Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country in which Islamic law is strictly enforced. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas.
It is forbidden to eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours during the month of Ramadan. The law is strictly enforced. In 2016, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 6 June and finish on 5 July.
The public practice of any form of religion other than Islam is illegal; as is an intention to convert others. However, the Saudi authorities accept the private practice of religions other than Islam, and you can bring a Bible into the country as long as it is for your personal use. Importing larger quantities than this can carry severe penalties.
Islamic codes of behaviour and dress are strictly enforced.
- Women should wear conservative, loose-fitting clothes as well as a full length cloak (abaya) and a headscarf.
- Men should not wear shorts in public.
- It is illegal for women to drive.
- Homosexual acts and adultery are illegal and can be subject to severe sanctions.
- Penalties for the possession of, or trade in alcohol are severe. Both result in prison sentences. Do not arrive in Saudi Arabia under the influence of alcohol.
- If you bring medication with you, carry a doctor’s prescription.
- Importing pork products is forbidden.
- The possession of pornographic material, or of illustrations of scantily dressed people, especially women, is prohibited. Electronic devices may be screened by customs officials on arrival and departure.
- The punishment for smuggling drugs includes the death penalty.
- Photographing government buildings, military installations, and palaces is not allowed. You should avoid photographing local people.
- It is illegal to hold two passports in Saudi Arabia. Second passports will be confiscated by the immigration authorities if they are discovered.
You should carry a photocopy of your passport for identification. Make sure you have included emergency contact details.
The Saudi legal system differs in many ways from the UK. Suspects can be held without charge and are not always allowed quick access to legal representation. The Saudi authorities have detained witnesses and victims of crimes. If you need consular assistance, British Embassy staff will try to visit you as soon as they are aware of the case, but in some instances Embassy staff have not been permitted to do so immediately or have had access limited.
Anyone involved in a commercial dispute with a Saudi company or individual may be prevented from leaving the country pending resolution of the dispute. Government bodies often retain passports for official purposes; sponsors also sometimes retain passports, although this is illegal.