13 days ,  Nov'11- Sept'14




Kind of travel:
Business travel

10days in Nov'11 and 3 days in Sept'14

Do I need a visa:
Oh my god!
really forget getting a tourist visa, so business is your option (unless you opt for pilgrimage one).
Don't expect a straightforward process, both times I applied for it by consulate in Milan it turned out a pain in the ass and I got rejected twice for silly bugs in the documentation. Overall it took 2 months

How I moved:
From Riyadh to Jeddah by plane, from Jeddah to Taif by bus and around the cities by taxi.

Freezing or baking:
In September it's still very hot and humid in Jeddah, while mid Nov it's ideal since you won't need even a sweater.

Where I slept:
I was there for business so I experienced the high KSA hotel standards (Hilton ), whose ratio quality (medium-high)/price (150€ for a single) according to me it's not worth.

What I liked:
it's really another world whose charm, you agree or not, is his uniqueness: segregation between male and female, the Islamic laws, the religious police (Muttawa)... Then the complete lack of tourists will make you feel an explorator and the country is likely the safest in the world where people (men) are very relaxed interacting woth you. As highlight Jeddah old town (Al-Balad) at sunset during prayer time has a special vibe.

What I disliked:
Getting the visa has been a nightmare. No major ighlights.
You might find not at ease all the time you'll do whatever involving the presence of females.
Why the hell am I not allowed in Mecca?

How much daily:
hard to say when travelling for business, in general don't expect a cheap place this is mainly do to the fact you hardly manage to backpack there.

What you do need:
Be aware of the Islamic rules in particular avoid any interaction with women (even sitting near them on the bus)




Once landed in Jeddah, as it hadn't been enough pain to get the visa in Italy, also to have it stamped turned out a sore. In fact due to the introduction of the bio metric recognition (eye reading, fingerprints...), I had to queue hours to pass tje immigration. And finally I could touch the KSA soil!! (no I didn't kiss it, religious police might have not appreciated!).
Hilton Hotel (30min by taxi) is high end hotel (150$ single room per night), but far from the city center (30min by taxi). On the other hand it's conveniently positioned on the promenade where it's a pleasure to have a walk. Right the boulevards along the promenade are curiosly dotted with several contemporary art big installations, the last thing I expected to see in Saudi honestly, but it's worth to have a look if you are around.
Since you shouldn't forget I was in Saudi for business, I spent my days travelling by taxi and meeting people. Anyhow I didn't miss the opportunity to have some sight-seen in the week end.
As concern moving around, if on one hand it's tough to enter the country, on the other, once inside, it's possible to travel without any issue; you will be 100% safe, despite feeling, in particular on the public means of transport, an alien.
Since Lonely Planet was claiming it to be an highlight I visited the town of Taif , 3h by bus from Jeddah , I was supposed to see a rose-perfume factory. Not only I didn't find anything, but also the town itself is quite unremarkable and the trip to get there undescriptive. While up side it has been to meet and chat with some Sasdis on the way: I remember my seatmate on the bus writing on his cellphone he was not a good Muslim, but he was scared to say because he was sure the guys behind us could sue him to the Muttawa (religious police).
Definitely more interesting than Tiaf turned Jeddah old town (Al-Balad). First of all it's quite unique in KSA since there's nothing similar to that in Riyad. Expect a very run down place (at the end it's his beauty) with narrow streets characterized by the typical closed wooden balcones, from which women can see outside without being seen.
The place is very lively in particular when the Suq (market) is taking place, but when it's prayer times (30min, 4 times per day) everything stops and the atmosphere get unreal. You'll be the only non-Muslim walking there, so pay attention to your outfit (no shorts!).
There aren't real highlights (beside a small old house), anyway his charm is to poke around, in particular in the prayer time during sunset.
If you are looking for an highlight you can reach 20min from taxi from Al Balad the King Fahd's Foutain: it's a fountain jet watering to 300m height, ranking as the highest in the world. Go there in the evening, since lit it's more scenic and in the morning it might be off.
If world record stuffs is your thing, don't miss the Saudi Flagpole in Jeddah: it is the tallest flagpole in the world since 2014 and its 570kg heavy and 50m long flag is huge. Amazingly I had the chance to be there exactly the day the flag was unfurled: the National day in Saudi Arabia, the 23rd Sept 2014.
Second leg of the trip was Riyadh, reached by in 1h flight. The capital it's very different from Jeddah, since while the latter is characterized by old houses with wooden balconies, the former by high-tech skyscrapers. In particular I got impressed by two of them: the 'necklace like one' (The Kingdome center) and the one with the ball on top (Al Faisaliyah Center). Both of them you can climb up and enjoy the view eating on at the restaurant (if your wallet affords).
The center of Riyadh definitely is worth a visit given few interesting highlights: fist of all the well preserved Masmak fortress (a mud citadel symbol of the city). Then in the very nearby there's the Deera Square , a public space, in which public executions (usually by beheading) take place. It is sometimes known as Justice Square or Chop Chop Square. After Friday prayers, police and other officials clear the area to make way for the execution to take place. After the beheading of the condemned, the head is stitched to the body and the body is wrapped up for the final rites and taken away. I didn't attend and I don't think you'll be allowed, but you can always try.
After have a look from outside to the superpolished Imam Turki Bin Abdullah Grand Mosque, anyway according to me the unmissable highlight is the National Museum of Saudi Arabia. You will get an unique insight on the KSA history (depiste a biased point of view), in a well organised set up.
Finally the last evening I struggled for the dinner since being with a female colleague of mine: we got rejected by the normal restaurants till we found one with the family section: here we enjoyed a delicious camel baby, a typical Saudi dish.



