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Saudi Arabia Country Security Report

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication indicates travelers should not travel due to COVID-19. The advisory further highlights that travelers should reconsider travel due to the threat of missile and drone attacks on civilian facilities. Exercise increased caution due to terrorism. Do not travel to within 50 miles of the Yemeni border, including Abha, Jizan, Najran, Khamis Mushait, and the Abha airport due to missile and drone attacks; and terrorism. In addition, do not travel to Qatif in the Eastern Province and its suburbs, including Awamiyah due to terrorism. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

The Institute for Economics & Peace Global Peace Index 2021 ranks Saudi Arabia 125 out of 163 worldwide, rating the country as being at a Low state of peace.

Crime Environment

​The U.S. Department of State has assessed Riyadh as being a LOW-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

The U.S. Department of State has not included a Crime “C” Indicator on the Travel Advisory for Saudi Arabia.

​Emergency contact information differs in regions and cities. In the Riyadh and Makkah regions, call 911 police and fire department/civil defense. Elsewhere in Saudi Arabia, call 999 for police and 998 for the fire department/civil defense.

Review the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

Crime: General Threat

Crime in Saudi Arabia has increased over recent years, but remains at levels far below most major metropolitan areas in the United States. Criminal activity does not typically target foreigners and is mostly drug-related.

Crime: Areas of Concern

Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind, Hotels: The Inns and Outs, Considerations for Hotel Security, and Taking Credit.  

Kidnapping Threat

The U.S. Department of State has not included a Kidnapping “K” Indicator on the Travel Advisory for Saudi Arabia. Review OSAC’s reports, Kidnapping: The Basics and Active Shooter and Kidnapping Response Tips.

​The threat of kidnapping by terrorist groups continues despite recent counterterrorism efforts. Terrorist elements may resort to targeting individuals rather than carrying out large-scale attacks. Criminal kidnappings are usually associated with other violent crimes.

The U.S. Embassy periodically processes requests for assistance from U.S. citizens with children abducted or wrongfully detained in Saudi Arabia. The majority of cases involve one parent refusing to allow their child to return to the U.S. Saudi Arabia is not a party to the Hague Abduction Convention; custody orders and judgments of foreign courts are not enforceable in Saudi Arabia if they contradict or violate local laws and practices. In the event of marriage or divorce under Sharia law, parents do not share equal rights of custody to their children; religious/citizenship status affects the court’s judgment in custody cases.

Drug Crime

Drug use among Saudi youth is an increasing concern. Narcotics smuggling continues to be a challenge along the border areas. Interior Ministry officials have identified border security as an area of concern and are addressing the issue through additional training and physical barriers. Security officials have encountered armed resistance from traffickers. Reports of exorbitant drug seizures continue. Authorities frequently impose capital punishment for drug smuggling. In 2019, authorities executed 184 prisoners, including 37 men in one day. Although there has been a rise in executions since 2015, the Kingdom drastically reduced the number of executions, to 27 in 2020.

Penalties for the import, manufacture, possession, and consumption of alcohol or illegal drugs are severe. Convicted offenders can expect jail sentences, fines, deportation, or death. Customs inspections at ports of entry are thorough and effective in finding drug and alcohol violators. Authorities may detain suspects for months without charges, pending final disposition of a criminal case.

Consult with the CIA World Factbook’s section on Illicit Drugs for country-specific information.

Terrorism Environment

​The U.S. Department of State has assessed Riyadh as being a HIGH-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

The U.S. Department of State has included a Terrorism “T” Indicator on the Travel Advisory for Saudi Arabia, indicating that terrorist attacks have occurred and/or specific threats against civilians, groups, or other targets may exist. Review the latest State Department Country Report on Terrorism for Saudi Arabia.

The Institute for Economics & Peace Global Terrorism Index 2020 ranks Saudi Arabia 32 out of 163 worldwide, rating the country as having a Medium impact from terrorism.

Terrorism: General Threat

​​Terrorists may attack with little to no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities. Terrorists have targeted Saudi and Western government interests, mosques and other religious sites (both Sunni and Shia), and some locations U.S. citizens and other Westerners frequent.   

