Following its landmark decision in late September allowing foreign tourists to visit the kingdom, Saudi Arabia has already started seeing an influx of visitors.
Since September 27, more than 77,000 tourists have visited the kingdom as it seeks to share its local heritage with the world, according to officials.
— Foreign Ministry 🇸🇦 (@KSAmofaEN) October 30, 2019
Saudi Arabia has an ambitious tourism strategy, and aims to receive 100 million visitors by 2030. To meet those numbers, the government has also eased its strict regulations, to better cater to international tourists.
For those keen to visit Saudi Arabia, here is a roundup of all you need to know:
Visitors from 49 countries including the United States, Canada, China and most of the European countries, can now apply for a Saudi eVisa – Saudi Arabia’s tourism visa – online or upon arrival, costing SAR440 and VAT. Tourists from other countries are encouraged to contact their nearest Saudi embassy.
Visa guidelines for women
Women aged 25 and above who wish to travel to Saudi Arabia alone can be granted a single-entry tourist visa, valid for up to 30 days. However, a family member must accompany women below the stipulated age.
Foreign women are no longer expected to don the ‘abaya’, which was previously a mandatory requirement. While the gown is optional for female visitors, societal norms dictate men and women to dress modestly in public places and refrain from public displays of affection.
Unmarried foreign couples can now rent hotel rooms in Saudi Arabia. Previously, tourists were expected to provide proof of marriage to share accommodation while visiting the country.
All women, including Saudi females, can book and stay in hotels alone, subject to providing an identification on check-in.
Permission must be sought from Saudi nationals before they are photographed. However, it is not permissible to photograph government buildings, military installations and palaces.
Prayer time/Ramadan closing
Shops and restaurants across Saudi close briefly during the five daily prayers, while music in public places is switched off. Tourists are also expected to avoid eating, drinking, and smoking during daylight hours in the month of Ramadan. In 2020, Ramadan is expected to run from April 23 until May 23, subject to moon sighting.
Foreign visitors are at their discretion to tip service providers at restaurants. The kingdom has no social tradition compelling tourists to pay any fixed extra amount.
Prohibition of banned items
It is illegal to bring alcohol and/or drugs into Saudi Arabia, so tourists are prohibited from carrying them while visiting the country.
What to expect in the future?
Saudi Arabia is exploring visa options for individual female pilgrims, possibly allowing them to perform Hajj without a male guardian, according to local media reports.
Under current laws, women under the age of 45 must travel with a male guardian for the annual pilgrimage. Women over 45 may travel with an “organised group”, with a ‘no objection letter’ from their immediate male relative.