Modernization is the name of the game in Saudi Arabia of 2016 and October is shaping up to be more of the same. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's ambitious Vision 2030 is gathering steam, and while there's a lot to be gained from it, it's also going to cost some people. The kingdom's new visa regulations makes that crystal clear. Here's how they might affect you:
1. Most travellers will have to pay
The price of your next visit to the kingdom will cost you 2,000 Saudi riyals, or $533 (unless you can waive your visa fee, see below). Those who wish to have a multiple-entry visa valid for six months can pay 3,000 Saudi riyals. One year costs 5,000 Saudi riyals and two years cost 8,000 Saudi riyals. A transit fee of 300 Saudi riyals has been implemented as well.
Previously, a one time entry visa cost 1,480 Saudi riyals and a multiple entry cost about 1,880 Saydi riyals. This means the single entry visa has increased by more than 30 percent and the multiple entry visa has increased by nearly 60 percent.
2. The kingdom now uses the Gregorian Calendar, meaning public sector workers lose 11 days of payment
The kingdom has officially used the Islamic Hijri calendar since it was established in 1932. Now, the public sector has joined the private sector and switched to using the western Gregorian Calendar. Typically, the Hijri calendar has about 354 days as opposed to 365 in the Gregorian.
Gulf News reports that this means public sector employees will lose 11 days of payment.
3. Religious tourism will cost more
Oil revenues have fallen and the kingdom is looking to diversify its economy through Vision 2030. T ourism is one of the sectors Saudi Arabia plans to develop.
"The recent visa fee hikes announced by Saudi Arabia will substantially increase the cost of travel to the kingdom for both pilgrims and other types of tourists such as business visitors and those visiting friends and relatives," said Rashid Aboobacker, the associate director at TRI Consulting, a consultancy in Dubai, according to The National .
While most believe religious tourism won't be affected by the changes, Aboobacker suggested that the increased fees may discourage other travelers.
"The substantial hike in the cost of entry visas may have a negative impact on business and [those visiting friends and relatives] as both companies and individual sponsors might now try to contain costs by limiting the number of trips and avoiding non-essential trips," he said.
4. Salary cuts for Saudi Ministers and Shura Council members
Last week, it was announced that members of Saudi Arabia's Shura Councile and Saudi ministers would be dealt a considerable salary cut. Ministers' salaries have been slashed by 20 percent and Shura Council members' salaries were cut by 15 percent.
Additionally, public sector wage increases have been suspended and allowances have been curbed by new regulations.
5. GCC Nationals remain excluded from any visa charges
As before, citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries – Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates – do not require a visa to travel to Saudi Arabia.
6. First time pilgrims won't be affected
If you were planning to perform haj or umrah for the first time you're exempted from the visa hike.