How to get visa for Saudi Arabia

“You won’t be able to get a visa for Saudi Arabia.” someone else said. “As two women, unmarried, non-Muslims, and without a male to accompany us, it’s impossible.”

They were all wrong. In the words of Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it is done.”

Update: Saudi Arabia has started to issue tourist visas online and on arrival from 28 September 2019. You can apply here. This blog was written before the e-visa was available. At least you get a glimpse into the tough visa process we went through.

Why is getting a visa to Saudi Arabia so difficult?

Saudi Arabia might not be on everyone’s bucket list. The country never seems to make the headlines with positive stories. It also doesn’t attract the everyday tourist and let’s face it, their visa policy doesn’t make it any more appealing.

It was one of the hardest countries to get a visa for. 

Read on to find out know how we got our visa for Saudi Arabia. But first here are the visas types you might consider:

Pilgrimage Visa:

Saudi Arabia is home to Islam’s holiest city and the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad – Mecca. Every year millions of Muslims visit for the annual Hajj (pilgrimage), which is one of the five pillars of Islam.

To apply for the visa, you must be a Muslim. So this option is not available to many people.

Business Visa:

If you are intending to travel to Saudi Arabia and your purpose is business then getting this visa should be straightforward. You will need a letter from the Saudi Chamber of Commerce or the Ministry of Foreign affairs. You will also need a letter from your employer stating the purpose of your visit. This must be attested by the Chamber of Commerce in your country.

Personal Visit Visa:

If you are visiting friends or relatives you can apply for a personal visit. However, you will need a Ministry of Foreign Affairs Government Invitation so someone in Saudi Arabia must obtain this for you and request it at the MFA.

Transit Visa:

The transit visa is designed for passengers flying with Saudi Airlines and transiting in Saudi Arabia for longer than 12 hours. It’s valid for up to 72 hours. In order to apply you require a confirmed ticket with Saudi Airlines and you must have a valid visa for your onward destination.

Additionally, if a direct flight is available between your original destination and your final destination, your visa might be denied based on the fact that your transit is not necessary.

Tourist Visa:

There has been a lot of talk about the new tourist visas, but as of now, it is still not possible to apply for a tourist visa. A special event visa has been created as well and you can apply online if you’re attending a sporting event or a concert.

how to get a visa for saudi arabia men

How we got our visa to Saudi Arabia

If there is an article or blog written about getting a visa for Saudi Arabia, we have read it. We knew it wouldn’t be easy, but we were determined.

The plan was simple. We would apply at every embassy of Saudi Arabia until we would get the visa we needed. The so-called tourist visa is due to be introduced any minute, but as the visa has been announced in April this year, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

At this stage, we have contacted embassies and visa centres to enquire about visas, hoping they would issue at least a transit visa but were denied due to our flight itinerary – we could simply fly from A to B without needing to go via Saudi or there was another flight that would connect so no need to transit.

Applying for Saudi Arabia Visa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

We were in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia running around embassies to get our visas for Djibouti and Somaliland. The embassy of Saudi Arabia wasn’t far so we decided to go to the embassy and give it a try. We arrived and spoke to multiple men at the door of the embassy (we were not allowed in); none seemed to be too sure of what to do with us.

Eventually, we were somehow given the approval that a visa might be possible if we have a confirmed flight itinerary, a confirmed hotel reservation, and to pay a hefty fee for a transit visa. We were stoked. But it wasn’t that easy.

We returned to the embassy the following morning to lodge our visa request but were told we can only do so via a visa agent. The quest started.

For the next three days, we pretty much spent mornings and afternoons outside the embassy (on the second day they actually let us inside to sit) and dealing with a Somali visa agent whose office had no electricity the first day we arrived so he couldn’t work on our application and advised us to come back the next day.

Sunset in Jeddah - Visiting Saudi Arabai
Sunset on Friday in Old Town, Jeddah

Getting a visa on Friday

Friday came and we not only didn’t have our visas, but we also didn’t have our passports. We were due to fly out of Ethiopia the next morning. We stood back at the embassy door and firmly pressed them for an answer as to when can we get our passports back with visas.

The man responded: “Inshallah” (If God is willing). Which, in practice means a softer no.

Friday is never a good day to get anything done, especially when it comes to Saudi, as the day finishes just after noon for the Friday prayer.  But there we are, standing waiting for a miracle. Suddenly the door opened and the Consul was about to leave for the weekend!

We begged him to sign off on our visas as we were flying out tomorrow. He spoke briefly to his man and returned back inside.

We’ve got it!

We were told our visas will be ready in twenty minutes by the same guard who kept telling us to “just wait” for the past three days, so we were optimistic – this is the first time we got some time frame.

Our visa agent walked out twenty minutes later with our passports and visas.

He seemed to be very proud that he accomplished this. “I told you, I will get your special visa”, he grinned. We were so excited.

We could now leave for Seychelles the next morning and also start planning our visit to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Read more here about how our visit to Saudi Arabia was not what we expected.