Readers from Europe will be only too familiar with how the European Union has revolutionized travel and work. Residents of member states are able to move freely between countries, living and working as they see fit, without the need for expensive or complex visa arrangements.
Not only are citizens with a suitable passport able to travel to the most economically beneficial area but travel has become easier, cheaper and more enjoyable. In many ways, while each European country has kept its own national identity, the composite countries are now closer and cross-border movement is easier – and arguably more rewarding – than ever before.
Now, it seems, Europe won’t be the only area benefiting from such an arrangement. In the Middle East, a collective known as the Gulf Cooperation Council acts rather like a central government, facilitating links and joint projects. If it has its way, similar levels of cross-border movement will soon be possible here too.
Founded in 1981, and consisting of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE the GCC is described as ”an intergovernmental political union designed to allow all members to grow in strength”. Now the GCC has announced plans that will make it even more like Europe, with changes to both the visa application system and transport links.
To begin with discussions are under way for a unified visa system, which would make it far simpler for visitors and expats alike to obtain the correct visas. In the future you would be able to apply for one GCC visa and feel certain it will be accepted at your chosen destination.
More excitingly, discussions are under way for a visa system that would allow travel to any country within the GCC area. Rather like Europe, expats living in one of the GCC countries would be entitled to visa-free travel to other member countries.
Lastly this travel around the Middle East will be easier than ever before when the new inter-nation rail service comes into action, enabling one to travel comfortably by train between countries and right around the Gulf. At present there are very few trains operating in the area, and especially in countries where women are discouraged (or prevented) from driving, a new rail system could revolutionize travel in the area.
All this is good news. It means easier and more enjoyable travel for locals and expats alike. The increased tourism dollars should help to bolster Middle Eastern economies while the tourists themselves can enjoy simple and un-interrupted exploration of this vast and exciting region.