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What to Know Before Visiting Saudi Arabia in 2024

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3 weeks ago

Whenever I recommend people to visit Saudi Arabia as soon as possible, I am always met with 101 questions – can I really go to Saudi Arabia for vacation? Is Saudi Arabia safe? Can woman travellers go to Saudi Arabia?

This complete guide covers everything you need to know before visiting Saudi Arabia in 2024.  

Is it worth visiting Saudi Arabia?

Absolutely!

Saudi Arabia is investing huge money into developing their tourism industry: new easy visa procedures, gargantuan infrastructure projects, new airlines, subsided flight routes and glitzy Red Sea resorts. By 2030, the Saudi government plans to bring 100 million tourists to the Kingdom!

You have probably seen intrepid travelers and YouTube influencers take advantage of the new Saudi visa rules to showcase the best of the Kingdom. From the Nabatean ruins of Al-Ula to the fairytale villages of Abha in Saudi Arabia, there are no shortage of things to do in Saudi Arabia.

With each year closer to 2030, Saudi Arabia undergoes rapid and drastic change – which makes it one of the most interesting countries to visit in the world.  

Can Americans visit Saudi Arabia? 

Yes, Americans can easily visit Saudi Arabia.  

Americans are eligible for either an e-visa or visa on arrival. The e-visa can be obtained online or on arrival at Saudi Arabian airports.

Travel tip: The visa-on-arrival option tends to be a little bit cheaper! At the time of writing, American citizens are required to pay SAR 480 (about US$128) for a Saudi Arabian visa on arrival. An e-visa will set you back SAR 535 (about US$143).

Regardless of which option you go for, your visa is multiple-entry with a one-year validity.  

Saudia Airlines offers direct flights from the United States to Saudi Arabia, linking Riyadh and Jeddah directly with New York, Washington, DC and Los Angeles. There are also countless one-stop options via Europe or the Middle East.

Do I need a visa for Saudi Arabia? Can I get a tourist visa upon arrival in Saudi Arabia?

Most Western travelers can obtain either an e-visa or go for the visa on arrival option. As a general rule, the visa on arrival for Saudi Arabia option tends to be cheaper!  

For Americans, I’ve set out above how Americans can visit Saudi Arabia.  

British citizens are eligible for an Electronic Visa Waiver (‘EVW’), e-visa or Visa on Arrival. Brits are the only nationality eligible for the EVW, which allows you to visit for up to 6 months! The major difference is that the EVW is only available for a single entry. At the time of writing, the EVW costs SAR 150 (about US$40). 

For those wanting a multiple entry option, British citizens traveling to Saudi Arabia are still eligible for the visa on arrival (SAR 480 (about US$128) or e-visa (SAR 535 (about US$143)). 

European Union, Australian and New Zealand travelers are all eligible for a Saudi Arabian visa on arrival (SAR 480 (about US$128) or e-visa (SAR 535 (about US$143)). The visa is multiple entry and valid for a year!  

For other nationalities, if you are holding a UK, US or EU permanent residency permit, you are eligible for the Saudi Arabian tourist visa on arrival.

What is the most beautiful city in Saudi Arabia? 

Each city in Saudi Arabia really has a different atmosphere and a unique character!  

Jeddah is set on the Red Sea and has historically been a trading port, bustling with new ideas and the stunning al-Balad district

Riyadh sits in the heart of the country, surrounded by grand desert oasis towns and the beating heart of all the change the country is currently undergoing. The UNESCO heritage listed town of Diriyah has undergone recent refurbishment, full of new cafes and green spaces – offering one of the best places to visit in Riyadh with a family.  

Abha is set in the mountains and has a kind of ‘eternal spring’ atmosphere, with gardens and small mountain villages. You can even visit the famous edge of the world from Riyadh:

For more guidance, I would recommend checking out our detailed local insights for Saudi Arabia.

Do I need to rent a car?

Saudi Arabia is notorious for some of the craziest driving in the region.

