Saudi Arabia allows fully vaccinated expats to return from 20 banned countries

Move enables entry of thousands of foreign residents who have been stranded abroad for months

Saudi passengers arrive at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh. AFP
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Saudi Arabia has lifted a travel ban on residents fully vaccinated against Covid-19 from 20 countries, state media said, in a move that allows the return of thousands of expatriates who have been stranded abroad for months.

The ban was issued by the Ministry of Interior in February to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The country decided to admit vaccinated expats coming from red-list countries based on health reports as a decline in Covid-19 cases continues in Saudi Arabia, a representative for the Ministry of Interior said on Tuesday. Those arriving must have received two doses of a vaccine against Covid-19 in the kingdom before departure to their home country.

Expats who meet the criteria can return to the kingdom directly without need for quarantine in a third country as per previous rules.

The decision was welcomed by expats who expressed their relief to be reunited with their family members stranded abroad.

"I am so happy my parents and siblings can return from Lebanon, we had been worried sick due to the ongoing situation there and just want them to come back," said Nadine Ali, a Lebanese living in Jeddah.

Travel to and from the kingdom was banned in March last year due to the outbreak of the pandemic. Saudi Arabia reopened its air, land and sea borders in January but banned travel to and from countries with a high number of Covid-19 cases, where new mutations of the virus were found.

Many expats had to travel to countries on the green list first before heading to Saudi Arabia as direct flights were unavailable from a number of countries.

"At one point we had to go to Ethiopia to come back into the country from South Africa. It was impossible to come back to Saudi Arabia directly as flights were banned from South Africa. I am so glad now we don't have to quarantine in another country and my wife can just come back safely," Mr Amin Mustafa, a South African citizen living in the kingdom told The National.

The Indian, Pakistani and Indonesian embassies welcomed the decision to allow their citizens back into the country.

Saudi Arabia this month allowed vaccinated tourists to enter the country for the first time in 17 months. Last month the kingdom announced that citizens who breach Covid-19 restrictions on travelling to red-list countries could be barred from travelling for up to three years.

Updated: August 25, 2021, 12:44 PM