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Latest travel advice for Saudi Arabia including safety and security, entry requirements, travel warnings and health

2017-03-26T00:27:10.247+00:00: Latest update: Summary – there’s a heightened risk of terrorism against aviation; the UK government has implemented additional security measures in several countries, including Saudi Arabia, but direct flights continue to depart to the UK from Saudi Arabia; you should co-operate fully with security officials; information and advice about how this may affect your flight, including if you’re transiting through Saudi Arabia on the way to the UK

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all travel to within 10km of the border with Yemen and against all but essential travel between 10km and 80km of this border. If you’re currently in an area to which the FCO advise against all but essential travel, you should consider whether you have an essential reason to remain. If you do not, you should leave the area.

Ballistic (Scud) missiles have been fired occasionally from Yemen, most of which have been intercepted and destroyed by Saudi air defence systems. Military facilities in Najran province, Asir province, Jazan province and the most south-westerly part of Riyadh province may be targeted by missiles but it’s also possible that attacks could be made on other locations, both in Saudi Arabia and in the Red Sea. In early October 2016, an Emirati-leased ship came under rocket fire in the southern Red Sea and sustained serious damage.

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia has been leading coalition air strikes in Yemen following the request for support from President Hadi to deter continued Houthi aggression. Clashes along the Saudi-Yemeni border continue, resulting in both military and civilian casualties.

The Saudi authorities have declared ‘out of bounds’ a zone of 20km from the entire northern border of the country, and from the border in the Hafr Al-Batin and Khafji areas in the Eastern Province. Violations are punishable by up to 30 months’ imprisonment and a SAR 25,000 fine. Land border crossings remain open and the authorities have announced that signs are being placed in areas where vehicles are allowed to cross.

Tourist trips to military zones or border posts are banned by the Saudi Tourism Authority.

There is a high threat from terrorism. See Terrorism

There’s a heightened risk of terrorism against aviation. The UK government has implemented additional security measures in several countries, including Saudi Arabia. Direct flights continue to depart to the UK from Saudi Arabia. You should co-operate fully with security officials. For more information about how this may affect your flight, including if you’re transiting through Saudi Arabia on the way to the UK, read this guidance page and contact your airline or travel company if you have further questions.

Cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in patients from Saudi Arabia continue to be reported to the World Health Organization. For the latest information and advice, see the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre.

Each year around 3.7 million pilgrims participate in the Hajj. If you’re travelling to Saudi Arabia to take part in the Hajj, please see the information and advice in the Safety and security and Health sections of this travel advice.

Take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel.

If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.

Safety and security

Pilgrimage

Each year around 3.7 million pilgrims participate in the Hajj. Since 2013 the Ministry of Hajj has been imposing a global 20% reduction in the numbers of Hajj pilgrims due to infrastructure works in Makkah. These reductions are expected to end in time for Hajj 2017. Pilgrims who have performed Hajj in the past five years will not be granted a visa, although we understand certain exemptions will be applied, such as for those accompanying disabled pilgrims.

A crane collapsed at the Holy Mosque in Makkah on 11 September 2015 resulting in over 100 fatalities and casualties. On 25 September 2015 a crush in Mina resulted in over 750 fatalities and many more casualties. According to media reports, the crush on 25 September 2015 in Mina resulted in over one thousand fatalities and many more casualties. The Saudi Arabian government announced that it would hold investigations into the incidents and publish the findings.

Before you travel for the Hajj, you should carefully consider the information and advice on the website of the  Saudi Arabian Embassy in London, and in the Health section of this travel advice.

If you are travelling to Saudi Arabia through another country you should check for advice on possible travel restrictions with that country’s Embassy in London.

Saudi government regulations require British pilgrims performing Umrah and Hajj to travel with a UK travel agency that is accredited with the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia.

You should confirm the full itinerary for your pilgrimage before departure. The British Embassy receives a large number of requests for help in relation to disputes and dissatisfaction with tour operators. The British Embassy can’t become involved in commercial disagreements or disputes between pilgrim and tour operators.

