Saudi Arabia - Consular Information Sheet
June 19, 2001
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled
by a king chosen from and by members of the Al-Saud family. The
king rules through royal decrees issued in conjunction with the
Council of Ministers, and with advice from the Consultative Council.
Members of both councils are appointed by the king. Islamic law
is the basis of the authority of the monarchy and provides the
foundation of the country's conservative customs and social practices.
Saudi Arabia has a modern and well-developed infrastructure, and
facilities for travelers are widely available, although the country
does not issue visas for tourism except for approved tour groups.
The workweek in Saudi Arabia is Saturday through Wednesday.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Passports valid for at least
six months and visas are required for entry. Visas are issued
for business and work, to visit close relatives, and for transit
and religious visits. Visas for tourism are issued only for approved
tour groups following organized itineraries. Airport and seaport
visas are not available. All visas require a sponsor, can take
several months to process, and must be obtained prior to arrival.
Women visitors and residents are required to be met by their sponsor
upon arrival. Women traveling alone, who are not met by sponsors,
have experienced delays before being allowed to enter the country
or to continue on to other flights.
Visitors to Saudi Arabia generally obtain a meningitis vaccination
prior to arrival. A medical report or physical examination is
required to obtain work and residence permits.
Residents working in Saudi Arabia generally must surrender their
passports while in the Kingdom. The sponsor (normally the employer)
obtains work and residence permits for the employee and for any
family members. Family members of those working are not required
by law to surrender their passports, though they often do. Residents
carry a Saudi residence permit (Iqama) for identification in place
of their passports. The U.S. Embassy and Consulates General in
Saudi Arabia cannot sponsor private American citizens for Saudi
Foreign residents traveling within the Kingdom, even between
towns in the same province, carry travel letters issued by employers
and authenticated by an immigration official or a Chamber of Commerce
office. Police at all airports and dozens of roadblocks routinely
arrest and imprison violators.
Residents in Saudi Arabia who are departing the country must
obtain an exit permit prior to leaving and an exit/reentry permit
if they intend to return to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi sponsor's
approval is required for exit permits. A married woman residing
in Saudi Arabia with her husband must have her husband's approval
to receive an exit permit. The father must approve the departure
of any children. The U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulates General
cannot sponsor private U.S. citizens for an exit permit under
any circumstances. Temporary visitors normally do not need an
exit permit but may be prevented from departing the country if
they are involved in a legal dispute.
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments
have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include
requiring documentary evidence of the relationship between the
child and an accompanying adult and, when the child's parent(s)
or legal guardian is not traveling with the child, permission
from that adult for the child's travel. Having such documentation
on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.
For further information on entry/exit requirements, travelers
may contact the following Saudi government offices in the U.S.:
--Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, 601 New Hampshire Ave., N.W.,
Washington, D.C. 20037, telephone (202) 333-2740. The
Embassy's Internet home page is at http://www.saudiembassy.net/
--Saudi Consulate General in New York: 866 United Nations Plaza,
Suite 480, New York, NY 10017, tel: (212) 752-2740
--Saudi Consulate General in Houston: 5718 Westheimer, Suite
1500, Houston, TX 77057, tel: (713) 785-5577
--Saudi Consulate General in Los Angeles: Sawtelle Courtyard
Building, 2045 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025, tel: (310)
DUAL NATIONALITY: The Saudi government does not recognize
dual nationality. Saudi authorities have confiscated the U.S.
passports of U.S. citizens when they apply for Saudi citizenship
and the U.S. passports of dual (Saudi/U.S.) nationals when they
applied for a Saudi passport. This does not constitute loss of
U.S. citizenship, but should be reported to the U.S. Embassy in
Riyadh. For additional information, please refer to the
Consular Affairs home page on the Internet at http://travel.state.gov
and click on the dual nationality
SAFETY AND SECURITY: The U.S. Government continues to
assist Saudi authorities in their investigations of the 1995 and
1996 bombings of U.S. military installations in Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. Mission continues to receive reports that suggest terrorist
action against U.S. interests in Saudi Arabia remains a possibility.
Because of continuing security concerns, the Embassy, Consulates
General, and the U.S. military elements throughout the country
have reviewed their security postures and made improvements wherever
possible to lessen their vulnerabilities. We strongly encourage
all Americans visiting or resident in Saudi Arabia to likewise
take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness and
lessen their vulnerability.
