Do I need a passport or visa to enter?
A passport valid for at least six months and a visa are required for entry. Visas are issued for business and work, to visit close relatives, and for transit and religious visits by Muslims. Business visas DO NOT grant the applicant the right to work or to reside in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. All visas require a sponsor, can take several months to process, and must be obtained prior to arrival: visas are not available at airports, land borders, or seaports. In May 2008, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs agreed to issue five-year multiple-entry visas to U.S. visitors and students. All Saudi Embassies have the authority to issue the 5-year visas, but only the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., and Consulates in the United States appear to do so with some consistency for business visas. Women visitors and residents must be met by their sponsor upon arrival. Women who are traveling alone and are not met by sponsors have experienced delays before being allowed to enter the country or to continue on other flights. Women who are under their husband’s sponsorship and entered the Kingdom as “housewives” are not permitted to work and may have difficulty in transferring sponsorship to an employer. Male children reaching age 21 may be able to transfer their own sponsorship to an employer to work and continue to reside in the Kingdom.
Travelers should carefully read and understand the limitations of their visas. People planning to enter Saudi Arabia by land should be sure that their visas are not limited for entry via air. For example, some first-time travelers to Saudi Arabia who have flown into Bahrain and expected to drive across the Causeway have been turned back when it was discovered that their Saudi visas were annotated “via air.”
Women considering relocation to Saudi Arabia should be keenly aware that women and children who are considered members of a Saudi household (including adult U.S.-citizen women married to Saudi men, adult U.S.-citizen women who are the unmarried daughters of Saudi fathers, children born to Saudi fathers, and U.S.-citizen boys under the age of 21 who are the sons of Saudi fathers) require the permission of the Saudi male head of their household to leave the Kingdom. Married women require their husband's permission to depart the country, while unmarried women and children require the permission of their father or male guardian. The U.S. Embassy can intercede with the Saudi government to request exit permission for an adult U.S. woman (wife or daughter of a Saudi citizen), but there is no guarantee of success, or even of a timely response. Mothers are not able to obtain permission for the departure of minor children without their father's permission.
A Saudi man who wishes to marry a foreign woman is required by law to seek the permission of Saudi authorities. Since February 20, 2008, a regulation exists requiring Saudi men to sign a document giving irrevocable permission to their foreign wives and the children born of their union to travel in and out of the country without restrictions. In practice, authorities rarely require this document and it is not retroactive when signed. Even with such documentation, foreign spouses and their children may still have difficulty leaving Saudi Arabia freely. Also, if a couple consisting of a foreigner and a Saudi living in Saudi Arabia divorce, the foreign parent cannot under any circumstances leave the country with the children born of their union even if he or she is granted custody rights.
Visitors who overstay their visits in the Kingdom are subject to a fine of 10,000 Saudi Riyals (or $2,667) and incarceration pending deportation proceedings. You should request clarification from Saudi immigration authorities upon arrival as to your permitted length of stay. A common mistake among visitors is confusing the validity of a Saudi visa with the permitted length of stay in the Kingdom. Dates are calculated in accordance with the Hijri calendar. The U.S. Mission in Saudi Arabia has received several reports of U.S. citizens fined for inadvertently overstaying their permitted time in the Kingdom. It can take several weeks to resolve such an error with Saudi immigration authorities. You may now check your permitted length of stay online at the Visa Validity Service website by typing in your passport number and Saudi visa number. The Saudi Passport Department has also recently launched an online service to issue and renew residence permits, which requires registration and a PIN to access.
Foreigners holding Saudi work and/or residency permits require exit visas to depart Saudi Arabia. Persons involved in business or labor disputes or employment dismissal disputes are generally not granted exit visas prior to court resolution or abandonment of their cases. Such cases may take many months to resolve. Saudi sponsors have substantial leverage in the negotiations and may block departures or bar future employment in the country.
Visitors on a single-entry or multiple-entry visa do not need an exit permit. Residents in Saudi Arabia who are departing the country must obtain exit permits from the Saudi Ministry of Interior through their sponsors and exit/reentry permits if they intend to return to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi sponsor's approval is required for exit/reentry and final exit permits. All travelers to and from the Kingdom carrying cash, transferable monetary instruments, or precious metals exceeding 60,000 Saudi Riyals (or $16,000) are required to declare them to Saudi Customs. Customs forms are available at all Saudi ports or downloadable from the Saudi Arabian Customs Office website. Failure to declare or provide accurate information can lead to prosecution, legal penalties, and confiscation.
Visitors to Saudi Arabia should obtain a meningitis vaccination prior to arrival. Hajj and Umrah pilgrims should check vaccination requirements at the Saudi Ministry of Health website. To obtain work and residence permits, foreigners are required to obtain a medical report or physical examination confirming that they are free from contagious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis. Any worker testing positive for HIV/AIDS will not be allowed to work in the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia has not imposed HIV/AIDS travel restrictions on other categories of travelers. Please inquire directly with the Embassy of Saudi Arabia before you travel.
Note for Dual Nationals: Several U.S. citizens of Saudi descent have encountered difficulty leaving the Kingdom after entering on a Saudi Laissez Passer rather than a Saudi or U.S. passport. If a U.S. citizen has a claim to Saudi citizenship, Saudi missions abroad sometimes propose to issue a Laissez Passer to facilitate travel into the Kingdom. This only leads to difficulties when the traveler wishes to depart the Kingdom, however, as the traveler must first obtain a Saudi passport while in Saudi Arabia. U.S. citizens of Saudi descent should understand that Saudi nationality is not confirmed quickly or easily, and documentary requirements encountered in Saudi Arabia may differ from those described by Saudi missions abroad. On average, the processing time for a Saudi passport in these cases has been six to twelve months and often longer. Once you are in Saudi Arabia and have started the passport process, you cannot depart. Obtaining a U.S. passport at the Embassy will not help, as the Saudi government may refuse to recognize the validity of a U.S. passport presented by a Saudi passport applicant for travel out of Saudi Arabia, if it was not also used to enter Saudi Arabia. We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens who also have Saudi nationality enter Saudi Arabia with either a Saudi passport or a U.S. passport and Saudi visa, and not with a Laissez Passer.
For further information on entry/exit requirements, travelers may contact the following Saudi government offices in the United States:
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, 601 New Hampshire Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20037, tel: (202) 342-3800.
Saudi Consulate General in Chicago: Apts 3106, 3109 & 3110, The Ritz Carlton Hotel, 160 East Pearson Street, Chicago, IL 60611.
Saudi Consulate General in Houston: 5718 Westheimer, Suite 1500, Houston, TX 77057, tel: (713) 785-5577.
Saudi Consulate General in Los Angeles: Sawtelle Courtyard Building, 2045 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025, tel: (310) 479-6000.
Saudi Consulate General in New York: 866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 480, New York, NY 10017, tel: (212) 752-2740.
Visit the Embassy of Saudi Arabia website for the most current visa information.