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How to be a Good Tourist in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is an interesting and unique tourist destination – some would call it one of the last frontiers for the tourism market. It’s not often explored by tourists, though you may find yourself in Saudi Arabia for business. While the kingdom is culturally rich, it may have a few pitfalls for those that are unfamiliar with the norms. That’s why we’ve created a list of things to keep in mind while you’re in Saudi Arabia:

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The Prayer Police or Muttawa.

Saudi Arabia is an Islamic country, which means that everything revolves around the 5 daily prayers. Most stores and business close for around half an hour at each of these prayer times, and the the Muttawa patrol public areas, looking for people who are not in the mosque for prayer. The best thing to keep in mind is simply to not be on the streets during prayer time – everything is closed in any case.

Hospitals, airports, and taxis will still be open for business throughout prayer times.

Remember Ramadan, or the month of fasting.

Ramadan is the month of fasting in the Islamic calendar and regardless of which religion you follow (if you follow any), you will be expected to fast during the daylight hours like the rest of the inhabitants of Saudi Arabia… well, at least in public. From sunrise to sunset, you’ll be expected to abstain from all liquids, all food and also from tobacco (no smoking).  Restaurants won’t serve food during the daylight hours, and some hotels may give you room service, but on the whole you’ll probably have to smuggle your own food around for the day. When the sun sets, enjoy sweet drinks (like jellab, made from molasses) and dates, which are usually used to break the fast before the real meals begin.

When you do buy your meal, remember that tipping 10 percent or more is considered customary, so don’t skimp!

Watch what you’ve packed.

Saudi Arabia has some pretty intense restrictions on what can be brought into the country. You cannot bring in any alcohol, any pork or pork products, non-Islamic religious material, or any kind of pornography. “Pornography” is very loosely defined, and things like swimsuit calendars, or racy photos could be confiscated.

Any device that may contain illegal images (like your computer, iPod or similar pieces of equipment) will consequently become the property of Saudi Arabian Customs.  

Let’s take that alcohol thing a step further…

Saudi Arabia is a dry country.

That means no alcohol is sold or consumed in public. Think of the US during prohibition; and in that same vein think of the speak easy. You ‘may’ find alcohol on closed compounds housing only expatriates, military officials or the like. In fact you may even find a pub with homebrew on tap. How you get into these compounds is your own business, but understand that alcohol is not readily available nor is it ok for you to be drinking in public. It’s also not ok to brew your own at home – in fact it’s illegal and the penalty can be harsh.

When they say ‘No Photos!’ they mean it.

If at any point you feel like you shouldn’t be taking photos, go with your gut because you’re probably right. Don’t take any photos of government buildings, airports – if you do, you may be arrested for espionage. Don’t take any photos of Saudi men without their permission and definitely don’t take any photos of Saudi women.

The Muttawa don’t take kindly to those who break the no-photo rule, and you may find your camera confiscated or destroyed.

If you’re heading to Saudi Arabia, Arabic will definitely help gain you the respect of the countrymen, and will be incredibly important for making a successful transition in the country. Why not contact us to see what Arabic courses we have available now?