Saudi – a new link on the overland trail?

Saudi Arabia, a notoriously reclusive country, recently announced 90-day tourist e-visas are now available online. This easing of restrictions to non-Islamic foreign visitors is said to be part of the Vision 2030 programme, as the country seeks to wean its saudi-malleconomy off oil. When Saudi talks of developing tourism, they’re probably more interested in groups flying in and spending money in resorts and glittering malls or taking guided tours, rather than overlanders roaming self-reliantly around the desert. It may well transpire these new e-visas only apply to fly-ins leaving from the same airport.

How does this relate to overland travel?
As it is, with overland entry only currently possible from Jordan, the Arabian Peninsula is a dead-end for the overlander. And it’s not as if it opens up a new overland route like Myanmar did, or usefully circumvents a blocked area like Iran (for some). It’s just a new country to explore before ferrying on to northeast Africa, western Asia. or even Turkey.
Once in a while, you heard of travellers transiting Saudi in 72-hours with some difficulty, usually when Egypt or Sudan were not accessible. Vehicles ferried across the Red Sea and were escorted directly to the Jordanian border, or even transported on a truck (RHD cars). Expats with vehicles registered in the Emirates (part of the GCC, see map below) have had an easier time getting out via Saudi. In this post from 2016, the OP was told foreign-plated motorcycles could not be ridden in KSA, though this has obviously been done on a few occasions, right back to 2006.

They may want to issue local number plates, like Egypt.
International Driving Permit probably needed.
Carnet probably not.
Fuel works out 13p a litre.

The thing is, route-wise there is little reason to travel via Saudi except to say you’ve been there. To the south, you might be able to ferry to/from Sudan so dodging Egypt with its protracted entry procedures and CdP. But that aside, Egypt is a fascinating country, probably more so than Saudi.
To the north is Saudi’s current arch-enemy, Iran which some can enter overland from at least five other countries. Like Egypt, on the UN HMI (Historical Monuments Index) Iran has a much higher rating than Saudi. There are ferries from the Emirates to Bandar Abbas, but Brits, Americans and Canadians can’t travel in Iran without an escort.
Though there was talk of it in 2018, currently there is no ferry from Muscat/Oman to Pakistan. (CdP needed for both places). And even then, it might have only ever been intended for passengers, not vehicles.

Is it ethical?
To some probably not, so don’t go there – or any number of human-rights hellholes commonly visited by overlanders. Solo women are allowed into KSA and, unlike Iran, don’t need to wear a burqa, just dress modestly. Expect some gender segregation in public places. It’s worth looking at laws as they apply to tourists, some of which appear shockingly draconian and are bound to get flouted by mistake.


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3 Responses to Saudi – a new link on the overland trail?

  1. SIL4 says:

    Ramlat Khaliya has been under construction for years but still wasn’t complete when I left Oman in 2016 and I believe it’s still not open (but that may have changed).

    I recall at the time that it was intended primarily for industrial use (i.e. truck traffic and personnel servicing the Saudi oil fields or transiting to KSA avoiding the long detour through the UAE).

    Given it’s extremely isolated location and the fact that it cuts through the deepest and most sensitive part of the Empty Quarter, I suspect it may never be available for tourist/expat use: leakage from Yemen into KSA via Oman is also a likely concern.

    Oman and UAE are welcoming and hospitable places but we’ve all seen well documented media reports of tourists occasionally falling foul of UAE laws etc: KSA is opening itself to the world but is far more conservative and introspective than the other Gulf states and expectations may be tempered by much harsher realities in the short term for those visiting, especially those not familiar with Gulf culture and customs.

  2. SIL4 says:

    I’ve been fortunate enough to live, work and travel in the UAE, Oman and, mostly recently, KSA – everywhere has the good, the bad and something of interest but while I didn’t see much of KSA, it’s not somewhere I will be going back to. While they share many similarities, KSA is a very different and, in my experience, unappealing destination compared to the UAE and Oman (for those who are familiar with them) but that may well be the very thing that appeals to others!

    I’m not sure if the e-visa provides the opportunity for overland transit through KSA and into the UAE and Oman, via the only border crossing at Al Gweihfat, but that journey is painfully long, on monotonous, fast, and dangerous roads through a dull barren landscape. There is no direct border access from KSA into Oman and many of the border crossings between the UAE and Oman have restrictions on them which can be confusing.

    The UAE, especially the Northern emirates and the Musandam enclave, and Oman are well worth visiting with rugged beauty and lots to see, on the coast and further inland. They would appear to offer an overland motorcyclist’s paradise of endless trails to explore and you’d think you would see lots of adventure bikes running around but they all share the same characteristics of extreme heat, poor driving standards and vast distances between destinations which can act as a considerable constraint. Most locals/expats tend to truck/trailer motocross bikes, quads etc. out to the desert to play, which is usually in easy reach of home.

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