So, it’s finally here. After months of hearsay from one rumour to the next, the Saudi Arabian Tourist Visa has been announced. On the 27th September, if you want to visit Saudi (including for Umrah purposes) you can now head to the e-visa website. If you’re a citizen of one of the 49 approved countries, you can be moments away from an approved visa. For the pilgrims heading to Makkah and Madinah for Umrah, this is a huge change. Such a radical shift in procedure has been few and far between for decades and this is an earthquake size change from only a few months ago.
Here are our top tips to help you prepare applying for the new visa and you can download our FREE step by step guide below
1. You don’t need to travel with an agency
Yes, you read that correctly. For the first time in…well, forever, you no longer need to go to your local Umrah agent shop to obtain your visa. This has been coming for a while and at rihaala.com we have the perfect solution. Sit back on your couch and DIY your Umrah itinerary from your tablet or laptop. This means you have control of where you want to stay (not being tied to agents’ preferred hotels) and be able to find more transparency in what it will cost you.
2. You don’t need to travel in a group
Whilst there are some great reasons to travel in group (like the friends you make, the synergy with fellow pilgrims etc), not everyone wants to be tied to a schedule. Over the past few years there has been more and more options to travel independently. However, the visa was always keeping you tied to getting an agent involved. Now, you can travel on your own dates and for as long or as short as you like.
3. Your visa is valid for a year with MULTIPLE entries!
This is one of those benefits I’m still scratching my head over. Less than 6 months ago, the Saudi government still had in force a supplement (to say it nicely) of SAR 2000 (about £400) for anyone who had travelled to Umrah in the previous Hijri year. After implementing this for two years, they have now done a full 180 degree turn and started running in the opposite direction. So the e-visa you pay for today is valid for 12 months for multiple entries. Just be aware that this will NOT cover the Hajj period and you will still need a Hajj visa the old way if you wish to go.
4. The cost is actually reasonable
OK, so for around SAR 460 (about £95) the visa fee looks to be quite expensive. However considering the alternative official ‘Umrah Visa’ costs over £200, this is a bit of a bargain. Having multiple entries and being obtained in minutes means you could easily combine your Umrah trip with a stay in Jeddah. For the more adventurous, head into the Empty Quarter, part of Saudi’s venture to attracting tourists. Yes, it’s at the higher end of visa fees giving the Russians, Indians and Chinese a run for their ETA money, however still an affordable option.
5. You can apply online or obtain the visa on arrival
The online world can alienate older travellers, so it’s great to see that the visa is also available when you land. This may take a little more time upon arrival, however for those that are not web savvy, there is an alternative provided. I personally think that obtaining the visa online is route one to provide that extra peace of mind that you have your approval before arriving.
6. There are no Mahram information requirements
During the e-visa process, there isn’t anywhere that asks for a female travellers Mahram. Being branded the Saudi Tourist Visa, asking non-muslim female travellers about their accompanying male traveller could be a wee bit awkward (for the Saudis). So, it seems as thought you can obtain the e-visa as a female traveller without the need to add Mahram requirements. However, it’s not clear by any means whether you would be asked at immigration as to who your Mahram is if you’re travelling for Umrah. Remember, an e-visa does NOT guarantee entry to the country and with this being so new, this is an issue that will need clarification. We’ll update this post accordingly as and when we find out any new info.
7. How long will it last?
The never-ending question when it comes to the Saudis. It’s not beyond any exaggeration that they could change their mind and pull this tomorrow. Laws change on a whim, and if they decide this isn’t for them, then the process may change again. With their 2030 vision of attracting 100 million visitors (tourists + pilgrims) a year, this has been in the pipeline to make Saudi Arabia more accessible. For now, we don’t know if this will last however whilst it’s here, take advantage of the simplest way to obtain a visa for Umrah travel for a long time.