Saudi tourist visas available to US, EU and UK visa holders

Kingdom launches new visa regime for nationals from countries in Europe, North America and much of Asia

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Tourist visas for Saudi Arabia are now available online and on arrival to holidaymakers who already hold a visa from the US, Britain or the EU's Schengen zone, expanding eligibility beyond an initial list of 49 countries.

The kingdom, which has been relatively closed to holidaymakers for decades, launched a visa regime last month for nationals from countries in Europe, North America and much of Asia.

New regulations published at the weekend stipulate that people from other countries who have a tourist or commercial visa from the US, Britain or EU nations can follow the same process, rather than applying at a Saudi overseas mission.

Until now, foreigners travelling to Saudi Arabia had been largely restricted to resident workers and their dependents, business travellers and Muslim pilgrims who are given special visas to visit the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.

Saudi Arabia welcomed 24,000 tourists to the kingdom within the first 10 days of a new visa system being unveiled to encourage foreign visitors as part of a plan to expand its economy.

The new visas are valid for up to one year, cost about $120 (Dh441) including a health insurance fee, and allow more than one entry and stays of up to three months.

After the visa announcement, authorities implemented a public decency code barring immodest dress and public displays of affection, but in a break with precedent said they would allow foreign men and women to rent hotel rooms together without proving they are related.

It also relaxed dress code for women visitors at the end of September, meaning that tourists no longer need to wear an abaya or hijab.

A vibrant tourism sector is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.

Saudi Arabia has vast deserts, verdant mountains, pristine beaches and five Unesco World Heritage Sites.

Tourism will grow in the kingdom to account for 5 per cent of gross domestic product by 2021 after recent government initiatives have made it easier for people to visit the country, the president and chief executive of World Travel and Tourism Council said this month.