Neil Crompton

British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Neil Crompton was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in February 2020. Prior to this appointment, he was the Director of the Middle East and North Africa Directorate from 2015 to 2019. Crompton joined the FCDO in 1995 as a Senior Research Officer in the Middle East and North Africa Group.

Saudi Arabia Culture

Saudi Arabia’s rich heritage and traditions have been shaped by its position as a historic trade hub and the birthplace of Islam. In recent years, the Kingdom has undergone a significant cultural transformation, evolving century-old customs to fit the contemporary world we live in today.

Saudi Arabian culture is deeply rooted in Islamic traditions and Bedouin customs, and it has evolved over the years with influences from regional and global interactions. Here are key aspects of Saudi Arabian culture:

  1. Islam:
    • Islam is central to Saudi Arabian culture, and the country is home to the two holiest cities in Islam, Mecca, and Medina. The majority of Saudis are Sunni Muslims, and the country follows a strict interpretation of Islamic law (Sharia).
  2. Cultural Conservatism:
    • Saudi Arabia is known for its conservative cultural norms. Modesty in dress, particularly for women, is highly emphasized. Traditional dress for men is the thobe, while women often wear an abaya (a black cloak) and a headscarf.
  3. Family Values:
    • Family is highly valued in Saudi Arabian culture. Extended families often live in close proximity, and family gatherings are important social events. Respect for elders is a significant cultural norm.
  4. Traditional Cuisine:
    • Saudi Arabian cuisine is influenced by Bedouin traditions and is known for dishes like kabsa (a spiced rice dish with meat), falafel, hummus, and dates. Arabic coffee (gahwa) and dates are often served as a gesture of hospitality.
  5. Arabic Language:
    • Arabic is the official language of Saudi Arabia. The country’s dialect is known as Najdi Arabic, and Modern Standard Arabic is used in official communications.
  6. Art and Literature:
    • Traditional arts, including calligraphy, geometric patterns, and Islamic art, are highly valued. Saudi literature often reflects cultural and religious themes. In recent years, there has been a growing interest in contemporary art.
  7. National Dress:
    • Traditional clothing, such as the thobe for men and the abaya for women, is commonly worn. The dress reflects both cultural identity and adherence to Islamic principles.
  8. Music and Dance:
    • Music and dance are a part of Saudi Arabian cultural expression. Traditional music often includes the use of drums and traditional instruments. However, public performances and dances are often restricted due to conservative interpretations of Islamic law.
  9. Hospitality:
    • Hospitality is a deeply ingrained cultural value. Guests are treated with great respect, and it is customary to offer refreshments to visitors.
  10. Festivals and Celebrations:
    • Islamic holidays, such as Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, are celebrated with enthusiasm. The annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca is a significant religious event.
  11. Vision 2030:
    • In recent years, Saudi Arabia has been undergoing social and cultural changes as part of the Vision 2030 initiative. The goal is to diversify the economy, promote tourism, and encourage a more open and modern society.
  12. Arabic

    Arabic is the official language of Saudi Arabia and the primary language used in all dealings and public transactions. English serves as an informal second language in the Kingdom and is spoken by a large section of its society. All road signs are bilingual, showing information in both Arabic and English.

Weather Sept-Dec

Autumn brings gentler weather and cool breezes in both Saudi Arabia’s northern regions and the southwestern highlands. While daytime temperatures remain warm and can reach the 30s in early fall, evenings are milder and fit for outdoor strolling, especially along Jeddah’s waterfront, indulging in al-fresco dining or visiting Al Ahsa’s cool desert springs. Don’t forget to pack your walking shoes and a sweater for air-conditioned buildings and cooler evenings.

Exchange and transactions

Currency exchange and transactions are easy in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s national currency is the Saudi riyal (ر.س SAR), which is subdivided into 100 halala. You’ll receive notes in denominations of five riyals, ten riyals, 50 riyals, 100 riyals and 500 riyals; and coins in one riyal, two riyals, 50 halala, 25 halala, 10 halala, 5 halala and 1 halala. Saudi Arabia imposes an indirect tax of 15% (VAT) on all goods and services purchased and sold by enterprises. There are some exceptions.

Dress Code

The dress code is dependent on individual establishments, some casual, others keen on sophistication. Places of worship specifically do require you to dress modestly while visiting.

British Embassy to Saudi Arabia

The British Embassy in Saudi Arabia maintains and develops relations between the UK and Saudi Arabia. Our work covers a range of issues including trade and investment, education, culture, development, energy and climate security and defence. Find out more on our UK and Saudi Arabia news page. We provide services to British nationals living in and visiting Saudi Arabia. You can access UK government services while in Saudi Arabia.

If you’re in Saudi Arabia and you need advice which is not covered by reading our travel advice then you can contact us online. If you’re in Saudi Arabia and you need urgent help (for example, you’ve been attacked, arrested or someone has died), call +966 (0) 11 4819 100. If you’re in the UK and worried about a British person in Saudi Arabia, call +44 20 7008 5000 (24/7, 365 days a year).

Visitors to British Embassy Riyadh or British Consulate General Jeddah

From Monday 16 March 2020, as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19) the British Embassy in Riyadh is open, but access to visitors or the Consular Section is by appointment only. If you are a British national living in Saudi Arabia, subscribe to receive Travel Advice updates via email and follow the Embassy Facebook page UK in Saudi Arabia.

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