Ever seen first-timers sobbing at Saudi Customs just because they are being treated like criminals for bringing in something contraband (illegal)? In most cases, the expats are unaware of the law. However, ignorance of law is no excuse. Fortunately, such circumstances can always be avoided.
Expats coming to Saudi Arabia, particularly the first-timers and those coming from Western cultures often land in trouble at airports. Usually, this has to do with carrying banned or restricted items. Many times expats who are unaware can be held at the airport in Saudi Arabia and even imprisoned or deported. In order to avoid such situations, one must never carry these items into the country.
To read about common visa violations by expats read Most common Visa Violations by expats in Saudi
1. Intoxicants of All Kinds and Drugs
Bringing alcoholic beverages to Saudi Arabia carries very serious punishment while carrying drugs awards a death penalty right away. Understand that intoxicants include all its forms: even alcoholic beer and wine.
You might be foolish enough to carry liquor into the kingdom if you belong to a culture where alcohol is not prohibited. However, this will be a very serious offense and you can face imprisonment, lashes, and deportation for the same.
In fact, most Airlines operating from and to Saudi Arabia do not allow you to carry alcohol in person, even if you are only transiting. This is definitely the case with Saudi Arabian Airlines.
Also, bear in mind that books about wine and alcohol as well as instructions related to its manufacture and any equipment that may be used for distillation etc is prohibited and will likely have you deported and banned from Saudi Arabia.
Drugs of all kinds: opiates, stimulants, hallucinogens etc are a big NO. If you doubt the legality of any drug even if you take it as medication, first be 100% sure that Saudi permits its usage.
Even drugs and stimulants that might be legal in some states of the US are not legal in others. Similarly, drugs legally consumed in some countries are illegal in Saudi Arabia. Do not even try to get them into Saudi Arabia. Drug trafficking in the country carries death penalty without a doubt.
Please carry the prescription for every medication you carry. if you fail to produce official prescriptions your medicines can be confiscated by customs.
Also, for expats coming from cultures (India, Pakistan, Afghanistan) where Khash-Khash or golden poppy seeds are used in bakery an confectionary, you might get into trouble if you carry them to Saudi Arabia. Since poppy (Abu Al Nawm) is used to produce opium-which is a narcotic, possession of these seeds can get you into serious trouble at a Saudi Airport. It would be better not to carry such items into Saudi except if they are mixed and cooked with bread or sweets and are not re-usable any more.
2. Large Amounts of Paper Currency, Gold or Diamonds
The limit for carrying cash (in any currency) into Saudi Arabia is SAR 60,000. If you are carrying cash more than this amount, be sure to declare at customs. Remember that this limit also includes the value of any gold or diamonds that you are carrying. So, in total none of your valuables should exceed SAR 60,000 in order to proceed ordinarily through Saudi Customs. Anything beyond this limit needs to be declared. Also, if you fail to account for why you are carrying such huge amounts, you can land in trouble for money laundering.
3. Pork, Frog Meat, and Stuffed Animals
Expats coming in from USA, UK, Europe need to understand the seriousness of not getting in any products that are obtained from pigs or swine. It is absolutely forbidden to get pork (pig meat) into Saudi Arabia and any products that might have mixed in them pig blood or gelatin even.
Similarly, any parts of a pig’s body- even accessories or clothing made from its tanned skin- are not allowed. In fact, you would do good to not carry anything resembling a pig even if its a toy or a piggy bank. Understand that the pig is considered a filthy animal in local culture and prohibited severely by Islam and any display of the animal’s products is seriously offensive.
Additionally, frog meat is prohibited in Saudi Arabia and expats coming from Chinese or Korean cultures need to make sure they do not bring dried or fried frog meat with them. Similarly, do not carry the meat of other animals which are forbidden for consumption in Saudi Arabia- this includes dogs that are otherwise consumed in Denmark, China and Nagaland.
Also, stuffed-animals of all kinds are prohibited from being carried into Saudi Arabia. This does not apply to kids toys which are synthetically manufactured.
4. Pornographic or Offensive Materials
It is forbidden to carry any lewd or sexually explicit materials in any form into Saudi Arabia. Whether you carry a book, magazine, comic, video, pictures or cartoons that are even seemingly pornographic, you can get in serious trouble. Make sure you do not commit such a mistake as sometimes even unintentionally there might be such images in magazines you might be carrying from Western countries.
Similarly, offensive material that hurt religious or cultural sensitivities or tries to insult Islam or the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him, or make fun of or criticize Islamic laws or even the royal family of Saudi Arabia are absolutely banned. Do not try to play smart by bringing in such material into the country- you might find your self deported on the next flight back home.
