How to Enter Saudi Arabia

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.

Special Travel Circumstances in Saudi Arabia

Residents working in Saudi Arabia generally must surrender their passports to their sponsors while in the Kingdom. The sponsor (normally the employer) obtains work and residence permits for the employee and for any family members. Family members of workers are not required by law to surrender their passports, though some do. Residents carry a Saudi residence permit (Iqama) for identification in place of their passports. The U.S. Embassy and Consulates General in Saudi Arabia cannot sponsor private U.S. citizens for Saudi visas.

A married woman should be aware that she must have her husband's permission for her and their children to depart Saudi Arabia. This is true even if the woman and/or her children are U.S. citizens and even if her husband does not have Saudi nationality. The U.S. Embassy can intercede with the Saudi government to request exit visas for adult U.S. women, but there is no guarantee that the visas will be issued, and obtaining an exit visa without the male guardian’s consent takes many months, if it can be obtained at all. The U.S. Embassy cannot obtain exit visas for the departure of minor children without their father's permission (See Entry/Exit Requirements section above).

The Saudi government does not recognize dual nationality. Saudi authorities have confiscated the U.S. passports of U.S. citizens and U.S.-Saudi dual nationals when they have applied for Saudi citizenship or Saudi passports. This does not constitute loss of U.S. citizenship, but should be reported to the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh or the Consulates General in Jeddah or Dhahran. In the case of dual nationals, the Saudi Government may recognize only the nationality of the document used to enter the Kingdom. For additional information, please refer to the Bureau of Consular Affairs dual nationality webpage.

The Saudi government does not permit photography of governmental facilities such as military bases and government buildings. It is also sensitive to photography that may be perceived as portraying the country in an unfavorable light. This policy can be broadly interpreted to include photos of mosques, impoverished areas, the local population, and traditional souks (markets). Be aware of local sensitivities whenever you are taking pictures in public.

Saudi customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning the importation of such banned items as alcohol, weapons, and any item that is held to be contrary to the tenets of Islam, such as pork and pornography. Imported and domestic audiovisual media and reading matter are censored.

Saudi customs and postal officials broadly define what is contrary to Islam and therefore prohibited. Christmas decorations, fashion magazines, and "suggestive" videos may be confiscated and the owner subject to penalties and fines. Electronic devices may be subject to inspection upon entry or exit. Please see our Customs Information.

Importing Animals: All pets must receive approval from the Saudi Ministry of Agriculture in order to be imported into Saudi Arabia. Cats and dogs entering Saudi Arabia require a Veterinary Health Certificate and a dated letter from the veterinary private practitioner addressed to the Director of Customs, Saudi Arabia. Both documents must be authenticated by the Department of Agriculture Veterinary Service Office and the State Department's Authentications Office and attested by the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. The certificate must indicate that the animal was examined and is free from disease, and confirm that rabies and other vaccines are current. Information on the name, breed, sex, color, and age of the animal must also be stated.

Birds: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia expressly forbids the import of any avian species. Do not attempt to bring a bird with you to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Dogs: Any dog that enters Saudi Arabia must be classified as either a “guard dog” or “guide dog.” However, certain breeds are NOT/NOT permitted in Saudi Arabia. Saudi authorities can and have refused to admit animals, and have required them to be immediately shipped back to their point of origin. Given the extreme climate conditions in the Kingdom and limited staffing and facilities at Saudi airports that process the importation of pets, this can be injurious or fatal to the animals.

The Saudi government is known to have forbidden the following dog breeds from entering the Kingdom: Spitz; Akita/Akita Imu; Affenpinscher; Griffon Bruxellois/Brussels Griffon/Brabancon/Belgian Griffon/Hovawart; Boxer; Bulldog (any type); Rottweiler; ALL terriers, including but not limited to Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Dandie Dinmont Terrier; Lancashire Heeler; Swedish Vallhund/Swedish Cattle Dog/Vasgotspets; Newfoundland; Pit Bull; Great Dane/Deutscher Dogge; ALL mastiff breeds, including but not limited to Bull Mastiff, Old English Mastiff, Neopolitan Mastiff; Leonberger; and Doberman.

Employment and Business Contracts: The Arabic text of a contract governs employment and business arrangements under Saudi law. Before signing a contract, U.S. companies should obtain an independent translation to ensure a full understanding of the contract's terms, limits, and agreements. No U.S. citizen should come to work in Saudi Arabia or make a business arrangement without having read and understood the full written contract. Verbal assurances or side letters are not binding under Saudi law. In the event of any contract dispute, Saudi authorities refer to the written contract.

