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Saudi Arabia - Exercise a high degree of caution
Exercise a high degree of caution in Saudi Arabia due to the threat of terrorist attacks and security incidents.
Areas within 80 km of the border with Yemen - Avoid all travel
Avoid all travel to areas within 80 km of the border with Yemen, due to rocket, missile and mortar attacks on Saudi population centres near the border.
Al Qatif and its suburbs - Avoid non-essential travel
Avoid non-essential travel to Al Qatif, Eastern Province, and its suburbs, due to potential unrest and ongoing tensions between Saudi security forces and local militants. The Al-Awamiya suburb of Qatif is on security lockdown and access to the area is restricted.
Safety and security
Safety and security
Border with Yemen (see Advisories)
Armed groups in Yemen regularly target Saudi interests near the border in retaliation for Saudi involvement in the war in Yemen. Houthi militias regularly launch rockets, missiles and mortars at Saudi population centres near the border. Exercise extreme caution if you are travelling to or within other parts of southwestern Saudi Arabia. Airports in the area may be closed with little or no notice. Verify your travel plans before leaving for the airport.
Qatif (see Advisory)
From May to September 2017, clashes between Saudi security forces and activists and militants have caused casualties in Al-Awamiya in the Qatif region of the Eastern Province. Although the situation has calmed, tensions remain high and there is a heavy security presence in the area. On May 10, authorities placed the suburb of Al Awamiyah on security lockdown to facilitate demolition operations in the old neighbourhood of Al-Musawara. Civil unrest and armed clashes may still occur, and Saudi forces may impose curfews with little or no notice. If you must travel to the suburbs of Al-Qatif, exercise extreme caution and follow the instructions of local authorities.
Several missiles have been fired from Yemen, most of which have been intercepted and destroyed by Saudi air defense systems. However, some strikes have reached as far as Riyadh and Yanbu. Military and public facilities may be targeted by these missiles. Given the significant range of recent strikes, a broad area of Saudi Arabia and the Red Sea are at risk.
Missile detonations over cities may cause scattered debris or fragments. Seek shelter during missile strikes and stay away from doors and windows. If you encounter debris or fragments:
- don’t get close to or touch them
- move away from them immediately
- contact local authorities
Border with Qatar
On June 5, 2017, the governments of Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen announced the severing of diplomatic relations with Qatar. Land and sea borders between Saudi Arabia and Qatar are closed, which could cause disruption to regional travel and the movement of cargo. Some airlines suspended flights to and from Qatar. Additional measures could further affect transportation.
Northern Saudi Border
The Saudi authorities have declared an “out of bounds” zone of 20km from:
- the entire northern border of the country
- 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.
Direct access to land border crossings remains available and the authorities have announced that signs are being placed in areas where vehicles are allowed to cross. Consult local authorities before attempting to cross a land border through this area.
There is a threat of terrorism in Saudi Arabia. Attacks have occurred throughout the country. Groups commonly target government buildings, public areas, religious sites, tourist sites and attractions, restaurants, coffee shops, shopping centres, markets, hotels and Western interests. Westerners may also be directly targeted. Recent large-scale attacks have targeted the Shia minority in Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia’s security forces and places of worship where large groups gather.
Heightened security measures are currently in place and may be reinforced on short notice. Be aware of your surroundings in public places at all times.
Be particularly vigilant during religious holidays and other public celebrations, as terrorists have used such occasions to mount attacks.
There is a threat of kidnapping in Saudi Arabia. Maintain a high level of vigilance at all times.
Demonstrations are illegal in Saudi Arabia. They have been occurring more frequently since 2011, however, and have the potential to suddenly turn violent. They can also lead to significant disruptions to traffic and public transportation. Security forces quickly prevent demonstrations from forming or gathering momentum. Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings. Follow the advice of local authorities and monitor local media.
Executions held on January 3, 2016, including that of a high-profile Shia cleric from Al Qatif region, led to internal controversy and demonstrations in Eastern Province. Resulting clashes between protestors and security officials caused deaths and injuries. Avoid all gatherings and exercise extreme caution when travelling in Al Qatif area.
The next Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca is expected to take place from August 19 to 24, 2018. Millions of pilgrims are expected to make the pilgrimage, causing overcrowding at ritual sites and transportation disruptions. Traffic at Mecca peaks during Eid, between September 1 and 5. Pilgrims have been killed or injured in stampedes. There are safety risks at religious sites due to overcrowding. The sites are far from the Canadian embassy. Contact your Hajj travel agent for information on available services and support. See Entry and Exit Requirements for information on entry requirements during the pilgrimage.
