October 23, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by a king chosen from and by members of the Al Saud family. The king rules through royal decrees issued in conjunction with the Council of Ministers, and with advice from the Consultative Council. The king appoints members of both councils. Islamic law is the basis of the authority of the monarchy and provides the foundation of the country's conservative customs and social practices. Saudi Arabia has a modern and well-developed infrastructure, and facilities for travelers are widely available. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Saudi Arabia for additional information.
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SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: U.S. citizens living or traveling in Saudi Arabia are encouraged to sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, in order to obtain updated information on local travel and security. U.S. citizens without Internet access may sign-up directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Enrollment is important; it allows the State Department to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency.
Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State list of embassies and consulates.
U.S. Embassy Riyadh
International mailing address: P.O. Box 94309, Riyadh 11693.
Mail may also be sent via the U.S. Postal Service to: U.S. Embassy, Unit 61307, APO AE 09803-1307.
Telephone: (966) (1) 488-3800
Fax: (966) (1) 483-0773.
U.S. Consulate General Dhahran
International mailing address: P.O. Box 38955, Doha-Dhahran 31942.
Mail may also be sent via the U.S. Postal Service to: Unit 66803, APO AE 09858-6803.
Telephone: (966) (3) 330-3200
Fax: (966) (3) 330-0464.
U.S. Consulate General Jeddah
International mailing address: P.O. Box 149, Jeddah.
Mail may also be sent via the U.S. Postal Service to: Unit 62112, APO AE 09811-2112.
Telephone: (966) (2) 667-0080
Fax: (966) (2) 669-3078 or 669-3098.
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ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport valid for at least six months and a visa are required for entry. Visas are issued for business and work, to visit close relatives, and for transit and religious visits by Muslims. Visas for tourism are issued only for approved tour groups following organized itineraries. Airport and seaport visas are not available. All visas require a sponsor, can take several months to process, and must be obtained prior to arrival. Effective May 2008, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs agreed to issue 5-year multiple-entry visas to American visitors and students. All Saudi Embassies have the authority to issue the 5-year visas, but only the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C. appears to be doing so at this time. In the past, American citizens have reported being refused a Saudi visa because their passports reflected travel to Israel or indicated that they were born in Israel, although this has not happened recently. Women visitors and residents are required to be met by their sponsor upon arrival. Women who are traveling alone and are not met by sponsors have experienced delays before being allowed to enter the country or to continue on other flights.
Women considering relocating to Saudi Arabia should be keenly aware that women and children residing in Saudi Arabia as members of a Saudi household (including adult American-citizen women married to Saudi men, adult American-citizen women who are the unmarried daughters of Saudi fathers, and American-citizen boys under the age of 21 who are the sons of Saudi fathers) require the permission of the Saudi male head of their household to leave the country. Married women require their husband's permission to depart the country, while unmarried women and children require the permission of their father or male guardian. The U.S. Embassy can intercede with the Saudi government to request exit permission for an adult American woman (wife or daughter of a Saudi citizen), but there is no guarantee of success, or even of timely response. Mothers are not able to obtain permission for the departure of minor children without the father's agreement.
On February 20, 2008, a new regulation went into effect requiring Saudi men seeking the mandatory permission from their government to marry foreign women to sign a binding document granting irrevocable permission for foreign-born spouses and children of those foreign spouses to travel freely and unhindered in and out of Saudi Arabia. However, this regulation is not retroactive. Under Saudi law, women married to Saudi men prior to the effective date of these new regulations still need their husbands' permission to leave Saudi Arabia, and their children still require their fathers' permission to leave the country.
Visitors who overstay their visit in the Kingdom are subject to a fine of 10,000 Saudi Riyals (or $2,667) and incarceration pending deportation proceedings. Americans should request clarification from Saudi Immigration authorities upon arrival as to the permitted length of stay. A common mistake among visitors is confusing the validity of their Saudi visa with the permitted length of stay in the Kingdom. The U.S. Mission in Saudi Arabia has received several reports of Americans fined for inadvertently overstaying their permitted time in the Kingdom. It can take up to two weeks to resolve such an error with Saudi Immigration authorities. Travelers can now check their permitted length of stay online at the Visa Validity Service website by typing in their passport number and Saudi visa number.
