Saudi Arabia Image Credit: File photo

Dubai: Saudi Arabia’s cabinet has approved electronic visas for foreign visitors to attend sporting events and concerts, local media reported, as the world’s top oil exporter tries to diversify its economy and open up its society.

According to officials, the Saudi Arabia Visa application will only take a few minutes to complete online and there will be no need to go to an embassy or consulate.

Once the application is approved, it will be sent to the applicant by email.

This new move symbolises a change for the kingdom, which was known to be one of the most difficult countries to enter.

Previously, Saudi Arabia had no visa designed specifically for tourism purposes and visas could only be granted to particular groups on a limited basis.

Saudi Arabia allowed tourist visas for the first time in December last year when the Formula-E race was held in Riyadh. All visitors to Saudi Arabia are required to have a valid passport with at least six months validity, in addition to the appropriate visa and a return ticket, with all necessary documents.

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Economic reforms pushed by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman aim to lift total tourism spending in the kingdom — by local citizens as well as foreigners — to $46.6 billion (Dh171.1 billion) in 2020 from $27.9 billion in 2015, the government has said.

“Embassies and consulates will be able to issue the visas within 24 hours of receiving a request,” the daily Arab News reported on Saturday, citing a cabinet decision last week.

It did not specify when the visas would become available. 

As part of Prince Mohammad’s agenda, the kingdom has ended a nearly 40-year ban on cinemas, allowed music concerts, including performances by Western pop stars, and organised international sporting events. There are a number of tourist attractions being developed in Saudi Arabia, including Amaala and Al Ula.

- Inputs from Reuters