Saudi Arabia visa laws: 'Historic moment' as country opens doors to foreign tourists for first time

Saudi Arabia is opening up to worldwide tourists for the first time in what ministers are calling a “historic moment”.

Today, the ultra-conservative kingdom will launch a visa regime for 49 international locations and loosen up its strict costume codes for feminine guests.

The Middle Eastern country has been largely closed off for a long time, however in recent times it has begun easing up on a few of its most hard-line insurance policies.

These embody the segregation of women and men in public locations, and the requirement that ladies put on all-covering black robes.

The country’s tourism minister Ahmad al-Khateeb has described the brand new vacationer visa scheme as a “historic moment” for the country.

The Qasr al-Farid tomb in Madain Saleh is likely one of the country’s 5 Unesco World Heritage websites (AFP/Getty Images)

Until now, visas have largely been restricted to enterprise travellers, expatriate staff and Muslim pilgrims who’re given particular permission to go to Mecca and Medina.

“Visitors shall be shocked by the treasures we now have to share –  5 Unesco World Heritage Sites, a vibrant native tradition and breathtaking pure magnificence,” Mr al-Khateeb mentioned.

But he added that alcohol, which is against the law within the Muslim country, will stay banned.

“We could have sufficient tourists to come to Saudi Arabia to get pleasure from different issues,” he mentioned.

Mr al-Khateeb additionally defined that the complete black robes, referred to as abayas, won’t be obligatory for ladies tourists.

However, modest costume will stay necessary, together with at public seashores.

Visas shall be obtainable on-line for round £65, with no restrictions for unaccompanied ladies – as was beforehand the legislation.

Access to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina shall be restricted.

More particulars, together with which international locations are eligible, are anticipated to be launched in a while Friday. 

Mr Khateeb mentioned China, Japan, Europe and the US had been among the many high outbound targets.

Plans to admit important numbers of leisure tourists have been mentioned for years, solely to be blocked by conservative opinion and paperwork. 

An e-visa for sporting occasions and live shows was launched final December.

The transfer is a part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman‘s formidable plans to minimize the country’s financial dependence on oil, significantly within the wake of the assaults on two key oil refineries earlier this month.

The prince, Saudi’s de facto ruler, has additionally acquired worldwide reward for introducing numerous liberal reforms, such as giving ladies the proper to drive and ending a ban on cinemas final yr.

However, his picture has been tarnished by the country’s involvement within the devastating struggle in Yemen, as effectively as the arrest of critics together with outstanding ladies activists.

He has additionally confronted fierce criticism from world chief’s for final yr’s homicide of Jamal Khashoggi.

The 32-year-old admits he bears accountability for the journalist’s brutal loss of life “because it happened under my watch”, in accordance to a brand new documentary to be broadcast subsequent week.

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