How Safe Is Saudi Arabia for Expats and Tourists?

Recently I was thinking about tourism in Saudi Arabia and if in fact the country is a safe place for people to visit  for a holiday. Personally, I feel very safe living and working in the Kingdom. I know however, that this is not the general perception outside of the Kingdom.

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So, how safe is Saudi Arabia for expats or tourists? In general, Saudi Arabia is a very safe country for residents, visitors and tourists. Threat levels are low. There are few if any instances of muggings,  terrorist attacks, street violence, personal injury and very little crime.

Saudi cities or the regions  are very safe places for any foreigner to visit for a short periods, even to live and work .

However, people considering a move or a visit to the Saudi Kingdom may not be convinced.  This is because of two things. First, they have seen news and read articles to the contrary. Second, they confuse safety with freedom.

Media Bias

English language media  is heavily biased towards Saudi Arabia. Preferring mostly sensational news and scandals, reports about the country more often than not focus on public executions, abuses of domestic workers, ill-treatment of Asian workers,  control and lack of freedom for women and anti-Islamic propaganda.

In relation to the first point, unfortunately, there is truth in the reporting. Mistreatment  has occurred, and measures are currently being taken to address the issues and to undo the wrongs put things right.

This however is only part of the story.  For the Western media, there is very little mileage  in reporting the other more positive side of the story which is the general experience for the majority of people living and working in Saudi Arabia who are generally very safe and have positive experiences.

In relation to the second point,  people considering coming to Saudi Arabia are very influenced by the things they see in media reports.

They are afraid and feel that as an individual they will not be respected and that their freedoms will be severely curtailed.

Whilst it is true that they may not be free to behave with the same freedom that they might be experiencing in their home countries.

It almost certainly isn’t true that their safety is in jeopardy or that by coming here they will automatically face dangerous situations.

In fact, testimony after testimony  documented by foreign nationals living or having lived in Saudi Arabia report  that their experiences of life in the kingdom has been a very positive one and that  lack of safety has never been of any real concern.

Are There Terrorist Threats in Saudi Arabia?

Yes perhaps, but very few indeed. However, no country is completely safe and that is especially true in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia in recent years has experienced isolated cases of terrorists attacks.

Most western embassies document  the nature of the terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia which in recent years have been related to isolated to mosques.

Embassies do warn travelers to take extra precautions, especially teachers, educational centers, petroleum employees,  housing compounds, military, transport and aviation assets, including restaurants, hotels, shopping centers, mosques and other crowded places.

However,  Saudi Arabia is actively committed to fighting terrorism in all its forms and determined to keep the kingdom safe.

Also, there are 10 million plus  foreign nationals in the Kingdom. They have never experienced any form of terrorism  and though they feel wary are completely safe from the threats of terrorist attacks.

Are Saudi Roads Safe?

Sadly, driving standards in the kingdom are pretty bad. Everyone I know in Saudi Arabia has experienced a car accident. In the cities especially, drivers are reckless and inconsiderate.

There are many accidents deaths and injuries each year and the experience on roads for any driver can be harrowing and quite nerve wracking.

Today, there are about 20,000 driving accidents each year, one accident every minute and 20 deaths per day and untold number of injuries.

There are a number a reasons for this. In general it is simply that male drivers fail to drive with care and with consideration for others. The main reasons for accidents are listed below.

  • High Speed Driving
  • Distractions (mobiles phones)
  • Risk Taking
  • Unsafe vehicles
  • Hitting camels or other obstacles
  • Running traffic lights

Visitors coming to the kingdom should exercise extreme caution when using Saudi roads, learn defensive driving and safety measures  and remain extremely cautious when driving.

Are Women and Children Safe In Saudi Arabia?

Restrictions on the movements and freedoms for women do exist in the kingdom, but to outside viewers, these are confused with safety concerns.

The safety of women and children especially expat families are of the utmost concern to the Saudi government and to Saudi people in general.

Nearly all of the testimonies posted online by expat women living or who have lived in Saudi Arabia document that they feel very safe and have never been in any real danger.

In fact, many women comment rather than the experience of abuse, they witness preferential treatment for women in public especially in shops, banks,  public transport and when waiting in lines.

They do however discuss the feelings in relation to the lack of freedoms they experience especially in relation to the kinds of freedom they would normally enjoy in their own countries.

Discussions online center around these issues. However, and very slowly women in Saudi Arabia are experiencing more and more freedom.

For example today women can work and drive cars. The expectation is that these freedoms will  increase ever more with time.

These restrictions that women/men and everyone experience are related to the law. So, as long as women are able to adjust their lives and go about their daily lives and behave according to the legal requirements, life in the kingdom for the majority of women is good and enjoyable and their safety is never of serious concern.

Are Non-Muslims in Danger in Saudi Arabia?

Not at all! This always strikes me as an odd question because for centuries the rights of non Muslims have not only been protected but they have been guaranteed in Saudi Arabia.

