Saudi Arabia is one of the most difficult places in the world to visit. Note that Jews are not granted visas to the Kingdom.
During the last six years the Saudi authorities have started tentatively to issue tourist visas, but only for those willing to travel as part of a group (minimum four people) organised by a recognised tour company (including dive companies).
Issued under the sponsorship of Saudia (under its ‘Discover Saudi Arabia’ program), you can find the list of approved international and local Saudi tour companies who can arrange the visas at: www.saudiairlines.com/tours/discoversaudia rabia.jsp. It takes 14 days from the date of request to issue a tourist visa.
Note also that passports must be valid for a minimum of six months, and women under 30 years old must be accompanied by their husband or brother (who must also arrive and leave Saudi Arabia at the same time).
Note that men and women are only allowed to travel together (and granted a visa to do so) if they are (a) married (with an official marriage licence) or (b) form part of a group.
It is not permitted for an unmarried couple to travel alone together in Saudi Arabia (and doing so runs the risk of apprehension). Regarding the tourist visa, two couples could in effect travel together, but only if they came as ‘individuals in a group’.
One local tour company that can offer advice and has an excellent reputation locally is Sadd Al-Samallaghi Est based in Jeddah.
Three-day transit visas are available for people driving between Jordan and either Kuwait or Yemen. Those driving between Jordan and Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are usually granted seven-day visas. They’re only issued if you can prove that there was no other way to get to your destination.
To obtain a transit visa you must visit the embassy with your vehicle’s carnet de passage and proof that you have a visa for the country you’re planning to visit.
Visitor (business) visas
Rule number one is that you must have a Saudi sponsor (a company or an individual). The sponsor applies to the Saudi Chamber of Commerce & Industry for approval and, if granted, an invitation letter will be sent to you (or direct to the embassy).
Rule number two is that you must then make your application in your country of nationality or permanent residence.
Depending upon the Saudi embassy to whom you are making your application (always phone the embassy to check), most commonly you will require a letter from your company outlining the nature of your business in Saudi Arabia and a letter of support from your local chamber of commerce.
Armed with this paperwork, the visa is usually granted without difficulty by the embassy, sometimes even on the same day (if you visit in person), but more often within a week to 10 days if applying by post.