From underdeveloped arid landscapes with little to offer to the oil capital of the world (and fastest-growing development zone), Gulf countries draw in hundreds of millions of tourists every year, who flock to the likes of DubaiAbu Dhabi and Riyadh for their opulent resorts and futuristic cityscapes.

Despite their popularity, there remains one major obstacle to tourists traveling in the area, and that is the different entry requirements and visa policies, which can vary from country to country, making multi-destination trips harder to plan compared to, say, Europe.

While the United Arab Emirates allow Americans to enter visa-free, Saudi Arabia requires them to apply for an eVisa, and that’s only one example: despite being regional partners, the Gulf countries have never agreed on a common set of tourism policies.

Until now.

Traveler Holding United States Passport At Airport, Unspecified Location

By the end of the year, a new ‘grand visa’ will allow tourists to country-hop around the Gulf with little to no bureaucracy, and it looks set to revolutionize travel across the Arab world:

New Unified Tourist Visa For The Gulf States

As confirmed by local news outlets, all six countries participating in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will introduce a ‘unified’ tourist visa by the end of 2024, the countries in question being:

  • Bahrain
  • Oman
  • Kuwait
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • United Arab Emirates

Young Man Wearing Traditonal Arabic Attire Walking The Desert In Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Middle East.jpg

While further details have not yet been divulged, the idea is that once it is launched, the tourist visa will be accepted in all destinations listed above, allowing its holder to enter any of them so long as it remains valid.

The purpose is to support and develop tourism across the entire Gulf, where a host of new destinations is launching in the next decade, including a resort zone in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, recently touted as the Middle Eastern Caribbean.

Palm Trees Lining The Turquoise Colored Red Sea Coast In Egypt, North Africa

It is expected that, with more tourists coming and feeling encouraged to explore the Gulf beyond just Dubai, revenue will grow much faster, and the dreaded visa bureaucracy that still affects certain foreign nationals arriving in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain will be reduced.

How Do Gulf Countries Compare?

For instance, Saudi Arabia expects Americans to get an eVisa to the staggering tune of $117 per application; Bahrain’s is more affordable, with prices starting from only $43, and Kuwait’s is negligibly-cheap, at only $9.80, but it doesn’t mean they’re less bureaucratic.

Traveler With A Passport And Visa Application, Unspecified Location

eVisa applications typically involve filling out long, detailed forms, where you’ll be asked for personal information, uploading passport-style photos, and answering a series of security questions.

While it’s far simpler than a Consulate-handled visa process, it’s a hassle nonetheless.

Americans enjoy visa-free entry to the UAE, Oman, or Qatar, but entry and stay regulations differ: landing in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or any UAE hub grants them a 30-day stay, and the same goes for Qatar.

A Border Officer Stamping A Visa Page On An Unspecified Passport, International Travel

In Oman, however, they’re issued a restrictive 14-day entry permit upon arrival, hardly enough time to see all it has to offer, from the ancient desert cities with origins lost to time, to the pristine Omani coastline, fringed by a turquoise Arabic Sea.

How Will The Unified Visa Work?

The new visa aims to get rid of all these discrepancies, and smoothen the travel experience across the territory.

It will also do away with the different entry and stay regulations, setting a minimum 30-day period for tourists to remain, a move that has drawn to comparisons to Europe’s well-loved (yet at the same time fiercely criticized) Schengen Area.

FlyDubai Plane Approaching Its Destination, Middle East

In Europe, the Schengen Agreement has helped abolish border controls between signatory states.

This has reduced bureaucracy in the scope of intra-Europe travel, and has facilitated integration, and the free flow of good and people across the continent.

The only downside for tourists?

They are only allowed to stay in the territories of the member states for 90 days out of any 180-day period.

In other words, if you’ve spent a full 3 continuous months in France, you can’t then travel onward to Italy, even though it’s a different country, as both apply the Schengen acquis, and Italian authorities will refuse you entry as your 90 days are already up.

Woman at Airport

With 29 countries having joined Schengen, with two new additions this year in Bulgaria and Romania, you can see how it spells bad news for long-term travelers, who have less options to remain legally in Europe long-term every passing year.

Now, the Gulf countries are not exactly known as long-term travel destinations, but digital nomads and slow travelers who split their time between the six states have a good reason to be concerned about the curtailment of their time in the area.

aerial view of dubai from palm island in united arab emirates

After all, if we’re talking a Schengen-style, 30-day long visa applicable to all Gulf countries, if you’ve spent a whole month in Dubai, you are no longer eligible to travel to a different country like Bahrain or Oman to renew your tourist visa.

So far, similarities between the grand Gulf visa and the Schengen Area have not been established.

We don’t know whether the Gulf states are forming a single travel area without border checks traveling internally, either, though further unification seems to be the goal.

Young Female Tourist Taking A Picture Of The Dubai Peninsula With The Dubai Wheel Pictured, United Arab Emirates

According to Riyadh spokesperson Yasser Hakim, introducing a unified visa is ‘just one step’ in the long road to economic integration, with a euro-inspired ‘single currency’ set to be the next move.

This would be a long-term plan.

Will Current Visa Policies Be Replaced?

What about the bilateral visa agreements signed between individual Gulf states and other countries?

You may be wondering whether Americans will still be eligible to travel visa-free to the UAE, for example, if a new Schengen-modeled tourist visa is being introduced, or whether this means the Gulf states are simply forming a borderless travel zone Americans will be able to enter visa-free.

Beach Chairs At Abu Dhabi Hotel, United Arab Emirates, Middle East

Once again, more information is needed, and we don’t have the answers to those questions yet, though we will be sure to report back as soon as we find out more.

While the official date of the unified isn’t yet announced, current visa rules applying to foreign travelers based on their nationality continue to apply.

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