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 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 Land Cruisers, 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.


3 thoughts on “Saudi – a new link on the overland trail?

  1. SIL4

    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.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. SIL4

    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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