Saudi Arabia has excellent
infrastructure and has all the amenities, facilities and other
features required by modern-day travelers. As with any other
country, it is important for visitors to familiarize themselves with
basic travel-related information in order to make their stay as
pleasant as possible.
All visitors to Saudi Arabia require
visas relevant to their stay in the Kingdom: short-stay, business,
residence or work. Visas may be obtained from the Visa Section of
the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia or one of the Saudi Arabian
Consulates in many major cities all over the world.
In the United States, the Royal Embassy
of Saudi Arabia is located in Washington D.C. while Saudi Arabian
Consulates may be found in New York, Houston and Los Angeles.
- Ministry of
- The Royal Saudi
Embassy in the United Stated
- The Royal Saudi
Embassy in the United Kingdom
- The Royal Saudi
Embassy in Italy
Embassies have the power to issue visitorsí visas to business people
with commercial and industrial interests in the Kingdom. Business
visas are usually initiated in Saudi Arabia, with the visa
applicantís firm or agent in the Kingdom applying on his behalf to
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Once the visa is approved, the
ministry instructs the embassy or consulate indicated in the
original application to issue the required visa.
Embassy and consular officers are
allowed to grant short-visit visas to foreign businessmen without
referring the application to the Foreign Ministry, if the applicant
works for a large corporation already established in the Kingdom.
However, the normal procedure is to go through the ministry.
Religious visas are
issued to Muslims all over the world wishing to perform Umrah or
Haj. The Holy Cities of Makkah and Madinah are the center of
activities for such visits.
Residence Visas/Work Permits
Work permits for foreigners are applied
for by the employer with the proper government bodies - Interior and
Labor & Social Affairs Ministries. Anyone who wish to stay in
the Kingdom for more than three months must have a residence
permit(iqama). This is issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and
is valid for two years.
Foreign employees dependents are also
generally given residence visas, which however don't allow them to
Exit visas to leave the Kingdom are
required for holders of residence visas.
- Customs Regulations
A number of items are not allowed to be
brought into the Kingdom due to religious reasons and local
regulations. These include alcoholic beverages, pork and pork
products, prohibited drugs and narcotics, firearms, explosives,
edged weapons and pornographic materials.
Items and articles belonging to
religions other than Islam are also prohibited. These may include
Bibles, crucifixes, statues, carvings, items with religious symbols
such as the Star of David, and others.Accommodation
There are a good number of excellent
hotels in the major cities of Saudi Arabia, specially in Riyadh,
Jeddah and Dammam, including 5-star international hotel chains. Most
of the regional cities also have some good hotels.
It is recommended that reservations be
made well in advance, as occupancy tends to be high, specially in
the peak summer period.
Travelers who fly Saudi Arabian Airlines
may take advantage of its hotel discount arrangements with many top
hotels. Hotel bookings may be arranged through the airlinesí
Alfursan frequent flyer program members
are also entitled to discounts as well as free stays and room
upgrades depending on their accumulated mileage.
Housing for expatriates is usually in
the form of flats/apartments, separate villas or housing in
compounds. Employee contracts usually provide for free housing,
furnishings, water and electricity. Telephone service, with
International Direct Dialing, is widely available. Mobile phones and
pagers are also widely used.
Power supply is 110 volts, 60 Hertz AC
although it is not unusual for some houses to have 220 volt wiring
as well to accommodate certain home appliances. Voltage regulators
and surge protectors are recommended to protect appliances and
computer equipment from electric current surges and
Saudi Arabia has modern transportation
facilities and infrastructure. Roads and highways are well paved and
stretch extensively all over the Kingdom. Taxis and limousines are
ordinarily available in major cities, particularly at airports and
shopping malls. These are metered or a suitable fee is agreed upon
Car rental companies, including
international chains, maintain offices in many airports and hotels.
Rental arrangements can also be made from abroad. There are also
public buses but these are used primarily by local commuters.
Visitors with a valid driverís license
from many countries, or those with international driverís licenses,
are allowed to drive in the Kingdom. Residents and expatriates,
however, are required to obtain Saudi driverís licenses, which are
valid for five years.
The telecommunications system in Saudi
Arabia is modern and up-to-date, covering most population centers.
Direct Dialing is generally available and international telephone,
fax, telex and telegram services are easy to access.The Kingdomís
telephone country code is 966 while the main city codes are (01)
Riyadh, (02) Jeddah, Makkah and Taif, (03) Abqaiq, Al-Khobar,
Dammam, Dhahran, Hofuf, Jubail and Ras Tanurah, (4) Madinah, Tabuk
and Yanbu; (6) Hail; and (7) Abha.
Mail is sent to Post Office Boxes, not
to street addresses. Letters are franked at the post office but
stamps can also be used.
Courier companies are active in the
Kingdom but customs duties may sometimes be imposed on goods or
items received from overseas.
