FAQs/Tour Tips for Saudi Arabia

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I’ve booked my Biblical tour with Living Passages! What do I do next?

Welcome! We are so happy to have you join us!

Once we’ve received your registration, you will be sent a link to a form along with your invoice—we ask each traveler in your party, including you, to please fill out this form in its entirety within 3 days of receipt. This allows us to make sure passport and medical information is up-to-date and enables us to take your travel preferences into account as we prepare for your tour. (Note that we also ask for your shirt size so we can send you a gift—please check out the sizing chart included in the form before selecting your size, to ensure you receive a good fit!)

If you require any special assistance or accommodation for a disability or have questions regarding the accessibility of the sites we will visit, please contact us at +1 (888) 771-8717. We look forward to answering any questions you may have!

What do I need to do to be able to travel to Saudi Arabia?

Travelers going to Saudi Arabia will need to have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months beyond their scheduled return date. If you don’t have a passport yet, or if yours is expiring soon, you should apply for a new one as soon as possible. US Citizens can go to https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports.html for information on how to apply for/renew passports. Please be aware that passport processing times are long, and it may take up to 13 weeks to get your passport. Wait times to get an appointment for a first-time application before the process of issuance can begin can be long depending on your location, so please do not wait to make one. Please schedule an appointment right away if you need to apply for a new passport before your trip.

To find a passport acceptance facility near you, search here: Where to Apply for a Passport Nationwide (state.gov)

Travelers will also need a Saudi visa to be issued prior to arrival in the KSA. If you have booked a tour with Living Passages, we will gather the necessary documentation from you and apply for your visa on your behalf—we like to keep things simple for you!

How do I get my visa for Saudi Arabia?

When you travel with Living Passages, we secure your Saudi visa on your behalf. Approximately two weeks before the tour begins, we will send you an electronic visa document as well as a hard copy visa with your other expedition documents.

How does crossing the border into Saudi Arabia work?

If your Biblical tour with Living Passages spans multiple countries, this often means we will cross the border by land to reach our next destination. In these cases, we will all cross the border together as a group.

For crossings into Jordan, you will be required to purchase your own visa at the border at the time of crossing. If crossing from Jordan into Israel, US citizens are not currently required to purchase visas.

What kind of money can I use in Saudi Arabia?

The currency used in Saudi Arabia is the Riyal (SAR). We recommend not attempting to purchase the local currency prior to your trip. It’s best to get approximately $50 USD worth of Saudi Arabian Riyal immediately upon your arrival via ATM, which will dispense any withdrawals in the local currency (at the airport if you arrive by plane, or at a gas station if you are crossing the border from Israel and Jordan).

You will only need cash for incidental spending (think an occasional ice cream or beverage at a coffee shop) or tipping (to bless your driver or climbing guide at Jabal al-Lawz), as everything else you may need cash for is already included in the tour. If you plan to use your credit card to pay for laundry service at a hotel, or any other extra services, it’s wise to check with your card issuer or bank about foreign transaction fees before you travel so there are no surprises.

What kind of clothes should I wear in Saudi Arabia?

When you travel with us to Saudi Arabia, you will want to wear loose-fitting clothing that is breathable, layers well, and protects you from the sun. Natural fibers with an open weave such as linen or lightweight wool are fantastic at keeping you cool. Clothing that is designed to be rinsed and hung to dry quickly for repeat wear the next day is also very useful, such as hiking clothing you can find at an outdoor outfitter store. This won’t be a trip where you need any fancy outfits, so casual, conservative, and functional clothing will be all you need to feel comfortable and prepared.

Saudi Arabia has a desert climate, which means temperatures can fluctuate greatly depending on the time of year and even the time of day. Mornings out in the desert are often quite cold, so a long-sleeve undershirt, sweater, and jacket that you can shed as the sun gets hotter will serve you well - however, always check for the latest weather updates online before you pack for your expedition, and don’t forget sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat!

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is still opening up to the West, and as a Christian tour group, we want to be sensitive to the culture and ensure positive interactions with everyone we meet. You will find that modesty is very important to the culture, and this requires extra care when packing - for example, both men and women should leave shorts and form-fitting attire at home and bring pants instead.

