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SAUDI ARABIA - Exercise a high degree of caution
There is no nationwide advisory in effect for Saudi Arabia. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to the threat of terrorist attacks and security incidents.
Safety and security
Safety and security
Yemeni border (see Advisory)
Saudi Arabia has launched airstrikes into Yemen, and armed groups in Yemen regularly carry out retaliatory cross-border attacks. 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.
There is a terrorist threat throughout Saudi Arabia. Attacks have occurred throughout the country. Although groups commonly target government buildings, public areas, areas frequented by tourists and Western interests, Westerners may be directly targeted. Recent attacks have targeted the Shia minority, Saudi Arabia’s security forces and places of worship where large groups gather.
Terrorist groups may also target tourist attractions, restaurants, coffee shops, shopping centres, markets, hotels and sites frequented by foreigners. Heightened security measures are currently in place and may be reinforced on short notice. Be aware of your surroundings at all times in public places. Be particularly vigilant during religious holidays and other public celebrations, as terrorists have used such occasions to mount attacks.
Register with and carefully follow messages issued through the Registration of Canadians Abroad service.
There is a general threat of kidnapping in Saudi Arabia. Maintain a high level of vigilance at all times.
Demonstrations, although illegal in Saudi Arabia, have been occurring more frequently since 2011 and have the potential to suddenly turn violent. They can also lead to significant disruptions to traffic and public transportation. Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings, follow the advice of local authorities and monitor local media.
Due to escalating internal controversy resulting from executions held on January 3, 2016, including that of a high profile Shia cleric, there have been demonstrations in the Eastern province resulting in clashes between protestors and security officials that have led to death and injuries. Avoid all gatherings and exercise extreme caution when travelling in this area.
The next Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca is expected to take place from September 9 to 14 2016. The peak of the pilgrimage is during Eid. Pilgrims should be aware that there are safety risks at religious sites due to overcrowding and that the sites are far from the Canadian Embassy. On September 24, 2015, more than 700 pilgrims were killed, and many more injured, in a stampede in the town of Mina, outside Mecca. Seek clarity on the services and support available via your travel agency. See Entry and Exit Requirements for information on entry requirements during the pilgrimage. For health advice, consult the Public Health Agency of Canada travel health advisory on the Hajj.
The crime rate is low. Petty crime, such as pickpocketing and purse snatching, occurs, especially in crowded areas and at holy sites. To reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim, do not show signs of affluence and ensure that your personal belongings and passports and other travel documents are secure at all times.
Assaults against foreign women have occurred recently. 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.
Saudi Arabia is one of the most dangerous places to drive because of poor driving habits, a complete disregard for traffic laws and road markings, and excessive speed—which are all common causes of accidents. Only use pre-arranged, licensed taxis. Avoid shared or service taxis.
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 must be paid to the 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.
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 phone. Leave your travel itinerary with a relative or friend.
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.
The Government of Canada does not assess foreign domestic airlines’ compliance with international aviation safety standards. See Foreign domestic airlines for more information.
General safety information
Carry identification documents, including your residency permit (iqama), at all times. Leave your passport in a safe place and carry a photocopy for identification purposes.
If you are stopped by the Mutawa (Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice); consult the Laws & Culture tab for more information), offer to accompany them to the nearest police station and do not hand over identification documents. Inform your sponsors if the police retain your documents.
It is the sole prerogative of every country or territory to determine who is allowed to enter or exit. Canadian consular officials cannot intervene on your behalf if you do not meet entry or exit requirements. The following information has been obtained from the Saudi Arabian authorities and is subject to change at any time. The country- or territory-specific entry/exit requirements are provided on this page for information purposes only. While every effort is made to provide accurate information, information contained here is provided on an "as is" basis without warranty of any kind, express or implied. The Government of Canada assumes no responsibility, and shall not be liable for any damages in connection to the information provided. It is your responsibility to check with the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia for up-to-date information.
Canadians must present a passport to visit Saudi Arabia, which must be valid for at least six months beyond the date of expected departure from that country. Prior to travelling, ask your transportation company about its requirements related to passport validity, which may be more stringent than the country's entry rules.
Temporary passport holders may be subject to different entry requirements. Check with diplomatic representatives for up-to-date information.
It is illegal in Saudi Arabia to have two passports in your possession; if found, the second passport will be retained by Saudi authorities. See Laws & Culture for more information.
Official (special and diplomatic) passport holders must consult the Official Travel page, as they may be subject to different entry requirements.
Canadians must be in possession of a visa to visit Saudi Arabia. You must obtain the visa before arrival in Saudi Arabia at one of the agencies authorized by the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Ottawa or, if you reside in a foreign country, at the nearest embassy or consulate of Saudi Arabia. Expect heavy penalties if you overstay the duration of your visa.
Visa applications must be sponsored by a Saudi citizen, company or organization. Upon arrival, you will be required to surrender your passport to your sponsor and obtain a residency card (iqama).
Women must be met by their sponsors at the port of arrival or risk being denied entry. To leave the country, women must seek their sponsor’s as well as their husband’s permission. See Laws & Culture for more information.
Entry and exit permits
Single-entry visa holders do not need an exit permit. Residents cannot leave the country without obtaining an exit or exit/re-entry permit (if they intend to return to Saudi Arabia) from the Saudi Ministry of Interior.
Your visa sponsor’s approval is required for these permits. The Embassy and Consulate of Canada cannot sponsor Canadians for an exit permit under any circumstance. The Embassy of Canada cannot intervene in entry or exit permit issues.
