Saudi Arabia has eased its visa policy for South Africans, opening up more Umrah travel options to travellers.

Travel in Umrah period, in the remaining ten months of the Islamic calendar year outside of the Hajj pilgrimage season, was previously tied to strict and expensive visa requirements.

Government relaxed the rules this month. A fee of SR300 (R1 192) now applies for all visa applications, including Visit, Hajj and Transit.

The previous strict visa requirements were an attempt to regulate the number of pilgrims during the construction taking place at the Holy Mosque in Makkah. Previously Umrah travellers who wished to return within a period of three Islamic Calendar years would have to pay SR2000 (R7 948). “Umrah travel is extremely popular during fasting months such as Ramadan. Before the new amendment travellers would have to skip a year or two before returning to the holy lands,” says Mohsin Jassat, online travel consultant.

“The amendment is gentler on travellers’ pockets but there are other charges levied in the form of increased tourism levies and hotel levies to augment the reduced repeat visa fee,” he says.