The desert nation hopes to attract millions more tourists. Here's everything to know before applying for the new visa
29 September 2019| Last updated on 30 September 2019
All Credits: PA
It’s best known for oil refineries, but now Saudi Arabia is seeking a new calling as an international holiday destination
The kingdom has long been one of the world’s hardest-to-visit countries – with visas generally reserved for pilgrims and business people – but authorities have now announced a new visa programme for 49 foreign countries.
Here’s everything you need to you about the new system, and why travelling in Saudi Arabia could be difficult but rewarding…
How do you get the new visa?
Around 49 countries from all over the world, with a particular emphasis on Europe, are eligible for the new tourist visa. Further details of the scheme will be revealed by authorities later.
“Visitors will be surprised by the treasures we have to share,” Tourism Minister Ahmed al-Khateeb says in a statement, “five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a vibrant local culture and breathtaking natural beauty,”
Are there laws and customs you should know about?
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has made headlines on his push for more relaxed laws in recent times, but the desert kingdom is still considered one of the most culturally conservative places. Women are now allowed to drive and attend football matches, but they must still wear an abaya (a long cloak), and gender mixing is banned in many public spaces. Men shouldn’t wear shorts in public.
It is illegal to practice non-Islamic faiths in public (though you may practice privately in your own home), it is illegal to import pork products of any kind, and it is very illegal to import, purchase, or consume alcohol. Dual citizenship is forbidden, and if you enter the country with two passports, one will be confiscated, says the UK government’s travel advice.
Extra-marital sexual relations, homosexuality, and transgenderism are all outlawed, and visitors are advised to be cautious during Ramadan when eating outside is banned during the fasting period. Non-Muslims also cannot enter the cities of Mecca and Medina.
Though foreign nationals should be aware of these restrictions, not all will apply to tourists. Female travellers will be allowed to enter the country and al-Khateeb told Reuters that abayas will not be mandatory for female tourists but modest dress would be – including at public beaches.
Saudi law and culture can be notoriously confusing for tourists, so it’s important to familiarise yourself with the most common Saudi laws before you travel.
Consider the sophisticated rock carvings at Jubbah – mysterious pictograms that predate the pyramids – or the cultural ‘tower houses’ found in the Old City of Jeddah. Saudi cuisine – chicken shawarma, pistachio-filled shortbreads, and a chicken and rice dish known as kapsa – is said to be superb.