Visas for Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia offers a wealth of opportunity for expat job seekers and companies, but it's crucial that expats understand the entry requirements attached to visas for Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has stringent rules in place and they are unlikely to change in the near future.
Everyone entering Saudi Arabia requires a visa, except for nationals of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and holders of a re-entry permit issued by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
All visitors need to have a passport valid for at least six months and an appropriate visa.
Visas must be obtained prior to arrival, and it is important to remember that all visas require an individual or company to act as a sponsor who will vouch for the individual’s conduct while in the country.
Visas for Saudi Arabia
Below are the different types of entry visas issued by either the Saudi Arabian embassy or consulate in the expat‘s home country, or directly from the Department of Foreign Affairs in Saudi Arabia:
Visitor’s visas for Saudi Arabia
A visitor’s visa, which is also the category that a business visa falls under, requires a formal invitation from an individual or company sponsor. Proof of the invitation for a business visa should be provided in the form of a letter certified by the Saudi Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The invitation will contain a visa number and serves to show the embassy that the applicant has obtained a visa via the sponsor. The applicant can then take this visa number along with their passport, the fee and other required documentation to their local Saudi embassy or consulate to collect the visa. A business visa is usually valid for a single entry and for a stay of up to three months.
At present there is no substantial tourist industry in the country and Saudi Arabia, unlike other countries in the GCC, does not issue tourist visas except for approved tour groups following organised itineraries. It does appear slightly more straightforward for Muslims to enter Saudi Arabia and the process for obtaining the Hajj and Umra visas for religious purposes is well administered.
Family visit visas for Saudi Arabia
These are issued to visitors wishing to live in Saudi Arabia, such as the wives and children of those who are currently working in the Kingdom (note that exit and re-entry visas to leave the Kingdom are required for holders of a residence visa). The approval of this visa can only be obtained from the Department of Foreign Affairs in Saudi Arabia.
Other considerations for Saudi visas
Certain individuals could be restricted entry into Saudi Arabia. These include passengers with links to Israel and those who do not comply with Saudi regulations, including conventions of behaviour and dress.
It is essential to note that all business in Saudi Arabia is conducted according to the Islamic calendar, which is days shorter than the Gregorian calendar that most Westerners are familiar with. This is also the case for the overall length of the visa. It is important that visitors understand when they are required to leave Saudi Arabia because overstaying the visa for as little as 24 hours could lead to serious consequences.
Women planning on travelling to Saudi Arabia must observe certain additional requirements, which may seem rather extreme. Women arriving in the Kingdom must be met by their sponsor at the airport, or they will face problems upon entry. This is non-negotiable.
Leaving Saudi Arabia
There are restrictions and regulations that relate to leaving Saudi Arabia. Women who plan on permanently residing in Saudi Arabia should be aware that if living as a member of a Saudi household, for example marrying a Saudi man or having a Saudi father, she will need the permission of the Saudi male head of the household to leave the country.
This is also true for non-Saudi employees in relation to their employer. One cannot leave the country without an exit visa requiring the signature of the employer; and the employer may hold the worker’s passport. If one wishes to change employers then they will again need the permission of their previous employer.
The sponsorship (kafeel) system
The kafeel or sponsorship system is known, from time to time, to result in various injustices for foreign workers and travellers. Such a severe lack of the personal freedom of movement would undoubtedly seem ludicrous in other countries. Although Saudi Arabia has not ruled out the possibility of cancelling the system, officials have stated that they will do whatever is necessary to protect the rights of both employers and employees.
In conclusion, upon entering and leaving Saudi Arabia, expats cannot take any shortcuts with regards to the immigration authorities and the various visa rules and practices. However, if the expat is eligible and submits the required documentation and is prepared to follow the stated rules and customs, whether considered outdated or not, the visa approval process can be fairly smooth.
*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.