ISIS and al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) continue to demonstrate the ability to inspire individuals to conduct attacks and to expand operational capabilities for planning and executing attacks inside Saudi Arabia. Individual cells aligned with Shia militant groups also operate in Saudi Arabia. ISIS and AQAP have expressed their intent to continue attacks in Saudi Arabia. Multiple small-scale attacks have involved ISIS or ISIS-inspired assailants. In April 2019, armed terrorists attacked Saudi security forces in Qatif (Eastern Province) and Zulfi (160 km northwest of Riyadh). In November 2019, a 33-year-old Yemeni male claiming affiliation with AQAP stabbed three cultural performers at a live show in Riyadh. In December 2019, Saudi security forces killed two terrorists possessing Research Department eXplosive (RDX) explosives and materials for a car bomb in al Anud, a suburb of Dammam. in October 2020, a Saudi-national severely stabbed a local guard at the French Consulate in Jeddah. Most recently, in November 2020, an explosive device detonated at the Remembrance Day ceremony held at the non-Muslim cemetery in Jeddah, hosted by the French Consulate, injuring several attendees.

The Saudi government actively combats transnational and domestic terrorism. Authorities have conducted numerous arrests, identified smuggling routes, and interdicted attempts by ISIS and others to cross the border illegally. The government has a strong security force that has increased its ability to respond quickly anywhere in the Kingdom. However, the government continues to struggle with confronting illegal immigration and smuggling along its border with Yemen. Saudi border guards have reportedly stopped thousands of people from crossing the border illegally and have encountered an increased volume of smuggled firearms and ammunition. The government is working on new initiatives to mitigate these threats, including fingerprinting passengers at airports and border crossings. The government has increased its use of media to announce arrests and request assistance from the populace in identifying and locating terrorists.  

Political Violence and Civil Unrest Environment

​The U.S. Department of State has assessed Riyadh as being a HIGH-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Elections/Political Stability

​Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is both head of state and head of government. The 1992 Basic Law sets out the system of governance, rights of citizens, and powers and duties of the government, and provides that the Quran and Sunna (the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) serve as the country’s constitution. It specifies that the rulers of the country shall be male descendants of the founder, King Abdulaziz (Ibn Saud). In 2015, the country held its most recent municipal elections on a nonparty basis for two-thirds of the 3,159 seats in the 284 municipal councils around the country. Independent polling station observers did not identify significant irregularities with the elections.

Iran and its regional proxies have attacked Saudi Arabia with missiles, rockets, and armed unmanned aerial systems (UAS). For further information on UAS and the threats they pose, review OSAC’s reports, Drone Operations and Threats Abroad and Addressing Drone Security Threats

Iran and other regional actors hostile to Saudi Arabia have conducted destructive and sometimes lethal attacks against a variety of targets, including critical infrastructure, military facilities, airports, and energy facilities throughout the country, as well as merchant vessels in regional shipping lanes. Riyadh, Yanbu, areas in proximity to Jeddah, the civilian airport in Abha (AHB), military installations in the south, and specific oil and gas facilities are examples of recent targets. Iran has supplied Yemen-based Houthis and other regional proxy groups with weapons, including drones, missiles, and rockets. Violence associated with Iran and Iran-supported groups represents a significant threat. U.S. citizens living and working near military bases and critical civilian infrastructure, particularly in the Eastern Province and areas near the border with Yemen, are at heightened risk of missile and drone attacks.  

Continuing violence in neighboring countries, such as Yemen, has a potential to spill over into Saudi Arabia. The U.S. Government restricts government personnel and their families from travel to within 50 miles of the Saudi-Yemen border, including the cities of Abha, Jizan, Najran, and Khamis Mushait; al-Qatif in the Eastern province and its suburbs, including Awamiyah; and the AHB airport. U.S. government personnel also must notify the Regional Security Office in advance of travel outside of the tri-city area of Dhahran, Dammam, and Khobar.  

Protest & Demonstration Activity

​Security forces generally do not tolerate public demonstrations and move quickly to prevent them from forming or gaining momentum. Security forces have sufficient resources (e.g., equipment, personnel) to respond to any civil disturbance.

Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Law Enforcement Concerns: Security Agencies

The State Security Presidency, National Guard, and Defense and Interior Ministries, all of which report to the king, are responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The State Security Presidency includes the General Directorate of Investigation (Mabahith), Special Security Forces, and Special Emergency Forces; police operate under Interior Ministry supervision. Law enforcement efforts include large numbers of high-profile uniformed and plain-clothes officers working openly and covertly. Civilian authorities generally maintain effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces have committed some abuses.

Police Response

Police response times to emergencies vary due to lack of physical addresses and street names. Local residents have reported that the police response time averages about an hour. However, police are particularly responsive to the needs of the diplomatic and international business communities.

