Schengen vs. GCC Unified Tourist Visas: Revolutionizing Gulf Travel

Asma Ahmed - | Arab News

By approving the GCC unified tourist visa, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has made a historic contribution to the improvement of regional travel and tourism.

GCC Unified Tourist Visa vs. Schengen Visa

This groundbreaking initiative aims to transform the way people move within the Gulf region, benefiting both residents and tourists by seamlessly connecting all GCC member states. Expected to be fully operational between 2024 and 2025, this unified visa promises a new era of convenience and accessibility for travelers in the Gulf region.

Compared to the Schengen Visa

Drawing a parallel to the Schengen visa, a well-established regional visa program in Europe, the GCC unified tourist visa offers its own distinctive approach to borderless travel.

Encompassing all GCC member countries, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, this unified visa streamlines entry requirements and eliminates the complexities of multiple visa applications for travelers. However, there are notable differences between the GCC unified tourist visa and the Schengen visa.

Geographic Coverage

The six countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council are all included in the GCC single tourist visa, making travel throughout the region a breeze. Unlike the Schengen visa, which only covers three countries, the European Union's Schengen area encompasses 26 countries, including most EU members and non-EU countries like Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland.

Visa Validity and Duration

Validity and duration details for the GCC single tourist visa are still being worked out, although it is expected to go into effect between 2024 and 2025. The Schengen visa, on the other hand, permits stays of up to 90 days within a 180-day period and also provides longer-term visas for certain purposes, such as work or study.

Border Control

Travelers and residents of the GCC can travel freely between its members without having to show their passports at each border, thanks to the single tourist visa. Conversely, the Schengen area lacks internal border controls among its member nations, hence permitting unimpeded travel once a traveler has passed through the first nation to enter the Schengen area.

Purpose of Travel

The aim of the Gulf Cooperation Council's unified tourist visa is to make travel between GCC countries more accessible to everyone. The Schengen visa, on the other hand, is designed more for people traveling for a short period of time (such as tourists), though it does allow for longer stays (such as those associated with business, education, or other purposes).

GCC 2030 Tourism Strategy

The GCC 2030 tourism plan, which seeks to increase the tourism sector's contribution to GDP, is in line with the implementation of the GCC single tourist visa. This plan counts on higher hotel occupancy rates and an increase in domestic GCC tourism as primary success factors.

According to the UAE's tourism strategy, the sector's current 14 percent contribution to GDP will increase to 18 percent in the near future. The goal of the GCC's ambitious tourism strategy is to welcome more than 128 million tourists by the year 2030, which requires an annual increase in incoming trips of 7 percent.

Significant steps forward in fostering regional integration and making travel within each area easier have been taken with the introduction of both the GCC unified tourist visa and the Schengen visa. The Schengen visa allows entry to a larger number of European countries than the GCC unified tourist visa, yet both are useful for traveling.

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Asma Ahmed
Asma Ahmed
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