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With a limited public-transport system, most people get around in Saudi Arabia with their own vehicles or by taxi. A bus system offers services for both inner- and inter-city transport, and there is a railway line that runs between Riyadh and Damman. However, major improvements are underway with the construction of a metro system in Riyadh and the opening of a new high-speed railway.
Driving in Saudi Arabia
Expats often find they can afford cars they wouldn't have been able to back home. This is thanks to low import duties and cheap petrol. The Saudi road network is well maintained. However, local drivers are notorious for being aggressive and reckless, so many new arrivals hire a personal driver. Expats driving in Saudi Arabia should do so defensively.
Historically, women (including female expats) have not been allowed to have driver's licences in Saudi Arabia and were thus unable to drive. However, in 2018 the government implemented legislation to change this, and women are now allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.
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, as it's illegal to leave the country with unpaid fines.
Cars in Saudi Arabia drive on the right-hand side of the road.
Public transport in Saudi Arabia
Public transport in Saudi Arabia consists of buses, trains and taxis, and is slowly being developed.
Buses operate in Saudi Arabia’s cities and travel to and from neighbouring countries. They're generally well maintained and air-conditioned, but are mainly used by locals and expats who can't afford their own vehicles. Women are restricted from travelling on some city buses. Some long-distance buses have screened-off sections for female passengers.
Most expat compounds offer bus or shuttle services to meet the transport needs of women and children.
There used to only be one railway line in Saudi Arabia. This line runs from Riyadh to Damman, and stops at destinations in-between. Trains are air-conditioned and usually offer a good service.
However, the government of Saudi Arabia has in recent years been investing a lot into the country’s public-transport systems. One of the most important expansion programmes that has been completed is the Haramain High Speed Rail (HHR) project. The HHR is a high-speed train that caters to passengers wishing to travel between Makkah and Madinah. The train also connects these holy cities to King Abdullah Economic City, Jeddah and the Jeddah airport. The train is ultra modern and offers a luxurious travel experience.
Taxis are widely available in Saudi cities. This is usually the safest and most efficient mode of transport for those who do not drive themselves.
Most taxis are metered and expats should ensure the meter is working and reset before they start a journey. Taxis can't be hailed on the street, and have to be called and booked in advance. Some expats save the contact details of a driver they trust and call them when needed.
Fares can be expensive, and drivers are known to substantially increase their fares during peak holiday times such as Ramadan, Hajj and Eid. It’s best to negotiate a price before entering.
Air travel in Saudi Arabia
Due to Saudi Arabia's size, cross-country travel is easiest by air. There are several airports, including three major international hubs: King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah and King Fahd International Airport in Dhahran. Numerous domestic and international airlines operate in the country, including Saudia, the national carrier.
►For info on managing your finances, see Banking, Money and Taxes in Saudi Arabia
Are you an expat living in Saudi Arabia?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Saudi Arabia. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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