Saudi Arabia is opening up to unaccompanied female travellers

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For the first time since 2010, the kingdom will start issuing tourist visas

The largest and one of the most conservative countries in the Middle East is opening up to tourism. From 1 April, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will relaunch tourist visa issuance for the first time since 2010 when the authorities clamped down on visitors.

Saudi Arabia will relaunch tourist visa issuance for the first time since 2010 — Shutterstock female travellersSaudi Arabia will relaunch tourist visas for the first time since 2010 — Shutterstock

Apart from making the visa more accessible, Saudi Arabia aims to attract tourists with a new approach including “the development of hotels and luxury residential units, as well as all logistical infrastructure – including air, land and sea transport hubs”.

And for the first time in the county’s history, women aged under 40 won’t be required to be accompanied by their husbands or brothers. The age under which an unaccompanied woman will be allowed to visit will be lowered to 25, while applicants must have an authorisation from the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The kingdom is changing its policies in the light of the prosperous travel business that has boomed in the neighbouring countries of the United Arab Emirates or Oman. The country also wants to diversify its income and reduce its dependence on the oil industry.

The lowering of limits on women corresponds with decrees issued by the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman who has vowed to adopt and implement a form of “moderate, open Islam” to the country.

Saudi women will soon be allowed to go to the cinema and attend sports events. From June 24, they will also be allowed to obtain driving licenses.

Recently, a senior Saudi cleric, Sheikh Abdullah al-Mutlaq, said that women did not need to wear the abaya, although this did not signal a change in the law that requires them to wear the full-length robe.

Despite the changes, restrictions upon women and sexual minorities remain very strict.

According to the British Foreign Office: “women should wear conservative, loose-fitting clothes as well as a full-length cloak (abaya) and a headscarf.”

“Homosexual acts and extra-marital sexual relations, including adultery, are illegal and can be subject to severe penalties.”

Also, prospective visitors with Israel as their birthplace or with evidence of visiting Israel in their passport may be refused admission.