A lot of questions in the VT forum verge on security and terrorism. You can get a good snapshot of the current situation from the American embassy web site.
This is the official version. However, reality is different. I won't take responsibility if you choose not to follow the official guidelines, but can tell you that in practice the terrorism situation has considerably improved in Saudi Arabia since the attacks on foreigner compounds in May 2003. The Saudi authorities have finally got a hold on this terrorism thing, and the truth is that most of the wanted terrorists are either detained or dead.
This said, you should be careful when going around, but since terrorist attacks are unpredictable, I'd suggest you take care when crossing the street, it's much more likely that you die because of a reckless driver than an islamic terrorist in here.
One of the most common problems of expatriates working in Saudi Arabia is dealing with the policemen, language being the biggest hurdle. If your vehicle ever meets with an accident, the first thing you should do is to stop the vehicle right there and get out of the car. Do not move the vehicle till a policeman arrives on the spot. Do not be bothered about the traffic behind you, i.e., even if the vehicle is bang in the middle of the road, you must just put on the hazard lights and stop the car right there. This is very important because if you try to move the vehicle to the side of the road, it would amount to tampering with evidence.
If you are taken to the police station, never sign any document unless the Government Relations Officer of your company arrives. This is important because all verbal and written communication would be in Arabic. If it is not practically possible, and the cop on duty forces you to sign some document, sign it but make sure that you write above your signature that you do not understand what is written above. Believe me, this would save you a lot of trouble later, as mentioned earlier.
With the current security situation, there are checkpoints in almost all major towns across the kingdom. As mentioned earlier in my blog, you must always make sure to carry your iqama, istemara, car insurance and your company ID with you all the time. At every checkpoint, make sure that you do the following. A word of caution - these are just tips, not official rules, and are based completely on my own experiences!
Completely roll down your car window; never mind if you lose the coolness and comfort of the ac. One of my friends did not roll down his windows and he was simply asked to park his car by the side of the road and made to wait for more than 30 minutes. Remember, the cop is standing in the hot sun and you must do nothing, absolutely nothing, which would irritate him
Switch off the music from your radio/CD player
Take out the ID in your hands and show it out of the open window. Some people have their IDs hung around their neck. Never make the mistake of showing the cop your ID in this fashion. Take it out of your neck and display it clearly by sticking your hand out of the window.
Never chew gum in front of the cop. Some of them consider it as an insult
If you are wearing sun goggles, remove them when you cross the checkpost
Never ever try to switch lanes. Murphy's law always works here and the other lane would always be faster than yours. But if you try to switch lanes in a checkpost, you had it!
Never talk to other passengers or in your mobile phone as you pass a checkpost
If a cop speaks something to you in Arabic, just give a friendly smile, apologize and say that you do not know Arabic. In nine out of ten cases, this works and he would simply let you go without bothering you much.
Remember that these cops are stressed out standing in the open and your actions must never ever irritate them at any point of time.
These are practical tips for expatriates planning to work in Saudi Arabia, which you wouldn't find in any official dossier. Hope they are of some help to you.
If you intend to drive in the desert road with 40 to 50degrees temperature, be sure that your car is in good condition, full of gas, with lots of water and don’t forget to bring your cell phone.
A friend of ours told this story it was happened in summer season.. there was a Filipino engineer in Riyadh found dead in his car, gas empty, no cell phones, no water and he stranded on the desert, according to the autopsy the cause of his death was dehydration or heat stroke.
Just beware when you are driving in the desert road, sometimes you'll be surprised camels are crossing on your way, we encountered it twice when we went to the desert, it might be caused of an accident either you would get hurt or the camel would be hurt.
According to our friends when you hit a camel you will pay fine which the cost of one camel is about 5 thousand to 70 thousand riyals depends of its age and color. Though I didn’t believe that camel is so expensive I browsed the net and I found a camel sale web site which is true , now I believed… Yes!! It’s too expensive, so beware to hit a camel!!
According to our friends there was a lady who just wore a jeans and shirt in the market area and they said the mutawa sent her in jail.
For the ladies dont you ever ever try not to wear your abaya when you are in public this could be a rule of tradional way of the country.
Traffic in the city is most likely light to moderate with occasional car accidents mostly by reckless minors and some adventurous and furious Saudi drivers.
To say 'heavy traffic' in Riyadh is way an exaggeration to me, compared to what I am accustomed to back home this is a 'no traffic' at all, or what traffic? experience.
Okay, Peak hours with slightly heavy traffic are between 7 to 9 a.m. and 5 to 7 p.m.
