Is Saudi Arabia really a safe destination for tourists and expats?

Is Saudi Arabia really a safe destination for tourists and expats?

Is Saudi Arabia really a safe destination for tourists and expats?

Saudi Arabia’s ‘historic’ step in opening the Kingdom to tourism also reopens the perennial question – is Saudi a safe destination for Westerners?

Would-be expats and visitors who follow world news as a habit will have noticed that Saudi, unlike the majority of its Gulf State neighbours, strictly follows Islamic laws and imposes harsh sentences even on expats who unknowingly break the rules. For expats considering taking on a highly-paid position in the Kingdom, it’s essential to check your embassy’s official listings of do’s and don’ts. The state is considered to be one of the safest world locations as regards the threat of violence against foreigners, but the risk of breaking Islamic law needs to be taken into consideration.

For example, at the heart of the rulings are laws which allow Christian visitors to bring in a bible for their personal use but, should they be caught discussing Christianity with Muslims, the penalties can be severe. Although expat and visiting women no longer have to wear the cover-all abaya and can now dress in loose-fitting conservative clothes, there’s no exact reference to the meaning of this description. Newly-arriving expats who enjoy a drink or three on their flight may not yet appreciate the severity of punishments issued for having drink taken, even if it’s served on a Saudi aircraft by a Saudi stewardess.

Everyone knows being gay is illegal in Muslim countries, but Saudi Arabia’s laws on heterosexual sex outside marriage are illogical to say the least. Couples who’ve lived together for decades in stable relationships are breaking the law if they even share a hotel room, never mind a bed, with severe penalties applied, and even holding hands or demonstrating affection in public invites trouble with the Saudi police. It’s illegal to be transgender, with avoiding discovery the only answer. Pornography is illegal, but so is having an image of your scantily-clad wife or even a pic of a local palace on your smartphone, and it’s legal for customs officers to inspect your electronic devices.

Binoculars are also illegal, posing a threat to foreign bird-watchers interested only in the Kingdom’s avian species, and those who’ve purchased a golden visa passport should remember only one passport is considered legal, leaving the second able to be confiscated by immigration. Suspects as well as victims and witnesses to crimes can be locked up without charge, and access to lawyers is tardy at best. As a result of the above, the question of safety for visitors as well as expat professionals living and working in the Kingdom is moot, to say the least.

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