First of all, I am aware of the question about how to visit Saudia Arabia. This question is about why doesn't Saudi Arabia issue tourist visas.

Second, for some time now I am wondering why Saudi Arabia doesn't issue tourist visas or why it stopped issuing them after allowing the visas for tourists for some time. I was looking around all Saudi official websites about the reason behind this but came up empty. I then tried searching the local news websites but again, no luck at all! I am surprised that such an issue is totally ignored and not even one article in Arabic about the issue.

I know some might think because Saudi's official religion is Islam and they might not want non-Muslims to come, but this is wrong because a large percentage of the 7 million expats are non-Muslims, I'm also sure there is no rule to prefer Muslim expats over non-Muslims. If someone is wondering why Saudi Arabia issues visas for Hajj (pilgrimage), well Makkah and Madinah the targeted cities for pilgrims are considered holy cities and open to all Muslims as per The Book, so Saudi can not just stop people from visiting these cities. So religion is out of question.

Is it politics? I don't think so, Saudi Arabia is considered a friend of almost all the world. In addition to that, the suspension of these visas is general to all nationalities. So I do not think it is politics.

What's kinda funny is, I (as Saudi national) can get a visa to almost all countries (most do not even require a visa or require VOA) while nationals from these countries can not get a visa to visit Saudi! isn't that weird? Why don't these countries suspend visas for Saudis? You know, treat me the same way you want to be treated!

Anyway, I am not asking for an open discussion, I am simply asking for the reason behind this if anyone is aware of it or have a source that explains why.

  • 4
    if YOU don't know that then I wonder who will :-)
    – Geeo
    Aug 30, 2013 at 18:22
  • 1
    Well, there might be an issue that our media is blocking.. Aug 30, 2013 at 18:22
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    This feels pretty off topic here. This is a question about the politics and policy of one specific country, and specifically, about the political or policy motive for that policy, which feels very far afield from a travel question. It feels akin to asking "Why does country X issue 30 day VISAs instead of 14, or 60 or 90?" - and not very useful for a traveler. Aug 30, 2013 at 21:17
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about politics (why) rather than travel.
    – gerrit
    Aug 31, 2013 at 0:08
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    This question was closed as "primarily opinion based", which does not apply at all. There must be a reason and the wording of the question is asking for help finding that reason, not asking people people to come up with their own unsubstantiated theories and opinions. Aug 31, 2013 at 5:07

1 Answer 1


There is an interesting 2000 article in Travel & Leisure, an American magazine, on the first non-religious tourist visas that were being issued around that time.

Prince Khalid al-Faisal, the popular governor of Asir province whose recent poetry reading in Jordan drew 10,000 people, told me in an interview that "twenty years ago tourism was almost a four-letter word." The royal family (and the clerics who rule with them) associated tourism with drinking, gambling, and nightclubs--"with all these things that do not go with Islamic teachings or the Islamic way of life." But he saw it as something that could help his mountainous, underdeveloped region, and he established the kingdom's first bureau of tourism. "I coined the phrase 'clean tourism,' " explained Khalid, to suggest visitors without vice--educational groups, sports competitions, Muslims from neighboring nations drawn by Asir's cool summer breezes. …

Beyond women driving and wearing T-shirts, however, some clerics might also warn against giving undue attention to buildings and artwork as idolatry. The Saud family has for many generations been closely aligned with Islamic school of al-Wahhab, which is wary of the appreciation of anything earthly for fear of idolatry. Indeed, there has been enough destruction of historical sites to have garnered a Wikipedia article, for what that's worth. Some theorize a fear of terrorism, that tourists would make an inviting target and attract negative attention.

I cannot explain why such concerns are not applied to the many third-country nationals who work in Saudi Arabia, but as with many countries, the migrant labor is probably too important to the economy for anyone to take serious action. Besides, someone living in the country might be expected to conform more closely to its social norms than a tourist skipping in and out for a few days or weeks. Prince Khalid is quoted in the T&L article saying economic considerations were a factor in the earlier liberalization:

The opening of the nation to foreign visitors wasn't solely Prince Khalid's achievement. He told me it got its biggest push from the global drop in oil prices of the past 10 years. "We need other sources of income in this country," he said; as their coffers slowly emptied, other members of the ruling family finally agreed.

Expanding tourism would also help "Saudiaze" the workforce, reducing dependence on those third-country nationals and encouraging younger Saudis to stay and work at home rather than going abroad:

“Tourism is the second most Saudiazed economic sector, with 28 percent. That’s big for a sector that is new and has not yet been fully supported,” he added. “We’re serious about making tourism a major player in the economy and also in job creation, and keeping Saudis in Saudi Arabia.”

As pilgrimages have flatlined, there will be additional economic pressure on Saudi Arabia to increase non-religious tourism.

Why would the kingdom have opened up in 2000, made a widely publicized push to increase tourism in 2006, then suddenly clamp down in 2010? It is hard to say; it seems to have taken everyone by surprise. Oil prices rebounded in a big way, making the economic push less compelling, and other political developments in the region since 2010 have probably made the government reluctant to test religious conservatives. An official reason given is that the country is not ready for mass foreign tourism, and is investing resources to develop its tourist infrastructure and encourage domestic tourism first.

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