Updated January 2023
Saudi Arabia has become one of the most promising countries today, with great potential for more development, high living standards and a considerably lower cost of living. About 38% of its population of over 34 million comprises a vibrant and thriving ex-pat community.
Are you looking to move to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? Here is what to expect in the country, along with a complete and comprehensive guide on immigration procedures that you should be aware of.
Working in Saudi Arabia
To move to and work in Saudi Arabia as an expat, you need to apply for a work visa. There are two types of work visas:
- employment visas
- business visas
Any person aged between 18 and 60 years, physically fit and possessing professional and academic qualifications required by the Kingdom (provided there is a shortage of citizens holding such qualifications), or belonging to those categories of workers needed by the Kingdom, can be employed in Saudi Arabia.
The employment visa requires a sponsor in Saudi Arabia. The sponsoring company is responsible for filing the application, while the employee is responsible for supplying the required documents.
To apply for a work visa, applicants must submit:
- original passport valid for no less than 6 months, with at least 2 successive empty visa pages
- digital power of attorney from the Saudi employer generated by the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- a visa referral note indicating the number and date of the visa issued by the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs or either of its branches in Jeddah or Dammam
- original letter from the Saudi company sponsoring the applicant, certified by both the Saudi Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- a copy of the employment contract, signed by the sponsor and the applicant and certified by the Saudi Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- a certified and notarized copy of the applicant’s university degree/diploma, which the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission must authenticate
- a medical report in three copies, along with all lab results, and 3 passport-size colored photographs on white background
- police report, issued within 6 months before the date of application, with detailed information about the applicant’s criminal record, if any
This means that ex-pats cannot come to Saudi Arabia to find work but can move to the Kingdom only after securing a sponsored job.
Once the employee turns in the above documents, the employer must apply for the work visa of their employee. To do so:
- the sponsoring employer must register with the Ministry of Interior
- an immigration file will be opened for the expatriate workers, and the employer must apply for a work visa
- once the application is approved, a Visa Authorization Number will be issued in 2 weeks
- along with the Visa Authorization Number, other documents listed above must be submitted to the Saudi Arabian Embassy
- the embassy will issue the visa within one to three weeks
The processing time is anywhere between 3 weeks to 2 months.
The business visa is intended for people who wish to attend business meetings, discussions, training events, etc., in Saudi Arabia. You get either a 3-month single-entry visa or a 6-month multiple-entry visa, the decision of which rests with the Saudi authorities. During each stay, you can stay for a maximum period of 30, 60 or 90 days.
To apply for a work visa, applicants must submit the following:
- original passport valid for no less than six (6) months, with at least two (2) successive empty visa pages.
- electronic invitation letter from a Saudi company
- a copy of the host organization’s Certificate of Incorporation or business registration in the country of destination
- a soft/hard copy of a business letter from the sending company.
In the case of a business visa, the immigrant himself is required to fill out the visa application.
To fill out your online application and make a visa payment, please log on to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) website. Non-U.S. citizens must purchase health insurance from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The processing time is usually 3 business days.
Living in Saudi Arabia
Residence permit or Iqama
Iqama is a residence permit issued to all expat residents in Saudi Arabia by the Ministry of Interior. All expat residents arriving in Saudi Arabia on work and dependent visas must be in possession of a valid Iqama ID since its importance cannot be overstated. A valid Iqama ID functions as official identification and enables its holders to open up a bank account and apply for a driver’s license, mobile SIM card, and many others.
To apply for Iqama, you will need documents such as:
- Passport copy
- Medical certificate
- Health insurance
- Border number
Your sponsor usually processes the Iqama within 3 months of your arrival in Saudi Arabia. It is illegal to work without your sponsor being noted on your Iqama, and your sponsor will normally hold your passport while you retain your Iqama.
Check out our Iqama article below to learn more.
Saudi Family Residence Visa
A Saudi family residence visa or family residency visa is a visa that is available for relatives of work residents in Saudi Arabia. Permitted relatives include spouses, sons under the age of 18 years old and unmarried daughters on proof of marital status. Authorization by the Saudi Ministry of Affairs must be obtained by the sponsor prior to applying for a visa.
However, this visa does not allow employees to seek employment. Exit visas to leave the Kingdom are required for holders of residence visas.
For the complete guide on applying for a Family Residence Visa in the Kingdom, please consult our article below.