Iqama visa in Saudi Arabia

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Updated 2022-03-03 12:35

To become a resident in Saudi Arabia, you will need to apply for a residence permit, also known as the Iqama. The procedure for getting an Iqama is usually the expat employer`s obligation. The local sponsor has to apply and secure the work permit for expatriates who arrive in Saudi Arabia with an employment visa. The expat is responsible for getting an Iqama only when they choose to bring their family, and they have to make sure to get an Iqama for every member of their immediate family (if permissible).

Below you will find the procedures, rules, and limitations of the Iqama.

It's important to note that every expat is legally required to have an Iqama, and it is very important to get one as soon as possible because it is essential for everyday functionality within Saudi Arabia.

What is an Iqama?

The Iqama is the national residency permit for foreigners living and working in Saudi Arabia. It is a registered permit by the Saudi Ministry of Labor and Social development that accounts for your presence in Saudi Arabia, the type of work you are eligible to do in Saudi Arabia, and who you are employed by.

The physical Iqama card is a standard identification card that should be with you at all times. It is the most important document you will be issued in Saudi Arabia. It includes the following information:

  • Your legal name and nationality
  • Your date of birth
  • The Iqama number
  • Your job title and the name of your employer
  • The validity period, issuance date and expiry date of your Iqama card

Important:

Note that if you are not carrying your Iqama card, you could be facing a fine of upwards of SAR 1,000 and even a jail term of up to six months. If you don't report that your Iqama card has been lost or stolen within 24 hours, you can also face fines of up to SAR 3,000. For more serious offenses — like staying in Saudi Arabia on an expired Iqama, you could also be deported.

Special privilege Iqama

Recently, the Council of Ministers approved the Special privilege iqama law, for qualified foreigners. The new law allows the holders of the special iqamas ( permanent one will cost SAR 800 000, the one year temporary - SAR 100 000 ) to enjoy many privileges, like owning real estate, renting out properties in Saudi Arabia and more. A Special Privilege Iqama Center has been created to regulate everything related with the new Iqama.

How to apply for an Iqama?

First and foremost, your employer/ the sponsor company has to apply for a Block visa in Saudi Arabia and to submit this application to the Ministry of Labor and Social development. Then, the Ministry issues a permit to the company to sponsor a foreign worker. The duration is up to one year and could be renewed. If there is an approval, depending on the requirements and the iqama quotas, the sponsoring company obtains a Visa Authorisation number and a Power of Attorney, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Saudi Arabia.

Once you arrive in Saudi Arabia, your employer will have 90 days to apply for an Iqam visa for you. In most cases, they will need to present the following documents:

  • Your valid passport (original copy)
  • Your Saudi visa page
  • Two to four passport-sized photos on a white background
  • Passport-sized photos of your employer
  • Medical report
  • A properly completed Iqama application form
  • Biometrics that were taken at the airport by the immigration authorities
  • A bank receipt for paid Iqama fees (SAR 500 for one year and SAR 1,000 for two years)
  • HRD (Human Resources Development) fee of SAR 150
  • Medical insurance

Once you receive your Iqama, you are free to apply for Iqamas for the rest of your family.

How to apply for an Iqama for your dependents

Employees who have successfully received their Iqamas can become Iqama sponsors for their family members. The documents for this application arte more or less the same as with the Iqama for an employee — although the process is slightly different. In addition to the standard Iqama document pack (see above), you will need to present:

  • a copy of your marriage certificate
  • vaccination certificates
  • Iqama of the sponsor
  • Residence Permit fee

Note that male children over 18 years of age can't be sponsored for the Iqama by their fathers.

Dependents aren't allowed to work within KSA, — unless they apply for the appropriate permit.

The Iqama of a dependent family member contains all the key personal information including:

  • The dependant's name and nationality
  • Their date of birth
  • Etc.

The only difference is that the Iqama of the dependent doesn't include any employment information.

The Iqamas issued to your spouse and children are not tied to your employer like yours, but instead, they are attached to you.

Check the status of your Iqama online

After your employer has submitted your Iqama application, you can check its status online. Here's how to do it:

  • Go to the official website of the Ministry of Interior of Saudi Arabia.
  • In the menu tab on the homepage, navigate to Passports.
  • In the list of options that opens up, select Query Iqama Expiry Service.
  • You will now be redirected to the Absher portal.
  • Select the Integrated e-Services for Individual option.
  • Create an account and proceed to log in with your credentials.
  • You will be sent a verification code to your mobile — enter it.
  • Enter your Iqama number and a randomly generated image code.
  • Click View.
  • And there you have it — you can now view your Iqama status.

How much does an Iqama cost?

