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Egypt banks suspend debit card use in foreign currency

Banks in recent months have been tightening the amount of foreign currency clients can use in Egypt and on how much can they can charge to their credit cards while abroad, At least two Egyptian banks have suspended the use of Egyptian pound debit cards outside the country to stop a drain on foreign currency as the country's currency shortage worsens.

Arab African International Bank sent a notice to customers on Wednesday and Arab International Bank sent one on Thursday announcing the suspension, according to several customers

Egypt banks confirm restriction

A customer representative for Arab African International Bank confirmed the move, saying it was due to the country's foreign exchange shortage.

One banker in Egypt said all banks were facing similar problems as a result of the currency shortage, but that each was taking decisions separately.

A substantial number of debit card holders had been using cards to make bulk purchases, often in the UAE, of gold, mobile telephones and other products to take advantage of the Egyptian pound's low official exchange rate.

Debit card transactions are charged at the official rate of about EGP31 to the dollar whereas on the black market a dollar sells for around EGP40 or 41. Egypt has kept its currency fixed against the dollar since March despite a widening gap with the black market rate.

"Sometimes they just send the cards (without leaving Egypt), and they buy things with them. You find there are four or five people from the same family," the banker said.

Other banks were likely to introduce similar restrictions next week, the banker added.

Banks in recent months have also been tightening up on the amount of foreign currency clients can buy in Egypt and on how much can they can charge to their credit cards while abroad.


Dubai Healthcare City launches platform to raise mental health awareness

In collaboration with American Wellness Center, the initiative will span a period of six months and will include community-focused gatherings held in DHCC

Dubai Healthcare City marked World Mental Health Day on October 10, with the launch of a new initiative, the 'DHCC Mental Wellbeing Community Talks Programme.

The DHCC Mental Wellbeing Community Talks Programme, will offer a platform for Dubai Healthcare City community members and the public to meet and talk about mental health, share knowledge and their experiences.

The programme builds on the Mental Health Programme, launched by Dubai Healthcare City Authority in 2018 to back the government's mandate on improving mental wellbeing among the UAE's youth and adults.

The goal of the newly launched initiative is to help empower diverse communities across Dubai to improve their mental health and wellbeing.

Dubai Healthcare City and American Wellness Center are longstanding partners

In collaboration with American Wellness Center, the initiative will span a period of six months and will include community-focused gatherings held in Society in DHCC.

The American Wellness Center has been a business partner of Dubai Healthcare City since 2013 and is home to more than 40 mental health professionals.

Kawthar Kazim, VP Business Support, DHCA, said: "Dubai Healthcare City's ecosystem is home to a network of more than 20 mental health facilities with specialised mental healthcare experts from around the world with the required skillsets to meet the ever-growing healthcare needs of communities across Dubai.

"In line with the UAE's government objectives, we are committed to enabling access to the best mental health practitioners to raise awareness and demonstrate the strong support system available within Dubai Healthcare City."

Dr. Muhammad Tahir, chairman of the Board at American Wellness Center in DHCC commented: "Engaging residents through community-focused sessions is an important step to eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health and raising awareness about the different treatment therapies available in the emirate.

"We are proud to be associated with this cause that will help empower individuals to make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing.


Lulu opens its largest in-mall hypermarket in Dubai Mall

Retail major Lulu Group on Monday opened a branch at the Dubai Mall, which is spread over 72,000 sqft of space to cater to millions of visitors.

The new outlet increased the Group's store count to 24 in Dubai, focusing primarily on groceries, fresh food, fruits and vegetables, bakery, health and beauty, stationery, household, IT products and fresh flowers, among others. This is the largest in-mall hypermarket of the Lulu Group.

It has also given shoppers the option to opt for self-check-outs.

Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Trade, inaugurated the hypermarket in the presence of Yusuff Ali MA, chairman of Lulu Group.

The UAE-based retailer recently expanded its global sourcing operations with new centres in Italy and Poland, focusing on adding a range of products, especially in the healthy and diet category.

As the country's population grows, retail spending is also on the rise. According to a study released by Majid Al Futtaim, there was a notable 13 per cent growth in spending across the retail economy for the full year, including leisure and entertainment (29 per cent), fashion (25 per cent), hypermarkets and supermarkets (11 per cent) and general retail (9 per cent), driven by the rise in international visitors to the UAE, which more than doubled to 14 million in 2022.

