Saudi Arabia Is Opening Its Doors to Foreign Tourists for the First Time

Saudi Arabia has announced it will open its doors to international tourists for the first time ever, pledging to provide e-visas and visas on arrival to visitors from 49 countries.

Travel to the Kingdom has until now been almost entirely restricted to expatriate workers or those with business visas, and to religious pilgrims visiting the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

That’s about to change, according to a press release issued ahead of a new visa regime expected to be implemented Friday night. Under a new program, Saudi Arabia will welcome oversees visitors outside of the auspices of the Hajj visa. The Kingdom will also relax its strict dress requirement for female visitors, exempting them from wearing the otherwise obligatory head-to-toe robe, or Abaya, in public places and permitting them to travel without a male companion. Tourists will still be required to dress modesty and Mecca remains off-limits for non-Muslims.

Saudi Arabia says it expects to attract 100 million foreign and domestic visitors by 2030 and create 1 million new jobs in the tourism sector. The Chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage invited investors to be part of what he billed as “the fastest growing tourism sector on earth” in another press release that announced $27-billion worth of new agreements in the tourism sector.

Among the destinations Saudi Arabia hopes tourists will visit are five UNESCO listed heritage sites including the ancient city of Mada’in, home to the Nabateans before Roman annexation in 106 CE; Riyadh’s Masmak Fortress—which Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman bin Faisal Al Saud seized in 1902 before conquering the regions’ disparate tribes and uniting them to form the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; and the world’s largest oasis, which has 2.5 million date palms.

The following 49 countries will be eligible to apply for e-visas and visas on arrival:

  1. USA
  2. Canada
  3. Kazakhstan
  4. Singapore
  5. Brunei
  6. New Zealand
  7. South Korea
  8. Japan
  9. Spain
  10. Belgium
  11. Malaysia
  12. Austria
  13. Cyprus
  14. UK
  15. Croatia
  16. Estonia
  17. Andorra
  18. Denmark
  19. Germany
  20. Bulgaria
  21. France
  22. Hungary
  23. Czech Republic
  24. Holland
  25. Italy
  26. Finland
  27. Ireland
  28. Lithuania
  29. Greece
  30. Liechtenstein
  31. Monaco
  32. Iceland
  33. Malta
  34. Poland
  35. Latvia
  36. Norway
  37. Russia
  38. Luxembourg
  39. Romania
  40. Slovenia
  41. Montenegro
  42. Slovakia
  43. Switzerland
  44. Portugal
  45. Sweden
  46. Australia
  47. San Marino
  48. Ukraine
  49. China, including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan

The tourist visa allows for a stay of up to 3 months per entry, with visitors able to spend up to 90 days a year in Saudi Arabia. The visa is valid for one year with multiple entries.

The cost of applying for an e-visa or a visa on arrival is 440 riyals (around $117) plus VAT.

Saudi Arabia intends to extend the e-visa scheme to other countries in due course.

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