This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in
Riyadh. OSAC encourages travelers to use
this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Saudi
Arabia. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Saudi Arabia country page
for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some
of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC
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 and the threat of missile and drone attacks on civilian targets. Do
not travel to within 50 miles of the border with Yemen due to terrorism and
armed conflict. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding
the Consular Travel Advisory System.
Crime and Safety Situation
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. 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. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should
Leave Behind, The Overseas Traveler’s
Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud, Taking Credit,
Hotels: The Inns and
Outs, and Considerations for
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 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.
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
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
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
Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling
with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite
Phones: Critical or Contraband?
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 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. 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.
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 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.
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 options are growing, and several projects
are in the construction phase. The Riyadh Metro, slated for completion in late 2020,
is currently one of the world’s largest infrastructure projects. Construction has
resulted in road closures and traffic rerouting.
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.
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
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.
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. 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 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. In
April 2019 armed terrorists attacked Saudi security forces in Qatif (Eastern
Province) and Zulfi (160 km northwest of Riyadh). On November 11, 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 RDX explosives and
materials for a car bomb in al Anud, a suburb of Dammam.
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 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 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.
Westerners, and particularly U.S. citizens, remain targets of
opportunity for terrorist groups and attacks inspired by terrorist rhetoric.
Religious, and Ethnic Violence
U.S. Department of State has assessed Jeddah as being a HIGH-threat location for political violence directed at or
affecting official U.S. government interests. 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,
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 Jizan and Najran; al-Qatif in the Eastern province and
its suburbs, including Awamiyah;
and Abha International Airport (AHB).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.
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
OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.
Extremely high summer temperatures and occasional dust storms present
ongoing environmental hazards. Ensure adequate water is available and carefully
plan trips during the summer to ensure access to water and emergency
One of Saudi Arabia’s main concerns is access to fresh water.
Saudi Arabia relies on desalinated water supplied from desalinization plants on
the east and west coasts. Riyadh only maintains a three-day supply of
fresh water. As such, the country’s desalinization plants and water pipeline network are a critical infrastructure concern.
Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Theft
The U.S. Trade Representative included Saudi Arabia on
its Special 301 Priority Watchlist in April 2019, due to ongoing intellectual
property rights (IPR) violations and concerns. Since then, the Kingdom took steps to shut down BeoutQ
and end its illicit broadcasts. However, U.S. IP holders continue to
voice concerns regarding the lack of IPR protection for innovative
pharmaceutical products, including the lack of adequate and effective
protection against unfair commercial use and unauthorized disclosure of test or
other data generated to obtain approval. Specifically, the Saudi Arabia
Food and Drug Authority (SFDA), which the Minister of Health oversees, has
authorized domestic companies to produce generic versions of pharmaceutical
products that are under patent protection either in Saudi Arabia or the Gulf
Cooperation Council (GCC), or that are still covered by Saudi Arabia’s system. In
addition, ongoing concerns regarding IP enforcement persist, including
difficulty for stakeholders to obtain information on the status of enforcement
actions and investigations, the lack of seizure and destruction of counterfeit and
pirated goods in markets, and limits on the ability to enter facilities
suspected to be involved in the sale or manufacture of counterfeit goods.
Personal Identity Concerns
Arabia remains a very conservative country; understanding Saudi culture can
assist visitors in blending in during their time in the country.
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. Minor children must have their father’s permission in
order to leave the Kingdom. Children visiting their fathers in Saudi Arabia,
even when there is a custody agreement, can be prevented from leaving 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 he or she has been granted physical custody. Foreign mothers of Saudi
children, who are divorced or widowed, 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. Review the
State Department’s webpage on security for female
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 OSAC’s report, Freedom
to Practice, and the State Department’s webpages on security for faith-based
travelers and the Hajj and
Umrah Fact Sheet.