There has been an increase in the number of reported cases of pick pocketing and other forms of theft in Makkah, particularly in the region of the Grand Mosque and in Medina. You should take extra care of your passport, tickets and other valuables while visiting these areas. Make a copy of your passport before you travel, and keep it in a safe place.

The authorities don’t allow pilgrims to take cameras into the Holy Mosque at Makkah or the Prophet’s Mosque at Medina. This restriction also includes the courtyards surrounding the two holy sites. Violation of these instructions could lead to the confiscation of your film or camera.

Political situation

Public demonstrations are illegal in Saudi Arabia. Follow local media and be alert to local and regional developments, which might trigger public disturbances. You should avoid public gatherings or demonstrations. Despite warnings issued by the authorities, demonstrations do take place from time to time, mainly in the Shia communities in the Qatif area of Eastern Province and Al Hasa. Violent clashes have occurred between demonstrators and security forces.

Saudi Arabia-Yemen border

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all travel to within 10km of the border with Yemen, and against all but essential travel between 10km and 80km of this border. If you’re currently in an area to which the FCO advise against all but essential travel, you should consider whether you have an essential reason to remain. If you do not, you should leave the area.

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia has been leading coalition air strikes in Yemen following the request for support from President Hadi to deter continued Houthi aggression. Clashes along the Saudi-Yemeni border continue, resulting in both military and civilian casualties. Ballistic (Scud) missiles have been fired occasionally from Yemen. Military facilities in Najran province, Asir province, Jazan province and the most south-westerly part of Riyadh province may be targeted by missiles but it is also possible that attacks could be made on other locations in Saudi Arabia.

Airports near the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border have been closed temporarily from time to time: you should check with your airline before travelling to airports near the border.

Saudi Arabia-Iraq border

Take great care in all areas close to the Saudi Arabia-Iraq border. On 5 January 2015, 3 Saudi Arabian border guards were killed in clashes close to the Arar crossing point.

Crime

Although the crime rate in Saudi Arabia is low, there have been some isolated incidents of more serious crimes. Take particular care when travelling outside towns and cities.

Petty crime does also occur.

Road travel

Where possible, keep to major roads. When travelling to more rural areas, take precautions such as travelling in convoy and during daylight.

Standards of driving are poor and there are a high number of serious accidents. You should wear seatbelts at all times. Distances between cities are large and emergency services can take some time to get to any accidents or emergencies.

Some Saudi cities have implemented an automated traffic system. You will need to pay any fines issued through this system before leaving the country. You can pay at the airport but only during regular Saudi office hours.

Sea travel

Oil infrastructure remains a possible terrorist target. Shipping serving the oil installations should make sure SSPs are implemented fully and robustly while operating in the area. All ships should maintain a high state of vigilance while in Saudi Arabian ports, and report anything suspicious to the authorities. Vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, Northern Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Bab El Mandeb areas may be at increased risk of maritime attack from pirates.

Terrorism

There is a high threat from terrorism. Attacks could be indiscriminate, affecting western (including British) interests and places visited by foreigners. Opportunistic attacks on Saudi or western targets are also possible. You should be especially vigilant at this time and follow the advice of the local authorities.

There are posts on jihadist websites and social media encouraging attacks against British, western and other interests, including teachers, schools, oil workers, residential compounds, military, transport and aviation interests, as well as crowded places, including restaurants, hotels, shopping centres and mosques. Further attacks are likely.

On 7 January 2017, 2 suspected terrorists were shot dead by police in the Yasmeen district of Riyadh. One police officer was injured during the exchange of gunfire.

On 4 July 2016, 4 suspected suicide bombers were killed, in separate incidents. One detonated a device near the US Consulate in Jeddah. Another 2 detonated a device at a mosque in Qatif, Eastern Province. A fourth detonated a device when intercepted by police officers close to the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah; 4 police officers were killed and a number of others injured.

