Saudi has opened its doors to the world and has finally issued a tourist visa (from 27th Sep, 2019)!
Now I do not have to shy away when friends say they want to come visit me in Saudi. I can actually host them!
In this post, I will tell you about the Saudi visa situation in the past and the present. Along with the mention of the main visa regulations, the ethical implications of visiting Saudi and what you need to know when visiting Saudi.
Saudi was only open to:
Business men and women and employees working in Saudi under the work visa.
Family relatives of Saudi locals or employees.
Therefore, the fact that Saudi is open for tourism is really big deal and it will allow the world to finally know more about the country.
To be honest, I still get comments now IN 2019 about how rich I must be being Saudi. People always assume that about Saudis. Yes there are rich people in Saudi, but not every person there is wealthy!!
So, at leats now, I can tell people to go there and see it for themselves and realise that Saudi cities are similar to the rest of the cities, where locals go to the Mall hours at a time especially during the summers, spend some time by the beach front if the weather is good and go to restaurants in all the seasons.
Who can get the Saudi tourist e-visa?
The Saudi tourism electronic visa is not open for everyone, it is available for European Union nationals, British, Americans, Canadians, Australians, Kiwis, Japanese, Singapores, Malaysians and a few others. The e-visa is open to a total of 49 countries.
Saudis who are married to other Arab nationals outside of the Arabian Gulf were very excited for the news of the tourist electronic visa, but sadly it is not yet open to the rest of the Middle Eats, Africa and South America.
The countries that are not on the e-visa list, are still allowed to get a tourist visa as well, but they are considered group B and they are required to submit an application at the consulate, which requires additional documents, but you can read all about it on their website (linked below), where they tell you exactly what you need to know and bring.
I do not work for them, so you would have to ask them directly.
Someone could argue it is only easy for the white-majority or rich countries, but who knows. I am not specialised in politics and country relationships, so I cannot comment on this further.
As a Saudi national I am very restricted in travels to the white-majority countries and I always have to do a very long-winded process booking my tickets, getting a travel insurance, showing my bank account and so on. Maybe things will change for Saudi passport holders because of this, who knows!
Saudi visa rules and regulations
Go to visa.visitsaudi.com and register and apply for a visa.
Visa fee is SAR 440 (£95/USD117), including the base fee (SAR 300) and health insurance (SAR 140). VAT and payment processing are additional charges.
A single entry visa allows you to stay for one month, while the multiple entry visa allows you up to three month stay in Saudi Arabia.
Maximum duration of stay is up to three months per visit, with no more than 3 months with multiple entries.
Benefits of the new Saudi e-visa
Tourist Visa and Ummrah for women
This news of the Tourist visa is great news for the Western Muslims because it finally enables women to go to Mecca to visit the holy city for ummrah without the need for a man to accompany her. Many independent Muslim women were not able to go without a man before and finally they will be able to and this is HUGE!
Ps. If you are going for Ummrah make sure you check the vaccinations!
Is Saudi worth a visit?
If you asked me as a teenager, I would have said no, but I think that the older I get, the more I appreciate Saudi and the things it has to offer as a country. It also depends on your personal reasoning to visit the country.
Do you want to explore a new place? Yes, visit Saudi.
Do you want to see the Saudi lifestyle? Yes, visit Saudi.
Do you want to attend a winter Saudi heritage festival? Yes, visit Saudi.
Do you want eat all kinds of good food? Yes, visit Saudi.
Do you want to shop until you drop? Yes, visit Saudi.
Do you want to eat all the freshest dates from palm trees? Yes, visit Saudi.
Do you want to party all night and drink? NOP, Don’t come. There is no nightlife.
Beauty of the Desert Landscape
When I took a four-hour drive with my dad from East of Saudi to the capital, Riyadh, I saw the most beautiful desert landscape. The colours of the sands kept changing and there was a different kind of beauty that you can experience.
Saudi has witnessed a lot of history that impacted the whole Islamic history and you can still see some of that remaining. I will write a dedicated post on that soon.
Entertainment sector is growing
When I was growing up in Saudi, the entertainment was very limited, but along the nature of the desert and the Islamic heritage, there are cinemas, theatre shows and live sports, which could be a lot of fun depending on the time of your trip!
Most museums (there are not many!) would host entertainment events during occasions like Eid or Saudi National Day, there are art gallery openings, winter festivals in major cities and a few beach resorts scattered around.
Diving in the Red Sea
I am not yet into diving, but it is a goal of mine to get into it at some point. However, I met so many people, who are pro divers and I was told that the diving spots in the red sea are one of the most beautiful in the world. I am just worried that all the divers will affect the sea nature by the time I get around to doing it!
Is it ethical to visit Saudi Arabia?
This is such a loaded question because it depends on how you see life. Is it ethical to visit countries that sell weapons? Is it ethical to visit countries with high level of abuse? Is it ethical to support America with their travel bans and their sanctions on countries they don’t like? Is it ethical to visit the UK after their record in colonising a lot of countries? Is it ethical to shop fast fashion? I can go on, but you get the idea. That is for you to answer and for you to deal with.
I have seen a lot of outraged comments on travel Facebook groups and Twitter from Travel content creators saying that they would never go to Saudi because it is not ethical, but I find it laughable especially when the same people would go to China or Israel, which both are violating human rights.
If someones is equally against all countries that have human right violations then fair enough. I cannot determine your moral compass for you.
Also, no one is forcing anyone to go. If you do not want to go, please do not.
If you do and you are one of the lucky ones that gets an electronic visa then you are welcome to do so.
Either way, Saudi nationals themselves are not affected by your visit either way unless they are hotel or tour owners, which is not very common for Saudis to be. The tourism sector is like a newborn in Saudi. I imagine the new graduates from this year onwards might seek career within tourism.
For example, if you look at my family of medical doctors, engineers and officers then you will see that the only thing they will get is an increase in traffic.
I hope yo found this post helpful and hope you enjoy Saudi when/if you visit! :)