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Things That You Thought Are Banned in Saudi Arabia But Actually Aren’t

things banned in saudi

Some people think that Saudi Arabia is a place where things go backwards, meaning that people live like they did in ancient times. That may be true for some things which I probably should not be discussing on here but one of the things that contribute to this general opinion are the things that are (supposedly) banned in this country and to which this post is dedicated.

At the very beginning, I also believed that a lot of the things listed would not be available in Riyadh but that was because I have never been there before and I had nobody whom I could have asked in advance. So, once I arrived in Riyadh and spent some time in town, I was positively surprised and everything did not seem as “ancient” as I thought it would.

For those of you who are wondering, here is a list of the things that most people think are banned here, but they actually aren’t. Or at least not literally. For that, I will base myself on this list, which seems to be the most recent one I found and some other things I heard of.

1. Socializing between men and women: Okay, I must admit that THERE ARE LIMITATIONS on that aspect but it is not as terrible as most of you imagine, which is why I put it on the list. It’s not like men and women who are not relatives never communicate and just literally ignore each other. If you do groceries, you may end up talking to a person of opposite gender, especially if you bargain over the price of something. You will also end up communicating with people when you need to ask for directions. It can also happen that your spouse and you (or whomever you are with in this country) go out together with colleagues. In the end, you would certainly not show affection to someone in public like you would do in the west, but that does not mean that you will never ever talk to someone of the opposite gender, who is not related to you during your stay here.

2. Cats and dogs: That is total nonsense! I can imagine that this has been forbidden maybe 5-10 years ago but not now. I got my cat with me into the kingdom without any trouble and I know that there are pet shops in Riyadh that sell animals. True, some or even most Saudis may not be big fans of cats and dogs but that does not mean that they are literally banned here. If you can buy dog and cat food in this place, then the animals will certainly be allowed here.

3. Smartphones: Nonsense again. Smartphones and fancy technology (cameras and other stuff) are all over the place here. People are crazy about the newest technological items. Having an Iphone in this country is absolutely nothing spectacular. Almost everybody has one and they don’t only use it to make calls. Saudis take pictures all the time. Especially women. Riyadh is so far the first place I have seen where you can charge your gadgets in parks, at special stations.


4. Women moving around freely: It is true that a woman needs a man’s permission to travel on her own, but as of actually moving from A to B within town, that is not legally forbidden for single women. Surely that depends on your husband’s or any other guardian’s character and whether he personally trusts you or not. However, don’t think that as a woman, and especially as an expat, you are not allowed to go to town on your own. If you want to and your guardian doesn’t mind or maybe even doesn’t care, you may do so. Feel free to read more about that here 

5. Women at work: Same as for #4, women will need the permission of their guardian in order to go to work. However, it is wrong to think that women don’t work here at all. As for what I have seen, women work mostly in shops, schools or in hospitals. The fields may be limited but it is a start. Women here also receive higher education if allowed so by their guardian.  So, I would say that more and more opportunities arise for women to develop and prove themselves intellectually. Some men are even in favor of their wives working, especially when they have big families.

6. Dolls: No need to disappoint your children! In Saudi Arabia, dolls can be found in any store that sells toys. And not only can you find dolls that are dressed modestly, meaning there are dolls in abayas and hijabs, but you can also buy the good old Barbie and other dolls. All no big deal.

7. Books and movies: Yes, movie theaters are forbidden indeed but that does not mean that you don’t get to watch any western movies at all. My TV at home for example, shows all sorts of movies from the west and there is no censorship at all. That may be a little different when you try to download certain types of movies but generally, you can download lots of stuff here. As of for books, you can get a lot of English books here. Just go to a place like Jarir Book Store and you will see what I mean. I have seen books by Dan Brown, Danielle Steel, Nicholas Sparks etc. All available. There are even libraries here, believe it or not. I don’t know whether the books in there are in English, Arabic or both, but I think that libraries are a good start towards encouraging the usage of books, aren’t they?

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  • Reply
    April 13, 2014 at 6:08 am

    This is a very useful article, thank you for posting. May I suggest though that the word ‘They’ be removed in your title? It is better grammatically.

    • Reply
      April 13, 2014 at 9:02 am

      Dear Calpurnia,

      thank you so much for the nice comment and the suggestion. I was not so sure about the title at first, so I appreciate the hint. 🙂 Will fix that. I am also very glad that you like my article. Thanks and have a nice day! 🙂

      • Reply
        April 13, 2014 at 1:59 pm

        No prob:-) Please do keep posting!