On 24 June 2016, a police officer on traffic duty was shot dead in the Eastern Province by unknown assailants.

On 15 February 2016, a retired security official was shot and killed in Jazan Province. Daesh claimed responsibility. No other casualties have been reported.

On 8 February 2016, there was a car bomb in the Al-Aziziyah district of southern Riyadh. Daesh claimed responsibility. No casualties have been reported.

There is considered to be a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria.

Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.

Local laws and customs

Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country in which Islamic law is strictly enforced. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas. It is forbidden to eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours during the month of Ramadan. The law is strictly enforced.

In 2017, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 27 May and finish on 25 June. See Travelling during Ramadan

The public practice of any form of religion other than Islam is illegal; as is an intention to convert others. However, the Saudi authorities accept the private practice of religions other than Islam, and you can bring a Bible into the country as long as it is for your personal use. Importing larger quantities than this can carry severe penalties.

Islamic codes of behaviour and dress are strictly enforced. Women should wear conservative, loose-fitting clothes as well as a full length cloak (abaya) and a headscarf. Men should not wear shorts in public.

It is illegal for women to drive.

Homosexual acts and adultery are illegal and can be subject to severe sanctions.

Penalties for the possession of, or trade in alcohol are severe. Both result in prison sentences. Do not arrive in Saudi Arabia under the influence of alcohol.

If you bring medication with you, carry a doctor’s prescription. Importing pork products is forbidden. The possession of pornographic material, or of illustrations of scantily dressed people, especially women, is prohibited. Electronic devices may be screened by customs officials on arrival and departure.

The punishment for smuggling drugs includes the death penalty.

Photographing government buildings, military installations, and palaces is not allowed.  You should avoid photographing local people.

It is illegal to hold two passports in Saudi Arabia. Second passports will be confiscated by the immigration authorities if they are discovered.

You should carry a photocopy of your passport for identification. Make sure you have included emergency contact details.

The Saudi legal system differs in many ways from the UK. Suspects can be held without charge and are not always allowed quick access to legal representation. The Saudi authorities have detained witnesses and victims of crimes. If you need consular assistance, British Embassy staff will try to visit you as soon as they are aware of the case, but in some instances Embassy staff have not been permitted to do so immediately or have had access limited.

Anyone involved in a commercial dispute with a Saudi company or individual may be prevented from leaving the country pending resolution of the dispute. Government bodies often retain passports for official purposes; sponsors also sometimes retain passports, although this is illegal.

Entry requirements

The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.

The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.

You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.

Visas

All visitors, including pilgrims, need a visa to enter Saudi Arabia. You should apply for a visa through visa agencies accredited to the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. If you overstay your visa you will be fined and deported.

The Saudi authorities have announced that all Muslims not holding Hajj visas will not be permitted to enter Saudi Arabia via Jeddah or Madina airports until after the Hajj. The only exceptions are those holding Saudi residency permits, although anecdotal evidence has suggested that in recent years even Muslim residency permit holders have had difficulties boarding flights to Jeddah and Madina in the days immediately before Hajj. These rules don’t apply to entry via Saudi Arabia’s other international airports.

If you’re a non-Muslim visitors travelling to these destinations, you may be asked to explain the purpose of your trip or asked to show evidence of appointments before being allowed to board a flight to Jeddah. For further detailed advice on visa requirements for Hajj and Ummrah, contact the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in London.

British residents in Saudi Arabia will need a valid exit or re-entry permit from the Saudi Ministry of Interior to leave the country.

Passport validity

Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Saudi Arabia.

Yellow fever certificate requirements

Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.

UK Emergency Travel Documents

UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are not valid for entry into Saudi Arabia. However, ETDs are accepted for exit from Saudi Arabia.

Previous Travel to Israel

You may be refused entry to Saudi Arabia if your passport contains evidence of previous travel to Israel or indicates Israel as your birthplace.

Female Travellers

If you are a female visitor or resident you must be met by your sponsor on arrival. Otherwise you may face delays before being allowed to enter the country or to continue on other flights.

