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The Basics

Time: GMT +3

Electricity: Electrical current is 230 volts, 60Hz. Three-pin, flat-bladed plugs are in use, in addition to round/flat-bladed two-pin plugs, as well as flat-bladed two-pin plugs with a third, round pin for grounding.

Money: The Saudi currency is the Riyal (SAR), divided into 100 halala. Foreign currency can be changed at banks and exchange bureaux. Banking hours are generally Saturday to Wednesday from 8am to 12pm. Some banks also choose to open again later in the afternoon and stay open into the evening, from 5pm to 8pm. All major credit cards are accepted at shops, hotels, and restaurants in Saudi Arabia. ATMs are widely available.

Currency Exchange Rates

SAR 1.00 = AUD 0.38 CAD 0.35 EUR 0.23 NZD 0.39 GBP 0.20 USD 0.27 ZAR 3.79
Note: These currency exchange rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.

Language: Arabic is the official language in Saudi Arabia, but English is widely understood.

Entry requirements:

Entry requirements for Americans: US citizens require a passport and visa to enter Saudi Arabia, and must be valid for the duration of their stay.
Entry requirements for UK nationals: British passport holders require a passport that is valid for a minimum of six months from the date of arrival, and a visa to enter Saudi Arabia.
Entry requirements for Canadians: Canadians require a passport that is valid for a minimum of six months from the date of arrival, and a visa to enter Saudi Arabia.
Entry requirements for Australians: Australians require a passport that is valid for a minimum of six months from the date of arrival, and a visa to enter Saudi Arabia.
Entry requirements for South Africans: South Africans require a passport that is valid for a minimum of six months from the date of arrival, and a visa to enter Saudi Arabia.
Entry requirements for New Zealand nationals: New Zealanders require a passport that is valid for a minimum of six months from the date of arrival, and a visa to enter Saudi Arabia.

Passport/Visa Note: All visitors require a visa to enter Saudi Arabia, and visas are only granted to those with sponsorship in the country. Tourist visas are hard to get, granted only to selected groups on a limited basis. Everyone who enters the Kingdom should have a valid passport with at least six months validity in addition to the appropriate visa and a return ticket, with all necessary documents. Muslim women entering the Kingdom alone must be met by a sponsor or male relative and have confirmed accommodation for the duration of their stay. Entry may be refused to any visitor arriving in an intoxicated state, men wearing shorts, women in tight clothing or with legs and arms exposed, and to couples displaying affection in public. There are special requirements for pilgrims undertaking the Hajj or visiting holy sites. It is strongly recommended not to hold passports containing any Israeli visa or stamp when entering or transiting Saudi Arabia as entry may be refused.

Travel Health: Anyone arriving in Saudi Arabia from a country infected with yellow fever requires a vaccination certificate for entry. People travelling to perform Hajj and Umrah are required to be inoculated against meningitis before travel and must present a vaccination certificate on arrival. A meningococcal vaccine is recommended for all travellers. Respiratory infections are common among pilgrims during the Hajj and Ramadan season. Not compulsory, but definitely advisable, is vaccination against hepatitis A, polio, and typhoid fever. There is a malaria risk in the south and parts of the western region of the country and visitors should take advice on anti-malarial precautions at least four weeks before leaving; an outbreak of cerebral malaria has occurred in Jizan. Rift Valley Fever has also occurred, mainly in the Jizan area. Dengue fever has been reported. Food poisoning is a risk outside the good hotels. Visitors should only drink bottled water. The standard of medical care and facilities in Saudi Arabia is high, but treatment is expensive, therefore health insurance is strongly advised for all travellers.

Tipping: Service charge is usually included in bills at hotels. Elsewhere a tip of 10 percent can be offered for services rendered. Taxi drivers can be given 10 percent of the fare.

Safety Information: Travel safety in Saudi Arabia is a concern. The US and British authorities believe terrorists may be planning further attacks against Westerners and in places associated with Westerners in Saudi Arabia following incidents in which foreign nationals were killed. Aviation interests remain a possible terrorist target. Attacks in the past have included kidnappings, targeted shootings, and bombings of shopping areas, government offices and car bombs. All travel within 60 miles (100km) of the border with Yemen due to the clashes along the Saudi-Yemeni border. Visitors who choose to risk entering the country should ensure they have individual security arrangements, remain vigilant, keep a low profile, and avoid public gatherings. Visitors should be particularly alert in public places frequented by foreigners such as shopping malls, restaurants, and hotels and in the desert outside Riyadh. Pilgrims are increasingly being targeted by pickpockets in Mecca and Medina and are advised to take care of personal possessions. In recent years pilgrims have died due to overcrowding and stampedes at events during Haj. Religious police patrols rigorously enforce codes of behaviour and dress prescribed by Islamic law and visitors should respect these.

