There are key things to know about travel to Saudi Arabia. While Saudi Arabia is slowly opening its doors to visitors, it is still steeped in age-old traditions. You’ll want to keep in mind a few things so you can respectfully visit and without any issues regarding your travel documents.
Travel to Saudi Arabia – Things to Know Before You Go
Saudi Visa Application Process and Requirements
For UK passport holders, a visa is mandatory for entry into Saudi Arabia. Whether you’re traveling for tourism purposes or to visit family or friends, Saudi visas are issued only to sponsored visitors. What this means is that you require an invitation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) to apply for a Saudi visa.
In order to obtain this document, the person whom you intend to visit needs to request the MOFA invite. This person must have your passport details and it could take up to five business days for the invitation to be issued. The invitation contains a “visa number” and this document is faxed both to you and the Saudi Embassy in London.
Now it’s time to fill out the Saudi visa application form. This must be submitted, along with your passport (with at least 6 months validity) and two passport-sized photographs.
If you’re traveling on work, you need a Saudi business visa. For this, the company you’re planning on visiting needs to request the MOFA’s Saudi Chamber of Commerce for an official invitation. Once the invite has been authorized, you need to submit the Saudi business visa application, along with your passport, two passport-sized photographs and a letter from your employer.
The validity may be 30, 90 or 180 days for both business and tourist visas.
How to Dress When Visiting Saudi Arabia
The way one dresses is a very important aspect of Saudi culture. While visiting Saudi Arabia, it’s best to dress conservatively. Choose an attire that properly covers your legs, arms and chest area. While this holds true for both male and female travelers, women need to be extra careful in this regard. In fact, it is recommended that women cover their hair as well.
Apart from dressing modestly, there are some things to keep in mind. Firstly, wearing a traditional Saudi dress as a foreigner is considered as disrespectful. Secondly, avoid wearing very bright colors. In fact, wearing red on Valentine’s day is forbidden and can result in legal repercussions.
Rules Specific to Women Traveling to Saudi Arabia
Women travelers need to be met at the airport by a male relative or a sponsor to be allowed entry into Saudi Arabia. It is mandatory for women to dress conservatively and recommended that they cover their hair. Furthermore, they need to be accompanied by a male guardian when visiting public places. Violations of these social mores can be grounds for arrest.
Know the Culture
Saudi Arabia’s cultural setting is heavily influenced by Islam. Although people here are very hospitable, they are also deeply religious, traditional and conservative. Most of them follow centuries-old traditions derived from Islamic and their Arab heritage.
Public display of affection is unacceptable. Even holding hands is frowned upon. Alcohol is completely banned, while smoking is banned in public places. The public worship of any religion other than Islam is not permitted. Also, there are no rights for people from the LGBTQ community. Muttawa, an organization of offices and volunteers, patrol the streets during business hours and enforce the Islamic codes of morality.
Rules Related to Nightlife, Photography and Music
There are no nightclubs, theatres or cinemas in Saudi Arabia. Alcohol is banned and smoking is prohibited in public places. Nightlife here is limited to fancy dinner parties and hosted events. Playing music in public is prohibited since it is considered as causing a disturbance. However, it’s not illegal to listen to music at your hotel.
Photography is strongly discouraged in Saudi Arabia since the government is very cautious about espionage and terrorist plotting. Taking pictures of mosques, palaces, and government buildings is banned while photographing locals could be seen as harassment.
Top Tourist Attractions in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is a highly scenic country, with breath-taking valleys, beautiful mountains, striking deserts, and the amazing Red Sea beaches. Some of the places to visit during your travels to this country are:
- Masjid Al Haram in Mecca: Also known as the House of God, this is among the most sacred places in Islam. It is the world’s largest mosque, covering the area of 88.2 acres and having the capacity to accommodate around four million pilgrims.
- Masjid Al Nabawi in Medina: This is another beautiful mosque, with a green dome structure. It has beautiful shaded umbrellas and magnificent pillars and arcs.
- Kingdom Tower in Jeddah: With a height of 3,280 feet, this is the world’s tallest building. It has a circular sky terrace that has a glass floor from where the Red Sea is visible.
- Jubbah Rock Carvings: Spread across an area of 39 sq. kms, this is an open-air art gallery with impressive rock carvings from pre-Islamic times.
Whether you’re traveling for pleasure or business, these are all very important things to know about traveling to Saudi Arabia. And please be advised, it’s best to read more on the Saudi culture and etiquette, as it is governed by strict Islamic law. For more travel tips, be sure to subscribe so you never miss a post.