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Saudi Arabia

If you’re travelling to Saudi Arabia, our travel advice and updates give you practical tips and useful information.

Get travel and medical insurance

Before travelling, the Department strongly recommends that you obtain comprehensive travel insurance which will cover all overseas medical costs, including medical repatriation/evacuation, repatriation of remains and legal costs. You should check any exclusions and, in particular, that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.

Overview

Security status

We advise Irish citizens in Saudi Arabia to Exercise a High Degree of Caution.

We advise against all travel to within 80km of the Saudi-Yemen border.

The Saudi authorities have declared the territory along the northern border and between the Hafr Al-Batin and Khafji in the Eastern Province as off limits and care should be taken not to enter these zones if travelling in the area.

Latest Travel Advice

Additional aviation security measures have been implemented on direct flights from Saudi Arabia to certain destinations.  Travellers should check with their airline to confirm if there are any restrictions in place, for example on the carriage of certain electronic devices.  Any queries should be referred directly to your airline or travel operator.

Irish citizens are advised to be vigilant and exercise caution when travelling in Saudi Arabia. You should be alert to the security environment and take suitable precautions at all times to ensure your personal safety.

There is a heightened risk of terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia and there have been a number of serious security incidents in recent times. Threats on jihadist websites and social media have been made against Western targets, oil installations, shopping malls, aviation facilities, restaurants, mosques, residential compounds and schools.

Emergency assistance

The best help is often close at hand; try talking to your local contacts, tour operator representative or hotel management. You can also contact the Irish Embassy in Riyadh if you require assistance or advice, but first please read through each tab of this travel advice as you may find that your query has already been answered.

Irish citizens with a genuine emergency can leave a message on the Embassy voicemail outside of office hours. Make sure to leave your name, mobile number, current location and the nature of the emergency. An Embassy Duty Officer will return your call.

Our tips for safe travels

  • Purchase comprehensive travel insurance which covers all your intended activities
  • Add an alert for your destination within the Travelwise App.
  • Register your details with us so that we can contact you quickly in an emergency, such as a natural disaster or a family emergency
  • Follow us on twitter @dfatravelwise for the latest travel updates
  • Read our Topical ‘Know Before You Go’ guide

Safety and security

Political unrest

While generally safe, conditions in certain areas of Saudi Arabia can deteriorate quickly leading to public disturbances. You should remain informed of local and regional developments that could result in a heightened level of risk.

Public demonstrations are illegal in Saudi Arabia and should be avoided. There is particular localised unrest in the Eastern Province region which can result in spontaneous demonstrations that can turn confrontational leading to violent clashes with security forces.

Saudi-Yemeni border

There is an increased risk of terrorist incidents close to the Saudi-Yemen border.  In response to the request for assistance from the government of President Hadi, Saudi Arabia is leading a military intervention including air strikes, against Houthi rebels across Yemen.

Irish citizens should not travel to areas close to the Saudi-Yemeni border. Irish nationals within 80km of the border should leave the area unless it is essential to remain.

Terrorism

Irish citizens are advised to be extra vigilant and exercise caution when travelling in Saudi Arabia.

While the Saudi authorities are actively pursuing terrorist cells operating in the Kingdom, a serious terrorist threat persists against western targets, religious sites and security forces. The Saudi Ministry of Interior has issued past warnings of possible attacks on oil installations and shopping malls throughout Saudi Arabia.

There have regular attacks on security forces and on US, Danish and Canadian citizens in Saudi Arabia. There are frequent posts on jihadist websites and social media calling for attacks against Western and other interests in Saudi Arabia including schools, residential compounds, oil workers, military installations, transport and aviation facilities, restaurants, shopping centres and mosques.

You should remain vigilant and alert to your local security environment and take suitable precautions to ensure your personal safety.  If you are resident in Saudi Arabia you should regularly review your security arrangements and the level of protection provided at your residential compound, workplace and children’s schools to ensure they are adequate. 

Photography

Travelling near to or photographing military and security installations or other sensitive sites such as palaces and government buildings is illegal.

Crime

The overall crime rate is low in Saudi Arabia and is not usually an issue for travellers. However petty crime does occur and you should take normal precautions:

  • Don’t carry your credit card, travel tickets and money together - leave spare cash and valuables in a safe place; 
  • Don’t carry your passport unless absolutely necessary and leave a copy of your passport (and travel and insurance documents) with family or friends at home;
  • Avoid showing large sums of money in public and don’t use ATMs after dark, especially if you are alone. Check no one has followed you after conducting your business;
  • Keep a close eye on your personal belongings and hold on to them in public places such as internet cafes, train and bus stations; and
  • Avoid dark and unlit streets and stairways, arrange to be picked up or dropped off as close to your hotel or apartment entrance as possible.

Driving

If you are planning to drive in Saudi Arabia, you should be extremely careful as general driving standards and road conditions are poor with frequent accidents particularly on the main highways.

If you want to drive:

  • Bring your full Irish driving license and international driving permit and make sure you have adequate and appropriate insurance;
  • Do not hitchhike;
  • Keep your vehicle doors locked if you’re stopped at traffic lights;
  • Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia; and
  • Driving in Saudi Arabia can be difficult, particularly since road signs may be exclusively in Arabic script.

Please note that some cities have implemented automated camera systems to catch red light runners and drivers exceeding the speed limit.  If you incur any fines these will need to be paid before leaving Saudi Arabia.  It is possible to make the payment at the airport but only during normal office hours. 

Hiring a vehicle

If you are hiring a vehicle, we advise you not to hand over your passport as a form of security. If you’re allowing your passport to be photocopied, keep it in your sight at all times.

