Safety in Saudi Arabia
- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals Saudi Arabia Guide (PDF)
The country’s strict interpretation of Sharia law and harsh punishments for illegal activity mean that safety in Saudi Arabia is not a major concern. There is normally tight security in and around expat compounds, leaving residents feeling quite protected.
Although terrorism is an ongoing concern in the wider region, there have been no recent attacks in Saudi Arabia, and no incidents that would warrant any concerns for the short-term. Protests, although illegal, have taken place on occasion, but Saudi Arabia has not witnessed the level of protests experienced by other Middle Eastern countries in recent times.
Crime in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has harsh punishments for criminal activity. Executions by beheading, stoning or firing squad are common for crimes such as murder, rape and armed robbery. Amputations of hands and feet are punishment for robbery. Drunkenness, apostasy, adultery and homosexuality are also subject to harsh punishment, which may seem archaic by Western standards.
Most expats live in Western compounds where security is tight, and burglary and armed robbery are not a concern. Nevertheless, petty theft does occur on the streets of Saudi towns and cities, and opportunistic theft from vehicles also occurs. Expats should always be alert when walking in the street and keep all valuables out of sight.
Expat women in Saudi Arabia face additional challenges. Often seen as potentially promiscuous by local men, thanks to the Western media, sexual assault in Saudi Arabia is common. Women in the Kingdom are often victims of harassment and stalking – it’s not uncommon for a woman to be followed by a local male on foot or in a vehicle. There have also been reports of Saudi citizens harassing foreigners who they believe are not observing conservative standards of conduct.
Terrorism in Saudi Arabia
Many governments warn their citizens about the risk of possible terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, particularly against Western targets and Saudi oil infrastructure.
Saudi Arabia has a history of terrorist attacks. These have taken the form of kidnappings, bombings of residential compounds and Saudi government offices, and an attack on the US Consulate in Jeddah. The Saudi government takes the threat of terrorism seriously and has carried out a number of arrests of suspected militant Islamists in recent years. Expats should ensure that they stay in secure accommodation, and if in a compound, that adequate security is in place.
Protests in Saudi Arabia
Public demonstrations are illegal in Saudi Arabia. The government has invested heavily in employment and education programmes, which has gone a long way to alleviating dissent among the local population, and protests and demonstrations in the Kingdom are uncommon.
Although there were a few minor public demonstrations staged during the “Arab Spring”, the turnout was minimal. Most of the demonstrations in the Kingdom took place in the Eastern Province, which has the largest concentration of Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority. Protests are most common after Friday prayers, and these should be avoided due to the risk of violence.
Road safety in Saudi Arabia
Road conditions vary considerably between cities and rural areas. Larger cities have well-constructed roads, while those in rural areas are often unpaved. Road safety is potentially one of the greatest safety concerns for expats in Saudi Arabia; traffic accidents are a frequent occurrence, aggressive driving and road rage are common, and traffic congestion in Riyadh is an ongoing problem. Expats should drive defensively or, if possible, arrange for a driver who is familiar with the local conditions.