Do You Need a Visa to Travel to Saudi Arabia for Business?
While some countries do not require a visa for travelers from the United States, Saudi Arabia requires both a passport and a visa whether you are traveling for business or personal travel. In this article, we will outline the primary requirements for obtaining a visa to travel to Saudi Arabia and answer questions about the visa application process.
Passports and visas have significant differences. A passport has two main purposes. It is an official government document that certifies the citizenship and identity of the individual who holds that passport. It is used to reenter an individual’s country of citizenship and is a requirement of almost every country to gain entrance.
A visa is another official government document that grants you temporary authorization to be in a country. Many countries require visas, and the type of visa you need depends on the kind of visit, the length of visit, the purpose of the visit and the country visited.
A Saudi Arabian visa is a stamp/sticker placed in a passport and issued by the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, D.C. The visa may also be issued by other consulates around the country, but it is typically better to deal with the embassy in D.C. This guide outlines the steps to get a Saudi Arabian work visa for a U.S. citizen conducting business abroad.
Table of Contents
- The Difference Between a Business Visa And a Work Visa
- What Documents Do You Need to Submit for the Saudi Arabian Business/Travel Visa Application?
- How Long Does the Visa Application Process Take for a U.S. Citizen Traveling to Saudi Arabia?
- How Long Is a Saudi Arabian Work Visa Valid For?
- Need Help Applying for a Visa to Visit Saudi Arabia on a Business Trip? Contact The Quincy Group
The Difference Between a Business Visa And a Work Visa
A Saudi Arabian business visa is used to carry out limited business transactions with a Saudi sponsor, be it a person or a company. In theory, the visa restricts you to activities like holding business meetings or conducting negotiations. Individuals may also use a Saudi business visa to also provide interim or short-term services such as management consulting or technical services. For the most part, this is tolerated by the Saudi authorities.
It is also important to understand the difference between a business visa and a work visa. Saudi business visas allow you to carry out limited business transactions with a Saudi sponsor.
If you want to work in Saudi Arabia, you need to apply beforehand for a work visa, also known as an employment visa. A work visa allows the holder to work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). Anyone from a foreign country who desires to work in Saudi Arabia is subject to the kingdom’s sponsorship system. This gives the employer substantial legal authority over an individual working for them. For instance, an employer can prevent an employee from leaving the kingdom.
If your business visa contains the message “not permitted to work,” it is illegal for you to work in Saudi Arabia, and violating that may result in detention, deportation, financial penalties and a ban against returning to the Kingdom. Therefore, it is very important that you do not request a work visa when what you really want is a business visa and vice-versa.
What Documents Do You Need to Submit for the Saudi Arabian Business/Travel Visa Application?
The Saudi Arabian government is very strict about the documents needed to obtain a business/travel visa, and you need to make sure each document is presented in the proper form.
Anyone wishing to travel to Saudi Arabia needs a valid passport. A recently expired passport will not be accepted. In fact, the passport needs to be valid for at least the next six months when applying for the visa. This means you should check the expiration date on your passport before proceeding with the visa application process. If you have less than six months until the passport expires, then you should renew your passport before applying for a visa. Other requirements include:
- The passport must be signed and have at least two consecutive blank pages. A single blank page will not be acceptable. If your passport has not expired but your international travel has resulted in a passport filled with entry stamps from other countries and there are no longer two consecutive blank pages, your passport will not be accepted. Amendment pages do not count. Amendment pages are the last few pages in your passport book. These pages may only be used for amending a passport to include new information, such as a name change.
- Your passport may not be altered, damaged, torn or separated.
- Your passport must not show any evidence that you visited Israel or that you intend to do so. On occasion, American citizens born Israel have also been refused a visa by the Saudi Embassy.
Passports can be left at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, D.C., between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. on weekdays. Passports may be picked up between 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on weekdays. These times may change without notice, particularly during Ramadan.
If you mail your passport to the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., it must contain a prepaid return label and envelope from UPS, USPS or FedEx. Checks, money orders or credit cards cannot be used for return mailing.
You need to submit two recent, identical passport-style photos (2” x 2”). The photos must have been taken within the last 90 days and must be in color on photo-quality paper. Computer paper will not be accepted. The pictures should not be the same ones used in your passport. Other requirements:
- Your head and full face must be in the center of the photo.
- You must have a neutral expression — no smiling.
- You need to remove your glasses and any non-religious headwear, such as ball caps or visors.
- Do not attach these photos to your visa application by using any kind of adhesive material, such as glue, tape or a staple.
Documentation for Your Visa
If you travel to Saudi Arabia for business, you also need to provide the following documents.
Business Cover Letter From a U.S. Employer
All applicants for a Saudi business visa need to submit a business cover letter (BCL) from your U.S. employer. This letter should:
- Be printed on company letterhead with an American address and be an original signed document that indicates the date, duration and the purpose of the travel.
