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Visas for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Will you be moving to Riyadh soon? As an expat about to settle in Saudi Arabia’s capital, you probably have many questions. The InterNations Guide to Riyadh introduces you to the wealthiest city in the Arab world, the visa requirements for your stay, and housing for expats in Riyadh.
Muslim pilgrims can get a special hajj visa for Saudi Arabia.

Business Visa

Business travelers should apply for a Business Visa (aka Commercial Visa) to Saudi Arabia. It is only valid for business visits, negotiations, investment talks, sales pitches, etc. If there is any kind of paid work involved, you need an Employment Visa (please see below). To obtain a business visa, you require:

  • a valid passport
  • a recent passport photograph
  • a completed application form
  • a letter from your employer, a Saudi company, a foreign chamber of commerce in Riyadh, etc. to prove your position and the purpose of your visit
  • payment of the visa fee
  • an online visa request number

Employment Visa

If you’d like to take up profitable employment in Riyadh, you need an Employment Visa. Like other Gulf States, Saudi Arabia has a sponsorship system (kafeel). Usually, your employer in Riyadh acts as your visa sponsor. The company applies for an employment permit from the Labor Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs first.

Other than that, an application for an Employment Visa requires:

  • a valid passport with two blank pages facing each other
  • a recent passport photograph
  • a completed application form
  • a letter from your sponsor, certified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chamber of Commerce
  • a reference note with the number and date of your employment permit
  • certified and notarized copies of your diplomas
  • a copy of your job contract
  • a police certificate with up-to-date information on your criminal record
  • three copies of a medical report (including an HIV test)
  • payment of the visa fee
  • an online visa request number

Residence Visa

If you are an expat spouse accompanying your partner to Riyadh, you need to get a Residence Visa. Your husband will be your sponsor and guardian while you are in Saudi Arabia. There are some single expat women working in Riyadh, but the Saudi system probably couldn’t accommodate a male spouse with a working wife as the sponsor.

You must also have a permit from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before submitting an application. The rules are similar to those for getting an Employment Visa (see above). Instead of your professional qualifications and job contract, however, you need to attach an official proof of kinship (notarized marriage certificate, birth certificate, etc.).

General Advice

Please be aware that all these regulations are subject to change and may depend on the country you’re applying from. When in doubt, ask the nearest Saudi embassy. Remember to apply well in advance of your move to Riyadh. It may take several months to process your application.

Moreover, you may face certain difficulties in two cases. Firstly, people of Saudi descent who might have a claim to Saudi citizenship should always enter the country on a foreign passport, plus Saudi visa. The Saudi Embassy or Consulate in question may offer you a so-called “laissez passer” document to make your travel easier. However, this usually only helps you with entering the country and may then require you to get a Saudi passport before leaving again. The latter procedure can then take up to a year, during which you are not legally allowed to depart.

Secondly, Saudi Arabia does not recognize dual nationality. If you have both the Saudi and another nationality, you will be treated like a Saudi citizen while living in Riyadh. Getting consular help is then extremely difficult or, at times, impossible – enquire beforehand what to do as a person with dual citizenship. Lastly, people with an Israeli passport and even with Israeli visa stamps could be denied entry in certain cases. Officially, Saudi Arabia has an “anti-Zionist” policy. In practice, this can mean an anti-Semitic prejudice.

Once you have received your visa, clarify for how long it will be valid. The date may be written using the Islamic calendar. If you are not familiar with it, find out the equivalent in the Gregorian calendar.

The Iqama

After arriving in Riyadh, you need an iqama – a residence permit / ID card – from the General Directorate of Passports or the local passport office. As a first-time applicant, you must fill out an application form and pay an administrative fee. Show your entry visa and your passport, and hand over two recent photographs. If you have come to Saudi Arabia on an Employment Visa, you also need your work permit from the Labor Office (ask your employer).

Usually, it is the responsibility of the employer to get you an iqama. For further details, contact the passport office directly.

Just like with a visa, you should know when you must renew your iqama before it expires. The date is written in Arabic, using the lunar calendar, so have someone translate it for you, if necessary. Carry your iqama with you at all times, as it proves that you live (and work) in Riyadh legally. If you lose it, report it to the police and apply for a replacement immediately. Failure to report the loss – or to apply for renewal at least three days before the card expires – can result in fines.

Exit Visa

Due to the Saudi sponsorship system, your employer may not only apply for an iqama on your behalf, but he may also keep your passport. If that is the case, you should keep several copies of your passport and visa stamp. The sponsor is also responsible for requesting an exit visa through the Ministry of Interior if you want to leave the country. So take care to keep your relations with your sponsor or employer as smooth as possible.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.

Juan Garcia

"Making business in Riyadh was easy. But meeting true friends is hard. I found them on InterNations, where the global minds meet."

Marie Troisonne

"Without the help of all the expats on InterNations it would not have been able to settle in Riyadh that fast. Thanks to the community."

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