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Saudi Arabia Work Visa; Business Visas to Visit KSA
Visas to work in Saudi Arabia
If you are going to be working in Saudi Arabia then you will need a Saudi Arabian Work visa or a Business Visa.This article will discuss the types of visas that you need as well as the various problems that you may encounter;
There are several different types of Saudi visas that you can apply for but only the work visa allows you to work within Saudi Arabia. A business visa is often procured for people to work there, but this often being misused to get around restrictions that have been placed on the company.
This hub will detail out my experiences of getting a Saudi Arabia Visa and the MANY problems that I have encountered, I have been thrown out of the Saudi Embassy in London after I was insulted by staff, had documents destroyed, been forced to pay bribes and even ended up as an illegal alien that had to be smuggled out of KSA illegally.
Types of Saudi Visa
There are 5 main types of Visa that you can apply for when looking to enter KSA for either work or just to visit;
Saudi Business Visa;
This is for business men and women working for companies outside Saudi Arabia so that they can come into the Kingdom to work with or for a Saudi company. The duration can be one, three or 6 months. It can also be used by companies to bring you into the kingdom to work on a short term contract or to try you out during your trial period, although this is not what the visa is for. Often, if a company has problems gaining a work visa due to not being able to get authorization due to employing too few local Saudis they will bring an employee on this visa.
Saudi Work Visa;
This is for those that have been offered a contract to be working in Saudi Arabia, you will require to have medicals and submit educational certificates, all of which have to be legalized. Use an agent to do this as you will have to complete a large amount of paperwork. This visa is valid for 90 days at the end of which the company has to convert it to an Iqama which is your residency and work permit to allow you to stay and work in the country.
Saudi Holiday Visa
It is available, but unless you are Muslim with family in Saudi Arabia to sponsor your visit you are unlikely to get it! They do however want to develop the tourist industry so it will be interesting to see how this develops.
Dependent visa for Saudi Arabia
This is for the family of those that have an approved work visa. Please note however that only legalized marriage will be recognized, you can't bring your girlfriend even if you have been together for 20 years.
This is for those that wish to visit to make Umrah/Haj, religious pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca). This is only for Muslims and the visas are limited by number and through approved travel agents only.
Your Iqama or residency permit has to be applied for within 90 days of your entering the country on a work visa. This entitles you to stay and work within the country for your sponsor (employer). Without an Iqama you will not be able to open bank accounts, send money out of the country or even buy a SIM card for your phone.
The application is pretty straight forward and should be done by your sponsor. You will have to undertake another medical which will be pretty straight forward. This should be paid for by your employer and will probably cost around 250 Saudi Riyals.
You will also be fingerprinted and your eyes will be scanned.
Iqama or Saudi Residency Permit
Saudi Azad Visa
BEWARE - There is actually no such thing as an "Azad" Visa but many people offer to sell these visas to people at a huge cost. The Azad visa is often advertised as a visa that will allow you to work freely within the kingdom, however this is far from the truth.
To get into Saudi Arabia you need to have a sponsor (employer) who can provide you with a visa, this has prompted a small industry to rise where many Saudis will sell a visa to an expat and then allow the expat to work where ever they wish to. Often this visa will cost between 10 Thousand to 20 Thousand Riyals.
However, you are not allowed to work for anyone other than your sponsor! This means that you cannot work for anyone else legally. There is, however a thriving black market for illegal workers and many people do find work, often on lower wages and with worse conditions than those legally employed. But the government is cracking down on these practices and if you are caught then you will be sent home and there will not be any refund of the money that you have spent! This is a very risky way indeed to work within the kingdom.
Far better to just apply for jobs advertised within the kingdom, if you are hired your sponsor will pay for your visa in full and you will be fully covered by Saudi Labor Law. Avoid the Azad visa as it really is a huge risk.
Useful Links for your Visa
- Saudi Embassy in London UK
This is the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London, You will find all of the information you require to apply for your Saudi Arabian visa here.
- The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia Homepage US
Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, information and requirements for your visa application.
