At one time one of the most closed off places for tourists, Saudi Arabia has been making attempts to diversify their income streams. One of the active projects has been to open up its borders for tourism.
(The Previous) Visa Policy of Saudi Arabia
Back in 2014, I had foolishly thought I could get a visa to visit Saudi Arabia but was denied as I did not fit one of the strict criteria for eligibility. The concept of a tourist visa had not even existed back then and you could only visit for:
Hajj Pilgrimage to Mecca
Throughout the years, some of the more intrepid travelers found ways to use Transit visas to leave the airport but certain consulates and embassies started clamping down on the issuance of these visas as individuals were using forced layovers to extend their time in Saudi Arabia (rather than just transiting through the country).
In my travels, I have met a few people who visited via tours as a “business consultants”. They didn’t consult on much but they were able to get in and tour around.
Introduction of Sharek Visit Visas
In 2018, Saudi Arabia experimented with events visas available via sharek.sa . By buying tickets to a sporting or cultural event you may have been eligible for a tourist visa that allowed you travel around before and after the ticketed event. Notification on the website of some of the events came just a few days before the actual event which led to difficult timing. Some were even posted after the event passed which prevented them from being used to visit. As I periodically loaded up the site to see if the timing would work out, I noticed quite the range of events; from WWE Wrestling matches to Magic Shows and Popstar concerts.
The arrival of Tourist eVisas
With the introduction of the eVisa portal at https://visa.visitsaudi.com/ certain nationalities are eligible for an eVisa.
The list is being updated but notable highlights for eligibility are citizens of European Union member states, the United States, Canada, Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand.
How to Visit
There are quite a few flights to Saudi Arabia via their main hubs of Jeddah and Riyadh.
All alliances fly to Saudi Arabia and the Skyteam Alliance has the most amount of routes due to the membership of Saudia Airlines.
Things to Consider
The loosening of restrictions for travel is a great thing as the sharing of ideas and first-hand experiences give all of us a better perspective of the world.
As with any country, there are some things to consider with regards to local laws:
Evidence of travel to Israel will bar you from entering
Crossing of land borders with Israel via Egypt or Jordan
All travelers should review local policy on dress
Saudi Arabia is a “Dry” country so be mindful of alcohol importation and usage
As visitors, it is important to respect and follow local law. I’ll just leave it at that.
Are you excited to visit Saudi Arabia?
Horace used to hate travelling but was bitten by the travel bug after a life-changing trip to Europe. Supported by a community of awesome travel-minded folks who helped him navigate the world of points and miles, he now holds airline elite status and is always looking for new items for his bucket list. He has the attitude of always wanting to try something new and at a count of over 165 countries, he is well on his way to his goal of visiting every country in the world.