Not that BAD NEWS!
Driving can be traumatic for new comers, unless you love car racing and is used to seeing live vehicle collisions and other road tragedies.
Underage Drivers Add to Chaos on the Roads
On arrival in Riyadh all western women should have an Abaya to cover their clothing and a scarf ( Hijab) to cover their hair. Failure to do so will have them attract the attention of the religious police(Mujhadeen) who are NOT understanding. Abayas can be purchased at Islamic clothing shops worldwide.
Women must not go out into the street without a male relative.They may go by car with a paid driver.
In riyadh,it's very easy to get an accident so in riyadh you have to be careful in driving.well last year king abdullah made a remarkable change in the country but I'm not saying that all those horror stories are'nt true that was how it was before.but now things are a bit relaxed.
shopping, Dinning, or just Hanging out with your friends, male or female friends from opisite gender with being close relative is very normal in any where in the world, but in this city, it can cause headache.
Its becoming more open for group of friends to have lunch or dinner out in one of the hotel or fine restaurants.
Here I've seen this news on Reuters and I think it eases some of the foreigners worries.
Saudi takes steps to curb morality police powers
14 July 2007
RIYADH - The Saudi Interior Ministry has issued guidelines banning morality police from detaining suspects, after recent deaths in their custody raised questions about the role of the controversial force.
Newspapers reported on Friday and Saturday that the order, which has been distributed to state prosecutors, includes an explicit ban on extracting confessions and inspections of morality police offices to ensure no one is being held there.
The order follows previous efforts to regulate the activities of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, including a royal decree last year that they must deliver suspects to Interior Ministry police officers.
A source close to the affair told Reuters that this week’s order was not intended to be made public. Recent cases have caused embarrassment to the force, which has wide powers to enforce bans on drugs, alcohol and prostitution.
Saudi critics say the body, whose members intervene to stop unrelated men and women from mixing in public and sometimes interrogate people to check if their beliefs fit with Saudi Arabia’s Islamic orthodoxy, is an affront to civil rights.
Saudis are quite serious about banning alcohol of all kinds.
Like many Arabian Gulf states, alcohol drinks are not allowed in Saudi Arabia. I recommend that you don't bring any of that with you while traveling to Kingdom, and avoid having it with you in public if you anyway have it from black market within the Kingdom.
From what I heard, the black market is full of bad quality alcohol drinks and that may cause some danger to your health. so please watch what you carry with you, and be careful if you really want to have it from black market.
alcohol is available in most western embassies receptions and parties, that is not a secret, and seems there are large trading for it outside the emabssies.
Actually alcohol is hugely consumed in these embassies parties as people who attend it take the chance to drink as much as they can. That is weird I know.
If you plan to go on desert trekking or mountain climbing be sure to watch your steps as you climb up the mountains.
The trails are very steep with very sharp stones. Step on a stable rock to prevent you from slipping or falling.
This tip is not a danger tip or warning but more of a reminder tip to those ladies married to a Saudi National or to an arab.
It is not a common sight here for Arab ladies to see men being with soemeone or married to someone who is not a Saudi or an Arab...it seems like a big puzzle for them that needs to be solve hehehehe...
So, expect that when you go to the malls or dine- those almond eyes ladies will all be starring at you.
Dont fret..they dont mean any harm :-)
Dont be surprised if a driver both local and foreign swerve from the outer left side of the street to the extreme right of the street or vice versa when making a right/left turn. A very dangerous move that causes panic and car accidents. Unfortunately, its a common practice here in Riyadh.
So, as per my hubby, if you drive in Riyadh...BE A DEFENSIVE DRIVER!
Yes, if you are travelling on a highway along the desert in any part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia especially on your way to Riyadh or from a shopping trip from Alkhubar to Tanajib, you have to be aware of camels. Be careful of driving at night as the accident of camels being run over by vehicles is very common. You have to watch out for camels crossing the street as most of the time they come in group.
Warning: Do not overspeed. Follow the speed limit. By doing this, you can avoid serious accident when you hit a camel on the road.
If you are a woman travelling to Saudi Arabia especially in Riyadh, as soon as you get off the aircraft, women should wear an Abaya. This is mainly to cover oneself so as not to expose any body attributes or beauty. It is a women's garment worn over other clothing sometimes with headscarf and veil. Abaya is made of loose black long-sleeved worn by Muslim women and all women visitors of the Kingdom. Warning: Before travelling to Saudi Arabia - ask information on the pros and cons to avoid embarrassment and punishment.