"We are extremely happy and excited to join hands with Emaar to open our newest hypermarket at The Dubai Mall, which is the world's biggest and most prestigious shopping and leisure destination, welcoming over 100 million visitors every year from around the world," said Yusuffali.

"It is our constant endeavour to innovate and offer world-class shopping experience to the large multi-national population residing and visiting Dubai," he said.

He added that there has been a growing demand for internationally sourced products. "It will be our continuous commitment to offer high-quality products at the most affordable prices in the market," he added.


New UAE visa campaign to help residents, tourists avoid overstay fines

We are fully prepared to offer support to ensure legal status, says ministry as 3-month drive is launched

A UAE-wide awareness campaign launched on Tuesday will help explain violations related to tourist, work and job-seeker visas. It will talk about the importance of expats and tourists rectifying their visa status once the one on which they entered the country expires. This involves either getting a new visa or exiting the country before their residency or tourist permit expires.

Overstay fines were standardised for visitors and residents in the UAE recently. The penalty is Dh50 per each day of the illegal stay.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE) and the Federal Authority for Identity, Citizenship, Customs, and Ports Security (ICP) launched the campaign that began on October 10 and will run for three months. Various government entities will take part, in addition to free zones.

A video shared as part of the campaign showed how the authorities helped Irene, a domestic worker who absconded from her employer and ended up becoming an illegal resident.

". It is essential to comply with labour and residency laws, and we are fully prepared to offer support to ensure your legal status and wellbeing," the MoHRE wrote on platform X.

Violations and penalties

"The campaign aims to familiarise people with the key provisions of the entry and residency laws for foreign nationals in the UAE, as well as regulations for labour relations (the labour law), and the procedures and penalties for violators," said Khalil Al Khoori, undersecretary for Human Resources Affairs at MoHRE. "This serves to encourage target groups to comply with laws in order to guarantee the rights of both parties in the employment relationship."

The drive will feature a "diverse range of media activities" presented to target groups in four languages: Arabic, English, Urdu, and Swahili.

Major-General Suhail Al Khaili, director-general of the ICP, said the drive will highlight the legal measures taken against violators.

Visa holders can check the status of their documents and if they have incurred fines via the ICP website or app. They can pay the penalties either in person at the ICP service centres and typing centres; or online.

Major-General Al Khaili said violating the visa and employment systems is a "serious transgression".

"The UAE implements an advanced, flexible, proactive, and pioneering residency and labour system, and this campaign aims to raise awareness among employers, workers, investors in free zones, and violators of entry and residency conditions in the UAE, along with the general public," he added.

New labour law

Mohsen Al Nassi, assistant undersecretary for Inspection Affairs at MoHRE, said the campaign will raise awareness about the provisions of the new labour law that went into effect last year.


Watch: Tram in Abu Dhabi? New rail-less trains ply on streets in UAE capital

Three-carriage, air-conditioned transport makes designated stops on popular Abu Dhabi routes and can accommodate up to 200 passengers

Have you seen the modern and sleek Automated Rapid Transit (ART) service introduced on the streets of Abu Dhabi City? This past weekend, residents in the Capital witnessed the introduction of this cutting-edge service. This three-carriage, air-conditioned electric vehicle now makes designated stops on popular routes and chimes as the driver waits for passengers to hop on for a ride.

ART service, the rail-less vehicle usually described as a combination of a bus and a tram, bears the Integrated Transport Centre (ITC) markings of the Department of Municipalities and Transport (DMT). It was first introduced on Yas Island and Saadiyat Island and has now started serving the mainland. In what is expected to be the new phase of Abu Dhabi's futuristic smart mobility project, the ARTs are operating between Reem Mall and Marina Mall via Zayed the First Street, fondly known as Electra Street. Currently, the eco-friendly, emission-free service ply in the city on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

200 passengers capacity

The innovative electric vehicles can accommodate up to 200 passengers, enhancing sustainable mobility in the city. The seating arrangements are similar to what has been seen in Dubai Metro, with plush seats, straps for standing passengers, panoramic windows, and digital notification of stops. It seamlessly shifts lanes, just like a regular public transport bus.

In some places, there are dedicated slots for ARTs to stop; in others, it halts at the regular public bus stations. The stops have been marked with stickers on the pavement.

