Transfers: Safety Advice for British Nationals Undertaking the Hajj & Umrah Pilgrimage
by: Rashid Mogradia | CEO, CBHUK
This advice is for those travelling for Hajj & Umrah either in a group or independently to Makkah & Madinah, Saudi Arabia.
Whilst the highways and roads in the Hijaz region of Saudi Arabia (the main routes used by pilgrims) are maintained and highways are of modern standards. Itt is important to note that traffic laws differ country to country and this is no different in Saudi Arabia. However this should not be an excuse to drop your guard and you should always buckle up and wear your seat belt.
Drivers can be under pressure to deliver their clients as quickly as possible to the holy cities and may already have undertaken multiple journeys before picking you up. This is risky if he has not had adequate respite as he may not be as alert and may lose concentration or worst case fall asleep at the wheel.
A high speed rail network for pilgrims is being commissioned to become operable end of 2017, early 2018 which will ease the movement of pilgrims between Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah. Until then and where possible pilgrims have the following options during Umrah:
- Fly between Jeddah and Madinah
- Book a Government Coach ‘SAPTCO’
- Hire a Government Taxi
- Hire a Private Hire Taxi
All of these services can be made by your Tour Operator.
During Hajj, Internal transfers are delivered by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj & Umrah. Some Hajj Licensed Organisers may offer Private Transfers as part of your package these are often luxury and newer coaches, but does come at a cost.
Road Infrastructure in Saudi Arabia
There are 221,375 kilometers of well-built roadways in Saudi Arabia. The most important highway is Highway 40 which crosses the Arabian Desert and the entire country from the west coast to the east. At 1,359 km it connects Jeddah and Mecca, passes through Riyadh, and continues to Dammam on the Persian Gulf.
Rules and Regulations
When it comes to driving in Saudi Arabia, the usual rules apply, that is on paper. Drivers and passengers must wear seatbelts. It is illegal to speed and to use a cell phone while driving. However, on the road things are quite different.
Saudis drive on the right hand side of the road.
The speed limit for driving in Saudi Arabia is:
- 45 km/h in urban areas
- 80 – 120 km/h on motorways.
In 2010 the government introduced an automated traffic control and management system, SAHER, which monitors speeding as well as other traffic violations. If caught by SAHER they will text you a message to say that you’ve been fined. Fines increase as time goes by and they quickly become expensive.
“A delay is better than a disaster”.
Tips & Advice
Below are some tips and advice when travelling between the 2 holy cities and to ensure the journey does not become tiresome for you and more importantly the driver:
- Always book your pilgrimage package with a reputable and licenses UK Tour Operator who holds an Air Travel Organisers Licence and is Ministry of Hajj & Umrah Licensed.
- Ensure all transfers are booked through your Tour Operator.
- Ensure that the transfer company used by your Tour Operator is licensed in Saudi Arabia, and that is has adequate trade insurance and they maintain their fleet vehicles to a high standard. Ask for a written confirmation and/or ask to see signed contracts.
- Ensure you take out adequate travel insuranceand that it covers family members.
- Ensure that before you accept the ride, you carry out basic visual check on the vehicle such as checking if the tyres look inflated/deflated and that the general health of the vehicle looks decent. If in doubt ask for another vehicle.
- Check to see if there is adequate seating and luggage space. Do not compromise safety by over loading the vehicle with excess luggage and sitting on each other’s laps due to lack of space. Remember the journey can be long and tiresome. Consider the hire of another vehicle.
Before the start of journey
- Purchase a local Sim Card with Internet Data to allow you to communicate with family and friends and use in case of an emergency.
- Let your family and friends know the location and time of departure and an expected time of reaching your destination.
- take a note of the drivers license/ID and the vehicle registration number.
- Speak with the driver to schedule regular service stops during the journey for respite, food and prayer.
- The Journey to and from Makkah and Medina can be over 4 hours. Ensure someone alert and awake from your group sits with the driver during the Journey to keep him company.
During the journey
- Ask the driver to put the radio on and listen to Quran/Nasheeds during the journey, this will assist in keeping the driver alert and awake.
- Try and converse with the driver to keep him alert and awake.
