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Family Members and Marriage for Expats in Saudi Arabia

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: November 2015

Family Members

Ideally, when you immigrate to a new country, you are able to bring the rest of your family with you at the same time or shortly afterwards. Unfortunately, in the case of Saudi Arabia, this is not often possible. Any application for spouses and dependants of expats to live in the Kingdom must be approved by the Department of Foreign Affairs. You should therefore consider this matter carefully before you are choosing to move to the Kingdom.

All non-nationals must fulfil stringent requirements to be eligible to reside in the country. This applies whether you and your family are all first-time immigrants into Saudi Arabia or you are a returning Saudi citizen with a family of non-nationals.

It will be easier for some family members than others to immigrate into Saudi Arabia. This mostly  depends on the job description listed in your visa and their family relationship to you. Your spouse and dependent children may be allowed to immigrate on your residence permits, excepting sons older than 18 and daughters who are married. These will have to apply for their own residence permits.

Women on a Spouse visa are not permitted to work on their husband’s residence permit; they must apply separately for a work permit. A woman with a residence permit may apply for residence for her children but not her husband. He must apply for it himself.

Expat children are not permitted to attend Saudi state schools (this is no a great loss as they are little more than Wahhabi indoctrination centres.) International schools can be expesnive and over-subscribed, so it may be worth negotiating their inclusiion in your employment paxckage. See Education for more details.

In many cases, your family members will not be able to immigrate into Saudi Arabia with you. This is usually the case if you are an expat with a family, especially if you are from a poorer background.  This means that, for the whole time you are in the country, you may need to remit money to your home country to help support your family there.

As family members are rarely allowed to stay with you in the country, gaining family member visits is all the more important. Whether your family can visit depends on what profession is listed on your residence permit (or iqama). This was determined by the profession listed on your original work permit.

Since they are not permitted to stay in the country, family members will of course want to visit you. To do so, they will need to obtain a Family Visit visa from the Department of Foreign Affairs. To get this, they need to prove that the family relationship they have to you is genuine, by means of a marriage or birth certificate. They will also need a letter from your sponsor. Your sponsor may help you with the application, which can be made from within the Kingdom. All over will need to undergo a medical in order to obtain a medical certificate.

Marriage

Saudi Arabian law is as hidebound as ever when it comes to determining who can and cannot marry on its soil. Only Muslims can do so freely – it is more difficult if only one of the couple is Saudi or Muslim. The only way non-Muslims can get married is within the grounds of their home country’s embassy, and only if their country permits it (for example, the UK embassy does). Naturally the procedures and documents required for marriage in these embassies will vary. Things are simpler if you and your partner are of the same nationality; it may not be possible to marry if this is not the case. See the individual country entries for Family Members and Marriage for more details.

Saudi Arabia does not issue marriage visas, so naturally the number of people going there to get married is very low. It may therefore be as good idea to apply for marriage in one of the neighbouring countries, such as Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates.

There is no legal minimum marriage age in Saudi Arabia. The average age of marrieage is around 20. However, in this inherently misogynistic society, some girls as young as 8 or 9 are coerced or forced into marriage. The Kingdom is under increasing pressure to implement a minimum age for marriage to give its young girls some protection.

Bear in mind that until you are married, you will not be allowed to appear in public together. Nor is any kind of intimacy legal, even with engaged couples. Gay relationships are not recognised in any way in Saudi Arabia. In fact, homosexuality is illegal and is punishable by death – though normally lesser punishments are used. 

Non-Saudi Muslims can get married via the Saudi courts. The bride’s father or an appointed representive must be present, and the bride will also need a form of no objection from her sponsor. Any documents not in Arabic need to have certified translations.

If a non-Saudi male expat wants to marry a Saudi woman, he must by law first convert to Islam. Gainuing apporval for such a union uis generally very difficult. It is easier for a Saudi man to marry a non-Saudi woman, though the groom will need to apply for permission via the courts and the bride will be ‘encouraged’ to convert. As well, of course, as having to sacrifice a great many of her freedoms just to get by in Saudi society.

The bureaucracy you will have to go through is heavy. Documents you will need to take include, as a minimum, are as follows:

  • passports
  • birth certificates
  • marriageability certificate (name varies from country to country)

In all cases, if you have been married before, you must produce documentation that proves that you are fit to marry: divorce decrees and death certificates, as appropriate. Note that marrying a Saudi citizen does not automatically confer citizenship on the spouse.

Foreign couples will need to get their maririage documents attested at the Minstry of Foreign Affairs. Once this is done, registration can be completed at the Ministry of the Interior. If all is in order, the Minstry will issue you with a family card and update your iqamas to ‘married’ status.

 

 

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