A livery of an ART was also seen on a bus stop aimed at creating awareness among commuters about the latest smart mobility offering in the city.

The improved rapid transport system operating without a mass transport train system or rails is a great addition to easing urban travel. It comes just ahead of a busy season when the Capital is set to host more than 150 events - the number which is going to get better with each passing month.

Innovative, emission-free service

Community members are pleasantly surprised to find a Dubai tram-like vehicle operating in Abu Dhabi City but without any specific tracks or infrastructure changes to the streets.

"This is really a surprise. I have been seeing it for the past few days. It's sort of a cross between a bus, tram, and train or a metro. I have seen it mostly operating during morning and afternoon hours," said Patrick Ohana, a long-time resident.

Residents lauded the service, which coincides with celebrations of the 'Year of Sustainability' in the UAE.

"I had seen one of these on Yas Island. It's exciting to see tram-like electric buses with zero emissions on the mainland. I travelled on it to Marina Mall this Saturday. Such a service is an amazing solution to peak-time rush seen in public transport buses," said Vibhor Gupta, a marketing executive.

Essentially, trackless trams on wheels, these ARTs currently connect Reem Mall and Marina Mall through popular destinations like the Galleria Al Maryah Island, Marina Square, Sheikh Hazza Bin Sultan Mosque, the iconic Qasr Al Hosn, Khalidiya Park, the Abu Dhabi Energy Centre, Sheikha Fatima Park, Corniche, hospitals like NMC Specialty and LLH, and hotels like City Seasons Al Hamra, Sheraton Al Khalidiya and Rixos Marina Abu Dhabi.

The first trip from Reem Mall starts at 10 am, and the last one is by 2 pm, and service from Marina Mall begins at 11 am, and the final trip is by 3 pm. The live timings can be tracked through Google Maps and the official app Darbi on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Commuters can also scan the QR code on the ARTs and those posted at some of the bus stops, to know further details and updates about the service, timings, and new destinations.


How residents are increasingly becoming eligible for Golden Visa

Industry executives say that almost all the townhouse buyers are now eligible as prices have crossed Dh2 million

Residents are increasingly becoming eligible for the prestigious Golden Visa residency in Dubai on the back of a rally witnessed in property prices after the pandemic.

Industry executives say that almost all the townhouse buyers are now eligible for the 10-year Golden Visa as prices have crossed Dh2 million, while the new townhouses are being launched at Dh2 million and above, making buyers eligible for the 10-year residency.

"Golden Visa has become one of the biggest attractions for overseas investors. We are getting inquiries from investors who are asking us to find a property which is Dh2 million to get the 10-year visa," said Farooq Syed, CEO of Springfield Properties.

He said apartments in Downtown, Palm Jumeirah and Dubai Hills have seen massive growth in prices, hence, end-users who bought at Dh1.5-Dh1.8 million earlier have seen their assets' prices surpassing the Dh2 million mark.

Property prices in the emirate have risen substantially in the past couple of years, driven by post-pandemic recovery as well surge in demand for residential units from residents and foreign investors.

According to real estate consultancy CBRE, in the 12 months to August 2023, average prices rose by 19.6 per cent, up from 18.1 per cent a month earlier. Over this period, average apartment prices rose by 20 per cent, and average villa prices rose by 17.3 per cent.

In addition, the government introduced multiple long-term residency visas for foreigners which attracted a lot of expatriate professionals and investors, especially in the real estate sector.

New townhouses priced at above Dh2 million

Farooq Syed revealed that townhouses which were below Dh2 million are now priced at Dh2.5-Dh3 million. "The entry-level prices of regular townhouses used to be Dh1.5 million and now they are Dh2.5-Dh3 million. The residents who had regular visas and are now able to get Golden Visa."

Junaid Merchant, CEO of VA Properties, said more people are becoming eligible for the Golden Visa as prices go up.

"Secondly, the procedure for the long-term visa has been softened as well. The good news is that people are subscribing to that because they want to stay here for a long-term basis. Even if the golden visa is 5 years, people are opting for it because people want to be part of this city," he said, adding that people whose assets' value have crossed Dh2 million can apply for evaluation through the Land Department, which will issue an evaluation certificate for a fee and, based on that, people can apply for the Golden Visa.