- If you see the driver speeding, swerving or driving erratically intervene and ask him to slow down and take a break.
- If the driver does not oblige ring your Tour Operator immediately and ask them to intervene.
- Ring the traffic police or contact them when you are at the next service station.
- Whilst crime rates are low in Saudi Arabia, there are opportunist who target pilgrims. At service stations ensure someone preferably a male stays in the vehicle and looks after your belongings.
- Always carry your passport, mobile phone and cash/credit cards with you in a zipped side bag/waist belt – DO NOT LEAVE THESE UNATTENDED OR WITH OTHERS WHO YOU DO NOT KNOW.
- When you go to the washroom, be mindful of your personal belongings. where possible help to look after each others possessions by taking turns to visit the washroom. If you are travelling alone then DO NOT REMOVE YOUR BELT/BAGS or leave them hooked behind the door of the cubicle, chances are you may forget you put them there.
- Leave ‘breadcrumbs’ throughout your journey. Most people carry smart phones and have apps that allow ‘location pins’ to be sent to friends and families. Try and drop a few pins on your journey so that your loved ones can track you in case of an emergency.
- On route make a mental note of key landmarks which you can use to guide emergency services should you require medical assistance or there is an accident.
In Case of a Vehicle Accident
- Take a look around. If anyone has been injured in the vehicle accident you should call the police (and an ambulance if necessary) as soon as possible. The police should also be called if the car accident is blocking the road or if you feel there was foul play involved. Call 999.
- Call the British Consulate and advise them of the situation. They will be able to advise you further on a case by case basis.
- If there are fatalities the British Consulate will help in locating and releasing the body for burial/repatriation.
- If family members from the UK wish to travel out to Saudi Arabia they can seek further help from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Saudi Embassy or Tour Operator to acquire the necessary VISA to enter the Kingdom. Often hospital letters from Saudi Arabia is required. TIP: Always have standby family ready in the UK with a valid passport with minimum 6 months validity in case they have to travel out as short notice.
- Collecting details after a car accident If possible, you should collect names, addresses and contact details from any drivers, passengers and witnesses.
- Ask the other drivers involved for their car insurance details and try to establish whether they are the registered keeper of their vehicle. If they aren’t, find out who is and make a note of their name and address.
- Call 999 straightaway if someone leaves the scene of the car accident without giving their details.
Other information to collect from the accident
- The registration numbers of all vehicles involved,
- plus a note of each vehicle’s colour, make and model.
- The time and date of the crash.
- A sketch showing the positions of the vehicles involved.
- A description of the weather conditions, plus anything unusual you notice about the road quality or lighting.
- A list of damage to vehicles and a description of any injuries sustained by pedestrians, drivers and passengers.
- You may find it useful to take photos of the car accident for use as evidence.
Emergency Contact Numbers in Saudi Arabia:
|Service Provider||Telephone Number|
|Saudi Ministry of Hajj & Umrah (MHU)||+966-920002814|
|British Consulate General Jeddah||+966 (0)12 622 5550|
|Civil Defense (Fire)||998|
Make a note of the following numbers before departure from the UK:
|Service Provider||Telephone Number|
|Tour Operator (UK Number)
inc Emergency Numbers
|Tour Operator Local Saudi Contact|
|Local Saudi Umrah Company|
|CBHUK||+44 (0) 845 833 4145|
|Foreign & Commonwealth Office (UK)||+44 (0) 207 008 1500|
- CBHUK – the Council of British Hajjis cbhuk.org
- Foreign & Commonwealth Office – Travel Advice gov.uk/travelaware
|Jeddah||Makkah||64||103||1hr 30min||Highway 40 Makkah Jeddah Expressway|
|Makkah||Madinah||282||454||4hr 30min||Highway 15|
|Yanbu||Madinah||229||369||3hr 35min||Highway 60|
|Yanbu||Makkah||140||226||2hr 20min||Highway 5 & 15|
*Times and distances are approximate. Does not include service stop time.
Jeddah to Makkah
Jeddah to Madinah
Makkah to Madinah
Maps courtesy of Google Maps.
 Taking out adequate Travel Insurance is recommended by the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Individuals should consult their local scholars on such products in order to comply with Islamic Sharia Law.
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