The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia means different things to different people. For millions of followers of Islam across the world it is the ultimate Holy Land and pilgrimage destination. For a large number of expatriates from Asia, Europe and the United States, it is a land of opportunities. For the rest of the world, Saudi Arabia means oil – the lifeline of present and future economies. Saudi Arabia has so far lived up to all these definitions, and is now entering a new phase of its development.
On September 23, 1932, King Abdulaziz Al-Saud laid the foundation of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Large reserves of oil were discovered soon after, and within a span of six years, commercial production of oil began. The fortune of Saudi Arabia changed forever and the Kingdom rapidly moved on the path of a modern industrial state. Today Saudi Arabia holds a 25% share of the total Arab GDP and is the world’s 25th exporter/importer, with a foreign trade of US $78 billion. In all these years, the Kingdom has displayed remarkable political and economic stability.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) went through some political disturbances between 1927 and 1932, accompanied by local conflicts between tribes and the influence of external forces. Nonetheless, Al-Saud managed to build a strong foundation from which to rule.
The Rise of Saudi Arabia
The history of Saudi Arabia may be divided into three periods:
· Period One (1744-1818). During the early part of the 18th century, the country faced stiff political conflict which resumed until the first country was established by the efforts of Al-Imam Mohammad Bin Saud. However, the attacks of the Otmani nation, and the Egyptian ruler, Mohammad Ali Basha, led to its fall.
· Period Two (1824-1891). In addition to internal conflict between rival tribes, the Egyptian military made moves to remove the Saudi ruling family. Despite this, the country progressed through stable guidance and systems.
· Period Three (1902-present). Saudi Arabia becomes firmly established as the first new country in the region. King Abd Al-Aziz Bin Abd Al-Rahman bin Faisal Al Saud managed to establish a country which experienced unique commercial growth through the discovery of vast oil reserves.
· On September 19th, 1932, a royal decree declared the unity of the nation and called it the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).
· Before exploring oil, the economy was dependent on commercial exporting, agriculture, and pilgrims who came to Mecca and Medina.
· The Saudi government gave “Standard Oil of California” an area of 495,900 square miles to extract oil. A few months after signing the contract,
encouraging results came out in the “jabal thahran” area. In 1938, enough oil was extracted to start a business. The first exports took place in May 1939 from the “Ras tanora” coast.
· The increase in oil prices in the mid 1970s propelled the KSA into one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. However, its basic social codes, cultural principles, and religious aspects remain the same to this day.
Land and People
Saudi Land and people will take you through information on the historical background of the Kingdom, its political system, its main cities, its geography, its people, their culture, their language and their recreation.
The total Saudi population as of September 2004 increased to 22.7 million, compared with 13 million in 1985 and 21 million in 1999. The population growth rate in the KSA stands at 3.24%, which ranks somewhere between the lowest growth in Kuwait (2%), and the highest growth rate in the UAE (5.84%). However, growth rates in the KSA figure rank above the general average of 2.37%, registered across the Arab world. The high birth rate and the low mortality rate are the result of dedicated and intensive efforts towards health care issues.
Inhabitants from Saudi origins form 72.9% of the population, which comprises 50.1% males and 49.9% females. Foreigners form 27.1% of the population (6 million people), of whom 69.5% are males, and the remaining are females.
This rising number of foreign inhabitants is an outcome of the growing interest of foreigners in the Saudi investment sectors. Furthermore, this came as a result of Saudi government policy of using its oil revenues to expand general services and build a solid infrastructure. Egyptian workforce makes up the largest number of expatriates, reaching 16% of foreign workers, followed by India, Pakistan, Yemen and the Philippines.
Saudi Arabia, about one-fourth the size of United States, is spread over 2,150,000 square kilometers (830,000 square miles), occupying almost 80 percent of the Arabian Peninsula. Located in the southwest corner of Asia, the Kingdom is at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa. It is surrounded by the Red Sea on the West, by Yemen and Oman on the South, the Arabian Gulf and the United Arab Emirates and Qatar on the East, and Jordan, Iraq and Kuwait on the North. Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coastline stretches about 1,760 kilometers (1,100 miles) while its Arabian Gulf coastline roughly 560 kilometers (350 miles).
