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Saudi Arabia has a desert climate. In Jeddah it is warm for most of the year. Riyadh, which is inland, is hotter in summer and colder in winter, when occasional heavy rainstorms occur. The Rub al Khali (‘empty Quarter’) seldom receives rain, making Saudi Arabia one of the driest countries in the world.

Required Clothing

Tropical or lightweight clothing.

Social Conventions

Saudi culture is based on Islam and the perfection of the Arabic language. The Saudi form of Islam is conservative and fundamentalist, based on the 18th-century revivalist movement of the Najdi leader Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Abdel-Wahhab. This still has a great effect on Saudi society, especially on the position of women, who are required by law only to leave the home totally covered in black robes (abaya) and masks, although there are regional variations of dress. The Najd and other remote areas remain true to Wahhabi tradition, but throughout the country this way of life is being altered by modernization and rapid development. Shaking hands is the customary form of greeting. Invitations to private homes are unusual. Entertaining is usually in hotels or restaurants and although the custom of eating with the right hand persists, it is more likely that knives and forks will be used. A small gift either promoting the company or representing your country will generally be well received. Women are expected to dress modestly and it is best to do so to avoid offence. Men should not wear shorts in public or go without a shirt. The norms for public behavior are extremely conservative and religious police, known as Mutawwa’in, are charged with enforcing these standards. Customs regarding smoking are the same as in Europe and non-smoking areas are indicated. During Ramadan, Muslims are not allowed to eat, smoke or drink during the day and it is illegal for a foreign visitor to do so in public. Photography: Strictly speaking, photography is not permitted. However, many people do still take photos, but are careful to ask permission of the relevant authority before photographing people or any building.

Local food is often strongly flavored and spicy. The most common meats are lamb and chicken, beef is rare and pork is proscribed under Islamic law. The main meat meal of the day is lunch. Foreign cooking is on offer in larger towns and the whole range of international cuisine, including fast food, is available in the oil-producing Eastern Province and in Jeddah.
Things to know: Eating, drinking and smoking in public during the fasting hours of Ramadan will incur strict penalties. Restaurants have table service. There are no bars. Alcohol is forbidden by law, and there are severe penalties for infringement; it is important to note that this applies to all nationals regardless of religion.
National specialties:
• The staple diet is pitta bread (flat, unleavened bread) which accompanies every dish.
• Rice, lentils, chick peas (hummus) and cracked wheat (burghul) are also common.
Kultra (chicken or lamb on skewers) is popular for lunch.
Kebabs served with soup and vegetables.
Mezze, the equivalent of hors d’oeuvres, may include up to 40 dishes.
• Arabic cakes, cream desserts and rice pudding (muhalabia).
National drinks:
• Arabic coffee and fruit drinks are popular alternatives to alcohol.
• Alcohol-free beers and cocktails are served in hotel bars.
Tipping: The practice of tipping is becoming much more common and waiters, hotel porters and taxi drivers should be given 10 per cent.

Apart from restaurants and hotels there is no nightlife in the Western sense.

International Travel:

Getting There by Air

The national airline is Saudi Arabian Airlines (SV) (website: www.saudiairlines.com).

Departure Tax

SAR50. Infants, Haj or Umrah pilgrims and passengers accompanying human remains are exempt.

Main Airports

Riyadh (RUH) (King Khaled International) Airport, 35km (22 miles) north of the city. Facilities: Car hire, bureau de change, duty-free, restaurant and snack bar.

Dhahran (DHA) (Al Khobar) Airport, 13km (8 miles) southeast of Dhahran (journey time – 15 minutes).

Jeddah (JED) (King Abdul Aziz) Airport, 18km (11 miles) north of the city (journey time – 30 minutes). To/from the airport: Taxi and limousine services are available for Mecca, Medina and Taif. Facilities: Banks/bureaux de change, duty-free shopping, car hire, restaurants and tourist information points.

Dammam (DMM) (King Fahd International) Airport, 30km (19 miles) northwest of Dammam (journey time – 45 minutes). To/from the airport: Taxis are available from outside the airport. Facilities: Duty-free shopping, gift shop, restaurant and cafe.

Getting There by Water

Main ports: Dammam (Gulf), and Jeddah and Yanbu (Red Sea).

Getting There by Road

The principal international routes from Jordan are Amman to Dammam, Medina and Jeddah. There are also roads to Yemen (from Jeddah), Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. A causeway links Al Khobar with Bahrain. There are regular international buses between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey and United Arab Emirates.


The following items may be imported into Saudi Arabia without incurring customs duty:

600 cigarettes or 100 cigars or 500g of tobacco; a reasonable amount of perfume; a reasonable amount of cultured pearls for personal use.