All American citizens in Saudi Arabia should maintain a high
level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to increase their
security awareness and reduce their vulnerability. Americans should
maintain a low profile, vary routes and times for all required
travel, and treat mail and packages from unfamiliar sources with
suspicion. In addition, American citizens are urged to avoid contact
with any suspicious, unfamiliar objects, and to report the presence
of such objects to local authorities. Vehicles should not be left
unattended, if at all possible, and should be kept locked at all
times. American citizens are urged to park their motor vehicles
in protected areas with restricted access and to inspect the vehicles
before using them, looking underneath, inside the engine compartment,
and inside the trunk. The use of flashlight for vehicle inspections
at night is recommended. Suspicious activities, individuals, or
vehicles should be reported to the U.S. Embassy or nearest Consulate
General. License numbers of vehicles and descriptions of individuals
are extremely helpful. Saudi officials continue to cooperate closely
with the Embassy to ensure the safety of all Americans.
The American Embassy and Consulates General in Saudi Arabia inform
the resident American community of security matters through a
communications system known as the warden faxnet. Persons who
are residing in the Kingdom should contact the Embassy or nearest
Consulate General for information on their warden contacts. Americans
arriving in Saudi Arabia are encouraged to register at the Embassy
or Consulates General and obtain the most current security information
(see section on Registration.)
CRIME: Crime is generally not a problem for travelers
in Saudi Arabia. However, private Saudi citizens who perceive
that conservative standards of conduct are not being observed
by a foreigner may harass, pursue, or assault that person. The
U.S. Embassy in Riyadh cautions American citizens that Saudi Arabian
police authorities have detained potential witnesses to crimes,
without charges or access to legal counsel and with limited or
delayed consular access, for months during the investigative stage
of criminal cases. On occasion, Saudi authorities have temporarily
confiscated the personal effects of detained potential witnesses.
U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlets
A Safe Trip Abroad and Tips
for Travelers to the Middle East and North Africa for ways
to promote a more trouble-free journey. These publications are
available by mail from the
Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs,
or via the
Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.
The loss or theft of a U.S. passport abroad should be reported
immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or
MEDICAL FACILITIES: Basic modern medical care and medicines
are available in several hospitals and health centers in Saudi
Arabia. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or
medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of
dollars. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment
for health services.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges
Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior
to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas
and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical
evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs
incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage
is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do
not provide payment for medical services outside the United States.
However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance
plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including
emergency services such as medical evacuations.
When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans
should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require
payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical
evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured
travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme
difficulties, whereas travelers who have purchased overseas medical
insurance have, when a medical emergency occurs, found it life-saving.
When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain
whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider
or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur.
Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric
treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.
Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas
insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau
of Consular Affairs brochure Medical
Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via
the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.
OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Malaria is endemic to the low-lying
coastal plains of southwest Saudi Arabia, primarily in the Jizan
region extending up the coast to the rural area surrounding Jeddah.
Visitors to the region are advised to take precautions to avoid
being bitten by mosquitoes. As a further precaution, all persons
intending to travel to this region should seek medical advice
regarding recommendations for prophylactic anti-malarial medications.
Cases of Meningicoccal disease or meningitis in Americans traveling
to Saudi Arabia are rare. However, during the Hajj season when
there is an increased incidence of this disease among those traveling
in the vicinity of Makkah and Medina, the Saudi Ministry of Health
may require proof of immunization against meningitis. The Department
of State Medical Unit at the Embassy in Riyadh recommends that
official U.S. Government travelers be vaccinated for meningitis
prior to travel to the Kingdom. Information on vaccinations and
other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers
at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299),
or via CDC's Internet
site at http://www.cdc.gov.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign
country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ
significantly from those in the United States. The information
below concerning Saudi Arabia is provided for general reference
only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location
Safety of Public Transportation: Good
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor
Traffic accidents are a significant hazard in Saudi Arabia. Driving
habits are generally poor, and accidents involving vehicles driven
by minors are not uncommon. In the event of a traffic accident
resulting in personal injury, all persons involved (if not in
the hospital) may be taken to the local police station. Drivers
are likely to be held for several days until responsibility is
determined and any reparations paid. In many cases, all drivers
are held in custody regardless of fault. Those involved in an
accident should immediately contact their sponsor and the U.S.
Embassy or nearest U.S. Consulate. For additional general information
about road safety, including links to foreign government sites,
see the Department of State, Bureau
of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) has assessed the Government of Saudi Arabia's Civil Aviation
Authority as Category 1 -- in compliance with international aviation
safety standards for oversight of Saudi Arabia's air carrier operations.
For further information, travelers may contact the Department
of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit
Internet website at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/. The U.S.
Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air
carriers for suitability as official providers of air services.
For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers,
travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.
CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: Saudi customs authorities enforce
strict regulations concerning importation into Saudi Arabia of
such banned items as alcohol products, weapons and any item that
is held to be contrary to the tenets of Islam. This includes non-Islamic
religious materials, pork products, and pornography. Saudi customs
and postal officials broadly define what is contrary to Islam,
and therefore prohibited. Christmas decorations, fashion magazines,
and "suggestive" videos may be confiscated and the owner
subject to penalties and fines. It is advisable to contact the
Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington or one of Saudi Arabia's
consulates in the United States for specific information regarding
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S.
citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which
sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States
and may not afford the protections available to the individual
under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe
than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating
Saudi Arabia's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested,
imprisoned or even executed. Suspects can be detained, without
charges or legal counsel and with limited consular access, for
months during the investigative stage of criminal cases. As stated
in Section 5 (CRIME), witnesses to possible criminal incidents
also can be detained under similar circumstances for long periods
of time. Even when released from detention, witnesses to criminal
incidents may be prohibited from leaving the country until investigation
of the incident is complete.
Penalties for the import, manufacture, possession, and consumption
of alcohol or illegal drugs are severe. Convicted offenders can
expect jail sentences, fines, public flogging, and/or deportation.
The penalty for drug trafficking in Saudi Arabia is death. Saudi
officials make no exceptions. Customs inspections at ports of
entry are thorough. The U.S. Embassy and Consulates General have
no standing in Saudi courts to obtain leniency for an American
convicted of alcohol or drug offenses.
Besides alcohol products and illicit drugs, Saudi Arabia also
prohibits the import, use, or possession of any item that is held
to be contrary to the tenets of Islam (see "Customs Regulations"
section above.) The private ownership of weapons is prohibited.
Imported and domestic audiovisual media and reading matter are
Homosexual activity is considered to be a criminal offense and
those convicted may be sentenced to lashing and/or a prison sentence,
Saudi authorities do not permit criticism of Islam or the royal
family. The government prohibits the public practice of religions
other than Islam, although private worship by non-Muslims generally
is permitted. Non-Muslims suspects of violating these restrictions
have been jailed.
EMPLOYMENT AND BUSINESS CONTRACT: The written, Arabic
text of a contract governs employment and business arrangements
under Saudi law. Before signing a contract, American companies
should obtain an independent translation to ensure a full understanding
of the contract's terms, limits, and agreements. No American should
come to work in Saudi Arabia or make a business arrangement without
having seen and understood the full, written contract. Verbal
assurances or side letters are not binding under Saudi law. In
the event of any contract dispute, the Saudi authorities refer
to the contract. Since the Saudi sponsor holds the employee's
passport and controls the issuance of exit permits, Americans
cannot simply leave Saudi Arabia in the event of a labor or business
dispute. An American who wishes to break an employment or business
contract may have to pay substantial penalties before being allowed
to leave Saudi Arabia. To change employers in Saudi Arabia requires
the permission of the previous employer, which is discretionary.
Saudi courts take seriously their responsibility to adjudicate
disputes. This process, which is performed in accordance with
Saudi law and customs, may require the hiring of legal counsel,
should not be entered into without an Arabic translator, and can
take several months. The U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulates General
cannot adjudicate labor or business disputes.
U.S. consular officers can provide lists of local attorneys to
help U.S. citizens settle business disputes, but ultimate responsibility
for the resolution of disputes through the Saudi legal system
lies with the parties involved.
SAUDI CUSTOMS, RELIGIOUS POLICE, AND GENERAL STANDARDS OF
CONDUCT: Islam pervades all aspects of life in Saudi Arabia.
It is the official religion of the country, and public observance
of any other religion is forbidden. Public non-Muslim religious
services are illegal, and public display of non-Islamic religious
articles such as crosses and Bibles is not permitted. Travel to
Makkah (Mecca) and Medina, the cities where the two holiest mosques
of Islam are located, is forbidden to non-Muslims.
The norms for public behavior in Saudi Arabia are extremely conservative,
and religious police, known as Mutawwa, are charged with enforcing
these standards. Mutawwa are required to carry special identification
and usually are accompanied by uniformed police. However, in some
cases they have detained persons even without police presence.
To ensure that conservative standards of conduct are observed,
the Saudi religious police have accosted or arrested foreigners,
including U.S. citizens, for improper dress or other infractions,
such as consumption of alcohol or association by a female with
a male to whom she is not related. While most incidents have resulted
only in inconvenience or embarrassment, the potential exists for
an individual to be physically harmed or deported. U.S. citizens
who are involved in an incident with the Mutawwa should report
the incident to the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh or the U.S. Consulates
General in Jeddah or Dhahran.
The Saudi Embassy in Washington advises women traveling to Saudi
Arabia to dress in a conservative fashion, wearing ankle-length
dresses with long sleeves, and not to wear trousers in public.
In many areas of Saudi Arabia, particularly Riyadh and the central
part of the Kingdom, Mutawwa pressure women to wear a full-length
black covering known as an Abaya and to cover their heads. Most
women in these areas therefore wear an Abaya and carry a headscarf
to avoid being accosted. Women who appear to be of Arab or Asian
origin, especially those presumed to be Muslims, face a greater
risk of being confronted.
