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Practical information Saudi Arabia

By Amy Adejokun Amy Adejokun Section editor

Saudi Arabia : Travel Information before you go!

Area

2150000.0

Flights

Flight duration: 6 hours. Riyadh is 8,216 mi from London.

Air travel info.


www.easyvols.com

Since April 2006 Bmi has been offering flights from London Heathrow to Djeddah three times a week (outward journey: Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday; return journey: Monday, Wednesday and Friday).
www.flybmi.com

Population

27601038

Airports

The country has three international airports. The airport of Riyadh, located 22 miles from the city centre (taxis do this journey in 35 minutes, for an amount of around £12); the King Abdul Aziz airport in Jeddah is 22 miles from the city (it will cost you a little less than £24 in a taxi), and the airport of Dhahran, 8 miles from the city centre (it will cost you around £5.50 in a taxi).

Security

Though crime rates are low, maximum caution is recommended when in Saudi Arabia. Customs should be scrupulously observed and you should avoid going to places habitually frequented by Westerners.
In general, any traveller or resident is strongly advised to stay in contact with the British Embassy in Riyadh or the British Consulate General in Jeddah to ensure that a return flight is available and to deal in advance with the formalities necessary to leave the Saudi territory (for example, to obtain an exit visa).

Follow local media and keep track of local and regional developments, which might trigger public disturbances. Note that public demonstrations are illegal in Saudi Arabia and you should therefore avoid any signs of them.
There are also tensions along the Saudi-Yemen border over illegal trafficking.
During Hajj or Umrah, there are often disputes with tour operators. In July 2013, the Saudi Ministry of Health advised certain groups of people to postpone undertaking the pilgrimages due to the recent bout of MERS virus cases.

Following recent terror attacks, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice against all travel to within 10km of the border with Yemen and against all but essential travel between 10km and 80km of this border.

For the latest developments, see the FCO Travel Advice section for Saudi Arabia.

Languages

Arabic is the official language. English, the language of business, is widespread in the towns.

Required travel documents for

Saudi Arabia does not issue tourist visas and thus remains one of those countries that is closed to foreigners. However, the kingdom did show signs of an opening to the exterior world by creating an organisation to promote 'archaeological and cultural' tourism, in organised groups. Until then, the only authorised foreigners allowed to enter the country are businessmen and Muslims pilgrims going to Mecca. You can, however, ask for a 'family visit visa', providing that you know someone in the country (a Saudi Arabian or an expatriate). This person must do all the paperwork in the country and if the file is accepted, he will give you your visa number. Once you get this number, you will be able to go the Saudi Arabian Embassy and your visa will be issued there. You will have to have a passport that is valid for six months after the date of arrival in the country. Know that access to the cities of Mecca and Medina is forbidden to non-Muslims. Women should imperatively be accompanied by their husband or by a male parent. If this is not the case, the person she knows here must come and get her at the airport. Even in this case, there are some restrictions on the fact that a man and a woman, who are not related by blood, travel in the same vehicle. Ask for more information at the embassy.

Religion

Most Saudis are Sunni Muslims and follow the Wahhabi doctrine, which advocates very strict rules. The Shiites represent between 5 and 10% of the population and are largely represented in the east of the country and on the border with Yemen.

Currency

The currency is the Saudi Riyal (SAR). You will have no problem finding ATM machines that accept Visa and MasterCard cards, but travellers cheques are difficult to exchange. Many restaurants and hotels in the cities accept payment by card. Banks are open from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm, Saturday to Wednesday, and some also open in the afternoon between 4:00 pm and 5:00 pm. It is also worth remembering that all public places and businesses close during prayer times.

Local transportation

The country has 20 domestic airports; this is the best method of transport for travelling around the country, as the cities are very far from each other. The prices of the company Saudia are very reasonable. It has flights to all the important cities in the country. The country has a very good road network (99,400 miles of roads, of which half are tarmacked). If you have the time, a pleasant way of discovering the country is by bus. The fleet has air-conditioned buses, and you will mostly travel under good conditions. However, the network is often saturated during the Mecca pilgrimage period. If you are a man aged more than 25, it is quite possible to hire a car. When there you should, however, have your international driving licence translated into Arabic. You have to be extremely careful on the road, as Koranic law (Sharia), on which the whole of the Saudi legislation is based, imposes the spilling of blood in the case of death or permanent or temporary disability following a traffic accident. There is a short railway line that links Riyadh to Dammam, going through al-Hufuf, Dhahran and Abqayq; the service is daily. Taxis are quite expensive, and even if they accept long distance drives, it is better to use them only in the cities.

Health

No particular vaccine is required, except for pilgrims heading to Mecca: a vaccine against meningitis is mandatory. Also, be sure that your vaccination booklet is up to date. If you are planning a visit in the west part of the country, have antimalaria treatment for a stay exceeding one week (this part of Saudi Arabia is listed in zone 2).
Water is not drinkable everywhere, so it is preferable to drink from sealed bottles. Finally, know that Saudi Arabia has a very good medical system.

Electricity

Voltage is sometimes 220 V and sometimes 110V. Bring a universal electrical plug adapter.

Telephone

To call Saudi Arabia from England, dial 00 + 966 (country code) + the city code (1 for Riyadh and 2 for Jeddah) + the number.
From Saudi Arabia to England: 00 44 + number without the initial 0.

Saudi Arabia : Useful addresses in the country

Before leaving

Saudi Arabian Embassy
30 Charles Street
London
W1J 5DZ
Tel: 020 7917 3000
Fax: 020 7917 3255

At the destination

British Embassy
Diplomatic Quarter
PO Box 94351
Riyadh 11 693
Tel: +966 (0)1 488 0077
Fax: +966 (0)1 481 0686