In a few hours I will be leaving to visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The “KSA” is not the first place on my list of countries to visit, but I am delighted to visit a country deemed to be one of the most culturally and politically alien places on our planet — or as one close colleague said to me, speaking from the experience of his numerous trips to Saudi Arabia: “You might as well be on the moon.” However, as it is truly the largest economy in the region, a lot of Westerners regularly visit the major cities of Riyadh, Damman and Jeddah, so the place is not quite as alien as you might imagine. Stay tuned for more when I come back.
Fun fact: If you hold an English, Dutch, French, Canadian, Japanese, Chinese, Australian, or any other passport other than American, you will have a nightmare of a time getting any type of visa to enter Saudi Arabia. The paperwork is all in Arabic, the bureaucrats are notoriously lazy and not time sensitive, and once the visa is issued, you must enter the country very quickly before it expires. The biggest exception to this rules is for American citizens, who find it easier to get an ordinary business visa, and who also can receive a five year, multi-entry visa with a relatively simple procedure through the Saudi Embassy in Washington D.C. as a bilateral accord that came into effect in May 2008. If I end up going to Saudi regularly, I may seek to acquire this visa.