Saudi Arabia launches a brand new tourist visa, which visitors from dozens of countries can obtain online to enter the country. This development marks the first time that Saudi Arabia allows overseas visitors to enter the nation with a tourist visa.
The new visa was originally announced via Saudi newspaper Okaz and opens the possibility of a new tourist economy in the Middle Eastern Kingdom. The country’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had already spoken previously of creating a more “open and moderate version of Islam” and the new travel authorization system is allegedly part of this policy.
Officials have previously indicated that they wish to welcome as many as 30 million visitors to the country per year by 2030. With the launch of the new visa, holidaymakers will now be able to experience the Islamic Kingdom first hand.
The Saudi Arabia eVisa Application Process
The Saudi Arabia tourist visa application process involves completing an online form in which eligible travelers need to provide several personal details such as full name, date of birth, citizenship, and gender.
Once a traveler’s application is processed, they receive a notification via email. The online visa brings the Kingdom in line with many other countries around the world that are offering tourists a pre-approved and streamlined way to pass through immigration securely.
This is not the first time that the country has offered online visas. Over the last few years, Saudi Arabia has allowed some foreign visitors to travel to the Kingdom for special events via an online application, such as the SIEV visa for sporting events. This was widely seen at the time as a test of the viability of offering visas to a wider international audience.
Saudi Arabia Electronic Visa Restrictions
There are some restrictions that may affect an application to the country with the Saudi tourist visa. First of all, it is likely that passports containing Israeli passport stamps could be denied approval for the visa. At present Israeli citizens are banned from the country and visa applicants have previously been denied the authorization to enter if there is evidence in their passport of a previous visit to Israel.
Visitors are expected to adhere to the laws for tourists within Saudi Arabia on arrival. Additionally, it is expected that those travelers with previous drug convictions will not be let into the country. This also follows in line with the country’s zero-tolerance approach to narcotics for both international visitors and its own citizens.
At present, the new visa grants access to over 50 countries around the world.
While Saudi Arabia is opening up to welcome foreign visitors, those interested in visiting the kingdom should keep in mind that they will not be able to visit Mecca or Medina. These Islamic holy cities are completely off-limits to followers of other faiths. Women travelers under 30 will have to be accompanied by a guardian in order to enter Saudi Arabia .
Traveling with the Saudi Arabia Tourist Visa
Saudi Arabia has been known as one of the most restrictive countries to visit in the world. Prior to the launch of the tourist visa, citizens of all nations aside from Oman, Bahrain, the UAE, and Kuwait, could only enter the country with a pre-approved visa from the Saudi embassy in their home country.
The pre-approved visas granted before the launch of the tourist visa were also stricter and only permitted entry to visitors for certain purposes. Those visas were only granted on the basis of business necessity, visiting family or in the event that the visitor was a follower of Islam traveling to make the Hajj.
However, now that citizens of authorized nations may visit with a pre-approved tourist visa, it is likely that Saudi Arabia, like its neighbors, will have many more annual visitors. As mentioned earlier, this change follows the path of many other countries in the Gulf region which have started to relax their visa restrictions in order to drive tourism to the region.
Saudi Arabia has already started investing money in order tobuild up its tourist offering, with 3 Aman resorts planned to be opened in the country by 2023 and major redevelopments being made to its Red Sea coastline to encourage more beachgoers.
Saudi Arabia is a historical land that boasts a truly unique culture and it is likely that many will be curious to explore it. That is also one of the reasons why the country has recently made a big advertising and PR push towards encouraging holidaymakers to visit its historic Al Ula site in its Northwest region, among other areas of the Kingdom.