Some Mutawwa try to enforce the rule that men and women who are
beyond childhood years may not mingle in public, unless they are
family or close relatives. Mutawwa may ask to see proof that a
couple is married or related. Women who are arrested for socializing
with a man who is not a relative may be charged with prostitution.
Some restaurants, particularly fast-food outlets, have refused
to serve women who are not accompanied by a close male relative.
In addition, many restaurants no longer have a "family section"
in which women are permitted to eat. These restrictions are not
always posted, and in some cases women violating this policy have
Women are not allowed to drive vehicles or ride bicycles on public
In public, dancing, music and movies are forbidden.
Pornography, which is very broadly defined by Saudi authorities,
is strictly forbidden.
THE HAJJ: American Muslims who are not resident in Saudi
Arabia but who plan to participate in the annual Hajj pilgrimage
to the holy cities of Makkah (Mecca) and Medina should pay close
attention to the following:
All travel plans should be made through a travel agent in order
to book accommodations in advance. Hajj visas are required and
are valid only for travel to the two holy cities. Onward travel
to Riyadh or other cities in Saudi Arabia is not permitted.
Foreign Muslim residents of the Kingdom may perform the Hajj
once every five years. Advance approval must be obtained from
an immigration office with the approval of the Saudi sponsor.
King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah is a large and
modern facility, with a special terminal with facilities to accommodate
hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. However, due to the extremely
large number of people arriving, waiting time at the airport upon
arrival during the Hajj may be as long as ten hours. Pilgrims
should plan on a lengthy wait before leaving the airport on their
way to Makkah or Medina. Travelers with only carry-on bags will
find baggage transfer at the airport much easier than will those
with checked baggage.
Before leaving home, travelers should make at least two copies
of their passports, including the pages stamped with Saudi visas.
One copy should be left with someone at home and one taken with
the traveler. Passports are turned over to Saudi officials upon
arrival in the Kingdom and will be given back immediately prior
to departure. Upon arrival, all pilgrims are issued an identification
card or wrist-band. Travelers should carry this identification
at all times.
A money belt or pouch is the best way to carry valuables. Upon
arrival it is possible to buy what is known as a "Hajj belt,"
which is somewhat larger than American equivalents. Pilgrims should
bring sufficient funds to cover any unforeseen emergencies. If
pilgrims need to purchase Saudi Riyals, there is a bank at the
Hajj terminal, but it is not continuously open. Exchange and ATM
facilities are available in the city of Makkah, but not at the
Visitors should check with the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, their travel agent, and a Saudi consulate or embassy
regarding recommended or required shots. Cases of Meningicoccal
disease or meningitis in Americans traveling to Saudi Arabia are
rare. However, during the Hajj season when there is an increased
incidence of this disease among those traveling in the vicinity
of Makkah and Medina, the Saudi Ministry of Health may require
proof of immunization against meningitis.
Travelers should expect extremely crowded conditions during the
Hajj. Temperatures in Makkah range between 68 and 90 Fahrenheit
in February and March. There are many facilities providing water,
public accommodations, and other amenities. In case of emergency,
Hajj pilgrims should first contact the United Agents Office (Makkah),
telephone (02)545-1444, or National Adilla Est. (Medina), telephone
(04)826-0088, and then contact the American Consulate General
in Jeddah, telephone (02) 667-0080.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For
information on international parental child abduction and the
international adoption of children please refer to our Internet
site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone
REGISTRATION AND EMBASSY/CONSULATE LOCATION: Americans
living in or visiting Saudi Arabia are encouraged to register
at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh or the Consulates
General in Dhahran and Jeddah. U.S. citizens who register at the
U.S. Embassy or the U.S. Consulates General may obtain updated
information on travel and security within Saudi Arabia and can
be included in the warden network.
The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is located at Collector
Road M, Riyadh Diplomatic Quarter. The international mailing address
is P.O. Box 94309, Riyadh 11693. Mail may also be sent via the
U.S. Postal Service to: U.S. Embassy, Unit 61307, APO AE 09803-1307.
The Embassy telephone number is (966) (1) 488-3800, fax (966)
The U.S. Consulate General in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, is located
between Aramco Headquarters and the old Dhahran Airport at the
King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals highway exit. The
international mailing address is P.O. Box 38955, Doha-Dhahran
31942. Mail may also be sent via the U.S. Postal Service to: Unit
66803, APO AE 09858-6803. The telephone number is (966) (3) 330-3200,
fax (966) (3) 330-0464.
The U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is located
on Palestine Road, Ruwais. The international mailing address is
P.O. Box 149, Jeddah. Mail may also be sent via the U.S. Postal
Service to: Unit 62112, APO AE 09811-2112. The telephone number
is (966) (2) 667-0080, fax (966) (2) 669-3078 or 669-3098.