In an effort to reduce its economic dependence on oil, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is opening its doors to foreign tourists for the first time in history.
Starting last Friday, 27 September, the Saudi government has begun accepting tourist E-visa and visa-on-arrival applications for about 118USD plus VAT through an online portal from citizens of 49 countries—including the United States, most of Europe, and Singapore. Those who are not from the countries eligible to apply for E-visas must lodge their visa application at their nearest Saudi embassy or consulate.
Potential visitors will be able to obtain one-year multiple entry visas, which they can spend up to 90 days in the country. During this period, they are encouraged to explore the Kingdom’s rich heritage, vibrant culture, and breathtaking landscapes.
In a press release, the Saudi government revealed that their efforts to attract tourists will be rolled out in two phases: from 2019 to 2022, they will be focusing on “attracting first-time visitors to discover Saudi.” To make this possible, they will be developing over 20 new tourist sites that will appeal to the international market. Then from 2022 on, they will be shifting their efforts to “enticing visitors to experience Saudi.” In the second phase, new international routes between Saudi Arabia and major travel hubs will be launched.
Aside from welcoming international visitors, ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia is also relaxing its strict dress codes for female tourists.
Foreign women visiting will not be required to wear the body-covering abaya robe that Saudi women wear in public, but must still dress modestly. Moreover, there will be no restrictions on unaccompanied women visiting the country.
Previously, Saudi visas were granted only to expatriate workers, people visiting on business, and religious pilgrims making their way to the holy cities Mecca and Medina.
While much of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will finally be open to tourists, non-muslim visitors will still be forbidden from visiting the holy cities.