UAE's 3-Months Visit Visas Discontinued

The issuance of three-month visit visas in the UAE has been discontinued, Khaleej Times can reveal. A Federal Authority For Identity, Citizenship, Customs & Port Security (ICP) call centre executive said the three-month visas are no longer available.

The call centre executive informed, "The three-month entry permit was available a few months ago, but not anymore. Visitors to the UAE can come on a 30- or 60-day visa." The executive added, "Travel agencies can issue them".

Travel agents confirmed the development to Khaleej Times. They said the option to request a three-month visit visa is unavailable on the portal they use to issue permits.

The three-month visit visa was discontinued during the Covid-19 pandemic, with a 60-day one introduced instead. However, the three-month scheme was made available again as a leisure visa in May.

In Dubai, the 90-day visa is being issued to visitors who are first-degree relatives of residents. A call centre executive at Amer confirmed this, saying residents can bring their parents or relatives on the three-month scheme.

Several agents have reported that the three-month visit visas have been temporarily suspended. "As per the information we have received, the issuance of long-term leisure visas has been stopped temporarily. The demand for this visa was slightly increasing due to the winter months ahead," said Firoz Maliyakkal, founder and CEO of Tahira Tours and Travels.

Long-term visas:

Visitors have several options to enter the country and stay for an extended period.

Job exploration visa

The UAE offers a range of visa options for individuals seeking employment opportunities in the country. These visas enable holders to enter the UAE and search for work that aligns with their skills and expertise.

The job exploration visa is available in three options without requiring a guarantor or a host. According to the ICP website, the visa is available for 60, 90 and 120 days with a single-entry permit.

Fees for job exploration visa

The fee for a job exploration visa for 60 days is Dh200, for 90 days is Dh300, and the fee for 120 days is Dh400. The visitor will also have to provide a financial guarantee of a security deposit of Dh1,000.

This visa can be applied via digital channels like the official website or smart application of GDRFA and ICP. The service is also available at Amer centres in the country.

5-year multiple entry visa

The 5-year multiple-entry visa enables visitors to enter the UAE multiple times through self-sponsorship, allowing a 90-day stay during each visit. Visa holders can extend their stay for an additional 90 days without leaving the country. This visa facilitates families from abroad to spend extended periods with their loved ones in the UAE.

The Green Visa is issued for three categories: Investor/partner, high-level skilled worker and self-employment.

Applicants for the multiple entry visa must submit supporting documents, including a six-month bank statement.

People wanting to issue the Green visa can apply via digital channels (website/smart application), customer happiness centre or at Amer Service Centre with the required documents.

Search for investment opportunities visa (single entry):

The search for investment opportunities visa helps investors discover business opportunities and potentially find new partners or clients in the UAE and is available for 60,90 and 120 days.

This entry permit enables the issuance of a single-entry visa without requiring a guarantor or host. The visa can be applied on the official portal of ICP


Expats not allowed to hire compatriot domestic workers

RIYADH - Expatriates in Saudi Arabia will not be allowed to recruit domestic workers from their own nationalities.

According to the Musaned platform for domestic labor services, under the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (MHRSD), the recruitment regulations prohibit expatriates from applying for a visa to recruit domestic workers, who belong to the same nationality of their own.

Musaned said this while replying to a query made through its X platform. The platform said that it is possible for the expatriate to recruit house workers from another nationality. It urged expatriates to go through the rules and regulations for recruitment and the financial capacity required to obtain visas through visiting the link: https:// musaned.com.sa/terms/faq_reg.

It is noteworthy that the minimum salary for an expatriate employee is SR10000 for issuing a recruitment visa for the first time, with proof of financial ability by submitting a bank document worth SR100000. In the event of issuing a second visa, the minimum salary for a resident employee must be SR20000 and proof of financial ability by submitting a bank balance sheet amounting to SR200000.

Expatriates and the like shall prove financial ability with a certificate issued by the General Organization for Social Insurance (GOSI) with regard tothe monthly wage statement, provided that it does not exceed 60 days from the date of submitting the application for visa.

The ministry has established the Musaned platform as its official website for household services and home employment programs, and it provides multiple services to improve and facilitate the recruitment journey. The program monitors and improves the domestic workers sector.


