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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the biggest country on the Arabian Peninsula, is a historic land of mystery and exoticism. It has everything from fragrant juniper forests to cold desert nights, misty mountains and stunning coral reefs.
It is worth noting that Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. Women can only travel by car if they are with a male driver, husband or relative. The standard of driving is also notoriously bad and traffic accidents quite common but a recent upgrade of the country's road network is hoping to improve conditions.
Driving licences: visitors can drive in Saudi Arabia on a UK driving licence or an international licence for three months before a Saudi driving licence is required. UK driving licences are convertible to a Saudi licence without having to take a driving test.
Which side does Saudi Arabia drive on: the right.
Urban areas: 27mph (45kph)
Motorways: 49 to 74mph (80 to 120kph)
Alcohol limits: alcohol is banned in Saudi Arabia and punishments are severe.
Driving age: 18 years of age to drive a car and 16 years to drive a motorcycle. The minimum age for car rental is 25 years. Some rental companies accept drivers aged between 21 and 24 but a young driver's surcharge may apply.
Seatbelts: compulsory for all drivers and front-seat passengers.
Mobile phones and GPS: using a hands-free mobile phone when driving is allowed in Saudi Arabia.
Cost of fuel in Saudi Arabia: both petrol and diesel are significantly cheaper than in the UK.
Car hire and fuel payment: You can pay with cash and major credit cards are also accepted.
Insurance: if you're hiring a car in Saudi Arabia you can purchase insurance from your car rental company but it may be cheaper to arrange your own insurance in advance.
Traffic and parking: on-street car parking in major Saudi Arabian cities is usually paid for and there are car parks which also require a small fee.
Rail travel is operated by the Saudi Railways Organisation. The main rail route is the Riyadh to Dammam line linking Dhahran, Abquaiq, Hofuf, Hara and Al Kharj. The SRO runs a daily service and the trains are air-conditioned with first-, second- and third-class coaches. Children under four years old travel for free.
Taxi services are available in all of Saudi Arabia's major cities. Taxis are usually metered but you can attempt to negotiate the fare in advance, especially for a long trip or if you are travelling through dense traffic.
Saudi Arabia's national bus company SAPTCO has stations in most of the major cities. Tickets are affordable and there are plenty of bus routes.
King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah is the busiest airport in Saudi Arabia, but the King Fahd International Airport in Dammam is, by area, the largest in the world. There are also a lot of domestic airports and Saudi Arabian Airlines connect all the major cities.
Saudi Arabia has very conservative attitudes and traditions. Alcohol is illegal and there is no theatre or public exhibition of films and many limitations on dress and behaviour. Saudi Arabia is home to two of Islam's holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, which attract pilgrims from all over the world.
- Eid ul-Fitr (the end of Ramadan) in August
- Eid ul-Adha (the end of hajj) in October
- Saudi Arabia National Day in September.
Apart from the province of Asir on the western coast, which is influenced by the monsoons of the Indian Ocean, Saudi Arabia has a desert climate characterised by extreme heat in the day with abrupt temperature drops at night. Saudi Arabia has two main seasons, summer and winter, with the winter months in December and January and the peak of summer during June and July. From May to September, daytime temperature reaches 45 degrees Celsius while in winter they can fall steeply in the day and sometimes even reach zero degrees at night, especially in central areas.
Saudi Arabia has a modern and well-developed infrastructure and there are plenty of facilities for travellers visiting the country. It's important to always remember that it is an Islamic country with strict rules and observing these is paramount on your trip.
Saudi Arabia Contact Numbers:
- International dialling code: +966
- Police: 999
- Emergency Ambulance: 997
- Fire Service/Rescue Team: 998
- British Embassy, Riyadh: 01 488 0077
The currency of Saudi Arabia is the Saudi riyal (SR) issued in 1, 5, 10, 20, 100, 200 and 500 notes, 100 halala coins make 1 Riyal.
Health & Safety
To visit Saudi Arabia you need to be vaccinated against Meningococcal meningitis (it is mandatory for visitors arriving for the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages). Vaccinations are highly recommended for typhoid, hepatitis A and B, diphtheria, tuberculosis, rabies and cholera. Make sure that polio and tetanus vaccinations are current. There is also a low risk of malaria and preventative medicines may be required in some areas.
Visas for Saudi Arabia
To travel to Saudi Arabia you need to have a passport that has been valid for at least six months at the time your visa is issued. Visas are required for all visitors except transit passengers staying less than 18 hours. Visa dates can correspond to Hijri months from the Islamic calendar and not the Gregorian calendar and should be carefully checked. Women and under-age children cannot travel without being accompanied by a male family member or being met at the airport by their sponsor or husband.
Electricity in Saudi Arabia is 127 volts at 60 hertz so you might need a voltage converter. Plug outlets generally accept three types of plug: flat blade, two round pin and the standard UK type of plug.
The Saudi Arabian working week runs from Saturday to Wednesday, with a half day on Thursday. Schools are closed on Thursday and Fridays (Friday is the Muslim holy day).
It is important to be polite in Saudi Arabian society and remember to include pleasantries when talking as well as deferring to the oldest and most senior member of any group. There is no touching allowed between men and women in public places although it is permissible between the same gender during conversations. Women are expected to obey male authority and avoid eye contact with men. Use the right hand only when meeting people or accepting things from them.
- Sa-bah al-khair: Good morning
- Ma\'assalama: Goodbye
- Shokran: Thank you
- Men fadlak (male); men fadlik (female): Please
- Bikam?: How Much?
- Ana la afham: I don't understand