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), information regarding requirements to enter and work in Saudi Arabia, you can also track your Saudi Arabian Visa here using the visa reference number.
- Ministry of Hajj
Information regarding Hajj in Saudi Arabia, a handy website if you are looking to make Hajj allowing you to gain all the information for your Saudi Visa
Application for Saudi Visa
Whichever country you are coming from, read the requirements for the visa very carefully on the Saudi Arabian Embassy website in your country. On the whole you will be far better off using an agent to do the application for you and they can recommend the best places to get medical reports and so on that you will require. The agent can make sure that everything is correct rather than having it rejected by the Saudi embassy.
You will have to submit your educational certificates, all of which will need to be legalized. The process for doing so will be explained on their websites or by the agent, again, you can get the agent to do this for you, but the costs will start to mount – make sure that your employer will shoulder the expenses, as not all will!
Do not be surprised if no care is taken of your precious original certificates, my pristine, well kept degree certificate was sent between two sheets of stiff card to protect it, it was returned after having been totally screwed up and then folded in half to be returned! It is so badly damaged that it is almost unreadable in places! I have learned the hard way that many Saudis have no respect for any non-Saudis!
Get a Saudi Visa to view the Kingdom
The Reality of Applying for a Saudi Arabian Work Visa
The first time I got a visa for Saudi Arabia (KSA) in England was quite straight forward, I took all of my paperwork to the Saudi embassy in London and received it a couple of days later, no problem at all.
The Saudi Arabian visa was a business visa, good for 3 months, which was meant to keep me until they could sort out a residency visa (Iqama) for me. However, be careful, they do not tell you, you are supposed to just know, that this visa has to be stamped every month for you to remain legally in the kingdom. Failure to do so could land you in prison for a few weeks while the problem is sorted out, and believe me nothing is done quickly here!
The company that I was working for was having problems with getting work visas so I was sent home after 2 and a half months, the visa section said that I could only have 2 weeks of my last month!
Applied for my Saudi Arabian Business visa in the same way, again, no problem and was back in Saudi within a few weeks, back to work. Again visa being stamped every month. This time I was completely refused my third month, only having a week to get out (after pleading and begging!), so I had to cancel appointments and training courses that I was running which I rescheduled for about 3 weeks later. But; read on..
Visiting the Saudi Embassy
This application for a new business visa was a real experience;
I returned to England, completed my paperwork, went to the Embassy and handed it all over for processing;
This is what the conversation was like when I applied for my Saudi Arabian Visa
“You can’t give that here,” said the guy behind the counter.
“why,” I asked..
“We have changed our process, you have to use an agent.”
“Why does your website still show the old way of doing things with no mention of this?”
“I don’t know, it’s not my responsibility”
“Can you give me the name of an agent?”
“You have to get it from the website”
“can’t you just give me a name or print it out for me?”
“why did you change the system?”
“because everyone was coming in the office complaining that we were late giving them visas and they were missing flights, now they complain to the agents not us.”
“How long will this take now?”
“I don’t know, maybe 10 days” (it was 2 days before)
“Now I will have to rearrange my flight, you are not making things easy for us to come to your country”
“We don’t want you shit in our country!” – He actually said this, I am not sure what my reply was, I know I was shouting and demanding to see someone in authority as the security physically carried me out!!
So, my second stay waiting for my third visa took over a month, I had to rearrange all of my appointments again, without being able to give a truly firm date! Not so good for business as you can imagine, my credibility was totally shot!
Finally returned to find that the company still could not get a Saudi Arabian residency visa and that I would be unlikely to be sure of even the second month of my business visa, clients were demanding that I resolve the issue or there would be no business with them! – Eventually I moved company so that I did not have this problem, the next company getting me a residency visa and my Iqama within a few weeks, which is what should happen, but I hear so very many many stories!
