How to Rent a Car in Saudi Arabia (The Beginner’s Guide)

Is the best option to rent a car in Saudi Arabia? With a combination of almost seemingly endless roads through deserts and winding switchbacks between dramatic rock formations… Trust me, you’ll be silly not to hire a car during your trip to Saudi Arabia.

It has only been a handful of years since Saudi Arabia opened its borders to international tourists of all backgrounds and not just Muslims on pilgrimage. On top of that, Saudi’s current generation has only known there to be female drivers since removing the gender-specific restriction in 2018 (thankfully, it was the last country in need of the change). All this to say, Saudi Arabia has never been so accessible to foreigners, and with such an abundance to be discovered, hiring a car in Saudi Arabia will be the best first decision you make at the beginning of your journey in such a vast country.

Can I Rent a Car in Saudi Arabia?
Between the cities and vast landscapes in between, Saudi Arabia is built for cars, so there are plenty of rental shops in every major town.

Thankfully, foreigners with a valid driving license and an international driving permit are allowed to drive and rent a car across the country.

How to Rent a Car in Saudi Arabia
The process of renting a car in Saudi Arabia can be fairly simple, provided you arrive equipped with the correct information and supporting documentation. Continue reading to find out more…

Vehicle Spec
Which is the best car for a road trip across Saudi Arabia? Ideally, you’ll want a 4WD (or any vehicle higher from the ground) to truly experience the country’s landscapes. On the other hand, for a more strict budget, we believed that our Toyota Corolla was sufficient for our round trip.

Also, there is another point you should note…

Across the frequently long stretches of roads between the cities, fuel stations can, at times, become few and far between. This will be particularly noticeable for those driving a small vehicle. Our Toyota Corolla had a big enough fuel tank for this not to be an issue, for us.

Mileage Limits
It’s important to be mindful of the mileage limit specified on any rental contract in Saudi Arabia. Most major rental companies will limit users to 200-250 kilometres per day. Though this might sound plentiful, in Saudi Arabia, it’s nothing! For instance, the distance between Riyadh and Jeddah is approximately 940 kilometres, and the popular day trip to the ‘Edge of the World’ will be more than 200 kilometres too. Inevitably, there will be an extra charge to compensate, though this will be cheaper to pay in advance as opposed to upon the return of the vehicle.

Drop-Off Location
Is your outbound flight departing from a separate location? You could save time and skip the return drive by organizing for the rented car to be returned to a different location. For example, we hired our car in Dammam and returned the vehicle to the office at Riyadh International Airport. As a consequence, each car rental company will have a different charge cost for this benefit.

Multiple Drivers
It is possible to have a number of drivers on the paperwork for the car rental, and with the number of miles you will likely cover in Saudi Arabia, this would be recommended. For your reference, we were charged a total of 12 GBP (14 USD) to add a second driver for 6 days. We were asked to show our International Driving Permit for the first driver, but we weren’t for the second. This may have been because the football was on at the time, but either way, it would be worth trying if your second driver is without the documentation.

To rent any car in Saudi Arabia, you will need to be prepared with your driver’s license, an international driving permit, your passport, visa and a local phone number.

If you rent a car in Saudi Arabia, you will need to present a credit card. This will be used by the rental company to retain a deposit which would cover any damage and/or speeding fines that may occur along the way. The total amount of money on hold could range between 500-2000 SAR. This will be refunded to your account after a couple of weeks upon the return of your vehicle.

Visual Check
Like everywhere else in the world, the car rental company will record any bumps, scratches or dents from a visual check of the vehicle during the handover process. It is recommended that you also record a video of the markings that are already present so that you have proof. This would act as proof if you are being held accountable upon the vehicle’s return. Regardless, and in my experience, the Saudis seemed very relaxed without any drive to charge you for anything extra whilst the car is being dropped off.

Is it Safe to Drive in Saudi Arabia?
If you’ve travelled to other Middle Eastern countries, being the passenger of a car in Saudi Arabia will not feel too dissimilar to the chaos of any other country. However, from the driver’s seat, it can be intimidating and overwhelming for a number of reasons.

Sand – Driving across Saudi Arabia could be described as an exploration of different types of sand; sand is everywhere! Though it would be difficult to avoid the terrain altogether, drivers should follow the paved roads where possible to prevent any unnecessary tricky situations. In addition, road users should be aware of potential sandstorms too.