For women visiting Saudi Arabia, we recommend longer shirts that cover your shoulders, upper arms, and cleavage, as well as your rear (such as a tunic). Tops that reveal shoulders and cleavage are not considered appropriate in Saudi Arabia. Pants and skirts should also be loose-fitting and cover the knee.

A headscarf for the ladies is not necessary but is a way to show honor to our hosts. While the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not require foreigners to cover their hair, it is considered graceful to do so in public settings such as the airport or in town. If ladies would like to bring a headscarf, choose a long, lightweight, non-synthetic fabric - this can be carried with you and placed over your head when the situation calls for it. For warm weather, we suggest something like this Lightweight Linen Scarf.

Our host country will be very appreciative as they observe our respectful conduct, and your witness for Christ will be given an advantage on our journey!

What kind of shoes should I wear when traveling to Saudi Arabia?

Bring a comfortable pair of walking shoes that you will be able to walk around in on uneven ground, dirt, or rocks. We recommend your shoes already be broken in so you don’t get blisters! These will protect your feet when we are out in the desert of Midian, as well as keep you comfortable when traveling. It’s also nice to have a pair to change into at the end of a long day, so do bring a pair of comfortable shoes as well, such as sandals - the locals wear them, too!

How do I do laundry when I’m traveling in Saudi Arabia?

If you need to do laundry on the trip, there are two options:

  1. Use the laundry service at your hotel. The best time to do this is when you are staying at the same hotel for two nights in a row or more. It doesn’t typically cost too much to make use of the laundry service, so check with the hotel front desk when you check-in.
  2. Do your laundry by hand. If you have delicate items or have packed clothing that dries quickly, it’s easy to do it in the sink at the hotel and save some money! To make it even easier, bring a good cold-water soap (like this travel-size laundry detergent) as well as a couple of large Ziploc bags… just in case your laundry isn’t fully dry by check-out time and you need to pack it into your suitcase.
I’m taking the camping extension - what should I expect the camp at Jabal al-Lawz to be like?

Camping at the base of the real Mount Sinai in Saudi Arabia is an awe-inspiring experience! You don’t have to be a hiker or camper to enjoy a night under the stars, either - amenities at our camp include a mobile kitchen and bathroom, private tents, air mattresses, and sleeping bags. Fall asleep in comfort to the sounds of a crackling fire, nestled under the shadow of the blackened peak of Jabal al-Lawz… and wake to the brilliant sunrise over the desert of Midian for your morning tea or coffee.

While we have native Saudi tribesmen ready to guide those eager to climb Mount Sinai, you don’t need to climb the mountain to see the evidence of the Exodus - numerous rock inscriptions, including proto-Canaanite Hebrew letters, and sites of incredible archaeological significance abound for you to explore at the base! Evidence of the Israelite camp at Jabal al-Lawz is all over the area, and you can appreciate the significance of the site just as well from the base of the mountain as you can from the top!

What kind of physical activity does a tour of Saudi Arabia require?

Much of the tour in Saudi Arabia requires a reasonable level of activity - there are some slightly more demanding walks at certain sites that we would consider a hike, various elevations, and a busy schedule. It’s a good idea to begin working on your endurance now, especially if you do not typically do much walking. If you are not used to heat, please keep in mind that the sun can sap your energy and you will need to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. We will spend hours each day driving in the desert as well.

If you are camping at the base of Mount Sinai in Saudi Arabia and hoping to climb the mountain, be advised that this is both a strenuous and rewarding climb! Please see [link to climbing page] for more details and consider training well in advance!

If you are concerned about your mobility and need more information about this tour, please give us a call at (888) 771-8717 and we can discuss the activity level as it pertains to your needs specifically.

I’ve heard I’ll be getting a package from Living Passages before we leave on the trip. What will I get in my box?

About two weeks before departure on your tour, Living Passages will mail you a few little gifts: a button-down shirt that is perfect for keeping the sun off, luggage tags to help you and the porters keep track of your bags, and a name badge to make it easy to identify who is part of the tour group.

