Sim Card for Saudi Arabia

Buying a SIM Card for Saudi Arabia

Whether you’re staying in a country for a long or short period of time, connectivity to the internet is pretty important.  We’ve been on the road since 2014 and therefore we manage our entire lives using the internet, so getting a sim card for Saudi Arabia was really important for us, even though we only stayed in the country for 70 hours.  Here’s what we learned in time in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia when it comes to internet access, and what your best options are for sim cards in Saudi for a visitor.

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We already knew when we planned this trip that we wouldn’t be here for long.  Our Saudi Transit Visa could only last for a maximum of 96 hours (you can read more about our experiences here), but our inbound and outbound flights meant that we actually would be in the Kingdom for just 70 hours and 20 minutes.  We were arriving at Jeddah International Airport leaving from the same place and spending time in Jeddah.  And during our time here, we planned a packed Jeddah itinerary, which relied on using the ride-sharing service Uber.  Therefore we needed internet access. 

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SIM Cards

BEST SIM for Saudi Arabia

The best SIM card for Saudi Arabia is an esim, which lets you get online even before you get off the plane. It saves time, its cheaper and there’s less plastic!

WiFi in Saudi Arabia

We’re pretty used to, these days, WiFi being generally available, it’s a big change since we set off traveling nearly 10 years ago.  Mind you we’ve changed as well.  We’ll try and make the most of a long bus or train journey, or have to use a hotspot when WiFi in our hotel or apartment is less than optimal.  And so we planned for that to be the case in Saudi.

There is generally WiFi in a LOT of places in Jeddah, which we visited in Saudi Arabia, but we had huge challenges with it.  Here’s a little more about that.

WiFi Access at Jeddah International Airport

When we landed at Jeddah International Airport, met the representatives from Saudi Tourism, and sat waiting in the Starbucks for our free transfer I fully expected that there would be free WiFi.  Not so.  The only WiFI access we found was in the Al Fursan Lounge when we left Jeddah 3 days later.  We found a great deal so flew Saudia Airlines Business Class (and you can read our review of our two flights with them here), and even then the WiFi was “ok, but not great”.

WiFi Access at Hotels in Saudi Arabia

Our stay in Jeddah was at the Crown Town Hotel.  It was one of four hotels where we could choose our free night to stay as part of the transit visa and it was great.  The breakfast was good, the staff were excellent and friendly, and the WiFi was ok too.  Even the electric sockets were easy to use!  I have no doubt that other hotels had decent internet access too.

WiFi Access at Malls in Jeddah

We spent a few hours in the heat of the day at the Red Sea Mall in Jeddah.  First to escape the lunchtime heat, and secondly we wanted to buy a GoPro for our upcoming trip to Maldives, plus it was enroute to the Al Rahma Mosque and a good place to stop off.  There’s free WiFi throughout the Mall.  However.  We could not get it to work at all.  It required that an SMS be sent to your cell phone to get it to work.  We had 4 working NON Saudi Arabian SIMS and couldn’t get a simple text message to arrive at any of them.  So no free WiFi for us in the Red Sea Mall. 

Why Get a SIM Card for Saudi Arabia?

I’m guessing if you’ve read the details above about our WiFi access and why we wanted a sim for Saudi Arabia, then you’ll understand why we think that getting a Saudi SIM is a good idea.  If nothing else, being able to book and use Uber (or Careem or MyTaxi) to get around was essential to being able to make the most of our short time in Jeddah.  It is just *so* much more convenient, than having to get cash to find a taxi, hope that your taxi driver speaks enough English to work out where you want to go (because my Arabic is non-existent), and so on.

Where to Buy a SIM Card for Saudi Arabia

You’ve got the usual options when it comes to buying a SIM Card in Saudi Arabia.  I’ll start with the most convenient, and the option that we went for.  An esim for Saudi Arabia.

Buy an Esim for Saudi Arabia

If you have a phone that can accept esims, then this is the simplest, easiest, and QUICKEST way to get a sim for Saudi Arabia.  It works the minute you get off the plane, you’ve paid for it and registered it BEFORE you get to the Kingdom and it just works.

This is what we used in Saudi Arabia for our SIM card and internet access.

Especially if you’re in Saudi for a short period of time, this is the out-and-out best option for a sim card for Saudi as you don’t need to spend any of your short amount of time messing around finding, buying, installing, and registering a physical SIM card. 

Just do it.  Trust me it’s easy.  We only have 70 hours on our stop-over visa in Saudi Arabia, and we weren’t going to waste a minute of that at an airport booth or at a shopping mall trying to buy a sim card. 

Get a Saudi Arabia eSIM here from Airalo.

Buy a Saudi Arabian SIM Card at Airport Arrivals

Of course, if you don’t have a phone that accepts esims, then you can pre-book a sim card for collection at airport arrivals. Or you can just turn up to the phone booths in airport arrivals and buy one there.

