Photo: Mohammed Ali Abdo Ahmed/Shutterstock

A New Six-Country Visa Means Easier Travel to the Middle East

Middle East News
by Suzie Dundas May 21, 2024

Thanks to a brand-new visa just announced for some countries on the Persian Gulf, traveling through growing tourist countries like Qatar and the UAE just got far easier.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCG) recently shared more details about the upcoming “GCG Grand Tours,” visa, which will allow visa holders to travel freely through partner countries Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, and Bahrain. The partnership was announced at a Middle East travel trade show by the UAE Minister of Economy Abdulla bin Touq Al Marri. The idea behind the visa is to allow visitors to travel throughout all six countries and only show their passport upon arrival at airport customs. It’ll likely be similar to Europe’s “Schengen Area,” which allows visitors to move between 17 countries without showing their passport or identification when crossing boarders.

Currently, you’ll need separate visas to country hop, and most allow you to stay only 30 days or less. (Bahrain’s is only two weeks, and you can stay for up to three months in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia). The new visa will allow visitors to stay longer than 30 days, though the exact length is yet to be announced. It’ll make it easier for visitors to quickly travel though the region and explore additional countries on the Persian Gulf. The visa website is still under development and doesn’t yet list an application cost, though it says it will launch in December 2024.

The Grand Tours Visa is a major step in an ongoing effort to grow tourism in the Persian Gulf. In 2019, Saudi Arabia removed most of its laws around dress codes for women and introduced a speedy e-visa process for western travelers, and Qatar invested big in tourism when it hosted the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE have become synonymous with some of the biggest, tallest, and most impressive man-made tourist destinations in the world, and the Burj Khalifa’s Atmosphere Restaurant serves the world’s highest cocktails.

Where to go with the new Middle East visa

Holders of the new shared visa will be able to move around the various sites and cities in the six countries quicker and easier than ever before, allowing visitors to fit more sightseeing into one trip. Fortunately, even a single country in the Gulf Cooperation Council has plenty to fit a vacation, so with six at your fingertips, the hardest part will be figuring out how long you can be away.

AlUla, Saudi Arabia

arch rock alula saudi arabia

Arch Rock in AlUla, Saudi Arabia. Photo: Biddulph Photography/Shutterstock

In the northwest corner of Saudi Arabia is AlUla, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that transcends time. Once a vital crossroads on the incense trade route, it’s now a captivating destination where ancient history collides with modern luxury. The town hides layers upon layers of history and cultures, and is near Hegra, where Nabataean tombs were meticulously carved into cliffs 2,000 years ago. Old Town Alula offers a chance to see what life was like in Saudi Arabia thousands of years ago, with traditional dining, city tours, and gorgeous hotels like the Banyan Tree AlUla’s tented villas or the absolutely stunning Our Habitas AlUla, built into an ancient canyon.

Doha, Qatar

souq waqif in Doha qatar

Souq Waqif in Doha. Photo: Marius Dobilas/Shutterstock

Doha, the capital of Qatar, is a fascinating city, with modern skyscrapers casting shadows over traditional souqs more or less unchanged over the centuries.  History buffs can delve into the nation’s rich past at the National Museum of Qatar, housed in a stunning, desert rose-inspired building, and art enthusiasts will find treasures at the Museum of Islamic Art, home to an extensive collection spanning centuries.

You’ll also want to make time to wander the labyrinthine alleys of Souq Waqif, a traditional marketplace overflowing with spices, perfumes, and handcrafted souvenirs. (And yes, haggling with friendly vendors is all part of the experience, regardless of your language skills). Just outside of the city, travelers can explore sand dunes, lounge at a beach club, or go stargazing under a canopy of stars at the unique Outpost al Barari glamping resort.

Oman’s Wadi hiking trails

middle east visa - oman Wadi Bani Khalid

Wadi Bani Khalid. Photo: elesi/Shutterstock

Oman’s wadis (verdant canyons carved by ancient floods) offer a unique backdrop for adventurous hikers. Trails wind through towering cliffs several millennia old, with the occasional lush palm groves for shade and off-and-on scent of frankincense. Hiking in Oman can range from gentle strolls to multi-day tours with camping in between.

Wadi Bani Khalid, for instance, is a popular choice with its easily accessible swimming holes. The more adventurous can tackle Wadi Shab, which requires a short boat ride followed by a hike through knee-deep water and narrow passages to reach a hidden cave with a cascading waterfall. Hiking is a developing industry in the country, but guiding companies like Bike & Hike Oman or Oman Trekking Guides can lead the way.

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