The crime rate is low. Petty crime, such as pickpocketing and purse snatching, occurs, especially in crowded areas and at holy sites. Do not show signs of affluence and ensure that your personal belongings, including your passport and other travel documents, are secure at all times.
Foreign women may be assaulted or harassed. Consult our publication entitled Her Own Way: A Woman’s Safe-Travel Guide for travel safety information for Canadian women.
Consult Laws & Culture for more information.
Roads in larger cities are generally well maintained. Roads in rural areas are less developed, poorly lit and range from pavement to sand or gravel.
Exercise extreme caution when driving. Poor driving habits, disregard for traffic laws and road markings, and excessive speed are common and cause fatal accidents.
Do not drive off-road unless you are in a convoy of four-wheel-drive vehicles and with an experienced guide. Ensure you are well prepared with a sufficient supply of gasoline, water and food, and a cell or satellite phone. Leave your travel itinerary with a relative or friend.
Only use pre-arranged, licensed taxis. Avoid shared or unregistered taxis.
Exercise caution if travelling by sea, including for recreational purposes, in the Persian Gulf, particularly around the disputed islands of Abu Musa and Tunbs. Iran and the United Arab Emirates each claim sovereignty over the islands.
Pirate attacks occur in coastal waters and, in some cases, farther out at sea. Mariners should take appropriate precautions. For additional information, consult the Live Piracy Report published by the International Chamber of Commerce.
We do not make assessments on the compliance of foreign domestic airlines with international safety standards.
General safety information
Carry identification documents, including your residency permit (iqama) or entry visa, at all times. Leave your passport in a safe place and carry a photocopy for identification purposes.
Every country or territory decides who can enter or exit through its borders. The Government of Canada cannot intervene on your behalf if you do not meet your destination’s entry or exit requirements.
We have obtained the information on this page from the Saudi Arabian authorities. It can, however, change at any time.
Verify this information with foreign diplomatic missions and consulates in Canada.
Entry requirements vary depending on the type of passport you use for travel.
Before you travel, check with your transportation company about passport requirements. Its rules on passport validity may be more stringent than the country’s entry rules.
Regular Canadian passport
Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months beyond the date you expect to leave Saudi Arabia.
Passport for official travel
Different entry rules may apply.
Other travel documents
Different entry rules may apply when travelling with a temporary passport or an emergency travel document. Before you leave, check with the closest diplomatic mission for your destination.
Canadians must obtain a visa to visit Saudi Arabia prior to their arrival. In Canada, you can obtain the visa at an agency authorized by the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Ottawa or, if you reside in a foreign country, at the nearest Saudi embassy or consulate. Overstaying your visa will result in large fines.
Visa applications must be sponsored by a Saudi citizen, a travel agency or an organization.
Women must be met by their sponsors at the port of arrival or risk being denied entry. To leave the country, women must seek permission from their sponsor as well as their husband. See Laws & Culture for more information.
Entry and exit permits
If you have a resident permit (iqama), you cannot leave the country without obtaining an exit or exit/re-entry visa (if you intend to return to Saudi Arabia) from the Saudi Ministry of Interior. You must have your sponsor’s approval to obtain these visas.
Prior to exit, expats who have outstanding fees for dependents (newly implemented) may be required to pay at the point of exit prior to departure if they have an exit re-entry visa, or on renewal of their exit re-entry visa.
Single-entry visa holders do not need an exit permit.
Pilgrims require Hajj or Umrah visas. These visas are only valid for travel in the vicinities of Jeddah, Mecca and Medina and for travel between these cities. Non-Muslims are forbidden from travelling to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Pilgrims performing Umrah and Hajj must travel with a travel agency that is accredited with the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. Contact the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia or see the Saudi Ministry of Haj and Umra for more information.
Canadians have been denied entry into Saudi Arabia because their passports bore an Israeli visa, an Israeli border stamp or an Egyptian or Jordanian border stamp issued by an office bordering Israel. Such a stamp would indicate the traveller visited Israel prior to coming to Saudi Arabia.
Health entry requirements
You must produce a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) test certificate and proof of a criminal background check if you intend to work in Saudi Arabia.
You may have to produce proof of polio vaccination.
Learn about potential entry requirements related to yellow fever (vaccines section).
Children and travel
Learn about travel with children.
- Hajj and Umrah in 2017 - August 4, 2017
- Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in Middle East - August 1, 2017
Be sure that your routine vaccines, as per your province or territory, are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.
