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Tips for traveling to Saudi Arabia: essential travel guide

by Pilar Dujan | September 3, 2023
Tips for traveling to Saudi Arabia and visiting Fairmont Makkah Clock Royal Tower

Saudi Arabia is a desertic country located in Asia. It has thousands of years of history and it’s the birthplace of Islamism (it’s also home to the two holy cities of Medina and Mecca).

It’s important to be aware of some tips for traveling to Saudi Arabia. Religion is a key element of Saudi culture and, if you come from a Western country, you will certainly feel the difference. 

Are vaccines required to travel to Saudi Arabia?

The compulsory vaccines to travel to Saudi Arabia are against Yellow Fever (if you come from an endemic country) and Meningococcal (Meningitis)

Additional recommended vaccines are Tetanus-Diphtheria / Tetanus-Diphtheria-Pertussis, Triple Virus (Measles, Rubella, Mumps) and Hepatitis A. Depending on the characteristics of the trip, vaccines such as Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Rabies, Influenza or Pneumococcal may be recommended. 

Internet connectivity tips for traveling to Saudi Arabia

You won’t have any trouble connecting to the internet whilst in the cities in Saudi Arabia. But, if you prefer to be connected right from the jump, buying a SIM card is always a great choice for tourists. In fact, you can buy one in every major airport in the country and the stores are open 24 hrs, great news for those arriving late. 

If you don’t want to go through the process on arrival (although it’s worth mentioning that it’s very fast and easy), go to a Saudi shopping mall and buy your SIM card at one of the official stores. Going to smaller, local shops is not recommended in Saudi Arabia.

Part of the important tips for traveling to Saudi Arabia is letting tourists know about the key differences they will find in terms of culture and way of life. In terms of internet connectivity, most travelers will be surprised to see they can’t access certain websites while traveling. That’s because of internet censorship. If you can travel with your computer, getting a VPN (Virtual Private Network) before boarding your flight is a good option.

Tips for traveling to Saudi Arabia to visit the Prophet's Mosque

What is the currency of Saudi Arabia?

The currency of Saudi Arabia is the Saudi Arabian Riyal (SAR). It should be added that euros and US dollars are accepted as well.

The current exchange rates are:

  • 1 Euro = 4,44 SAR
  • 1 US Dollar = 3,75 SAR

These values are approximate, as the currency of Saudi Arabia varies daily. SAR is available in 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 notes. Coins are available in 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50 halalá. The fraction of 1 SAR is 100 halala. 

Cash machines are generally easily accessible and the majority of restaurants, hotels and cafes accept major credit cards. However, it is still recommended to always carry some local currency.

Tipping in Saudi Arabia

On certain occasions, tipping is standard in Saudi Arabia. For example, if you’re staying in a hotel, it’s common to tip the porter who carries your bag and the housekeeper. 

When out to eat in restaurants, unless there’s a service charge already attached to the bill, tipping is standard practice (10% to 15% of the bill).

As in most tourist places, tour guides and drivers are also tipped. 

But a difference to other countries is that public taxi drivers are also tipped. They could be expecting a tip of approximately 10% of the final fare.

Haggling tips for traveling to Saudi Arabia

Like in most Arabian countries, haggling is a predominant aspect of shopping in traditional Saudi markets. 

Always be respectful of the seller (don’t make counter offers that are way too low, it could be considered offensive) and, remember, if you’re not satisfied with the agreement you have reached, just walk away from the shop.

Saudi market at night

How to travel around Saudi Arabia

The public transport system in Saudi Arabia is affordable and efficient. For instance, The Saudi Public Transport Company operates intercity bus routes across the country, offering a great alternative to taxis. It also runs urban bus routes in Jeddah and Riyadh. 

Besides, there are currently two railway companies operating across the country. The high-speed train allows international passengers to travel to Jeddah, Rabigh, and Medina. Alternatively, the country has several ride-hailing apps such as Careem and Uber.

Packing tips for traveling to Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is a very religious country and that translates to their clothing customs. 

Women have to dress modestly and wear loose clothes that cover their arms and legs. Long skirts and pants, as well as long-sleeved shirts, in light fabrics are a must when packing for Saudi Arabia. Also, bring a scarf (or buy one when you arrive) to cover your head in case you want to visit a mosque (some of the country’s most beautiful attractions). 

If you plan on going to the beach, pick a swimsuit that covers you as much as possible. Packing a cover-up is also a good idea.

These rules don’t apply to young girls: they can wear shorts and more “revealing” clothes without any issues.

Men should avoid packing shorts and wear pants in breathable fabrics instead.  