Foreign women married to Saudi nationals must have permission from their husband  to leave Saudi Arabia.

Health

Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.

Healthcare facilities in major cities are of a high standard. Most towns have a health centre or basic hospital. Serious cases may mean a transfer by ambulance or by air to hospitals in a major city that might be some distance away. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.

Contagious diseases spread quickly, particularly during Hajj and Ramadan. Flu, colds and respiratory problems are very common. Bring basic medicines with you and consume adequate liquids and salts. During the period of Hajj and Umrah, pilgrims must have a valid certificate of vaccination against the ACWY strains of meningitis. See this NaTHNaC factsheet.

Cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus in patients from Saudi Arabia have been reported to the World Health Organization. For the latest information and advice, see the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).

If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 997 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Natural disasters

Flooding

Heavy rains can cause flooding between November and February. During this period you should check weather forecasts in the two English language newspapers (Arab News and Saudi Gazette) follow any advice issued by the Civil Defence.

Travel advice help and support

If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).

Foreign travel checklist

Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.

Travel safety

The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.

When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.

Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.

Refunds and cancellations

If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.

For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Registering your travel details with us

We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.

Previous versions of FCO travel advice

If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for there, send us a request.

Further help

If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.

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  • British Embassy Riyadh

    Title:British Embassy Riyadh, main contact
    Email:Consular.Riyadh@fco.gov.uk
    Address:

    British Embassy
    PO Box 94351
    11693 Riyadh
    Saudi Arabia

    Contact: Telephone: +966 (0) 11 4819 100
    Fax information : +966 (0) 11 481 9350
    Fax defence : +966 (0) 11 481 9235
    Fax corporate services: +966 (0) 11 481 9337
    UKTI : +966 (0) 11 481 9100
    UKBA : +966 (0) 11 481 9294
    Consular: +966 (0) 11 481 9229
    Visiting:Opening hours:

    Sunday to Thursday, 5am to 12pm (GMT)
    Sunday to Thursday, 8am to 3pm (Local)
    Services:Emergency Travel Documents service (Assistance Services)
    Transferring funds for prisoners / for financial assistance service (Assistance Services)
    Births and Deaths registration service (Documentary Services)
    Service of Process (Documentary Services)
    Notarial services (Documentary Services)
    Issue certificate of no impediment (Documentary Services)
    Citizenship Ceremony service (Documentary Services)
    Legalisation Service (Other Services)
    Registrations of Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Documentary Services)
    Lost or Stolen Passports (Assistance Services)
  • Department for International Trade Saudi Arabia

    Title:Department for International Trade Saudi Arabia
    Email:commercial.riyadh@fco.gov.uk
    Address:

    British Embassy
    PO Box 94351
    11693
    Saudi Arabia

    Contact: Enquiries: +966 (0) 11 4819 100
    Visiting:
    Services:
  • British Consulate General Jeddah

    Title:British Consulate General Jeddah
    Email:
    Address:

    British Consulate General
    P.O. Box 393
    21411 Jeddah
    Saudi Arabia

    Contact: Telephone: +966 (0)12 622 5550
    Fax: +966 (0)12 622 6249
    Visiting:An appointment is needed in advance for all routine notarial and documentary services. If you are a British National requiring urgent consular assistance, outside normal working hours, please call: +44 (0) 207 008 1500

    Opening hours:
    Sunday to Thursday, 5am to 12pm (GMT)
    Sunday to Thursday, 8am to 3pm (Local)
    Services:Emergency Travel Documents service (Assistance Services)
    Transferring funds for prisoners / for financial assistance service (Assistance Services)
    Births and Deaths registration service (Documentary Services)
    Service of Process (Documentary Services)
    Notarial services (Documentary Services)
    Issue certificate of no impediment (Documentary Services)
    Citizenship Ceremony service (Documentary Services)
    Legalisation Service (Other Services)
  • UK Science & Innovation Network in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

    Title:
    Email:
    Address:
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