Desert covers more than half the total area of Saudi Arabia. A narrow coastal plain runs through the Kingdom’s western coast while a range of mountains run parallel to the coastal plain along the Red Sea. Along the Arabian Gulf in the east is a low-lying region called Al-Hasa. The mountains in the west of the Kingdom are very rich in minerals with large deposits of limestone, gypsum and sand. The eastern region has the richest reservoirs of oil in the world.
Almost the entire Kingdom is arid, although there is rainfall in the north and along the mountain range to the west, especially in the far southwest, which receives the monsoon rains in summer.
Sporadic rain can also occur elsewhere, sometimes very heavily, causing serious flooding, including in Riyadh, where the air and prevailing winds tend usually to be very dry.
As a result of the general aridity and cloudless skies, temperatures can vary considerably from a mid-summer maximum of 50°C (122°F) in the shade to winter lows close to or below freezing in the mountainous areas and, sometimes, at night in the heart of the desert.
Hail and snow may also be experienced in some parts of the country during the winter months.
Humidity is a major feature of the coastal areas, although this is usually tempered by slightly lower and less variable temperatures and a steady breeze, especially in the east.
Saudi Arabia’s agricultural development over the last three decades has been astonishing. Large areas of desert have been turned into agricultural fields – a major accomplishment in a country that receives an average of about four inches of rain a year, one of the lowest rates in the world.
Today, Saudi Arabia exports wheat, dates, dairy products, eggs, fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables and flowers to markets around the world. Dates, once a staple of the Saudi diet, are now mainly grown for global humanitarian aid. The Ministry of Agriculture is primarily responsible for agricultural policy.
Other government agencies include the Saudi Arabian Agricultural Bank (SAAB), which disburses subsidies and grants interest-free loans; and the Grain Silos and Flourmills Organization, which purchases and stores wheat, constructs flourmills, and produces animal feed. The government also offers land distribution and reclamation programs and funds research projects.
The private sector has played a major role in the Kingdom’s agricultural development. This is mostly due to government programs that offered long-term, interest-free loans, technical and support services, and incentives such as free seeds and fertilizers, low-cost water, fuel and electricity, and duty-free imports of raw materials and machinery.
Though distinctly present since the founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, attention given to industry has increased rapidly since the establishment of the Ministry of Industry in 1975 (1395 H) Industry in the Kingdom is divided into two categories
Encouraged by the State and run by the private sector, the conversion industries produce enough consumer goods and materials to meet the needs of the local market. The number of conversion industry factories in the Kingdom rose from 199 in 1970 - 1971 (1390 - 1391 H) with a total capital of SR 2.8 billion, to 2,458 in 1995 (1415 H), with a total capital of some SR 162 billion.
* The value of conversion industries exports totaled SR 5,436 million.
* The number of workers in these industries increased from 14,000 in 1960 - 1971 (1390 -1391H) to 218,000 in 1995 (1415 H).
* Loans extended for the Kingdom's industrial projects in 1994 - 1995 (1414 - 1415 H) totaled SR 55.6 billion, up from SR 35 billion in 1974 (1394 H), an increase of 40.1%.
The planning and execution of these industries is carried out by the State, which has built the two industrial cities of Jubail and Yanbu. The two cities are built to the highest technological standards of hydrocarbon industries and their derivatives as well as ancillary and secondary industries. Jubail city is located on the Kingdom's eastern Arabian Gulf coast, while Yanbu is situated on the Kingdom's western Red Sea coast. The two cities contain the complexes of the Saudi Arabian Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) and those of the General Organization for Petroleum. They are supervised by the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu, whose Board of Directors is chaired by the King.
* The actual production of SABIC'S factories totaled 21,950,680 tons in 1995 (1415 H).
* The number of workers of SABIC and its affiliated projects totaled 11,474, of which the Saudis constitute 63%.
* SABIC'S net profits totaled SR 6,281 million in 1995 (1415 H), compared to SR 148 million in 1985 (1405 H) (one dollar = SR 3.75).
* The value of SABIC'S petrochemical exports totaled SR 9,991 million, 66% of total industrial exports.