It’s worth noting that the clothes you pack should be “conservative” as well. This means that, for example, your t-shirts can’t promote unlawful activities such as drug use, and they can’t have insults or obscene designs. 

In terms of shoes, pick ones that are easy to put on and take off: it’s a requirement for entering mosques. They also need to cover your feet in case you go into the desert: you will get a lot of sand in your shoes, and it gets quite hot, so try to pick some that won’t make you feel as if your feet are on fire. 

Other essential items are:

  • A light jacket
  • Sunglasses, a hat and sunscreen
  • Hydrating creams (the country is very dry and your skin will feel it)

Here’s a list of things you shouldn’t bring to Saudi Arabia:

  • Alcohol or products containing alcohol
  • Medicine that requires a prescription
  • Natural pearls
  • Binoculars and drones
  • Religious items
  • Games that involve gambling
  • Food with pork or frog meat
  • Pornography in any medium 
  • Electronic cigarettes
  • Radios (like walkie-talkies)
  • Expensive jewelry (in large quantities)
  • Military uniforms

Abayas for sale

Useful phrases in Arabic

The official language of Saudi Arabia is Arabic. Since English isn’t as widely spoken as in other countries, it’s important to know some key phrases in case you need to communicate with someone who only speaks Arabic.

  • Hello: Marhaba
  • Goodbye: Wada'an
  • Yes: Na'am
  • No: La
  • Please: Min fadlik
  • Thank you: Shukran
  • Excuse me:  A'dhiran
  • I'm sorry: Aasif
  • Can you help me?: Hal yumkinuka musa'adati?
  • Where is (a place)?: Ayna (a place)?
  • Help!: Al-najdah!

When is the best time to travel to Saudi Arabia?

Due to higher temperatures in summer, tips for traveling to Saudi Arabia recommend doing it in autumn and winter, between November and March. During this period, the temperatures are colder, and the weather Saudi Arabia much better, allowing tourists to explore the spectacular kingdom. 

January is considered the most popular month because this is when the famous Dakar Rally takes place. However, it’s also when flight and accommodation prices are the highest.

March and April are the ideal months to dive or swim in the Red Sea. While the Red Sea is a year-round destination, the area receives a relatively high amount of rainfall during winter, and the water is hot in summer, making spring the perfect season to explore the stunning reefs and coastlines of the region.

During the hotter months, the Corniche and Al Ahsa Oasis, located in the Eastern Province, have become a favorite holiday spot among locals and tourists alike. It’s the perfect destination to escape the heat while immersing yourself in the fascinating Saudi Arabian culture. 

Attraction of Medina in Saudi Arabia

Is it safe to travel to Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia is a very safe part of the Middle East. Although you should always be aware of your belongings, theft is not common. However, tourists are advised against showing valuables. Be cautious when attending crowded events or festivities.

The biggest threat you will likely find in Saudi Arabia is drivers. You will need to be more vigilant than usual when walking on a busy road.

The area bordering Yemen should be avoided as there are often altercations. 

Tips for traveling to Saudi Arabia: advice for women

The Middle East is considerably more conservative than most tourist places, so it’s no wonder that women are cautious about planning a trip to Saudi Arabia.

Although the country used to have very strict laws (and still does in some regards), it’s getting more and more lax to promote international tourism

Yes, women should dress conservatively and cover as much as possible. But it’s not mandatory to be wearing abayas everywhere you go, not even inside mosques (although you will need to cover yourself and wear a scarf on your head). You can buy one and carry it with you to wear over your clothes if you feel uncomfortable at some point, but you’re not obligated to. 

Remember that you can rent a car as a woman alone without any issues thanks to a recent change in legislation.

Aerial view of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Important tips for traveling to Saudi Arabia

  • You can apply online for the Saudi Arabia tourist visa. It’s one of the mandatory entry requirements for Saudi Arabia.
  • Don’t partake in any public displays of affection.
  • If you want to greet a Saudi, do it with a handshake and never with a kiss.
  • The use of illegal drugs can carry the death penalty. Alcohol is also illegal: you won’t find it even in fancy hotels.
  • Don’t swear or make obscene gestures in public: it’s considered extremely rude and you could have issues.
  • You won’t find many activities available during prayer hours.
  • Don’t discuss politics or religion with the locals. Being an atheist is considered blasphemy. If that’s how you identify, try not to divulge it. 
  • Saudis work from Sunday to Thursday. Friday and Saturday are the weekend. However, since Friday is the day of prayer, many shops and restaurants will be closed until late in the afternoon. Keep that in mind to plan your activities/transports.