There are only 4 countries whose citizens can travel to Saudi Arabia visa-free: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and the UAE. There is currently no visa available for tourism in the country, although that will change when the new Saudi Arabia eVisa is implemented, expected to be later this year. This Electronic Travel Authorization will be available through a simple online application and is expected to be available for a range of countries including the United States and all Schengen Area member states.
At present, one of the most common reasons for a visit to Saudi Arabia is to undertake a religious pilgrimage to Mecca, Hijaz. There are two types of Saudi Arabia visa available for religious trips, the Hajj visa, and the Umrah visa.
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 (August to September). Muslims are encouraged to undertake Hajj at least once during their lives.
Saudi Arabia has decided to simplify the visa processing for pilgrims of 2019 Hajj and Umrah and introduce a simplified visa process. Under this new electronic system, pilgrims who wish to travel to Saudi Arabia this year will not need to undergo physical screening in Saudi embassies as was done in previous years.
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.
Where Can I Apply for a Visa for Umrah or Hajj?
Although a Saudi Arabia eVisa online application is soon expected to be implemented for tourism, for the time being, foreign citizens who wish to travel to Saudi Arabia will still be required to apply from an Embassy or Consulate. Pilgrims who wish to obtain the Saudi Arabia Hajj visa or Umrah visa will be able to do so through a simplified electronic system.
According to a recent announcement by an advisor to the minister of Hajj and Umrah, the Ministry will issue the electronic visas to the Hajj and Umrah service providing companies or entities through which pilgrims are expected to obtain their visa.
Pilgrims are advised to apply through a licensed travel agent familiar with the visa application process in order for the travel document to be approved. This will still involve supplying a range of supporting documentation.
For both the Saudi Arabia Umrah visa and the Saudi Arabia Hajj 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, signed application form for the relevant type of visa
- 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 sided 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.
In total the visa for Umrah allows a total stay of up to 2 weeks in Saudi Arabia, allowing the traveler sufficient time to perform Umrah and leave the country before the period of validity ends.
Requirements for Hajj Visa
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 has not yet been implemented but is expected to soon be available as an Electronic Travel Authorization through a simple online application that can be completed in just a few minutes.
A new electronic system has been implemented for Hajj and Umrah pilgrims who wish to travel to Saudi Arabia. However, pilgrims are still expected to go through a specialized agency, company or entity.
Once implemented, the tourist visa for Saudi Arabia will make the country much more accessible for citizens of countries including the United States, all Schengen Area member states, Australia, Japan, South Korea, South Africa, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan. Additional eligible nations are expected to be announced in due course.
It is currently necessary to apply for the Umrah visa or Hajj visa from a Saudi Arabian Embassy or Consulate, and this will remain the case even after the tourist visa has been implemented.