On September 27, at a gala event at the UNESCO World Heritage site in Ad-Diriyah, Riyadh, which was hosted by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced new visa rules for international visitors.
The new electronic tourist visa, which can be issued online or upon arrival at any Saudi airport, is available to the nationals (or citizens) of 49 countries including Denmark.
Among them are all 28 EU countries, Norway, Switzerland, the USA, Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand – to name just a few.
Valid for a year
The multi-entry visa grants visitors a maximum of 90 days per stay, and it is valid for one year (and can be used no more than 180 days in a year) after its issue date.
This will be the first time that visitors will be able to come for pleasure and leisure purposes in Saudi Arabia, which views the e-tourist visa as a way of opening up the country to tourism.
The eVisa application only takes a few minutes to complete online. After the application has been completed and approved, it will be sent to the traveller by email. A copy will need to be shown upon entry to Saudi Arabia, along with the corresponding passport.
Previously, a visa could only be obtained at an embassy or consulate.
Dress requirements for female visitors are now less strict, absolving them of wearing an abaya robe-like dress in public places. Foreign women are now allowed to travel and book a hotel room without a male partner, and foreign unmarried couples will be allowed to book double rooms in a hotel without having to present proof of marriage.
Nevertheless, tourists must consider that their choice of attire should still be as modest as possible, and holy cities like Mecca will continue to be open to Muslims only.
Opening up Saudi Arabia
The announcement is a key milestone of the country’s Vision 2030, of which the development of tourism is close to it heart. It is one of the latest changes orchestrated by Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, who since acceding to his position of power has been busy investing in freeing the Saudi economy from its dependence on the oil market, as well as granting more freedoms to the country’s citizens.
“Opening Saudi Arabia to international tourists is a historic moment for our country,” explained Ahmad Al-Khateeb, the chair of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage.
“Generous hospitality is at the heart of Arabian culture and we look forward to showing our guests a very warm welcome.”
The whole vision aims to generate 1 million jobs and increase the contribution of tourism to the GDP of the country from 3 to 10 percent, whilst increasing the number of foreigner visits to 100 million annually by 2030, compared to 41 million at present.
What to see
Heritage sites, cultural experiences and spectacular natural surroundings, as well as a great all-year-round climate, are just some of the advantages that Saudi Arabia has as a tourist destination.
The Kingdom has 13 regions of distinctive cultural tradition. Among the highlights are their remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as the Al-Ahsa Oasis, with 2.5 million date palms – one of the largest oases in the world; Madain Saleh in Al-Ula, the largest conserved site of the civilization of the Nabataeans south of Petra in Jordan; and the At-Turaid District in Ad-Diriyah, the first capital of the Saudi state.
In addition, contemporary culture is also on the rise. Visitors can check out the art of Zahrah Al-Ghamdi who exhibited at the Venice Biennale this past May as well as enjoy different cultural festivals such as The Winter at Tantora festival, the Annual Flowerman festival or the Red Sea International Film Festival, which is premiering in March 2020.
More private investment
At the moment the Radisson Hotel Group has 25 hotels in 11 Saudi cities, including Dammam, Al Khobar, Jeddah and Najran City, and it is expecting to open 20 more over the next 10 years.
In places like Dammam, visitors can enjoy the famous Dammam Corniche boardwalk and the Half Moon Bay as well as go for a shopping spree at the Mall of Dhahran, which offers international brands. While in cities like Najran, history buffs can explore Saudi Arabia’s archaeological heritage at Bi’r Hima and in Jeddah the gate to Mecca.
Many attractions are still under construction, such as the futuristic city of NEOM – a start-up the size of a country – built under the principles of renewable energy, technology, community, diversity and modern architecture, as well as luxury destinations by the Red Sea.
The message is clear: “To investors we say: Become part of the fastest-growing tourism sector on earth. To visitors, we say: Be among the first to discover and explore the treasures of Arabia.”
Saudi Arabia is a unique destination and an untouched zone ready to be discovered. Find out more about the Kingdom via this link.