Speed Bumps – As speed bumps are typically installed for the safety of everybody, this might seem like an odd point of danger. However, for some reason, many of the speed bumps in Saudi Arabia remain unmarked. These are particularly difficult to notice in the darkness until it’s too late, and you are flying through the air with the nose of your car bouncing off the road ahead. And surprisingly so, some speed bumps are so high that small and lower cars will not be able to pass without any scrapes at all. Drive carefully to protect your car’s underside and to avoid collisions with those in front who brake suddenly. Similarly, watch out for potholes too!

Road Markings – Overall, white lines and markings on the road are present and clearly visible, although there will be many a time when road users come across stretches of neither. In this instance, try to imagine where they would be, continuing the theme of the flow before.

Lights – In some instances, there will be a lack or no lights, whereas, in most others, the lights will be dazzling and quite frankly, dangerously distracting. If you can, try to avoid driving during dark hours.

Drivers – The drivers in Saudi are not the worst, though they certainly will not be winning any awards in the near future either. Be prepared for the often sight of road users taking illegal U-turns, speeding, using their phones, crossing lanes without signalling, over-taking across double white lines, under-taking and ignoring any order at roundabouts. Drive cautiously; expecting the unexpected around every corner and along every stretch. Over and above, female foreign drivers in particular may attract additional attention from curious locals. Try to avoid such interactions so that both drivers can remain focused on the road ahead. You also wouldn’t want to encourage any races or showing off on the road ahead.

Tyres – With the varying terrains, giant potholes and many kilometres being clocked on the metre, Saudi car tyres are constantly being put to the test. Keep an eye on their pressure, especially before embarking on longer journeys across the deserts. There are plenty of tyre shops along the way, plus, the staff at each do not charge for refilling tyres. In my experience, with two separate cars for almost 3,000 miles, we had one flat tyre, one puncture repair and at least three tyre pressure refills.

What to Know Before You Go

The process of refilling your vehicle will be straightforward in Saudi Arabia. In fact, you will not even have to leave your car! Simply drive next to a pump with an attendant, open the tank from within (if necessary) and state how much fuel you’d like to purchase. Regardless of the difference in language, most attendants will understand “full”.

Visa and Mastercards are widely accepted in the cities, but they shouldn’t be relied upon in more distant fuel stations. Take enough cash – just in case!

Speed Cameras
Honestly, I’m not normally one for speeding (I promise), yet the speed cameras in Saudi Arabia quickly became the nuisance of our road trip. You’ll soon learn to notice them; they can be fridge-sized grey boxes or cylinders as tall as humans on the roadside. Plus, trust me when I say, you’ll notice them when they flash, especially in the dark of night in the middle of the desert (yes, I’m talking from experience). If they do flash, it means they have caught you speeding. The ticket will then be sent to your car rental company which will deduct the total from your credit card deposit.

Road users will have to pay particular attention to the varying speed limits, though they are clearly marked. Some of these signs are in Arabic numbers, some are normal numerals whilst others are displayed in both. Either way, it will be beneficial to learn Arabic numerals just to be sure.

Playing Music
In Saudi Arabia, you shouldn’t play music loudly during the call to prayer. This will not be an obvious issue unless you are blasting tunes with the window wound down on a regular occurrence.

Unlike Syria and Iraq, the checkpoints are fairly relaxed in Saudi Arabia, especially if you are a foreigner. If no one is around or the officer is preoccupied, slow down but continue driving. In other cases, they’ll most likely request your passport and car registration.

Camel Crossings
There are all sorts of creatures to be wary of choosing to cross the road last minute; dogs, donkeys, humans and camels are amongst the most common few. Believe it or not, there are actually many purpose-built bridges across the highways to accommodate the countless camel crossings.

Pit Stops
Personally, I made a habit of using any bathroom I might have come across. Toilet facilities are not frequent in Saudi Arabia, and they are definitely not clearly advertised. This was particularly prominent on the drive between Dammam and Riyadh. Plus, with the country’s tea and coffee-drinking culture, finding somewhere to ‘break the seal’ could become a daily challenge.

It may be best to mark your route between some Mcdonald’s and large fuel stations as you’ll probably have the most luck finding a bathroom there. Do not rely on supermarkets, Starbucks or other coffee shops to have such facilities. Otherwise, you could also look for a mosque. To do so, female travellers should ask for the women’s area which is often hidden behind the building. Remember, to enter you may also need to cover your body appropriately, with a head scarf too.

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