Saudi law is based on the local interpretation of Sharia law (the religious law of Islam), and influenced by local customs and practices. Authorities may expel, arrest, imprison, or even execute those violating the laws, even unknowingly. Foreign visitors are subject to all local laws.

Law Enforcement Concerns: Emergency Contact/Information

​Emergency contact information differs in regions and cities. In the Riyadh and Makkah regions, 911 is for police and civil defense (fire), and 997 is for medical. Throughout Saudi Arabia, 999 is for the police, 997 for medical (ambulance), and 998 for the fire department/civil defense.

Transportation Security

Road Safety

​Dial 993 to report a vehicle accident. You must remain on the scene until the traffic police arrive. Failure to do so can result in a criminal offense. Traffic accidents are common, and often result in serious injuries/fatalities. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Saudi Arabia continues to have one of the highest death rates in the world from traffic accidents. In the event of a traffic accident with personal injuries, authorities may take all involved to the local police station; they also may detain drivers for several days until they determine culpability and reparations are paid.  

Primary road arteries between major population centers and in larger cities are generally in fair to good condition; in contrast, roads in rural areas are less developed. Road surfaces range from pavement to sand/gravel. Roads in rural areas lack road markings, lighting, and/or reflectors. Saudi drivers regularly drive without lights, at excessive speed, or in the wrong direction. Avoid driving at night outside of the greater Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dhahran areas due to poor lighting, unmarked construction areas, livestock crossing highways, and erratic drivers.

With the advent of photo enforcement for traffic lights and speed limits, the Saudi government has demonstrated its concern and determination to lower road fatalities. Authorities have taken steps to curb unruly motorists through the implementation of the SAHER Road Safety Program that uses speed- and red-light cameras along with a nationwide, computerized database of registered vehicle owners. This program has led to a tangible improvement in driving conduct, though lack of strict enforcement of other moving violations contributes to reckless driving.   

The Saudi government authorized women to drive in 2018. Short-term visitors may drive using their U.S. driver’s license or international driver’s license. U.S. citizens employed in Saudi Arabia must obtain a Saudi driver’s license from the Traffic Department. Saudi Arabia requires approved drivers to maintain vehicle insurance.  

For detailed, country-specific road and vehicle safety information, read the World Health Organization’s Global Status Report on Road Safety.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.  

Public Transportation Safety

​Public transportation options are growing, and several projects are in the construction phase. The Riyadh Metro, slated for completion in late 2022, is currently one of the world’s largest infrastructure projects. Construction has resulted in road closures and traffic rerouting.    

U.S. Government employees may not use taxis in Saudi Arabia, with the exception of Uber Black in Riyadh, Kareem First in Jeddah, and Majestic taxi service in Dhahran. If you must use a taxi, only use established companies, such as those offering cabs with meters. Taxis and lift services are available throughout major cities; arrange a pickup by telephone or via smartphone app when possible. Avoid sitting in the front seat of a taxi, do not travel to unfamiliar areas, and do not enter taxis with unknown passengers.

Travel by air and rail is accessible and generally safe. Security is adequate at the country’s main airports and train stations for passengers and cargo.

Review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights; and consider the European Union Air Safety List.

Aviation Concerns

​Several international airports operate in Saudi Arabia. Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport (RUH), Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED), and Dammam’s King Fahd International Airport (DMM) have adequate security; all airports have new biometric systems for immigration processing. Jeddah is in the process of moving operations into its new international airport designed to handle the millions of Muslim pilgrims who travel to Mecca and Medina.   

Due to risks to civil aviation operating within the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman region, including Saudi Arabia, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued several advisory Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs). Consult the Federal Aviation Administration's Prohibitions, Restrictions and Notices for the NOTAM covering the region.

Maritime Security

The Yemen-based Houthi rebel group continues to use sea mines and sea drones to harass Saudi Arabia oil infrastructure and threaten shipping lanes. Additionally, Western-linked ships have been the subject of maritime harassment at the hands of Iranian security forces and Iran-backed proxy forces in the waters surrounding the Arabian Peninsula. The maritime attacks against Western-linked ships began a year after the U.S. withdrew from the U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement.

Consult with the Stable Seas Maritime Security Index for detailed information and ratings regarding rule of law, law enforcement, piracy, and other maritime security indicators.

Personal Identity & Human Rights Concerns

​Saudi Arabia is one of several dozen countries that enforce judicial corporal punishment. In Saudi Arabia's case this includes amputations of hands and feet for robbery. In 2020, the Saudi Supreme Court abolished the flogging punishment from its system and replaced it with jail time and fines.

