Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Consulate General Jeddah does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED JEDDAH AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Please review OSAC’s Saudi Arabia-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.
In 2012, Saudi Aramco was the victim of one of the first, well-documented, cyberattacks to take place in the Gulf. Based on open media reports and cyber security experts, Aramco’s computer network was compromised by someone who had access to the network. A virus was inserted into the network, likely via a USB memory stick. Aramco and the government have not disclosed who was responsible for the attack. Shortly thereafter, a very similar cyberattack was launched against RasGas, the Qatari natural gas company. The government, through the Ministry of Interior (MOI), entered into several technology and training agreements with the U.S. government. Since the inception of this relationship, a collaborative environment has developed between U.S. cyber security experts and MOI.
The U.S. Embassy/Consulates continually asses the cybersecurity environment in Saudi Arabia. During regular OSAC Country Council meetings, U.S. Consulate General Jeddah RSO has provided briefings on cybersecurity issues. These briefings include how to stay safe online, avoiding spear phishing, social media targeting, risk factors associated with geo-tagging, and best practices for network security.
Other Areas of Concern
The Travel Warning restricted U.S. government personnel and their families from travel in the following areas:
- Within 50 miles of the Yemeni border
- the cities of Jizan and Najran
- Qatif in the Eastern province and its suburbs, including Awamiyah
- Hofuf and its suburbs in the Al Hasa governorate.
ISIS-linked attacks on foreigners and Shia in Qatif and al Hasa prompted the U.S. Embassy to place those areas off limits to official U.S. government travel.
Ongoing regional conflicts are also an issue for travelers, as instability in Iraq and the war in Yemen continue to produce attacks on the northern and southern borders of Saudi Arabia.
- Saudi Arabia continued military strikes into Yemen in an attempt to stem the advance of the Houthi militia. Yemen’s Houthi militia launched multiple SCUD missiles into Saudi Arabia, although missiles either did not hit their intended target or were intercepted by the Saudi military. KSA 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 (fingerprinting passengers at airports, constructing a wall along the Saudi-Yemen border).
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Physical road conditions in larger cities are generally fair to good; in contrast, roads in rural areas are less developed. Road surfaces may range from pavement to sand/gravel, without road markings, lighting, and/or reflectors. Drivers sometimes drive with no lights, in the wrong direction, and in reverse, even on well-traveled highways. Drivers should use extreme caution when 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.
Authorities have taken steps to curb unruly motorists through the implementation of the SAHER Road Safety Program in 2009 that utilizes speed and red light cameras in conjunction with a nationwide, computerized database of registered vehicle owners. This program has led to a tangible improvement in driving conduct, though lack of enforcement contributes to reckless driving. Traffic police have yet to move toward actively enforcing the traffic management laws.
In Jeddah, traffic accidents are common and often result in serious injuries/fatalities. Driving is extremely hazardous due to excessive speeding, aggressive driving, lax enforcement of traffic regulations, and a high volume of traffic. In the event of a traffic accident resulting in personal injuries, all persons involved may be taken to the local police station. Drivers may be detained for several days until culpability is determined and appropriate reparations are paid. Those involved in an accident should immediately contact their sponsor for assistance if necessary.
Short-term male visitors may drive using their U.S. driver’s license or international driver’s license. However, U.S. citizens employed in Saudi Arabia must obtain a Saudi driver’s license from the Traffic Department. Authorities will not recognize foreign licenses held by women nor will they issue driver’s licenses to women. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”
Motorists should regularly modify their routes and travel times for security reasons.
Public Transportation Conditions
Public transportation is growing, and several projects are in the planning phases. In 2014, the Saudi Railways Company (SAR) announced a multi-billion dollar plan for rail infrastructure. The goal is to be the regional leader in cargo transportation, with special emphasis placed on creating a robust railway plan for cargo between Jeddah, Riyadh, and Dammam.
Taxis are available throughout major cities, in particular at hotels and may be telephoned or summoned via smartphone app to pick up passengers at other locations. Travelers are encouraged to only use established taxi companies, such as those offering cabs with meters.
Several international airports exist in Saudi Arabia, and security is generally considered to be adequate. The international airports use biometric systems for immigration processing. Jeddah is in the process of building a new international airport designed to better handle the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca by many Muslims. The U.S. Transportation Security Agency (TSA) assesses the Kingdom’s international airports on a regular basis. Some lapses (inconsistent management of badges) have been identified.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED JEDDAH AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
Terrorist operations remain a concern for travelers to Saudi Arabia. ISIS, and to a lesser extent AQAP, continue to encourage terrorist attacks in the Kingdom and aspire to destabilize the Saudi Arabian government. ISIS continues to demonstrate the ability to inspire individuals to conduct attacks and the operational control to plan and conduct attacks inside Saudi Arabia.
