There’s a lot of history in the country of Saudi Arabia, and not all of it’s good. For that reason, many may feel hesitant to visit the Middle Eastern destination.
But is all of this the same today as before, or is Saudi Arabia safe? To help others get a clear image of the circumstances in the country today, we have compiled some of the top travel tips for visiting Saudi Arabia.
Between top crime trends, cultural norms, and weather concerns, we have you covered if you decide to travel to this Middle Eastern country.
Is Saudi Arabia Safe to Visit in 2023?
Many concerns are associated with a vacation to Saudi Arabia, and not all are related to common crime. In the past few years, the primary concern regarding tourism has been the possibility of terrorist activity in the country.
Whether it’s done by drones or missiles, the chances of it happening are higher in Saudi Arabia than in other areas. In addition to terrorism events, the chances of various crimes are present in the nation.
However, in Saudi Arabia, you will experience a lower rate than what you would expect in other Middle Eastern countries. This data doesn’t mean it’s non-existent, as pickpocketing and petty theft still occur, primarily in busy areas.
All countries in the Middle East have stringent cultural norms and laws in place. Respecting these traditions is vital to staying safe during your time in Saudi Arabia.
There are situations where courts will turn a crime to indict the victim, such as during a sexual assault on a female. Finally, the weather in Saudi Arabia can pose challenges to locals and tourists alike.
Between the hot temperatures, dust storms, and poor air quality, prospective travelers must implement many protective measures to provide a safe experience for everyone in their group.
Crime in Saudi Arabia
When looking at global databases, you will see that Saudi Arabia experiences one of the lowest levels of crime globally. The primary reason for this is the severity of the law in the country.
Criminal law falls in line with the religion of Islam and has three levels of punishment:
- Hudud: Hudud is reserved for those who have taken part in theft, robbery, extra-marital intercourse, or drinking alcohol. Repercussions for these crimes can include capital punishment, amputation of limbs, or lashings.
- Tazir: Tazir-level crimes are related to items like flirting in public, lying, spying, eating something forbidden, or questioning the government. For these acts, individuals can be punished by a variety of measures. These options can include imprisonment, fines, lashing, or property seizure.
- Qisas: In what is perhaps the harshest level of them all, Qisas operates on the mentality of “an eye for an eye.” Therefore, if you’re accused of murder and found guilty, you will be murdered in the same fashion as your victim. In the event of an assault, once you’re found guilty, you will undergo the same assaultive form that you performed. These actions do have to be approved by the court to proceed.
Due to the impact that performing a crime can have on an individual, criminals are dissuaded from doing so. However, it’s still possible, and travelers should be mindful of their surroundings in populated areas.
Female travelers and children need to be extra cautious when visiting Saudi Arabia and always travel with another individual or within a group. There have been reports of kidnapping in recent years, with the numbers continuing to rise.
Avoiding Bad Neighborhoods
As with all countries and large cities, pockets of bad neighborhoods can lead to poor experiences during travel. Bypassing these areas, especially if you’re going out at night, is vital.
In the case of Saudi Arabia, you should avoid several areas. These places include:
- Old Naseem
The listing above is only a sampling of neighborhoods you should exercise extra caution when visiting. To be up to date on what places you should avoid, it’s essential to check in with the front desk of your hotel.
While there aren’t gangs that are directly tied to Saudi Arabia, there is a strong presence of individuals with a strong preference for Islamic laws and behavior. This type of group can be similar to gang relations due to their terrorist tendencies.
Unfortunately, the chances of terrorist activity happening in the Middle East has a higher likelihood than in other areas of the world. With the large size of Saudi Arabia, the probability is even higher.
In the past few years, there have been several cross-border attacks between Saudi Arabia and other countries. These actions have led the United States to label the country as a Level Three travel advisory.
When a country resides at this placement, it’s recommended that you reconsider your time in the area. For specific locations within Saudi Arabia, the travel advisory level is even higher at Level Four.
The United States government has stated that American citizens should not travel to the following areas within the country:
- Yemen Border
- Abha Airport
It’s necessary to note that the United States government has limited opportunities to provide aid to these areas due to ongoing terrorist activity and the threats of more to come. Due to this, they have mandated that Americans steer clear of the designated sites for their own safety.
Saudi Arabia is deeply rooted in Islam. As such, the laws represent what is portrayed in the Qu’ran. For those who enter the country and follow a religion other than Islam, you should do it privately.
Worshipping your personal religion should not happen in a way to recruit non-followers to your religion of choice. Doing so will result in legal trouble.
Additionally, men and women are not to participate in public displays of affection. It’s also illegal to use profanity or rude and improper gestures. The particular mannerisms that are considered troublesome are different than what Western culture depicts.
Therefore, prospective visitors to Saudi Arabia should research them in full before entering the country. Tourists are not exempt from the rules of the nation.
However, they may receive more leniency. While foreigners don’t have to abide by the dress code perfectly, they do have to dress modestly out of respect for the culture. To do so, women must have their shoulders and knees covered when out in public.
Tight-fitting clothing or items with indecent or provocative images are also not allowed. One area of grave concern for foreigners is the fact that both homosexuality and being transgender are illegal in Saudi Arabia.
