You Expose Yourself to When Visiting Saudi Arabia
Overall Risks in Saudi Arabia: MEDIUM to HIGH
Before embarking on your adventure to Saudi Arabia, you should know that the laws are quite strict there. More specifically, what would be conveyed as normal in Western countries could be illegal in Saudi Arabia. Note that Saudi Arabia is a country that doesn’t hesitate to punish foreign visitors as it would with its own citizens.
At the same time, the political situation in Saudi Arabia is quite complicated. Demonstrations and protests are expressly illegal. Therefore, you should always monitor the local newspaper to be wary of political demonstrations that could take place. By all means, avoid partaking in such gatherings, as violent clashes are likely to take place, more or less.
Even if the overall level of crime in Saudi Arabia isn’t necessarily worrisome, that doesn’t mean we can exclude it altogether. There have been specific cases of isolated incidents of serious crimes. Therefore, you should always be precautious and attentive when exploring less known parts of the country – and not only. Aside from that, petty crime is rather widespread.
Pickpocketing and Theft Risks in Saudi Arabia: MEDIUM
Moving on, unfortunately, the incidence of mugging and theft is quite high in Saudi Arabia. Considering that over 15 million people visit Saudi Arabia on a yearly basis, it is easy to understand why pickpocketing and opportunity crime is commonplace. This is the norm for most countries that get a lot of tourists. During pilgrimage times, in particular, pickpocketing rates can reach a peak.
Concurrently, in the proximity of the Grand Mosque and in the Medina, the incidence of pickpocketing is much more common than in other, less popular areas.
In regards to popular scams, there aren’t many scams you should be wary of – with the exception of the all-time card frauds. Still, these may happen regardless of where you’re traveling to. To that end, you should check your card on a regular basis so that you can pinpoint any signs of unusual activity.
- How to avoid pickpocketing and theft in Saudi Arabia?
Our Saudi Arabia safety travel tips for avoiding being a victim of theft or pickpocketing in this country mainly apply for any other country you’re visiting. That’s specifically because pickpocketing is a widespread practice all over the world – especially the cities in which the numbers of tourists is great.
To that end, you should try not to draw too much attention towards yourself, so that you wouldn’t be a target for opportunists. That is to say, you should avoid carrying an expensive camera, particularly on display. In addition to that, be wary of the way in which you’re carrying your bag. Backpacks aren’t quite practical from this viewpoint, as your valuable can easily get stolen without you noticing that right away.
In addition to that, whenever you’re exploring crowded places, you should keep an eye out on your belongings, bag, wallet, so on and so forth. Opportunist criminals are proficient at snapping your purse and running away in a glimpse of an eye.
Scam Risk in Saudi Arabia: LOW
So far, the only scams reported as originating from Saudi Arabia come in the form of e-mails received by people around the world - we all know at least one prince from this country that has offered to donate us large sums of money.
When it comes to physical scams, there are little to no reports - naturally, you might encounter the usual taxi meter scams, as well as the ones involving citizens in distress asking for help. However, the risk of getting scammed is overall quite low and you shouldn't worry too much about this matter.
- How to avoid getting scammed in Saudi Arabia?
Still, a low risk doesn't mean that you should not pay attention to what's going on around you - upon getting inside a taxi, make sure that it is registered and that the taxi meter is working.
Moreover, when approached by strangers/ locals that seem to follow you even if you ignore them, it is better to leave the area - they will most likely try to talk to you while their accomplice pickpockets you.
In short, just apply some basic safety measures when traveling throughout Saudi Arabia and you should not be subject to any unpleasant situations.
Kidnapping Risk in Saudi Arabia: LOW to MEDIUM
While there are no significant official reports that tell of foreigners being kidnapped, there is a certain concern of such actions being conducted by terrorist groups. Moreover, some reports suggest that terrorists may resort to kidnapping individuals than carrying out attacks on larger objectives, so to say, such as places of prayer or official buildings.
Other than that, there are not criminal organizations that have kidnapped tourists in the past - thus, the risk of you getting kidnapped is little to none.
- How to avoid getting kidnapped in Saudi Arabia?
In case someone - a terrorist group or an individual - plans on kidnapping someone, he/ she will do so in a remote or in an unpopulated area of a city. Therefore, you should stick to the areas that are meant for tourists and avoid exploring more of the city you are currently in.
In this respect, we refer mainly to shady alleys, the city slums, neighborhoods with a bad reputation - keep in mind that the risks increase after sunset. You should not stay out in town during the night!
Terrorism Risk in Saudi Arabia: MEDIUM to HIGH
Unfortunately, our Saudi Arabia safety guide should indicate that the threat of terrorism is noteworthy in Saudi Arabia. To that end, such incidents are, more or less, prone to happen, which is why extra caution ought to be exercised by both tourists and locals. Expressly, the primary threat is from Daesh – this group would be referred to as ISIL). Note that terrorist attacks are usually indiscriminate, in the sense that tourists could be involved in such incidents.