Saudi Arabia remains a very conservative country; understanding Saudi culture can assist visitors in blending in during their time in the country, something that will benefit personal security.

Significant human rights issues include unlawful killings; executions for nonviolent offenses; forced disappearances; torture of prisoners and detainees by government agents; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy; criminalization of libel, censorship, and site blocking; restrictions on freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and movement; severe restrictions of religious freedom; citizens’ lack of ability and legal means to choose their government through free and fair elections; trafficking in persons; violence and official discrimination against women, although new women’s rights initiatives were implemented; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity; and prohibition of trade unions.

Safety Concerns for Women Travelers

​Married women, including non-Saudis, require their husband's permission to depart the country, while unmarried women and children require the permission of their father or male guardian. Authorities can prevent children visiting their fathers in Saudi Arabia from leaving the country, even when there is a custody agreement, unless the father consents; this is true even if the child is a U.S. citizen. The U.S. Embassy and consulates cannot obtain exit visas for the departure of minor children without their father/guardian's permission. If a foreigner and a Saudi living in Saudi Arabia divorce, Saudi courts rarely grant permission for the foreign parent to leave the country with the children born during the marriage, even if they have been granted physical custody. Divorced or widowed foreign mothers of Saudi children may apply for a permanent residency permit (iqama) without the need for a sponsor. To do so, they must prove maternity and that they were legally married to the Saudi father.

Societal pressures restricts women from using some public facilities. Some but not all businesses still require or pressure women to sit in separate, specially designated family sections in public places. Cultural norms selectively enforced by state institutions require women to wear an abaya (a loose-fitting, full-length cloak) in public; female foreigners are only required to dress modestly.

Consider composite scores given to Saudi Arabia by the UN Development Program (UNDP) in its Gender Development Index, measuring the difference between average achievement in three basic dimensions of human development, and Gender Inequality Index, measuring inequality in achievement in reproductive health, empowerment, and the labor market. For more information on gender statistics in Saudi Arabia, see the World Bank's Gender Data Portal.

Review the State Department’s webpage for female travelers.

Safety Concerns for LGBTI+ Travelers

Under Sharia, as interpreted in the country, consensual same-sex sexual conduct can be punishable by death, depending on the perceived seriousness of the case. It is illegal for men “to behave like women” or to wear women’s clothes, and vice versa. Due to social conventions and potential persecution, LGBTI+ organizations do not operate openly, nor are there LGBTI+ rights advocacy events of any kind. There are reports of official and societal discrimination, physical violence, and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, and health care. There is anecdotal, unconfirmed evidence (from social media) that religious police arrest members of the LGBTI+ community and give them advice and literature on reforming their identities and sexual orientation.

Stigma or intimidation limited reports of incidents of abuse. Saudi clerics condemn homosexuality during government-approved Friday sermons at some mosques, most notably at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. There are no government efforts to address discrimination.

Review OSAC’s report, Supporting LGBT+ Employee Security Abroad, and the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI travelers.

Safety Concerns for Travelers with Disabilities

The law does not prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other state services or other areas. The law does not require public accessibility to buildings, information, and communications. Newer commercial buildings often include such access, as do some newer government buildings. In 2020, the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs ordered all stores and shopping malls to install ramps for persons with disabilities.

Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Safety Concerns for Travelers Based on Race, Religion, & Ethnicity

Islam is the official religion of the country and is present in all aspects of life in Saudi Arabia. Saudi authorities do not permit criticism of Islam or Muslim religious figures, including on social media. The government prohibits the public practice of religions other than Islam. Authorities have jailed and/or deported non-Muslims suspected of violating these restrictions. Authorities have raided church services in private homes, and jailed and/or deported participants. Muslims who do not adhere to the strict interpretation of Islam prevalent in much of Saudi Arabia may encounter societal discrimination and constraints on public worship. Public display of non-Islamic religious articles, such as crosses and Bibles, is not permitted. Non-Muslims are forbidden to travel to Mecca and parts of Medina, the cities where two of Islam’s holiest mosques are located. Review the State Department’s Hajj and Umrah Fact Sheet.

Although racial discrimination is illegal, societal discrimination against members of national, racial, and ethnic minorities is a problem. Descendants of former slaves in the country, who have African lineage, face discrimination in employment and society. There is formal and informal discrimination, especially racial discrimination, against foreign workers from Africa and Asia. There is also discrimination based on tribal or nontribal lineage. A tolerance campaign by the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue seeks to address discrimination, providing training during the year to combat discrimination against national, racial, or ethnic groups.

