Expats may feel somewhat restricted when it comes to getting around in Riyadh, especially women who have, up until now, not been permitted to drive. Cars are cheap so most new arrivals opt to get a personal vehicle with a driver. While some expats do drive themselves, it can be a frustrating exercise for most.
Public transport in Riyadh is very limited. The bus network is not user friendly, especially for foreigners who do not understand Arabic. Taxis are a good alternative, especially for expats who are in Riyadh on a short-term contract.
Driving in Riyadh
Expats in Riyadh often find they can afford cars they wouldn't have been able to back home thanks to low import duties and cheap petrol. Roads in the city are well maintained, but local drivers are notorious for being aggressive and reckless, so many new arrivals hire a personal driver.
Speeding, cutting across lanes to turn, not indicating and ignoring right-of-way rules aren't uncommon, so driving defensively is advised. Expats can drive with a foreign or international driver's licence for up to three months, after which they're required to apply for a Saudi licence.
Traffic cameras are increasingly being used to deter running red lights and speeding, and fines can be steep. Expats should check the government website frequently to see if they have any – it's illegal to leave the country with unpaid fines.
Cars in Saudi Arabia drive on the right-hand side of the road.
There have been some positive changes with regards to the rights of women to drive in Saudi Arabia. Although women were previously not permitted to have driver's licences in the Kingdom and were thus unable to drive, the government has implemented legislation to change this. By mid-2018, women were allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.
Public transport in Riyadh
Historically, the bus network in Riyadh has been very limited. However, as part of the government's vision for 2030, it has been investing heavily in expanding public-transport systems in Riyadh. This means that more extensive bus routes are on the way.
Other good news is that further improvements are underway with the construction of a metro system, which is expected to become fully operational by 2021. Until the completion of the project, however, taxis provide a useful alternative for getting around in Riyadh.
Taxis are abundant in Riyadh and are a good option for expats who don't want to buy a car. They are reasonably priced and drivers will usually use the meter if the passenger doesn’t negotiate a fixed price.
Women are legally allowed to take registered taxis in Riyadh. Though many local women still opt to travel in their own car or with a personal driver. While men can sit in the passenger seat next to the driver, women should take the back seat.
The level of a taxi driver's English can vary from fairly decent to non-existent, so it's best to have the destination written down in Arabic before starting a journey.
While buses do exist in Riyadh they are rarely used by expats and wealthy locals. It's quite difficult for new arrivals to get to grips with the bus system in Riyadh as there are no posted stops and routes are usually written in Arabic.
►For info on managing your finances, see Banking, Money and Taxes in Saudi Arabia
Are you an expat living in Riyadh?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Riyadh. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Expat Health Insurance
With 86 million customer relationships in over 200 countries, Cigna Global has unrivalled experience in dealing with varied and unique medical situations and delivering high standards of service wherever you live in the world.
Sirelo has a network of more than 500 international removal companies that can move your furniture and possessions to your new home. By filling in a form, you’ll get up to 5 quotes from recommended movers. This service is free of charge and will help you select an international moving company that suits your needs and budget.