  • Reply
    John Slattery
    July 20, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    Was this the original title: “Things That You Thought Are Banned in Saudi Arabia But They Actually Aren’t?” If so, there is absolutely nothing “wrong” with it grammatically. Can you take my word for that? Well, I’ve been teaching EFL/ESL for over 35 years now (19 of those years were spent in the Kingdom), so I’ll let you decide. 🙂

    • Reply
      July 20, 2014 at 5:16 pm

      Hhm no, I think I came up with that title myself. Wanted to avoid plagiarism from the other posts where I got the initial “rumors”. How is it supposed to be grammatically? That is always a struggle for non- English speakers. 🙂 Thanks!

  • Reply
    October 11, 2014 at 4:04 am

    Cats and dogs? Banned 5-10 years ago? Are you serious? Who the heck writes this stuff?! *rolls eyes*
    Here’s some ancient information for you: Ever heard of Salouki dogs? They are Bedouin hunting dogs, and are (probably) as ancient as the Bedouins themselves. As for cats… Abu Hurairah, one of Prophet Mohammed’s friends (sahaba), used to keep a kitten and take it with him everywhere he went. In fact, his real name is Abdul-Rahman Al-Doussi. Abu Hurairah is a nickname meaning “The Kitten’s Father”. And don’t even get me started on the Prophet’s story of the man who filled his shoes with water from the well to give to a thirsty dog (Google it).
    Modern information: My grandfather owned a few salouki dogs and… More than 100 cats in his (& my father’s, aunts’ & uncles’) lifetime. Every single person I know has had at least one cat during their life. Heck, we found a kitten in the street and raised him just a few months back! He’s all grown up now!

    Tl;dr. Cats and dogs are NOT banned in KSA, and they NEVER HAVE been. End of story.

    Yes I’m a Saudi… with English grammar & spelling skills that can put modern day Americans to shame. Sorry I’m such a braggart, but hey, it’s the truth! 😛

    • Reply
      November 2, 2014 at 11:54 am

      Thank you for such an informative comment. I do appreciate the facts you are listing, especially since you say you are Saudi. However, to cool down your anger and prevent your eyes from rolling too far away, I suggest you read over the list again. It says “I can imagine that” cats and dogs were banned 5-10 years ago, which should clearly imply that I am not making a direct statement that they actually were banned but I am voicing an assumption of mine and as you may know with your excellent English, assumptions are different from actual statements. Yes, I agree with you, cats and dogs are NOT banned in Saudi. That was the whole point of that particular paragraph, in case you care to read a little more closely. I too brought a cat with me to Riyadh which it says at the beginning of the paragraph so I am not spreading the rumors about how your country forbids everything. On the contrary, I am trying to get that myth out of the way.
      No reason to apolagize for correct English grammar. I am not American and English is by far not my native language so it is not like you would put me to shame for anything. 😉

      Have a nice day.

  • Reply
    October 17, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    Dude, I meant to roll my eyes at the fools who TOLD you that cats and dogs were banned, “who the heck writes this stuff?” Was said about them, not you.
    I wasn’t making fun of your grammar or spelling either.

    • Reply
      November 28, 2015 at 2:32 pm

      I understand that you didn’t mean me when you wrote this since the initial “nonsense stuff” was written by someone else. I just happened to find it online and like you, I thought to myself: what nonsense so I wrote what I was actually able to observe during my stay. It’s just that since you wrrote a comment on my post, I thought I should answer and clarify things in case you misunderstood my intentions. So yeah…no offense taken really. Thank you for the ancient information again. I found that really interesting.

  • Reply
    November 27, 2015 at 11:31 pm

    Superficial and silly things … I used to live in Saudi and witnessed a sheikh beheading a female in the street for alleged adultery. What is the penalty for apostasy, blasphemy and homosexuality in Saudi Arabia? What is the penalty for theft. And while all that goes on, perhaps you would like to offer an explanation as to why the al-Saud crown prince was recently arrested for having 2 tons of cocaine on his plane in Lebanon? Why can Arab aristocracy drink whilst the people are punished?

    Be careful about making Saudi Arabia an utopia of rights, because that it isn’t. And as I write this today, another death penalty has been authorised: for the keeping of dogs in the home.

    • Reply
      November 28, 2015 at 1:36 pm

      Dear Craig,

      thank you for taking the time to express your criticism. I am sorry to conclude that you don’t belong to the target audience of this blog but nevertheless I appreciate the opportunity to answer your questions that my other readers may have had, too. Before I address the points you have mentioned, may I ask from when to when you lived in Saudi Arabia?