In September 2020, a video widely circulated on social media showed a group of young men assaulting a black male Saudi model on a street in Riyadh, with some hurling racial slurs during the attack. The video sparked an online debate, with many defending the model’s right to dress as he chooses and calling on authorities to hold the attackers accountable. Others said his choice of dress and modeling activities went against customs and traditions.

Review the latest U.S Department of State Report on International Religious Freedom for country-specific information.

Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.  

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

​Westerners, and particularly U.S. citizens, remain targets of opportunity for terrorist groups and attacks inspired by terrorist rhetoric.  

Concerns involving the Rule of Law, Arbitrary Detention, Official Harassment, Corruption &/or Transparency

​In 2017, the Saudi government detained hundreds of prominent Saudi princes, government ministers, and business people at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh to combat a crackdown on corruption. In 2019, the anti-corruption committee concluded with sanctions, restitution, and a recommendation for public prosecution for some involved individuals. 

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption. Some officials engage in corrupt practices, and perceptions of corruption persist in some sectors. Government employees who accept bribes face 10 years in prison or substantial fines.

Human rights organizations criticize the government for using anticorruption campaigns as a pretext to target perceived political opponents and for arbitrarily detaining and abusing individuals targeted in the crackdown.

The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Saudi Arabia 52 out of 180 worldwide, where 1 means most transparent.

Communication Issues

The Saudi government closely monitors media and restricts it under official state law. Non-profit organizations have claimed that there is relentless censorship in the Saudi media and the internet. In February 2021, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report assessing the role of the Saudi government in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Additionally, reports by journalist claim that they were arbitrarily imprisoned in the Kingdom

The Media Ministry or its agencies must authorize all websites registered and hosted in the country. The General Commission for Audiovisual Media has responsibility for regulating all audio and video content in the country, including satellite channels, film, music, internet, and mobile applications, independent from the Commerce and Industry Ministry. Internet access is widely available.

​Saudi law does not provide for freedom of expression, including for the press.  The government monitors public expressions of opinion and takes advantage of legal controls to impede the free expression of opinion and restrict individuals from engaging in public criticism of the political sphere. The law forbids apostasy and blasphemy, which can carry the death penalty, although there were no recent instances of death sentences being carried out for these crimes. Review OSAC’s report, Lèse Majesté: Watching what you say (and type) abroad.

The Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index ranks Saudi Arabia 170 out of 180 worldwide, where 1 means most freedom. The Freedom House Freedom on the Net report rates Saudi Arabia’s internet freedom as Not Free, and its Freedom in the World report rates Saudi Arabia’s freedom of speech as Not Free.

​Health Concerns

Emergency Health Services      

​Medical care varies greatly in quality, and high-profile cases of medical malpractice and errors have occurred. Consult your regular physician if you are considering serious medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi Red Crescent Authority (SRCA, a humanitarian society that provides emergency medical services throughout the Kingdom) operates a mobile application called “Asefni,” or “Save Me.” The app provides emergency teams with the user’s location, information about health facilities within the user’s vicinity, and emergency contact numbers for relief organizations. The app is an effort to provide more efficient emergency response times.   

Call 997 for medical emergencies. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on health insurance overseas.

To obtain work and residence permits, you are required to obtain a medical report or physical examination confirming that you are free from contagious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. If you test positive for HIV/AIDS or hepatitis, you will not be allowed to work in the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia has not imposed HIV/AIDS or hepatitis travel restrictions on other categories of travelers.

The U.S. Department of State has included a Health “H” Indicator on the Travel Advisory for Saudi Arabia, indicating that Health risks, including current disease outbreaks or a crisis that temporarily disrupts a country’s medical infrastructure, are present. Review the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) country-specific Travel Health Notices for current health issues that impact traveler health, like disease outbreaks, special events or gatherings, and natural disasters.

See OSAC’s Guide to U.S. Government-Assisted Evacuations; review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad; and visit the State Department’s webpage on Your Health Abroad for more information.

Vaccinations

Strongly consider COVID-19 vaccination prior to travel. Many infectious diseases, such as measles, typhoid, dengue, COVID-19, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), are present in Saudi Arabia.

Review the CDC Travelers’ Health site for country-specific vaccine recommendations.