At the Jeddah airport arrivals hall, you can’t miss the mobile providers.  STC, Mobily, and Zain have kiosks right next to each other.  All these stores are open 24 hours a day and you can pay by credit card, so there’s no need for cash (read my guide to cash, ATMs, and paying for things in Saudi here)

If you decide to buy a SIM card at a Saudi Arabian airport then you’ll need to have the following information

  • Your passport
  • Your tourist visa details
  • Your fingerprint will be taken for biometric registration
  • Payment (you can pay by cash or card, foreign cards are accepted)

The process takes just 5 minutes and is quick and easy.

Buy a SIM Card at a Shopping Mall in Saudi Arabia

If you don’t have time or miss the booths at the airport, then you can head to a phone company store (just google them or ask at your hotel, they also have stores at all of the major malls), and then you will be able to buy a SIM card there as well.

You’ll need all the same information, as above (your passport, visa details, etc etc), and again cards and cash are accepted. 

Important Things to Know about SIMs and WiFi Access in Saudi Arabia

There are a few key things to be aware of when traveling to Saudi Arabia and using the internet.  The basic fact is that some encrypted communications are blocked in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

You can read more about what is and isn’t blocked on the internet in Saudi Arabia here – but here are some highlights that could make your trip more difficult.

  1. If you’re using VoIP for calls on an app like WhatsApp, then you should be aware that the voice part is blocked in Saudi Arabia.
  2. Viber is blocked in Saudi Arabia
  3. Telegram VoIP is blocked in Saudi Arabia
  4. FaceTime is blocked in Saudi Arabia

Generally when a country blocks a type of technology (like China blocking Facebook for instance), then you can use a VPN to spoof your location and get around the blocks.  Our guide to using VPNs and what they are is here.

And while many Saudi users (and visitors) regularly use VPNs to access blocked content or to bypass censorship many of the VPN provider’s sites are blocked in Saudi Arabia.

Using a VPN is NOT illegal in Saudi Arabia, but using a VPN to access blocked sites or content or to engage in unlawful activities can result in penalties.  So my accessing my bank and moving money, appears to be a legal activity, but using WhatsApp voice to call my mum, not so legal. And so while we chatted on WhatsApp, we didn’t use voice.

We’ve used ExpressVPN for more than 13 years now, to protect us when we’re on public WiFi networks, to access and manage money, book hotels, and put our credit card details in to buy things.  It’s been the best VPN, HANDS DOWN, above all others.  It’s managed connections in Turkmenistan and Cuba, and here too in Saudi Arabia, when other VPNs just did NOT work.

My voucher HERE gives you 3 free months with ExpressVPN.

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Our Best Buy VPN is ExpressVPN – it has unparalleled privacy, performance, a large number of servers, and a GREAT price too. 

FAQS about SIM Cards in Saudi Arabia

Here are the questions that we had about getting a SIM card for Saudi Arabia, and the answers we worked out.

Can I use an esim in Saudi Arabia?

Yes.  Absolutely.  You can use an esim in Saudi Arabia.  You can check out the options of buying an esim for Saudi Arabia from GetYourGuide here and from Klook here.

Can you use a hotspot on an esim in Saudi Arabia?

Yes.  Our hotspot worked perfectly well, meaning that so long as we were together we could use a single esim and connect our other phone and laptops to it and access the internet.

What’s the best mobile operator in Saudi Arabia?

There are three mobile operators in Saudi Arabia, STC, Zain, and Mobily.  STC generally has the best coverage and reputation.  But if you’re not venturing farther from the major cities, like Riyadh or Jeddah, then any of the providers will give you good coverage.

Can I buy a SIM card in Saudi Airports?

Yes, you can buy tourist SIM cards in arrivals at Saudi Arabian Airports.  The deals that you find at the airport will be at the SAME prices as in the malls and the phone company stores.  There’s no airport markup for buying SIM cards.

Does WhatsApp work in Saudi Arabia?

Yes, but only in part.  You can use chat, but you CANNOT use the VoIP part of WhatsApp, so you can’t make voice calls unless you have a VPN and have the VPN installed before you get to Saudi Arabia and also turned on in the Kingdom.

Does Viber work in Saudi Arabia?

No.  Viber has been COMPLETELY banned in Saudi Arabia for some time now.  This was because the communications company failed to comply with regulations.  You may be able to use Viber if you have a VPN installed.  However, the Saudi government also blocks some VPN sites, so your VPN may not work.

Travel Tips for Saudi Arabia

Final Words on Getting a SIM Card for Saudi Arabia

There’s no doubt about it.  Having mobile internet makes your stay in a country much easier.  If, like us, you’re traveling to Saudi Arabia for a short time, then the more you preplan the less hassle you’ll have in the country.  And getting an esim for Saudi Arabia was the best thing.  We had working internet from the moment we landed to the moment we left.  It meant that while we went looking for internet access (so we could report it back to you), actually we didn’t need it.  And it made our travel around Jeddah much less complicated, as we could always just grab ourselves a rideshare, or figure out exactly where we were and where we were going.

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