Home Living in Saudi Arabia Telecommunications Guide to mobile phones and SIM cards in Saudi Arabia
Last update on February 03, 2020
Gayatri Bhaumik Written by Gayatri Bhaumik

The use of mobile phones in Saudi Arabia is, in a word, endemic. So, if you are moving to the Kingdom, you will find it very easy to set up your phone.

There are several mobile phone operators offering a range of pre- and post-paid options in Saudi Arabia. In fact, your only problem might be figuring out which one to choose. To help you make a decision, this guide provides the following information:

The mobile network in Saudi Arabia

As in many other countries, mobile phones in Saudi Arabia operate on a GSM network. In addition, most operators are now moving toward 5G technology. However, while phone signals are generally excellent in major towns and cities, they are significantly weaker in less built-up areas. To get an idea of mobile network coverage in Saudi Arabia, look at this map.

Wi-Fi connection in Saudi Arabia

Almost 80% of the population in the Kingdom has a mobile phone, so you should find it quite easy to find a Wi-Fi connection. Most public areas – such as hotels, restaurants, and coffee houses – offer free Wi-Fi hotspots.

Wi-Fi

Furthermore, Internet speeds are usually very good. In fact, in November 2019, a report stated that Saudi Arabia was 14th in the world for mobile internet speeds and 54th for broadband internet. Specifically, the report showed that the average mobile download speed was 55.58mbps. The average broadband download speed was slightly slower, at 52.95mbps.

You should know that the government monitors Internet use very strictly in Saudi Arabia. For example, recent reports have suggested that more than 6,000 sites – and 5.5 million links – are blocked in the country.

Can you use your own mobile phone in Saudi Arabia? 

As long as they meet certain requirements, most people will be able to use existing mobile phones in Saudi Arabia. Firstly, the phone should operate on a GSM network. And secondly, it should be unlocked – which means it shouldn’t be tied to a particular network. If your current phone meets these requirements, then you will be able to use it; you will simply need to get new SIM cards in Saudi Arabia. You can get your phone unlocked in the country, however, it can be expensive to do so.

For short stays and visitors to the Kingdom, you may be able to use data roaming on your overseas phone. While normal roaming charges can be expensive, most operators now offer affordable packages. If you choose to use these options, you should look into the pricing before you leave.

Mobile phone operators in Saudi Arabia

Three main companies handle mobile phones in Saudi Arabia. These are STC (Saudi Telecom Company), Zain, and Mobily. STC was founded in Riyadh in 1998 and has since become the leading telco in Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, 81% of their customers subscribe to mobile phone services, which accounts for 71%; or approximately US$10.1 billion.

Mobily launched mobile services in 2005 after winning a bid for Saudi Arabia’s second GSM license. Afterward, in 2011, the company became the first operator in the Middle East and Africa to launch 4G services.

The third mobile operator to enter the Saudi Arabia market, Zain was established in Riyadh in 2008.

Recently, several international companies have entered the Saudi Arabian mobile market. These include London-based Virgin Mobile and Lebara. However, these brands are new and have yet to see considerable take-up.

Pre-paid vs mobile contracts in Saudi Arabia

Most people use mobile phones in Saudi Arabia. However, that doesn’t mean they want to be tied to a fixed-term, post-paid contract. In fact, 68.8% (or 28.4 million) phone users in the Kingdom use pre-paid mobile services. Of course, the remaining 31.2% of mobile users do have contracts.

SIM card

There are good reasons for these statistics. As you will see later in this guide, mobile contracts come with many more features and often offer a better value proposition for users. However, pay-as-you-go users have much more flexibility to use their phones as they wish and have better control over how much they spend each month.

If you only plan to stay in the Kingdom for a short period – or you are a visitor – you would be better off using a pre-paid mobile option. However, if you plan to be there for at least one year and want to keep in touch with people back home, then a contract will give you better value for money.

Mobile phone plans and contracts in Saudi Arabia

There are several operators of mobile phones in Saudi Arabia, and each one offers a variety of plans and services. Because of this, you will have to do a little research to find one that suits your needs.

STC offers a series of post-paid plans under the name Mofawtar. These range from the Basic plan to the Mofawtar 5 package. With the no-frills basic package, you will pay SAR70/month for 2GB of internet and 100 minutes of network calls. However, the Mofawtar 5 contract – which is SAR800/month – comes with unlimited data, calls, and SMS, as well as roaming data and calls. In addition, you can get a 10% family discount for five numbers.

Zain’s post-paid packages are somewhat cheaper and may offer much more value for money if you want a new phone. These plans range between SAR199-499/month. You will get 1,500-unlimited local call minutes and between 15–200GB of data each month. You will also be able to pick a phone – at no extra cost – from a limited selection. Additionally, Zain has an exclusive 5G package. For SAR299/month, you will get 3,000 local call minutes, 50GB of data, 5G services, and a free smartphone.

Mobily also offers post-paid plans which are priced between SAR50-400/month and offer various inclusions for local calls and data, but no roaming. However, the post-paid 400 Package, which costs SAR400/month, is great value. That is because the package includes unlimited local data, unlimited calls, 100 roaming minutes, and 1GB of roaming data.

If you choose a mobile phone plan, you will usually have to sign on with that operator for a period of 12, 18, or 24 months. If you want to change your service provider before your contract ends, you will have to pay out the remainder before you can move.