Local Customs: Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country in which Islamic law is strictly enforced. No alcohol, pork products, or religious books and artefacts not related to Islam are permitted in the country. There are no bars in Saudi Arabia, and alcohol is served nowhere to anyone of any religious persuasion. Dress should be conservative at all times, and women should take particular care not to offend. Visitors are advised to familiarise themselves with behaviour and dress codes before entering the country. Homosexual behaviour and extra-marital sexual relations, including adultery are illegal and can carry the death penalty. It is also illegal to be transgender. Photography of local people, government buildings, military installations, and palaces is not allowed. Religious customs should be respected, particularly during the month of Ramadan when eating, drinking, and smoking during daylight hours should be discreet as it is forbidden by the Muslim culture. The right hand should be used for everything, including eating and the giving and receiving of things, as the left is considered unclean. It is illegal to hold two passports, and second passports will be confiscated if discovered by immigration authorities.

Business: If you are looking to do business in Saudi Arabia, prepare yourself for a unique experience. The Saudi corporate world is perhaps the most foreign of any of the Gulf nations, and in all likelihood you are going to have to remain flexible and to learn new skills, in order to make a real success of your time in the country. It is vitally important to understand that Saudi society is underpinned by fervent belief in the tenets of Islam. The business culture of Saudi Arabia is prototypically Arabic, in that a great emphasis is placed on personal relationships between business associates - Saudi businessmen will always prefer to do business with people they are familiar with, or people who they feel they can trust, so it is worth putting in the time and effort to cultivate business relationships. In Saudi Arabia, business meetings will most likely be lengthy, and subject to numerous interruptions and personal digressions. You will be judged on your conduct in meetings, so treat them as necessary parts of the relationship-building process. Despite the heat, business dress in Saudi Arabia is strictly smart, formal and conservative, especially for women, who must take extreme care not to wear anything too revealing. The official language of Saudi Arabia is Arabic, though English is widely spoken and widely understood in the business world. Hours of business are generally from 8am to 12pm, and then 3pm to 6pm, from Saturday to Thursday.

Communications: The international dialling code for Saudi Arabia is +966. Mobile telephone coverage is extensive, even in remote parts of the country. Internet facilities are available in most towns and cities.

Duty free:

Travellers to Saudi Arabia do not have to pay duty on 600 cigarettes or 100 cigars or 500g tobacco, perfume or cultured pearls for personal use, or goods up to the value SAR3,000. Duty is payable on cameras and other electronic goods, and refunds on these are available if the articles are re-exported within 90 days.

Strictly prohibited are pork, narcotics, alcoholic drinks, anti-Islamic goods and publications, gambling devices, weapons and ammunition, explosives, fireworks, unlabelled medication, goods which prominently display flags of another country, goods bearing names and pictures of celebrities, wild animal hides, counterfeit money. Other prohibited items include formula milk, natural sand, and natural pearls.

