Currency Exchange Info
The Saudi Arabian monetary unit is the riyal, which is divided into 100 halalahs. Notes are in 1,5,10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 riyal denominations. The coins are in 5, 10, 25, 50 halalahs and 1 riyal denominations.
The riyal is quoted in US dollars but is based on Special Drawing Rights (SDR). As the SDR/dollar rate varies, so the official riyal/dollar rate is revalued at intervals to keep within a narrow band around the dollar (dollar = SR3.75). This fixed rate has been in place for many years, but may change in future.
The rate of exchange (for US dollars) you will obtain in Saudi Arabia will vary between 3.70 and 3.75, depending on where you change your money (bank or money changers).
General money and banking advice
There are many banks and money exchangers in Makkah, Madinah and Jeddah. They both give about the same rate of exchange. The banks do not deal with all currencies. They deal mainly with the mainstream currencies (i.e. American dollar, British pound, French franc, Dutch guilder).
Saudi Arabia has an excellent ATM (Automatic Teller Machine) network called SPAN. If your bank subscribes to Cirrus or Maestro you should be able to withdraw money from the ATM using your debit card. (We say should, as there is no guarantee that it will work, so do not depend on it.)
All major credit cards are widely accepted in the larger stores, and you can obtain a cash advance at certain banks on your card.
To exchange some of the less commonly used currencies you need to go to a money exchanger.
The banks require a lot of proof in order to change your traveller's cheques. They need your passport (or a copy), and proof of purchase of the cheques (the receipt showing the serial numbers).
The queues in the bank are also normally very long. The money exchangers normally don't require a lot of details (proof), and their queues are generally shorter.
As you read this, check the expiry dates on all your cards and make sure they do not expire during the duration of your trip.
It is much easier to change your money at the money exchanger, so avoid the banks wherever possible.
The "best" currency to take with you is American dollars, traveller's cheques as well as some cash notes. It is much easier to change notes than it is traveller's cheques during the busy period of Hajj. Some shops will accept cash dollars.
Take some small denominations of US dollars. These are useful if you need to change a small amount of money for food or departure tax at an airport.
Also take a small amount of money in the currencies of countries you will be visiting or passing through. Transit delays are common, and you may need to buy something to eat or drink or for trolley services.
Budget for any departure taxes that you need to pay. Most countries now include the departure tax in the price of the airline ticket. Since 1/6/99 a SR50.00 per passenger departure tax was introduced in Saudi Arabia. However passengers with Hajj or Umrah visas are exempted. This may change in future, so check with your agent.
Do not make all the traveller's cheques in your name. Make some in your partner's name.
Sometimes the bank will insist on seeing your passport when cashing your traveller's cheques, even though they are fully aware that none of the pilgrims have their passports with them. Don't argue, go to another bank instead. This is one more reason why I suggest you change most of your money at the airport.
Budget some money for Sadaqa (voluntary charity).
Make a list of all the people for whom you plan to buy a gift. Estimate the amount you plan to spend on each person. Budget, and put the money aside. This is essential as the shopping in Makkah and Madinah is very enticing, and you do not want to run out of money.
If you plan to do plenty of shopping, budget for excess baggage charges and possibly customs duties.
Be ready when you arrive in Jeddah to change your money at the airport. Calculate how much you require and change as much as you can. Queuing in banks later on is not much fun and the time could be better spent in Ibadah.
Do not carry all your money with you all the time. Give some to your partner to keep (spend) and keep some in some other safe place. This way you are covered if you happen to lose your wallet.
Write down in a small pocket-size notebook all your traveller's cheque numbers and their respective values. Also photocopy and make a note of the bank drafts in your possession.
Take enough money so you do not have to resort to borrowing during the trip.
Unfortunately and sadly we need to mention that there are pickpockets during Hajj. As with any other trip, you need to take care of your money. Do not be careless because you are on Hajj. Buy yourself a good money belt.