How to get a mobile phone contract

There are many ways to get a mobile phone contract in Saudi Arabia. For example, STC allows you to subscribe to its services by phone and SMS or through their dedicated app or website. However, you will find it far easier to go into a store. 

Normally, you will have to provide your Iqama (resident permit) and passport to get your contract. You will also have to provide details such as your name, email, and address. However, once they have all this information, the operating companies will generally have your mobile service up and running within a few hours. If you don’t get your contract in-store, however, the process can take a little longer because they will have to send you your SIM card by mail.

Pre-paid SIM cards in Saudi Arabia

Many people use pre-paid SIM cards in Saudi Arabia, and for good reason. These offer far more flexibility and control over your spending. 

STC offers two types of pre-paid SIMs: Sawa 24 and Sawa Ziyara. The Sawa 24 costs just SAR25 and comes with credits that must be topped up regularly. The SIM card is valid for just 90 days, however, you can extend this by continuing to top up the value of your card.

Putting in SIM card

Conversely, the Sawa Ziyara is valid for 120 days and cannot be extended. You will pay SAR30 for the SIM card and then choose a plan that costs SAR40 or SAR70. Both come with 3GB of data and 3GB of STC Wi-Fi but have different values for international call balances and local call minutes. To top up your Sawa card, you can use the company’s website or app, self-service machines, or buy recharge cards in-store.

Zain also produces a range of post-paid SIM cards in Saudi Arabia. Kareeb is best for calling certain countries such as India, Bangladesh, Egypt, Pakistan, and the Philippines, for example. However, Khateer is great for local use. That said, if you want a pre-paid SIM card that functions like a mobile contract, you should try the Shabab service. These plans are priced between SAR59 and SAR199 and offer various inclusions for local calls and data. Although Shabab provides pre-paid plans, they automatically renew every month. Zain also offers a visitor’s SIM card that is great for short-term trips to the Kingdom. There are three packages priced between SAR55-SAR199 and they all include data, local calls, and international credit.

You can buy pre-paid SIM cards in Saudi Arabia at stores, the airport, or online. However, you will need to provide ID – like you Iqama or passport – to make the purchase. You will find many street vendors selling pre-paid SIM cards. A note of caution, though, do not buy cards from them because these are usually already registered to other owners.

Mobile phones in Saudi Arabia

In 2019, there were 20 million smartphones in Saudi Arabia; that means almost 60% of the total population has one. To put this into context, this is the 3rd largest smartphone market in the world and nearly double the international average.

Smartphones in Saudi Arabia

All the world’s most popular smartphone brands are available in Saudi Arabia. However, the most popular are – of course – Samsung, Apple, and Huawei. These three companies have 34%, 30%, and 28% shares of the local smartphone market, respectively.

iPhone

As in most countries, you can buy smartphones in Saudi Arabia directly from the telecoms. For example, STC has the Apple iPhone 11 Pro 64G for SAR4,095. Similarly, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G is available through STC with monthly mobile phone plans priced between SAR25 and SAR250/month. Alternatively, you can buy it on its own for SAR4,199 from Mobily.

Of course, you can also buy your smartphone second-hand. SOUQ, a subsidiary company of Amazon, is a good place for this as they offer a range of devices at good prices. For example, you can find an iPhone XS 512GB for SAR3,598. You can also try places like Friday Market (a Samsung Note 10+ 156GB was SAR3,000) or Expatriates.com (an iPhone 11 Pro 256GB was SAR4,200. Additionally, the Facebook marketplace has plenty of second-hand phones for sale.

Saudi Arabia mobile numbers 

If you plan to call Saudi Arabia from overseas, you will need to use 966, which is the international dialing code. Within the Kingdom, all phone numbers are seven digits long. In addition, you will usually have to use an extra three-digit area code. The most important area codes are:

  • 001 – Riyadh and central region
  • 012 – western region, including Jeddah and Taif
  • 013 – eastern region, including Dammam and Qatif
  • 014 – northern borders, including Tabuk
  • 017 – southern region, including Asir
  • 050/053/055 – STC mobiles
  • 058/059 – Zain mobiles
  • 054/056 – Mobily mobiles
  • 0570/0571/0572 – Virgin mobiles
  • 0576/0577/0578 – Lebara mobiles

If you need to switch mobile phone providers at any time, you should be able to keep your existing number. Mobile operators offer number porting at no additional charge; you will just need to let them know when you sign up with them.

Repairing a mobile phone in Saudi Arabia

It is possible to get mobile phones repaired in Saudi Arabia. However, it will probably be more expensive than in other countries. In addition, you will need to ask around and do plenty of research to find a reliable repair shop.

Mobile phone laws in Saudi Arabia

As in most other countries, it is illegal to use your mobile phone while driving in Saudi Arabia. This includes Bluetooth and hands-free devices. The law came into effect in 2018 as a result of significant road accidents linked to mobile use. If you are caught using a mobile phone while driving, you will have to pay a fine of around SAR300; you may also be detained for 24 hours. 

Phone laws

If you don’t have a mobile phone in Saudi Arabia

STC provides landline services throughout Saudi Arabia. Their Basic Home Phone plan includes free installation and costs SAR45/month – although you have to pay on top of this for any calls you make. The Home Phone Plus plan also includes free installation, but at SAR99/month, it comes with free local calls. You can also buy Marhaba cards to make international calls on these landlines. These cards offer a 25% discount on international calls compared to the charges on normal plans.

Public phones are quickly falling out of style in Saudi Arabia and you may have trouble finding these. However, your best bet will be public places such as shopping malls.