Historic Change Opens Up Saudi Arabia to Foreign Tourists, Relaxes Dress Restrictions

Saudi Arabia announced a new tourist visa scheme on Friday that will see the Kingdom open up to international leisure travelers for the first time, a historic milestone in a broader push to diversify and modernize its economy and society.

Until today, visas were largely restricted to pilgrims, business travelers and expatriate workers, leaving much of Saudi Arabia – including 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites, pristine beaches and more – unseen by much of the world.

The new rules, coming into effect today, hope to change that by opening up the Kingdom in line with its bold Vision 2030 economic and social blueprint.

Tourism chief Ahmed Al-Khateeb.

Tourism chief Ahmed Al-Khateeb.

Saudi Arabia is also hoping to secure foreign investment in the tourism industry in an effort to increase the tourism’s sector’s contribution to 10% of GDP by 2030 and create 1 million tourist jobs.

Tourism Minister Ahmad Al-Khateeb described it as a “historic moment” for the country.

Saudi Arabia will also adjust its rules pertaining to how foreign women are expected to dress. Foreign women will now be allowed to go without the abaya robe that is still mandatory public wear for Saudi women. However, visiting women will still be required to wear “modest clothing.”

“We remain authentic,” Al-Kateeb said, according to Reuters. “We have a great culture where many, many tourists would love to come and explore this culture and learn more about it and see it and experience it.”