History: A chronology of key events in the history of Saudi Arabia: 1871 - The Ottomans take control of the province of Hasa. 1891 - The Al Saud family are exiled to Kuwait by the Rashidi family. 1902 - Abd-al-Aziz Bin-Abd-al-Rahman Bin-Faysal Bin-Turki Bin-Abdallah Bin-Muhammad Al Saud (often known as Ibn Saud) takes control of Riyadh bringing the Al Saud family back into Saudi Arabia. 1912 - The Ikhwan (Brotherhood) is founded based on Wahhabism; it grows quickly and provides key support for Abd-al-Aziz. 1913 - Hasa is captued from the Ottomans by Abd-al-Aziz. 1921 - Abd-al-Aziz takes the title Sultan of Najd. 1924-25- The Kingdom of Hijaz, home to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, is captured. Brotherhood trouble 1926 - Abd-al-Aziz is proclaimed King of the Hijaz in the Grand Mosque of Mecca. 1928-30 - The Ikhwan turn against Abd-al-Aziz due to the modernisation of the region and the increasing numbers of non-Muslims. They are defeated by Abd-al-Aziz. 1932 September - The areas controlled by Abd-al-Aziz are unified under the name Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Abd-al-Aziz is proclaimed King. 1933 - King Abd-al-Aziz's eldest son, Saud, is named crown prince. 1938 - Oil is discovered and production begins under the US-controlled Aramco (Arabian American Oil Company). 1953 November - King Abd-al-Aziz dies and is succeeded by Saudi Arabia profilethe Crown Prince Saud. The new king's brother Faisal is named crown prince. King Saud deposed 1960 - Saudi Arabia is a founding member of Opec (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries). 1964 November - King Saud is deposed by his brother Faisal. 1970 - The OIC (Organisation of the Islamic Conference) is founded in Jeddah. 1972 - Saudi Arabia gains control of a proportion (20%) of Aramco, lessening US control over Saudi oil. 1973 - Saudi Arabia leads an oil boycott against the Western countries that supported Israel in the October War against Egypt and Syria. Oil prices quadruple. King Faisal assassinated 1975 March - King Faisal is assassinated by his nephew and succeeded by his brother Khalid. 1979 - Saudi Arabia severs diplomatic relations with Egypt after it makes peace with Israel. 1979 - Extremists seize the Grand Mosque of Mecca; the government regains control after 10 days and those captured are executed. 1980 - Saudi Arabia takes full control of Aramco from the US. 1981 May - Saudi Arabia is a founder member of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council). King Khalid dies 1982 June - King Khalid dies of a heart attack and is succeeded by his brother, Crown Prince Fahd. 1986 November - King Fahd adds the title "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques" to his name. 1987 - Saudi Arabia resumes diplomatic relations with Egypt, severed since 1979. 1990 - Saudi Arabia condemns Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and asks the US to intervene; it allows foreign troops, the Kuwaiti government and many of its citizens to stay in Saudi Arabia but expels citizens of Yemen and Jordan because of their governments' support of Iraq. Saudi attacks Iraq 1991 - Saudi Arabia is involved in both air attacks on Iraq and in the land force that went on to liberate Kuwait. 1992 March - King Fahd announces the "Basic System of Government" emphasising the duties and responsiblities of a ruler. He proposes setting up a Consultative Council (Majlis al-Shura). 1993 September - King Fahd decrees the division of Saudi Arabia into thirteen administrative divisions. 1993 December - The Consultative Council is inaugurated. It is composed of a chairman and 60 members chosen by the king. 1994 - Islamic dissident Osama Bin Laden is stripped of his Saudi nationality. King Fahd ill 1995 November - King Fahd has a stroke. Crown Prince Abdullah takes on the day-to-day running of the country. 1996 February - King Fahd resumes control of state affairs. 1996 June - A bomb explodes at the US military complex near Dhahran killing 19 and wounding over 300. 1997 July - King Fahd increases the members of the Consultative Council from 60 to 90. 1999 October - Twenty Saudi women attend a session of the Consultative Council for the first time. 2001 March - Several British workers are arrested in Riyadh after a series of blasts in which a British and an American national are killed. Relations with US 2001 11 September - 15 of the 19 hijackers involved in attacks on New York and Washington are Saudi nationals. 2001 December - King Fahd calls for the eradication of terrorism, saying it is prohibited by Islam; government takes the unprecedented step of issuing ID cards to women. 2002 February - British man arrested in Riyadh after the March 2001 bombings claims the Saudi authorities tortured him and forced a confession. The man, Ron Jones, had been released after being allowed to retract his confession. 2002 May - Revised criminal code includes ban on torture and right of suspects to legal representation, but rights campaigners say violations continue. 2002 November - Saudi foreign minister says his country will not allow the US to use its facilities to attack Iraq, even in a UN-sanctioned strike. 2003 April - US says it will pull out almost all its troops from Saudi Arabia, ending a military presence dating back to the 1991 Gulf war. Both countries stress that they will remain allies. 