Pack Your Bags: Saudi Arabia To Start Issuing Tourist Visas This Month

Filed Under: Saudia, Travel

Update: Saudi Arabia will now start issuing tourist e-visas. Here are the full details.

Saudi Arabia’s Okaz newspaper is reporting that Saudi Arabia will begin issuing tourist visas as of September 27, 2019. It’s worth noting that unnamed sources are being “quoted” as of now, so there’s nothing official yet. According to these sources:

  • Tourist visas will be open to visitors from 51 countries
  • Tourist visas will be valid for 90 days
  • Tourist visas will cost 440 Saudi Riyal, or about 117 US Dollars

This isn’t the first time that it has been claimed that Saudi Arabia would soon be opened up to tourism. For example, in early 2018 it was reported that Saudi Arabia would start issuing tourist visas as of April 1, 2018. However, that date came and went without so much as a peep.

So we’ll see if this time is any different, though I’d note that a specific date being given just weeks in advance does sound perhaps slightly more reputable.

Last I heard, Saudi Arabia had the goal of welcoming 30 million visitors per year by 2030, up from 18 million in 2016. Currently a vast majority of their visitors are coming for religious reasons, but they want to open up the country to tourism beyond that.

This is allegedly part of the Crown Prince’s plan of creating a more “open, moderate Islam.” Personally I’d say Saudi Arabia has been sending some mixed signals lately when it comes to how open they are.

Yesterday I wrote about my take on visiting Saudi Arabia, following the announcement that three Amans will be opening there in 2023. While it can be hard to decide where to draw the line regarding the ethics of visiting destinations that have laws you disagree with, I’ve decided that for me the line does need to be drawn somewhere… and Saudi Arabia is a case where I’m drawing the line for now.

I’d love to visit Saudi Arabia at some point and see firsthand what their culture is like, but for now I’ll be sitting this one out.

Would you visit Saudi Arabia if they started issuing tourist visas in a few weeks?

Comments
  1. “I’ve decided that for me the line does need to be drawn somewhere… and Saudi Arabia is a case where I’m drawing the line for now.”

    You’ve flown Saudia multiple times, no?

    Functionally speaking, what is the difference between patronizing their state-owned airline, but refusing to stay at a (privately owned) hotel, or visiting state owned tourist sites?

  2. No, I won’t be packing my bags. No one should be providing succour to the hideous, vile Saudi regime. They should be treated as pariahs.

  3. We are all pretty familiar with the ONLY reason Saudi Arabia hasn’t been shamed out of existence yet (starts with O, ends in L). It’s really unfortunate because their human rights violations are right up their with the worst of them. Thank you for not helping them in their quest to change their economy.

  4. Going there as a tourist… To see what? poor human rights, just muslims being fanatical, islamic police making sure you follow the religious beliefs as law. Sand dunes, oil refinerys, chop chop square? That’s how I view it

    Doesn’t interest or fascinate me at all, In any sense, I would rather of gone on that mythical one-way trip to Mars and I don’t even have an interest in space or astrology.

  5. Cant think of a less fun place to visit. No alcohol, hot as hell, repressive totalitarian regime, roaming morality policr and the women are covered head to toe.

  6. “Seems like an interesting culture that I can learn about only in person.”

    You can get exposed to very similar cultures in the UAE, Qatar, and Oman, and they are much more relaxed environments.

  7. Homosexuality would be buried into sands then thrown by stones until death.
    North Korea is much better than Saudi!!!

  8. “Well, remind your wives not to park thongs and swimming costumes. They do not allow those on women.”

    They do in private beach resorts and hotel pools…

    “Homosexuality would be buried into sands then thrown by stones until death.”

    How do stones throw homosexuality, exactly? Ok, seriously though, wouldn’t it be pointless to bury someone in sand and then throw stones at them?

    “now we can go visit immediate family who lives there”

    If you have family there, they could have already sponsored you for a visitor’s visa…

  9. Hard pass. No way.

    I would never give my money to KSA willingly, based on the human rights violations they have, their oppressive regime and, especially, as a woman alone. Men there don’t know how to act around women (I was there with the US government a while back) and women are blamed for their own rapes and the inappropriate behavior of men.

    It was bad enough in Egypt, where men spit through a taxi window because my hair wasn’t covered, and followed me through the Khan el-Khalili bazaar until I was able to find a group of tourists, who walked with me to the tourist police. I can only imagine how tourists will be treated in the KSA, by people unused to tourists. And I speak the language! When I was there, a nomadic man tried to buy a female coworker of mine from a male coworker. Tried. To. Buy. Her.

