Saudi Arabia unlocks its doors to foreigners for the first time

You can now apply to travel to Saudi Arabia, if you are from one of the 49 allowed countries. Non-Muslims cannot visit the holy cities.

In the past, Saudi Arabia only let immigrants visit the country for religious pilgrimages or for business trips, but now the country decided to increase focus on tourism. With the new rules, citizens from 49 countries are allowed to apply for visas online and tourists are permitted to stay for a maximum of 90 days. However, non-Muslims aren’t allowed to enter the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

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Even though Saudi Arabia now encourages tourism, they still have a strict dress code for visitors. Visitors must dress modestly with clothing that covers their knees and shoulders. The code of conduct states that tourists aren’t allowed to play music during prayer time, take photos of people without their permission, litter, spit, or dress indecently.

Fines can vary from 50 to 6,000 riyals ($13 to $1,500). Saudi Arabia’s strict regulations may be tough on some visitors, being a country that still executes public beheadings and bans alcohol. It also has amazing views and many ancient historical sites, however. Some countries such as Qatar and Israel are refused entry but they make an exception for Hajj.

The holy cities of Saudi Arabia

Mecca:

Mecca is Saudi Arabia’s holiest city, and the birthplace of Islam. It has the biggest mosque in the world, the Masjid al-Haram. Inside it is the Kaaba, a shrine that’s believed to have been built by the Prophet Abraham. Nearby is Mount Arafat and Jabal al-Nour, where Muhammad preached his last sermon and where he received the call to prophethood from the Angel Gabriel. Pilgrims stay in tents in the Mina until the end of the pilgrimage. Only Muslims are allowed to visit Mecca and other holy sites.

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Mecca Saudi Arabia
2 million Muslims gather at Mecca for pilgrimage on August 2019. Image Source: AP

Medina:

Medina is the second most important religious city after Mecca. Before the time of Muhmmad it was originally called Yathrib but it was renamed to Medina (City of the Prophet). The Green Dome is the tomb where Muhammad and the first two caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar were buried. Once again, only Muslims are allowed to enter the city.

Medina Saudi Arabia
Image Source: Omar Chatriwala

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