We will also mail you hard copies of tour documents for you to bring with you on the trip. These will include any visas or insurance documents that we’ve arranged on your behalf as well as a day-to-day itinerary, a contact list complete with hotel and guide information, a list of your fellow travelers, and a final letter with any updates to help you navigate your travel.

We hope these things will be a blessing to you and help you on your journey! If you want to guarantee to be recognized by fellow travelers, we ask that you wear your complimentary Living Passages shirt and name badge upon your arrival.

My package has arrived, but my shirt doesn’t fit right - can I exchange it?

Each shirt is custom-ordered based on the size you requested in your traveler information form when you completed your registration, according to the size chart provided. Because shirts are customized for each tour and traveler, we unfortunately don’t have the ability to exchange these gifts at this time. However, if your shirt does not fit you as desired, please still bring it on the tour and have it with you at dinner on the first night: you may find that other travelers are looking to swap for a different size as well and that you can exchange them amongst yourselves!

How do I meet up with my tour group?

If you are taking the group air, you will be on the same flight as most of your group - you’ll be traveling overseas together and will likely meet as you wait at your gate or board the plane, especially if you are wearing your complimentary Living Passages shirt!

If you have booked your own flights that arrive at the same time or earlier than the group air schedule, you will meet your tour group at the airport when you arrive, and then leave the airport together.

More specific information will be provided to you as the departure date draws closer, but in either scenario, expect to collect any luggage you may have checked and make your way to the Arrivals Hall of the airport - look for the representative holding a “Living Passages” sign who will be waiting to greet you! To make it easier to identify one another (and help the representative spot you in the busy airport!), please wear your Living Passages button-up shirt for your arrival, along with your name badge. It also helps to attach your Living Passages luggage tags to each bag you’re traveling with. (These items, along with your tour documents, will be mailed to all US residents approx. 2 weeks before departure. For participants residing in other countries, our representative will hand-deliver your items to you on the first day of the tour.)

Your tour group will use WhatsApp and/or Signal to stay in contact prior to and during your Christian tour. Download the apps before you leave if you are able. After you have downloaded the app, please be sure to send Living Passages the cell phone number that you will be using during your travels so we can add the correct number to the group chat. If you have flight delays or encounter any problems while traveling, this app is a great place to mention them to keep the coordinator informed of any issues - or to help you find the group once you arrive!

If you have trouble with the app, don’t worry - you can connect with your tour representative by email, and they will be happy to help you get the app working on the first day of the tour so you don’t miss out on any communications or photos that other travelers share on the trip.

What kind of luggage do I bring with me to Saudi Arabia? Are there any size restrictions?

Airlines change their luggage restrictions frequently, and no airline is the same. It’s always best to check directly with the airline you are booked on to see the latest luggage requirements, and what kind of items you are allowed to bring on the plane.

Living Passages strongly recommends traveling light and packing everything you will need for your trip into a carry-on bag and “personal item,” such as a small backpack. Checked luggage can sometimes be lost by airlines, resulting in travelers not receiving their baggage for days after their arrival. This can cause unnecessary issues, and your tour schedule may not allow much time or opportunity for purchasing replacement items if your luggage is lost.

Because of this, as well as ever-increasing fees for checked luggage, we suggest not checking a bag unless absolutely necessary, or limiting yourself to a single checked bag in these cases. Our buses have limited room for luggage transportation, and there will not be space to keep more than a small backpack with you on the bus. In Saudi Arabia, many of our travel days will be spent in a 4WD vehicle with 3 other passengers and all your luggage. Space will be very limited, so please be considerate of your fellow passengers. 

If you need to check a bag, be sure to pack a couple of changes of clothing, necessary toiletries, and all medications, cameras, etc. in your carry-on luggage just in case your checked luggage is delayed. This way, if your checked bag is delayed or lost, you’ll have what you need to enjoy the first days of your tour while the airline forwards it to you, without missing valuable days of your trip to shopping.

Special luggage tags will be sent to you approximately two weeks prior to departure - please attach these to each piece of luggage. They are very helpful to baggage handlers at hotels!

What do I need to pack for a Biblical tour to Saudi Arabia?

Always bring all necessary medications with you in their original containers, along with copies of the prescriptions. It’s wise to bring enough for the entire trip, along with a little extra, as there will not always be a place to get refills. If you wear eyeglasses, bring an extra pair and the prescription just in case.