    You have NO idea how bad it can get when you are disappeared without recourse. Just no. It’s not Muslims, it’s Saudi Arabia the country I have an issue with, and there are NO protections for tourists.

    Give it 25 years and then see about going. Until then, wait and watch.

  10. I’ve already lived there for over a year in Riyadh. I don’t need to return when there’s nothing much to do there.

  11. Following this and if it is so will take my family in May 2020 for a SA road trip. We would LOVE to go! No problem to dress up either.

  12. In 1980 I worked as a contract flight attendant for Libyan Arab Airlines and had many layovers in Saudi Arabia. I saw all that I EVER want to see of that country.

  13. Hi I am a saudi u r welcome any time, but come without prejudice or stereotypes in your mind, always respect others and u will be respected this is my line that I follow where ever I go. So please don’t judge a country you never seen or visited because only someone else said something about a country he never visited!!!

  14. MBS and the whole repressive regime thing aside. All Saudis that I meet here in the states are some of the drunkest, cocaine snorting party animals on the planet. I can only surmise that they are more normal than we Americans give them credit. (Not that doing drugs and drinking like a fish is normal). That said I also have friends who spent many years there teaching (the money is great) and said how utterly horrible saudis treat non saudis. So I’m the end it may just be a wash. Either way I’m not using my vacation time to visit a dry country that is consumed by religion.

  15. Well, to those haters and so unfair already in their minds, twisted by opinions of others , we don’t need you to visit us, because you are not welcomed, especially Mr Adams9802
    I wonder how many times you snorted cocain before you typed your (marvelous) piece

  16. Tragically none! Moreover it certainly wasn’t a judgment on their behavior I find it delightful that people can come here and express themselves in ways not had before. I can only offer you my personal interactions and albeit small data size but I have yet to find a Saudi that comes to America who doesn’t party like the locals. As for not being welcomed I think that has been the tourist MO for the country since the beginning of time. But who knows from what I’ve read Grindr and casual homosexual dalliances are quite common so there is hope yet!

  17. Give me good reasons why I would visit and give my tourist dollars to a country that is one of the most oppressive and discriminatory places on Earth. Even if it was all-expenses-paid, I’d rather stay home than support it!

  18. Hi guys,
    My first post ever 🙂

    As a Saudi Arabian, I’m really surprised by the media influenced/brainwashed comments. I thought traveling around the world would broaden someone’s horizon and let him/her open to other cultures.

    Saudi Arabia is not perfect like all countries around the world and like every country, you have the rich, poor, educated, ignorant, good and bad people in general. Each country has its own culture and rules that we all should respect even if we disagree with.

    The country is changing rapidly to catch up with our neighbors in the UAE/Dubai and hopefully surpass them by 2030. I truly believe Saudi Arabia, Neom and Amaala projects specifically will become one of the world top destinations.

    Right now, the country is sending a lot of students abroad to educate them on hospitality and tourism, there’s a big shift in the country from oil dependence to tourism and human capital which I think it will pay off since people in Saudi Arabia genuinely love other cultures.

    Please follow Laura Alho on twitter, she’s a Finnish woman who has a travel blog in KSA. I think here unbiased perspective is valuable.

    Best of luck and we hope you visit KSA soon 🙂

  19. As a female who believes in women’s rights, religious freedom, gay rights, and constitutional democratic governments, I have zero interest in visiting Saudia Arabia until it reforms its political system, allows the practice other religions [(in addition to the state-sanctioned interpretation of Islam (Wahhabism)], allows women to drive, to marry whomever they want, allows women’s testimony in a court of law to be equivalent to that of a man (currently, women’s testimonies are worth 1/2 that of a man’s), and long, long etc.

  20. It amazes me when the majority of those posting comments live in the one country that supports some of the most oppressive regimes in the world which of course includes Saudi Arabia. You already pay taxes that support SA so unless you are voting against both Republicans and Democrats it is hypocritical to suggest one should not visit as a tourist.

  21. I hope they have e-visas, because I am not entering their consulate to get a visa. Apparently one might exit in small pieces.

  22. Wow. Just wow. I would happily go again. The people are genuinely interested in talking with foreign visitors and are happy to see us.

    The Park Hyatt in Jeddah is awesome and the diving in the Red Sea offers breathtaking wrecks and reefs unspoiled by over tourism.

    The people here equating the actions of the government with the people have clearly never been there.

