Saudi Arabia Visas
Saudi Arabia Visas Last updated on Sunday 25th April 2010
Hajj and Umrah visas
A hajj visa is one that is issued to a Muslim wishing to take part in the hajj, which occurs during the first half of the twelfth Islamic month. Hajj visas are issued according to a quota system -- one for every 1000 Muslims in a country's population. Generally, it is very difficult -- not to say impossible -- to get a hajj visa outside one's home country.
An umrah visa is issued to any Muslim who wishes to visit and pray in the Holy Cities of Makkah and Madinah. The Umrah visa is issued at any time other than the actual hajj. In order to obtain an Umrah visa, an application must be made in applicant's home country or in the country in which one holds permanent residence.
If the applicant is not from a Muslim country or does not have a Muslim name, he will be asked to provide an official document listing Islam as his religion. Converts must provide documentary evidence of their conversion from a mosque. An Umrah visa is valid for a week and only for travel to Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah and on the roads linking them. If travel is to be completely by road, one is allowed to travel from the land border where he enters the Kingdom to the Holy Cities.
Unlike other countries of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council -- Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman), Saudi Arabia does not issue tourist visas nor is it possible for a hotel to sponsor a visitor.
Other than the two types of visas discussed above which are only available to Muslims, there exist visitor's visas, residence visas or transit visas.
In all cases, a person entering the Kingdom must have a Saudi sponsor, which means an individual or a company to vouch for the individual's conduct while he is in the country.
WARNING: All government business in Saudi Arabia is conducted according to the Islamic calendar. Any Gregorian (western) date you encounter on official documents is there purely for your convenience and is in no way to be construed as official. The official date will be the Islamic one and as the Islamic year is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian one, confusion can -- and often does -- result. For example, a one month visa is valid for an Islamic month, not a Gregorian one. If the visitor stays for a Gregorian month, there is a distinct possibility he will have overstayed his visa by a day or two and he will almost surely encounter difficulties with the authorities when he attempts to leave the Kingdom.
A visitor's visa, which is in actual fact a business visa, is obtained upon a formal invitation from the company or individual sponsoring the visitor. The invitation will include a visa number and it is primarily a statement that the sponsor has obtained a visa for the visitor and that authority to issue the visa has been sent to the appropriate Saudi embassy.
With the visa number in hand, the individual can go to the embassy BUT as visas are issued only by number and not by name, if one has no number, there is absolutely no point in going to the embassy.
No number, no visa: the rule is simple and is applied to all applicants.
If, on the other hand, the visitor is at the embassy in the morning with his number, he can usually collect his visa in the afternoon.
If you are going to live and work in Saudi Arabia, there is a great deal of paperwork that your sponsor will have to complete on your behalf.
In addition to his work in the Kingdom, you will also have to show copies of your employment contract and academic or professional qualifications. You will also have to have a comprehensive medical examination for which the embassy provides the forms. An important part of the medical examination is a blood test showing that you are HIV negative.
Once you and your sponsor have completed the paperwork, which usually takes about six weeks, you will be informed of your visa number, which will entitle you to collect your visa. Once you have arrived in the Kingdom, your visa will be converted to a residence visa and in almost every case, you will at this point give your passport to your sponsor and be issued with an iqama, or residence permit, which you should carry with you at all times.
In the event of leaving the country on a holiday, your sponsor will obtain an exit/re-entry visa for you; upon returning your iqama to your sponsor, you will be given your passport which is only valid for travel outside the Kingdom if there is an exit/re-entry visa stamped in it.
If you are leaving the country and not returning, you will be issued an exit-only visa.
Airport transit visas
There are 24 and 48 hour transit visas for people passing through Saudi airports. These are issued only after you have satisfied the Saudi embassy that you had absolutely no choice but a transit stop in the Kingdom. If you do get this kind of visa, you will have to surrender your passport to the immigration authorities at the airport and collect it on your way out.
Road transit visas
These are relatively straightforward. People driving between Jordan and either Yemen or Kuwait are normally given three-day transit visas. These are usually issued only by the embassies in Amman or Sana'a. You are required to go to the embassy with your carnet and a visa for the country at the other end of the trip.
People driving between Bahrain, Qatar or the UAE and Jordan are often given seven-day transit visas.
People driving between Oman and Jordan are required to get the transit visa in Abu Dhabi.
However, bear in mind that all of this information is unreliable, as it appears to be the Saudi nature that there are no hard and fast rules regarding transit visas. Stories are legion of individuals who obtain visas in their country of origin only to find them invalid at the Saudi border, or who arrive at the Saudi border having been instructed by their local Saudi embassy that this is the appropriate place to source a transit visa, only to be told that only an embassy can issue a transit visa. The basic rule, then, is to double-check all of your facts with your local Saudi embassy and, if possible, with the authorities in Saudi Arabia.
These can only be obtained by your sponsor.