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Saudi Arabia offers a wealth of opportunity for expat job seekers and companies. It's crucial that expats understand the entry requirements attached to visas for Saudi Arabia. In recent years the visa system in the Kingdom has experienced a few changes. These changes have been made to encourage more foreign visitors to the country and to increase foreign investment.
Everyone entering Saudi Arabia requires a visa, except for nationals of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. Holders of a re-entry permit issued by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Foreign Affairs are also exempted.
It is important to remember that the majority of visas require an individual or company to act as a sponsor. The sponsor is someone who will vouch for the individual’s conduct while in the country.
Visit visas for Saudi Arabia
Nationals of certain countries, including the UK, the US and all EU states, can either obtain an eVisa online before their trip or obtain a Visa on Arrival upon entry to Saudi Arabia. Those not covered under this will need to apply for a tourist visa in advance from a Saudi embassy or consulate in their home country.
This visa will allow visitors to attend business meetings and practice touristic activities. It will also allow Muslim visitors to perform Umrah.
Tourist visas are valid for one year and can be used for multiple entries. The maximum stay in Saudi Arabia is 90 days per year.
Business visit visa
A business visitor visa allows representatives of a foreign company to travel to Saudi Arabia for business purposes. Applicants must present verification of their employment at such a company and must also submit an invitation from an individual or company sponsor in Saudi Arabia.
Like the tourist visa, business visit visas are valid for multiple entries over the course of one year with the total stay adding up to 90 days or less.
Expats should note that the business visa is quite restricted and is intended for short business trips only. Expats intent on working and living in Saudi Arabia long term should consider applying for a work visa instead.
Family visit visas
This visa is issued to the immediate relatives of expats currently working in Saudi Arabia. In order to obtain a family visit visa, proof of relationship, such as marriage or birth certificates, should be produced.
Work visas for Saudi Arabia
If a person intends to work in Saudi Arabia they are required to apply for a work visa. The employment contract should be accompanied by academic or professional credential documents, and the results of a comprehensive medical examination.
These documents must be presented to the Saudi embassy or consulate in the applicant’s home country or to the authorities in Saudi Arabia via their sponsor (i.e their employer). This will ultimately lead to a visa number, allowing the applicant to be issued their visa. The visa is valid for two years.
Residency in Saudi Arabia
All expats living and working in Saudi Arabia need to apply for an iqama or residence permit. A sponsor, usually the employer, needs to handle the application for this permit. The iqama needs to be carried with foreign residents wherever they go to prove they are permitted to be there.
Iqama holders can also apply for a residence permit for their immediate family. They then have to act as a sponsor for the family member’s permit application.
The iqama is only valid for one year and needs to be renewed annually. The approval of this visa can only be obtained from the Department of Foreign Affairs in Saudi Arabia.
Permanent residency for Saudi Arabia
All expats are normally sponsored by a Saudi employer. They also require visas to enter and leave the country. However, in a landmark decision, Saudi Arabia launched its first permanent residency programme in 2019. This allows certain expats to reside in the Kingdom with their families without a Saudi sponsor.
Applications can be made through the Premium Residency Card (PRC) online application platform. There are two types of residency offered: permanent residency and a renewable temporary residency. Permanent residency requires a one-time fee payment only, while temporary residency must be renewed and paid for each year.
Applicants need to be at least 21 years old. They need to submit a valid passport, prove financial stability and have a clean criminal record and clear bill of health. Permanent residency card holders will enjoy privileges such as travelling in and out of the country without restrictions or extra visas. They will also be able to own real estate and private means of transportation.
*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.