Yes it is true. If you are a woman you have to have special travel documents. If your main mahram (legal male guardian) is with you then him escorting you will suffice. But if you happen to be a Saudi woman and need or want to leave the country without your main mahram, you have to have a special yellow card. This card is issued by the same office that issues passports and it has to be requested and signed by your main mahram. A main mahram is the legal guardian which basically means the father until marriage and then the husband. If a woman’s father and husband both pass away then guardianship passes to her son, brother or uncle; whichever one is an adult and closest. This mahram not only can he stop a woman from leaving the country without his permission but also can limit the countries to which his “ward” can go to. All he has to do is list the country or countries he will allow the woman to travel to on the card or he can leave it blank which means she can go anywhere. This part is just stupid because yes a woman might be limited to the countries on the card in a Saudi airport but once she’s in any other country’s airport, then it’s only a matter of a tourist visa. In regards to age, legally a woman does not have to have the yellow permission card after 45. However, the airport employees don’t seem to be aware of this. And if you do go to the passport offices and request the yellow card for a woman over 45, they’ll issue it.
Coming back to the country is a lot smoother for Saudi women. No one stops her or asks questions but if the woman does not hold a Saudi passport and does not have a male relative accompanying her then she is held at the airport until her sponsor whether an employer or relative comes to get her. But if a non-Saudi woman is leaving the country, and she has all her visa papers in order then she can leave with or without a male guardian.