According to figures released by official Saudi sources, there were 34 terrorist attacks in 2016. In addition to those attacks, Saudi security services conducted dozens of raids on terrorist plotters and facilitators. An official press release stated the government made over 190 arrests of ISIS-affiliated terrorists in 2016. Significant recent terrorist events include:
- August 6, 2016: A suicide bomber detonated an explosive device in a mosque in Abha (approximately 400 miles south of Jeddah), killing 17 members of the Saudi security forces.
- July 4, 2016: Coordinated bombings struck three cities: a suicide bomber struck near Consulate Jeddah, wounding two security officers and a civilian and killing the bomber; an attack on a security post near the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, killing four guards; and, an attack near a Shia mosque in Qatif, killing the bomber.
- Multiple attacks since January 2015 have been linked to, or inspired by, ISIS rhetoric. There were four ISIS-linked suicide bombings of mosques, including two Shia mosques in Qatif and Dammam during May 2015, a Saudi MOI Special Security Forces Sunni mosque in Abha in August 2015, and a Shia mosque in Najran City in September 2015.
- March 15-19, 2015: Consular services at the U.S. Embassy and Consulates were canceled due to heightened security concerns at U.S. diplomatic facilities in the Kingdom.
The Saudi government’s capacity to combat transnational and domestic terrorism has increased dramatically. The Saudis have undertaken several initiatives that have led to arrests, identification of smuggling routes, and interdiction of attempts by ISIS and others to cross the border illegally. The government continues to have a strong security force that has increased its capacity to respond quickly anywhere in the Kingdom. The Saudi government has also increased its use of media to announce arrests and to request assistance from the populace to identify and locate terrorists.
- January 21, 2017: A suspected terrorist was arrested and two blew themselves up with suicide belts when Saudi forces conducted a raid on a house in Jeddah.
- September 2015: Saudi authorities arrested two ISIS-inspired individuals in Riyadh who had turned their residence into a bomb-making factory.
- April 2015: MOI arrested 93 ISIS operatives.
The most recent State Department Worldwide Caution states that ISIS has called on supporters to attack U.S. citizens “wherever they are.” A suicide bomber blew himself up outside of the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah on July 4, 2016. Due to ISIS’s activity in Saudi Arabia and the ISIS leadership directive, Westerners (particularly Americans) and Western interests remain targets for terrorist groups within KSA.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED JEDDAH AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Security forces generally do not tolerate public demonstrations and move quickly to prevent them from forming or gathering momentum. Security forces have sufficient resources in terms of equipment and manpower to respond to any civil disturbance.
The most significant religious/ethnic disturbances materialized during protests in the Eastern Province (EP). The EP is home to the largest concentration of the Shia sect in KSA.
- In January 2016, protests of the Saudi government’s executions of a Shia cleric and three other Shia on incitement charges occurred in the predominantly Shia area of Qatif. Police employed checkpoints in the EP, particularly around Qatif, where security forces continue to maintain a robust presence. Protests and sporadic violent confrontations between police and Shia youth occur intermittently.
Extremely high summer temperatures and pervasive dust present ongoing, but predictable, environmental hazards. Ensure adequate water is available and carefully plan all trips during the summer to ensure access to water and emergency communication.
Due to the inadequacy of drainage systems, any rainfall in Jeddah poses a serious risk of flooding, and caution should be exercised if rain is forecast. The last significant flooding occurred in Jeddah on November 17, 2015.
One of Saudi Arabia’s main concerns is access to fresh water. Saudi Arabia processes salt water from the Gulf into fresh water, which is transported through a pipeline to the interior. Riyadh, for example, only maintains a three-day supply of fresh water. As such, the water pipeline is a critical infrastructure concern.
Economic espionage and intellectual property rights (IPR) violations are prevalent. Copyright, trade secrets, and patent infringements in various industries and commodities remain a challenge. The government has improved protection and enforcement of IPR violations, which led to its removal from the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 Watch List in February 2010.
Personal Identity Concerns
Visitors should remain cognizant that KSA remains a very conservative country; understanding Saudi culture can assist visitors in blending in during their time in country.