Import and export
All electronic devices entering or leaving Saudi Arabia are submitted to a thorough examination at international airports. 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, use or possession of any item that is held to be contrary to the tenets of Islam, such as pornographic materials, drugs, alcohol and weapons, is prohibited.
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.
See Health to obtain information on this country’s vaccination requirements.
Hajj or Umrah visas are required for visiting pilgrims. These visas are valid for travel only in the vicinities of Jeddah, Mecca and Medina and for travel between these cities. Non-Muslims are forbidden to travel 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 Hajj 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.
If you are travelling in the Middle East, your passport could come under increased scrutiny by immigration authorities, and the authenticity of your passport could be questioned due to incidents of possible misuse. Contact the nearest Canadian government office or the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa for advice and assistance.
Children and travel
Children need special documentation to visit certain countries. See Children for more information.
- Measles: Global Update - July 28, 2016 00:00 EDT
- Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) - July 12, 2016 00:00 EDT
Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.
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 for children, 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.
- 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 the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no vaccine against malaria.
- Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in enclosed air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider pre-treating clothing and travel gear with insecticides and sleeping under an insecticide-treated bednet.
- 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 main cities. Adequate medical services are available in smaller cities. Immediate cash payment may be required.
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 are subject to local laws. See Arrest and detention for more information.
The work week is from Sunday to Thursday.
An International Driving Permit is required.
Women are not permitted to drive cars or ride bicycles.
Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Mutawa)
The Mutawa, also known as the Religious Police, have been known to harass, pursue and assault foreigners who they perceive are disregarding 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 to verify their credentials.
Dress and behaviour
The country’s customs, laws and regulations adhere closely 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.
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 2017, Ramadan is expected to begin on or around May 27.
Women should observe the strict Saudi dress code and wear conservative and loose-fitting clothes, including a full-length cloak (abbaya) 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 and men are not allowed to mingle 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. Consult our publication entitled Her Own Way: A Woman’s Safe-Travel Guide for travel safety information for Canadian women.
Illegal or restricted activities
Do not criticize the royal family or Islam.
Do not discuss political or religious issues.
Religious proselytizing is not permitted.
Common-law relationships, homosexual relations, adultery and prostitution are illegal and are subject to severe punishment, including the death penalty.
Avoid physical contact, such as holding hands, in public.
Dancing, music and movies are prohibited.
Imported and domestic audio-visual media and reading materials are censored.
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 with respect to soft or hard drugs, or between using and trafficking. Drug offenders are regularly sentenced to death.
It is forbidden to photograph official buildings (government, military institutions, etc.) and holy sites. Seek permission prior to photographing individuals.
Dual citizenship is not legally recognized in Saudi Arabia. If local authorities consider you a Saudi citizen, they may refuse to grant you access to Canadian consular services, thereby preventing Canadian consular officials from providing you with those services. You should always travel using your valid Canadian passport and present yourself as Canadian to foreign authorities at all times to minimize this risk. You may also need to carry and present a Saudi passport for legal reasons, for example to enter and exit the country (see Entry/exit requirements to determine passport requirements). Citizenship is determined solely by national laws, and the decision to recognize dual citizenship rests completely with the country in which you are located when seeking consular assistance. See Travelling as a dual citizen for more information.
Canadian women married to Saudi men and Canadians under 21 years of age with a Saudi father need the permission of the Saudi male head of the household to leave the country. Married women, no matter their husband’s citizenship, require their husband’s permission to leave the country, while all unmarried women, regardless of age, and unmarried men under the age of 21 require the permission of their father or male guardian to leave the country, irrespective of the father’s or guardian’s nationality.
A Saudi man who wishes to marry a foreign woman is required by law to seek the permission of Saudi authorities. He must also sign a document that gives irrevocable permission to his foreign wife and the children born of their union to travel in and out of the country without restrictions. This law has been in effect since February 20, 2008, and is not retroactive. Regardless of this law, the foreign spouse and their children may still have difficulty leaving Saudi Arabia whenever they wish.
The Saudi judicial system is based on Sharia 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.
Arabic is the only officially recognized language for business transactions.
Examine all conditions carefully and ensure that you fully understand them prior to accepting a job offer or signing a contract. Include oral understandings in the contract.
Obtain the services of an independent Saudi-based lawyer and ensure translation of all documents, especially the contract, in order to be fully aware of all conditions, limits and terms.
Seek legal advice from a Canadian or Saudi lawyer before signing any contract. If in doubt, seek advice from a lawyer in Canada. A list of local lawyers is available from the Embassy of Canada in Riyadh.
In case of a dispute, a Saudi complainant may prevent a foreigner from leaving the country until the dispute is settled.
The currency is the Saudi riyal (SAR). Credit cards and traveller’s cheques are widely accepted, especially in main cities.
Natural disasters and climate
Natural disasters & climate
Although Saudi Arabia is one of the driest countries in the world, heavy rains occur from time to time and can result in 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.
Shamals, sand-laden winds from the northern deserts, occur most frequent in early summer and can blow at 40-48 kilometres per hour for days, creating difficult driving conditions.
In case of emergency, dial:
- police: 999
- medical assistance: 997
- firefighters: 998
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. The Government of Canada takes the safety and security of Canadians abroad very seriously and provides credible and timely information in its Travel Advice to enable you to make well-informed decisions regarding your travel abroad. In the event of a large-scale emergency, every effort will be made to provide assistance. However, there may be constraints that will limit the ability of the Government of Canada to provide services.
See Large-scale emergencies abroad for more information.
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