The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are now a step closer to launching a game-changing Schengen-style visa to boost tourism in the region.
Last week, during a meeting of GCC ministers in Muscat, Salim bin Mohammed Al Mahrouqi, Minister of Heritage and Tourism in Oman, announced that the unified visa has been approved unanimously.
The single visa is a tourist’s ticket to exploring the six-member Gulf bloc – the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait. Multiple Gulf ministers and top officials, including those in the UAE, have revealed in the past few months that the unified visa would be launched “soon”.
The long-awaited visa will create more job opportunities, in addition to improving regional economies.
Here is what we know about the unified tourist visa so far:
What is a unified GCC visa?
Similar to a Schengen visa that gives tourists access to several European countries, the GCC is looking to implement a visa that would let visitors hop between countries that make up the Gulf bloc.
Currently, tourists have to get visas of the six Gulf countries separately even though the destinations are connected via air and road.
How will the scheme help?
In May this year, a top UAE official had highlighted that tourists — especially long-haul ones — would benefit from a unified package to visit different countries in GCC. The scheme will also increase their length of stay, in addition to boosting tourist spending.
When will the visa be launched?
Omani media quoted minister Mahrouqi as saying that the scheme would be launched “very soon”. A timeline was not specified, but Oman Observer reported that it will be presented at a meeting of regional interior ministers in November in Muscat.
What would the scheme entail?
Once implemented, the scheme could see GCC countries carry out joint publicity campaigns. Officials had previously spoken about having a common booking platform and a joint tourism website.
Can residents of GCC countries apply for the visa?
Currently, citizens of GCC countries enjoy visa-free travel between the member states. It’s not immediately clear if expatriates residing in these countries can or would need to apply for the unified visa once it’s implemented. However, last month, Abdulla Bin Touq Al Marri, UAE Minister of Economy, said the GCC is considering a single visa system that will see its residents travel freely between member states.
How many countries can one visit with the visa?
Visa holders would be able to visit all six GCC countries: UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait.
What will be the cost and duration of the visa?
The price and validity of the visa have not been revealed so far. More details are expected to be announced by the end of the year.
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