In Saudi Arabia and Israel, toilet paper is not always guaranteed in public restrooms – it’s wise to carry some tissues or a travel toilet kit just in case! Hand sanitizer spray is great for a quick cleanse while traveling, too! In Saudi Arabia, restrooms may be few and far between out in the wilderness as we drive to many Biblical sites. If you need to use the facilities, please let your driver know as soon as possible.

Being well-hydrated will help you feel your best on this trip. Consider bringing some electrolytes to put in your water each day, such as NUUN Tablets, or something equally easy to pack in your suitcase to keep you refreshed and energized. Always bring water with you when you leave for a day of touring!

You might want to consider wearing a fanny pack or light daypack to carry your water, camera, Bible, and any other incidentals you may need for a day of touring. For those who are camping and considering climbing Mount Sinai in Saudi Arabia, we recommend something like the Osprey Daylight Plus, which can fit a water bladder and has plenty of storage while remaining lightweight and comfortable. Whatever you choose to use, make sure it fits the carry-on flight restrictions of the airline you’re flying with if you’ll be using it as your personal item on the plane. We always recommend that you keep your passport, wallet, and cash in a secure location that is out of sight. While crime is low, a money belt or pouch that is worn beneath your shirt will keep your valuables more secure from pickpockets you may encounter in crowded areas. Do not keep your passport, wallet, or phone in your pockets or in your name badge lanyard, as these are easily accessed or stolen.

For more packing tips and product recommendations, check out our blog for 8 Tips to Help You Pack Like a Pro.

See this site for details on items that are prohibited for air travel: http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/prohibited/permitted-prohibited-items.shtm

 

What are some cultural differences I should know about before traveling to Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia is very different from many places you may have visited before. Here are some things to keep in mind as you travel:

  • The country is predominately Muslim. Prayer takes place 5 times a day at scheduled times. We may be preparing to see a site when the drivers or guides will need to take their prayer time. Please anticipate interruptions like this and be prepared to have a patient, Christ-like, humble response.
  • Media, including internet webpages and newspapers, are monitored and censored. Not all websites will be accessible.
  • Do not wear or bring any religious symbols (crosses, fish symbols, or Jewish symbols especially) with you on this trip. Do not bring tracts or gospel documents to pass out. You will endanger yourself and the rest of the group if you choose to ignore this. They are very serious about this, and it is a punishable crime in the KSA. A personal Bible is fine.
  • Men should never engage in conversation with Saudi women who could be married, even in a light or friendly manner.
  • The mutawa (police group that monitors women’s clothing) may approach at any time to ask you to cover your head. There may be some areas that women are not able to enter.
  • In some restaurants, male and female dining areas may be separate.
  • Never eat, pass, or receive food with your left hand.
  • Alcohol and pork are prohibited and bringing them can be punishable by 3 months in jail.
  • It is considered rude to show the sole of your foot or shoe - please be mindful of how you sit or cross your legs so that you are not exposing the bottom of your feet to anyone.
  • In the city, shops often close from 2:00 to 4:00 pm to avoid the worst of the heat.

There are some significant restrictions on photography. Please respect them by:

    • Not taking pictures of any government or official buildings (airports, military facilities, etc).
    • Not taking pictures of Saudi people without direct permission (Wahabi belief prohibits making images of any living creature).
    • Never taking pictures of Saudi women

If in doubt, skip the photo and don’t risk it. You may need to pay a fee at some sites for permission to use your camera.

If you want drone footage, please let us know - we may be able to secure permission for that for you in advance, as drones are allowed in Saudi Arabia. (Please note that if you are arriving through Jordan, Jordanian security will confiscate drones.)

Do I need to take any health precautions in Saudi Arabia?
  • Always drink bottled water.
  • Smoking is very common in Saudi Arabia, and you will encounter it everywhere: hotel lobbies, airport lounges, etc. You may find residue even in non-smoking hotel rooms, and your drivers may smoke as they take you from site to site. Please know that, unfortunately, we have no control over this.
  • There are currently NO requirements for COVID-19 injections or PCR tests upon arrival or departure from Saudi Arabia.
  • Saudi Arabia is known for its excellent medical community, and hospitals are often staffed by top American nurses and doctors. Special Saudi Arabian medical insurance is provided to you along with your visa which we’ve arranged on your behalf.
Should we tip in Saudi Arabia?