Americans entering Saudi Arabia on visitor visas normally do not need an exit permit but may be prevented from departing the country if they are involved in a legal dispute. American citizens involved in labor disputes or employment dismissal will not be granted an exit permit prior to court resolution or abandonment of the case by the American citizen. Saudi sponsors have substantial leverage in the negotiations and may block departure or bar future employment in the country.
All travelers to and from the Kingdom carrying cash amounts, transferable monetary instruments, or precious metals exceeding 60,000 Saudi Riyals (or $16,000) are required to declare them to Saudi Customs. Customs forms are available at all Saudi ports or downloadable from the Saudi Arabian Customs Office website. Failure to declare or provide accurate information can lead to prosecution, legal penalties and confiscation.
Visitors to Saudi Arabia should generally obtain a meningitis vaccination prior to arrival. A medical report or physical examination is required to obtain work and residence permits.
Residents in Saudi Arabia who are departing the country must obtain an exit permit prior to leaving and an exit/reentry permit if they intend to return to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi sponsor's approval is required for exit permits.
Saudi Arabia has not imposed HIV/AIDS travel restrictions on any particular group of travelers. All travelers who are coming to work in the Kingdom must undergo a medical exam and present a medical report confirming that they are free from contagious diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Any worker testing positive for HIV/AIDS would not be allowed to work in the Kingdom. Please inquire directly with the Embassy of Saudi Arabia before you travel.
Note for Dual Nationals: Several American citizens of Saudi descent have encountered difficulty leaving the Kingdom after entering on a Saudi Laissez Passer rather than a Saudi or U.S. passport. If an American citizen has a claim to Saudi citizenship, Saudi missions abroad sometimes propose to issue a Laissez Passer to facilitate travel into the Kingdom. This only leads to difficulties when the traveler wishes to depart the Kingdom, however, as the traveler must first obtain a Saudi passport. American citizens of Saudi descent should understand that Saudi nationality is not confirmed quickly or easily, and documentary requirements encountered in Saudi Arabia may differ from those described by Saudi missions abroad. On average, the processing time for a Saudi passport in these cases has been six to twelve months. Once you are in Saudi Arabia and have started the passport process, you cannot depart. Obtaining a U.S. passport at the Embassy will not help, as the Saudi government may refuse to recognize the validity of a U.S. passport presented by a Saudi passport applicant for travel out of Saudi Arabia, if it was not also used to enter Saudi Arabia. We strongly recommend that American citizens who also have Saudi nationality enter Saudi Arabia with either a Saudi passport or U.S. passport and Saudi visa, but not with a Laissez Passer.
For further information on entry/exit requirements, travelers may contact the following Saudi government offices in the U.S.:
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, 601 New Hampshire Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20037, telephone (202) 342-3800.
Saudi Consulate General in Houston: 5718 Westheimer, Suite 1500, Houston, TX 77057, tel: (713) 785-5577
Saudi Consulate General in Los Angeles: Sawtelle Courtyard Building, 2045 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025, tel: (310) 479-6000
Saudi Consulate General in New York: 866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 480, New York, NY 10017, tel: (212) 752-2740
Visit the Embassy of Saudi Arabia website for the most current visa information.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
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SAFETY AND SECURITY: In the most recent Travel Warning for Saudi Arabia, the Department of State urges U.S. citizens to consider carefully the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia. The last major terrorist attack directed against the civilian population was an attack against French nationals in 2007. Significant enhancements in the capacity and capability of Saudi security and intelligence forces have greatly improved the security environment. Although much improved, the changes remain fragile and reversible.
The Department of State has authorized the return of all family members to the U.S. Consulate General in Dhahran and the return of adult family members and non-school-age children to the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh. The U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah remains an unaccompanied post.
