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Saudi Arabia is admitting general tourists for the first time. Here's 20 things that could get you arrested or fined, like dabbing, carrying a bible, or wearing shorts

Business Insider Australia logo Business Insider Australia 09/10/2019 Bill Bostock
a man and a woman sitting on a beach: Instagram star Jay Alvarez shakes hands with a Saudi man wearing a keffiyeh and thawb at Saudi Arabia's heritage centre of Mada'in Saleh. Instagram star Jay Alvarez shakes hands with a Saudi man wearing a keffiyeh and thawb at Saudi Arabia's heritage centre of Mada'in Saleh.
  • Saudi Arabia is finally open for mass tourism after the launch of a new tourist visa on September 27.
  • The country is full of wonder, from five pristine UNESCO heritage sights, to Red Sea beach resorts, and futuristic cities like Riyadh.
  • But the kingdom's laws are complicated, and tourists can easily fall foul of them and receive a hefty fine, or worse.
  • Here's what to look out for.

On September 27 Saudi Arabia launched a brand-new tourist visa which will let tourists explore the country for 90 days.

It's a landmark moment for the Kingdom and its stop-start tourist industry, which hopes to process 100 million tourists a year by 2030.

But the legal system in Saudi Arabia is tricky to navigate, and full of pitfalls for tourists unfamiliar with life on the Arabian peninsula, or Shariah law.

In September 2019, Saudi Arabia rolled out 19 new public decency laws, some of which, if violated, are punishable with a maximum $US1,600 (6,000 riyal) fine, or imprisonment in severe cases.

Here's what you need to know.

No dabbing.

a screenshot of a cell phone: A poster from the Saudi Interior Ministry's National Commission for Combating Drugs saying that dabbing was banned, and warning 'people about the dangers of this on the youth and society.' A poster from the Saudi Interior Ministry's National Commission for Combating Drugs saying that dabbing was banned, and warning 'people about the dangers of this on the youth and society.'

The viral 2017 dance move was prohibited by the Saudi Interior Ministry's National Commission for Combating Drugs because of its association with drug culture.

It happened after Saudi TV host and actor Abdallah al-Shahani was filmed dabbing at a music festival in Taif, and later arrested.

No wearing shorts.

A Saudi man walks on a street past a field of solar panels at the King Abdulaziz city of Sciences and Technology, Al-Oyeynah Research Station, May 21, 2012. A Saudi man walks on a street past a field of solar panels at the King Abdulaziz city of Sciences and Technology, Al-Oyeynah Research Station, May 21, 2012.

In September's new public decency laws, men were advised not to wear shorts, and to "dress modestly."

The US State Department advises male visitors should dress conservatively when they visit Saudi Arabia, and not go without a shirt.

While the country is moving towards more a relaxed dress code, recently saying female travellers won't have to wear a long cloak called an abaya, it's best to err on the side of caution.

Women are still required to cover their shoulders and knees in public, the public decency decree states.

Getting drunk on the flight over, or bringing in alcohol could land you in serious trouble.

a large passenger jet sitting on top of a runway: A Saudi Arabian Airlines Airbus takes off from Istanbul Ataturk Airport in March 2019. A Saudi Arabian Airlines Airbus takes off from Istanbul Ataturk Airport in March 2019.

Alcohol of any kind in banned in Saudi Arabia as an Islamic country. Those who break the law are subject to anything from hundreds of lashes, to deportation, fines, or imprisonment.

You may be able to access alcohol on the flight over, but if you are deemed to be intoxicated at customs, you risk arrest.

Don't bring in a drone without prior approval.

a yellow plane flying in the sky: A hovering drone. A hovering drone.

Importing drones for commercial or personal use is prohibited without prior approval from the Saudi General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA.)

So, if you're a photographer hoping to get aerial shots, best call ahead.

Don't cut in line.

Shura members wait to speak with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud in Riyadh September 25, 2011. Shura members wait to speak with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud in Riyadh September 25, 2011.

The new public decency laws state a fine of 50 riyals ($US14) will be incurred by anyone who jumps in front of someone in a queue.

You can't bring any pork into the country.

a bowl of food: A pan of bacon. A pan of bacon.

Muslims do not consume pork. As the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia adheres to this principle with gusto.

This includes pork-flavored chips and snacks.

Strangely, it's forbidden to bring products containing frog meat into the kingdom too.

Gambling is in principle illegal.

Jamie Gold et al. sitting at a table: Jamie Gold becomes the new World Series of Poker champion in Las Vegas, Nevada August 11, 2006. Jamie Gold becomes the new World Series of Poker champion in Las Vegas, Nevada August 11, 2006.

