Expats may feel somewhat restricted when it comes to getting around in Riyadh. Cars are cheap, so most new arrivals opt to get a personal vehicle with a driver. While some expats do drive themselves, it can be a frustrating exercise.
Public transport in Riyadh is limited. The bus network is not user-friendly, especially for those who do not understand Arabic. A metro system has been under construction for a number of years and is set to be complete by the end of 2023. Until the completion of the project, though, taxis provide a useful alternative for getting around in Riyadh.
Driving in Riyadh
Expats in Riyadh often find they can afford cars they wouldn't have been able to back home, thanks to low import duties and cheap petrol. Roads in the city are well maintained, but local drivers are notorious for being aggressive and reckless, so many new arrivals hire a personal driver.
Speeding, cutting across lanes to turn, not indicating and ignoring right-of-way rules aren't uncommon, so driving defensively is advised. Expats can drive with a foreign or international driving licence for up to three months, after which they're required to apply for a Saudi licence.
Saudi Arabia has licence exchange agreements with Gulf countries, Canada, USA, the EU and Australia, this allows expats from any of these countries to simply exchange their foreign driving licence for a Saudi licence without taking a practical driving test. New arrivals who are not from any of these countries and regions will need to take and pass a driving test to secure their driving licence.
Traffic cameras are increasingly being used to deter drivers from running red lights and speeding, and fines can be steep. Expats should check the government website frequently to see if they have any as it is not permitted to leave the country with unpaid fines.
There have been some positive changes in regard to the rights of women drivers in Saudi Arabia. Although women were previously not permitted to have driving licences in the Kingdom, the government has implemented legislation to change this and, since mid-2018, women are allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.
Public transport in Riyadh
Historically, the bus network in Riyadh has been very limited. However, as part of the government's vision for 2030, it has been investing heavily in expanding public-transport systems in Riyadh. This means that more extensive bus routes are on the way.
While buses do exist in Riyadh, they are rarely used by expats. It's quite difficult for new arrivals to get to grips with the bus system in Riyadh, as there are no posted stops and routes are usually written in Arabic. Some expat compounds provide buses for short journeys to and from nearby shopping centres.
Taxis in Riyadh
Taxis are abundant in Riyadh and are an excellent option for expats who don't want to buy a car. They are reasonably priced, and drivers will usually use the meter if the passenger doesn’t negotiate a fixed price.
A taxi driver's English proficiency can vary from fairly decent to non-existent, so it's best to have the destination written down in Arabic before starting a journey.
Ride-hailing services such as Uber and local equivalent, Careem, are operational in Riyadh and can be a useful tool in bridging language barriers.