While these changes reflect the continued improvement in the security climate in Saudi Arabia, particularly in the Eastern Province and Riyadh, it is important to note that there remains an ongoing security threat due to the continued presence of terrorist groups, some affiliated with al Qaida, who may target Western interests, housing compounds, hotels, shopping areas and other facilities where Westerners congregate. These terrorist groups may employ a wide variety of tactics and also may target Saudi Government facilities and economic/commercial targets within the Kingdom.
American citizens who choose to visit Saudi Arabia are strongly urged to avoid staying in hotels or housing compounds that do not apply stringent security measures, and also are advised to be aware of their surroundings when visiting commercial establishments frequented by Westerners. American citizens also are advised to keep a low profile, vary times and routes of travel, exercise caution while driving, entering or exiting vehicles, and ensure that travel documents and visas are current and valid.
From time to time, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Saudi Arabia may restrict travel of official Americans or suspend public services for security reasons. Whenever threat information is specific, credible, and non-counterable, this threat information will be made available to the American public. In those instances, the Embassy and Consulates will keep the local American citizen community apprised through the Warden system and make every effort to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens. Warden messages for Saudi Arabia are available at the U.S. Embassy Riyadh website.
For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs' website. It contains current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including the Travel Warning for Saudi Arabia, as well as the Worldwide Caution.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free within the United States and Canada or, outside the United States and Canada by calling a regular toll line, 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State's extensive tips and advice on traveling safely abroad.
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CRIME: Crime has risen dramatically in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but continues to remain at levels below most major metropolitan areas in the United States. Street crime is not uncommon and visitors should take precautions to reduce their risk of becoming crime victims. Individuals should be aware of their surroundings and keep valuables out of sight and secure. Items of value should not be left in plain view in vehicles. It is advisable to travel with a companion, if possible. Private Saudi citizens who perceive that a foreigner is not observing conservative standards of conduct may harass, pursue, or assault that person. The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh cautions American citizens that Saudi Arabian police authorities have detained potential witnesses to crimes without charges or access to legal counsel, and with limited or delayed consular access, during the investigative stage of criminal cases, which can take months. On occasion, Saudi authorities have temporarily confiscated the personal effects of detained potential witnesses. Even when released from detention, witnesses to criminal incidents may be prohibited from leaving the country until investigation of the incident is complete.
During 2009, the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh has received several reports of carjacking incidents in Riyadh and surrounding areas. These incidents involved multiple criminals who in some instances used force or a display of force to take the vehicle. In other incidents, the criminals created a diversion such as a minor traffic accident or some other ruse to get the driver out of the car. In the few cases involving Westerners, it appears that they were targeted because of the make of their car rather than the fact that they were Westerners. As in the United States, most vehicles are stolen for parts. If you are a victim of such an attack, please see the “Information for Victims of Crime” section below for guidance on reporting the incident to the authorities.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. The Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Division in the U.S. Department of Justice has more information on this serious problem.
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INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you are the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (see end of this sheet or see the Department of State list of embassies and consulates). This includes the loss or theft of a U.S. passport. The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Saudi Arabia is 999.
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
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CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Persons violating Saudi Arabian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, imprisoned or even executed. Suspects may be detained without charges or legal counsel, and with limited consular access, for months during the investigative stage of criminal cases. Penalties for the import, manufacture, possession, and consumption of alcohol or illegal drugs in Saudi Arabia are severe. Convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences, heavy fines, public floggings, and/or deportation. The penalty for drug trafficking in Saudi Arabia is death. Saudi officials make no exceptions. Customs inspections at ports of entry are thorough. The U.S. Embassy and Consulates General have no standing in Saudi courts to obtain leniency for an American convicted of alcohol or drug offenses. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Saudi authorities do not permit criticism of Islam or the royal family. The government prohibits the public practice of religions other than Islam. Non-Muslims suspected of violating these restrictions have been jailed. Homosexual activity is considered to be a criminal offense and those convicted may be sentenced to lashing, prison, or death.