2003 May - Suicide bombers kill 35 people at housing compounds for Westerners in Riyadh hours before US Secretary of State Colin Powell flies in for planned visit. Signs of dissent 2003 September - More than 300 Saudi intellectuals - women as well as men - sign petition calling for far-reaching political reforms. 2003 October - Police break up unprecedented rally in centre of Riyadh calling for political reform. More than 270 people are arrested. 2003 November - Suicide attack by suspected al-Qaeda militants on residential compound in Riyadh leaves 17 dead and scores injured. 2003 November - King grants wider powers to Consultative Council, enabling it to propose legislation without his permission. 2004 February - Stampede at Hajj pilgrimage leaves 251 dead. Attacks 2004 April - Four police officers and a security officer killed in attacks near Riyadh. Car bomb at security forces' HQ in Riyadh kills four, wounds 148. Group linked to al-Qaeda claims responsibility. 2004 May - Attack at petrochemical site in Yanbu kills five foreigners. Attack and hostage-taking at oil company compound in Khobar; 22 people are killed. 2004 June - Three gun attacks in Riyadh within a week leave two Americans and a BBC cameraman dead. The same week, a US engineer is abducted and beheaded, his filmed death causing revulsion in America. Security forces kill local al-Qaeda leader Abdul Aziz al-Muqrin shortly afterwards, but an amnesty for militants which follows has only limited effect despite a fall in militant activity. 2004 December - Attack on US consulate in Jeddah; five staff and four attackers are killed.Two car bombs explode in central Riyadh; security forces kill seven suspects in a subsequent raid. 2005 February-April - First-ever nationwide municipal elections. Women do not take part in the poll. 2005 1 August - Saudi royal court announces death of King Fahd. He is succeeded by the former crown prince, Abdullah. 2005 September - Five gunmen and three police officers killed in clashes in the eastern city of Dammam. 2005 November - World Trade Organization gives the green light to Saudi Arabia's membership following 12 years of talks. 2006 January - 363 Hajj pilgrims are killed in a crush during a stone-throwing ritual in Mecca. In a separate incident, more than 70 pilgrims are killed when a hostel in the city collapses. 2006 February - Government says it has foiled a planned suicide bomb attack on a major oil-processing plant at Abqaiq. 2006 June - Six men allegedly linked to al-Qaeda are killed in a shootout with police in Riyadh, the latest of several incidents involving Islamist militants. 2006 October - Saudi Arabia moves to formalise the royal succession in an apparent bid to prevent infighting among the next generation of princes. 2006 December - Britain halts a fraud investigation into the Al-Yamamah defence deal with Saudi Arabia. 2007 February - Four French nationals are killed in a suspected terror attack near the north-western ruins of Madain Saleh, which are popular with tourists. Arrests 2007 April - Police say they have arrested 172 terror suspects, some of whom trained as pilots for suicide missions. 2007 July - Religious police are banned from detaining suspects. The force has come under increasing criticism for overzealous behaviour after recent deaths in custody. 2007 September - Saudi Arabia, Britain agree a deal for 72 Eurofighter Typhoon combat jets. 2007 October - Royal decree orders an overhaul of the judicial system. 2007 December - Authorities announce arrest of a group of men suspected of planning attacks on holy sites during the Hajj pilgrimage. 2008 April - British High Court rules British government acted unlawfully in dropping corruption inquiry into the £43bn Saudi Al-Yamamah defence deal. 2008 July - British House of Lords reverses High Court decision and says their government acted lawfully in dropping investigation into the Al-Yamamah defence deal as the Saudis had threatened to withdraw cooperation with London on security matters. 2008 December - Saudi Arabia and Qatar agree final delineation of border. 2009 February - Interpol issues security alerts for 85 men suspected of plotting attacks in Saudi Arabia, in its largest group alert. All but two are Saudis. 2009 April - Saudi Arabia says it has arrested 11 al-Qaeda militants who were allegedly planning attacks on police installations, armed robberies and kidnappings. 2009 June - US President Barack Obama visits Saudi Arabia as part of a Middle East tour aimed at increasing US engagement with the Islamic world. Al-Qaeda trial 2009 July - A court issues verdicts in the first explicit terrorism trial for al-Qaeda militants in the country. Officials say 330 suspects were tried, but do not specify how many were found guilty. One is sentenced to death. 2009 August - Saudi Arabia says it has arrested 44 suspected militants with alleged links to al-Qaeda. 2009 November - Saudi troops move to enforce buffer zone in northern Yemen after becoming involved in border clashes with Yemeni rebels. 2010 October - US officials confirm plan to sell $60 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia - the most lucrative single arms deal in US history. 2010 November - Officials announce arrest of 149 militants over past eight months, most of them allegedly belonging to al-Qaeda. 2010 December - Diplomatic cables revealed by whistle-blowing website Wikileaks suggest US concern that Saudi Arabia is the ''most significant'' source of funding for Sunni terrorist groups worldwide. Protests 2011 February - King Abdullah announces increased welfare spending, as unrest continues across Arab world. 