Saudi Arabia expands e-visa programme to six more countries

Saudi Arabia has expanded its e-visa programme to travellers from six additional countries - Trkiye, Thailand, Panama, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Seychelles, and Mauritius - for leisure, business, and religious (Umrah only) travel.

Nationals of these countries can apply for a Saudi visitor visa ahead of their journey via the official e-visa portal at visa.visitsaudi.com

Saudi Arabia is reimagining the tourism experience, with the famously warm and generous Saudi welcome - known as Hafawah - at the heart of its plans. The visitor e-visa is valid for an entire year, grants multiple entries, and permits a stay of up to 90 days. Moreover, Visit Saudi offers an online trip planner for visitors to create custom itineraries easily.

From visiting Saudi Arabia's seven Unesco World Heritage Sites, snorkeling and diving in the Red Sea - one of the world's most spectacular undiscovered diving spots -, wandering Taif's world-famous Rose Gardens, shopping like a local in Riyadh's Deira Souq, chartering the unknown on land in the lush, green Asir region and tasting the kingdom's diverse and delicious culinary scene from fragrant Arabic dishes to internationally-renowned fine dining restaurants, there is something for everyone.

Since the launch of Saudi Arabia's visitor e-visa in 2019, it has eased access for millions and accelerated tourism growth on an unmatched scale. The strength of the ever-increasing demand to visit Saudi Arabia has been led by a range of visa initiatives. On September 27, 2019, the Ministry of Tourism launched the visitor visa programme, targeting 49 countries, which has now increased to 63 after the addition of further six countries and special administrative regions.

In 2022, Saudi Arabia extended its regulations to provide a visitor e-visa to holders of valid Schengen, United Kingdom, and US visas that have been used to enter those countries before arriving in Saudi Arabia, and to permanent residents of EU and GCC countries, as well as the UK and the US.


KSA unveils mega bus transport project linking 200 cities

Saudi Arabia has launched a mega bus transport services project that is aimed at linking 200 cities and provinces, with the capacity to accommodate six million passengers annually, reported SPA.

The project operates through three international alliances in three concession areas, utilising a state-of-the-art fleet of buses equipped with advanced technological features to establish connections across 76 routes within the designated cities and provinces, it stated.

Speaking at the launch ceremony held in Riyadh, Minister of Transport and Logistic Services Saleh bin Nasser Al Jasser said: "Besides creating over 35,000 direct and indirect job opportunities, it will add SAR3.2 billion ($852 million) to the country's GDP."

This groundbreaking initiative, designed to improve services for beneficiaries and strengthen private sector partnerships, represents the first foreign investment in this particular field, stated Al Jasser, who also serves as the chairperson of the board of directors at Transport General Authority (TGA).

He also emphasised the positive impact of the National Transport and Logistics Strategy (NTLS) launched by His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz which has been instrumental in fostering growth and reform across all sectors of the transportation and logistics system.

The inaugural ceremony, organised by the TGA, was attended by a distinguished group of ministers, ambassadors, and officials from government authorities and private sector companies.


Saudi Arabia announces massive new Abha airport

Saudi Arabia has announced the launch of the masterplan for the new Abha International Airport, increasing the passenger capacity to over 13 million annually, a ten-fold increase from the current 1.5 million capacity.

The new Abha airport, announced by HRH Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince, Prime Minister, and Chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs, aims to embody a consistent architectural identity with the heritage of the Asir region, transforming it into a prominent landmark in the Kingdom.

Its terminal area will expand to 65,000 sq m, as planned to complete the first phase by 2028, compared to the current 10,500 sq m of the existing airport. This expansion includes the construction of passenger boarding bridges, self-service facilities for streamlined travel procedures, and high-capacity parking facilities.

The design of the new airport will reflect the architectural identity of the Asir region and showcase Saudi culture. This design will offer a distinctive travel experience with high efficiency, ensuring seamless services for visitors and travellers.

The airport's capacity will handle more than 90,000 flights per year, a significant increase from the current 30,000 flights. Additionally, the new airport will feature 20 gates, along with 41 check-in counters with 7 new self-service check-in.

The new Abha airport is expected to contribute to enhancing the prominence of the Aseer region as an attractive tourist destination. It will also fulfil Aseer's development strategy and the aviation strategy that aligns with Saudi Vision 2030 by increasing air connectivity to 250 destinations and transporting 330 million passengers.


