Safety and Security
Significant enhancements in the capacity and capability of Saudi security and intelligence forces have greatly improved the security environment, but the Department of State urges U.S. citizens to consider carefully the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia.
While there has been a continued improvement in the security climate in Saudi Arabia since the last major terrorist attack against foreign nationals in 2007, it is important to note -- as evidenced by the arrest of two terrorist cells by Saudi security authorities in August 2012 -- that security threats remain due to the continued presence of terrorist groups, some of which are affiliated with al-Qaeda, that may target Western interests, housing compounds, hotels, shopping areas, and other facilities where Westerners congregate. These terrorist groups may employ a wide variety of tactics and also may target Saudi government facilities and economic/commercial targets within the Kingdom. Terrorists often do not distinguish between U.S. Government personnel and private U.S. citizens.
Saudi Arabia shares a border with its southernmost neighbor Yemen. In January 2009, Yemen became the official headquarters for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a joint organization of Saudi and Yemeni al-Qaeda members that seek to attack government and Western interests on the Arabian Peninsula and abroad. The rugged border area dividing Yemen and Saudi Arabia is not clearly defined; visitors should stay away from this area to avoid falling victim to terrorist and criminal elements operating there.
If you choose to visit or live in Saudi Arabia, you are strongly urged to avoid staying in hotels or housing compounds that do not appear to apply stringent security measures. However, please note that the U.S. Embassy cannot intervene to help resolve personal housing problems. This is a personal and individual decision for the traveler and/or sponsor. You should always remain aware of your surroundings when visiting commercial establishments frequented by Westerners. While crime is comparatively low, there are still risks to Westerners visiting the Kingdom. To the extent possible, maintain a low profile, vary times and routes of travel, and exercise caution while driving; incidents of road rage have occurred.
Ensure that your travel documents and visas are current, valid, and secured in a safe place. Carry a photocopy of your travel documents in lieu of the originals. On occasion, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Saudi Arabia may restrict travel of U.S. officials or suspend public services for security reasons. Whenever threat information is specific, credible, and non-counterable, the U.S. Government will make it available to the U.S. public. In those instances, the Embassy and Consulates will keep the local U.S. citizen community apprised through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) and make every effort to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens. Messages to U.S. citizens in Saudi Arabia are available at the U.S. Embassy Riyadh website.
The United States Maritime Administration (MARAD) has advised that regional tensions create risks of maritime attacks on vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, North Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the Bab el Mandeb regions.
MARAD recommends that vessels at anchor, operating in restricted maneuvering environments, or at slow speeds remain especially vigilant, and report suspicious activity. U.S.-flagged vessels that observe suspicious activity in the area are advised to report it, as well as any hostile action to the U.S. Fifth Fleet’s “battle watch captain” at 011-973-1785-3879. All suspicious activities and events are also to be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center at: 800-424-8802, or 202-267-2675, or TDD 202-267-4477.