Saudi Arabia Will Begin Issuing Tourist Visas Next Month

Late last year I wrote about how Saudi Arabia announced that they’d begin issuing tourist visas in 2018. I figured that might have been an optimistic timeline, especially given what has been going on there politically lately, but it looks like it’s happening.

Prince Sultan bin Salman, head of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, has announced that Saudi Arabia will begin issuing tourist visas as of April 1, 2018. That means we’re just under a month from Saudi Arabia issuing visas for non-religious and business travelers. Apparently these visas will be issued electronically, and will be open to citizens of countries that allow Saudi Arabia’s citizens to visit, in a bid for reciprocity.

This is part of Saudi Arabia’s plan to welcome 30 million visitors per year by 2030 (up from 18 million in 2016, a vast majority of which were visitors on a pilgrimage). Saudi Arabia wants to reduce their long-term reliance on oil, as they hope that by 2020 their tourism spend will hit $47 billion per year. This also coincides with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman promising a more “open, moderate Islam,” with some restrictions being relaxed.

While Saudi Arabia is working on creating tourist attractions, like building a Six Flags and building resorts along the Red Sea, that’s not what fascinates me about the country. I’ve flown through Saudi Arabia several times now, and it’s a country I’d love to see firsthand.

I’m not shy about the fact that I take serious issues with many of their policies, though that’s all the more reason that I’d like to see the country firsthand, so I can draw my own conclusions. That way I can see if any preconceived notions I have about the place are fair or not. Jeddah’s new airport is also expected to open this summer, so I can kill two birds with one stone and check out both the airport and the city.


Jeddah Airport

It’s super easy to redeem Korean Air SkyPass miles for Saudia first class, so Saudi Arabia isn’t a tough destination to get to either.

So, who’s joining me in Saudi Arabia? 😉

Comments

  1. My Saudi boyfriend opened my eyes. I’m in. “Grindr works fine in Jeddah” he said to me, his eyes laughing at the image I had of his country. This news is a surprise and a delight.

    Yes, I get my “news” from OMAAT.

    😉

  2. @DenB Grindr works fine but dont be surprised if you have the religious police knocking at your door,thats how they trap gay visitors.

  3. I want to visit as well, a mix of leisure and research for my fiction. Not likely to happen this year, due to a lack of flexible time off.

  4. Jeddah is kind of a dump. Classically it has the reputation of being the “cultural” center of Saudi, but all the money is in Riyadh these days. That said, Riyadh can at times feel generically like Abu Dhabi or Doha, but at least it’s not run down.

    Jeddah is definitely a bit less strict on some of the social rules than Riyadh, though if you’re visiting as a tourist, seeing some of the extreme social rules, like restaurants closing during prayer time, is part of experiencing the place, for better or worse.

  5. I wanna take part of the great fare Saudi has from Milan to CGK and now a long layover in Jeddah is not a bad idea any longer?

  6. During the 1980’s I had frequent layovers in Jeddah and Riyadh while working as a flight attendant for a North African airline. Nothing that I saw or experienced in either of those stultifyingly boring cities would tempt me to return – even if I was given a free, First Class ticket!

  7. @Lucky –– I recommend a visit to Mada’in Saleh. It’s a sister site to Jordan’s Petra (both were created by the Nabateans). It’s nowhere near as spectacular as Petra, but I have to say I actually preferred it. It has a quiet majesty, and you can see why the Nabateans thought it a special place. Also, the locals in Al Ula were lovely.

  8. So I definitely want to go, this is thrilling stuff. I’m conflicted about when to go because the Jeddah Tower will open in 2019-20, and it looks amazing, so maybe going around the opening of that would be a cool time, but some paranoid part of me is afraid the country will reverse its new tourist visa policy, so I kind of want to go as soon as possible. Does anyone know whether the new tourist visa policy extends to allowing non-muslims to enter Mecca?

  9. I don’t have much interest in visiting a country whose interests and influence have taken us to war in the past, where you can be executed for having minor drugs, and where corruption is not uncommon and due process is not well guaranteed. Sounds like a great combination.

  10. @miramar — I think it’s very unlikely they’ll allow non-Muslims in Mecca, at least in the near future. I also think it’s unlikely they’ll revoke the tourist visa. (I live in Saudi.)

  11. Do we need how this will work? Like are there any special requirements for US citizens to get the visa?

  12. Iran would be a far more interesting place to visit in my mind. Anyone I know that has been there has had very positive impressions that contradict what the media/Gov might have you believe.

    Anything I have seen or heard about Saudi, just doesn’t do it for me – and that is aside from any social issues/politics

  13. I lived in Saudi for three years back in the 80’s. I would love to see if the Red Sea reefs are still as pristine and amazing as they were (that is where when I learned to SCUBA). I just can’t until Saudi stops the atrocious war on children and civilians in Yemen. When that stops, I probably will go back.

  14. @tom, Iran was absolutely incredible and I highly recommend it.

