Saudi Arabia opened its borders to tourists in 2019 and many people started to think about visiting Saudi Arabia.
But what’s it like to visit Saudi Arabia? What do you need to know before visiting Saudi Arabia?
My husband went to Saudi Arabia just before it was open to tourists and this article presents you the things to know before visiting Saudi Arabia.
If you’re wondering what’s it like to travel to Saudi Arabia, then this article has you covered.
Travel to Saudi Arabia: what it’s like visiting Saudi Arabia
The first – and very important – thing to do is to get your documents in order and get your visa. You need one to enter the country.
The process has gotten easier after the implementation of online visas.
Moreover, if you live in one of the Gulf Cooperation Countries and hold an eligible passport you can enjoy stays of up to 3 months in Saudi Arabia – these are all the details about obtaining a Saudi Arabia online visa for GCC resident.
When deciding what to pack for Saudi Arabia, it’s important to know that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (the official name) is very conservative when it comes to clothes.
Men have to wear long trousers and sleeved shirts. Women need to be covered – loose trousers or skirts, long sleeve shirts. It’s recommended for women to wear an abaya on top and even to have their hair covered.
It’s best to NOT take pictures
We’re used to taking a lot of photos in the countries we visit. However, in Saudi Arabia you should avoid taking pictures. In fact, this is one of the most important things you should know before traveling to Saudi Arabia.
If you take a picture of a person without their consent, is considered harassment and punished by law.
You are not allowed to take pictures of government buildings, mosques, and palaces.
Can you guess how many pictures took Andrei when he visited Saudi Arabia?
Because it’s best to not risk anything and to abide by the law.
Alcohol is illegal
You won’t get alcohol on the airplane taking you to Saudi Arabia. Bringing alcohol in the country is also forbidden.
Alcohol consumption is illegal in Saudi Arabia so you won’t be able to drink it – not even at the hotel (as you can in Dubai.)
My husband had no issue with this as we can live for months or years without alcohol. But, if you want a glass of wine or a beer daily… then you should pay attention to this detail when planning your trip to Saudi Arabia.
You’ll find beer with 0% alcohol – so if that’s enough for you, then you’ll be OK.
No items of non-Islam religion
If you have a crucifix for a bracelet/earrings/pendant, then you risk jail – or more.
Displays of items belonging to any other religion than Islam are forbidden – and this is another important item on this list of things you need to know before going to Saudi Arabia.
You can pray in your hotel room, but that’s it.
Do not listen to loud music in public
You can listen to music in your hotel room, even sing there, but make sure you’re not loud enough for the neighboring guests to hear you, as that is not allowed either.
Do not display your affection in public
Even if you are a married couple, you should not display your affection in public in Saudi Arabia. This includes holding hands, kissing – any type of affection that can be displayed.
Try the local food
I presented many don’ts so far on this list of things to know before visiting Saudi Arabia and that’s because they are really important and can be a challenge for westerners and people coming from other religions and cultures.
But, speaking of culture, it is important to discover it as well (we’ll talk later in this article about this).
Equally important is to discover local food – as eating local dishes is actually an important element on any travels.
Don’t be scared to try the local food – it will surprise you in a good way!
Buy some souvenirs
I love travel souvenirs, especially from places that I don’t know how often I’ll visit and from first-time trips.
Saudi Arabia has some very affordable things you can bring home to remind you of the trip here and some there are great souvenirs from Saudi Arabia you can bring home to your family or friends.
We had special coffee, sweets, fridge magnets, and more brought home by Andrei.
You can also buy clothing and even find some items that may be cheaper here than in your country (yes, you can be surprised!)
Shops close during prayer times
When traveling to Saudi Arabia you need to be mindful of the local customs and one of the most important Saudi Arabia things to know is that shops are usually closed during prayer times.
Make sure you keep that in mind when planning your trip!
The holy month of Ramadan
When planning your Saudi Arabia trip make sure to take into consideration when is Ramadan that year – use a search engine for that.
During Ramadan, many shops and all restaurants are closed until a specific hour in the evening.
Eating and drinking outdoors in Saudi Arabia during Ramadan is not permitted even if you are a tourist.
Do not smoke in public spaces
Luckily Andrei doesn’t smoke, but if you are, you should know that you may end up paying a SAR5,000 fine if you smoke outdoors.
Be respectful of the local culture
While this is the last item in this article, it is one that actually synthesizes everything else said previously in this article.
Respecting the local culture is something that everyone should do regardless of the place they are visiting. But when the culture is a lot different than yours, you should do extensive research prior to traveling to that country and make sure you abide by the local cultural customs.
The Saudi Arabia culture may be a lot different than yours, but the main elements can be respected during a trip to this country. This ensures both your wellbeing – you don’t risk fines or jail (or worse) -, and that of the locals.