Same-sex sexual activity
is illegal in Saudi Arabia. Saudi society does not openly tolerate or
accept LGBTI+ identities. Saudi law allows for the punishment of same-sex activity with
fines, corporal punishment, life in prison, or death. However, there is
no evidence of hate crimes occurring against members of these groups. 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. Review the State
Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+
with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from
what they generally find in the United States. Saudi law does not prohibit
discrimination against people with disabilities, and there is no legislation
requiring public accessibility. Newer commercial and government buildings,
however, often include such access. According to the Ministry of Labor and
Social Development, there are numerous government-sponsored centers for people
with disabilities. Note that Saudi Arabia has limited infrastructure to care
for those with mental disabilities. Review the State Department’s webpage on
security for travelers
use among Saudi youth is an increasing concern. Narcotics smuggling continues
to be a challenge along the border areas. Ministry of Interior (MOI) 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. The media commonly report
large drug seizures. Authorities frequently impose capital punishment for drug
smuggling. According to the most recent media reporting (January 2020), authorities
had executed 184 prisoners. There has been a rise in executions since 2015. In
April 2019, the Saudi government executed 37 men in one day, including a
prospective college student on his way to the U.S. As of publication,
authorities have executed four individuals for drug-related crimes in 2020.
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. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping:
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 his/her 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
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. The U.S. Consulate
General is unable to intervene if you violate Saudi law. Review OSAC’s report, Picture
This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.
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. Read the State Department’s webpage on customs
and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out
of other countries.
emergency in Saudi Arabia is 999 for
police, 997 for an ambulance, and 998 for the fire department/civil defense. 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, the police are particularly responsive to the needs of
the diplomatic and international business communities.
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.
for the import, manufacture, possession, and consumption of alcohol or illegal
drugs are severe. Convicted offenders can expect jail sentences, fines, public
flogging, 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. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.
are various units within the MOI with oversight over different areas of
policing, security and enforcement. Law enforcement efforts include large
numbers of high-profile uniformed and plain-clothes officers working openly and
of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV, Haia, Mutawa, religious police) patrol
Saudi Arabia. These officers encourage people to go to prayer, ensure
shops/restaurants close at prayer times, and intervene if they see any behavior
they deem “un-Islamic.” The most common enforcement issues are being in the
presence of a person of the opposite sex who is not a family member, and women
not covering their hair, arms, or feet. The Saudi Government has greatly curtailed
CPVPV arrest and enforcement powers, although they still retain statutory power
to harass people not complying with Sharia Law.
police enforce strict standards of social behavior, to include closing
commercial establishments during the five daily prayer observances, insisting
upon compliance with strict norms of public dress, dispersing gatherings of
women in public places designated for men, and preventing unaccompanied or
single men from entering public places designated for families. Historically, incidents
involving the religious police increase during Ramadan because many religious
police believe they must increase assertion of their authority during the holy
month, though this has decreased notably in the last two years due to new
policies issued by the Saudi government.
many members of the CPVPV are respectful and polite, enforcement can be in the
form of harassment or even violence. Listen to the officer and let him know you
understand why they stopped you to resolve the interaction peacefully and
without confrontation. Detained U.S. citizens should immediately contact the U.S.
Consulate for assistance.
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. Find contact information for
available medical services and available air ambulance services on the Consulate’s
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.
medical insurance options prior to traveling to the country. The U.S.
Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health
insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s
webpage on insurance
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. Many infectious diseases, such as
measles, typhoid, dengue, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), are
present in Saudi Arabia. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and
health guidance for Saudi
OSAC’s reports, The
Healthy Way, Traveling
with Medication, I’m
Drinking What in My Water?,Health 101: How to Prepare
for Travel, and Fire
OSAC Country Council
has an active OSAC Country Council. Contact OSAC’s Middle East & North Africa team for
Road M, Riyadh Diplomatic Quarter. P.O. Box 94309, Riyadh 11693.
of Operation: 0800-1700, Sunday-Thursday
Embassy Operator: +(966) (11) 488-3800
Department Emergency Line: +1-202-501-4444
Other U.S. Diplomatic Posts In Saudi
- Consulate Jeddah, Al Muhammadiyah District, near the new American School
building. Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. +966 12 220 5000.
you travel, consider the following resources: