Advice for Those Arriving in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Forewarned is forearmed, simple rules to abide by for visitors to Saudi Arabia.
As a foreigner visiting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) for the first time, there are a few things you need to be aware of from the moment you enter the country. The simple day-to-day social etiquette considered normal in western societies, could be insulting in KSA, in particular the male-female interaction. People also tend to forget that the country is an alcohol free zone, so transporting alcohol will get you into hot water and it will certainly be confiscated. On the ‘don’t do it list’ are also the importation of ANY non-Muslim religious materials, pork-related products or ANY material of pornographic nature (by Muslim standards).
Make sure you also read through our list of tips for expats relocating to Saudi Arabia for more advice.
Airport Customs in Saudi Arabia
To visit the country, you will need an invitation from an employer or KSA sponsor to apply for a visa. Make sure you fill in the landing card on the plane before landing and have it ready to present to airport officials. Whichever airport you arrive at, customs check will be thorough and time consuming, although luckily, westerners tend to be ushered to shorter lines. In many respects, the airport experience is just like any other, with a few exceptions; amongst the security staff there will be a censor expert, who will check your bags for violations of the religious rules, this is usually limited to pictures or literature from books or magazines, ‘illegal’ pictures will be torn out of magazines or blacked out with a marker pen, the item itself may also be confiscated. CDs / DVDs will be looked at in the audio/video room; one tip here to speed up the process is to have a portable player so you can play the CDs for the security staff and thus bypass the audio/video room entirely. Same as with the reading material, if any audio/visual item is deemed anti-Muslim, it will be confiscated.
The airport at Jeddah (at time of writing) is a little more old fashioned than the one in Riyadh, so every bag is likely to be searched manually.
Climate and Dress Code in Saudi Arabia
It’s hot, very hot during the summer, therefore bring cool lightweight clothing. Temperature can reach 54 degrees Celsius (129 Fahrenheit). During the winter months within the interior regions of the country such as Riyadh, the temperature can be cool, although dry, so warmer clothing is essential. Other areas such as Jeddah and Dhahran are humid for most parts of the year.
Dress code can safely be described as conservative: all Muslim women dress in abayas.
The clothing beneath the abaya, should also be conservative with ankle-length skirts and long-sleeved shirts with necklines above the collarbone. Pants for women are considered provocative. Some women even wear gloves just in case men find their hands appealing. The general rule for Muslim women is to show NO skin at all.
Muslim women tend not to wear seat belts for the same reason, because they can highlight their curves. The law for everyone in the country is to wear seat belts, so effectively, some Saudi Arabian women would rather break the law and risk injury in an accident than inadvertently expose their womanly figures.
The Mutaween (religious police) enforce the Islamic laws of KSA in the following ways:
- ensure that all Muslims go to prayer (Salaa) when called.
- enforce dress code
- enforce conduct
- ensure you are with spouse or relative*
- ensure you carry your iqama (identification)
*The last two points are related – in that if you are caught with a member of the opposite sex, who is not a spouse or a relative, then you could be in deep trouble, at the least, seriously inconvenienced. How can they tell? They will look at your iqama, which has, firstly your spouse’s details and secondly who your sponsor is. If you are caught without your iqama outside your compound you will be arrested as an illegal.
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