LGBT identities are not openly tolerated or accepted. There is no evidence of hate crimes occurring against these groups. There is anecdotal, unconfirmed evidence (from social media) that religious police arrest members of the LGBT community and give them advice and literature on reforming their identities and sexual orientation.
Drug use among Saudi youth is an increasing concern, and narcotics smuggling continues to be a challenge along the border areas. MOI officials have identified border security as an area of concern and are addressing the issue through additional training and physical barriers. Large drug seizures are commonly reported in the media. Punishment for drug smuggling is death, and according to media reporting, at least 63 people were executed in 2015 for drug trafficking. Security officials have encountered armed resistance from traffickers.
The threat of kidnapping by terrorist groups continues despite the government’s counterterrorism efforts in recent years. Terrorist elements may resort to targeting individuals rather than carrying out large-scale attacks.
Criminal kidnappings have occurred and 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 KSA. The majority of cases involve one parent refusing to allow his/her child to return to the U.S. KSA is not a party to the Hague Abduction Convention, and custody orders and judgments of foreign courts are not enforceable in KSA 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, and religious/citizenship status affects the court’s judgment in custody cases.
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 enforcement efforts include large numbers of high-profile uniformed and plain-clothes officers working openly and covertly.
Saudi law is based on the local interpretation of Sharia law (the religious law of Islam), which is influenced by local customs and practices. Persons violating the laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, imprisoned, or even executed. Americans are subject to all local laws.
- Penalties for the import, manufacture, possession, and consumption of alcohol or illegal drugs are severe, and 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. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.”
- Religious 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. Religious police frequently reproach females for failure to observe strict dress codes and arrest anyone found with people who are not married or closely related. Incidents involving the religious police increase during Ramadan because many religious police believe they must increase assertion of their authority during the holy month.
- Saudi Arabia is patrolled by members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV, Haia, Mutawa, religious police). These officers encourage people to go to prayer, ensure shops/restaurants are closed at prayer times, and intervene if they see any behavior they deem “un-Islamic.” The most common enforcement issues are people being in the presence of a person of the opposite sex who is not a family member and women who are not covering their hair, arms, or feet.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
While many members of the Haia are respectful and polite, the enforcement can be harassing or even violent. Visitors should listen to the officer and let him know the visitor understands why s/he was stopped, in order to resolve the interaction peacefully and without confrontation.
Americans who are detained by police are strongly encouraged to immediately contact the Embassy/Consulate for assistance.
Crime Victim Assistance
The emergency number throughout KSA is 999.
Americans who become victims of crime are strongly encouraged to immediately contact the Embassy/Consulate for assistance. If accused of (or arrested for) a crime, Americans will need to resolve the matter through the local legal system. Suspects may be detained for months without being charged, pending final disposition of a criminal case.
The Ministry of Interior (MOI) is responsible for policing. There are various units within the MOI that have oversight over different areas of policing, security and enforcement.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
International Medical Center in Jeddah
Tel: (966) (12) 650-9000 ext. 2735 or 1002
King Fahad Armed Forces Hospital
Tel: (966) (12) 669-2085
Good quality but some difficulty with access for expatriates due to security.
King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Jeddah
Tel: (966) (12) 667-7777 ext. 7340
Emergency Tel: (966) (12) 667-7777 ext. 5555
Available Air Ambulance Services
The King Faisal Hospital in Riyadh, opened in October 2009, offered Saudi Arabia’s first helicopter medical evacuation service. 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
Saudi Arabia requires approved drivers to have vehicle insurance. Travelers should review medical insurance options prior to traveling to country.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Saudi Arabia.
OSAC Country Council Information
The Jeddah Country Council currently meets bi-monthly and has approximately 80 members. Please contact OSAC’s Middle East and North Africa team with any questions or to join.
U.S. Consulate Location and Contact Information
U.S. Consulate General Address and Hours of Operation
U.S. Consulate General, Saudi Arabia (located at intersection of Hail and Falasteen Street, Al-Hamra'a, Jeddah 23323, Saudi Arabia)
Hours of Operation: 0800-1700, Sun-Thurs
Consulate Contact Numbers
Tel: (966) (12) 667-0080
Embassy Riyadh: http://riyadh.usembassy.gov/
Consulate Dhahran: http://dhahran.usconsulate.gov/
U.S. travelers should register with Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
U.S. Department of State Saudi Arabia Travel Warning
U.S. Department of State Worldwide Caution
Saudi Arabia Country Information Sheet