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To enter Saudi Arabia, citizens of all countries need a valid passport, or an equivalent travel document if they are a stateless person or refugee. For those entering the country long-term, passports should be valid for the entire length of the stay. All expats should keep their passport with them whenever they are in public (unless it is taken by their sponsor.) Note that it is illegal to hold two passports in Saudi Arabia.
From the date of arrival, passports must be valid for at least six Hijri months. (The Islamic or Hijri calendar is in official use in Saudi Arabia, It is a lunar calendar consisting of 12 lunar months of 29 or 30 days, making a total of 354 or 355 days. This means that six Hijri months are somewhat shorter than the Western equivalent. This is particularly important when it comes to visa renewal, as you may be heavily fined or even imprisoned for overstaying your visa – even by the few days that this discrepancy entails.)
The restrictions the Kingdom imposes on women start from before they even arrive in the country. Firstly, women must remove all make-up and wear a full body covering, consisiting of a headscarf and abaya, from before they enter Saudi territory and subsequently whenever they are in public. A woman travelling alone must be met by her husband or sponsor when she arrives. Furthermore, women must prove that they have arranged accommodation to be allowed into their country. Failing to conform to these requirements will lead to delays or other problems. Note also that anyone who is Jewish, Israeli or has an Israeli visa stamp on their passport will be denied entry into Saudi Arabia.
Citizens of the other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates) do not need a visa to enter Saudi Arabia if they are on a short stay. However, for long-term stays, they will always need a visa, as will Citizens of all other countries in all cases. The issue of visas is governed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Saudi Arabia is unusual in that it does not issue tourist visas. It does however issue the hajj visa, issued at the time of the annual Muslim pilgrimage, and the umrah visa, for visits at any other time. These visas are issued in restricted numbers to proven Muslims who want to visit Mecca and Medina. Related to this is the seasonal employment visa, for those who are coming to Saudi Arabia to work during the hajj season.
The visitor’s visa, and its subtype, the business visa, permit the holder to conduct light business activities but not to do work in the country. To do short-term temporary work in Saudi Arabia, you will need a temporary work visa. This allows you to stay and work in the country for a period of up to 180 days, depending on your home country. Family members visiting expats in the country will need a family visit visa. For more information on family visit visas, see Family Members and Marriage.
If you are planning to go to Saudi Arabia for work, you will need to obtain an employment visa (also called a working visa.) Your spouse and children who go with you will need residence visas to enter the country. For more information on employment and residence visas, see Expats Working and Settlement, Residence and Citizenship respectively. Another type of long-term visa is the student visa, issued to those who want to study in the Kingdom.
Applications for visas must be made in the country where you are a citizen or permanent resident. Before obtaining a visa, expats who are not from a GCC country must procure sponsorship from a Saudi citizen or institution. Ostensibly, the sponsor acts as a guarantor and kind of guardian, vouching for the expat’s conduct while in the Kingdom, though it is also a means of exerting a degree of control over expats. If you are moving to the country to work, your sponsor will habitually be your employer. Otherwise, you could be sponsored by some other institution, such as the hotel or business you are visiting, or an individual.
Once you have successfully gained employment, arranged your business trip, etc., your sponsor will initiates the visa application process. He will need to write a letter of recommendation, which, together with your documents will be submitted to the authorities. This process should take around six weeks.
The immigration authorities then send you a visa number, which enables you to go to your nearest Saudi embassy or consulate and obtain your visa. Whichever visa you apply for, you will need the following documents as a minimum:
If you are going to be working in the Kingdom, you will also need to supply copies of your employment contract and qualifications. Birth certificates for any dependents you are immigrating with will also be needed. It is espeically important to ensure that all the details of the application are correct, as it may otherwise be rejected.
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