On Friday, 27th September this year Saudi Arabia began issuing tourist visas to nationals from 49 different countries. Previously the Kingdom was closed to foreigners except expatriate workers, religious and business travellers.
The move is part of a wider plan to open up the Kingdom and reduce its dependence on oil. With 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites and some stunning scenery it is hoped that tourism will increase. Initially it is likely to attract the adventurous traveller but as the tourist infrastructure develops others will follow.
At the same time Saudi Arabia is relaxing its dress code. Women visitors will not be expected to wear the abaya or cover their hair. However, they will be expected to “dress modestly”; covering their knees and shoulders. Men are expected not to wear shorts in public or be bare-chested.
There is also a code of 19 offences of common decency that will attract fines. It is all about respecting the culture.
The visa costs SAR440 (about £95) and are valid for one year. Visas can be applied for online prior to the trip or on arrival at electronic kiosks. They can also be obtained from Saudi embassies and consulates.
It is wise to check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (or your country’s equivalent) for travel advisories.