On several occasions, the Saudi security forces have managed to interrupt attack plots. In spite of this, though, the degree of extremist activity in this country is still noteworthy, which is why attacks continue to be planned.
During periods of religious significance, you should be doubly vigilant, as many attacks are planned during such times. Public holidays are also considered. For example, in the year of 2016, terrorists planned several attacks during Ramadan. Note that there are jihadist websites and social media accounts that actually promote attacks against foreigners.
- How to avoid terrorism in Saudi Arabia?
Essentially, you can never rule out the possibility of being involved in a terrorist incident, as these are, for the most part, indiscriminate. At the same time, they are usually planned in public spaces, which are frequented by locals and foreigners alike.
You should never underestimate these groups, as they are more planned and organized than you might assume. Always be wary of your surroundings, monitor the local news and be vigilant. If you notice anything unusual in your area, take distance as soon as you can.
Risks for Solo Women Travelers in Saudi Arabia: MEDIUM
Is Saudi Arabia safe for solo women travelers? If you’re passionate about traveling to countries in the Middle East, due to the rich culture and unique architecture, you should know that there are some risks implied. That’s specifically due to the fact that this is a conservatory country.
The official law system in Saudi Arabia is known as Sharia. This is inspired by Islamic texts, being highly respected by all the members of the society. If you happen to do something there that is considered unnatural, you might end up being sentenced with a public flogging, deportation, jail time or even death.
Aside from the general police, the muttawa actually enforces the Islamic codes of morality. Concurrently, taking photographs, especially of women or public institutions is highly frowned upon. In some cases, you might get arrested due to this.
In lines with the Vision 2030, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pinpointed that women will have the option of deciding whether they wish to wear the abaya (which stands for a long and loose robe) or a hijab (which is a headscarf). In order to respect the country’s local traditions and specifications, women travelers are advised to wear either loose conservative clothing or an abaya.
Simultaneously, while a head scarf isn’t utterly compulsory, it might come in handy, especially if you plan on entering into religious buildings.
- How to avoid crime as a solo woman traveler in Saudi Arabia?
If you want to cover specific destinations in the country and you’re nervous about traveling by yourself, you can always arrange at the hotel that a car should come and pick you up from the airport. You might even consider utilizing Uber, as it is far more conveniently priced than the taxi service, whilst also being a safe means of transportation.
In addition to that, note that in restaurants there are usually two sections – namely the man area and the family area. As a woman traveling by yourself you ought to go to the family area.
On a different note, Saudi’s men viewpoints regarding women vary by the area in which you’re traveling to. For instance, in the bigger cities, people might be open-minded, whereas the same couldn’t be said about rural areas. Make sure you abide by the local customs and rules and you should be on the safe side. In addition to that, refrain yourself from exploring remote areas, especially at given hours. In summary, Saudi people don’t view foreign women as being foreign – they expect them to behave the manner in which Saudi women would.
Rape Risk in Saudi Arabia: LOW to MEDIUM
Although there are no official reports, we can look into some statistics and, eventually, draw a conclusion - for example, the rate of assaults in Saudi Arabia is of 63.2 per 100,000 population, 12 times less than in the US, which stands at a rate of 786.7.
Moreover, the violent hate crime rate stands at 20.9 per 100,000 population, making Saudi Arabia the 70th country in the world. In both cases, Saudi Arabia is safer than the US - however, keep in mind that there's a big difference between these two countries in terms of total population.
Still, given the country's strict laws, it is safe to say that you are unlikely to experience any unpleasant scenarios while visiting it - furthermore, any reported rape cases are directly linked with terrorist groups. This tells us that the locals are not likely to assault foreigners.
- How to avoid getting raped in Saudi Arabia?
First of all, you should get informed on the dress code that you should respect in this country - if you offend or draw any unwanted attention you are more likely to be harassed and, as we know, harassment or petty theft can escalate under certain circumstances.
Furthermore, it is recommended that you do not travel alone during the night and that you avoid any areas that seem unwelcoming, so to say. In short, with a bit of common sense and by applying some of our safety travel tips, you should be more than safe during your trip.
Risks for People Traveling with Children in Saudi Arabia: MEDIUM
Should you attempt to visit Saudi Arabia as a family with children? There are specific rules that apply when traveling with children. Make sure you know which they are beforehand. At the same time, you should pinpoint that what may be conceived as normal in Western countries isn’t in Saudi Arabia, which might make the journey a bit stressful.
Aside from that, you should be aware of the fact that in the country, everything works around the five daily prayers, which last somewhere around 25-30 minutes. For the most part, everything is closed during those prayers. Nevertheless, that excludes hospitals, police stations, taxis, airports and other means of transportation. Concurrently, the religious police will patrol the streets, which is why you shouldn’t be out on the streets around prayer times.
The prayer times change on a daily basis depending on the season, as well as the precise location of the Kingdom. You should check this in the daily newspaper. Conversely, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs features a handy online prayer time service.
- How to avoid unwanted scenarios?