Companies need to renew the Iqamas for their foreign employees every year. This process involves the payment of a set fee. This fee is typically relatively low for small and mid-sized businesses but larger companies may need to pay upwards of SAR 8,400 a year. Plus, if you take into account the renewal and health insurance fees, total expenses can go over SAR 10,000 annually. Additionally, if the company in question has fewer Saudi workers than required, they may end up paying more in annual Iqama renewal fees.

Good to know:

Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 is a government initiative aimed at building on the country's strengths and capabilities. It includes 13 key realization programs developed by the

Council of Economic Development Affairs meant to foster non-oil related industries. To add more diversity to its economic structure, Saudi Arabia is committed to developing its public services sectors — including health, infrastructure, tourism, recreation and education.

This means that your best chance for getting an Iqama is by honing your professional skills in one of the above areas and applying for jobs in related industries.

Limitations to the Iqama

Here are a few limitations that expats may face with the Iqama:

  • Your Iqama/ Iqama number is attached to all legal business in Saudi Arabia
  • You must have an Iqama to open a bank account in Saudi Arabia, rent a home, get mobile services, register for utilities etc.
  • You must renew your Iqama every year (depending on your employer, the renewal fee may/may not be covered).
  • You will pay the renewal fees for spousal and dependent Iqamas.
  • Once your Iqama expires, all banking accounts will be frozen (until proof of renewal is presented)
  • If your dependent is above the age of 18 and male, he will not be granted an Iqama.
  • You must show proof of legal marriage to obtain a spousal Iqama (no common-law partners or girlfriends permitted)
  • Your employer has the right to cancel your Iqama at any given time. This will automatically cancel your family members' Iqama as well.
  • If you must exit and reenter the country, while the work permit and iqama are authorised, you have to obtain an exit and re-entry permit.
  • You can always check yours and your family`s / dependents, iqama status, including the fees on the Ministry of interior`s webpage and via the app Absher.

Good to know:

You are required to be respectful towards Islamic laws and regulations of the country, as well as towards the values and traditions of Saudi society. Any displays of disrespect towards the Saudi standard are the risk of Iqama cancellation.

What happens if you work in Saudi Arabia without a visa?

The only way to be legally employed in Saudi Arabia is by applying for and receiving a work visa. If you try to work in Saudi Arabia illegally and get caught, the penalties can be quite severe. You may have to pay a fine of up to SAR 10,000 and are also likely to be arrested and deported.

An employer who has “hired” an employee without a work visa can face a fine of up to SAR 100,000 and their trade license can be revoked.

If you are interested in working in Saudi Arabia for a shorter term, you can apply for a business visit visa or a work visit visa.

Business visit visa to Saudi Arabia

A business visit visa allows you to conduct business transactions with a Saudi company. This is useful for people offering short-term services and limits the type of work you can conduct things such as holding meetings.

To get a business visit visa you will first need a letter of invitation from a Saudi sponsor. The cost is $54 (for a single entry) or $134 (for multiple entry) for US citizens or £49/£106 for UK citizens. Processing time is up to seven working days.

Work visit visa

This visa theoretically allows employees from foreign businesses to work temporarily in Saudi Arabia, for a period of 30 to 90 days.

In October 2019, the Saudi government suspended work visit visas. It is anticipated that the government will introduce a new temporary work visa in the coming months (December 2019).

In the meantime, expats looking to conduct full business activities (beyond those permitted by a business visa) need to obtain a residence permit.

Labor laws and conditions in Saudi Arabia

Expats working in Saudi Arabia generally benefit from generous remuneration packages. However, it is dependent on the industry you work in and, unfortunately, to some extent on where you come from. Expats from certain regions (like Europe or the US) tend to be offered higher salaries than those from south and east Asia, for instance.

Another thing to keep in mind is that “Saudisation”, which is an important part of the Saudi Vision 2030. Saudisaion is the process aimed at employing more Saudi nationals across the private sector. Due to the new regulations, it is now more difficult for foreign nationals to get hired in some industries. Employers are also more reluctant to undertake the procedures relating to obtaining a work permit for foreign workers, except in specific sectors where the required skills are not available locally.

The legal working week in Saudi Arabia is 48 hours: eight hours per day for five days from Sunday to Thursday with Friday and Saturday being days off. All business units, as well as the public sector and governmental bodies, etc., have to comply with the five times daily prayer breaks. Since January 2020, businesses have been allowed to work 24/7 in return for an annual tax — however, prayer times still need to be observed.

During the Ramadan month, employees are expected at their workplace for only 6 hours a day. These do not include their lunch, rest and prayer times.

Useful links:

Special Privilege Iqama Centre

Saudi Arabia Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Saudi Arabia Ministry of Labor

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.