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Although it has improved greatly in recent years, the public transport system in Saudi Arabia is limited, and 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.
While the Saudi road network is well maintained, the roads are made dangerous by local drivers who are notorious for driving recklessly, 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 driving licences in Saudi Arabia and were therefore unable to drive. But in 2018, the government implemented legislation to change this, and women can now drive in Saudi Arabia.
Expats can drive with a foreign or international driving 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.
Read Buying a Car in Saudi Arabia for more information.
Public transport in Saudi Arabia
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, and some 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.
The Haramain High Speed Rail (HHR) is a high-speed train that caters to passengers wishing to travel between Mecca and Medinah. 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.
There are also two major train lines that run between Riyadh and Qurayyat, as well as between Riyadh and Dammam. Trains are air-conditioned and usually offer a good service.
Taxis in Saudi Arabia
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.
Alternatively, ride-hailing applications such as Uber are available in major cities, which can be particularly useful in overcoming the language barrier.
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 Dammam. Numerous domestic and international airlines operate in the country, including Saudia, the national carrier.