* SABIC'S industries recorded a 30% annual growth rate during the period 1984 - 1992 (1404 - 1412 H).
Political System in KSA, Shoura Council
The political system in the KSA abides by Arabic and Islamic laws as a basic legislative branch. A reading for this system, which was established by King Fahd Bin Abdul Al Aziz Al Saud in 27-8-1412, shows that the true identity of the Kingdom lies in its Arabic and Islamic roots (including the Arabic language). Thus, these are the basic rules that any investor must understand.
The political system rules that the Saudi flag must never be dipped because of the words “La illah illa Allah” (There is no true God but Allah) that appear on it. It also indicates that the system in the KSA is a monarchy, where the king is the premier authority in the ruling system.
However, the inheritance of the throne is not absolute; it enforces a very important factor, which is to go with the best for the country according to Islamic principles. The crown prince represents one of the fundamental factors of this system, which states that the king chooses the crown prince, or discharges him, by a royal order.
The “Shoura” Council
The “al-shoura” council represents one of the ruling methods in the KSA. It acts as a very important decision making body. Despite the system of monarchy, the authorized persons in the council take into consideration the opinions of many other elite groups.
The council, situated in Riyadh, consists of 150 members appointed by the King who sit for a four year term of office. The members of the council must be of Saudi nationality and aged no less than 30 years. Most importantly, each member must be a highly-skilled individual to be able to handle their responsibilities.
The council makes decisions and provides opinions on general political issues, which are given to the prime minister. On specific issues, it gives the general plan for economic and social growth. It also studies the systems, lists, contracts, and agreements with other countries, and then gives suitable suggestions.
In addition, the council examines the reports given by ministers and government sectors, which represent all parties that investors deal with, and provides feedback on these reports.
As for the connection between the Royal Court and the council, the system states that the King, or his substitute, must give an annual speech in front of the council telling them the country’s internal and external policies. The council also gives its decisions to the King, who, in turn, decides which are to be given to the prime minister. If the prime minister agrees with the decisions of the council, the work starts to bring these decisions to life. Otherwise, the decisions are handed back to the council for further review.
Generally, the work of the “al-shoura” council represents an insurance regarding the work of the ministers. This also keeps the policies (including economic policies) continuously valid, abiding by the rules and practical enough to suit the demands of all different types of people.
The Municipal Elections
As part of the ongoing political process, an election took place in the Saudi system in the year 2005. There are between four and fourteen members, half of whom are elected and half who are appointed. Municipals concentrate on budget projects, contracts, undertakings, system studies, and cost evaluations. These elections give the people a part to play in decision-making and give investors an opportunity to interact with managerial parties. All this reflects the maturity of a political system which affects investors in some way or another.
Makkah and Madinah, Islam’s two holiest cities, are located in Saudi Arabia. Makkah is the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and the focal point of Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage in which almost two million Muslims from all parts of the world participate every year. Madinah is the city where Prophet Muhammad emigrated and lived. Riyadh, located in the central province, is the capital city of Saudi Arabia. It is also the high-tech center of modern Saudi Arabia and houses the headquarters of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Jeddah, located along the eastern coast of the Red Sea, is the commercial capital of Saudi Arabia, and serves as an entrance to the rest of the peninsula. Jeddah’s ports hence become the main thoroughfares for trade.
The twin cities of Jubail and Yanbu are a symbol of the government’s vision of Saudi Arabia’s future development. Jubail lies on the Arabian Gulf in the Eastern Province of the Kingdom. It is located 80 kilometers north of Dammam, and is an ancient center and caravan junction famous for pearling. It has the world’s largest petrochemical complex. Yanbu is located on the East Coast of the Red Sea about 350 kilometers north-west of Jeddah. It houses the Directorate General of the Royal Commission for Jubail & Yanbu. It is a typical industrial fortress and a work of art in architectural engineering.
Saudi by Regions
Searching for investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia is easy due to the geographical diversity across the 13 districts - each has specific investment characteristics related to its economic and development needs. By getting an understanding of the geographic and natural resource features of each area, investors can easily explore thier investment plan for the Kingdom. Moreover, the large size of the country helps to attract further investment by paving the way for investors to easily choose a place relevant to thier investment plan.
