Saudi Roads; Saudi Traffic;Traveling in Saudi Arabia:: KSA Road Travel and Cars
Travel in Saudi Arabia
Traveling in Saudi Arabia (KSA) can be an experience (not always a good one), within this article I will tell you about the driving rules, Saudi Traffic, cars and Saudi roads, as well as car hire and taxis.
Saudi Drivers in my opinion are the worst in the world, if you would like to read more detail about their driving habits then have a look at my hub on Saudi Arabia Driving.
Saudi Arabian Cars
Saudi Cars and the Cost of Fuel in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is a country of many contrasts, the cars on the roads here cover a huge range of vehicles. With Saudi Arabia being very much like a third world country with a rich elite and a poor working class (lower class Saudis, expat workers from the third world and so on) you have a really wide collection of cars on the roads, from the battered old ford or Toyota that must be 20 plus years old and held together with duct tape and belching clouds of black smoke to the latest top of the range Mercedes or Range Rover.
Most Saudis like to drive large 4 wheel drive
“American” style vehicles such as the Suburban, the bigger the better seems to
be the way people look at cars! When you travel in Saudi Arabia you will see many wonderful Vehicles.
Cost of Fuel in Saudi Arabia
With the cost of fuel here people can afford to run the big cars without any worries, a liter of petrol in Saudi Arabia will cost you just 45 Hallalas, that is just $0.12! A small bottle of water to drink will cost you 1 Riyal, which is about $0.25, twice the price of the fuel for your car!
People here do not care too much about buying the economical runaround to save the environment, the cost of fuel here is no incentive to save the planet!
Traffic Queues in Saudi Arabia
Rules of the road in Saudi Arabia
You require a Saudi driving license if you wish to drive more than 3 months in Saudi Arabia, until then you can drive happily on an international license officially. Unofficially a UK or other license will be accepted as most of the people here have no idea what they are looking at, I have hired cars, passed police and so on using just a UK license without problem, they look at it confused and accept it! Getting a license is relatively straightforward, you will almost certainly have someone within your company that deals with government departments, he will be able to take you to the right place to get the license which will be issued without problem with a small amount of money changing hands, you may not even have to attend!
The laws of the road are fairly similar to those in the west, drivers driving on the right (most of the time). The rules are generally ignored by most drivers, most stopping at traffic lights when red (there are now cameras on some to catch people jumping red lights) but otherwise few other rules are followed. People will drive the wrong way down one way streets (although these are rarely signposted as such), they will drive on the wrong carriageway in the wrong direction if it is a shorter route to where they want to get. They will stop their cars in every lane of a 4 lane highway if it is close to a shop, school or mosque rather than have to walk an additional 3 feet and so on!
If you take a job in Saudi Arabia, the biggest challenge you will face after getting your Saudi Visa will be driving on Saudi roads. The generally accepted rules of the road for most drivers are that you should go as fast as you can from point A to B and use any unoccupied area of space to achieve it, this includes using the highway as a slalom course, using pavements and hard shoulders at speed. Turning left or right is generally done from which ever lane has the shortest queue even if that lane is the opposite side to where you wish to turn.
Driving in saudi Arabia
Roads In Saudi Arabia
Saudi has a great infrastructure, most of the main roads are 3 or 4 lane highways which can get you quickly around and between the main cities as long as it is not the rush hour, no accidents have occurred and there are no road works (Saudi is currently having a number of major construction projects conducted which means a lot of roads being modified!)
Most of the roads are very good although they can be slow to repair pot holes on minor roads so you have to careful with your car on these roads.
Repairs and finishing of road works can be very poor, the surface of the road where the repair is made subsiding very quickly resulting in holes and dips that make driving very interesting! Roads are also not closed when works are being undertaken so again this makes for some very strange drives!
Beware the holes left by these construction projects and repairs, they can cause severe damage to your car! The first time I flew to Jeddah a friend of mine collected me from the airport and took me for a quick tour intending to take me to hire a car for the next few days. We were driving down one of the main internal roads within the city, not too busy, approaching a set of lights that were just about to change so my friend accelerated to ensure that we got through on green. As we entered the road on the other side of the lights the car hit a shallow trench that had not been properly filled exploding all four tires on the car! We limped over to the side of the road out of the traffic to inspect the damage, 4 dented rims and deflated tires. Beside us 2 other cars shouting on their phones at whoever also with flat tires.Whilst we waited to be rescued by my friend’s brother we witnessed several other cars suffer the same fate, despite trying to wave the drivers down, until finally a police officer arrived on his bike to close that lane of the road!