2011 March - Public protests banned, after small demonstrations in mainly Shia areas of the east. King Abdullah warns that threats to the nation's security and stability will not be tolerated. 2011 June - Saudi women mount symbolic protest drive in defiance of ban on female drivers. 2011 September - King Abdullah announces more rights for women, including the right to vote and run in municipal elections and to be appointed to the consultative Shura Council. A woman is sentenced to 10 lashes after being found guilty of driving, in the first legal punishment for violating the ban on women drivers. King Abdullah overturns the sentence. 2011 October - Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz al Saud is named as the heir to the throne, after Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz al Saud dies. 2011 December - US confirms major sale of fighter jets to Saudi Arabia. 2012 April - Fifty men suspected of links to al-Qaeda go on trial. Charges include the 2003 bombing of an expatriates' compound. 2012 June - Crown Prince Nayef dies, succeeded by more liberal defence minister, the 76-year-old Prince Salman. Saudi Arabia agrees to allow its women athletes to compete in the Olympics for the first time, against the background of speculation that the entire Saudi team might be disqualified on grounds of gender discrimination. 2012 September - Human-rights activists Mohammad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid go on trial, the former charged with setting up an unlicensed organisation. 2013 February - King Abdullah swears in 30 women to the previously all-male Shura consultative council - the first time women have been able to hold any political office. 2013 October - Saudi Arabia turns down a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, accusing the world body of double standards for what the kingdom sees a failure to act on Syria, where it staunchly backs the rebels. Amnesty International accuses Riyadh of failing to improve its human rights record following a critical report by the UN Human Rights Council in 2009, and of having "ratcheted up" repression instead. 2014 February - New anti-terrorism law introduced which activists say will further stifle dissent. 2014 March - Saudi Arabia designates several Islamist groups as terrorist organisations and bans funding or support for them. The groups include the Muslim Brotherhood, the Al-Nusra front and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). 2014 September - Saudi Arabia and four other Arab states take part together with the United States in air strikes against Islamic State militant strongholds in Syria. New king 2015 January - King Salman ascends throne after King Abdullah dies. 2015 March - Saudi Arabia launches campaign of air strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. 2015 April - In a major generational shift, King Salman appoints his nephew, Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef, as crown prince. 2015 May - Two suicide bomb attacks on Shia mosques in Eastern Province kill at least 25 people, claimed by Saudi branch of Islamic Group Sunni extremist group. 2015 September - Hundreds die in stampede near Mecca during annual Hajj pilgrimage, days after 109 people perished when a crane collapsed at the Grand Mosque, raising further concerns about safety standards during these mass events. 2015 November - Women stand in municipal elections for first time, 20 are elected. 2016 January - Crowds in Tehran set Saudi embassy alight in protest at execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, which also prompted Shia demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon. Saudi Arabia breaks off diplomatic relations with Iran. 2016 April - Egypt promises to hand two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, sparking unrest among Egyptians. Government approves a plan for far-reaching reforms to diversify the economy away from oil. 2016 June - A United Nations report accuses the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen of killing and injuring hundreds of children. 2016 July - The Islamic State group is accused of a series of bombings, including one close to the Prophet's Mosque in Medina - the second most sacred site in Islam. 2017 August-October - Houthi rebels in Yemen carry out rocket attacks into Saudi Arabia as Saudi-led coalition increases bombing of rebel-held territory in Yemen. 2017 February - The Saudi Stock Exchange and a major bank name women as their chief executives. 2017 June - Saudi Arabia sparks a diplomatic crisis by leading an air, land and sea blockade by Arab countries, in an attempt to get Qatar to cut its alleged connections with terrorism and distance itself from Iran.King Salman names his son Mohammed bin Salman first in line to the throne. 2017 September - Ban on women driving formally lifted, although they won't be able to drive until 2018. 2017 November - Purge of the kingdom's political and business leadership in an apparent move by the heir to the throne to consolidate his hold on power. 2018 March - A missile launched by Yemen's Houthi rebels is intercepted over Riyadh, but resulting fragments kill a man. 2018 April - Public cinema returns, almost 40 years after it was banned as un-Islamic. Source - BBC News © 2017 BBC