Important facts and information to know when visiting Saudi Arabia
A country with unique and diverse landscapes, remarkable historical sites and a colourful culture. The richest in the world due to its vast oil reserves, and the home of Islam; but also the most protected from the outside world with a contentious human rights and women’s rights record.
For several decades, tourism was limited to only a select few operators with permission to bring groups to Saudi Arabia, under religious tourist visas. Tourists were subject to entry regulations and movement within the country was restricted. This all changed in September 2018 with the introduction of the first Sharek tourist visas.
Religious tourism is constantly expanding and new facilities are being built to facilitate Hajj and Umrah visitors, but there’s a growing recognition of the importance of tourism to boost and diversify the country’s economy.
Saudi Arabia has ambitious plans to boost tourism numbers to 30 million annually by 2030. Whilst the major cities already have many hotels and good infrastructure in place, more remote areas of the country bearing natural wonders and historic monuments are in need of significant development, as well as training in the hospitality sector.
Visiting Saudi Arabia Important Facts
|Official Name||Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
|Currency||Saudi Riyal (SAR) 1SAR = 0.26667 fixed
|Important Dates||23 Sept Saudi National Day & Islamic Holidays
|Electrics||110 / 220 V Type A, B, C and type G sockets
|Visas||Plans to introduce tourist visa imminent
|Safety||See current advisories, avoid Yemen border
Saudi Arabia tourist visa information
- The new Sharek e-visa allows for a single entry within 30 days. Men and women aged 25 and older, can travel everywhere in the country (women unaccompanied if they wish) except the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
- Currently, this tourist visa is just for special events (such as the Formula E-racing event) but they are progressing to make this available permanently.
- The Visa is presently available to passport holders from Schengen zone, US, Australia, Singapore, South Africa, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.
- The process is still being moved online, at present you must apply through your nearest Saudi embassy.
- The only exemptions are to citizens of UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman.
- Information on other Visa categories can be found here.
- There is a good guide here from Joan at Against the Compass who explains the Visa situation and what to expect as at December 2018.
Information correct as at February 2019 – we will update as we learn more about the new tourist visa and online process. We believe at present it is not possible to travel as a family due to the age restriction on the visa.
Safety in Saudi Arabia
- The US State Department advises due to threats from terrorist groups or missile attacks from Yemen, avoid Saudi/Yemen border and Qatif in the Eastern province, Hofuf and its suburbs in the al Hasa Governate.
- UK Foreign & Commonwealth Travel Advice
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs
Points for family visitors to be aware of in Saudi Arabia
- Although it is not law, women should dress conservatively and wear an abaya in public. Western women do not need their head fully covered but it is advisable to carry a scarf or shayla at all times. This also applies to girls from puberty onwards.
- Men should also have covered legs.
- In public places, bachelors are separated from families. Many attractions have different opening times for bachelors and families.
- When driving, always keep children secured with a car seat (it’s advisable to bring your own)
- Outside of the cities, expect roadside stops to be fairly rudimentary. BYO toilet supplies.
- Public displays of affection are strictly not allowed
- Read more here on flying Saudia with kids.
General travel tips for visiting Saudi Arabia
- Much of life revolves around the Muslim prayer times, it is highly recommended you download the Muslim Pro app (Apple / Google Play)
- Almost all shops and venues open in the morning, then will close gain until after afternoon prayer times. They will stay open then until late at night (excluding prayer times). Those that remain open all day may close a good 20 mins before and after prayer time.
- In the big cities, expect English to be used almost everywhere.
- Laws were changed in June 2018 to allow women to drive, although as a tourist be mindful driving conditions particularly in the big cities are congested and hazardous.
- Pork and alcohol are strictly prohibited, even for non-Muslims, import of these goods even for personal use is strictly forbidden.
- During the holy month of Ramadan, it is strictly forbidden to eat drinks or smoke in public during daylight hours.
See our regional guide to culture and religion for more – coming soon
When is it best to visit Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is the largest of the Middle East countries and also the holiest being home to Mecca and Medina. Hajj alone can bring 2 to 3 million visitors into the country within the space of a week. This year it will occur in early August 2019.
Like much of the region, the summers are long, hot and dry from May to October, likely to be too hot for most visitors. From October onwards the weather is cooling and stays mild and pleasant over the winter months, and you can even expect to see green by the end of winter.
Note that sandstorms are common place January through to May.
It is a big country so do expect hotter temperatures in the south, moderating slightly to the north towards the Jordan and Kuwaiti border.
Most popular attractions in Saudi Arabia
- Mada’in Saleh tombs of the ancient Nabatena people (closed since late 2017 while extensive archaeological surveys are taking place – open for limited periods under the program Winter at Tantora Festival).
- Al Ula Valley boasts an incredible array of historical, nature and heritage sites.
- Al Soudah & the Asir National Park near Abha – seen as a lush escape in the hot summer months, plenty of outdoor activities, camping, cable cars.
- At-Turaif District in ad-Dir’iyah – the first capital of the Saudi dynasty and UNESCO listed site.
- Historic Jeddah – the Kingdom’s second largest city with waterfront Corniche, see historic architecture in the back streets of Al Balad (Old Jeddah) – one of the country’s UNESCO sites.
- Jeddah Tower is under construction, planned to be the world’s tallest building.
- Wahba Crater – a volcanic crater some 700km from Riyadh including lava fields, an oasis and salt pans.
- Edge of the World – part of the 800km long Jebel Tuwaiq Escarpment, one of the most spectacular natural phenomenons in the world.
- Najran – on the Yemeni border, a unique culturally blended city.
- The National Museum and Royal Airforce Military (Saqr Al-Jazeera Aviation Museum) – Riyadh’s highly commended museums, nearby there are also gardens and an amusement park.
- Al Shallal Theme Park one of the most popular entertainment destination on the Red Sea coast.
- Planned future attractions include NEOM independent economic zone on the Red Sea, a resort zone where there may be a greater tolerance for behaviours previously forbidden in the Kingdom.
There is a good guide
Saudi Arabia with Kids – Our Travel Stories
Sorry, it looks like we don’t have any more detailed articles on this destination (yet!).
Contribute to this section
Have you been to Saudi Arabia with or without kids? Do you live or have lived there and would like to share your stories and experiences? We are looking for more contributors to this category, can you help? Pop over and see our contributors page and find out how you can get involved in building our resource library for fellow visitors to Saudi Arabia.
Further reading and resources on Saudi Arabia
Blogs & social
- Blue Abaya – Finnish expat blogger with some amazing photography and travel stories from around the country
- The Pink Tarha – Filipino ladies guide to Riyadh
Recommended Tours and Drivers
Do you have any tours or drivers to recommend who are great with family groups?
Movies and literature
- The Kingdom (2007) – thriller loosely based around the Khobar housing complex and the 2003 bombing.
- Human Cargo (2003) – Action moved based around an American businessman arrested in 1977 and his escape.
- A Journey to Mecca (2009) – in the footsteps of Ibn Battuta
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NB please check facts with the appropriate authorities before travelling. Information correct to best of our knowledge as at February 2019. This page contains affiliate links.