The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is known to the outside world as an ultraconservative country; a country that has no place for outside influence, tourism included. However, this Middle Eastern kingdom has started opening its doors for tourists as a way of diversifying its revenue generation and lowering its overdependence on oil. For a start, the KSA has rolled out a new e-visa program that allows visitors from 49 specified countries to tour the kingdom for up to 3 months. The visa was launched by Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto leader.
Unlike in the past when visas were restricted to expatriates, pilgrims, and business people, American tourists can now apply for the Saudi visa for us citizens any time of the year. But what do you need to know about this visa before applying for it?
Saudi Arabia Visa Information
Any holder of a US passport is eligible for a Saudi Arabia visa provided that he/she meets all the other application requirements. We shall be looking at these requirements later in this article. But first, which places within Saudi Arabia are US citizens allowed to visit? Well, not unless you are a Muslim, you will not be allowed access to the cities of Mecca, Medina, or any other holy site. The closest you can get to Mecca if you are a non-Muslim is Historic Jeddah, the city that locals fondly refer to as “the Gate to Mecca”. You are, however, free to visit the kingdom’s Unesco world heritage sites such as Al-Ahsa Oasis, the Mada’in Saleh in Al-Ula, the Hail Region, and At-Turaif District in Ad-Diriyah.
Documents Required for US Citizens Applying For Saudi Visa
The KSA presents you with multiple options when applying for a visa for Saudi Arabia from the USA. These options include religious pilgrimage visas, business visas, tourist visa, and diplomatic visas. You can apply for any of these visas through a simple eVisa application or by visiting the Saudi Arabian embassy. You can also hire a travel agency to obtain travel authorization on your behalf.
Regardless of the application method you opt for, you will have to satisfy several important visa requirements for US citizens. Some of these include:
- A valid US passport. Your passport needs to have three more months of validity after your visa expires. Your visa will expire after 3 months so, primarily, the passport has to be valid for at least 6 months from the day your visa is approved.
- Proof of meningitis vaccination. This is particularly important for any American Muslim visiting Mecca, Medina, or Jeddah. Your application will only be accepted by the consulate upon the submission of copies of vaccination certificates. If you will be traveling to Saudi Arabia in the company of your family, you will be needed to submit proof of their vaccination as well.
- One recent passport size color photograph for each member of your traveling group. The photos should have a white background and have full-face shots; you have to be facing the camera directly. Note that the photos you’ve used for the passport itself will not be accepted no matter how recent they could be.
For those applying online, submit the photos via email- in PDF format. Note that when your application is approved, your visa will be sent to the e-mail address you used to send the photograph and other required documents. You have to make sure that the e-mail address you use is yours and that you have access to it at all times.
- Proof of travel. Obtain a computer-generated itinerary from an authorized travel agency, an e-confirmation tool, or an approved online booking platform. The itinerary must clearly indicate your departure date and time (from the US), arrival date at your selected Saudi port of entry, and departure date back to the US.
Note: For Americans traveling via private means, they are required to provide the embassy with a copy of their charter’s manifest.
- Means of payment. You can make your payments using a credit or a debit card, or PayPal when applying online.
- For women going for a business trip to Saudi Arabia, you should have a pre-approved invitation from the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Foreign Affairs for your business visa to be approved.
How to Apply for the Saudi Arabian Visa for US Passport Holders
Applying for a visa to Saudi Arabia for US citizens has never been easier. The process is quick, transparent, and straightforward. You can do it in these 4 simple steps:
- Download the Saudi Arabia application form online. You can get help from a travel agency or do it from home. Be sure to fill in and complete all the required details, some of which we have indicated in the requirements section above. That should take you less than an hour.
- Submit the needed payment. Note that your application charge will include the costs of obligatory medical insurance for all American travelers. The insurance covers medical and other possible emergencies when you are already in Saudi Arabia.
- Wait for the Saudi Arabian electronic visa (eVisa) to be processed and approved. That process takes 1 to 3 business days. Some applications may take longer, so you need to be patient.
- Once the eVisa is approved, it will be sent to your personal email, from where you will print it. This is the copy you will produce at your Saudi Arabia port of entry in order to be granted access to the country.
What Are the Processing Times and Prices?
Standard processing takes about 5 days and most agencies charge USD 155.00 together with the service fees. If you want rush processing which takes 3 days, you will have to part with USD 180.00. You can also pay for super rush processing which takes 24 hours at most, but you will pay about USD 205.00.
It is true that Saudi Arabia is among the most conservative countries in the world. Its citizens adhere to a strict interpretation of Islamic law. The law is particularly stricter to women. It is important that you maintain the high moral standards set by the locals when visiting Saudi Arabia. Dress conservatively if you are a woman; at least cover your shoulders and knees when touring public places. Also, don’t bring alcohol, display affection in public, or use profane language or gestures.