For the first time, Saudi Arabia is open to tourists. Up until recently, Saudi Arabia only provided visas to people traveling to the country for religious purposes. Now the country is looking to boost foreign tourism, and expand the economy beyond the oil industry.
History of Tourism in Saudi Arabia
Tourism in Saudi Arabia has always revolved largely around religious pilgrimage and still does. Visas were limited to business people working in the country, and to Muslims traveling to the country to visit the holy cities of Medina and Mecca.
Mecca receives about two million pilgrims during the month of Ramadan to perform Umrah, and more than three million pilgrims a year during the month of Dhu al-Hijjah in Hajj (an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca that must be carried out by Muslims at least once in their lifetime). Throughout the year, Mecca receives close to four million for Umrah (the non-mandatory pilgrimage made by Muslims to Mecca, which can be performed any time of the year).
Present Day Tourism
Starting on September 27th, 2019, Saudi Arabia opened up their tourism industry to travelers who want to visit for more than religious reasons. Over 24,000 tourists were welcomed into the country in the first 10 days after the tourist visas were issued for the first time. To promote the new change, authorities reported that they will allow unmarried foreign couples to rent hotel rooms together – something not allowed in the past.
Working to expand their tourism industry, Saudi Arabia is taking on large projects that are intended to attract more travellers. Numerous hotels, shopping centers and even a metro are set to be fully operational by the end of 2019.
What to See in Saudi Arabia
There are many unique places to discover while on your trip to Saudi Arabia. One of the most exquisite locations is Tiran Island. Located at the entrance of the straits of Tiran, Tiran Island is an extraordinary place to visit. Its beautiful beaches and clear blue waters make this destination a paradise for snorkelers, divers, and beach lovers alike.
There are five UNESCO sites you can travel to in Saudi Arabia. One that’s a must-see is Mada’in Saleh. Mada’in Saleh was once a flourishing city along an ancient spice route, and played a pivotal role in building a trade empire. It was the second largest city of the Nabateans (a group that resided across the Jordan Valley and Arabia) until their empire was overtaken by the Romans in 106 CE.
Another of Saudi Arabia’s UNESCO sites to check out is Masmak Fortress in Riyadh. This was built in the year 1865 but is more well known for what happened many years later. In 1902, an exiled royal by the name of Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman bin Faisal Al Saud, went to Riyadh and took over the fortress. He then went on to conquer all the kingdoms of the region, before uniting them to form the modern-day Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
For more Saudi Arabia travel destinations, check out our Travel Spotlight on Saudi Arabia here.
Laws in Saudi Arabia
While visiting Saudia Arabia, be aware of certain laws you’ll need to follow. The first and most important is to avoid breaking the Lese Majeste laws. This entails not publicly criticizing the government, royal family, Kind, or flag of Saudi Arabia (this includes on social media).
Everyone loves capturing memories through photos, but be careful when taking photographs while in Saudi Arabia. Taking pictures of military and government installations is illegal, and could lead to a prison sentence.
Make sure to carry your personal identification with you at all times. Authorities can ask for identification at all times (especially when at a security checkpoint) so it’s a good idea to have a photocopy of your passport on hand.
Before visiting Saudi Arabia, there are a small amount of requirements in order to obtain your eVisa. You must be 18 years of age or older, and must have a valid passport from an eligible country with at least 6 months remaining from the date of entry. Some of the countries include the United States, Australia, Canada, South Korea, the UK and 45 others (see below for a complete list). The tourist visa allows for a stay of up to 3 month per entry, with travelers able to stay in Saudi Arabia for up to 90 days during the year.
Obtaining Your eVisa with Swift
Full List of Eligible Countries for the eVisa (as of the date of this publication)
- New Zealand
- South Korea
- Czech Republic
- San Marino
- China, including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan