With extraordinarily low fuel prices, road transport is the primary form of travel in Saudi Arabia and the country has an extensive road network. Most is relatively new and well-maintained, although in more remote areas of the desert the road quality drops significantly. Road signs are usually in both Arabic and English, although again this is less common in remote areas. However, the country has notoriously high accident rates and many expats avoid driving altogether.
Should you choose to take to the road, the minimum age to drive in Saudi Arabia is 18 and cars are driven on the right. It remains illegal for women to drive, although there are plans to relax this law over the next few years. Depending on their nationality, some expats may be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia on their home licence or on an international driving permit for up to three months. Once an expat has obtained an Iqama (residence permit), they must hold a Saudi licence to drive, so most long-term residents opt to switch shortly after arrival in Saudi Arabia.
Driving laws are strict in Saudi Arabia and you must carry your licence, Iqama, insurance documents, registration documents and proof of vehicle ownership at all times. Cars must have a first aid kit, fire extinguisher, spare tyre kit and a warning triangle. As alcohol is illegal in Saudi Arabia, there is no maximum blood-alcohol limit. Driving under the influence of drink or drugs carries heavy penalties.
Taxis are a popular means of transport, particularly for women who are unable to drive in Saudi Arabia. Fares are based on distance travelled and should be agreed before the journey commences. As of 2012 you are not allowed to hail a cab in the street – everything must be prebooked. As a result, taxi booking apps are very popular in Saudi Arabia, so use these to compare prices.
Buses and coaches
The low fuel prices in Saudi Arabia mean that buses are cheap and therefore an important part of the transport infrastructure. Commuter services make regular trips to city locations while tourist-orientated buses run regularly between airports and city centres. Some hotels and residence compounds run private bus services. For intercity travel, coach services are available through companies like the Saudi Public Transport Company (SAPTCO). Although they take longer, they are significantly cheaper than domestic flights. Be aware that men and women must sit in separate areas of buses or coaches, and some services may be restricted to men only.
The railway network in Saudi Arabia is run by the Saudi Railways Organisation, but it is not as extensive as might be expected. The only operational line runs from Riyadh to Dammam, but there are plans for new railways lines, including a high-speed link from Jeddah to Mecca and Medina. To travel on the trains, you need to show your passport or Iqama when you buy your ticket.
Although there are no operational metro lines in Saudi Arabia, the Riyadh has begun construction of one and other major cities look set to follow suit.
Saudi Arabia has a number of international airports, with King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah and King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh the two busiest hubs. Despite this capacity, Saudi Arabia’s tight immigration controls mean it handles less transfer traffic than the neighbouring United Arab Emirates. However, there is also a growing market for domestic flights as people are willing to spend more to save time compared to a lengthy bus trip. The national carrier, Saudi Airlines, has the largest share of this market, but budget carriers like Flynas are also starting to emerge.
Other ways to get around
Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea ports of Jeddah and Duba offer ferry services to other major harbours including Suez and Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt and Aqaba in Jordan. There are also ferries to southern destinations, but the unstable maritime situation in the region means these are rarely used by international travellers.