Saudi Arabia travel guide: everything you need to know as Covid ban on the UAE is lifted

Emirates, Etihad and flydubai will resume flights to the kingdom as vaccinated visitors are now welcome quarantine-free

Saudi Arabia has lifted travel restrictions on the UAE, South Africa and Argentina, and is welcoming vaccinated visitors.

On Wednesday, the three countries were removed from Saudi Arabia's red list, meaning that people can now travel to and from those destinations.

The move opens up a key market for the UAE just weeks before Expo 2020 Dubai gets under way. It also gives citizens and residents in the UAE another option for quarantine-free travel.

Often called the final frontier of travel, the kingdom is rich in attractions. From the bustling cities of Riyadh and Jeddah, to endless sand dunes, mountain peaks and desert oases, and not to mention its thriving Red Sea coastline, the sprawling destination is unlike anywhere in the world.

“Saudi is the authentic home of Arabia, a destination redolent of the mystique and romance of ancient civilizations, rich in iconic locations and unexpected stories delivered with the unparalleled hospitality for which Saudi people are renowned," said Fahd Hamidaddin, chief executive of Saudi Tourism Authority.

“We continue to develop our destinations – from the mountains of Asir to the magical Red Sea coast to the ancient wonders of Al Ula – to showcase the unique experiences, cultural diversity and stunning natural landscapes Saudi has to offer.”

If you're considering taking a trip to Saudi Arabia, here’s everything you need to know about travelling there, from which vaccines are accepted to what you need to do before you set off, and what to see once you get there.

Is Saudi Arabia open to tourists?

After being closed to tourists for 17 months, Saudi Arabia opened to vaccinated travellers on August 1.

At that time, the UAE was included in a list of countries from where travel was prohibited but the kingdom is now open to travellers from the Emirates. South Africa and Argentina have also been removed from the banned list.

Saudi citizens and residents, GCC nationals, diplomats, health practitioners and fully vaccinated tourists with a valid tourist visa can fly to Saudi Arabia.

Travel from 10 countries remains prohibited. They are: Indonesia, Pakistan, Brazil, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, India, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Vietnam.

What do I need to do before I fly to Saudi Arabia?

A security woman checks the temperature of a woman at Riyadh International Airport, after Saudi Arabia reopened domestic flights, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 31, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri

Most visitors to Saudi Arabia need a valid tourist visa to enter. The e-visa is valid for a year and is a multiple-entry visa, with tourists allowed to stay in the country for up to 90 days.

It is available online, and travellers can check if they are eligible for a visa by identifying their nationality on the dropdown list on the same website.

GCC citizens are exempt from this requirement, as they do not require a tourist visa to visit Saudi Arabia. However, GCC ID cards are not accepted for travel, and all visitors must have their passport with them to ensure entry.

Before flying, travellers must register their details, including comprehensive vaccination information, with Saudi health authorities via this online form.

Do I need a PCR test?

A Saudi health worker collects a swab sample for a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test at drive-through testing center of King Abdulaziz University in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia banned expatriates from 20 countries from traveling to the Kingdom to curb the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Travellers planning a visit to Saudi Arabia need to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and have a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before departure.

All visitors also need Covid-19 insurance to cover any possible medical costs related to the virus during their stay. This is included in the cost of new tourist visas, and anyone entering on a previously issued visa can pay 40 Saudi riyals ($10) on arrival at the airport to cover the cost of the insurance.

Which vaccinations are recognised in Saudi Arabia?

FILE PHOTO: A vial of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is seen ahead of being administered at the Royal Victoria Hospital  in Belfast, Northern Ireland December 8, 2020. Liam McBurney/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Saudi Arabia has approved four Covid-19 vaccinations for entry: AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Travellers must have received both doses of the vaccine, except for those inoculated with the vaccine by Johnson & Johnson, which is a single dose shot. Visitors are considered fully vaccinated 14 days after their last and final dose.

For anyone vaccinated with Sinovac or Sinopharm, travel to the kingdom is open once a booster shot from one of the four recognised vaccines has been administered.

Do I need to quarantine?

There’s no need to quarantine in Saudi Arabia so long as you’re fully vaccinated and present a negative PCR test on arrival.

Upon return to the UAE, there's no quarantine in Dubai and, as the kingdom is on Abu Dhabi's green list, no isolation is required either for vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers flying to the capital.

Will the Al Hosn app work in Saudi Arabia?

The UAE’s Al Hosn app is not in use in Saudi Arabia. Instead, the kingdom uses Tawakkalna as a track and trace app. Visitors must download and register on the app using their passport details.

Similar to the Al Hosn app in the UAE, proof of vaccination on the Tawwakalna app is required for entry to many public places in the kingdom, including shopping malls, cinemas, restaurants and entertainment venues.

Which airlines are flying to Saudi Arabia?

Following the ban removal on travel between the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Etihad Airways has announced it will resume flights between the two countries.

"Following the latest directive issued by the government of Saudi Arabia, Etihad will recommence scheduled passenger flights between Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia from Saturday, September 11," said a spokesperson from the airline.

Scheduled passenger flights will connect Abu Dhabi with Dammam, Jeddah and Riyadh.

From Dubai, Emirates is also resuming flights to Saudi Arabia. The airline will operate 24 weekly flights to the kingdom from Saturday, including daily flights to Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. It will also fly thrice weekly to Madinah.

Budget flights are set to resume with flydubai. A spokesperson for the low-cost airline said: "Following the recent announcement, flydubai will resume its daily operations from Dubai International to Dammam International Airport, Jeddah International Airport and Riyadh International Airport. Flights will operate from September 12."

Emirates has not yet confirmed when it will restart flights from Dubai to Saudi Arabia, but tickets are available for sale on the airline's website for flights to Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam from Saturday.

Saudia, the national airline of Saudi Arabia, has flights scheduled from Riyadh and Jeddah to Dubai from today. The kingdom's low-cost airline Flynas also has flights on sale from today for travel from Riyadh to Dubai, and starting on Friday for travel from Jeddah to Dubai.

What can I see and do in Saudi Arabia?

The kingdom is massive – spanning more than 2.15 million square kilometres it is the 13th largest country in the world – so there's a wealth of things to do and see.

City breaks await in the capital Riyadh, where centuries-old history sits alongside a modern metropolis, or in portside Jeddah with its coveted waterfront and al fresco dining or the ancient maze-like streets of Al Balad. The port city of Jazan is a good jumping-off point for the unspoilt Farasan Islands.

Al Ahsa’s cool desert springs are a good place to go to escape the midday sun and children will enjoy running free in one of the biggest oases in the world. Ocean lovers can go into the blue as Saudi Arabia’s coastal waters are rich in marine life and home to some of the most untouched dive sites in the world.

If it's deserts you seek, the country has dunes in droves. Try a visit to Rub’ Al Khali or The Empty Quarter, a favourite with adventure seekers, or The Great Nafud Desert where dunes tower some 1,000 metres in the air.

In Taif, mountain peaks, flower fields and ancient souqs await or visit Al Ula, one of the kingdom’s mega-projects where visitors can explore several ancient heritage sites and see the world’s largest mirrored building. You can even take in the historic region from the sky, with a newly launched helicopter tour flying travellers over the kingdom’s first Unesco-listed site.

What Covid-19 restrictions are in place?

Most Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted across Saudi Arabia, however, safety measures remain in place.

These include wearing a face mask in public places, undergoing temperature checks and using hand sanitiser before entering shops, restaurants and hotels.

Travellers and residents must show their health status on the Tawakkalna app before being allowed to enter most public places.

Updated: September 9th 2021, 11:39 AM
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