• Saudi Arabia is finally open for mass tourism after the launch of a new tourist visa on September 27.
  • The country is full of wonder, with five pristine UNESCO heritage sights, Red Sea beach resorts, and futuristic cities like Riyadh.
  • But the kingdom’s laws are complicated, and tourists can easily fall foul of them and receive a hefty fine, or worse.
  • Here’s what to look out for.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

On September 27, Saudi Arabia launched a brand-new tourist visa that lets tourists explore the country for 90 days.

It’s a landmark moment for the kingdom and its stop-start tourist industry, which hopes to process 100 million tourists a year by 2030.

But the legal system in Saudi Arabia is tricky to navigate and full of pitfalls for tourists unfamiliar with life on the Arabian Peninsula or the government’s version of Shariah, or Islamic law.

In September, Saudi Arabia rolled out 19 new public-decency laws, some of which, if violated, are punishable with a maximum $1,600 (6,000 riyal) fine or, in severe cases, imprisonment.

Here’s what you need to know.


No dabbing.

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Foto: A poster from the Saudi Interior Ministry’s National Commission for Combating Drugs saying that dabbing was banned and warning “people about the dangers of this on the youth and society.”sourceMOI

The viral 2017 dance move was prohibited by the Saudi Interior Ministry’s National Commission for Combating Drugs because of its association with drug culture.

It happened after the Saudi TV host and actor Abdallah al-Shahani was filmed dabbing at a music festival in Taif and later arrested.

Source: راصد المشاهير


No wearing shorts.

Foto: sourceREUTERS/Fahad Shadeed

In September’s new public-decency laws, men were advised not to wear shorts and to “dress modestly.”

The US State Department advises male visitors to dress conservatively when visiting Saudi Arabia and not go without a shirt.

While the country is moving toward more a relaxed dress code, recently saying female travelers won’t have to wear a long cloak called an abaya, it’s best to err on the side of caution.

Women are still required to cover their shoulders and knees in public, the public-decency decree states.

Source: The National, Arab News


Getting drunk on the flight over, or bringing in alcohol, could land you in serious trouble.

Foto: sourceShutterstock

Alcohol of any kind is banned in Saudi Arabia. Those who break the law are subject to hundreds of lashes, deportation, fines, or imprisonment.

You may be able to access alcohol on the flight over, but if you are deemed to be intoxicated at customs, you risk arrest.


Don’t bring in a drone without approval.

Foto: sourceGreg Clarke/Flickr

Importing drones for commercial or personal use is prohibited without approval from the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation.

So, if you’re a photographer hoping to get aerial shots, best call ahead.

Source: US State Department


Don’t cut in line.

Foto: sourceReuters

The new public-decency laws say a fine of 50 riyals, or $14, will be incurred by anyone who jumps in front of someone in a queue.

Source: Arab News


You can’t bring any pork into the country.

Foto: sourceShutterstock

Islam prohibits consumption of pork, and as the birthplace of the religion, Saudi Arabia adheres to this principle with gusto.

This includes pork-flavored chips and snacks.

Strangely, it’s forbidden to bring products containing frog meat into the kingdom too.


Gambling is in principle illegal.

Foto: sourceReuters/Tiffany Brown

While many Saudis play poker and gamble online using VPNs, the punishment for gambling can be as harsh as a six-month jail term.

Source: Blue Abaya


Being gay or transgender is illegal.

Foto: sourceElijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

In March 2017, two transgender people were shoved in bags, beaten with sticks, and tortured to death, according to human-rights activists with the Blue Veins group.

Sex-reassignment surgery is illegal in Saudi Arabia.

Source: UK government, The Independent


Playing loud music in public is taboo and a finable offense.

Foto: sourceReuters

It’s especially important to observe this rule during each of the 20-minute prayer times, which happen five times a day.

The fine for playing loud music is 500 riyals, or $133, outside prayer time and 1,000 riyals during prayers.

Source: Arab News


No public displays of affection.

Foto: sourceJohn Macdougall/AFP

The new public-decency code explicitly warns against public displays of affection, so be wary where your hands are.

The maximum fine for PDA is 3,000 riyals, or $800.

Source: Arab News


No drugs.

Foto: sourceReuters/ DEA

Any narcotics are illegal in Saudi Arabia, and many drug offenses are punishable by death.


Bringing a Bible into the country, or having any non-Islamic religious items on your person, can land you in trouble.

Foto: sourceAP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

The government has hinted that personal Bibles can be brought into the country for private worship.

But waving one around in public may see the religious police report you to authorities.


Photographing a Saudi without his or her explicit permission is illegal.

Foto: A woman using a camera on Safari.sourceACALU Studio/Shutterstock

The fine for taking someone’s photo without permission is 1,000 riyals, or $266.

Source: Arab News


Taking up seats and utilities reserved for elderly and disabled people is a finable offense.

Foto: A priority seat for elderly, disabled, or pregnant people in an airport.sourceShutterstock

The fine for sitting in a priority seat is a 200 riyals, or $53.


Photographing government buildings is illegal, for national security reasons.

Foto: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.sourceFAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images

Source: Arab News


It’s illegal to subject women and children to pranks or anything that “can scare them or put them in danger.”

Foto: sourceReuters/Faisal Al Nasser

The advisory was included in the new set of public-decency laws in September.


It’s illegal to hold two passports in Saudi Arabia.

Foto: sourceJustin Sullivan/Getty

Second passports will be confiscated by the immigration authorities if they’re discovered.

Source: UK government


Be careful with outward Valentine’s Day displays

Foto: sourceJeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Valentine’s Day, a Christian occasion, has never really been permitted in Saudi Arabia, and it was formally banned in 2008.

Though, last year the ban looked to have eased, with small red tokens appearing freely across the cities of Riyadh and Jeddah and no public injunctions against Valentine’s Day items reported.

Source: Business Insider


Sitting as a single man in the family area of a restaurant is also forbidden.

Foto: A Saudi woman pushes a stroller carrying her children in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia September 27, 2017.sourceReuters/Faisal Nasser

In a famous September 2018 case, an Egyptian man was arrested in Saudi Arabia for having breakfast with an unmarried woman in the family section of a restaurant, and posting a video of it to social media.

Some restaurants have relaxed the divide between unmarried and married, but it would be prudent to establish the restaurant’s preference before you sit down.

Source: BBC, Reuters.


Entering Mecca and Medinah as a non-Muslim is forbidden

Foto: Muslim pilgrims on seen worshipping at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia in 2012.sourceHassan Ammar/AP

As Islam’s two holiest cities, entering either Mecca or Medinah as a non-Muslim is forbidden, so don’t try to sneak in.

The punishment is either a large fine, deportation, or whatever the judge decides.

Source: Arab News