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Safety and Emergencies for Expats in Saudi Arabia

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: April 2015

Safety – Natural Hazards

Saudi Arabia is generally a safe country as far as natural hazards are concerned. There are a few volcanoes, but these have been dormant for centuries. Dust storms and sandstorms are a potential hazard, especially when driving in the desert. Otherwise, the only natural hazard is from disease epidemics. Of these, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome has been particularly problematic recently.

Daytime summer temperatures in Saudi Arabia can exceed 50°C, rivalling those of any country in the world. There is therefore a severe risk of heat exhaustion and the more serious heat stroke, especially in the hotter desert areas. Hajj pilgrims are also at risk when the Hajj takes place in the summer. To avoid these conditions, it is important to make sure you drink enough water and wear loose, lightweight clothing. Above all, try to avoid the sun as much as you can and take breaks in cooler places whenever possible.

Safety – Human Hazards

Despite recent increases, crime rates in Saudi Arabia are generally low. You are unlikely to experience any trouble in most parts of the country: walking the streets and travelling on public transport is mostly safe day and night. On the other hand, there have been attacks in rural, isolated areas of the country. In such areas, you should take standard precautions and use your common sense.

Petty crimes such as pick-pocketing and bag-snatching do occur, especially in the busier districts, and you may be unlucky enough to become a victim. These and other forms of theft are most likely to occur in crowded tourist areas and on public transport.To prevent such crimes, it is important to stay aware of what is going on around you and keeping valuables such as money, jewellery, mobile phones and laptops out of sight as much as possible.

There is a danger of harassment or sexual assault of women, especially Western women, who some local men view as ‘promiscuous.’ Incidences of sexual crimes are very probably under-reported, as the victim is often seen as being to blame. Note that the laws supposed to protect women, by making them cover themselves and hide away, have no effect on the incidence of these crimes.

There is a moderate threat of terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, the threat mostly coming from militant Islamists. The most dangerous area is in the south, near the Yemeni border. In this area especially, it is prudent to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity. Most Western governments advise against any travel to Yemen. Demonstrations and protests, though illegal in Saudi Arabia, do occasionally take place, particularly in Shia-dominated parts of Eastern Province, such as Qatif. Any demonstration you do see should be avoided; you can use the local media to help you keep aware of them.

While there is generally little to fear in Saudi Arabia if you are law-abiding, the country’s laws are so strict that many expats have ended up on the wrong side of them. Adultery, homosexuality and publicly practising any religion other than Islam are all likely to be punished harshly, for example by flogging. The ultimate punishment, the death penalty is applied not only for murder and rape, but also for sorcery and apostasy – that is, conversion from Islam. Expats, however, are generally punished then deported.

Be aware that travelling by road in Saudi Arabia can be hazardous, due to poor local driving standards. See ‘Driving and Public Transport’ for more information.

Emergencies

The emergency numbers to use in Saudi Arabia are given in the table below. Though most of the emergency operators can speak English, if you do not speak Arabic, it is best to have the contact number of an Arabic-speaking friend with you at all times.

 

Emergency Service No.

Notes
Police 999
Traffic Police 993 Arabic-speaking only
Ambulance 997
Fire Brigade 998

 

 

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