  23. Hmm – let’s see – butchering journalists in embassies, bombing school buses, hospitals and prisons in Yemen. Hang your head very deeply in shame at mooting the idea of patronizing such a pariah state. I know they buy a lot of your mil ind complex’s products, and the UK’s also. We know governments are basically criminal organizations. But that doesn’t mean we need to patronize their customers ourselves though. Learn the difference – your taxes you must pay, but your elective spending can be somewhat more judicious.

  24. > How do stones throw homosexuality, exactly? Ok, seriously though, wouldn’t it be pointless to bury someone in sand and then throw stones at them?

    you bury the victim in sand up to their waist (or neck) so they can’t escape being stoned.

    i can’t imagine ever wanting to travel there.

    also, if they really wanted tourism the visa would cost USD0.00.

  25. I will consider visiting Saudi Arabia…when Mecca hosts its first LGBT Pride Parade, at least two or three major Mosques apologize in addition to asking for forgiveness for Islams anti-LGBT beliefs, at mosques perform LGBT marriages recognized by the government.

    This goes for any Middle Eastern Airline. Heck, I would rather fly to the Seychelles via the UK than some oppressive Middle Eastern Country.

  26. I will never visit any country including KSA that does not give full equality to women. It is the most basic of human rights to respect every person no matter what their gender equally. I will also never fly their state airline.

  27. I imagine that Trump would include this country in his ‘$hith0le’ list if it wasn’t awash in oil.
    In any event, it is not on my bucket list of places to visit, ever.

  28. Frankly, I try to avoid other gulf countries, Malaysia as well. Traveling with my wife I woudn’t be comfortable to change our normal habits as per local traditions to just feel safe (not guaranteed anyway).

  29. Not so fast. We’ve heard before about the country offering tourist visas and encouraging travel there but it has not happened according to their own issued deadlines. Besides the fact, I am not sure how tourist-friendly the country is. There are other countries that because they get relatively few tourists per year are not really set up for such, and this may be quite the same.

  30. Saudi Arabia is a beautiful country, great loving people and they care and respect the people visiting the country. A very safe country which offers wide variety of culture and traditions. Top class hotels offering 5 star facilities with cheap rates, excellent food and very cheap transport. Great shopping places with food courts. I will recommend all my relatives and friends to visit this lovely country.
    Dr Rashid Ansari

  31. If you are a devout Muslim man and want to go to the Mecca and mosquees as a pilgrim ,ok but if not i don’t see the point for there are too many restrictions on civil liberties in Saudi Arabia.

    In the Middle EAst i d go to Oman or Dubai as a tourist but never to Saudi Arabia.

  32. Only the seriously demented would even think of visiting the KSA, run by a murderous thug regime and guilty of as many recent human rights outrages longer than your arm. I feel sorry for Saudis like Adnan and Ahmed; any boycott is not because of them but because of the terrorist-exporting, terrorist-financing, destabilizing, Zionist-loving trash running the country. Have some principles, Lucky; avoid the hellhole.

  33. I wonder how many if those bashing saudi Arabia are from the USA or UK. some people are just too oblivious of the fact that their countries are no different from the saudis

  34. Sir Ben,

    The new Saudi visa scheme will be announced on September 27th. Not the issuing of visas. I’ve no idea when this will be and I’d wager it’s a target date at this point, not an official one.

    Many vistas in KSA – I can see someone visiting Saudi as part of a ‘Gulf Tour’, less so as a standalone destination.

  35. Really?? Visit a country (and fly with their national carrier) that kills gays just for being gays? That stone women to death because they were rape?… Never!!

  36. “when Mecca hosts its first LGBT Pride Parade”

    Which will be a year or 2 after the Vatican host it’s parade, I imagine…

  37. With the policies and statements of the current administration regarding human rights abroad and at home, if I lived outside the US, I also wouldn’t visit it.

  38. Interesting that people whom have no knowledge of the country only from media input are so enlightened.

    We lived and worked there for 5 years and we would love to visit again.

  39. Saudi is rapidly changing. It is more relaxed and liberal. Five years ago, I wouldve have told you not come, but Saudi Arabia is a differnt more westrnized country. It’s a beautiful and very developed country with nice and generous people. Don’t listen to the media and haters. I promise you, your vist will be a unique life experience and you love everything about it.

    Saudi welcomes you with open arms. You have a place for your in our hearts.

  40. I lived in Saudi more than 3 years in 2 cities. I got robbed there. When the thieves wearing masks and covering their expensive cars plate numbers took off, l ran to cops station close by. When l told the cops about the incident, they didnt move their ass to chase/find the thieves. I lost my phone, some cash and passport, l got traumatized. I dont feel safe to go back.

