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Country Reports

Saudi Arabia Country Report

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Risk Level

Low
Moderate
Elevated
High
Very High
Severe
Extreme

Overview

Executive Summary

There is a high risk of Iranian attacks on Saudi energy assets following the US killing of Iran's Qods Force General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on 3 January. Without a definite promise of US support, it is very unlikely that Saudi Arabia's leadership would commit to military escalation or retaliation. Unlike attacks between May and September 2019, IHS Markit assesses that, given the willingness of the US to strike such a high-level Iranian target, Saudi Arabia is more likely to be emboldened to respond against Iran if attacked, raising the risk of escalation and full-scale confrontation.Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has centralised political control. His willingness to detain and humiliate senior royal family members and businesspeople has likely intimidated any immediate challenge to his position, but the international criticism following the murder of dissident Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 is likely to have undermined confidence in the crown prince among leading members of the Al Saud family. Bin Salman's Vision 2030 aims to reduce the Saudi economy's reliance on oil and the public sector for growth and employment, fostering development in mining, defence, retail, and renewable energy. IHS Markit expects a more prolonged and moderate recovery for the Saudi economy, with GDP growth forecast at 2.6% in 2020, indicated by signals of lacklustre performances in key non-oil sectors and oil market volatility. The latter should encourage OPEC and Saudi Arabia to reassess restraining output to support prices. Both of Bin Salman's flagship foreign policy interventions – the boycott of Qatar and war against the Houthi militia in Yemen – have been costly and open-ended, and are weakening close regional co-operation with the United Arab Emirates. It is increasingly likely that Bin Salman will seek to ease the boycott and reduce the intensity of hostilities with the Houthi as Saudi hosts the G20 summit in 2020.
Last update: January 7, 2020

Operational Outlook

Saudi bureaucracy can be slow-moving and cumbersome, and investors are likely to face corruption-related challenges and lack of transparency. Business for foreign companies is usually facilitated with a necessary local partner. Reforms for online registration for business licences and utilities access were implemented in 2019 and significantly improved trade commerce. Market entry, navigating bureaucratic procedures, and compliance with government regulations are expedited if a partnership is struck with a senior royal or members of a small group of powerful clans. Such associations reduce operational delays, particularly in gaining customs clearance and obtaining foreign labour visas.

Last update: December 20, 2019

Terrorism

Very high

The Islamic State's capabilities in Saudi Arabia have failed to improve since mid-2016. Any jihadist groups in Saudi Arabia would likely aim to exacerbate social divisions and exploit the crown prince's social reforms, test security measures, demoralise security forces, and demonstrate the Saudi state's inability to guarantee security. In addition to attacks on security forces and Shia targets, the risk of attacks on princes, pro-government clerics, government officials, and religious sites is elevated, as is the risk of one-off attacks involving shooters or suicide bombers on venues considered "un-Islamic".

Last update: January 3, 2020

Crime

Saudi Arabia has faced persistent challenges in restricting human trafficking, drugs smuggling and, to a lesser extent, arms smuggling, particularly due to its long, porous borders and corruption at border entry points. Violent street crime in cities is unlikely. The main drug smuggling issues stem from growing domestic consumption of synthetic amphetamines and hashish smuggled from Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Egypt. The Saudis are investing heavily in border forces and monitoring equipment, but cross-border tribal networks complicate the implementation of truly effective measures. Saudi officials estimate that the seized amounts represent only about 10% of the total amount entering the kingdom.

Last update: January 3, 2020

War Risks

There is a high risk of interstate conflict in the Gulf in 2020, driven by Iranian need to retaliate following the US killing of Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani on 3 January, but Saudi Arabia's leadership will likely seek to de-escalate the risk of conflict. Additionally, Iran reneging on its Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action commitments raises the potential for a US strike on Iran. Iranian awareness of the qualitative superiority of the US deterrent maritime presence in the Gulf mitigates the risk of deliberate escalation by Iran leading to interstate war.

