When you visit a country for the first time, at least part of your attention will be focused on getting the local laws and customs right, to ensure a smooth, accident-free trip.
Since it is nearly impossible to brief oneself on all the regulations of every country you visit, and previous experiences recounted by friends might be deceiving, there is a high possibility of being unpleasantly surprised over what is, and isn’t, permitted where your travels take you.
The article presents a list of the most unexpected things that are forbidden in Saudi Arabia, some of which are governed by state laws, others by private sector laws or social customs.
Single Man? You Shall Not Pass
If you’re a man and you’re thinking of taking an innocent stroll through a mall or going window shopping, think again. Malls are a “families only” zone, and single men will be turned around and sent home before they can even walk through their doors.
In order to be allowed in, a man must be accompanied by at least one female.
Though, contrary to Saudi laws and customs, the security guards at malls will pay no mind as to whether this female companion is a relative or spouse. It matter only that you are not alone.
In the private sector, shopping malls prohibit men from entering to avoid the possibility of harassment of female shoppers.
Sometimes men will gather at the gates of a mall, awaiting the opportunity to accompany a single female who is their key to entry into the mall.
The Ministry of Commerce does not oblige business owners to uphold this regulation, but it does not prevent it either.
The Vicinity of the Two Holy Mosques
Some Muslims around the world believe in the importance of remaining in the vicinity of the Two Holy Mosques, to receive blessings.
They do not come to Saudi Arabia to work, nor do they have good incomes. As such, the Saudi government grants exceptions to allow them in, granting them semi-permanent residence permits that last for four years and are subject to renewal, provided they have proof they can financially support themselves throughout their period of residence.
Looking for a Saudi Business Partner?
For years, Saudi laws have stipulated that foreigners wishing to launch businesses in the kingdom have to partner with one or more Saudi citizens, who would own at least 51% of the company’s capital and profits.
However, what many are unaware of is that the laws were recently amended, allowing foreigners full ownership of businesses in the retail sector.
During US President Donald Trump’s last visit to Saudi Arabia, contracts were signed with 23 US-owned companies, upon the conditions that the companies would create jobs for Saudis, employ citizens in leadership positions within five years, and produce 30% of the company’s products locally.
Foreign Dentists Banned
If you are a dentist looking for a job opportunity in Saudi Arabia, then turn back. Recently, the entire profession has been deemed exclusive to Saudi nationals.
Conversely, a number of other professions are reserved for non-Saudis only, such as retail sales positions, drivers, and human resource managers.
You'd be surprised at what you can and can't do in Saudi Arabia...
Nobody will actually force you to wear a veil in Saudi Arabia.
Abayas, not Niqabs
There is no law dictating the type or appearance of veils worn by women in public places.
Nonetheless, women are obliged to wear the traditional Gulf ’abaya, usually a black robe worn over clothes, though in certain areas it comes in other colors.
Female visitors who are in the kingdom to perform the umrah pilgrimage are permitted to wear loose, conservative clothes, so long as they comply with the local dress codes.
Non-Saudis, and in particular non-Muslims, are not required to don the headscarf, and Saudi women are not required to wear niqab, or the face-veil. Public reactions vary from one city to another, but as a foreigner, the local authorities will not stop you for walking around with your head uncovered.
The Committee for Commanding Good and Forbidding Vice, which acts as a religious police force, used to question and arrest non-veiled women, before their authority to arrest people was recently revoked.
Traffic Violations = Travel Ban
Saudis are not permitted to issue or renew passports if they have a record of traffic violations. The fines must be paid off before they can travel again.
Bribes Are Taken Very Seriously
Perhaps you have grown accustomed to handing out a bit of baksheesh here and there to facilitate or expedite certain services, but things are different in the kingdom.
The anti-bribery regulations are considered among the most stringent in the kingdom, in which briber and bribee are both punished, along with any accomplices or middle-men.
Indeed, merely asking for a bribe or offering one is a punishable act, even if the transaction does not take place.
Arabic Invoices Only
If a restaurant produces an invoice with the names of dishes listen in English, or offers a deal in any language other than Arabic, it could be subject to a fine of up to 100,000 Saudi riyals, or even closure of the restaurant. The Ministry of Commerce obliges business owners to issue all invoices in the Arabic language, while other languages can be used in accompaniment only.
Legal Exceptions for Certain Nationalities
Certain laws are applicable to individuals according to their nationality. For example, GCC citizens are completely exempt from the laws governing real estate ownership and private investment for foreigners.
Meanwhile, Syrian and Yemeni refugees are temporarily exempt from the residency system, and require only a valid visa to reside in the country.
Moreover, Syrians and Yemenis were exempt from the conditions limiting free education to Saudi nationals for a period lasting from 2012 to 2017, though the condition has been reinstated after the number of students of both nationalities reached 390,000.
Burmese citizens fleeing the conditions in their country have been temporarily exempted from residency laws as well.
Don’t Pay Your Residency Fees
Many foreign residents in Saudi Arabia believe that they are required to pay the fees for renewing their residency and work licenses, as well as the fines for late renewals or changing occupations, and their return tickets home after their work contracts have expired.
If an employer asks you to pay any of these fees, simply refer to Article 40 of the Labor Law, which obliges the employer to cover these costs.