Saudi Arabia expands e-visit visa issuance to 63 countries

Nationals of six more states now have access to the system

Cairo: Nationals of six more countries have access to Saudi Arabia's electronic visit visa system, raising the total number of countries whose citizens can benefit from the arrangement to 63, according to the kingom's Ministry of Tourism.

The six countries are: Turkey, Thailand, Panama, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Seychelles, and Mauritius.

Other travellers eligible to apply for this type of the visa include residents in the US, the UK, the EU countries and holders of visit visas to the US, UK, the Schengen area and residents in the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The visit visa allows the holder to tour Saudi Arabia and perform Umrah or lesser pilgrimage in Mecca, but not to make the annual Hajj pilgrimage journey.

The ministry said that expansion of the visit visa system is part of Saudi efforts to consolidate the kingdom's openness and support its development and economic diversity.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has unveiled a set of facilities as the kingdom is seeking to attract more foreign visitors and holidaymakers.

They include the issuance of tourist visas on arrival or online for citizens of several nationalities under a system launched in September 2019.

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia launched a four-day transit visa, allowing the holder to perform Umrah, visit the Prophet Mohammad's Mosque in Medina and attend different events across the kingdom.

The free-of-charge transit visa is issued automatically with the passenger's ticket.

Passengers can apply for the transit visa through the electronic platforms of Saudi national carriers, Saudia Airlines and Flynas.

A digital visa will be issued immediately and sent to the beneficiary via e-mail.

Saudi Arabia aims to receive 25 million foreign tourists in 2023 as part of efforts to diversify its economy and bolster its tourism industry,


Saudi Arabia Introduces Digital Birth and Death Certificates on Absher Platform

Saudi Arabia has announced a major update to the way birth and death certificates are issued and verified in the Kingdom.

The Ministry of Interior announced key civil affair documents can be processed digitally using the Absher platform.

Under the patronage of Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, the Minister of Interior, Lieutenant General Sulaiman bin Abdulaziz Al-Yahya, Acting Undersecretary of the Ministry of Interior for Civil Affairs, officially inaugurated new electronic services for civil affairs.

Birth and death certificates in Saudi Arabia

These services are accessible through the "Absher" platform and were launched at the Ministry of Interior's Officers Club in Riyadh.

The Ministerial Agency for Civil Affairs highlighted that the newly introduced services encompass features like digital birth certificate display, issuance and retrieval of death certificates, and a verification service for digital birth and death certificates.

Beneficiaries can access detailed information regarding the procedures and prerequisites for these services by logging into their user accounts on the "Absher" platform.

These services constitute a significant step in the realm of electronic transactions, aiming to save both time and effort while streamlining procedures.

The initiative is the result of a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Interior and the Saudi Authority (SDAIA), represented by the National Information Centre.

The overarching goal is to enhance the quality of services for beneficiaries.

This strategic move aligns with the broader strategy of expanding smart solutions and embracing digital transformation to facilitate transactions and procedures, all while elevating the level and efficiency of services provided to citizens and residents.


Oman backs unified GCC tourist visa: Ministers set Dec deadline

The meeting saw ministers of the Gulf countries agree to submit their views on a proposed unified GCC tourist visa for the six member states

Oman hosted the recently concluded seventh meeting of GCC ministers of tourism at the Oman Across Ages Museum in Manah on Thursday.

The meeting saw ministers of the Gulf countries agree to submit their views on a proposed unified GCC tourist visa to the GCC Secretariat General by the end of December 2023, reported state-run Oman News Agency.

Salim bin Mohammed al Mahrouqi, Minister of Heritage and Tourism of Oman said there was consensus amongst the ministers for a common or unified GCC tourism visa. He added the implementation of this visa is likely to commence soon, once all necessary mechanisms were put in place.

Al Mahrouqi said, "The common tourism visa for the Gulf Cooperation Council is coming very soon. There is unanimous agreement, in terms of the importance of this matter. There will be a number of follow-up meetings to see how we can proceed on this to reach a full agreement on it.

"We aim to uplift the GCC's tourism status, enrich our national economies and meet our people's aspirations."

Unified GCC tourist visa

Proposals were expected to be finalised before December-end, the news agency said. Currently, only nationals of the GCC countries are able to travel amongst these six countries on a unified-system. The proposed common GCC tourist visa would allow residents to travel seamlessly between the countries as well.

The countries have backed such a unified system as governments of various countries look to attract tourists and increase tourism revenue. Al Mahrouqi added that the GCC Tourism Strategy envisages the realisation of a unified vision to increase the number of inbound visits at a rate of 7 per cent annually until 2030.

UAE on the schengen-style visa

The UAE's Minister of Economy Abdulla bin Touq at the Future Hospitality Summit in Abu Dhabi, had said his government and other GCC countries are working towards introducing a common visa system that will ease travel and give a boost to regional tourism.

He said the UAE government was planning to launch a system "very soon" that will allow people to travel within the region under a single visa which is aimed as an impetus towards the tourism sector.

Abdulla bin Touq said, "Hopefully, we are going to see the something around a unified GCC tourist visa, which will allow easier mobility of people within the GCC. A resident of Saudi (Arabia), for instance, can enter the UAE and vice versa. I think that's where we see the future of GCC tourism."

Tourism numbers

The strategy also seeks to augment the spending of GCC inbound tourists by 8 per cent and the spending of domestic tourists by 2.4 per cent until 2030, besides raising direct gross domestic product (GDP) by an annual rate of 7 per cent until 2030.

At the meeting, ministers stated that intra-GCC tourism, as a ratio of overall international tourists, constituted 29.7 per cent, with a growth rate of 98.8 percent in 2022, compared to 2021.

The total number of GCC inbound visitors stood at 39.8 million in 2022, constituting a surge of 136.6 per cent over 2021 figures.

During his turn, Ahmed Aqeel Al-Khatib, Saudi Minister of Tourism, confirmed that the ministers discussed the establishment of a centre for unified Gulf statistics and a unified tourist visa scheme.

He added that GCC states are undergoing rapid growth and that, with joint action and ongoing coordination, the GCC countries would attract a good portion of the global travel market.

In addition, the countries will provide the general secretariat with their proposals on an initiative named "Our Gulf, the Birthplace of Civilizations".


Oman-UAE bus service to resume from Oct 1

The one-way ticket from Muscat to Abu Dhabi will cost OMR11.5

Mwasalat, Oman's national transport company, has announced that it will resume its bus service to the UAE.

It announced on the social media platform X (formerly Twitter) that it will soon commence services to Abu Dhabi, and Al Ain, in the UAE, from October 1.

The bus service will ply from Muscat to Abu Dhabi and back via al Ain.

The company temporarily suspended services during the pandemic.

Bus service costs and weight allowances

The one-way ticket from Muscat to Abu Dhabi will cost OMR11.5 (around Dh109).

The luggage allowance is 23 kilogrammes; with a hand baggage allowance of 7 kilogrammes.


Morocco named 2030 FIFA World Cup co-host along with Spain, Portugal

Morocco will become only the second African country to host the World Cup after South Africa hosted it in 2010

The international football governing body FIFA has officially disclosed the hosts for the 2030 FIFA World Cup.

In a first for the sport, the tournament will be spread across three continents.

Morocco in Africa, and Portugal, Spain in Europe have been selected as the trio of nations to jointly host the tournament.

However, the tournament's first leg will see some matches involve the participation of Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. These three countries in South America will host the first three matches to commemorate the tournament's 100-year anniversary.

A global collaboration: Six nations, three continents

The choice of multiple host countries is not the first as the upcoming 2026 FIFA World Cup is being held across Canada, Mexico and the US. The 2026 World Cup will be the first to feature men's teams from 48 different countries.

The 2030 World Cup takes this even further as matches will unfold across six different countries, spanning three continents

FIFA anounced this decision on Wednesday.

FIFA's statement reads, "The FIFA Council unanimously agreed that the sole candidacy will be the combined bid of Morocco, Portugal, and Spain, which will host the event in 2030 and qualify automatically from the existing slot allocation."

Morocco makes history

Morocco will become only the second African country to host the World Cup after South Africa's successful hosting in 2010.

Additionally, it marks the return of Argentina, which hosted the 1978 World Cup, and Spain, which organised the 1982 edition, to the global football stage.

Portugal and Paraguay will make history by hosting World Cup matches for the first time, further emphasising the inclusivity and global appeal of the sport.

Centenary celebrations

FIFA's decision aims to bring the World Cup to South America as the tournament will mark its 100th anniversary in 2030.