At the same time, considering the major risks associated with terrorism in Saudi Arabia, you should always be wary of your surroundings. More expressly, specific areas of the countries ought to be avoided at all times, as the risk of unwanted scenarios is much higher in those locations, as you’ve seen in the section designated for terrorism.
Aside from that, bear in mind that driving in Saudi Arabia is quite dangerous. The streets aren’t really safe to start with, whereas most drivers drive in a chaotic manner. The high number of car accidents is worrying, at the very least, whereas the distances between the cities is large. Therefore, it can take a while until the local emergency services respond to accidents or unwanted scenarios.
Natural Disaster Risks in Saudi Arabia: MEDIUM
In regards to the risks of natural disasters, the risks aren’t necessarily that high. One of the few things that could happen is flooding. Floods are likely to occur in times of heavy rain. Usually, heavy rain occurs during November and February. It is advisable to check the weather forecasts during these months and follow any guidelines provided by the Civil Defense.
Moving on, sand storms could occur on occasions. This is expressly due to the high temperatures, which may easily exceed 50 Celsius degrees. At the same time, severe thunderstorms are also likely to happen in some instances. Check this source for additional information.
Transportation Risks in Saudi Arabia: MEDIUM
Several governments advise all tourists to keep to major roads when traveling through Saudi Arabia - moreover, if you plan on traveling to rural areas, it is recommended that you do so within a convoy and never during the night.
Overall, the roads are in poor conditions and come with a high number of rather serious accidents - seat-belts are mandatory if you want to remain unscathed after a car accident.
When traveling, keep in mind that the distance between most cities is quite large and that the emergency services will take a long time before reaching the scene of an accident or medical emergencies - make sure you have a first-aid kit packed and enough supplies, such as water and food.
Night-Clubs, Pubs, and Bar Risks in Saudi Arabia: LOW
As reported by various sources, most criminal acts occur outside cities and towns - in short, you are relatively safer when inside one of the country's big cities.
Still, you should be careful when going to a night-club, pub, or bar, as they come with risks - as in any other country in the world. Drink responsibly and don't offend any locals - if you know that a couple of drinks are enough to spark you up and stir up a fight, it is better if you don't drink at all.
With a bit of common sense, you can have fun and enjoy a nice evening in a bar - just read our safety travel tips and you should be just fine.
Health Risks in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is equipped with high-standard medical facilities - naturally, these are common in major cities and become scarce in towns. The latter are usually equipped with a basic hospital or health center.
In case of a serious injury, you may be transferred - by either air or ambulance - to a hospital in a major city. This might take some time, so make sure to have some basic medicine with.
When it comes to health risks, be aware that most contagious diseases are known to spread quickly, especially during Ramadan and Hajj. Moreover, colds, flu, and respiratory problems are quite common in Saudi Arabia.
As always, make sure you have adequate travel health insurance, enough funds with you to pay any medical treatment/ bills or medicine, as well as a supply of basic medicine.
List of Vaccines You Need in Saudi Arabia
Furthermore, our Saudi Arabia safety guide wouldn’t be complete without comprehensive information concerning the list of vaccines you should have prior to your visit in this country. There are specific recommended or routine vaccines, as you can see in the list below. You should also consult with a travel health specialist whether specific diseases might interact with your travel itinerary. For example, dengue and malaria are present in designated areas of the country. Therefore, you might need those vaccines depending on where you intend to travel.
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Yellow Fever
Most Dangerous Areas in Saudi Arabia
There are some areas in the country that should be avoided at all costs. Every Saudi Arabia safety guide informs its readers that the Saudi-Arabia – Yemen border ought to be avoided, due to safety reasons. To that end, unless traveling there is compulsory, you shouldn’t travel between 10km and 80km of this border.
Ever since March 2015, Saudi Arabia has participated in air strikes in Yemen. At the same time, since the coalition action began there, unmanned aerial systems (drones) and ballistic missiles have been fired from Yemen to Saudi Arabia. Even if most of these have been intercepted by Saudi air forces, nonetheless, there have been a number of fatalities and casualties. The most recent one happened on the 24th of June, 2018.
Aside from that, temporarily, the airports in the proximity of the border have been temporarily closed due to such scenarios.
Moving on, the Saudi Arabia – Iraq border ought to be avoided, by all means. On the 5th of January 2015, three guards of Saudi Arabia were killed in clashes, as they were in the proximity of the Arar crossing point.
Concluding Remarks: How Safe Is Saudi Arabia for Tourists?
To conclude: how safe is Saudi Arabia for tourists? While it is far from being the safest traveling destination out there, you could still attempt to plan a visit there. Perhaps the most worrying aspect is that regarding terrorism, as attacks are likely to occur, especially in public areas that tend to be mostly frequented by tourists.
At the same time, make sure you avoid unnecessary travel in the proximity of the Saudi Arabia borders with Iraq and Yemen, as these areas are definitely amongst the most dangerous in the country. You should also be wary of the country’s strict Islamic rules of conduct, to avoid unwanted scenarios. As we’ve pointed out beforehand, the locals expect you to act as they act; so, bear this in mind for a relatively worry-free journey.