The Al-Baha region is located in the southwest of the Kingdom, sandwiched between the Makkah and Assir regions.
The region boasts fine scenery, including mountains, valleys and forests. Combined with its agreeable climate, Baha has, in recent years, taken its place among the resorts where Saudi citizens can holiday in summer, rather than going abroad.
Other cities in this region are Baljarashi, Mandaq, Qilwa and Al-Aqeeq. These, too, have moderate climates.
Located in the north of Saudi Arabia, this region is famous for its agriculture.
The city of Jouf is the administrative capital of the region. It is famous for its dates and olives, having hundreds of thousands of trees.
Guraiyaat is at the extreme on the north-west of Saudi Arabia and is famous for its salt deposits.
Duma Al-Jandal is another historic city from pre-Islamic times. It is famous for its ancient forts, the Omar Bin al-Khattab Mosque and an ancient tunnel.
Tabarjal and Suwair are also famous for agriculture, with large quantities of sweet water. The government distributed land to the farmers, which resulted in an agricultural boom in the area.
Located on the northwest of the Kingdom, with Tabuk to the north, Makkah to the south, and Hail and Qasim to its east, the region of Al-Medinah includes the cities of Al-Medinah Al-Munawwara, Yanbu, Hanakia, Badr, Khyber and AlMahd.
Medinah is the second holiest city in Muslim world. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his followers migrated to this city in 622 AD.
It was in Medinah that the Islamic era began. It is the city of the Prophet. As the place where the Holy Quran was compiled, and where the Prophet's companions administered the affairs of the Muslim community, it was the seat of the first Islamic state. The Prophet (PBUH) is buried here.
Other cities in this region are Yanbu, which has a seaport on the Red Sea, and serves as the arrival point for pilgrims coming from Africa. It is also an industrial city.
Badr and Khaybar are other famous Islamic cities. Al-Mahd is famous for its gold mines.
Assir is a relatively fertile region in the extreme southwest (near Yemen) made up of coastal mountains. Mountain peaks rise to 3,000 meters and there is ample rainfall to support the natural vegetation and cultivation.
With juniper trees, wild olive trees, and even some larger trees, Assir is the only part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to support a forest.
The Assir Region has always been densely populated. With the implementation of government irrigation schemes, the agricultural potential of the region has been increased.
Abha is located in the southwest of the Kingdom. Its position, some 7,200 feet (2,200 meters) above sea-level, gives it a relatively moderate climate. Temperatures remain within a narrower band than in many other parts of the Kingdom. It also enjoys the highest level of rainfall in all of Saudi Arabia. The natural beauty of the region and its fertility have encouraged the Saudi Arabian Government to establish a number of national parks, enabling Saudi citizens to holiday in an outstanding location of natural beauty to rival anywhere abroad.
Some other cities in the region are Khamis Mushayt, Bisha and Al-Namas.
Located in the east and southeast of the Kingdom, the Eastern Region contains the Kingdom's massive petroleum reserves. The headquarters of the Saudi oil industry is located in Dhahran, a few miles from the administrative capital and port of Dammam. Ras Tanura, the world's largest petroleum port, is located to the north of Dhahran.
Dhahran previously served as the headquarters of Aramco, and is now the site of the King Fahd University for Petroleum and Minerals. It is served by an international airport of outstanding architectural beauty -combining traditional Islamic design with the most modern building technology.
Jubail and Yanbu constitute a unique experiment in development which has proved outstandingly successful. These two cities were planned to provide a purpose-built and highly efficient environment for modern industrial production.
Al-Ahsa is one of the oldest regions of the Arabian Peninsula. It is famous for its outstanding agriculture, and produces the best quality dates. It also has several tourism centers.
The fertile oasis-cities of Qatif and Hofuf are also located here.
Hail is surrounded by Al-Jouf in the north, Al-Qasim in the south, Riyadh in the east, and Tabuk in the west.
For centuries, Hail was seen as the “key to the desert” because it was the main transit point for pilgrims heading for the Holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, and for traders traveling north or south in the Arabian Peninsula.
