What to Prepare Before Visiting Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is an amazing destination filled with rich history, culture, and traditions, making it a popular choice among travellers from all over the world. However, before you pack your bags and head to this Middle Eastern nation, there are a few things you need to know to ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip. In this traveller’s checklist, we’ll cover everything you need to know about travelling to Saudi Arabia, from obtaining the necessary visas and vaccinations to understanding dress codes and cultural norms. So, whether you’re travelling for business or pleasure or Hajj and Umrah, take some time to read through this checklist and prepare yourself for your upcoming adventure in Saudi Arabia.
Travel requirements and entry visas
Before travelling to Saudi Arabia, it’s essential to understand the travel requirements and entry visas. All visitors to the country must have a valid passport with at least six months of validity remaining. Additionally, visitors must obtain a visa to enter the country, which can be obtained through the Saudi embassy or consulate in their home country. It’s essential to check the latest visa requirements and travel advisories from your government before planning your trip.
One important thing to note is that Saudi Arabia has lifted the strict entry requirements for female travellers. If you’re a woman travelling alone, you don’t need to obtain a letter of permission from a male guardian to enter the country as it was compulsory in the past. Now women can also book Umrah packages without their Mahrams (male relatives).
Finally, it’s important to note that Saudi Arabia has a long list of prohibited items, including religious books other than the Quran, pork products, and alcohol. Make sure to check the latest customs regulations before packing for your trip.
Weather and climate
Saudi Arabia is known for its hot and dry climate, with temperatures often exceeding 40°C in the summer months. If you’re planning to visit during these months, it’s essential to stay hydrated and avoid outdoor activities during the hottest parts of the day. In the winter months, temperatures can drop to below freezing, particularly in the mountainous regions of the country.
It’s also important to note that Saudi Arabia experiences occasional sandstorms, which can cause travel disruptions and health issues. If you’re travelling during the sandstorm season, make sure to check the latest weather advisories and take appropriate precautions, such as wearing a mask to protect your lungs.
Clothing and dress code
Saudi Arabia has a strict dress code, particularly for women. Women are required to wear an abaya, a long black cloak that covers the entire body except for the face, hands, and feet. Men are required to wear modest clothing that covers their shoulders and knees. It’s also important to note that public displays of affection are prohibited, as is the consumption of alcohol in public.
Although the dress code is strict, it’s essential to respect the local customs and traditions of Saudi Arabia. You can find abayas and modest clothing for sale in many shops in the country, so it’s not necessary to bring your own.
Local customs and etiquette
Saudi Arabia has a rich culture and set of customs that visitors should be aware of before travelling to the country. For example, it’s important to greet people with the Islamic greeting “Assalamu Alaykum,” which means “peace be upon you.” It’s also important to avoid eating, drinking, and smoking in public during the month of Ramadan, which is a holy month for Muslims.
Visitors should also be aware of the strict gender segregation in Saudi Arabia. Public spaces, such as restaurants and cafes, often have separate areas for men and women. If you’re travelling with a member of the opposite sex, make sure to respect these rules and avoid public displays of affection.
Finally, it’s essential to respect the local laws and customs of Saudi Arabia. The country has strict laws regarding drugs, alcohol, and public behaviour, and visitors who break these laws can face severe punishments.
Language and communication tips
The official language of Saudi Arabia is Arabic, although English is widely spoken in urban areas. If you don’t speak Arabic, it’s a good idea to learn a few basic phrases before travelling to the country. This can help you communicate with locals and show that you respect their culture and customs.
It’s also important to note that Saudi Arabia has strict laws regarding the use of social media and online communication. Visitors should be careful about what they post online and avoid any content that could be considered offensive or critical of the government.
Currency and money matters
The currency of Saudi Arabia is the Saudi riyal, which is divided into 100 halalas. ATMs are widely available in urban areas, and credit cards are accepted in many shops and restaurants. However, it’s a good idea to carry cash with you, particularly if you’re venturing into more rural areas of the country.
It’s also important to note that Saudi Arabia has strict laws regarding the import and export of currency. Visitors are required to declare any amount over 60,000 SAR upon arrival and departure from the country.
Saudi Arabia has a well-developed transportation network, with many options for getting around the country. Taxis are widely available in urban areas, and many cities have a bus system. It’s also possible to rent a car, although visitors should be aware that driving in Saudi Arabia can be challenging, particularly for those not used to the local driving customs.
Finally, it’s important to note that public transportation is limited during the month of Ramadan, so visitors should plan their travel accordingly.
Saudi Arabia has a wide range of accommodation options, from luxury hotels to budget guesthouses. Many international hotel chains have a presence in the country, particularly in urban areas. It’s a good idea to book your accommodation in advance, particularly if you’re travelling during peak tourist season.
Almost all hotel rates in Mecca and Medina usually skyrocket during Ramadan, so try to get earlier booking of your accommodation in Umrah packages to save yourself from this.
Local cuisine and dining etiquette
Saudi Arabia has a rich culinary tradition, with many delicious dishes to try during your visit. Traditional dishes include kabsa, a spiced rice dish with meat or chicken, and machboos, a similar dish made with fish.
When dining in Saudi Arabia, it’s important to respect local customs and etiquette. For example, it’s common to eat with your right hand and to remove your shoes before entering a home. It’s also important to note that many restaurants are segregated by gender, with separate areas for men and women.
Must-visit tourist attractions
Saudi Arabia has many amazing tourist attractions, from ancient ruins to modern skyscrapers. One of the most popular destinations is the ancient city of Mada’in Saleh, a UNESCO World Heritage site that features stunning rock-cut tombs and temples. Other must-visit attractions include the Al Wahbah Crater, the Al Hada Mountain Range, and the Red Sea coast.
Safety and security tips
Saudi Arabia is a safe country for travellers, although visitors should be aware of the local laws and customs. It’s important to respect the dress code and avoid public displays of affection, particularly if you’re travelling with a member of the opposite sex.
Visitors should also be aware of the risk of terrorism and political violence in the country. It’s a good idea to avoid political demonstrations and large gatherings, particularly in urban areas.
Before travelling to Saudi Arabia, it’s essential to consult with your doctor about any necessary vaccinations or medications. Visitors should also be aware of the risk of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), a respiratory illness that is prevalent in Saudi Arabia. To reduce the risk of infection, visitors should avoid contact with camels and other animals and follow basic hygiene practices, such as washing their hands regularly.
Conclusion and final checklist
Travelling to Saudi Arabia can be an amazing experience, but it’s important to prepare yourself for the unique customs and practices of the country. From obtaining the necessary visas and vaccinations to understanding dress codes and cultural norms, this traveller’s checklist has covered everything you need to know to ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip.
Before you depart, make sure to review this checklist and ensure that you’ve taken care of everything on the list. By doing so, you’ll be able to fully immerse yourself in the rich culture and history of this amazing country and have an unforgettable travel experience. But it is better to leave all your responsibilities regarding flights, hotels, transportation arrangements, and travel documents to the best travel agency.