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SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Residents working in Saudi Arabia generally must surrender their passports while in the Kingdom. The sponsor (normally the employer) obtains work and residence permits for the employee and for any family members. Family members of those working are not required by law to surrender their passports, though they often do. Residents carry a Saudi residence permit (Iqama) for identification in place of their passports. The U.S. Embassy and Consulates General in Saudi Arabia cannot sponsor private American citizens for Saudi visas.
A married woman should be aware that she must have her husband's permission to depart or for their children to depart Saudi Arabia. This is true even if the woman and/or children are U.S. citizens and even if her husband does not have Saudi nationality. The Saudi Government has added new regulations for Saudi men wishing to marry foreigners. Saudi men must first sign a binding document granting irrevocable permission for their foreign born spouses and children born of foreign spouses, to travel freely and unhindered in and out of Saudi Arabia before the Saudi Government will give permission for him to marry. This regulation went into force on February 20, 2008, and is not retroactive. The U.S. Embassy can intercede with the Saudi government to request exit permission for adult American women who are not affected by this new regulation, but will not be able to obtain permission for the departure of minor children without the father's agreement (See Entry/Exit Requirements section above). Obtaining exit permission for an adult American woman can take many months.
The Saudi government does not recognize dual nationality. Saudi authorities have confiscated the U.S. passports of U.S. citizens and U.S.-Saudi dual nationals when they have applied for Saudi citizenship or a Saudi passport. This does not constitute loss of U.S. citizenship but should be reported to the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh or the Consulates General in Jeddah or Dhahran. For additional information, please refer to the Bureau of Consular Affairs dual nationality flyer.
Saudi customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning importation into Saudi Arabia of such banned items as alcohol products, weapons, and any item that is held to be contrary to the tenets of Islam, such as pork products and pornography. Imported and domestic audiovisual media and reading matter are censored.
Saudi customs and postal officials broadly define what is contrary to Islam and therefore prohibited. Christmas decorations, fashion magazines, and "suggestive" videos may be confiscated and the owner subject to penalties and fines. Please see our Customs Information.
Importing Animals: Dogs, regardless of their breed, may only enter Saudi Arabia if their importation paperwork describes them as “guard dogs” or “hunting dogs.” Cats and dogs entering Saudi Arabia require a Veterinary Health Certificate and a letter from the veterinary private practitioner dated and addressed to the Director of Customs, Saudi Arabia. Both documents must be authenticated by the Department of Agriculture Veterinary Service Office and the State Department's Authentications Office and attested by the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. The certificate must indicate that the animal was examined and is free from disease, and confirm that rabies and other vaccines are current. Information on the name, breed, sex, color and age of the animal must also be stated. Birds generally require a prior import permit issued by the Saudi National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD). However, birds coming from the U.S. and transiting via a third country are not permitted entry in the Kingdom due to the lack of quarantine facilities and the existing virus-related import ban on all birds.
Business Contracts: The written Arabic text of a contract governs employment and business arrangements under Saudi law. Before signing a contract, American companies should obtain an independent translation to ensure a full understanding of the contract's terms, limits, and agreements. No American should come to work in Saudi Arabia or make a business arrangement without having read and understood the full written contract. Verbal assurances or side letters are not binding under Saudi law. In the event of any contract dispute, the Saudi authorities refer to the contract. Since the Saudi sponsor holds the employee's passport and controls the issuance of exit permits, Americans cannot simply leave Saudi Arabia in the event of a labor or business dispute. An American who wishes to break an employment or business contract may have to pay substantial penalties before being allowed to leave Saudi Arabia. To change employers in Saudi Arabia requires the permission of the previous employer, which is discretionary. Saudi courts take seriously their responsibility to adjudicate disputes. This process, which is performed in accordance with Saudi law and customs, may require the hiring of legal counsel, should not be entered into without an Arabic translator, and can take several months. Persons involved in legal cases are not permitted to leave the Kingdom until the case has been resolved. The U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulates General cannot adjudicate labor or business disputes or provide translation services. U.S. consular officers can provide lists of local attorneys to help U.S. citizens settle business disputes, but ultimate responsibility for the resolution of disputes through the Saudi legal system lies with the parties involved.
