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Driving and Public Transport for Expats in Saudi Arabia

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: November 2014

Driving

The road network in Saudi Arabia is the world’s 24th longest. Many of these roads are new and of good quality, though more remote desert roads are usually unmetalled. Road signs on main roads are generally in both Arabic and English. As is to be expected, petrol is very cheap.

Despite the high quality roads, Saudi Arabia is not a safe country to drive in. Many drivers are aggressive and reckless and – as there are so few traffic police – know they can get away with such behaviour. Unsurprisingly, there is a high level of fatalities from road traffic accidents:  approximately 23 deaths per 100,000 people per annum. This puts Saudi Arabia quite near the top of the world table. It is recommended to take out a comprehensive insurance policy.

As an expat, you more likely to attract blame than a local if you get in an accident. Hence it is important to have access to an Arabic speaker if you do not speak the language yourself.  Hiring a car with a driver or using taxis are viable alternative at least at first, while you are getting accustomed to the way of the road.

The minimum driving age for men is 18. Women are not permitted to drive in Saudi Arabia, though this is sometimes overlooked with Western women. No doubt this helps to explain the country’s high accident rate – in the rest of the world, where women are allowed to drive, they are known to be safer, less aggressive drivers than men.

it for up to three months. Some national licences are also valid; check with your local embassy or consulate to confirm this. After three months, you will need to obtain a Saudi licence, though depending on your home country you may not have to take a test.

In addition to your driving licence, insurance policy, registration documents, proof of ownership and ID, normally an iqama (Saudi residence permit), whenever you are driving in Saudi Arabia, you will need to have the following with you at all times:

  • first aid kit
  • fire extinguisher
  • spare tyre and wheel-changing tools
  • warning triangle

Typical speed limits in Saudi Arabia are given in the table below.

Road Type Speed (kph) Speed (mph)
Motorways 100-120 60-75
Built-up Areas 40-80 25-50

 

As mentioned above, not all drivers take these speed limits seriously. Driving in Saudi Arabia is on the right. Logically, as alcohol is illegal in Saudi Arabia, there is no blood-alcohol limit. If caught with any amount of alcohol or drugs in your system, you will be fined between R500 and R900. There are many other fineable driving offences.

 

Trains

Currently, the rail network in Saudi Arabia is not extensive. The only train line is between Riyadh and Dammam with branches via Hofuf and Harad. However, many more lines have been planned, such as the Haramain High Speed Rail, which will link Jeddah, Mecca and Medina. The railway network is run by the Saudi Railways Organization. Note that you will need to show your passport or iqama to travel by train.

There are no metros in Saudi Arabia, though there are plans to build networks in Riyadh, Mecca and Jeddah. Construction on Riyadh’s metro has already begun.

 

Buses and Coaches

Buses are cheap and an important means of getting around major cities; they are even more important in a country that does not (yet) have any metro lines. Buses run regularly between airports and city centres, and some gated compounds run their own private bus services.

Coach services are available between larger cities, provided by the Saudi Public Transport Company (SAPTCO). They are a much cheaper alternative to flying, though obviously they take much longer. All coaches are fully air-conditioned and have toilet facilities. For those wanting more comfort, luxury coaches are available. Note that women are not always allowed to travel on city buses; when they are allowed, they must sit in a separate compartment in the front.

 

Planes

Taking a domestic flight is the best option for longer internal distances, as it means you can travel quickly and avoid the elements. Additionally, choice is limited as there are very few trains. The domestic network of flights is dominated by the national airline, Saudi Airlines (or Saudia for short.) The other major carrier is Flynas, which is a budget airline.

 

 

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