Easy to navigate within the cities in KSA
Mad Taxi Driver in Saudi Arabia
Taxis in Saudi Arabia
I hate traveling by taxi, firstly as a westerner they try to charge me 5 times as much as everyone else, secondly if they put the meter on they assume that you will not know if they take you on a guided tour of the whole city to travel two blocks! I hate them!
They also assume that because you are walking or stood at the side of the road to cross the street that you want them so they stop right in front of you when you are crossing the road. This annoys me so much that on one occasion I open the rear passenger door climbed in, slid across the seat, opened the far door and continued my journey leaving a speechless driver with two open doors!
Also beware in the airports, when you leave the airport you will be met by a barrage of guys asking if you want a taxi, most of whom neither have a “taxi” nor are licensed. Use the official taxis outside or rent a car, it is cheaper than the taxi!
Car Hire in Saudi Arabia
Car hire is very cheap, often cheaper than taking a taxi somewhere. They will just want a copy of your ID and driving license (Saudi, international or even a UK one will be fine) and a small deposit.
I generally only hire small cars, the rates being very low from 65SAR to 100SAR per day ($17 - $27). All cars that I have had have been in reasonable condition; however I have heard reports of cars without break pads and other issues due to poor maintenance, so check the car and any concerns ask for it to be changed. They will undertake work promptly if asked.
Car Hire Problems
I have only had one poor incidence with a hire car which could have caused me major problems. I visited my wife’s sister in Jeddah and left my car parked outside, when I came to leave there was a police car parked behind my car. I took no notice and climbed into the car at which point the officer turned on his lights and honked his horn, obviously meaning for me to get out.
I tried to talk to the officer who spoke no English at all so had to phone a friend to translate. My hire car had been reported as stolen by the hire company and as such it was to be towed away by the police and I was likely to be arrested as the thief!
Thankfully the officer was quite friendly and accepted that I had hired the car from the company as I thankfully was carrying the paperwork, but suggested that I get away from the area straight away as his superior was coming and would not be in any way understanding and would arrest me without hesitation as a car thief!
I went to the hire office the following morning with my friend to complain, the office said it was nothing to do with them, I should complain to the police! I spent nearly an hour there trying to get the money returned for the remainder of my hire period as they said I still had the car as they had no report from the police! I eventually managed to find a fax (after badgering one of the staff members while my friend argued with the manager) that they had sent to the police which (mistakenly) included my car as cars that had not been returned when hire periods had finished.
Eventually they returned my remaining money and we left to hire a car from elsewhere with not so much as an apology! The name of the company is Alwefaq should you consider hiring from them!
Road Signs in Saudi Arabia
Well as a westerner you are going to have a real joy navigating, I worked my first nine months here as a consultant travelling between many different companies in some of the main cities. Also having had to drive myself considerable distances when my office has failed to get my flight booked in time!
Inside the cities things are not too bad on the main routes as most roads are signposted in both English and Arabic, however spelling of names and even the names themselves can change in the space of a few yards! The names on the roads themselves do not always match the names on the maps, and not all roads are signposted at all, this is just the start of your problems!
The further from the center you get the harder things become, less signs are in English, some only being in Arabic especially junction numbers – learn your Arabic numbers early on or you will get lost very quickly!
On highways they tend to put the sign on the junction itself, so you can’t read it unless you slow right down at each junction, even then you may still miss it!
Before you get on a Saudi Road
Before you consider getting into a car in Saudi Arabia you need to think about more than just the dangers of being on the road in this wondrous country. The kingdom is very different to anywhere else that you have likely to have visited and you need to be fully prepared for your travels in this great country if you want to avoid getting yourself into trouble.
Have a read of how to be an expat in Saudi Arabia if you want to be fully educated as to what you are going to encounter on your travels.
For completeness here are a few stories of some eventful drives that I have had between the major cities in Saudi Arabia; Driving to Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam and Al-Khobar.