There are only 4 countries whose citizens can travel to Saudi Arabia visa-free: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and the UAE.
For a long time, there has been no visa available for tourism in the country, although that has recently changed when the visa for Saudi Arabia was implemented. This Electronic Travel Authorization can be obtained through a simple online application and has been made available on September 27, 2019, for a range of countries.
One of the most common reasons for a visit to Saudi Arabia is to undertake a religious pilgrimage to Mecca, Hijaz. On top of the new electronic visa for tourists, there are two specific types of Saudi Arabia visa available for religious trips, the Hajj visa, and the Umrah visa. However, the new tourist eVisa can also be used to perform the Umrah pilgrimage, making the process easier.
The Umrah is an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca which Muslims can undertake at any time of the year, while the Ḥajj is a pilgrimage that has specific dates, taking place during the last month of the Islamic calendar. Muslims are encouraged to undertake Hajj at least once during their lives.
Saudi Arabia has decided to simplify the visa processing for pilgrims of Hajj and Umrah and introduce an easier visa process. Under this new electronic system, pilgrims who wish to travel to Saudi Arabia no longer need to undergo physical screening in Saudi embassies as was done in the past.
Eligible citizens wishing to apply for an Umrah visa or a Hajj visa to make a pilgrimage to Mecca in the past have been required to do so through a Saudi Arabia Consulate. Now, permission to travel to Saudi Arabia as part of an Umrah pilgrimage can be obtained online in the form of a tourist eVisa. Hajj pilgrims can only request a specific visa through the Ministry of Hajj.
Where Can I Apply for a Visa for Umrah or Hajj?
A visa application online has gone live in September 2019. The office of the Minister of Hajj and Umrah announced that the Ministry is issuing electronic visas to the Hajj and Umrah service providing companies or entities that pilgrims are trusting with their document application.
Umrah visitors can obtain their eVisa independently online or request a specific Umrah visa with the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.
Pilgrims can apply online from their homes for an electronic visa, as long as they have access to a reliable internet connection. Otherwise, they can apply through a licensed travel agent familiar with the visa application process in order for the travel document to be approved. This still involves supplying a range of supporting documentation.
For the online visa, it’s necessary to have an eligible passport valid for at least 6 months upon the entry date to the country, as well as to provide the following:
- A completed application form to submit online
- The payment of the application fee
- A valid email address to send the granted visa to
The Umrah and Hajj visa requirements add the following:
- A recent passport-size color photograph taken against a white background. This should display a full-face view in which the visa applicant is facing the camera directly, as a side or angled views are not accepted. A non-refundable return ticket to the country of origin.
- A certificate of vaccination against meningitis issued not more than 3 years and not less than 10 days prior to entering Saudi Arabia.
- A certificate from a mosque or Islamic center stating that the applicant is a Muslim, in the case that the traveler has converted to Islam and does not have a Muslim name.
Women and children are required to be accompanied by their husband/father or a male relative (Mahram) and proof of relationship is required for the Umrah visa or Hajj visa to be granted. This could be a marriage certificate for a wife or a birth certificate which includes the name of both parents for a child. The Mahram must travel into and out of Saudi Arabia on the same flight as his wife and children.
Women over the age of 45 may travel without a Mahram with an organized group, provided she submits a notarized letter of no objection from her Mahram authorizing her to travel for Hajj with the named group.
Requirements for Umrah Visa
Travelers may undertake an Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca at any point during the year, and there are less specific requirements for the Saudi Arabia visa for Umrah than for the busy Hajj event, the second-largest annual gathering of Muslims in the entire world.
Nevertheless, applicants for the Saudi Arabia Umrah visa should make sure the period of validity does not exceed the last day of Ramadan. Holders of the Umrah visa are not permitted to spend Eid-ul-Fitr in the country and are required to leave before Ramadan ends.
The Saudi eVisa is granted solely for tourism purposes or to perform an Umrah and it is not considered a work visa.