Standards of Conduct and Religious Police: Islam is the official religion of the country and pervades all aspects of life in Saudi Arabia. Public display of non-Islamic religious articles such as crosses and Bibles is not permitted. Travel to Makkah (Mecca) and Medina, the cities where the two holiest mosques of Islam are located, is forbidden to non-Muslims.
The norms for public behavior in Saudi Arabia are extremely conservative, and religious police, known as Mutawwa, are charged with enforcing these standards. Mutawwa are required to carry special identification and usually are accompanied by uniformed police; however, in some cases they have detained persons even without police presence. To ensure that conservative standards of conduct are observed, the Saudi religious police have accosted or arrested foreigners, including U.S. citizens, for improper dress or other alleged infractions, such as consumption of alcohol or association by a female with a male to whom she is not related. While most incidents have resulted only in inconvenience or embarrassment, the potential exists for an individual to be physically harmed or deported. U.S. citizens who are involved in an incident with the Mutawwa should report the incident to the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh or the U.S. Consulates General in Jeddah or Dhahran.
The Saudi Embassy in Washington advises women traveling to Saudi Arabia to dress in a conservative fashion in public, wearing ankle-length dresses with long sleeves and not pants. In many areas of Saudi Arabia, particularly Riyadh and the central part of the Kingdom, Mutawwa pressure women to wear a full-length black covering known as an Abaya, and to cover their heads. Most women in these areas therefore wear an Abaya and carry a headscarf to avoid being accosted. Women who appear to be of Arab or Asian origin, especially those presumed to be Muslims, face a greater risk of being confronted.
Some Mutawwa try to enforce the rule that men and women who are beyond childhood years may not mingle in public unless they are family or close relatives. Mutawwa may ask to see proof that a couple is married or related. Women who are arrested for socializing with a man who is not a relative may be charged with prostitution. Some restaurants, particularly fast-food outlets, have refused to serve women who are not accompanied by a close male relative. In addition, many restaurants no longer have a "family section" in which women are permitted to eat. These restrictions are not always posted, and in some cases women violating this policy have been arrested. This is more common in Riyadh and the more conservative central Nejd region.
In public, dancing, playing music, and showing movies are forbidden.
The Hajj and Umrah: American Muslims who plan to participate in the annual Hajj or Umrah pilgrimages to the holy cities of Makkah (Mecca) and Medina should pay close attention to the following:
For those interested in performing Hajj visits, all travel plans should be made through a Saudi-government-approved travel agent in order to obtain entry, accommodation, and transportation in Saudi Arabia during the Hajj season. See the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia web site for further information.
Hajj and Umrah visas are required for all U.S. citizens, and are valid only for travel to the Holy Cities of Makkah (Mecca) and Medina. Onward travel to Riyadh or other Saudi Arabian cities is usually not permitted during the Hajj. During Umrah, visitors may obtain permission after arrangements have been made with a travel agency to travel to other cities in Saudi Arabia. Umrah visa holders may only visit Saudi Arabia outside of the annual Hajj period. Please note that the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah cannot assist in arranging such travel permissions within Saudi Arabia. Visitors who overstay their Hajj or Umrah visas are also subject to a fine of 10,000 Saudi Riyals (or $2,667) and incarceration pending deportation proceedings. All visitors should request clarification upon arrival as to the permitted length of stay.
Foreign Muslim residents of the Kingdom may perform the Hajj once every five years. Advance approval must be obtained from an immigration office with the approval of the Saudi sponsor. U.S. citizen residents of Saudi Arabia must travel with Saudi-government-approved sponsor groups to perform Hajj.
