First ever tourist visas to be issued
Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) has announced that it will begin issuing its first ever tourist visas to nationals from 49 countries across Europe, Asia, North America and Australia. The visas can be obtained from Saudi missions abroad and electronically from www.visitsaudi.com.
The visas will be valid for 360 days, and will permit multiple visits of up to 90 days with a maximum of 180 days per year. They will cost SAR300 (US$80), with an additional travel insurance cost of SAR140 (US$37). The visas will be issued without regard to the applicants' religion; however, non-Muslims will remain barred from entering the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.
Along with the visa roll-out came an announcement that foreign visitors will no longer be required to adhere to the strict Islamic dress guidelines of the past (see below).
Trade Arabia – 27 September 2019
Saudi Gazette – 11 and 29 September 2019
Public decency guidelines issued
In an effort to attract tourists from more liberal countries, Saudi Arabia has relaxed its formerly very strict dress code. According to the new public decency guidelines, foreign women will not be required to wear the abaya (or long, flowing outer robe) or the hijab (head scarf), so long as their clothing is deemed to be "modest".
For women, the modesty requirement means covering the shoulders, chest and knees. Tourists are also expected to refrain from, inter alia, public displays of affection, avoid using profane language or gestures, and taking pictures or videos of people without permission. Fines for violations range from SAR50 (US$13) for skipping waiting lines or a first offence, to SAR6,000 (US$1,600) for indecent behaviour of a sexual nature or multiple offences.
The full schedule of penalties can be downloaded at https://www.visitsaudi.com/en/laws-and-etiquette.html. It includes notes that persons harmed by violations may file suit against the violators and that violators may seek appeal before the Public Decency Circuit of the Board of Grievances.
Gulf News – 30 September 2019
Arab News – 28 September 2019
General Authority for Zakat and Tax seeks VAT returns
The General Authority for Zakat and Tax (GAZT) required business entities with taxable goods and services revenues exceeding SAR40 million (US$10.7 million) to submit their VAT returns through its website (www.gazt.gov.sa). Returns from the month of August were due by the end of September, but GAZT has announced a 20-day grace period from the date of submission, in order to report any errors.
Companies who failed to meet the September deadline will be fined between 5% and 25% of the VAT owed to GAZT.
Arab News – 25 September 2019
Fees on expatriates working in the industrial sector to be waived
The Council of Ministers has stated that, as of 1 October 2019, and for five years subsequent, the government will waive fees on expatriates working on behalf of licensed industrial institutions. The fees covered only include the fees that employers must pay to the government – not the fees owed by expatriates themselves on behalf of their dependants.
King Salman had previously approved a scheme to reimburse some companies that could not afford to pay the increasing fees for expatriate work permits, and waived fees for others. However, only firms that employed equal or greater numbers of Saudis were eligible. The aim was to boost Saudisation and help diversify the economy.
Arabian Business – 24 September 2019
Reuters – 24 September 2019
Aramco to list on Saudi stock exchange incrementally
1 per cent of Saudi Aramco will be listed on the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul) before the end of 2019, with another 1 per cent to be listed in 2020. The hoped-for US$2 trillion valuation would mean that a 1 per cent float would be worth US$20 billion. Analysts, however, believe that US$1.5 trillion is a more realistic valuation.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has stated that he would like to list approximately 5 per cent of Aramco as part of his plan to diversify the economy.
Reuters – 9 September 2019
SAR1 million fine for revealing confidential information
The head of the Legal Department of the General Authority for Competition, Abdulaziz bin Abid, has confirmed that a draft executive charter for the new competition law will be implemented on 25 September 2019.
The law has been issued by a royal decree and will be applied to all institutions and individuals who work in commercial, agricultural, industrial or service-related businesses in the Kingdom. Entities which are entirely public department owned are exempted from this law, provided they are tasked with providing the goods and services in a specific sector. Under the law, revealing confidential information with the intent of making financial or moral gains could lead to a fine of SAR1 million.
Okaz – 11 September 2019
Executive Regulation for new Competition Law comes into effect
Saudi General Authority for Competition (GAC) announced that the Executive Regulation for new Competition Law came into effect on 25 September 2019. The law extends exemptions and develops the procedures of mergers and acquisitions by examining such mergers. The law also includes a possible fine of SAR1 million for revealing confidential information with the intent to make financial or moral gains.
Along these same lines, the Head of Technical Department at Saudi Standards, Metrology and Quality Organization (SASO) has stated that a new electronic platform for reporting unfair competition complaints will be launched. The Saudi government had established a national committee to protect products against unfair competition the previous year.
Argaam – 12 September 2019
Asharq Al-Awsat – 11 September 2019
Okaz – 11 September 2019
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