Updated January 2020
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 as well as hosting the Dakar in 2020 is said to be part of the Vision 2030 programme, as the country seeks to wean its economy 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 (right) or taking guided tours in air-con Landcruiers, rather than overlanders roaming self-reliantly around the desert.
Anyway, it seems these e-visas only apply to fly-ins leaving from the same airport. You will have to apply for a regular visa at a consulate, but you might assume that these are more readily issued now, not the old transit visas of old.
How does this relate to overland travel?
As the map below shows, it reminds you of the long-possible between Sudan and Iran, or a way to get between Sudan and Jordan for the Israel-Greece freighter ferry. All that really does is avoid Egypt and the Nuweiba ferry. With its protracted entry procedures and CdP there’s something to be said for that, but Egypt is a fascinating HMI country, probably more so than Saudi.
- They may want to issue local number plates, like Egypt
- International Driving Permit probably needed
- Carnet probably not
- Fuel works out 13p a litre
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.