  41. Saudi Arab is a very mysterious country and its wide part is worth seeing if allowed a Tourist Visa possible for the travellers and safety is also promised on part of the authorities. This country has ancient background of certain civilizations that control more than half of the planet i.e three Abrahamic religions. So this type of Visa should be available to all the modern world

  42. I thought hard and long about commenting on this article, but now that the comments section has cooled down a bit I think I can write one last comment on this blog.

    This is by no means intended to defend the government of Saudi Arabia, I’m as opposed to many of its policies as anyone else, but rather to put things into perspective.

    Keeping in mind that individuals boycotting the country doesn’t affect that government in any way, lets start with some popular-if outdated-arguments that people use to justify not travelling there.

    1- Women’s rights:
    True, not the best in the world. But think about it for a second, how far has that country come in less than 90 years of history and how much did it take for other “developed” ones to reach where they are now? Things have definitely improved in the past 5 years or so and they continue to. Guardianship laws have been effectively eradicated in the past several months and women were given the right to drive more than a year ago.
    Things are still far from ideal for women, but you can’t claim that no change is happening because it is. There are far worse places in the world to be a woman today.

    2- Khashoggi killing and the war in Yemen:
    Probably the two biggest talking points for the current government, and rightly so. One is a gruesome murder of a dissident journalist, the other is one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Both are inexcusable and non-defendable.
    Yet, I find it quite amusing when citizens of the US, UK etc use those as excuses. Have you guys looked in the mirror recently, or anytime during the past century for that matter?
    The US and its allies have been killing millions of people non-stop since world war two, there hasn’t been a time in modern history in which they haven’t been involved in a major war and committed gruesome war crimes (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Vietnam, anyone?).
    Plus, these governments are complicit in the war in Yemen, so you can’t complain about it when your elected officials fully support it.

    One man’s death is a tragedy, a million is just a statistic.

    3- LGBTQ+ rights:
    Some of the world’s worst on paper. But what is it like in reality? the laws are very rarely-if ever- enforced, when was the last time you’ve heard of someone being punished for being gay? even then, they’re usually confined for a couple of days then sent home with nothing more than a reprimanding.
    Not saying that this should happen, certainly not, but it also isn’t what many people think it is.
    But the reality is that you can live whichever way you like as long as you keep to yourself and not make a fuss, and you can take that from me. Again, there are worse places in the world to be LGBT.

    The same rules apply in neighbouring Gulf countries, yet people turn a blind eye to them for many reasons.

    4- Alcohol Laws:
    I find this one quite comical. a frequent comment is “if I can’t enjoy a glass of wine on my flight then I’d rather not fly with them”.
    Sure, to each their own, but if you can’t go a few hours/days without a drink then I would consider a rehab center instead of a flight.
    Travelers need to be aware of any specific laws they should respect while traveling and that applies to anywhere they go in the world.

    5- Religious police:
    Doesn’t exist anymore.

    Finally, people need to differentiate the Saudi state from the people, same applies to the UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar. The cultures and traditions of these people are very rich and worth exploring, their governing bodies are unelected and do not represent them.

    Donald Trump got to be president by winning an election (sure he didn’t win the popular vote but that’s a moot point) so he represents the American people more than the gulf state rulers represent theirs.

    One of the biggest cultural sensations these days is the Netflix show Queer eye (I’m a big fan by the way), the best thing it achieves is connecting with people who are different and getting to know them better. Countless episodes begin with people being unhappy around 5 gay men but end up changing their minds and hearts completely, that’s because they get to see them for who they really are. Imagine if people start doing that in their daily lives, things would be so much better. A bonus point here would be that it’s a 2 way street, visitors to SA get to experience the culture and people firsthand, while the people get used to having tourists visit from all over the place, that’s a win-win if you ask me.

    Boycotting an airline or a whole tourism sector could be effective in some counties (Brunei is the example that jumps to mind after a boycott led them to backtrack on their homophobic laws) but not in this particular case since it isn’t a major source of revenue.

    In the end, it’s everybody’s decision where to go and what to do, but get off your high horses and realize that even your country (no matter which one it is) has its own issues. Thinking that you are a hero for not flying the airline or visiting the country is laughable and betrays a false sense of self-importance, even worse, being a slacktivist who sits there spewing all kinds of baseless, ignorant comments achieves nothing but emphasizing your own shortcomings.

    More importantly, do you think change is better achieved by engagement or avoidance?

  43. i was waiting on this option many many years ago .i did many time umrah and i did hajj also just one time year 1997

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