Get a Saudi Arabian Visa to see KSA
Not all jobs in Saudi allow you to bring your spouse or children (They now say that all jobs are allowed to bring their families but I still know some people who have been refused as the demand was just too great after this was announced!), check before you take the job if you will be able to bring your family before you travel or you may get a shock! Each visa declares the "job" that the person may be doing, mine stated that I was a "business analyst" (all in Arabic so you can't read it yourself), this is a professional position so I was entitled to bring my family. However some other professional types that I knew had Saudi Arabia Work visas that did not have job titles that reflected their actual position in the companies for which they worked in Saudi Arabia, these titles were often very basic and were not sufficient to allow them to bring their families!
Processing your visa application when you are in Saudi should be fairly straightforward. However not always, my friends that I know here have had no problems, I had nothing but problems – but then I found out why!
Bring your Family to Saudi Arabia
Problems getting a Saudi Arabian Family Visa
Most companies will have a government relations guy who will do all of the leg work with the various ministries and departments, he is the guy that usually will take your visas and so on to get them processed. Mine kept coming back with problem after problem, even though it was the same paperwork that was used for me to get my visa to come to the kingdom in the first place. This went on for a couple of months until someone suggest that I should be offering money!
I lost my temper with the government relations officer, after all the documentation was correct so why can’t he get the visa for my wife without me offering money? He was very sympathetic, but said that it may be the only way, so in the end, I had to agree to paying whatever it would take – within reason!
It cost me 4000SAR ($1067) to get the visa processed, I have no idea if the money went to my company’s relations officer or to the guy in the ministry, I have no way of knowing. But I was basically blackmailed into paying without any other options! I have heard similar stories from others, but not other westerners! It took one afternoon to process with the same paperwork that I started with! (And my degree certificate got lost!)
Arrival in Riyadh Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia Visa Nightmare!
This happened to a “friend” (read between the lines); his business visa (because he didn't yet have a Saudi work visa) was not taken for monthly stamping and expired, therefore he became illegal, a colleague's family (wife and three children) were in the same situation unbeknown to them, and the husband was given some paperwork in Arabic to sign in amongst other unrelated business paperwork taking responsibility for the problem with his family! Thankfully, he asked someone else to read it all before he signed it, as you can imagine he was not too happy with the situation that the company had put him and his family in.
The problem could not be resolved, the visas could not be stamped, the advice given was to try to leave by a specific airport (Dammam) as they were not so good at checking, but if we were caught we could be jailed for 1 or 2 weeks, including my colleague’s wife and fined (Although I now know that the fine would have been the responsibility of the company!) We said no as you can imagine – and asked them to find a solution!
No real solution was available, the issue could not be resolved officially once we were illegal that was it! So we had to have a way of getting it resolved that was not through official channels.
Exit Saudi Arabia over Bridge to Bahrain
Escape from Saudi Arabia without a visa
Through a friend of a friend, we were introduced to someone who said that they could take us out of the country on a Wednesday night over the causeway bridge into Bahrain without any problem – “guaranteed”. For a small fee, of course!
So we arranged to meet this guy in the service area on the causeway before all of the different check points on the bridge about a week later.
We arrived, my colleague, his wife and three children and myself and waited over an hour for this guy, he was late, did not answer his phone and we began to think that he had decided not to turn up, but eventually he arrived an hour later than expected. His English was very poor so we had little idea as to how he was going to achieve what he was going to do!
So we followed him onto the bridge towards Bahrain, us in a large vehicle with our driver and him in a smaller one, we progressed through the first checkpoint which is to check the ownership and insurance of the car before you move to the other checks which check your personal paperwork, customs etc.
After this first checkpoint this guy and our driver swapped cars so that we now had the “fixer” as our driver now that the car ownership point had been passed. We queued for about another 30 minutes heading towards to the next checkpoint, just before the next check he turned between a group of buildings in the center of the bridge down a small alleyway and came out on the opposite side of the bridge, the road coming into Saudi from Bahrain. At this point he drove against the traffic towards the checkpoint that checks the visas of people coming into Saudi Arabia. By this time my friend's wife was having great difficulty controlling her tears due to the worry of being caught, which of course was being picked up by the three small girls in the car also!
