Saudi Arabia remains one of the most closed countries in the world for tourism. It is still really difficult -almost impossible to get a tourist visa for this destination- Just note that I said “almost” but not totally impossible. Maybe it is this level of difficulty which makes the country really appealing for adventurous people, or maybe the attractions are in the luxury, the impressive hotels, huge shopping centers and the beauty of the desert with history archeology, breathtaking ruins and some of the best diving of the world! The fact is that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been welcoming more visitors every year, but it is still a very slow opening.
A couple of years ago the Saudi Commission for tourism was created: a total novelty in the country, following this decision some previsions were made so that visitors are now able -in a very restricted way- to get a tourist visit. Maybe the opening has been motivated by the example of their neighbors: UAE, Qatar, Oman and several of the other Middle Eastern countries get every year millions of tourists and with them comes in millions of dollars. Certainly there is a lot of money in Saudi Arabia, but no one is upset to get a little more.
Business visas are a completely different story, they are normally easy, but to get a toruist visa one has to follow a specific procedure. Tourist visas are were granted until recently granted to groups of at least four people who prebook a package with one of the authorized travel agents in Saudi Arabia. These tours were normally not cheap, even when they include very nice destinations and great hotels. As well most of the times one were supposed to fly in Saudia the national airline -that as a matter of fact is a very nice airline-Saudia is also a good call for connecting flights to the Far East, normally one does not need a visa for connections in Saudi Arabia if one only stays in the international transit area. There are people who have bought tickets with Saudia with 24 hour connections and they have been able to get a transit visa, but this is rare. The only problem with the tourist visa is that the program is suspended and reinstated from time to time. As May 2014 this program has been suspended once again. The nice thing is that the government has made two promising announcements. As now there is a Umrah-plus program, it means that those visiting Saudi Arabia to fulfill their Muslim religious duties can request an extra month in their visa to visit the country. As well the government just announced that there are plans to reinstate the Tourist visa program once again and to ease the requirements for non Muslims in the next three years.
There are some additional restrictions for women. Those women who are married are only allowed to travel with their husband. Women are only allowed to travel with a group of men if they are directly related -parents or siblings- any women younger than 30 have to travel with a guardian, this is husband, brother or father. Women may be asked -or forced- to dress in a very conservative way.
There may be other requirements at the moment of asking for the visa in the consulate such as proof of funds. There is a kind of visa that is quite interesting, it is called a transit visa. It is given for people driving through the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and with destination to Yemen (visa is granted for three days) or to UAE (Visa is granted for seven days). Additional information may be found in the webpage of the Saudi diplomatic missions.
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