On September 27, 2019, Saudi Arabia launched a new tourist visa that allows foreigners to explore the country for 90 days.
It is a historic moment for the kingdom, as it expects to welcome 100 million tourists annually by 2030.
But the legal system in Saudi Arabia is difficult to understand and full of pitfalls for visitors unfamiliar with life in the Arabian Peninsula or with the government’s version of Shariah, or Islamic law.
In September 2019, Saudi Arabia enacted 19 new public decency laws, some of which, if violated, are punishable by a maximum fine of €1,430 or, in severe cases, imprisonment. Here are some of them.
- Do not wear shorts.
The rule also applies to men. Although abayas will not be mandatory for female tourists, they must cover their shoulders and knees in public.
- Do not get drunk or bring alcohol on the flight.
Alcohol of any kind is prohibited in Saudi Arabia. Those who violate the law could face lashes, deportation, fines, or imprisonment.
You could have access to alcohol on the flight, but if you are deemed drunk by customs, you risk arrest.
- Do not carry a drone without authorization.
Drones for commercial or personal use are prohibited without authorization from the Saudi Arabian General Authority of Civil Aviation.
Therefore, if you are a photographer hoping to get aerial photographs, better call ahead.
- Don’t sneak in.
New public decency laws say that anyone sneaks into a queue will be fined €12.5.
- You can’t bring pork food into the country.
Islam prohibits pork consumption, and Saudi Arabia adheres to this principle.
Interestingly, it is also forbidden to bring in products containing frog meat.
- Drugs, gaming, and sex.
Gambling is illegal in Saudi Arabia: while many Saudis play poker and gamble online using VPNs, the punishment for gambling can amount to a six-month jail sentence.
In any case, if you are interested in playing at online casinos in Saudi Arabia, what casino games are available at the top sites, or where to find a great bonus, there are several secure platforms you can count on.
Luckily, the authorities target underground gambling dens rather than individuals who gamble discreetly in their homes. Still, privacy is necessary for punters in Saudi Arabia, so following some safety guidelines when gambling online is highly recommended.
Being gay or transgender is also illegal. In addition, sex-change surgery is forbidden in Saudi Arabia.
Finally, keep in mind that in this country many drug offenses are punishable by death. Any kind of drug, even a simple joint, could cost you your life, better not to risk it.
- Playing loud music in public is taboo.
It is important to observe this rule during each of the 20-minute prayers, which occur five times a day.
The fine for playing loud music is 120 euros outside prayer time and 232 euros during prayers.
- Public displays of affection could result in a fine of 715 euros.
Beware of effusions in public, because they could cost you dearly! In fact, the Saudi Arabian government does not allow hugging or kissing in public spaces, only in the privacy of your own home.
Photographing a Saudi without their explicit permission is illegal and can carry a fine of 232 euros.
On the other hand, taking photos of government buildings is illegal for national security reasons.
- Reserved spaces.
Using spaces reserved for the elderly or disabled can result in a fine of more than 45 euros.
Holding two passports is illegal in Saudi Arabia, and immigration authorities could seize your second passport if discovered.
- Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day, a Christian occasion, has never really been allowed in Saudi Arabia and was formally banned in 2008.
However, the ban appeared to have been relaxed last year, and no public injunction against the sale of Valentine’s Day items was reported.
- Social Relationships.
If you’re a single man, don’t sit in the family zone of restaurants.
In a famous September 2018 case, an Egyptian man was arrested in Saudi Arabia for having breakfast with a single woman in the family area of a restaurant and posting a video of it on social media.
Some restaurants have relaxed the division between single and married, but it would be wise to establish restaurant preference before sitting down.