He stopped just before the checkpoint and were joined by one of the security people from the checkpoint, at this point our passports were taken and the guy paid to have an entry stamp placed in all of our passports basically making them legal as far as a brief examination was concerned!
We then were driven back to the other side of the bridge through another small alley between the official's buildings in the center portion of the causeway, emerging just before the final check for passports and visas. My college then had to get out and get the relevant paperwork for his wife to exit from a nearby office using the newly stamped passport, marriage certificate, etc. (A woman requires the permission of her husband or father to travel within and out of Saudi Arabia!)
Again his wife spent a very tearful 20 minutes or so while he went to get the paperwork done, thankfully no problem, and we continued towards the final checkpoint!
A tense 30 seconds were spent at the checkpoint as the guard opened and checked each passport before stamping each one with the exit stamp and waved us through, what a relief! I was never so glad to arrive at a hotel and have an ice cold beer!
Visas Checked and Stamped on Bridge between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain
Bridge between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Visas Checkpoints
Companies Obligations with regard to your Work Visa in Saudi Arabia
Your employer is responsible for ensuring that your visa and residency permit (Iqama) is up to date and renewed, etc. But this does not stop you from having a major problem when they fail to do their job, often it is you that will suffer not the company!
There are many cases where workers (not normally western, but Filipino, Indian etc.) who have not had their residency permits or Iqama renewed by their employers making them illegal, these workers are then afraid to leave the safety of their workplaces, many living where they work, and thus they are kept almost as a prisoner by the employer. There are several cases of workers not going for medical treatment as they are scared that they will be reported as illegal if they go to one of the hospitals for treatment!
There are reported cases of workers being held like this for as long as 20 years, often without wages!
Saudi Exit Visa
If you want to leave Saudi Arabia you need to have an Exit Visa! You cannot leave without this, this has to be granted through your company. So if your company does not want you to leave, you can't leave. Once you are in, you are at their mercy, and many maids and the like who should be able to go home each year are not allowed to leave. I have also known westerners who have had their exit visas refused as the company does not want them to leave for various reasons.
When your contract is finished, your company will issue a final exit, when you try to leave they will do a full check of your details, if you have any debts, own a car, any fines, disputes or anything you will be detained until these issues are resolved! If your wife walked through the check ahead of you when this happens, she will be going home without you, always check your exit first!
But at the end of the day, who would want to leave??
Saudi Arabia Final Exit Visa
If you are going to be leaving your current sponsor/employer and leaving the country then you will need a final exit visa for KSA.
You need to make sure that everything is clear before you try to leave the country, everything!
You must pay all of your bills, phone, power, housing etc. Keep all receipts.
If you own a car you must sell it and ensure that the name is transferred to the new owner, if it is still in your name you cannot leave! Keep copies of all of the transfer and sales documentation with you.
Check if you have any traffic fines to pay and pay them (they now have speed cameras and you may not know that you have a fine!), again keep all paperwork related to this!
Cancel and pay any credit cards, pay off loans. Keep all paperwork and receipts to prove you have done this. Ensure you do this at least a month before exit if you can.
Empty your Saudi bank accounts, transfer the money electronically if you can or send via western union or equivalent. Do this well before departure to ensure you can check that the money has arrived where it was sent.
Use cash only for the last few weeks of your stay!
When you get to the airport for final exit you will have everything checked, if something is not settled you will be refused exit until it is settled, within my small circle of friends two were refused exit, one for traffic fines and the other for the car not yet transferred into the buyer's name.
If you have family with you, consider sending them home a few days before departure so that they are not inconvenienced or shocked if you are detained! Once the stamp is in your passport, you are out, so if your wife went before you and her passport is stamped and you are refused she has to leave you behind.
More Saudi Advice
Don't even think about applying for a Saudi Visa until you realize exactly what you are going to be letting yourself in for. Working in Saudi Arabia is not like going to the next town for a job with a few new faces. The culture and way of life in KSA are completely different to anything you will have experienced anywhere else in the world.
This guide to being a Saudi Expat will help you to better understand everything you need to know before you make that decision to enter the Kingdom.