Some of these vaccines include: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, varicella (chickenpox), influenza and others.
Vaccines to Consider
You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.
Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread through contaminated food and water or contact with an infected person. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.
Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment, sharing needles, tattooing, acupuncture or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.
Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or by touching objects and surfaces that have been contaminated with the virus. Get the flu shot.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease and is common in most parts of the world.
Be sure your measles vaccination is up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.
Meningococcal disease, Hajj and Umrah requirement
Vaccination against four strains of bacteria that cause meningococcal disease is required to enter Saudi Arabia to participate in the Hajj and Umrah.
Polio, Hajj and Umrah requirement
Proof of polio vaccination is required to participate in the Hajj and Umrah if entering Saudi Arabia from certain countries. Discuss this with your health care provider to see if it applies to you.
Yellow Fever - Country Entry Requirements
Yellow fever is a disease caused by a flavivirus from the bite of an infected mosquito.
Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.
- There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
- Proof of vaccination is required if you are coming from or have transited through an airport of a country where yellow fever occurs.
- Vaccination is not recommended.
- Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
- There is currently a shortage of the yellow fever vaccine in Canada. It is important for travellers to contact a designated Yellow Fever Vaccination Centre well in advance of their trip to ensure that the vaccine is available.
About Yellow Fever
Yellow Fever Vaccination Centres in Canada
* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Food and Water-borne Diseases
Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.
In some areas in Western Asia, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, schistosomiasis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Western Asia. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!
Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among pediatric travellers, travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives or travelling for a long period of time. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should speak to a health care provider about vaccination.
Insects and Illness
In some areas in Western Asia, certain insects carry and spread diseases like chikungunya, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, dengue fever, leishmaniasis, malaria, Rift Valley fever, and West Nile virus.
Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.
- Dengue fever occurs in this country. Dengue fever is a viral disease that can cause severe flu-like symptoms. In some cases it leads to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.
- The risk of dengue is higher during the daytime, particularly at sunrise and sunset.
- Protect yourself from mosquito bites. There is no vaccine or medication that protects against dengue fever.
Zika virus infection
Zika virus infection is a risk in this country. The mosquito that spreads the virus is found here.
All travellers should protect themselves from mosquito bites and other diseases spread by insects.
- There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
- Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine against malaria.
- Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in well-screened, air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net or pre-treating travel gear with insecticides.
- Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.
Animals and Illness
Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Certain infections found in some areas in Western Asia, like avian influenza and rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.
Medical services and facilities
Modern medical care is available in large cities. Adequate medical services are available in smaller cities. Immediate cash payment may be required.
You should purchase the best travel insurance you can afford prior to your departure. Your health insurance should include health, life and disability coverage that will help you pay for large expenses, such as the cost of hospitalization or medical treatment outside of Canada.
See Travel insurance for more information.
Keep in Mind...
The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.
Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.
Laws and culture
Laws & culture
You must abide by local laws.
Learn about what you should do and how we can help if you are arrested or detained abroad.
The work week is from Sunday to Thursday.
An International Driving Permit is required.
Women are not permitted to drive cars or ride motorcycles, scooters and bicycles.
If you are involved in an accident, do not disturb the scene until the traffic patrol arrives, do not make any financial arrangement with the other drivers and immediately contact your visa sponsor and the Canadian embassy in Riyadh or the Consulate of Canada in Jeddah. In a traffic accident resulting in personal injury, regardless of fault, drivers may be held for several days until responsibility is determined and restitution is made. If severe injuries or death occur, compensation may need to be paid to the victim’s family for the injuries or loss of life.
Some Saudi cities have implemented an automated traffic ticketing system. All fines issued through this system must be paid before leaving the country. Payment can be made at the airport during regular Saudi office hours.
Illegal or restricted activities
Criticizing the royal family and Islam are illegal. Religious proselytizing is also not permitted.
Be cautious when discussing political and religious issues.
Common-law relationships, adultery and prostitution are illegal and are subject to severe punishment, including the death penalty.
Dancing, music and movies are prohibited.
Imported and domestic audio-visual media and reading materials are censored in Saudi Arabia.
Penalties for the import, manufacture, possession and consumption of alcohol, pork, illegal drugs or products containing their ingredients are severe.
Saudi authorities practise zero tolerance and make no distinction between alcohol and soft or hard drugs. Drug offenders may be sentenced to corporeal punishment or death.
It is forbidden to photograph official buildings (e.g. government, military institutions) and holy sites. Seek permission prior to photographing individuals.
The laws of Saud Arabia prohibit sexual acts between individuals of the same sex. Those convicted may face the death penalty.
