Saudi Arabia is poised to open the country to tourism. When it undertakes this historic step, you will be able to visit the country as a tourist. This should happen by the end of 2021. Right now, if you want to visit Saudi Arabia you can only do so as part of a religious pilgrimage. Sometimes the country will allow tourists if it is hosting a prestigious event such as Formula 1 motor racing.
The country itself is full of culture and history. There are some customs and rules you should be aware of and adhere to. Punishment is often severe in the country, but with a little common sense, you should be fine when visiting.
Saudi Arabia’s Current Travel Requirements
Currently, you can only enter Saudi Arabia on two types of visa. They are the Umrah and the Hajj which are both used for Islamic pilgrimages to Mecca. The Umrah is available at any time of year while the Hajj is available during the last month of the Islamic calendar. In western terms, this is August to September.
As there are restrictions on entering the country by gender, it is a good idea to check requirements for a Saudi Arabia visa and how to apply before departure. Make sure you apply for one in time for your trip.
Best Time to Go to Saudi Arabia
In terms of visiting the country, many prefer the winter months. The country is one of the hottest in the world with summer temperatures rising above 122°F. Even the locals tend to abandon cities and head for the mountains where coping with the heat is easier.
As such, many travel between October and March. In the winter, temperatures are more like western summers. It tends to rain, and even snow is not unknown. In the night, temperatures often fall below zero.
That said, if you plan to visit the Asir Mountains, then avoid coming during December to February as they are impregnable due to thick fog.
Currently, Saudi Arabia demands that you are up to date on the following vaccinations before traveling to the country:
- Yellow Fever– If you are from a country at risk from Yellow Fever then you will need to show a valid Yellow Fever certificate before to be let into the country.
- Meningitis– You must be able to show you had a vaccine shot or booster within three years. This is a requirement for all countries.
- Poliomyelitis– If you are from certain countries, namely Afghanistan, Chad, Nigeria and Pakistan, you must have had a recent OPV. This will be implemented for travelers from any country that has reported an outbreak of polio in the last 12 months.
Saudi Arabia recommends that all travelers should have the seasonal influenza vaccine.
When in Saudi Arabia, you should dress conservatively. Ensure your chest, arms, and legs are covered when out and about. This is true for both men and women. That said as the country adopts more liberal attitudes, you should be able to get away with shorts if you’re a man. You should also rule out going native and wearing traditional Saudi dress as this is considered cultural misappropriation. There is an exception here, however, as women are expected to wear an Abaya when in public.
As of 2019 the country has relaxed some of its stricter cultural laws. You can, for example, visit a restaurant or café with a friend who is of the opposite sex that you are not married to. This wasn’t always the case. Furthermore, foreign women can travel independently and no longer need to be escorted like they used to. That’s not to say it wouldn’t be a challenge, but it can be done. As of 2018, women are allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.
Other rules to be aware of is that there are some places which ban certain genders or the establishment has areas for men and women only. Some establishments are either all men or all women.
Blasphemy is considered a serious crime in Saudi Arabia. If you are an atheist or an agnostic, it is best to keep this to yourself. The best policy is to say you are a member of another religion should the subject come up.
You may find that outside of the big cities, you cannot be in shops or restaurants during prayer time, and you may get kicked out.
Other rules to be aware of are:
- No drink or drugs. These are banned and if you are found with either is serious. This can incur horrible sentencing.
- No public displays of affection. This extends to things such as holding hands and things most westerners would consider innocent.
Saudi Arabia is an amazing country, and when it opens to doors to tourism, much of the country will be open to you. The country offers a mysterious charm and adventure and one which you should savor as soon as you can.