Most people in the kingdom are very aware of who is Muslim and not Muslim. In Saudi Arabia, the religion of any foreign national is regarded as a private affair not to be interfered with and not to be used as an excuse and poor treatment and discrimination.

On a number of occasions I have questioned many Saudis and non Saudi Muslims’ attitude to people who do not have the same religion. They understand and accept the differences but  never use those differences in any prejudicial ways.

In reality,  the opposite is true. People of other religions must be respected and their safety in a Muslim country has to be guaranteed by law.  In Islamic law they are regarded as ‘dhimmi’ and eligible for protection.

Expectations for Muslims are different to those of non-Muslims. For example, Muslims would be expected to pray 5 times a day, but no such expectation exists for those who do not profess the Islamic faith.

It is true that no other religion can be publicly exercised  in the Kingdom. However, individual members in the privacy of their own homes or private spaces are free to practice and to follow their own forms of worship.

Are Visitors and Tourists Safe To Visit Saudi Arabia?

Yes, absolutely! Each year, 14.3 million people visit Saudi Arabia. It is the world’s 19th most visited country according to the World Bank.

Tourism is still a very new industry so the majority of visitors go to Saudi Arabia for religious purposes, to visit family members or for business reasons. Today, package resort type tourism is planned for the kingdom.

During the Hajj and Umrah season in Mecca due to the large numbers of people staying in a very small area, safety was of great concern.

In the past, unfortunately a lot of people died through being crushed in the crowds of pilgrims. Visitors have also died in numbers due to car accidents.

Huge infrastructure improvements in Mecca during Hajj have meant that deaths and injuries have been reduced to the very minimum.

Also, the new traffic system ‘Sahr’ rolled out nation wide has cut down on speeding and lessened the number of accidents and deaths on Saudi roads.

However  for the great majority of people visiting the kingdom  their experiences are uneventful in relation to safety and  all return home very safely and in good health.

More recently, the government decided to open a large area near the Red Sea for tourist purposes. The plan is to build holiday resort with hotels shopping and restaurant areas similar  to any premium holiday resort in Europe.

Though details have not yet been announced, but many commentators agree that the kinds of restrictions that exist in normal towns and cities will probably be more relaxed in the new tourist regions.

The rules dictating what people can and can’t  do will look quite different when applied to tourism in general.

Are Expats Safe at Work ?

Yes they are, apart from the obvious health and safety concerns. Other than domestic workers and low-paid employment, foreign workers in Saudi Arabia are protected by the Saudi Labor Law.

This means that expats have recourse to complain and start legal proceedings  against sponsors who abuse their contractual agreements and responsibilities to their employees.

Though in the past abuses were tolerated, today, the Saudi government deals very firmly with abusive employers and forces them to address and compensate victims of employment abuses.

However the same cannot be said yet for low paid employees and especially domestic workers. The Saudi Labor law does not sufficiently cover domestic employment until today and victims of abuse do not always have legal recourse.

In the majority of cases though, domestic workers are treated very well though are often overworked. Abuses do still go unaddressed and unfortunately, more legislation should continue. (MFS)

However, in relation to the millions of domestic workers the law is slowly changing and rights for these people are improving.

Conclusion

In general, concerns for safety in Saudi Arabia are like those of any  other country in the world. The fact is that in Saudi Arabia instances of violence and crime  against your person are almost non-existent. Laws are in place to protect the rights of both Saudi nationals and expats especially including visitors who come to the kingdom for short periods of time.

The Saudi government will make take extra care in protecting the rights and ensuring the safety of tourists and any threats to their safety will immediately be dealt with.

In fact, expats commenting on safety issues related to their lives in Saudi Arabia say that they feel safer here than in their own countries. This is especially true for women.

Other than concerns over driving safety, I feel very safe living in Saudi society and have no concerns for either the safety of my wife or my children.  

In fact, life for us is far better and much safer then we have experienced in any European country which for the most part are very dangerous for tourists.

Muggings, pick pocketing, and other serious personal violations are very common occurrences in European tourist areas and evident each day when you walk out onto the street.

This cannot be said of any city, town, or regional area of the Saudi Kingdom. Unlike in Europe, I have never been robbed, abused, threatened nor do I have any safe concerns for my self, my family of my expatriate colleagues.

All the indications are that for the future prosperity of Saudi Arabia, for the honor of Muslims and for Islam, this positive state of affairs will continue many decades into the future. Enshallah Ta Allah!

Related Questions

What are the restrictions on Women in Saudi Arabia? Women need male guardians. Women must dress conservatively. Women are segregated from men. Women have less employment opportunities. Women and men cannot dress or mix freely.

What is great about Saudi lifestyle? Tax free salaries, free accommodation, heath care and lots of other benefits. AC at work and home, cheap shopping, great milk products-yogurt and cheese, ‘shawarma’ and ‘falafel’, Saudi hospitality and Arabic coffee, compound life, international schools, personal safety and Muslim friends.

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Mohammed Francis

I am a UK national, a college teacher, father of 3, writer and blogger.

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