Saturday, September 18, 2021

Visa & Passport Requirements for Saudi Arabia

AsiaSaudi ArabiaVisa & Passport Requirements for Saudi Arabia
Visa restrictions
Entry is denied to Israeli citizens and those presenting stamps and/or visas from Israel.

Saudi Arabia has some of the most restrictive travel regulations in the world, and a visa is required in advance for all foreigners wishing to enter. The only notable exception is citizens of Gulf Cooperation Council states. Also exempt from the visa requirement are foreigners staying at an airport for less than 18 hours, but many other entry requirements, such as the dress code and restrictions on unaccompanied women, still apply. Nationals of Israel and those who can be shown to have visited Israel are denied visas, although merely being Jewish is not in and of itself an exclusion criterion. (There are, however, anecdotal reports of would-be visitors ticking the “Jewish” or “Atheist” box on their visa application and getting into trouble). The Saudis prefer not to grant visas to unaccompanied women, but work permits are common in some areas – e.g. nurses, teachers, maids – and possible for anyone if your sponsor has enough connections.

Tourist visas, previously available to groups of at least four for guided tours, were “suspended” at the end of 2010, with a vague promise to be reinstated at an unspecified later date; check with a tour operator for the latest status. Transit visas are limited to some long-haul truck drivers and for air travel, but are generally issued free of charge. However, it is relatively easy to obtain a transit visa to travel through Saudi Arabia if you are legally in a neighbouring country and can prove that you need to travel through Saudi Arabia to another neighbouring country. Hajj visas (pilgrimage visas) are issued by the Saudi government through Saudi embassies around the world in cooperation with local mosques. Hajjis and people on transit visas are not allowed to travel freely through the Kingdom, and it tends to be more difficult to get a visa during the Hajj season. Most short-term Western visitors to Saudi Arabia enter on a business visa, which requires an invitation from a local sponsor approved by the Saudi Chamber of Commerce. Once this invitation is secured and authenticated, the actual process of issuing the visa is relatively quick and painless, taking between one day and two weeks. Rumour has it that the “new visas” (electronically generated) are only available through agencies in your country of residence. Applying for a work visa is much more complicated, but usually your employer takes care of most of the paperwork.

The fun doesn’t stop when you get the visa, because there is no exact expiry date on the visas. While the validity is given in months, they are not western months, but lunar months, and you have to use the Islamic calendar to figure out the length: a three-month visa issued on “29/02/22” (22 Safar 1429, 1 March 2008) is valid until 29/05/22 (22 Jumada al-Awwal 1429, 28 May 2008), not until 1 June 2008! Depending on the visa type, validity can start from the date of issue or the date of first entry, and multiple-entry visas can also have restrictions on how many days in a row are allowed (usually 28 days per visit) and/or how many days in total are allowed during the validity period. This all leads to fantastic confusion and it is not uncommon to get different answers from an embassy, from your employer and from immigration!

If you have a work visa, an exit visa is required to leave the country. (Business, tourism, transit or Hajj visas do not require an exit permit). You cannot get an exit visa without a signature from your employer, and there have been cases where people have been unable to leave due to controversies with employers or even clients. For example, if a foreign company in Saudi Arabia is sued for non-payment of debts and you are considered its representative, an exit visa may be denied until the case is resolved in court.

Saudi Arabia has very strict rules on what can be imported: alcoholic beverages, pork, non-Sunni Islamic religious materials and pornography (very broadly defined) are all banned. Computers, video cassettes and DVDs have been confiscated from time to time for inspection by the authorities. If you are not sure whether the film you are watching or the video game you are playing is considered un-Islamic, assume that it is: it would probably be best not to bring it into the Kingdom. In general, however, checks are not quite as thorough as they used to be, and although bags are still x-rayed, tiny searches are the exception rather than the rule. Note that Western families entering on a valid transit visa are generally waved through customs with a cursory glance.