about this travel photos travel tips printable

KSA travel tip




Saudi visa is a REAL pain in the ass; don't underrate it!!!
First of all forget getting a turist visa since it doesn't exist!
As you can see the photo of the immigration form I got on the plane the type of visa available are:
- Business/ work= the visa I got, below the list
- Umrah= small pilgrimage only for Muslim you can do when you want
- Haj) the real pilgrimage only for Muslim
- Private= if you have relatives in KSA, good luck!
- Transit= you need a proof of a ticket

click to enlarge

To me it took 2 months and I got rejected twice for silly bugs in the documentation.
Consider that both the two times I got the visa it was a hassle, also when sponsored by the Minister of Foreign Affairs

The document you have to provide to apply for a Business visa

Original and copy of the passport.
2. Passport should be valid for at least six months.
3. Copy of the Italian Residence Permit (for non-EU citizens).
4. 2 recent photos with white background.
5. Passport must not contain any restriction and authorizes its holder to return to the issuing country.
6. Passport must contain at least two blank facing pages.
7. Applicants with a valid visa must wait for its expiration before applying for a new visa. Exceptions are made only for
work visa applicants.
8. Invitation Letter requested by the Saudi company and attested by the Chamber of Commerce, or a copy of the Visit
Permit issued by the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For some categories of applicants (e.g. lawyers, journalists,
doctors, cook, women) and multi entries visa (valid more than 90 days), the authorization must be issued by Saudi
Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
9. Copy of the Qualification Certificate: o Copy of Bachelor Degree Certificate, issued or duly legalized by the
competent authorities in Italy, and certified by Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for lawyers, architects, engineers,
doctors, consultants and project managers.
10. Copy of Diploma or the Experience Certificate for vocational and technical professions, issued or duly legalized by
the competent authorities in Italy, for technicians, mechanics, installers and skilled workers. Otherwise the last
payslip and an experience letter on company's letterhead is required.
11. Letter of Visa Request issued by the Applicant's company on letterhead and addressed to the Chief of the Saudi
Consulate in Rome (please download the template from the "Download forms" section). Companies that apply for
multiple employees will need to issue individual letters.
12. Copy of the Trade License of the company (Visura Camerale or certificate of IVA/VAT registration number for
freelancers) issued in Italy or duly attested by the Saudi Embassy in the host country.




Saudi Ryial (SAR): 1 SAR= 0,24€



I used Lonely Planet Bahrain, Kuwait, Quatar e Arabia Saudita 4th edit, Feb 2011 translated in Italian from the english original version Oman, UAE & Arabian Peninsula (3rd edition, Sept 2010)



From the health standpoint it's a relative safe place being the standard quite high and the climate dry for most of the year.



- Female dress code = you MUST wear an abeja (long black dress, but you don't need to cover the face as in the burqua). Religious police will check all the button till the last

- Male dress code= for men is far easier since the only thing not accepted are the shorts

- You are not allowed in Mecca or Medina if you are not Muslim. There are checkpoints they will check your passport where it's supposed to be written you nationality

- When you go to restaurant is you are with a women you must find the one with the section for families

- When taking a public mean of transport by law you cannot sit near a woman

- When visiting a mall you cannot enter in the hours dedicated to the families unless you are with a woman

- Azan, Adhan, Salah, Salat= the four 30min prayer during the day
- Abeja= the black dress worn by the female (it's not a burka since eyes are not covered)
- Guntra = the headdress fashioned from a red scarf
- Umrah= the pilgrimage that can be done in any moment of the year
- Haijad= the real pilgrimage that must be done in a precise moment of the year

    • Guys get married as soon as they can (to have sex).
    • Thumb rules is after 3 months from the first salary with a minimum of 6.000 RSA/month (1.200€/month).
    • at wedding male and female celebrated separately
    • In KSA divorces are getting popular, but only the man can decide

  • MUTTAWA: the religious police patrol around checking the respect of the Islam rules in term of behaviour, dressing,...
    • a guy I met on the taxi got whipped 99 times for being caught walking with a girl who was not a relative
    • Taxi driver got whipped 3 times for being caught smoking hashish
    • the wife of an expat working in Riyadh got scolded by Muttawa for the having the last button of the Abeja opened

    • A lot of things are not taught in the School Ie: the existence of the railway built by Ottomans (the Hejaz railway)
    • Everything is divided in allowed or prohibhited (Allaah or Haram), nothing can be in the between
    • A guy on the bus was telling me he was not so muslim, but he was so scared to tell me that showed me written on the phone display. He was scared about the guy in the backseat could hear and sue him for that.
    • A guy on the taxi was complaining he was not allowed in the shopping malls as single
    • In KSA cinemas are forbidden by law
    • During the prayer (Salah) (at 15.30- 16.00, at 18.30-19.00) EVERYTHING is shut down, so whatever you are doing, you will stop and just wait the prayer ends
    • In Riyadh public square there've been 3 beheading since the beginning of the year
    • I was with a female colleague for dinner we struggled to find the restaurant accepting females (the one for families)
    • In the restaurant we ate a delicious camel baby
    • Car petrol costs 0.15€/l
    • A taxi driver earns around 140 Ryals/day (30€/day)
    • During taxiing on the plane males and females get acquainted using bluetooth