LGBTQ2 travellers should carefully consider the risks of travelling to Saudi Arabia. See Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirit Canadians abroad for more information
Dress and behaviour
The country’s customs, laws and regulations adhere to Islamic practices and beliefs. Dress conservatively, behave discreetly and respect religious and social traditions in order to avoid offending local sensitivities, especially in holy cities (Mecca and Medina) and mosques.
Avoid physical contact, such as holding hands, in public.
Women should observe the strict Saudi dress code and wear conservative and loose-fitting clothes, including a full-length cloak (abaya) and a head scarf. Men should not wear shorts in public or go without a shirt. Seek guidance concerning acceptable clothing before your arrival.
Women are not allowed to associate with men in public unless the women are accompanied by other family members. A woman can be charged with prostitution if she is found associating with a man who is not a relative.
Restaurants have two sections: one for men only, and the family section where families, accompanied females and unaccompanied females are served.
During the lunar month of Ramadan (the ninth month of the Muslim calendar), refrain from drinking, eating, and smoking in public between sunrise and sunset. In 2018, Ramadan is expected to begin on or around May 15.
Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice
The Mutawa, also known as the religious police, have harassed, pursued and assaulted foreigners they believe disregard strict Saudi standards of conduct and dress. Often, they will simply instruct women to cover their hair. The Mutawa carry special identification and are typically accompanied by a uniformed police officer.
If you are stopped by the Mutawa, cooperate and ask them for their credentials. Offer to accompany them to the nearest police station. Do not hand over identification documents. Inform your sponsors if the police retain your documents.
Dual citizenship is not legally recognized in Saudi Arabia.
If local authorities consider you a citizen of Saudi Arabia, they may refuse to grant you access to Canadian consular services. This will prevent us from providing you with those services.
Women, children under 18 and unmarried daughters need the permission of the male head of their household or their guardian(s) to leave the country.
A Saudi man who wishes to marry a foreign woman must obtain permission from Saudi authorities. He must also sign a document that gives irrevocable permission to his wife and the children born of their union to enter and exit the country without restrictions. This law has been in effect since February 20, 2008, and is not retroactive. Regardless, the foreign spouse and their children may still have difficulty leaving Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi judicial system is based on Sharia (Islamic law). The legal process may be slow and cumbersome. Those suspected of and witnesses to offences may be held for lengthy periods without access to legal counsel or consular officials. If access is granted, it may be severely limited by Saudi authorities. Seek legal advice as soon as possible.
Authorities may place a legal travel ban on individuals involved in ongoing legal cases or investigations, or who have outstanding debts. Saudi citizens are also permitted to place travel bans on individuals.
Import and export
Airport authorities will thoroughly examine all electronic devices entering or leaving Saudi Arabia. Pirated or explicit materials will be confiscated. You may be detained or deported if you do not comply. If deported, you will be barred from re-entering Saudi Arabia.
The importation of any item that is held to be contrary to the tenets of Islam, such as pornographic materials, drugs, alcohol and weapons, is prohibited.
The currency is the Saudi riyal (SAR). Credit cards and traveller’s cheques are widely accepted, especially in main cities. Automated banking machines are widely available.
Natural disasters and climate
Natural disasters & climate
Although Saudi Arabia is one of the driest countries in the world, heavy rains occur occasionally and can cause major flooding. This can severely affect overland travel and reduce the provision of essential services. Exercise caution, monitor local news and weather reports, and follow the advice of local authorities.
Sand-laden winds from the northern deserts (shamals) occur most frequent in early summer and can blow at 40-48 km/h for days, creating difficult driving conditions.
In case of emergency, dial:
- police: 999
- medical assistance: 997
- firefighters: 998
- general security: 989
Riyadh - Embassy of Canada
Jeddah - Consulate of Canada
For emergency consular assistance, call the Embassy of Canada in Riyadh and follow the instructions. At any time, you may also contact the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa.
The decision to travel is your choice and you are responsible for your personal safety abroad. We take the safety and security of Canadians abroad very seriously and provide credible and timely information in our Travel Advice to enable you to make well-informed decisions regarding your travel abroad.
The content on this page is provided for information only. While we make every effort to give you correct information, it is provided on an "as is" basis without warranty of any kind, express or implied. The Government of Canada does not assume responsibility and will not be liable for any damages in connection to the information provided.
If you need consular assistance while abroad, we will make every effort to help you. However, there may be constraints that will limit the ability of the Government of Canada to provide services.
Learn more about consular services.
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