In a landmark move, Qatar has further eased its visa policies allowing citizens of 80 countries visa-free entry effective yesterday. With this announcement, Qatar has now the highest in the region in terms of number of nationalities eligible to enter visa-free, making it the most open country in the region.
“Today’s announcement places the State of Qatar as the most open country in the region. This is a momentous occasion for Qatar, making the number of nationalities eligible to enter our country without a visa the highest in region, which is something that we are very proud of,” said Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, Akbar Al Baker at a press conference yesterday at Oryx Rotana Hotel.
Calling this development ‘symbolic of Qatar’s outlook as a nation’, Al Baker said, “This historic announcement comes at a time of historic significance. While some countries in the region have taken to closing their skies and their borders, Qatar has instead opened its borders to more freely welcoming visitors from all corners of the world.”
Citizens of those 80 countries wishing to visit Qatar will no longer need to apply or pay for a visa; instead, a multi-entry waiver will be issued free-of-charge at the port of entry, upon presentation of a valid passport with a minimum validity of six months and a confirmed onward or return ticket. According to Hassan Al Ibrahim, Chief Tourism Development officer at Qatar Tourism Authority, the countries are divided into two groups.
“The first consists of 33 countries whose nationals are eligible for a waiver that is valid for 180 days from the date of issuance and entitles its holder to spend up to 90 days in Qatar, during either a single trip or on multiple trips,” said Al Ibrahim.
These countries include Austria, Bahamas, Belgium , Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.
“The second category consists of 47 countries whose nationals are eligible for a waiver that is valid for 30 days from the date of issuance, during either a single trip or on multiple trips. The visa holder can apply for a renewal of the waiver for an additional 30 days in Qatar,” added Al Ibrahim.
Countries under this category include Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Georgia, Guyana, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Macedonia, Malaysia, Maldives, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, New Zealand, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Russia, San Marino, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Suriname, Thailand, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City and Venezuela.
“This announcement is the latest in a line of developments to ensure Qatar continues to be considered as an attractive and open destination for both leisure and business travellers from around the world,” said Al Baker.
Last month, Qatar launched an e-visa platform, www.qatarvisaservice.com through which travellers of all nationalities can apply for tourist and visitor visas with more efficiency and ease. The country is also considering further enhancements to its visa policy, such as waiving visa requirements for holders of a residence permit or a valid visa from the nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council, United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or the Schengen countries. This waiver would allow eligible visitors to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorisation by completing a simple online application at least 48 hours prior to travel.
In November 2016, Qatar introduced a free transit visa, which allows passengers of all nationalities transiting in Qatar for a minimum of five hours to stay in Qatar for up to 96 hours (four days). In May 2017, QTA launched +Qatar, an initiative to promote the country as a stopover destination, with the national carrier, Qatar Airways. These measures, along with intensified international marketing, have resulted in a 39 percent increase in the number of stopover visitors during the first six months of 2017, compared with the same period last year.
“Since introducing the transit visa last November, we have processed 60,000 applications. We expect to process 200,000 by the end of this year. Just a few months ago we announced our +Qatar campaign of free transit visa and the offer of three-, four- and five-star hotel stays for first class, business class and economy class passengers stopping over Qatar. As a result we have seen more than 6,000 visitors take advantage of this offer and continue to receive an average of 600 applications a day for these visas,” said Al Baker.
“The demand for transit visas alone will deliver over 200,000 additional visitors to Doha in the next 12 months. This growing demand will place Qatar amongst the world’s most popular destinations for long-haul transit visitors,” he added.
Al Ibrahim stressed that visa facilitation is a critical component of the national tourism sector strategy, which QTA is currently reviewing in partnership with stakeholders from the public and private sectors. With renewed focus by the country’s leadership on diversifying the national economy, a revised strategy which empowers various players to boost the growth of tourism is set to be launched on September 27, when Qatar hosts the official celebrations of World Tourism Day.
“Easing entry to Qatar is a key enabler for the growth of Qatar’s tourism industry. With this announcement we are already turning the pages of the Next Chapter of Qatar’s journey towards 2030,” he said.
“Together with our partners in the public and private sectors, we have examined all of the elements needed to create a smooth and enticing experience that can attract visitors from around the world. There is no doubt that facilitating and streamlining access at all ports of entry are key factors in creating a positive first and lasting impression of Qatar,” he added.
Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad Rashid Al Mazroui, Director of Airport Passports Department was also present at the press conference.