It’s precarious for tourists who fall into these two categories to travel to the country, and visiting is not advised. Consumption of alcohol or the use of drugs is illegal in Saudi Arabia and can lead to serious legal trouble.
Saudi officials are not always quick to inform foreign embassies when they imprison one of their citizens, so you will often be left without representation for an extended period.
As mentioned above, women and children are especially at risk due to the possibility of kidnapping. However, women are also at risk of being falsely accused of the highly illegal act of adultery.
This issue can come up after a woman has been sexually assaulted. It’s common for women to be prosecuted instead of the man, even though they were victims of the crime.
The country of Saudi Arabia has many deserts, resulting in sweltering temperatures. While some parts of the country will experience high humidity, the majority have dryer heat. The country also experiences minimal precipitation throughout the year.
In the winter months, which typically occur between December and February, colder weather can occur. In some pockets of the country, freezing temperatures and snow are even possible.
Due to the arid climate, sand storms are possible throughout the country. These conditions can sometimes lead to low visibility on the roads, similar to what other countries experience during blizzards in winter.
One of the most significant concerns regarding personal safety and environmental conditions is the air quality within Saudi Arabia. The high pollution within the country has led to an increase in the air quality levels, giving it an unsafe rating.
Because of this, those exposed to endless amounts of pollution can have health issues. These concerns include breathing problems or even more severe ailments like cancer and organ failure.
If you’re traveling to Saudi Arabia, it’s critical to bring proper face coverings to help protect you from the copious amounts of pollution in the air. Additionally, having adequate protection for your face can help with impromptu sand storms that can arise during the day.
Things to Consider
If you’re planning a trip to Saudi Arabia, it’s vital to keep the following information in mind. Having these details top of mind when entering the country will help to have a smooth experience and vacation.
- Dress modestly and follow appropriate dress codes.
- Do not enter the country under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Public displays of affection are prohibited and can lead to legal issues.
- Homosexuality and being transgender are illegal.
- Terrorist attacks between Saudi Arabia and other countries happen several times a year.
- The United States government has issued two travel advisories for Saudi Arabia, a Level Three, and Level Four. These encourage people to reconsider their travel and not travel to some areas of the country.
- Avoid specific neighborhoods, especially at night.
- Traveling in groups is essential, especially if you’re a woman or child.
- Keep your personal items close to you and utilize a fanny pack or belt storage system.
- Pack protective gear to guard yourself against sand storms and poor air quality.
Frequently Asked Questions
When planning a trip to Saudi Arabia, many questions arise. Many prospective visitors want to know about safety and security within the country as well as what to expect in terms of cultural norms. Below we outline some of the frequently asked questions about travel to Saudi Arabia.
Can Americans visit Saudi Arabia?
While Americans can visit Saudi Arabia, it isn’t recommended. The United States government has issued two separate travel warnings for the country. The first, a Level Three advisory, encourages visitors to reconsider travel plans. The second, a Level Four advisory, gives a do not travel order to some areas of Saudi Arabia.
If Americans find themselves in trouble within the do not travel areas, the government has stated that there are limited resources to help them.
Is Saudi safe for tourists?
While the crime rate within the country is very low, the most significant safety concerns revolve around terrorism, air pollution, and kidnapping. The experience can be made safer with certain precautions in place. However, the American government has issued two separate travel advisories for the country to avoid travel.
Is it safe to travel to Saudi Arabia as a woman?
If you’re planning a solo trip to Saudi Arabia as a female, it’s a safer option to reconsider and visit the country with another person or group. It’s common knowledge that being part of a group is safer for accountability reasons, and when in Saudi Arabia, there is a risk of kidnapping females and children.
Do you have to wear a hijab in Saudi Arabia?
Though wearing a hijab was mandatory for local women and foreigners in the past, that is no longer required since 2019.
What should I avoid in Saudi Arabia?
When traveling to this Middle Eastern country, you should not photograph individuals without permission. Additionally, do not take pictures of government buildings or mosques. Avoid bad neighborhoods and don’t dress in revealing apparel. Visitors should not drink, talk rudely about the country or government, or display public affection.
Can I wear shorts in Saudi Arabia?
Women can not wear shorts in Saudi Arabia unless they’re under a robe. However, men can wear shorts if the length is below the knee. The dress code is strict, and all individuals are expected to adhere to the guidelines.
Are jeans acceptable in Saudi Arabia?
It’s appropriate to wear jeans in Saudi Arabia. However, in order to be complacent with dress code guidelines, the jeans may not be tight or low-riding. They should also be in good condition with no holes or tears.
Are tattoos banned in Saudi Arabia?
Foreigners who wish to visit Saudi Arabia are required to cover their tattoos during their stay. That is due to the strictly enforced Shariah Law in the country.
Is smoking legal in Saudi Arabia?
Smoking is banned in most public and closed places in Saudi Arabia, including airports, government buildings, areas where there are children, and any religious spaces.
So, Is Saudi Arabia Safe to Visit?
The culture of Saudi Arabia is fascinating for many people. However, the many things that must be adhered to can be overwhelming.
When you add in the weather conditions, poor air quality, and certain dangerous areas of the country, it’s advisable to refrain from visiting Saudi Arabia until the circumstances improve. Happy travels!