King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah is large and modern, with special terminal facilities to accommodate hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. However, due to the extremely large number of people arriving, waiting time at the airport upon arrival during the Hajj may be as long as ten hours. Pilgrims should plan on a lengthy wait before leaving the airport on their way to Makkah or Medina. Travelers with only carry-on bags will find baggage transfer at the airport much easier than will those with checked baggage. Some Hajj pilgrims now fly directly to Medina and proceed to Makkah by road. There is no airport in Makkah.
Before leaving home, travelers should make at least two copies of their passports, including the pages stamped with Saudi visas. One copy should be left with someone at home and one taken with the traveler and kept in a secure location when possible.
It is mandatory for Hajj visitors to turn U.S. passports over to the tour group organizer upon arrival in the Kingdom, and passports are returned only immediately prior to departure while at the airport. This is a Hajj Ministry-mandated practice for all Hajj pilgrims, and it has proved effective in nearly eliminating the problem of lost and stolen passports. Upon arrival, all pilgrims are issued an identification card and wristband that they should carry at all times.
Umrah visitors do not receive an identification card or wristband. Hajj and Umrah pilgrims have reported thefts (including of passports) at the pilgrimage sites to Consulate General Jeddah. As such, a money belt or pouch is the best way to carry valuables. Upon arrival it is possible to buy what is known as a "Hajj belt," which is somewhat larger than American equivalents. Pilgrims should bring sufficient funds to cover any unforeseen emergencies. If pilgrims need to purchase Saudi Riyals, there are exchange and ATM facilities available in the airports and in all major cities of Saudi Arabia.
The Hajj has been an attractive target for defrauding unsuspecting tourists. Travelers should be aware and vigilant of unscrupulous tour operators who abandon tourists, leaving them with unpaid bills, and hoteliers who demand the payment of exorbitant “hidden charges” for the return of passports. Pilgrims are urged to deal only with licensed and established tour operators. In addition, the Saudi Arabian government has helpful and experienced personnel available from the government's Ministry of Hajj in the Holy Cities area during the Hajj season. Communications facilities to contact family in the United States are available in all parts of Saudi Arabia. Internet cafés are available in all major cities. Before arriving in Saudi Arabia for Hajj or Umrah, establish a communication routine for family and friends with whom you wish to keep in contact. Travelers should expect crowded conditions during the Hajj. Temperatures in Makkah range between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter months of December, January, and February. There are many facilities providing water, public accommodations, and other amenities. In case of emergency, Hajj pilgrims should first contact the United Agents Office (Makkah), telephone (02) 542-7003, or (02) 542-0992, or National Adilla Est. (Medina), telephone (04) 826-0088, and then contact the American Consulate General in Jeddah, telephone (02) 667-0080.
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MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Good modern medical care and medicines are available in several hospitals and health centers in major Saudi cities, but only adequate medical care may be available in the outlying areas. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
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MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad. Important questions are whether the policy applies overseas and whether it covers emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
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TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Saudi Arabia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Short-term male visitors may drive on their U.S. driver's license. American men employed in Saudi Arabia should obtain a local driver's license with the Department of Traffic Police. Women are not allowed to drive or ride bicycles on public roads.
Traffic accidents are a significant hazard in Saudi Arabia. Driving habits are generally poor, and accidents involving vehicles driven by minors are not uncommon. In the event of a traffic accident resulting in personal injury, all persons involved (if not in the hospital) may be taken to the local police station. Drivers are likely to be held for several days until responsibility is determined and any reparations paid. In many cases, all drivers involved in the accident are held in custody regardless of fault. Those involved in an accident should immediately contact their sponsor and the U.S. Embassy or nearest U.S. Consulate.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of Saudi Arabia's national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety for further information, including specific information concerning Saudi Arabian driving permits, vehicle inspections, road tax and mandatory insurance. Contact information for the Supreme Commission for Tourism is: Kindi Center, D.Q., P.O. Box 66680, Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 11586, telephone: 011-966-1-480-8855.
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AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Saudi Arabia's Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Saudi Arabia's air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA safety assessment page.
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CHILDREN'S ISSUES: Please see our Office of Children's Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
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