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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Saudi Arabia 2019 Crime & Safety Report: Riyadh

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Saudi Arabia at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to terrorism.

 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s Saudi Arabia-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

There is minimal risk from crime in Riyadh. 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. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

Cybersecurity Issues

The Saudi government continues to expand its cybersecurity activities. Major cyber-attacks 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 government, through the Ministry of Interior (MOI), continues to develop and expand its collaboration with the U.S. Government on cybersecurity.

The Saudi government continues to block access to various websites reported to contain pornographic, religious, and political material that the government considers offensive or sensitive.

Follow best practices for cybersecurity.

Other Areas of Concern

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 Jizan and Najran
  • Qatif in the Eastern province and its suburbs, including Awamiyah

U.S. government personnel also must notify RSO in advance of travel to Hofuf and its suburbs in al-Ahsa governorate.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

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 more 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. For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s Report, Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

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.

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 from traffic accidents, raking 25th in the world. 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 determining culpability and reparations are paid. Anyone involved in an accident should immediately contact their sponsor for assistance, if necessary.

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 have vehicle insurance.

Public Transportation Conditions

Public transportation is growing, and several projects are in the construction phase. The Riyadh Metro, slated for completion in 2020, is currently the world’s largest infrastructure project. Metro construction affects Riyadh traffic with road closures and traffic rerouting.  

Travel by air and rail is accessible and safe. Security is good at the main airports and train stations for passengers and cargo.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Several international airports operate in Saudi Arabia. Riyadh King Khalid International Airport (RUH) and Dammam King Fahd International Airport (DMM) have robust security; both airports have new biometric systems for immigration processing. Jeddah is in the process of building a new international airport designed to handle the yearly pilgrimage by millions of Muslims to Mecca more efficiently.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is considerable risk from terrorism in Riyadh. Terrorism remains a concern across Saudi Arabia. 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 locations frequented by U.S. citizens and other Westerners. 

ISIS continues to demonstrate the ability to inspire individuals to conduct attacks; operational capabilities for planning and executing attacks inside Saudi Arabia.  Multiple small-scale attacks in 2016 linked to ISIS or were inspired by ISIS rhetoric. In July 2016, a suspected suicide bomber died after detonating an explosive device outside a mosque near the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah. In July and August of 2018, shooters ambushed Saudi security forces at checkpoints in Qassim.

ISIS and Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have expressed their desire to continue attacks in Saudi Arabia. Their intent and the potential impact on regional security are of concern and are a focus of continual assessment. 

The Saudi government actively combats transnational and domestic terrorism. The Saudis 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 southern border with Yemen. Saudi border guards reportedly have stopped thousands of people from crossing the border illegally, and have encountered an increased volume of firearms and ammunition. The government is working on new initiatives to mitigate these threats, including fingerprinting passengers at airports. The government has increased its use of media to announce arrests and request assistance from the populace in identifying and locating terrorists.

Significant security events during 2018 included:

  • March 25 – Three ballistic missiles intercepted in a northern district (Al Malqah District) and western district (Om Al Hammam District) of Riyadh.
  • April 11 – One ballistic missile intercepted south of Riyadh (Dirab District).
  • May 9 – Two missiles ballistic intercepted 100 km south of Riyadh (desert area) and in a southern district of Riyadh (Al Aziziah District).
  • June 24 – Two ballistic missiles intercepted in northwest Riyadh, over Irqah District and the Diplomatic Quarter (home to many diplomatic missions and staff).

 

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

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

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

There is considerable risk from political violence in Riyadh. As mentioned above, Houthi militants have attacked Saudi Arabia with ballistic missiles and unmanned aerial systems (UAS). The conflict in Yemen and Saudi Arabia’s engagement in a coalition to restore the legitimate Republic of Yemen government have led to Houthi ballistic missile, rocket, and UAS attacks on Saudi territory and against Saudi ships in the Red Sea. For further information on UAS and the threats they pose, see OSAC Report, Drone Operations and Threats Abroad.