Last update: January 9, 2020

Social Stability

Elevated

A low-level insurgency in Eastern province's Qatif region has been contained by the Saudi security forces and is unlikely to promote broadening civil unrest among the Shia minority. In 2020, if public spending restrictions constrain the monarchy's ability to distribute patronage, and the government fails to deliver on promises to improve services and address housing shortages, larger and more frequent protests, including in universities, would become more likely in Saudi cities.

Last update: January 3, 2020

Health Risk

Very high

Vaccinations required to enter the country

Proof of vaccination against yellow fever is required if traveling from a country with risk of yellow fever (YFV) transmission and over one year of age and for travelers who have been in transit >12 hours in an airport located in a country with risk of YFV transmission.

Routine Vaccinations

Hepatitis A: A vaccine is available for anyone over one year of age. The vaccine may not be effective for certain people, e.g. those born before 1945 and who lived as a child in a developing country and/or have a past history of jaundice (icterus). These people can instead get a shot of immune globulin (IG) to boost their immunity against the disease.

Hepatitis B: A vaccine is available for children at least two months old.

Diphtheria-Tetanus-Polio: A booster shot should be administered if necessary (once every ten years).

Other Vaccinations

Typhoid Fever: If your travels take you to regions with poor sanitary conditions (for children two years old and up).

Rabies: For prolonged stays in an isolated region (for children from when they can walk).

Malaria: Recommended preventive medication (for a trip to the south or the west of the country only) - mefloquine (sometimes marketed as Lariam) or doxycycline (sometimes marketed as Vibramycin).

For Children: All standard childhood immunizations should be up-to-date. In the case of a long stay, the BCG vaccine is recommended for children over one month and the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine for children over nine months.

Last update: April 5, 2019

Natural Risks

Very high

Foreign visitors should be aware that Saudi Arabia's weather can reach extremes during certain seasons. Temperatures sometimes climb to 50°C (122°F) or higher and power outages often occur during heat waves, particularly in the west.  Flooding is common in the northern and western parts of the country, particularly between November and March.

Sand and dust storms often occur in the country and can disrupt road and air traffic.

Last update: April 5, 2019

Transportation

Elevated

All flights to and from Qatar have been suspended since June 2017 until further notice, and the Saudi-Qatari land border is closed.  Saudi Arabia (along with Egypt, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates) has also severed diplomatic ties with Qatar due to accusations that the country was funding terrorist organizations in the region.

The UK government has banned passengers flying direct to the United Kingdom from Saudi Arabia from transporting any electronic device larger than a standard-sized smartphone (16 cm x 9.3 cm x 1.5 cm / 6.3 in x 3.5 in x 0.6 in) in carry-on luggage. This includes laptops, tablets, e-readers, cameras, DVD players, and video games, which will have to be stowed in checked luggage for the duration of the flight. A similar ban previously instated for flights to the United States was lifted in July 2017.

Foreigners should be aware that travel by car within Saudi Arabia can be dangerous. Reckless driving causes a high number of road accidents and hundreds of deaths each year.

Public transportation systems are being developed in the country but are not yet operational. However, buses connect major cities.

By law, taxis must be booked in advance, even at the airport. Most taxi drivers do not speak English. Women are not permitted to ride in a taxi alone or with someone from the opposite sex other than her family or husband. However, authorities are usually accommodating for foreigners.

The railway network consists of one line linking Riyadh and Dammam. Five trips, each taking four to five hours each, are available daily. Women traveling on their own can only do so in first class.

Last update: April 5, 2019

Practical Information

Climate

Saudi Arabia's climate is arid all year long. Summers are very hot and dry, winters mild along the coasts and cooler inland. A rainy season (albeit with low levels of rainfall) lasts from October to April along the western coastal plains. In the center of the country (Nedj) nights are cool and days are scorching. The north and the south of the country is desert.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +966
Police: 999
Fire Dept.: 999
Ambulance: 999

Electricity

Voltage: 127/220 V ~ 60 Hz

Outlets:

Last update: April 5, 2019