5. Gambling Items and Accessories
Gambling is totally prohibited in Saudi Arabia and if caught possessing anything related to gambling you can be in prison. The following should never be found with you in the country: gambling cards, Lammers, gambling dice, foldable casino and poker tables, chipsets, dice sticks, casino memorabilia and even books about gambling.
No matter how popular gambling and casino culture might be in your country of origin, do not try to get anything related to it into Saudi Arabia. And never accept an invitation to join a gambling session while in the country.
6. Religious Books, Idols, Crucifix
While every individual has the right to privately practice their religion in Saudi Arabia, you must make sure that even if you are carrying a religious item or Holy Book, it should be for your personal use. While expats routinely carry their Bible into Saudi Arabia without any problem, and Hindu expats carry items of their worship, it is not allowed to bring in such items in large quantities. Carrying several Bibles or carrying idols of gods or other religious symbols can be very dangerous as it hints at proselytization or missionary activity.
Similarly carrying images of gods or statues of religious figures can get you into serious trouble. If you belong to Hindu or Buddhist traditions please keep this in mind and avoid bringing in such items with you to Saudi Arabia.
Please respect the local culture and the sanctity of Saudi Arabia as a land of Islam and do not try to bring in material that attempts to promote any other religion. Restrict yourself to your personal items of prayer or worship only.
Also, for Muslims, there is a word of caution too. Remember that it is also prohibited to bring in large quantities of the Holy Quran into Saudi Arabia. Some expats have tried this trick to being in cheap Qurans to sell in Saudi Arabia at high prices- this is illegal. If you are caught with the same you will be held at Saudi Customs and your copies of the Quran will be confiscated.
7. Items related to Magic, Wicca or Witchcraft
Like drug abuse, the practice of magic, sorcery or witchcraft is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. Please do not bring along any items that are related to magical spells, spirit communication, amulets or charms. This includes ouija boards, tarot cards, books on magic as well as anything related to Wicca or Dwidry which are popular pagan religions in the UK and Europe.
Understand that magic and sorcery are considered crimes and a cause of corruption and social evils in Saudi Arabia. Be careful to not carry any such items neither perform any such magical rites while in the country.
In the past several Muslims have also been imprisoned for carrying amulets or Taweez or trying to sell them to others in the Kingdom. Therefore be careful not to indulge in such activities.
8. Inflammables, Fire Crackers Fumigators or Incense
It is not allowed to carry inflammable items into Saudi Arabia and you can be seen as a potential security hazard if you try to do so. Also, firecrackers are a big NO. If you come from a culture where firecrackers are used for celebrations like Diwali, please don’t carry firecrackers along with you. Not only will they be confiscated, but you can also face punishment.
Also, anything used for fumigation to kill insects or for religious purification rituals is also not allowed to be brought into Saudi Arabia. Even incense sticks are better left in your home country and if you need them you can buy them in Saudi Arabia.
9. Professional Communication Equipment
You can not carry communication equipment like radio transmitters, walkie-talkies etc in your luggage if you are a civilian and traveling on an ordinary passport. Such devices are restricted to police/ marine officers and your carriage of such suspicious items can make you a potential suspect for being a spy or for planning any breach of national security.
For the same reason, you are not allowed to carry drones or drone spare parts with you to Saudi Arabia.
10. Night Vision/ Infra Red or Laser Pointer Binoculars
Binoculars with NV or IR or those fitted with laser pointers are forbidden to be carried into Saudi Arabia. If you belong to a profession in which you are required to use binoculars, please have security personnel at your port of boarding check with the Saudi customs to see if you are allowed to carry the type of binoculars which you currently possess.
11. Items Related to or Produced in Israel
For Western expats who might have visited Israel on a family visit or for some work, be careful not to carry items advocating Israel’s political stand, items manufactured in Israel or books, newspapers and magazines originating from Israel. Understand that Saudi Arabia takes a strong stand against Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and has banned all goods produced in Israel from entering Saudi Arabia. Similarly. It can also be dangerous to carry items like the Israeli flag (containing the star of David) or photographs of Zionist leaders etc. Particularly if you are a European or American of Jewish origin, it’s safer to leave items related to your ancestry back home.
While there are uncountable items that can become a problem at Saudi Customs, we have mentioned the 11 most common items that can get you into trouble in Saudi Arabia.
Have you experienced something related to any of the above items? Were you detained at customs or fined for carrying something you believed was harmless? Let us know in the comments section.
Wishing you a safe journey and pleasant stay in Saudi Arabia.
To learn more about Saudi Culture and know how to behave more appropriately, please read Dos and Donts in Ramadhan for Non Muslims.