But, in saying that, your life will be a lot easier if you brave the roads and rent a car! Saudi tourism infrastructure is still being built, which means there isn’t much public transport (yet).

Travel tip: Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries in the world where I am regularly asked for my International Driving Permit. If you don’t have one yet, I’d highly recommend getting one before you visit Saudi Arabia!  

If you want to avoid the Saudi driving experience, the main ride-sharing applications in Saudi Arabia are Careem and Uber. Careem does tend to generally be cheaper!

To use ride-sharing applications, you will want to have mobile data handy. The easiest way to arrange this before you go is to have your Saudi Arabian e-SIM ready to go. I love landing and just switching on my phone.

I am really excited for the opening of the Riyadh metro in 2024 which will make solo travel in Riyadh significantly easier! Jeddah metro is set to open in 2025. 

Is Saudi Arabia safe?

Saudi Arabia is an extremely safe country, with very low rates of crime.  

What is the best time of year to visit Saudi Arabia? 

In my opinion, November to March is the best time to visit Saudi Arabia, with pleasant and warm daytime temperatures and crisp evenings.  

The summer months put a whole new meaning to the word hot. From April to October, temperatures often sit at 43°C/110°F. 

If you do end up visiting during the Saudi summer, consider a trip to the south. Both Abha and the Fifa Mountains (near Jazan) often have slightly cooler daytime temperatures. Emphasis on the slightly.

Can women travel solo?

Yes. There are no restrictions on visiting Saudi Arabia as a woman.  

Do women need to wear abayas or headscarves in Saudi Arabia?  

No. There are no longer any rules governing how a woman dresses in Saudi Arabia.  

There may be times when you feel more comfortable having an abaya on hand, but it is certainly far from compulsory. For context, outside of Jeddah and Riyadh, you will likely only see women wearing the niqab in public settings.  

It is worth noting that mosques will generally require some kind of dress code. In the more tourist friendly cities (Jeddah, Riyadh), they will usually have scarves on hand.  

Can LGBT people visit Saudi Arabia?  

Yes. Many are surprised to hear, but the Saudi Ministry of Tourism website explicitly states that LGBT visitors are welcome to the Kingdom.  

The Ministry of Tourism asks that all visitors respect our culture, traditions and laws. In short, I think this would mean refraining from public displays of affection.

Can unmarried couples share a room? 

Yes! No questions asked.  

Can same-sex couples or friends share a room? 

Yes. The Saudi Ministry of Tourism confirms this is not a problem.

Can Jews visit Saudi Arabia? 

Yes, there are no restrictions on Jewish people visiting Saudi Arabia. The new visa rules make clear that everyone is welcome.

Can I visit Saudi Arabia if I have an Israeli stamp or visa in my passport? 

Yes, since the new visa rules have come into place, Saudi Arabia has repeatedly and explicitly said that Israeli stamps or visas do not prevent entry to Saudi Arabia.  

Can I visit Saudi Arabia if I have visited Iran?

At the time of writing, you are not allowed to enter Saudi Arabia if you have been in Iran during the past 14 days before entering Saudi Arabia.

Can Muslims perform Umrah with a Saudi Visa? 

Yes, but not during the Hajj season.  

Can I visit Mecca as a tourist? 

Only if you are Muslim. Mecca is not open to non-Muslim tourists.  

Can I buy alcohol in Saudi Arabia? 

No. Drinking alcohol is illegal in Saudi Arabia. But that doesn’t mean Saudi nightlife is quiet – if anything the streets are even more alive after dark!  

Saudi Arabia has recently opened its first liquor shops for non-Muslim expats. There has been talk of allowing alcohol in the new Red Sea resorts. If the past few years are anything to go by, watch this space!  

What about the religious police in Saudi Arabia? 

Since 2016, the religious police no longer have any power to question or really stop anyone at all. You will unlikely see them during your visit and they pose no threat to tourists.  

Can I bring a drone to Saudi Arabia? 

No, tourists aren’t allowed to fly drones in Saudi Arabia.


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