Image used for illustrative purposes. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf news archives

Manama: Although plans to issue online visas for Saudi Arabia have been discussed for years, they’ve been blocked or delayed by political debate and processes.

Now, officials are now expressing optimism that they would be available soon.

The eVisa would mark a huge change for Saudi Arabia, which has been one of the most difficult countries to enter, especially given that the kingdom has no visa designed specifically for tourism purposes.

According to officials, the Saudi Arabia eVisa 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.

Tourist visa

The new Saudi Arabia visa will allow tourists from eligible countries to visit the country, but until the online visa for Saudi Arabia becomes available, the only way to obtain a visa is in person from the nearest embassy.

Currently, only the citizens of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the UAE are exempted from visa requirement.

Though the list of eligible countries has not been finalised, the Saudi government has announced the eVisa will be available to citizens of the US, Schengen zone countries, Australia, Japan, South Korea, South Africa, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan.

In December, Saudi Arabia launched the visa service for visitors outside the scope of religious tourism through a portal named Sharek.

Even though the service was solely for Formula E, a motoring event that saw about 1,000 tourists from about 80 countries descend on the Saudi capital, it could well have marked the much-anticipated formal launch of the tourist visa service by the government.

Visitors came from the United States, Europe, Russia, Central and South America, Africa, the Caribbean and Asia to watch Formula E and witness how the Kingdom is shaping its future.

“This process was limited to the Formula E. Usually if you apply for a visa it will take some time to get it and you will have to do it through the embassy. We did it [the e-visa] hand in hand with the ministry of foreign affairs. We went from a very complicated process to a very simple one,” Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Turki Al Faisal Al Saud, Vice Chairman of the General Sports Authority (GSA), said

“Hopefully we will learn from this and see what we need to do for the future. But I can tell you from now that there is a lot of demand from other entities that are organising events in the kingdom to use this platform, because it was really, really good and we are very happy with the process and the development of the portal.”

Visitor testimonies

Saudi Arabia chose Formula E to launch and test the process “because it is a global event with big reach around the world and it has international parties involved in it.”

Visitor testimonies reaffirmed the prince’s statement about the easy visa process.

Chan, a visitor from Hong Kong, who gave only one name, said that getting the visa was relatively simple.

“Log onto your computer and your visa pretty much comes up instantly,” he said, quoted by the Centre for International Communication.

For John, an American tourist, the experience was no different. “I must say I am impressed,” he said about the visa process.

Clona, a Ukrainian living in Saudi Arabia, said her mother availed of the Sharek visa facility to come to Saudi Arabia. “It took less than 15 minutes for her to get the visa,” she said. “It’s a wonderful move by the Saudi authorities”.