Question: Which is the only country in the world that does not issue tourist visas?
Answer: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
However, according to a recent article in the Gulf News, that is all about to change. While no date has been announced for the commencement of the e-Visa service, an article in the UAE publication, The National, suggests visas could be issued as soon as April 2019.
Saudi Arabia currently offers visa-free travel to citizens of just four neighbouring countries:
- United Arab Emirates
For everyone else, it’s easier to acquire a tourist visa to North Korea (click to view my travel report on North Korea) or Turkmenistan than Saudi Arabia, a country which has only ever issued visas to business travellers (who have an invitation) or Hajj Pilgrims (Muslim tourists).
The Kingdom has long been the bane of existence for those competitive travellers and country counters who record their globe-trotting accomplishments on websites such as mosttraveledpeople.com and The Travelers’ Century Club. Saudi Arabia is often one of the last countries to be visited by those who have been everywhere else.
Why hasn’t the country been keen to develop tourism in the past? Official attitudes towards tourism could be summed up with the comment “We have lots of oil money, so we don’t need your few tourist dollars.”
However as part of the government’s Vision 2030 initiative, which aims to transform the economy (with less dependence on oil revenue), the Kingdom is seeking to substantially increase tourism. In order to facilitate this, Saudi Arabia recently announced its intention to begin issuing tourist visas for the first time in its history.
In December of 2018, Saudi Arabia launched a trial e-Visa service for visitors who wanted to visit Riyadh for the Formula E, a motoring event that saw about 1,000 tourists from various countries descend on the Saudi capital. Online visa applications were processed through an online portal named Sharek. The process was, apparently, simple and straightforward, with just three steps:
- Complete the application form.
- Pay the e-Visa fee using a credit or debit card.
- Receive the Saudi Arabia Online Visa by email.
Current visa information is available on the official Saudi Tourism website. For the latest updates regarding the commencement of the e-visa service, you can check the ‘News‘ section of the Sharek website, which mentions that:
“Once the process is live, the application will only take a few minutes to complete online, there will be no need to go to an embassy or consulate. After the application has been completed and approved, it will be sent to the traveler by email.”
- European Union (All Schengen Area member states)
- South Africa
- South Korea
- United States
This is an interesting development that could finally allow access to those who wish to explore the fascinating sights of this restricted desert Kingdom.
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Author: Darren McLean
Owner of taste2travel.com – an avid traveler, photographer, travel writer and adventurer.
I hope you enjoy reading my content.