Sitting atop vast oil reserves, which is officially reported to be at 260 billion barrels, Saudi Arabia is a major player in the oil industry. Some people in the West imagine it as a country of extremely rich oil sheiks who drive Mercedes Benzes, Rolls Royces, and Ferraris and who sign their names with solid gold pens. If you want to find out if these are mere exaggerations, perhaps the best way to do it is to fly to Saudi Arabia. Good luck trying to get close to those cars, much more to the sheiks.
If you still want to visit the country, you need to have a visa. Unless you are a national of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, or the United Arab Emirates, you need to apply at a Saudi consulate in your country. Those with Israeli passports, or those who have just visited the place, however, need not apply. And even if you are able to secure a visa if you arrive there intoxicated, or not complying with Saudi dress and behavior conventions, you may be turned back.
There are no tourists in Saudi Arabia. At least not according to their visas. The most common visa issued by the Saudi government is a business visa. This requires that you have a business contact or host in the country with whom you need to meet. It is the host who has to initiate the application for the visa. You need to send a scanned copy of your passport to your host, who will use it to apply for an invitation letter at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If the letter is approved, it is sent to you or your company. Have the letter stamped with your company seal and present it at the Saudi embassy for your visa.
Similar to a business visa is a visiting work visa. You still need a host to apply for you. The only difference is that instead of simply meeting with a business associate, you are allowed to perform special work for a direct employer, who may be somebody other than your host.
A work visa should not be confused with the visiting work visa. The former involves a work contract with a Saudi company. It starts with an interview with a Saudi recruiting firm on behalf of the prospective company. If your application is accepted, an employment contract is signed by both parties, after which the company provides you with a visa block invitation letter. Present this letter to the Saudi embassy in your country for the rest of the processing steps.
Since many expatriates are working in Saudi Arabia, the government also issues family visas. This applies to their spouses, children, siblings, parents, and even uncles and aunts as long as you can prove your relationship. The procedure is similar with those for a business visa. The Saudi resident applies on behalf of the guests at the local Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
If you are a Muslim, or a convert to the faith, a fine time to visit Saudi Arabia is during the Hajj or Umrah. You don’t need hosts or invitations to apply for a Hajj or Umrah visa. Just show the embassy that you are a Muslim. If they do not believe you, you can present a copy of your Islamic decree obtained from your local mosque.