Tipping is customary in the Middle East just like it is here at home. For good service, tips are between 10-15%.

Tips for your tour guides and drivers are included in your tour. However, if you end up requiring extra attention from a driver, or if you climb Mount Sinai and your Bedouin guide is helpful to you, do consider taking care of them financially with a little something extra.

Porterage for your luggage is prepaid, although if there is an awkward moment with a bellman, an additional 5 riyal is appreciated when he’s brought your luggage up to your room.

Tipping for all your meals provided by Living Passages is included, although this does not include sodas, specialty coffees, juices, etc. If you are seated for a meal and order a beverage, it’s customary to leave a small tip on the table and settle your bill before retiring to your room.

Can I use my cell phone in Saudi Arabia?

To make sure you can use your phone while traveling, contact your cell phone service provider before you leave to ask about plans that cover you in Saudi Arabia. If they have an international plan, you can add it to your phone then. If you need to add unlimited data, please do, but if using the hotel wifi at the hotel in the evenings will be enough for your use, do not feel that it’s necessary.

If the cost of an international plan is not reasonable, let us know - we can take a moment at the airport for you to purchase a SIM card that works in-country and can give you internet access and the ability to call. Note that using a different SIM card will mean you have a temporary phone number and cannot receive calls or texts on your usual phone number while you’re using it. However, you will have access to WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and any other apps you have downloaded - these are excellent for keeping in touch with both friends and family back home as well as the group!

Is there internet access in Saudi Arabia?

There will be internet access at the hotels we stay at in Saudi Arabia. Some offer it for free, others charge, and some will offer it for free in the lobby areas. If you need to stay connected and able to email, call, and contact others while traveling, we recommend purchasing an international plan with unlimited data or purchasing a SIM card for temporary use once you arrive at the airport in Saudi Arabia. (For iPhone users, you will need to have your phone “unlocked” by your provider before you leave in order to use a different SIM card.) Most cell carriers have fairly reasonable international plans for travelers.

How do I charge my phone or electronics in Saudi Arabia?

To charge electronics in Saudi Arabia, you will need a voltage converter and a plug adaptor. Saudi Arabia operates on a 220V supply voltage and 60Hz, so if you plan to bring any electrical appliances, including hair dryers or battery banks for recharging your phone on the go, you will need to convert the voltage so it does not ruin your appliances.

Additionally, power outlets require a different type of plug than you are used to in the United States - in Saudi Arabia, you will find they primarily use “type G” plugs, also used in the UK (picture three rectangular pins arranged in a triangle). We suggest a voltage converter and an adapter with multiple outlets and USB ports, like this one, to keep things simple!

Sometimes the wall sockets are recessed, which can make it difficult to plug your voltage transformer directly into the wall. To make sure you can always charge your device, bring a simple plug adapter as pictured in the diagram below.

adapter image

Since many of the Old Testament sites we visit in Saudi Arabia are far apart, this requires a lot of driving and provides few places to charge your phone or camera. Especially for those choosing to camp at Mount Sinai, you may find it handy to bring a portable charger like this one with you - solar power, a hand crank, and lots of charging ports mean you’ll always be able to get a charge!

How can I prepare spiritually for my Christian Tour of Saudi Arabia?

As you travel, it can be hard to absorb all the sights, sounds, and teaching all at once. We have several recommended reading suggestions for you before you travel, to more fully prepare if you wish to dig deeper and find even more significance in the locations we will visit. Keep an eye out for an email containing relevant articles and reading material specific to your tour. Alongside your reading of the scriptures pertaining to these sites, we suggest:

Most of all, begin to pray now for your travel companions, your driver, guides, and hosts, your housekeepers, the shop owners, and all those God brings to your mind. Pray for God’s blessing on your trip, that He will use your investment to His glory, and for a Christ-centered response to each day and every situation. He will provide plenty of opportunities as you travel to be His hands and feet—what a blessing and a privilege!