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KSA Open for Tourism - Come on in!

For years KSA was a closed country, with access only to those, like me who worked there, or to Muslims who wanted to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca and/or Medina. But that all changed last month with a complete change of policy and a warm welcome to tourists. So, who can come in? There is now a map on Wikipedia which shows the various statuses of each country and these range from an open arms welcome to a cold shoulder. See  Basically there are four categories:

·       Warm welcome, visa on arrival: this includes most of Europe (excluding the Vatican City), Russia, China, Australia, NZ, USA and Canada, and a few other friendly countries;

·       Friendly neighbours in the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC), no need for a visa: Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE and Oman;

·       Apply for a visa and we’ll think about it. Here we have Mexico and all points south in the Americas, all of Africa, southern Asia in a line from Turkey through to Vietnam, most of the former Yugoslavian countries, Belarus, the Vatican; and

·       Cold shoulder, no way in: Israel and Qatar.

So, really, can tier 1 country citizens just turn up and get in? Apparently yes. The conditions seem to be having a passport with at least 6-months validity, and coughing up 500 riyals (approx. £ 100). As visas go, that’s quite expensive, so people must really want to come, and it pretty much rules out Riyadh as a destination for a weekend break unless you are a serious passport stamp collector. The visas are valid for 90 days, and as far as I can tell are for multiple entries.

On application you have to state the purpose of the visit, and there are four categories: Attending an event, visiting friends or relatives, leisure, or performing umrah (a pilgrimage). I can’t find any notes on restrictions on travel within the country, so genuine tourism is indeed possible. The visit visa does not allow the visitor to work, however coming in for meetings and conferences is permitted. Apparently, the application time at the airport can be as short as seven minutes. Elaine flew into Riyadh last week and reported a new line at immigration. There used to be three – Saudi / GCC citizens & diplomats, returning visa holders and new visa holders. A fourth has appeared, Tourist Visas. This seems to have both electronic booths and human agents in it, but we are not sure what the actual process is – yet.

So why should you come to KSA as a tourist? The scenery is mostly undulating rocky desert, so unless you are in the Hejaz mountain chain towards the west of the Kingdom, there’s not much to look at. Indeed, if I ever stitch these random blogs together into a book (don’t worry, I have no intention) it would be called “Fifty Shades of Beige”. The culture is not exactly a western one, and it will be a long, long time before the Costa della Mar Rosso challenges Ibiza, Las Vegas, Mykonos or even Dunoon. There are a few museums or sites with "traditonal" or "cultural" expositions. Perhaps the big draw will be Al Ula. This area in north-west KSA is currently being made ready for tourists, and a tourism board has been set up there. For more details, see!/home  

The Ministry of Tourism has helpfully produced a list of Do’s and Dont’s for visitors to KSA.

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So there is no need for ladies to wear top to toe cover. As long as the shoulders, upper arms and knees are covered, that seems to suffice. And gents, no going topless or wearing shorts in public. In fact this is a step backwards, until now there has been nothing to stop me going out in public wearing t-shirt and shorts, which I have done regularly. And as well as a public decency guideline, there is an accompanying list of penalties for antisocial actions. Here that is:

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But some things have not moved at all. There is still an outright ban on the following products being possessed in, or brought into the country: alcohol, pork, pornography and religious articles that are not of the Islamic faith. So, don’t expect any leeway on your luggage being waved through just because you are a tourist. Once you have cleared the Immigration controls at your airport of entry, your hand baggage will be x-rayed before you can collect your checked baggage, and this too will have been scanned between the plane and the baggage delivery belts.

We used to have a joke in Riyadh in that we would tell friends and family at home to “pop in and see us next time you’re passing through”. Now we can say that and really mean it. Come on in!

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* Call Alastair Fyfe directly on 07785 370074 (UK) or +966 503095212