Local laws and customs

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.

In 2020, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 23 April and finish on 23 May. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dusk to dawn. Saudi authorities advise that it is respectful to avoid eating or drinking in public during the day at this time. See Travelling during Ramadan.

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 religious text into the country as long as it is for your personal use. Importing larger quantities than this can carry severe penalties.

With the launch of the tourist e-visa on 28 September 2019, Saudi Arabia announced new regulations related to public conduct and decency. Men and women are required to refrain from public displays of affection, and avoid using profane language or gestures. Taking pictures or recording videos without permission is not permitted. Visitors to Saudi Arabia should familiarise themselves with public decency laws.

Local laws require men and women to dress modestly covering shoulders and knees in public, avoiding tight-fitting clothing or clothes with profane language or images. It is not mandatory for female travellers to wear the traditional robe or abaaya. Information on important laws and etiquette around dress codes is available to visitors on the Visit Saudi website.

As of June 2018 women are legally able to obtain a licence to drive a car, motorbikes and scooters. You should seek guidance from the local authorities on how to apply for a local licence.

Homosexual or extra-marital sexual relations, including adultery, are illegal and can be subject to severe penalties. It’s also illegal to be transgender. Transgender people travelling to Saudi Arabia are likely to face significant difficulties and risks if this is discovered by the authorities. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.

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. Binoculars should not be brought into Saudi Arabia and may be confiscated at the port of entry.

It’s illegal to hold 2 passports in Saudi Arabia. Second passports will be confiscated by the immigration authorities if they’re 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.