Is everything surrounded by desert? Are the camels nice?
These are just some of the funny questions I get asked frequently when people discover that I’m from Saudi Arabia. Assuming you’ve read the About Me page, you would know that I spent more than half of my life living in this conservative country since my parents are expats. When I left Saudi Arabia and moved to The Philippines to pursue my college degree, I often get asked by classmates and even professors what it’s like living in the Middle East. Let me tell you what it’s like living in Saudi Arabia..feel free to jot some notes if you’re planning to travel here or anywhere in the Middle East.
Obey the Islamic Law. Remember the saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. Guess what? Same here! If you’d like to have a trouble free stay, follow the law. Simple as that.
Here are some things to expect..
No Invitation, No Entry – From my experience, you cannot visit Saudi Arabia if you do not have a business invitation or an immidiate family sponsor. Tourism is not really promoted in this country, but if you get a chance to visit, that’s a bucket list! However, you may visit UAE if you want a sneak peak of what Saudi Arabia looks like, less the strict laws.
No Alcohol – Any kind of liquor is banned in Saudi Arabia unlike its neighboring countries Bahrain or UAE. Saudi Arabia must be the most conservative country in the Middle East. So how do they drink or party? Surely, they can’t live without a drink so they reinvented all types of liquor into non-alcholic. The wine, beer, cocktails..all non-alcoholic! Just in case Arab nationals want the real fix, they just visit the nearest open country, Bahrain, which is 30 minutes drive from Al-Khobar town. Here, there are clubs, bars, bikinis and resorts.
Wear Abaya – Abaya is the long dress worn by women, even young girls. The length usually extends up to the wrist and ankle. This is required to be worn in any public places such as malls, mosque, in the car, restaurants…anywhere a Muslim can see you. You can only remove it when you’re at home, in a hotel room, or in a private compound. In the country’s capital Riyadh, it is sometimes required to also cover your hair. So what we do is we always bring scarf or tarja just in case a Mutawa tells us to cover our hair.
Mutawa is a person that roams around to ensure that laws are being followed by everyone, even non-muslims.
Never go out alone – It is not advisable to go out alone especially for women.
No PDA – Yup. No Public Display of Affection. Not even holding hands! Especially when you’re not married. Men and women can’t date in public which is really not an issue since arranged or fixed marriage is still prevalent in Saudi Arabia.
No Eating – Just kidding. This only applies during Ramadan or the Holy Month. Everyone, even non-muslims are not allowed to be seen eating during the day. Hungry or thirsty? You may eat or drink in private. You’re welcome. 🙂
Big Discounts – When you read SALE, it is really on sale. One of the things I enjoy in this country is shopping. When big brands go on sale, they send you an SMS right away.
Gold is a commodity – Considered a luxury, Gold Jewelry are displayed and bought by most of the Arabs just like candies. Stores are non intimidating unlike other luxurious jewelry stores abroad and they are located in every street. They also have one of the finest and best valued gold.
High Quality Food – When it comes to food handling, the Arabs come very strict. Once they find deficiency with regards to food hygiene and quality, a restaurant automatically closes.
Open Hours – Malls and restaurants usually closes at 11:30PM. During Ramdanan, some restaurants open until 2:00AM.
Prayer Time – Muslims pray five times a day. When they do, all stores are required to close, including restaurants. Business resumes after the praying time which can last up to 30 minutes.
No Pork – Don’t worry, you won’t miss pork since there alot of other options such as seafood, chicken, and lamb. What happens when people try to bring in any kind of pork (sausage, ham, cooked meat) in the country? They get confiscated!
Blocked Websites – Some websites are blocked in Saudi Arabia to safeguard the Islamic Law. To secure the country from any terrorist attacks, Facetime and other free calling apps are banned. You can still use them but only for text messages.
No Bribery – Don’t even try. Make sure you do not break any traffic rule (or any rule) since penalties are hefty and can sometimes include jail time even with just beating the red light.
I think I pretty much covered the essential things to know when visiting Saudi Arabia. You might find some rules very restricting but that’s just the way it is. If there’s one thing I learned while living in Saudi Arabia, it is to respect ones belief even it opposes yours. I hope you find this post useful and if you think I missed an important reminder or you have a question, do let me know in the comment section below. Happy travels!
Have you been to the Middle East or are you planning to visit soon? What rules did you find so restricting?