Saudi Arabia is a Middle Eastern country that occupies most of the Arabian peninsula and has both Persian Gulf and Red Sea coast lines. Its surrounding countries are Jordan to the northwest, Iraq to the northeast, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar to the east, United Arab Emirates to the south east, Oman and Yemen to the south.
Saudi Arabia contains the holy Muslim cities of Mecca and Medina, to which all physically and financially able Muslims are required to make a pilgrimage at least once if possible (see Hajj).
Major cities and tourist attractions
- Riyadh - the capital and "dead center" of the Kingdom
- Abha - a summer tourist mountain resort city in the southwest near the Yemeni border
- Dhahran - the home of Saudi Aramco, the world's largest petroleum company
- Jeddah (Jiddah) - a large metropolitan city on the Red Sea, and the gateway to Mecca and Medina
- Jubail - the largest industrial city in the kingdom
- Mecca (Makkah) - the holiest shrine of Islam
- Medina (Madinah) - the site of the Prophet's Mosque
- Najran - a Yemeni-influenced city with a remarkable fortress
- Taif - the moderate size mountain town and popular resort area
Saudi Arabia has 3 international airports at Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.
Saudi Arabia has some of the most restrictive travel policies in the world, and advance visas are required for all foreigners desiring to enter. The only significant exception is citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council nations. Also exempt from visa requirements are foreigners transiting through airports for less than eighteen hours, but many other entry requirements, such as the dress code and restrictions on unaccompanied females, still apply. Nationals of Israel and those with evidence of visiting Israel will be denied visas, although merely being Jewish in and of itself is not a disqualifying factor. (There are, however, anecdotal reports of would-be visitors who tick the "Jewish" or "Atheist" boxes on their visa application having trouble.) Saudis prefer not to grant visas to unaccompanied women, but work permits are common in some fields — esp. nurses, teachers, maids — and possible for anyone if your sponsor has enough connections.
Saudi Arabia has very strict rules for what may be imported: alcoholic beverages, pork, non-Islamic religious materials and pornography (very widely defined) are all prohibited. Computers, VCR tapes and DVDs have all been seized from time to time for inspection by the authorities. If you are unsure if the movie you watch or the video game you play is deemed un-Islamic, it probably be best not to bring them with you to the kingdom. In general, though, inspections aren't quite as thorough as they used to be and while bags are still x-rayed, minute searches are the exception rather than the rule.