Internet access has recently been
allowed in the Kingdom and improvements are currently underway to
enhance the telecommunication infrastructure in anticipation of
active Internet usage by the Kingdomís citizens and
There is a superb range of shopping
opportunities in the major cities of Saudi Arabia. World class
brands are widely available, from reasonably-priced electronic items
from the Far East to high-priced fashion goods from Europe.
Locally-crafted gold jewelry is relatively inexpensive and of
There is also an extraordinary range of
different food types and brands available in supermarkets and stores
that cater to the diverse tastes of expatriate community. Food is
plentiful and basics, such as bread and sugar, are relatively
- Business Hours
Government offices are open from 7:30
a.m. till 2:30 p.m.; private businesses from 8:00 a.m. till noon,
and from 4:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.; general banking from 8:00 a.m. till
noon and from 5:00 to 7:00 PM; markets and shops are open till 9:00
p.m. Government offices and private businesses are closed Thursdays
- Prayer Times
All Muslims are obliged to pray in the
direction of the Holy City of Makkah five times a day. The times of
prayer are: dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and evening, with the
exact times published daily in Saudi newspapers. At these times,
facilities and offices in the public and private sectors stop work
and people gather in public places to pray in groups.
- Time Zone
All of the Kingdom is under one time
zone, which is GMT plus three hours.
The Saudi currency is the Saudi
Riyal(SR) with the rate of exchange pegged at approximately 3.75
Saudi Riyals (SR) to the U.S. dollar. One Saudi Riyal is equivalent
to 100 halalas. Coins come in denominations of 5, 10, 25 and 100
The Saudi Riyal is fully convertible and
there are no existing currency regulations or restrictions.
There are many modern public and private
hospitals with the latest state-of-the-art medical equipment and
experienced medical specialists and staff. Most prescription drugs
are widely available.
Many international newspapers and
magazines are available in the Kingdom. There are a number of local
newspapers in Arabic:Al-Jazeera(Riyadh), Al-Riyadh(Riyadh), Al-Nadwa
(Makkah), Al-Madina(Jeddah), Okaz(Jeddah), Al-Bilad(Jeddah) and
Al-Yom(Dammam); and in English: Arab News(Jeddah), Riyadh
Daily(Riyadh) and Saudi Gazette(Jeddah).
Numerous radio and TV programs in
Arabic, English and other languages are available through local
radio and TV channels as well as through cable and satellite
networks. Many hotels carry the major 24-hour satellite news
Weather conditions in Saudi Arabia can
vary dramatically from one region to the next. The Rub Al-Khali
("Empty Quarter") is characterized by extremely hot and dry
conditions but the verdant Asir highlands just nearby are relatively
cold and moist.
Oftentimes in many regions of the
Kingdom, the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures
can exceed 50 degrees (F) during the summer. In the winter,
overnight low temperatures approach the freezing mark at areas with
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia occupies
four-fifths of the Arabian Peninsula-865,000 square miles. This is
an area about the size of the United States east of the Mississippi
River. Geography is varied. Forest, grasslands, rugged mountain
ranges and vast deserts all characterize the Saudi landscape.
- The People
Most native Saudi Arabians are descended
from the landís indigenous Arab tribes. Saudi Arabiaís population is
estimated at 16.9 million.
The official religion of Saudi Arabiaís
is Islam, which also forms the basis of the Kingdomís legal system.
There are two major religious holidays; Eid Al-Fitr, celebrating the
breaking of the annual Ramadan fast; and Eid Al-Adha, celebrating
the pilgrimage to Makkah.
Friday is the weekly day of rest and
Saudi Arabia follows the Islamic(Hijri)
calendar, which is based upon the lunar cycles and dates from the
Prophet Muhammadís flight from Makkah to Madinah.
The Islamic year(AH) averages 354 days
and recedes by about 11 days a year against the Gregorian calendar.
The first day of the Hijri calendar is 1 Muharram.
The Hijri Calendar Months
||Jumada II |
||Dhu al-Hijjah |
The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques
King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz is the Head of State and Prime Minister,
assisted by an appointed Council of Ministers. All Saudi Arabians
have the right of direct petition to the monarch, the regional
governors or other government officials. These petitions are most
often received during the regular public audiences (Majlis).
Restrictions Certain items are forbidden in the Kingdom including
alcohol, narcotics, weapons, ammunition, pork and pornography.
Prescription drugs must also be documented.
Two of the Holiest Cities in Islam,
Makkah and Madinah, are in Saudi Arabia and hold special religious
significance. As such, only persons of the Islamic faith are allowed
Saudi Arabia is a founding member of the
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the United Nations, League of Arab
States, Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Organization of
Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, the Organization of Petroleum
Exporting Countries (OPEC) and numerous other international
The Kingdom is a substantial contributor
to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Saudi Arabia
is a major provider of aid to developing countries. The Kingdomís
ratio of development assistance to gross national product (GNP) is
the highest in the world, averaging 5.5 percent, and Saudi Arabia
ranks second after the U.S. in overall assistance.