    I do want to visit Saudi to see what it’s really all about, but I might wait to hear more from people who go in under this new tourist visa program.

  15. Saudi Arabia like like a more repressive version of Kuwait. Which is a more repressive version of Qatar. Which is a more repressive version of Dubai.

    Just some references, in case anyone is interested.

  16. My wife attended a Cambridge University ‘high school’ in Jeddah in the mid ’90s, she’s excited to be able to go back. And her sister now lives in Dammam, it’d be great to visit them. And Mada’in Saleh is probably at the top of the list!

  17. I’ve been fortunate to have visited Saudi in 2009. Very interesting country. I agree with that Madain Saleh is not to be missed.

  18. I lived in Jeddah from 2014-2016, was “out” at work (with many Saudis), and felt way more repressed living in Arkansas. No one seemed to care. One of my first friends invited me out one night to a shisha bar to meet some of his friends (mix of Saudis and Expats). I got to the place and commented that I got a gay bar vibe… my friend said that was because it was Jeddah’s gay bar. 🙂

    I loved my time in Saudi and when I go back to meet with my team there, I miss it.

  19. I’ve been to KSA but it was while armed & protected by the US military. I would not go back as a tourist, especially not as a lone woman, for several reasons. First, because I disagree with many of their laws, especially regarding what I can and cannot do as a woman, the second-class gender.

    Second, and more importantly, because they do not have the same protections in place in the judicial system should something go awry. There was a woman who was raped and SHE was sentenced to 90 lashes. Then she spoke to the media and her sentence was more than doubled to 200 lashes.

    No thank you.

  20. I just got back from Saudi Arabia last week.
    Mad’ain Saleh is closed. As is another UNESCO site outside of Riyadh.
    Still, an eye-opening trip — having zig-zaged the country in 10 days.

  21. I’ll visit for sure – but only after the Red Sea resorts will start to open up. I am big on scuba diving and the Red Seas is prime destination for that. This summer I will “just” visit Pakistan and the Karakoram Highway 🙂

  22. @Airways and travels
    There’s a huge SCUBA community in most of the cities on the west coast and the five sites are pristine since there aren’t that many tourists, better go now than later.

  23. @Will — I know someone who just went to Mada’in Saleh, so it must have been a temporary closure. If they’re starting tourist visas in a few weeks, you can bet Mada’in Saleh will be a key part of the plan.

  24. Can’t imagine having a Saudi stamp in your passport and returning back to the US and dealing with US customs or worst if our leader decides again to start banning random countries. I’ll hold off visiting until we got a more stable man or woman in the WH.

  25. Lucky, why don’t you do a trip to Iran? Iran Air has some brand new a330-300s with fully flat beds, and the country itself is also fascinating (history and culture much richer than Saudi Arabia- by a lot)

    Also, there are some amazing deals to be had when starting your journey in Tehran (especially with BA, QR, and occasionally LH & KL).

  26. I’ve been a number of times but only to the cities; IIRC there were restrictions on going outside urban areas ( but that wasn’t an issue as I was there for work).
    I liked Jeddah and Damman but didn’t care much for Riyadh.
    One consistency: pretty awful hotels, expensive and a far cry from luxury ( Sheratons, Marriott and Le Meridien).
    Jeddah has the most attractive environment, slightly reminiscent of Tripolis; Riyadh is in the interior and is unattractive as well as stinking hot.
    I never felt unsafe or unwelcome or under scrutiny but I wouldn’t rush back for a vacation ( but would for a stopover on a cheap fare, just as I used to do for Cairo on QR).

  27. @john. Of course Iran is a better destination. There is so much to see, especially outside Tehran .

    But a lack of chain hotel will surely put Ben off.

  28. Laferrai, I’ve been working here in Jeddah nearly five years never had a problem with US customs with my Saudi stamp in my passport, I also have global entry approved while working/living here.

    Tom, my work Visa, which is an exit/re-entry for 60 days is 200sar ($53), each additional month is 100sar first yearly trip back to the States on my employer.

    The new airport in Jeddah is schedule for opening in May, though it’s already years behind original opening date. There are many sites, and adventures to see and observed here in Saudi Arabia. But, if you come here be aware of the drivers on the roadway.

  29. Indian expatriate here. I have lived in Saudi Arabia for 5 years as a child, studying in Jubail in Eastern Province.

    Saudis weren’t happy to have so many Indians in their country. Once, when I was out shopping with parents, a Saudi couple walked in to the store, and remarked, “Why are these Indians everywhere?”

    I doubt this attitude has changed much. I won’t be going to KSA ever again.

  30. Sounds exciting! I lived in Saudi between 1976-2009, major transformation took place during this period, and yet a far grater transformation is about to take place!
    There are many historical sites to visit, I am so looking forward to going back to visit friends and be able to eat “Al Baik” fried chicken, and more importantly to taste once again the fabulous “Ma’asoob” food. 😀

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