By Skye Sherman
September 27, 2019
Courtesy of SCTH

Get ready to explore the wonders of Arabia: for the first time in history, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is opening its doors to visitors from around the world.

Starting today, travelers can apply for a tourist visa at Saudi embassies and consulates, and citizens of 49 countries — including the United States, Canada, most of Europe, and Australia — can apply for an online e-visa or a visa on arrival.

Valid for one year and multiple entries, the tourist visa allows visitors to spend up to 90 days per year in Saudi Arabia. The cost for both visa types is SAR 440 (about $118 USD) plus VAT.

Courtesy of SCTH

For help planning a trip, VisitSaudi.com has tips on everything from currency to climate, laws, etiquette, and the 13 regions of the kingdom. Saudi Arabia is home to five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, vibrant cities, and natural wonders like the Red Sea, the Asir Mountains, and the sprawling Empty Quarter, so there’s plenty to see and do. A recently released promotional video showcases the diverse terrain of Saudi Arabia, drawing comparisons to destinations as stunning and varied as Italy, the Caribbean, the Maldives, and the Colorado Rockies.

Courtesy of SCTH

Until now, Saudi Arabia has been notoriously difficult to access — most visitors were Muslims on pilgrimage to Mecca, located in the western part of the country. Tourist visas were hard to come by, especially for solo female travelers. However, recent years have seen loosening restrictions in the historically devout kingdom; a 35-year ban on cinemas was lifted in 2018, as was a law against women driving.

Courtesy of SCTH
Courtesy of SCTH

Opening to tourism is part of the country’s larger aim to reduce dependence on oil and diversify its economy. Still, potential visitors will want to note that the country’s firm adherence to Islamic values extends to foreigners; for example, alcohol is illegal, women must cover their shoulders and knees in public, and profane language, tight-fitting clothing, and public displays of affection are to be avoided.

According to a release, efforts to attract tourists will be rolled out in two phases: from 2019 to 2022, the kingdom’s focus is on “attracting first-time visitors to discover Saudi” — and to do so, they’ll develop more than 20 new tourist sites during this period — while from 2022 on, the focus will shift to “enticing visitors to experience Saudi.” Part of the strategy during the second phase will be to launch new international routes between Saudi Arabia and major hubs.

Courtesy of SCTH

“To those thinking of visiting Saudi Arabia, you won’t find a warmer welcome anywhere in the world,” Ahmad bin Aqil al-Khatib, chairman of the board of directors for the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, said in a statement. “And you won’t find a people prouder to share the riches of their land with you.”

E-visa applications are now open at visa.visitsaudi.com.

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