Civil Unrest

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, labor) to respond to any civil disturbance.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Extremely high summer temperatures and the pervasive dust present ongoing, but predictable, environmental hazards. For more information, refer to OSAC’s Report, Dangers of Excessive Heat. Ensure adequate water is available and carefully plan trips during the summer to ensure access to water and emergency communication.

Critical Infrastructure

One of Saudi Arabia’s main concerns is access to fresh water. Saudi Arabia processes salt water from the Gulf into fresh water, and then transports it through a pipeline to the interior. Riyadh only maintains a three-day supply of fresh water. As such, the water pipeline is a critical infrastructure concern.

Economic Concerns

Although the Saudi government has improved protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights and copyright and trademark violations, patent infringements in various industries persist and Saudi Arabia is included on USTR’s 2018 Special 301 Watchlist. The 2018 Watchlist specifically states that Saudi Arabia is included due to the recent deteriorations in IP protection for pharmaceutical products and the continued use of unlicensed software by the Saudi government.

U.S. intellectual property rights holders continue to voice concerns regarding the use of unauthorized software by the Saudi government, while reporting substantial challenges with copyright and trademark enforcement writ large. In particular, rights holders assert difficulty in obtaining information from Saudi authorities on the status of enforcement actions and investigations; the limited number of and training for copyright inspectors; the lack of seizure and destruction of counterfeit goods in enforcement actions; and limits on the ability of Saudi authorities to enter facilities suspected of involvement in the sale or manufacture of counterfeit goods, including facilities located in residential areas.

Kidnapping Threat

The concern of kidnapping by terrorist groups remains a potential threat despite the government’s counterterrorism efforts in recent years. Terrorist elements may resort to targeting individuals rather than carrying out large-scale attacks. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Police Response

Saudi police response times to emergencies vary due to lack of physical addresses and street names. Local residents have reported that response time averages about an hour; however, the police are particularly responsive to the needs of the diplomatic and international business communities. Law enforcement efforts include large numbers of high-profile uniformed and plain-clothes officers working openly and covertly throughout communities.

Much of Saudi law is based on the interpretation of sharia (Islamic law), which is influenced by local customs and practices. Authorities may expel, arrest, and/or imprison persons violating the laws, even unknowingly; Saudi Arabia regularly executes persons convicted of drug smuggling and homicide. Customs inspections are thorough and effective in finding drug and alcohol violators. Customs officials routinely open mail and shipments to search for contraband, including material deemed pornographic or religious material that appears to be non-Sunni. Customs officials arbitrarily confiscate or censor materials, to include bibles and religious videos. For more information, review OSAC’s Report Putting Your Faith in Travel: Security Implications.

Members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), commonly referred to as “haia,” “mutawa,” or the religious police, are charged with enforcing public morality. In 2017, the government rescinded CPVPV arrest authority. CPVPV now must have a police officer conduct an arrest for infractions of public morality or religious strictures. As of 2019, CPVPV officers are much less visible, but there are reports that they still encourage people to go to prayer, ensure shops/restaurants close at prayer times, and intervene if they see any behavior they deem inconsistent with Islamic mores. The most common enforcement issues continue to be the association between persons of the opposite sex who are not family members, and women who do not wear an abaya (a cloak-like garment) in public or who do not cover their arms and legs.  Incidents involving the CPVPV often increase during the holy month of Ramadan.  To resolve CPVPV interactions without verbal altercations or difficult confrontations, listen to the CPVPV officer and indicate understanding of the CPVPV officer’s admonition.

Saudi officials have recently cracked down on illegal shisha and alcohol sales in Riyadh-area compounds. In addition, they have closed businesses that have previously operated without Saudi sponsorship, and detained individuals who do not have official status in Saudi Arabia.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Detained or arrested U.S. citizens should contact the Embassy immediately for assistance. These individuals will need to resolve the matter through the local legal system, and should consult with a licensed Saudi attorney. Authorities may detain suspects for months without charging them, pending final disposition of a criminal case.

Crime Victim Assistance

The emergency number throughout Saudi Arabia is 999. For assistance, contact American Citizen Services at the following numbers and emails:

Riyadh: (966) (11) 488 3800, RiyadhACS@state.gov

Jeddah: (966) (12) 667 0080, JeddahACS@state.gov

Dhahran: (966) (13) 330 3200, DhahranACS@state.gov

For local first responders, refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page.