Issues Traveling with Medications

​Review Saudi Arabia's Food and Drug Authority list of authorized/banned medications and drugs.

Review OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medication.  

Water Quality

​Saudi tap water is clean, and potable.

Review OSAC’s report, I’m Drinking What in My Water?

Environmental Hazards

​Saudi Arabia has a dry climate with extreme heat several months of the year; be sure to stay hydrated. Air pollution is a significant concern in many parts of Saudi Arabia including Dammam.

Review OSAC’s report, Dangers of Excessive Heat.

Cybersecurity Concerns

​The Saudi government continues to expand its cybersecurity activities. Major cyberattacks in 2012 and 2016 focused on the private sector and on Saudi government agencies, spurring action from Saudi policymakers and local business leaders. The Saudi Interior Ministry continues to develop and expand its collaboration with the U.S. Government on cybersecurity.   

The Saudi government blocks access to various websites reported to contain pornographic, religious, and political material it considers offensive or sensitive.   

Cybersecurity should be an increasingly important focus for the U.S. private sector abroad. U.S. organizations based in the Middle East should increase the use of cybersecurity best practices, especially with regards to the identification and reporting of spear phishing emails. Cyber threat researchers report that Iranian hacking groups have used phishing emails to deliver malware and or harvest credentials. In previously observed campaigns, phishing emails and SMS sent to victims have contained malicious links designed to redirect users to credential harvesting websites, initiate scripts that install malware, and or malicious attachments containing malware.

Iranian actors may use malware to conduct intelligence gathering in the form of stealing files, logging keystrokes, and or destroying data for disruptive purposes. Follow best practices for cybersecurity.

Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling Abroad with Mobile Devices, and Guide for Overseas Satellite Phone Usage.

Counterintelligence Issues

One-third of the nation is third-country nationals. Most countries with concerning counterintelligence activities have citizens who reside in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia displays the ability to monitor individuals.

Other Security Concerns

Landmines

​Houthi militias have randomly planted tens of thousands of mines on the Saudi-Yemeni border. Saudi Arabia is actively involved in demining projects in the region, but for this and other reasons, the U.S. Government restricts its personnel from traveling within 50 miles of the border.

Import/Export Restrictions

Saudi customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning the importation of such banned items as alcohol, weapons, and any item that is held to be contrary to the tenets of Islam (e.g., pork, anything considered pornographic under strict Islamic principles, religious materials). Imported and domestic audiovisual media and reading matter are censored. Christmas and other holiday decorations, fashion magazines, and "suggestive" videos may be confiscated and the owner subject to penalties and fines. Electronic devices may be subject to inspection upon entry or exit. The Saudi Agriculture Ministry must approve all pets imported into Saudi Arabia.

The importation of drones for commercial or personal use is prohibited without prior approval from the General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA). A customs clearance certificate authorizing importation can be obtained as part of the GACA approval process.

A country-specific listing of items/goods prohibited from being exported to the country or that are otherwise restricted is available from the U.S. International Trade Agency website.

Photography

​The Saudi government does not permit photography of governmental facilities, such as military bases and government buildings, nor military, security, or police personnel. The Saudi government is also sensitive to photographs that may be perceived as portraying the country in an unfavorable light. This policy can include photos of mosques, impoverished areas, the local population, and traditional souks (markets). Do not take anyone’s picture without clear consent, and never take a picture of a woman or a place where women congregate. Be aware of local sensitivities whenever you are taking pictures in public. Authorities have routinely detained U.S. citizens for violating these policies.

Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

ID Requirements

All persons are required to carry their iqama card (national identification) on their persons while moving around Saudi Arabia. For those individuals in the country on a travel visa, carry your passport with a valid, unexpired Saudi Arabian visa.

Critical Infrastructure Concerns

​There are no critical infrastructure concerns for private-sector travelers.

OSAC Country Chapters

​Riyadh has an active OSAC Country Chapter. Contact OSAC’s Middle East & North Africa team with any questions.

Embassy Contact Information

  • U.S. Embassy: Collector Road M, Riyadh Diplomatic Quarter. P.O. Box 94309, Riyadh 11693. Tel: +966 (11) 835-4000 Hours of Operation: 0800-1700, Sunday-Thursday  
  • U.S. Consulate General: Al Muhammadiyah District, near the new American School building, Jeddah. Tel: +966 (12) 220 5000
  • U.S. Consulate General: U.S. Consulate Driveway, KFUPM, Dhahran 34464. Tel: +966 (13) 330-3200.

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