Since the Saudi sponsor generally holds the employee's passport and controls the issuance of exit permits, U.S. citizens cannot leave Saudi Arabia in the event of a labor or business dispute. A U.S. citizen who breaks an employment or business contract may have to pay substantial penalties before being allowed to leave. To change employers within the Kingdom, Saudi Arabia requires the written permission of the original sponsoring employer, which is discretionary. Saudi courts take seriously their responsibility to adjudicate disputes. This process, which is performed in accordance with Saudi law and customs, should not be entered into without an Arabic interpreter, generally takes months or years, and may require hiring legal counsel.

Persons involved in legal cases are not permitted to leave the Kingdom until the case has been resolved or abandoned. The U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulates General cannot adjudicate labor or business disputes or provide translation or legal services. U.S. consular officers can provide lists of local attorneys to help U.S. citizens settle business disputes, but ultimate responsibility for the resolution of disputes through the Saudi legal system lies with the parties involved. For additional information on Saudi labor law, please refer to the Ministry of Labor’s information on related regulations.

Teaching English in Saudi Arabia: English teachers comprise a large and growing segment of the U.S. expatriate population in Saudi Arabia. In the past few years, several teachers have complained about rapid dismissals and restrictions on their movement. Teachers should make sure they obtain the appropriate work visa prior to coming to Saudi Arabia. Business visas do not grant the applicant the right to work or to reside in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Employers of English teachers frequently issue short-term, single-entry work visas that coincide with a 90-day “probation” window, during which time the employee or employer can freely end the working relationship. Many teachers facing dismissal have claimed they were unaware of a 90-day probationary period and felt that their contracts were not honored. Because foreign employees reside in Saudi Arabia under the sponsorship of their employer, they must leave the country soon after dismissal or face deportation proceedings. For this reason, and because individuals on a visit visa lack the same rights as a permanent resident in Saudi Arabia, dismissed employees have little, if any, recourse or grounds for appeal. It is important for prospective teachers to consider these factors prior to relocating to Saudi Arabia and to be aware of the type of visa they were issued. Further information can be found in our Guide to Teaching English in Saudi Arabia.

Standards of Conduct and Religious Police: Islam is the official religion of the country and pervades all aspects of life in Saudi Arabia. Public display of non-Islamic religious articles such as crosses and Bibles is not permitted. Non-Muslims are forbidden to travel to Makkah (Mecca) and Medina, the cities where two of Islam’s holiest mosques are located. Norms for public behavior in Saudi Arabia are extremely conservative, and the religious police, formally known as the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), and referred to colloquially as the Mutawwa or Al-Hay’a, are charged with enforcing these standards. Mutawwa are required to carry special identification and usually are accompanied by uniformed police; however, in some cases they have detained persons without an accompanying police officer. The CPVPV has accosted or arrested foreigners, including U.S. citizens, for improper dress or other alleged infractions, such as consumption of alcohol or association by a female with a male to whom she is not related. Mutawwa who are accompanied by a uniformed police officer have the power to take individuals to a police station or Mutawwa office. If a uniformed police officer is present, an individual must (if requested) hand over his or her residence permit (iqama) or other identification to the police officer. While most incidents have resulted only in inconvenience or embarrassment, the potential exists for an individual to be arrested, physically harmed, or deported. U.S. citizens who are involved in an incident with the Mutawwa should report the incident to the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh or the U.S. Consulates General in Jeddah or Dhahran.

In most areas of Saudi Arabia, and particularly in Riyadh and the central part of the Kingdom, women wear a full-length black covering known as an abaya, and cover their heads. Women who choose not to conform to this dress code face a risk of confrontation by Mutawwa and possible detention/arrest. Men should not wear shorts in public or go without a shirt.

Many areas of life in Saudi Arabia are segregated by sex to ensure that unrelated men and women have no possibility of mingling (a punishable crime). Some Mutawwa try to enforce this by asking for proof that a couple is married or related. Women who are arrested for socializing with a man who is not a relative may be charged with prostitution. Some restaurants, particularly fast-food outlets, refuse to serve women who are not accompanied by a close male relative. In addition, some restaurants or cafes do not have a "family section" in which women are permitted to eat. These restrictions are not always posted. This is more common in Riyadh and the more conservative central Nejd region.

Dancing, playing music, and showing movies in public are forbidden.

International Schools: The U.S. citizen community and third-country national populations from Western countries continue to grow. This growth has put a severe strain on “international” schools that cater to Westerners. Travelers with school-aged children are strongly advised to contact international schools well in advance of their arrival to Saudi Arabia. The Embassy and Consulates General are not able to assist with school placement.

Disclaimer

You are responsible for ensuring that you meet and comply with foreign entry requirements, health requirements and that you possess the appropriate travel documents. Information provided is subject to change without notice. One should confirm content prior to traveling from other reliable sources. Information published on this website may contain errors. You travel at your own risk and no warranties or guarantees are provided by us.

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