Towards the end of the Abbasid Caliphate, when the purity of the Arab language was threatened with dilution by foreign influences, the Muslim scholars of Hail took on the responsibility for protecting and promulgating Arabic in its purest form. As a result, the city became an important center for research and knowledge.
Kuthair, Qais bin Jerwah, Al-Trimmah bin Adie, and Antarah bin Shaddad all belong to this region. The last of these was named after a poet who wrote one of the most famous of all Arab poems, “Mu'allaqat”.
The other cities of the region, Buqaa, Jubah, Hait, Al-Khitta, Rowda and Sameera, are famous for an abundance of sweet water. Wheat, dates, vegetables, and other items are cultivated here.
Jizan was known in ancient times as Almikhlaf Alsulimani. It lies on the Red Sea, in the southwest of the Kingdom.
The Jizan area consists of fertile plains, forests, and mountains. The alluvial deposits brought down from the mountains by rivers and floods have created the fertile plains, which extend behind the coastal swampland. The forest region (the Alhazoun district), which is subject to flooding, consists of forests interspaced with areas of rich pasture. The mountain region is part of the Alsarawat mountain range, which makes up the jagged backbone of the Arabian Peninsula. The highest peak in Jizan is the Fifa Mountain, which rises to 11,000 feet.
The Jizan region runs along the Red Sea coast for almost 200 miles (300 km) and includes some 100 islands.
This region is located in the western part of the Kingdom, with Al-Madinah to the north, Riyadh to the east and Al-Baha and Assir to the south. Cities in this region include Makkah, Jeddah, Taif, Rabigh and Qunfuzah.
The Holy City of Makkah is the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the place where God's message was first revealed to him, and where he returned after the migration to Medinah in 622 AD.
Makkah is Islam’s holiest city. Five times a day, the world's one billion Muslims, wherever they may be, turn to the Holy City of Makkah to pray. And at least once in their lives, all Muslims who can, perform the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Makkah. Thus each year the Holy City of Makkah is host to more than two million hajjis (pilgrims) from all over the world.
The Holy Mosque in Makkah houses the Ka’aba.
Jeddah is the commercial hub of the Kingdom, served by a seaport and an international airport. It has a huge pilgrimage city, a tent-shaped structure of outstanding architectural beauty in traditional Islamic design. Jeddah is more than 3000 years old and was known as a resting place for fishermen. It is the gateway to Makkah and is famous for its wide, beautiful corniche.
Najran lies in the southwest of the Kingdom. It is bounded by Yemen to the south; Al-Silayel and Wadi Al-Dawasir to the north; Dhahran Al-Janoub and the Asir region to the west; and Oman to the east.
Although Najran has a desert climate, the heavy monsoon rains that fall in the spring, combined with its underground water reserves, produce fertile agricultural land.
Originally, Najran was a small trading town known as Abul Saud. The large scale tree-planting program has created parks in Najran itself and in the surrounding villages. Najran also boasts the largest water dam in the Kingdom, the Najran Valley Dam, with a storage capacity of 85 million cubic meters (3,000 million cubic feet).
The other famous city in this region is Sharura.
Northern Border Region
Located in the northeast of Saudi Arabia, this region is famous for its livestock breeding and raw phosphate.
Arar is the administrative capital of the region. It lies at the cross-roads of international routes to Syria, Iraq and Europe, and serves as a transit point for pilgrims heading to the Holy cities of Makkah and Medinah during Hajj.
Rafha is another famous city in the region. It is named after a woman who used to sell pottery near a mountain in the city. It is a city full of ponds and ancient wells since the time of Prophet Sulaiman.
The other main cities in the region are Turaif, which connects to the GCC countries, and Awaiqliya.
Qasim is located in the center of the Kingdom, with Hail to the north, Al-Medinah to the west and Riyadh to the south. Some of the cities located here are Buraidah, Unaiza, Bakariya and Darya.
