Everything you wanted to know from the first tourists in Saudi Arabia
For a very long time, non-religious-related tourism just wasn’t a thing in Saudi Arabia. But then, suddenly, it opened up. In order to save the day with a cancelled tour to Iraq, YPT did what we’re best at – adaptability – and ended up leading one of the first tourist groups on the new e-visa scheme to Saudi Arabia. Here are the most important answers to what is on your mind if you are considering visiting the fascinating Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
How easy is that new visa policy?
The answer is: very! You apply on the website, you get your visa within minutes and you are then allowed to book the next flight to Saudi Arabia. It can be done in a day.
On arrival at the airport, your fingerprints and photo will be taken and you will receive a neat stamp in your passport. That’s it, you’re in! You don’t need to be supervised to go around Saudi Arabia, whether you are male or female. Which brings us to our next point.
Do women need to cover themselves when in Saudi ?
Saudi Arabia is known around the world for its conservative take on Islam and the ladies here will often wear the full burka, leaving a tiny slit for their eyes, when they go in public.
For tourists, however, the only requirement is to dress modestly. According to the Saudi visa website’s, this means avoiding tight-fitting clothes and showing legs or cleavage. It is not necessary for foreign women to cover their hair and 3/4 pants are ok. Controversial messages on shirt are also to be avoided.
How easy is it to get around in Saudi Arabia?
At the moment, not very. Riyadh, the capital, is building its first subway system, but it was incomplete at time of writing. There are no buses in the cities, which means that public transportation is non-existent. Solo travelers will have to use taxis or rent a car, which makes expeditions outside of the cities quite costly. Uber – and the Gulf version of Uber, Careem – are, however, well implemented.
Saudi Arabia is quite a large country which means that, if you want to cover a larger territory and do not have so much time, you’ll have to rely on Saudis’ domestic flights. Saudi Arabia is currently building a very nice and brand-new rail network, but it’s only partially completed.
What to know when planning a trip to Saudi Arabia?
When planning your schedule, take into account the laws and customs of Saudi Arabia, which might be very different from what you are used to. For example, all shops, museums and so on will close for 20 to 30 minutes throughout the day during the call to prayer. During the day, between noon and 4 PM, most shops are also closed due to the fact that it simply gets too hot out. On the other hand, life in Saudi goes on until quite late at night, and it is not rare for people to have dinner around 9 or 10 PM, which means that restaurants are open until quite late.
Can you drink alcohol in Saudi Arabia?
No, at the moment, it is not possible to bring alcohol in Saudi Arabia and the consumption of alcohol anywhere in the country, for anyone, is illegal.
However, the rumour is that a Saudi tobacco/e-cigarette magnate has announced that he has acquired a license for alcohol, so, as with many other things, this might be about to change.
Can you visit Mecca or Medina as a tourist?
No. The new tourist visa to Saudi Arabia does not allow travel to these cities, and passports as well as visas are checked before entering those zones. It is necessary to come with an Umrah or Hajj visa to see these places, which requires being Muslim.
Can you enter overland using the tourist e-visa?
The big question! Many people would like to enter the country through Bahrain or the Emirates, for example. At the time of writing, it is simply not written anywhere if this is allowed. The rumour is that you need to first enter by flight so that your fingerprints are recorded on the database, and that following this you can enter the country any way you want. We’ll be waiting for confirmation of that and updating this article as soon as somebody has tried!
The best way to make the most of this fascinating country that has just opened up is to visit it with YPT; join us on our Saudi Arabia Tour!.