The co-hosting of the tournament spread across these countries was unanimously approved. FIFA will also organise a unique centenary celebration ceremony in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay.

This celebration will also include three World Cup matches in Uruguay, Argentina, and Paraguay, paying homage to the tournament's origin and the vital role played by these nations in the sport's history.

Saudi Arabia announces bid

In a parallel development, Saudi Arabia has expressed its intention to vie for the hosting rights of the 2034 FIFA World Cup.

The Saudi Arabian football federation issued a statement outlining its vision for the tournament, emphasising its commitment to deliver a world-class event that draws inspiration from the nation's ongoing social and economic transformation, as well as its profound love for football.

FIFA has clarified that bids for the 2034 World Cup will be restricted to Asia and Oceania, primarily due to the selection of Morocco, Portugal, and Spain for the 2030 tournament.

2034 FIFA World Cup

Aside from Saudi Arabia, Australia is considered a strong contender to host the 2034 World Cup.

Australia recently co-hosted the Women's World Cup in 2023 with New Zealand, showcasing its capabilities in organising international football events.


Germany and Egypt Grants 5-Year Visas to Kuwaitis

Kuwait benefits from more Schengen visas in Germany and Italy, plus new five-year Egypt visa.

Kuwaiti citizens have been given a travel boost, with new visa offerings from Egypt and Germany, as well as a Schengen lift from Italy.

The German Ambassador to Kuwait, Hans-Christian Freiherr von Reibnitz, has revealed the European country is now issuing five-year Schengen visas to Kuwaiti citizens.

The announcement was made on the occasion of German Unity Day in the presence of Deputy Foreign Minister Sheikh Jarrah Al Jaber.

New Schengen and Egypt visas for Kuwait citizens

The Schengen visas will allow Kuwaiti citizens to visit Germany multiple times over a period of five years and are expected to boost tourism and investment between the two countries.

The German ambassador confirmed the decision to approve visas was made at the end of September and German officials are in the process of implementing new visa rules.

He added that he expects travel from citizens to Germany to soon surpass pre-Covid levels.

Highlighting the popularity of Germany with Kuwaiti citizens, the ambassador told press: "Germany has become the second favourite home for many Kuwaitis, at least during the summer, and they are not viewed as tourists, but as important members of the existing communities."

The Schengen Visa approval will limit pressures on tourists and allow for more certain planning.

The announcement follows changes to visa rules for Kuwaiti citizens announced by the European Commission on September 8.

A new visa "cascade" regime for Kuwaiti nationals applying for Schengen visas now sees all eligible applicants, including first-time travellers, being issued with visas valid for five years, if the passport validity allows.

According to the newly adopted visa "cascade" regime for citizens can now be issued with long-term, multi-entry Schengen visas valid for five years.

Where the validity of the visa would exceed that of the passport, a multiple-entry visa shall be issued with a period of validity ending three months before the expiry date of the passport.

During the validity period of these visas, holders enjoy travel rights equivalent to visa-free nationals.

A statement by the European Commission at the time said: "This decision is testament to the EU's strong belief that Kuwait is an important partner for the EU. It also comes in the context of the EU's Joint Communication on a "Strategic Partnership with the Gulf", which also covers EU relations with the country.

"One of the pillars of this EU Strategy is facilitating people-to-people contacts, and this new visa 'cascade' adaptation for Kuwait contributes to enhancing relations between Kuwaitis and Europeans".

Schengen area consists of 27 European countries (of which 23 are EU states):

Czech Republic

Since the September 8 ruling, Italy has already approved more than 1,000 multiple entry visas for citizens, according to a report by SchengenVisaInfo.com.

It said the Italian Ambassador to the Gulf country, Carlo Balducci, was expecting a significant uplift in the number of visas issued compared to 2022 and that the embassy is being forced to expand its premises to cope with demand.

Meanwhile, Egypt has also announced a new five-year visa for citizens travelling to the North African country.

Daily newspaper the Arab Times reported that the Consul General of Egypt in Kuwait, Ambassador Heba Zaki, announced the new visa.

The paperwork will cost KD250 ($808) and the visa will be valid five years, with multiple entries permitted, so long as visits last no longer than 90 days.

It will streamline travel for citizens visiting Egypt, as it looks to attract investors and tourists from across the Arab world and the GCC in particular.

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