Duty is levied on cameras and typewriters, but if these articles are re-exported within 90 days, the customs charges may be refunded. It is advisable not to put film into cameras.

Alcohol, all edible goods, narcotics and drugs (except medicines for personal use accompanied by a prescription), pornography, religious books (besides the Qu'ran), pork, firearms, natural pearls, live animals and birds, all types of palm trees, most foods and items listed as prohibited by the Arab League (copy available from the Embassy).

Internal Travel:

Getting Around By Air

There are many domestic airports and air travel is by far the most convenient way of traveling around the country. Saudi Arabian Airlines (SV) (website: www.saudiairlines.com) connects all main centers. Arabian Express economy class connects Jeddah with Riyadh in just over one hour and Riyadh with Dhahran in just under one hour. A boarding pass should be obtained the evening before departure. There are special flights for pilgrims arriving at or departing from Jeddah during the Hajj.

Getting Around by Water

A fast car ferry runs between Duba and Hurghada twice daily on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Dhows may be chartered for outings on both coasts.

Getting Around by Rail

The railway is operated by the Saudi Railways Organization (website: www.saudirailways.org). Children under four travel free. The main railway line is the 570km-long Riyadh–Dammam line, which links Dhahran, Abqaiq, Hofuf, Harad and Al Kharj. There is a daily service in air-conditioned trains with dining car. An additional line links Riyadh with Hofuf. The railway on the west coast made famous by Lawrence of Arabia’s raid has long since been abandoned to the desert.

Getting Around by Road

Traffic drives on the right. The road network is constantly being upgraded and expanded and, on the main routes, much of it is of the highest standard. The corniche that winds down the escarpment between Taif and Mecca is as spectacular a feat of engineering as may be seen anywhere, as is the King Fahed Gateway that links Saudi Arabia to Bahrain. However, standards of driving are erratic, particularly in the Eastern Province. As foreigners are tolerated rather than welcomed in Saudi Arabia, it is best to drive with extreme caution at all times. Women are not allowed to drive vehicles or ride bicycles on public roads. Non-Muslims may not enter Mecca or the immediate area; police are stationed to ensure that they turn off onto a specially built ring road, known amongst expatriates as the ‘Christian Bypass’. Bus: Services have recently been developed by SAPTCO to serve inter-urban and local needs. Modern vehicles have been acquired, including air-conditioned double-deckers. All buses must have a screened-off section for the exclusive use of female passengers. Taxi: Available in all cities, but often very expensive. Some have meters, and fares should be negotiated in advance. Car hire: The major international car hire agencies have offices in Saudi Arabia. The minimum age is 25. Documentation: A national driving license is valid for up to three months if accompanied by an officially sanctioned translation into Arabic. An International Driving Permit (with translation) is recommended, but not required by law. Women are not allowed to drive. There are also restrictions on women traveling by car with men who are not related by blood or marriage.


The Arab Calendar is a Lunar calendar: The twelve months are:-


  • Muharram (30 days)
  • Safar (29 days)
  • Rabi'a al-Awal (30 days)
  • Rabi'a ath-Thani (29 days)
  • Jumada al-Ula (30 days)
  • Jamada Ath-Thaniya (29 days)
  • Rajab (30 days)
  • Sha'aban (29 days)
  • Ramadan (30 days)
  • Shawwal (29 days)
  • Dhul Qa'dah (30 days)
  • Dhul Hijjah (29 days: 30 days in a leap year)

The seven days of the week are:

  • As-Sabt (Saturday)
  • Al-Ahad (Sunday)
  • Al-Athnain (Monday)
  • Ath-Thulatha (Tuesday)
  • Al-Arbia (Wednesday)
  • Al-Khamees (Thursday)
  • Al-Juma (Friday)

The time throughout the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is Greenwich Meantime plus 3 hours.

Prayer Times

  • Fajr (Dawn)
  • - Shuruq (Sunrise) - the latest time by which Fajr should be performed
  • Dhuhr (Midday)
  • Asr (Afternoon)
  • Maghreb (Sunset)
  • Isha (night)



The Saudi currency is the riyal. Riyal banknotes are issued in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 riyals.

The riyal is divided into 100 halalas. Coins are issued in the value of 5, 10, 25, 50 and 100 halalas.


Business Hours

Private Businesses: open 8.00 a.m. to 12 noon and 3.00 p.m. to 6.00pm.

The working week is Saturday to Wednesday, although some offices and businesses also operate on Thursday morning. 

Government Offices: open from 7.30 am to 2.30 p.m. 

Banks: open 8.00 a.m. to 12 noon and 5.00 p.m. to 8.00 p.m.




























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