Buraidah, the twin city of Unaizah, lies equidistant from the Red Sea to the west and the Arabian Gulf to the east. It is the regional capital of Qasim and is located on the edge of the Wadi Al-Rummah. The Wadi Al-Rummah is the longest wadi (river) in the Kingdom, stretching some 370 miles (600 kms) from near Medinah to the Al-Thuwairat sands.
Buraidah has a typical desert climate with hot summers, cold winters and low humidity.
As part of the Kingdom's agricultural development program, the region of Buraidah has made an outstanding contribution to the Kingdom's wheat and poultry production. It has played a crucial role in enabling the Kingdom to become not only self-sufficient in wheat, but also a major exporter of the cereal.
The central region is considered the heartland of Saudi Arabia both physically and culturally. It is essentially a vast plateau area, but contains uplands, broad valleys, dry rivers and a number of marshes - thought to be the remnants of inland seas which existed in ancient geological times. Most of the central region is arid, with some oases in the north around Qasim.
Riyadh is the capital city of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and now rivals any modern city in the world with the splendor of its architecture. Broad highways sweep through the city, passing over and under each other in an impressive and still-growing network. Trees line the broad streets and avenues, giving pleasure and shade to all those who linger beneath them.
The name Riyadh is derived from the Arabic word rawdah, meaning “a place of gardens and trees.” With many wadis (a river run dry) in the vicinity, Riyadh has always been a fertile area set in the heartland of the Arabian Peninsula.
Of all the Kingdom's developmental achievements, Riyadh is perhaps the most accessible to the foreign visitor. It is served by the King Khalid International Airport, itself a marvel of design that combines traditional Arab styles with the best of modern architecture.
Other cities in this region include Al-Kharj, famous for its agriculture; Darraiya, an ancient city; Dawadmi, Zulfi, Majma and Shargra, among others.
Located in the northwest of Saudi Arabia, this region is rich in raw materials such as silica sand, limestone, and clay.
For more than 4,000 years, the city of Teema served as the summer capital for the Babel kings.
Al-Wajh is famous for its moderate climate all year round.
UmmLujj is situated on the coast of the Red Sea. It has long been famous for pearls and, more recently, for fishing, agriculture, and manufacturing gypsum.
Haql is situated on the borders of Jordan, Egypt, and Palestine, and is famous for tourism.
Duba is also famous for fishing and agriculture
Living in Saudi Arabia
This section provides information on the quality of life and living standards in Saudi Arabia. It shows business hours in the public and private sectors, and gives a glimpse of shopping & leisure in different cities of the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia's time zone is three hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
Banks, currency and credit cards
The Kingdom’s banking sector has developed excellent IT bases. Plenty of ATMs across the Kingdom offer wide-ranging services from cash withdrawal to utility bill payment. Saudi Riyals can be easily converted to any foreign currency (dollars, euro, etc.) at local banks. The most readily accepted credit cards are American Express, Visa and MasterCard. The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) is the Central Bank of Saudi Arabia.
Several Arabic and English dailies are published in the Kingdom. The two English language newspapers are Arab News, and Saudi Gazette. A wide range of American and European newspapers, magazines and books are also available in bookshops and newsstands.
The overseas broadcasting services of different countries are available on short and medium wave radios in Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom’s broadcasting service provides programs in English, French and other languages.
There are four Saudi television channels available across the Kingdom. Channel One is an Arabic language station and Channel Two is in English. The English Channel provides full-length films, short features and programs from European and American television sources. Channel Three is a sports channel. Saudi Channel Four is an all-news satellite channel which was inaugurated in January 2004.
Measurements and Units in the KSA
A Royal script sets the kingdom's measuring units, based on the decimal system, to be as follows:
· Length: meter and its transcendences
· Weight:kilo and its transcendences
· Volume: liter and its transcendences
· Area: Square meter and its transcendences
This section provides information on the different available means of transport including Airlines, Railways, Roads and Seaports. You can also find here information relating to Telecommunications, Healthcare and Educational services.
Accommodation, Transportation, Telecommunications, Healthcare, Education
The cities and towns across the Kingdom offer good housing facilities including apartments, private villas and compounds. Companies employing large numbers of expatriates normally have private facilities for their employees.
Expatriates have a marked preference for residing in compounds, although many independent villas and apartments are available.
