Saudi Arabia is home to the two holiest cities in Islam: Medina, the burial place of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and Mecca. This is the destination for Muslims who undertake the sacred pilgrimages of Umrah and Hajj.
An Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca can be undertaken at any point during the year, while the Hajj pilgrimage has specific dates according to the Islamic lunar calendar, and usually falls between August to September. All Muslims are encouraged to undertake Hajj at least once in their lifetimes if their finances and health allow for it.
It was previously necessary to apply for a separate Hajj and Umrah visa for Saudi Arabia for each pilgrimage, as well as to pay an extra fee to repeat the Umrah pilgrimage within a 3-year period. However, this will no longer be necessary, as the government of Saudi Arabia has decided to unify the Hajj and Umrah visas. The restructuring of Saudi visa systems also includes the introduction of a tourist visa for the very first time.
What Is a 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.
How Will the Unified Saudi Arabia Religious Visa Affect Travelers?
The introduction of the unified religious visa for Saudi Arabia means that travelers will no longer need to apply for a separate travel document to attend each religious event within the same year. Travelers will also not be required to apply for a visit visa for Saudi Arabia within the validity of the visa for Hajj and Umrah.
An approved unified visa for Hajj and Umrah is a multiple entry travel document valid for 1 year from the date of issue. Therefore it will allow holders to participate in both pilgrimages within a short period of time if they so wish, something that was not possible with the previous separate religious visas.
The new unified system also allows travelers to enter Saudi Arabia at other times of the year to visit friends or relatives, or for leisure. Finally, the multiple-entry function of the visa will also allow holders to pass through the country for transit purposes on the way to an onward destination.
Submitting A Unified Hajj and Umrah Saudi 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.