Muslim pilgrims from all over the world have for centuries been traveling to the holy city of Mecca every year for Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage. However, because pilgrims aren’t allowed to tour beyond Mecca, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has for a long time been a mystery to the outside world. That’s until its government opened the borders to tourists in September 2019 through the introduction of the Saudi Arabia tourist visa.
Beyond Mecca, Saudi Arabia is home to some of the world’s best and longest roads for road tripping. It has mesmerizingly beautiful beaches especially along the Farasan Islands, ancient cities such as the stunning archaeological site at Mada’in Saleh, modern architecture in Jeddah and Riyadh, breathtaking natural wonders such as the shifting sands of the Empty Quarter, the snow-covered mountains of Tabuk, and, of course, the vast desert of Rub’ al Khali. Besides all that, the kingdom has rich history, culture, and traditions that historians and college students can learn and immerse themselves in when touring the Arabia.
The food scene in Saudi Arabia is another reason why people visit the kingdom, especially noting that most of it has been hidden from the outside world for centuries. It is rich with delicious and unique cuisines that are largely influenced by the Arabian Peninsula and North African cultures. These cuisines are special because most of them have existed for thousands of years. In fact, there are foods that locals associate with prophets and other strong men of faith from the Bible and the Quran; foods that you must try if you are a religious person.
It is clear that Saudi Arabia has something for everyone. However, before you start packing your bags, you need to consider how safe you will be while in Saudi Arabia. This article explores several safety-related questions that you might find useful for your upcoming trip to the kingdom:
How Safe Is Saudi Arabia?
The strict Sharia (Islamic) law is the official system of law in Saudi Arabia. That means two things: One, there aren’t as high organized crime rates in the country as there are in the western world and two, you will need to toe the line while there otherwise you will easily land on the wrong side of the law. With everything being constant though, if you understand and abide by the restrictions on what you can and can’t do, you will always have a safe and trouble free trip to and around Saudi Arabia. The country and its people are welcoming and hospitable.
How Is Law Enforcement Like In Saudi Arabia?
Sharia is very different from the constitutional law that American and most European citizens know; human rights here are very different from the rest of the world. For starters, public flogging (or even death) is always on the table if you openly disregard the Sharia law. Sometimes tourists will be exempted from this form of punishment and instead sentenced to a jail term or deported to their home country.
Note that the Sharia law prohibits open defiance to the Islamic faith. You will be prosecuted for drinking alcohol, infidelity, preaching or proselytizing a religion that is not Islam, or visiting unholy online sites. If you have to practice another religion, you better do it in your hotel room. Note that law and order in Saudi Arabia is maintained by the general police and the Muttawa. The Muttawa comprises of volunteer citizens who are committed to enforcing Islamic codes of morality on behalf of the governing royal family.
Any Terrorism Threats You Should Know Of?
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia hasn’t had a major terrorist attack in over two decades. However, you shouldn’t rule out the possibility of isolated opportunistic attacks. You should be fine if you are vigilant and if you follow the advice of the local authorities.
Is Saudi safe for female tourists?
Saudi Arabia is among the most conservative countries in the world and has been rightfully accused by female rights’ crusaders of being particularly cruel towards women. However, things have changed dramatically in recent years as the kingdom tries out new ways of revamping its tourism sector. Most of the laws that appeared gender-biased have been relaxed. For example:
- Female tourists no longer need to wear an abaya when in public.
- Women can now drive as from June 2018.
- Female travelers are now allowed to book hotel accommodation without the permission of a Mahram (a male relative, ideally her husband).
However, as much as the law has relaxed a bit, it is unsafe to assume that everyone agrees with the changes. Some conservative males, especially in the rural areas, may still demand that women travelers cover up when passing through their villages. As such, it is best that you dress modestly even if you are allowed not to wear an abaya.
Is Saudi Safe for LGBTQ travelers?
Everything LGBTQ-related is outlawed in Saudi Arabia. If you are found to be guilty of a same-sex relationship or you are accused of advocating for LGBTQ rights, you can be punished by public flogging, jail, and sometimes death. You will, however, be safe if you act discreetly and respectfully, no matter your sexual orientation. After all, public displays of affection are outlawed in Saudi Arabia even for straight couples.
Traveling Solo to Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is an overall safe country for tourists and foreign businessmen, both when you are traveling solo or as a group. However, like in all other countries in the world, you must apply common sense and general safety advice all the time.
- Avoid poor-lit streets at night.
- Keep your valuable items close to your chest whenever you are in public. Don’t flash jewelry and other expensive items out in public.
- Keep your cash and credit cards safe and out of reach for pickpockets.
- Alcohol is banned in Saudi Arabia, but there are isolated English-style pubs that serve home-brewed beer and wine to foreigners. Be careful of such beer as it may contain harmful impurities such as methanol.
Is it Safe to Talk Politics in Saudi?
It is illegal for anyone to criticize the King, the royal family, the government, or the flag of Saudi Arabia, whether offline or on social media platforms. You can easily find yourself serving weeks or months in prison, or being flogged in public, or being deported if you are lucky, or all of the punishments combined. Just stay clear of the local politics no matter how invested you are in human rights activism or good governance.
It is your duty as a tourist to take simple steps to avoid problems. You will be very safe if you are dressed appropriately, avoid alcohol and drugs, steer clear of politics, and be kind to everyone. The Saudi people are very courteous, hospitable, and friendly people.