Saudi Arabia to grant tourist visas to some foreign citizens


Saudi Arabia will start issuing electronic tourist visas in the coming weeks for nationals of countries including those belonging to the Schengen zone, a Saudi news portal close to the government reported on Sunday. The new visa system will also apply to citizens of the Americas, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Australia, South Korea as well as South Africa, the Sabq news website added.

Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, is seeking to diversify oil-reliant finances amid low crude prices. A team from the Saudi interior and foreign ministries and the tourism authority has reportedly set a number of regulations for the new visa system.

At present, foreigners travelling to Saudi Arabia have to apply in advance for an entry visas at the kingdom's consulates abroad. Under the news rules, visiting women under 30 should be accompanied by a family member, Sabq said.

Male and female foreigners will be denied entry to Mecca and Medina, key holy cities in Saudi Arabia, which is the birthplace of Islam, according to the report.

In November, head of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage Sultan bin Salman expected the tourist visa system to take effect in 2018. The drop in oil prices has hurt Saudi Arabia, prompting it to introduce austerity measures, including cuts in energy subsidies and a 5 percent value-added tax that went into effect this month.    (dpa)

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