      In case your comment applies to my own words and not the original article I linked to in this post, let me say that the reason why I didn’t write about things like penalties for crimes is because if there is one thing (and mostly the ONLY thing) Westerners know about Saudi Arabia, it’s what sorts of penalties exist for what sorts of crimes. So why should I repeat what so many already claim to know? I am not withdrawing any valuable information from people by not having a post about that on my blog. Information on the death penalty in Saudi Arabia (be it true or not) can be found anywhere from the website of the Saudi embassy over Wikipedia articles to articles published by international news agencies who do nothing but point out what punishment you will face for doing such and such thing, the exact same articles with neat charts and numbers being posted over and over again. So if there already are hundreds of sources talking about the things you have mentioned, what is the point of me joining them? Why should people read this blog then if the exact same information is already out there in masses and can be looked up somewhere else? I am not doing anyone a favor by reproducing what already exists. I have in fact, dedicated a post to explaining why I write about daily life things in a positive aspect.

      You are asking me to “offer an explanation” for why a crown prince has been arrested for the possession of drugs. Well, the most obvious general explanation would be that possession of drugs is generally illegal anywhere in the world and if someone is found with drugs, the next step should be arrest. However, it also seems like I have to point out to you that it is not my job to offer explanations for what politicians do in this country though I will try my best to answer your questions. I cannot, and I don’t want to justify or explain why things are done the way they are done. I was an expat and guest during my time in Riyadh. Unlike other Westerners I think that I have no right, especially since I am NOT Saudi myself and this is NOT my country, to stand up and talk to people about things I have no insight into. Even if I did think that I should be explaining things, I had neither the linguistic ability nor access to accurate sources to do so and I do not wish to write about things I have no solid backup for, simply because this is what people want to hear. If you or anyone else wishes to hear explanations about national political matters, I encourage you not ask an expat high school student (a fact I have made clear on my “about” page) but talk to a Saudi national instead. The only thing I can surely know to be true are my own experiences and THIS is what this blog is about.

      In terms of alcohol consumption, you probably know yourself that there are many regular Saudi citizens who drink alcohol in the kingdom. It should not be a secret by now that events hosted by embassies serving all sorts of alcohol are well visited by expats and Saudis alike. As long as this stuff happens behind the walls of a compound and is not made public like on the west, even the non-aristocrats get away with it. Not to mention all the international diplomats who bring alcohol into the kingdom since their luggage is not being inspected. Even the Saudi clerks in supermarkets know what people are up to when they purchase a bunch of grape juice, sugar and yeast.
      You are right indeed, Saudi Arabia is not a utopia of rights and I have made that clear in several of my blog posts. I think you misunderstand the idea behind all this. The point is not to sell this place as a utopia but to point out that life here, even if it is not ideal, can actually be made bearable. As a European, I am no supporter of Saudi legal practices but nevertheless there is not only one single truth about life here and I was trying to talk about this other (possible) truth in my writings based on the things I have actually experienced, which most of my readers seem to have understood.

      Lastly, I would appreciate it if you could provide me with a source for the authorization of this new death penalty. Where did you get that from? I was not able to find any such information (at least not in English) and such a penalty would really surprise me since I have been to pet shops in Riyadh that sell dogs. This new rule seems odd because that would mean that people who live in apartments have no right to purchase a dog and that all the pet dogs, the food and the toys one can buy in Riyadh are only legal for those who live in their own houses and can keep the dog in their garden only. Is that so?

      I hope I was able to answer your questions. Have a good day.

  • Reply
    April 21, 2016 at 9:23 pm

    So it is allowed to film the entire city?

    • Reply
      April 25, 2016 at 12:54 pm

      Hi Mark,

      no, I didn’t say that anywhere. I am no expert on this, especially not the entire city. What I know from Europe is that you need permission to film governmental buildings and you must ask for permission when filming a close up of the person. I saw people taking photos during festivals and such but if I were you, I’d be careful. Especially since religious people may be more sensitive on the issue of being filmed.

  • Reply
    January 5, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    From the Associated Press:,7340,L-3301505,00.html
    Only in Jiddah and Medina.

  • Reply
    June 20, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    New subscriber here. Love reading your blogs.

  • Reply
    Shanu Bhattacharya
    August 1, 2017 at 5:23 am

    Nice post ! It’s a good try to get myths out of the way about saudi arabia. Thanks for such a informative post.

    • Reply
      August 7, 2017 at 6:23 pm

      Thank you very much! That means a lot to me. Keep reading! 🙂

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