Visa problems for Saudi Arabia

Medical tourism in Saudi Arabia is mostly outbound as visa rules restrict inbound medical tourism. Visas are hard to come by for people to visit Saudi Arabia for medical treatment.

Saudi Arabia has stated that it wants to become a destination for medical tourists rather than a supplier of patients to other countries.

But visas are hard to come by for people to visit Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. All visitors need a visa to enter Saudi Arabia. Anyone who overstays a visa will be fined and deported. People are often refused entry to Saudi Arabia if their passport contains evidence of previous travel to Israel. All female visitors must be met by their sponsor on arrival, or they face delays before being allowed to enter the country or to continue on other flights.

Faisal Banjar founded Arabian Gulf Medical Tourism Agency in 2014 and became an agent for the 600-bed Dr Soliman Fakeeh Hospital to bring foreign patients for treatment. He is still waiting to bring his first client to the hospital.

The agency sends 20 Saudis a month to other countries — mostly to Turkey and Germany — for medical treatment.

Arabian Gulf Medical Tourism is one of a handful of Saudi businesses that offer domestic and international medical liaison services between Saudis and foreign patients and hospitals. But virtually all of their clients are Saudis leaving the Kingdom for medical treatment elsewhere. Few foreigners go to the country.

Saudi Arabia’s health sector is part of a new revenue plan and it is in the early stages of promoting inbound medical tourism.

To boost revenue and create a thriving tourism segment in the private sector the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage has endorsed a proposal that combines religious and medical tourism to attract the world’s 1.6 million Muslims who often seek spiritual solace during a health crisis.

Saudi Arabia has developed a five-year plan to encourage medical tourists to seek treatment in its government and private hospitals, but has not sought advice from the private sector.

The country has a problem as cost is not attractive and it has few special offerings not available in nearby countries. Authorities claim that the cost of eye surgery, paediatric care and obesity treatment is cheaper than in other Gulf States.

Saudi Arabia’s organ transplant programme is an area that the government wants to promote but local hospitals say that it is virtually impossible to bring foreigners into the kingdom for surgery because of the 6,000 Saudis and expats already on transplant waiting lists. All the non -citizens getting transplants are local expatriates.