Saudi Arabia Launches Tourist Visa Programme

Foreign nationals from 49 countries can now apply for tourist visas, but the move comes with many rules in tow
A canyon near Riyadh
A canyon near Riyadh

For the first time in the kingdom&rsquos history, Saudi Arabia will begin issuing tourist visas to foreign nationals. Citizens from 49 countries are eligible to apply, and will be able to obtain the document in three forms&mdashas an e-visa, as visa on arrival, or from applications at Saudi embassies and consulates across the globe. The visa will allow tourists to stay for up tothree months, and will be valid for one year with multiple entries. The venture is likely to expand and include other countries in the future.

&ldquoOpening Saudi Arabia to international tourists is a historic moment,&rdquo says Ahmed al-Khateeb, chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage. &ldquoVisitors will be the treasures we have to share&mdashfive Unesco world heritage sites, a vibrant local culture and breathtaking natural beauty.&rdquo

But the conservative kingdom isn&rsquot abandoning its trademark austerity just yet. Despite Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman positioning himself as a &lsquoprogressive&rsquo changemaker, Al-Khateeb confirmed that tourists will be required to &lsquodress modestly&rsquo, avoid public displays of affection, and refrain from using profanities. For the full list of do's, don&rsquots and penalties (and there&rsquos a lot), click here

The new visas are part of a larger plan to reduce the Saudi economy&rsquos dependence on oil and create more jobs. Gulf News reported that the venture is divided into two phases&mdashthe first (from 2019 to 2022) will focus on pulling first-time visitors to &ldquodiscover Saudi&rdquo while the second, starting in 2022, will focus on making visitors &ldquoexperience Saudi&rdquo.&rdquo Over 20 new tourist locations are to be developed under phase one, while &lsquogiga projects&rsquo like the Amaala riviera and Qiddiya entertainment hub phase will see refinement in phase two. 

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