Compounds usually offer a high level of recreational facilities and group transportation – for example for wives to visit the shopping centers and malls.
Air travel is the preferred method of travel within the Kingdom because of the distances separating the main cities. Saudi Arabian Airlines (SAUDIA) is the national carrier and has recently added 60 new Boeing aircraft to its fleet. It has a mandate to privatize and is currently at the beginning stages of outlining a privatization plan. In 2000, the award-winning SAUDIA carried 13 million passengers on 117,291 flights. All major airlines in the world offer services in and out of the Kingdom.
Riyadh's King Khalid International airport is 35 kilometers outside of Riyadh. The airport has facilities such as a hotel, a buffet, a bank, a post office, shops and many rental car agencies. Jeddah's King Abdulaziz International airport is 18 kilometers North of Jeddah, also with a hotel, restaurants, a bank, a post office, shops, car hiring agencies and special pilgrimage facilities. Dammam's King Fahd International airport is 50 kilometers Northwest of Dammam with facilities including a mosque, a cargo terminal, a restaurant and a duty free shop.
The Kingdom has multi-track highways and daily train service between Riyadh and Dammam. At the end of 2000, the Kingdom had 155,237 kilometers of paved roads, and in the last few years has been adding to that at a pace of about 2,500 kilometers per year.
The Kingdom owns the largest marine network in the Middle East consisting of eight ports, or six commercial ports and two industrial ports. They are Dammam Seaport, Jeddah Islamic Port, Jubail Commercial Port, Riyadh Dry Port, Jizan Port, Dhiba Port, and Yanbu Port and King Fahd Industrial Port in Jubail.
Car rental facilities are available in all major cities.
The Kingdom has witnessed rapid advancements in the field of telecommunications. There are 1,000 telephone circuits with direct access to 152 countries. At the end of March 2003, the Saudi Telecom Company (STC) operated 3.96 million fixed lines and 7.5 million mobile lines. Although mobile phone penetration is at less than 10 percent of the population, rapid expansion and upgrading of the network is under way. International telephone calls can be made to almost anywhere in the world. Internet services are freely available and the main cities have several Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Internet café's. High speed DSL Internet is also available.
The cost of mobile phone service in Saudi Arabia varies on the type of plan chosen. The basic service will cost SR 300 (US $80) for installation plus SR 60 (US $16) per month. Local and nationwide calls cost SR 0.50 (US $0.13) per minute at peak hours and SR 0.40 (US $0.11) at off-peak hours. An additional one-time SR 100 (US $27) installation charge gives access to international calls, the fees for which vary depending upon duration and location of the call. We advice you to visit the Saudi Telecom Company (STC) website for detailed information.
Medical technology is continuously being upgraded in Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has its own facilities to train doctors, nurses and other medical personnel, and Saudi Arabians rarely travel abroad to get specialized medical treatment. These services now extend to the most remote communities in the country. The private sector, which makes a vital contribution to health services, has expanded over the past decade. It operates a number of hospitals and clinics in the country. Major hospitals provide all sorts of sophisticated treatments including open-heart surgery, kidney transplants and cancer therapy. Saudi Arabia has one of the World's largest and best-equipped eye hospitals, the King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital, and one of the largest medical facilities in the Middle East, the King Fahd Medical City in Riyadh. The complex includes various medical departments and provides housing for approximately 3000 employees.
Approximately 11,350 doctors, nurses and other medical personnel, including the Saudi Red Crescent Society, provide medical service to the millions of people who visit the Kingdom for the annual pilgrimage of Hajj. Immunization against TB, polio, hepatitis and tetanus is freely available. Medical insurance schemes are available at reasonable cost.
Saudi Arabia's nationwide educational system comprises eight universities, more than 24,000 schools and a large number of colleges and other educational and training institutions. The system is open to every citizen and provides students with free education, books and health services. The government allocates over 25% of the total budget to education including vocational training, and spends around 13.17 billion U.S. dollars on primary education and research.
All levels of education are free for Saudi nationals, and private schools are available for children of foreigners working in Saudi Arabia. These international schools offer good education for children up to 14 years. Some foreign schools offer education up to 16 years.