While many Saudis play poker and gamble online using VPNs, the punishment for gambling can be as harsh as a six-month jail term.

Being gay or transgender is illegal.

a person flying a kite in the middle of a flag: A gay pride flag is waved. A gay pride flag is waved.

In March 2017, two transgender people were shoved in bags, beaten with sticks and tortured to death, according to human rights activists with the Blue Veins group.

Sex-change surgery is outright illegal in Saudi Arabia.

Related: Biggest news stories of 2019 (Photos) 

Playing loud music in public is taboo, and a finable offence.

a view of a city at night: A view of minarets of Prophet Mohammad's Mosque in the holy city of Medina. A view of minarets of Prophet Mohammad's Mosque in the holy city of Medina.

It's especially important to observe this rule during each of the 20-minute prayer times which happen five times a day.

The fine for playing loud music is 500 riyals ($US133) outside of prayer time, and 1,000 riyals ($US266) during prayers.

No public displays of affection (PDAs).

The new public decency code explicitly warns against public displays of affection, so be wary where your hands are.

The maximum fine for PDA is 3,000 riyals ($US800.)

No drugs.

A selection of ecstasy pills. A selection of ecstasy pills.

Any narcotics are illegal in Saudi Arabia, and many drug offences are punishable by death.

Bringing a Bible in to the country, or having any non-Islamic religious items on your person can land you in trouble.

Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: Donald Trump holds up a bible that was given to him by his mother as he speaks during the Values Voter Summit, Sept. 25, 2015, in Washington. Donald Trump holds up a bible that was given to him by his mother as he speaks during the Values Voter Summit, Sept. 25, 2015, in Washington.

The government has hinted that personal Bibles can be brought into the country for private worship.

But waving one around in public may see the religious police report you to authorities.

Photographing a Saudi without their explicit permission is illegal.

a person holding a cell phone: A woman using a camera on Safari. A woman using a camera on Safari.

The fine for taking someone's photo without permission is 1,000 riyals ($US266.)

Taking up seats and utilities reserved for elderly and disabled people is a finable offence

a desk with a computer and a chair: A priority seat for elderly, disabled, or pregnant people in an airport. A priority seat for elderly, disabled, or pregnant people in an airport.

The fine for sitting in a priority seat is a 200 riyals ($US53.)

Photographing government buildings is illegal, for national security reasons

Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud wearing a red hat and looking at the camera: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

It's illegal to subject women and children to pranks or anything that "can scare them or put them in danger."

Mesaad Al-Hamad et al. standing around a motorcycle: A woman speaks on the phone as men ride a motorcycle on a cloudy day in Riyadh November 17, 2013. Picture taken November 17, 2013. A woman speaks on the phone as men ride a motorcycle on a cloudy day in Riyadh November 17, 2013. Picture taken November 17, 2013.

The advisory was included in the new set of public decency laws in September.

It’s illegal to hold 2 passports in Saudi Arabia

a close up of a book: A selection of passports from around the world. A selection of passports from around the world.

Second passports will be confiscated by the immigration authorities if they're discovered.

Be careful with outward Valentine's Day displays

a person holding a flower: A man carrying a bundle of roses on Valentine's Day. A man carrying a bundle of roses on Valentine's Day.

Valentine's Day, a Christian occasion, has never really been permitted in Saudi Arabia, and was formally banned in 2008.

Though, last year the ban looked to have eased, with small red tokens appearing freely across the cities of Riyadh and Jeddah and no public injunctions against Valentine's Day items reported.

Sitting as a single man in the family area of a restaurant is also forbidden.

a close up of a person with a bicycle in front of a building: A Saudi woman pushes a stroller carrying her children in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia September 27, 2017. A Saudi woman pushes a stroller carrying her children in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia September 27, 2017.

In a famous September 2018 case, an Egyptian man was arrested in Saudi Arabia for having breakfast with an unmarried woman in the family section of a restaurant, and posting a video of it to social media.

Some restaurants have relaxed the divide between unmarried and married, but it would be prudent to establish the restaurant's preference before you sit down.

Entering Mecca and Medinah as a non-Muslim is forbidden

a castle at night: Muslim pilgrims on seen worshipping at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia in 2012. Muslim pilgrims on seen worshipping at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia in 2012.

As Islam's two holiest cities, entering either Mecca or Medinah as a non-Muslim is forbidden, so don't try to sneak in.

The punishment is either a large fine, deportation, or whatever the judge decides.

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