Insurance Policy for Umrah Pilgrims
The Umrah visa requires all visa holders to have insurance coverage for the entirety of their stay in the Kingdom. However, this doesn’t need to be arranged by the pilgrim independently. At the end of December 2019, the Ministry for Hajj and Umrah has announced that an agreement was reached with the Company for Cooperative Insurance (Tawuniya) to cover visa holders.
Thanks to this agreement, an insurance policy is linked directly to the pilgrim’s passport, who can access care in public and private hospitals as well as benefiting from coverage in case of:
- Flight delays or cancellations
- Death and repatriation
Requirements for Hajj Visa
The Hajj is a mandatory religious duty that must be carried out during the lifetime of all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of the journey and who are able to support their family during their absence. It takes place over five or six days, between the eighth and thirteenth of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar.
Eligible travelers are able to apply for the Saudi Arabia Hajj visa from between Mid-Shawwal until 25th Dhu-al-Qa’dah of each year. The latest that the visa holder can enter the country via King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah for the purpose of Hajj is the 4 Dhu’l-Hijjah of each year. Saudi Arabian law forbids pilgrims from staying in the Kingdom after the end of Hajj, and holders of the Hajj visa must leave no later than the 10th of Muharram of each year.
As with the Umrah visa, the requirements for the Hajj visa involve having an eligible passport valid from 6 months, although 2 adjacent blank pages inside the document are also necessary for this travel document.
Another additional requirement for the Hajj visa is contracting pilgrimage services (guides, Zamzam water agents, tent accommodation in Mina and Arafat, and transportation costs) to ensure the success of the trip, by paying the appropriate fees. Travelers are advised to check with a Saudi Consulate in their country for an up-to-date list of fees.
Can I Travel for Umrah and Hajj with a Tourist Visa?
The Saudi Arabia tourist visa online has been launched to boost international tourism to the Kingdom. However, the eVisa is not valid for travel for Hajj and is available for purposes of tourism and Umrah only.
Another option is to apply for the Umrah visa or Hajj visa from a Saudi Arabian Embassy or Consulate.
Unified Hajj and Umrah Visa For Saudi Arabia
Previously, it was necessary to apply for a separate visa to undertake a Hajj pilgrimage as well as the one required for Umrah. The Hajj visa was only valid from 4 Dhu Al-Hijjah to 10 Muharram on the Islamic calendar, while the Umrah visa was only issued for Umrah season with a validity of 15 days. It was not possible to use a Hajj visa for Umrah, and vice versa.
The Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Mohammed Benten, has stated that the new unified Hajj and Umrah visa is designed to show the kingdom’s readiness to receive an increasing number of pilgrims to Mecca.
The new visa system follows the recent introduction of measures to improve the system of services in Saudi Arabia’s holy sites. These include the implementation of a high-speed train line between Mecca and Medina and technology to make Hajj Safer, including AI medical services and smart transport cards.
Submitting A Unified Hajj and Umrah Visa Application
Eligible citizens are required to apply for the Saudi visa for Hajj and Umrah through a simplified electronic system. However, travelers must apply through a licensed travel agent familiar with the visa process. It is necessary tor the travel agency to present a letter from the Ministry of Hajj in Saudi Arabia confirming that they have completed all the requirements to qualify to assist pilgrims.
It’s important to remember that the unified Hajj and Umrah visa is available for Muslims wishing to undertake the religious pilgrimage in the country. Those who wish to visit Saudi Arabia for purposes of tourism are now able to apply for an electronic visa through a separate online form.
The introduction of the Saudi tourist visa in September 2019 marks the first time that foreign visitors are able to visit the kingdom for leisure purposes, as previous travelers were restricted from visiting the kingdom for business or to undertake pilgrimage for Umrah or Hajj. More than 2 million pilgrims made the journey for Umrah and Hajj in 2019 alone, and this is only expected to grow in 2020 alongside the steadily increasing tourist arrivals.