Police/Security Agencies

The Ministry of Interior (MOI) is responsible for policing throughout Saudi Arabia. Various units within the MOI have oversight over different areas of policing, security, and enforcement.

Medical Emergencies

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center

Tel: (966) (11) 464-7272

Emergency Tel: (966) (11) 442-3838

Poison Control: (966) (11) 442-7604 (Sunday-Thursday)

With the reputation of being the premier hospital and referral center in Saudi Arabia, the hospital specializes in serious life-threatening conditions (e.g. cardiac arrest, trauma, head injuries, etc.). It does not provide medical services to expatriates. In an emergency, it will stabilize an individual for transfer to a private medical facility.

Kingdom Hospital

P.O. Box: 84400, Riyadh, 11671

Tel (966) (11) 275-1111

Emergency Tel: dial ext. 1 or ext. 5301

One of the newest facilities, the hospital has a 24-hour emergency department best suited for non-life threatening medical conditions or injuries (e.g. broken bones, lacerations, etc.). It has evening private clinics.

King Abdulaziz National Guard Hospital

P.O. BOX 22490, Riyadh 11426

Tel: (966) (11) 252-0088

Emergency Tel: dial ext. 3332

Poison Control (966) (11) 252-0088 ext. 2200 (24 hours per day/seven days per week)

Best hospital for mass casualties. It has evening and daytime private clinics.

Dr. Sulaiman Al Habib Takhassusi Hospital

P.O. Box 2000, Riyadh 11393 KSA

Tel: (966) (11) 283-3333

Emergency Tel: (966) (11) 283-3500

This is one of the newest private healthcare facilities, and offers multi-specialty medical services. Located in Al Rahmaniah District, it is not far from the U.S. Embassy. The hospital has a 24/7 emergency department, which can provide intensive care services to pediatric and adult patients. It has the largest private cardio-surgery unit in the Kingdom and can manage trauma cases.

King Khaled University Hospital, King Saud University

P.O. Box 7805, Riyadh 11472 KSA

Outpatient Specialized Polyclinic

Tel: (966) (11) 469-0077

Emergency Tel: (966) (11) 467-1079 / 469-9199

KKUH is one of the largest government medical school healthcare facilities. It has a 24-hour emergency department, which can accommodate intensive care for acute medical and surgical emergencies, although only on a short-term basis until a condition stabilizes for transfer to a private medical facility. It is one of the few facilities in the Kingdom with a burn unit. It has an Outpatient Specialized Polyclinic (evening clinic) that can provide medical services to expatriates.

Specialized Medical Center

P.O. Box 66548, Riyadh 11586 KSA

Tel: (966) (11) 434-3800

Emergency Tel: (966) (11) 434-3800 ext. 1036

SMC is a private healthcare facility offering primary care service. It has a 24-hour emergency department that can provide intensive care services to pediatric and adult patients.

Available Air Ambulance Services

  • The King Faisal Hospital in Riyadh: Tel: (966) (11) 464-7272 ext. 33333 or 31448
  • SOS International: Tel: 0044-2080-762-8133
  • Air Response: Tel: 001-303-858-9967
  • Air Medical Services: Tel: 001-305-359-4730
  • Air Ambulance Network: Tel: 001-727-934-3999

 

Insurance Guidance

Review medical insurance options prior to traveling to the country.

Country specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Saudi Arabia.

In 2018, Saudi Red Crescent Authority (SRCA – a humanitarian society that provides emergency medical services throughout KSA) launched a new 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.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Country Council in Riyadh meets monthly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Middle East and North Africa team with any questions, or to join.  

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

Embassy Riyadh: Located at Collector Road M, Riyadh Diplomatic Quarter

Hours of Operation: 0800-1700, Sunday-Thursday

Embassy Contact Numbers

Tel: (966) (11) 488-3800

Website: https://sa.usembassy.gov/

Nearby Posts

Consulate Dhahran

Consulate Jeddah

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to Saudi Arabia should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

Additional Resources

Saudi Arabia Country Information

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