Check that you have adequate insurance and read the small print of the vehicle hire contract (particularly any waiver that will come into effect if the vehicle is damaged).

Taxis/Chauffeur drive cars

Given the relatively low cost, most visitors will use taxis or chauffeur-driven cars. We recommend taxis are pre-booked and you should avoid hailing a taxi on the street or using unofficial drivers at the airport.

Female Travelers

If you are travelling in Saudi Arabia, you should only travel in pre-booked taxis known to be safe and avoid hailing a taxi in the street or accepting a lift from someone you do not know. 

Personal safety

It is recommended that you keep a low profile and be especially vigilant in places popular with foreign nationals such as hotels, restaurants and shopping malls. Make sure that your vehicle is safe at all times and be certain of your destination and direction of travel before departing.

Reporting a crime

If you are a victim of a crime while in Saudi Arabia you should report the incident to the local police immediately. You can also contact the Irish Embassy in Riyadh if you require further assistance.

Maritime safety

Many areas of the Gulf are highly politically sensitive and some are subject to jurisdictional disputes. Vessels entering these areas have been detained and inspected and there have been occasional arrests. There is a risk of piracy in the southern Red Sea and in the Gulf of Aden. 

Local laws and customs

Remember, the local laws apply to you as a visitor and it is your responsibility to follow them. Be sensitive to local customs, traditions and practices as your behaviour may be seen as improper, hostile or may even be illegal.

Saudi Arabia is an Islamic country in which Sharia Law is strictly enforced.  You should respect local traditions, customs, law and religion at all times.  You should dress conservatively, be aware of your actions and take care not to offend other cultures or religious beliefs, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or other religious festivals or if you are visiting religious areas.

During the month of Ramadan it is forbidden to eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours.  This law is strictly enforced.  In 2017, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start at sundown on 26 May and end on 25 June.

The public practice of any religion other than Islam is illegal as is attempting to convert others. Violations may result in imprisonment and/or deportation.

Illegal drugs

There are strong penalties for possession of or dealing in illegal drugs, including the application of the death penalty.

Forbidden products

Importing and drinking alcohol, pork products and pornographic material is forbidden in Saudi Arabia. The penalties for possession of any of these items are severe.  Electronic devices such as phones, tablets and laptops may be checked by officials.

You should not arrive in Saudi Arabia under the influence of alcohol.

Local culture

Men are expected to dress modestly in full-length trousers and shirts with sleeves, although the sleeves can be short.

Female Travellers

Women should wear modest, loose fitting clothes and must wear an Abaya - a full-length black over-garment must wear an Abaya when out in public.  It is also recommended that you carry a headscarf in case it is necessary to cover your hair.

Unaccompanied female travellers may experience unwanted attention or comments in public.

It is illegal for women to drive.

If you are travelling in Saudi Arabia, you should only travel in pre-booked taxis known to be safe and avoid hailing a taxi in the street or accepting a lift from someone you do not know. 

LGBT

Homosexual behaviour is illegal in Saudi Arabia. Caution and discretion are advised at all times.

Personal Identification

Foreigners must carry their residency card (Iqama) or their passport with them at all times. Do not surrender your passport.

The Saudi authorities have the right to check identification and this can occur frequently due to the large number of security checkpoints both in the cities and on the roads between cities. 

Dual Nationality

The Saudi authorities do not recognise dual nationality and it is illegal to hold two passports in Saudi Arabia.

Second passports even if it is a second Irish passport will be confiscated or ordered destroyed if discovered by the Saudi authorities.

Getting married

Under Saudi Arabia’s customs, in the event of a marriage to a Saudi national, the family has strong power over the individual. If a woman wants her right of movement or to work guaranteed, she must insist on a premarital settlement, stipulating this right. Such agreements are binding and can be relied on in court to settle any disputes.

Business activity

There are a number of significant differences between the legal systems of Ireland and Saudi Arabia.  Detention without charge is permitted and detainees are not always granted fast access to legal representation.  If you are subject to detention the Embassy and your sponsor will try and assist you as quickly as possible.  But please note this can take time or may take place under very limited conditions. 

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

Natural disasters and climate

Flooding

In recent years there have been recurring heavy rains between November and February across Saudi Arabia. This can lead to serious flooding that has resulted in a number of deaths and severe damage to property. Roads may be impassable due to flooding.

During this period you should regularly check local weather forecasts and local media reporting, and to take appropriate precautions.

Additional information

Entry requirements (visa/passport)

If you are unsure of what the entry requirements for Saudi Arabia are, including visa and other immigration information, ask your travel agent or contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Saudi Arabia.

Currency

The local currency is the Saudi Riyal (SAR).  ATMs are common and major credit cards work here. Although you should check first to ensure that the retailer or restaurant accepts credit cards before purchasing.

Passports

We advise you to take a number of photocopies of your passport with you. 

Your passport must be valid for at least six months from the date of entry into Saudi Arabia.

Visas

You must obtain a visa to travel to Saudi Arabia through the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Dublin. 

Please note that the Embassy of Ireland cannot issue visas for Irish travelers to enter or leave Saudi Arabia.  This can only be done by your sponsor.

You should not overstay your visa.  Breaches of the period of stay will incur fines and possible future travel bans.

Health

Healthcare facilities in major cities are of a very high standard. However, medical facilities in minor towns or small cities are adequate for routine procedures only.

Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)

Since 2012, there have been cases of infection from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in the Arabian Peninsula. For the latest information, go to the WHO website (http://www.who.int/csr/disease/coronavirus_infections/en/) and Health Protection Surveillance Centre website (http://www.hpsc.ie/A-Z/Respiratory/CoronavirusInfections/TravelAdvice/).