- Introduce the applicant and state their position in the company. The letter should also clearly state who will be financially and morally responsible for the applicant and list a contact and an address for their time in Saudi Arabia.
- Be notarized.
- Be addressed to the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C.
Business Registration Forms
When you apply for a Saudi business visa, you need to submit a copy of the Saudi sponsor company’s registration form issued by the Saudi Ministry of Commerce and Industry. This copy must contain a stamp of approval issued by the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. You also need a copy of your company’s business registration in both the United States and in Saudi Arabia.
Letter of Invitation
In order to obtain a visa, your application requires an original invitation issued by the Foreign Ministry in Saudi Arabia. The sponsoring company you are visiting in Saudi Arabia is responsible for obtaining this invitation, which meets these requirements:
- The Letter Of Invitation should be addressed to the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington.
- It must include your Saudi sponsor’s full local address and phone number.
- It needs to request the same number of days for your visa as you did in the business introduction letter. It also needs to specify the number of entries requested in your visa, either single or multiple.
A Letter of Invitation may also be issued by a government company in Saudi Arabia. You also need to bring a diplomatic note from your embassy in the United States.
Sometimes a host claims their relationship to the royal family or their influence in Saudi Arabia means that the Letter of Invitation does not need to be filed. Neither the Saudi Embassy in D.C. nor any consulate office in the United States will issue a business/travel visa without a Letter of Invitation, regardless of how much influence your sponsor claims to have.
Notice on Saudi Laws and Regulations
You also need to completely fill out a Notice on Saudi Laws and Regulations Form. This form requires that you provide your fingerprints and your eye iris pattern images. The embassy may also request you provide a copy of your business contract signed by both your company and your Saudi sponsor company.
Include a letter that shows the highest level of education you have achieved and what you majored in if you went to college.
Visa Application Form
Your visa application form for Saudi Arabia should be filled out in capital letters and exactly the same way as it appears on your passport, including your full name. You must fill out the application using blue or black ink. If you use any other color, your visa application will be rejected. The applications must include your cell phone number and your email address. Keep these tips in mind:
- In the application section on religion, enter that you are either Muslim or other, meaning non-Muslim. Also, make sure that you follow the authorization number for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when you choose between single or multiple entries to the country.
- You also need to check your passport to make sure it does not contain any previous valid Saudi Arabian visas. If your passport contains a valid Saudi Arabian visa, a new one will not be issued.
- You must also provide a computer-generated travel agency itinerary or proof of a round-trip airline ticket for your trip to Saudi Arabia. If you are traveling via a private charter, the charter’s manifest should fulfill this requirement.
- Non-U.S. citizens who reside and work in the United States need to provide a copy of their green card or documentation that shows they are legally resident in the United States.
- You should then pay your visa fees. There is a $108 fee to Enjaz, an electronic visa sent directly to the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, D.C., or consulate listed on your Letter of Invitation. It’s very important that these two are identical. An Enjaz payment slip is needed to process your visa. Without it, the embassy will immediately return your application and request that you fill out an Enjaz. There is also a $14 visa application form fee.
- If your application requires that you visit Mecca, Jeddah or Medina or if your sponsor is based in Mecca, Medina or Jeddah, you need to provide proof of a meningitis vaccination. The Saudi Arabian Embassy does not accept vaccination exemptions.
Please note that these guidelines and fees can change very quickly and without any prior notice.
How Long Does the Visa Application Process Take for a U.S. Citizen Traveling to Saudi Arabia?
People often ask us, how long does it take to get a work visa for Saudi Arabia? You need to allow at least one day for processing the actual visa application itself. Complete processing can take anywhere from 2 to 15 days and in some cases even longer. The processing time depends on several factors, and the consulate can change the amount of time needed for the visa application without notice, at its discretion.
You may wonder, is it possible to expedite the Saudi Arabia visa process? Say you discover on short notice that you need to go to Saudi Arabia for business and the dates of your travel may push up against the regular visa requirements. In that case, a firm like The Quincy Group can work with you and help you obtain a visa more quickly if necessary.
How Long Is a Saudi Arabian Work Visa Valid For?
Your Saudi Arabian visa is valid from the date it is issued. The amount of time you can stay within the country begins on the day you enter Saudi Arabia. Here are some guidelines:
- A single-entry visa allows you to stay in Saudi Arabia for up to 90 days (three months).
- A multiple-entry visa allows you to stay in Saudi Arabia for 180 days (six months).
- Do not overstay your welcome, which is the date your visa expires.
- Anyone who visits Saudi Arabia must observe the country’s Islamic laws and regulations and respect the values and traditions of Saudi Arabia.
Normally women and children who are traveling to Saudi Arabia must be greeted at the airport by a male relative. Women traveling on business, however, may be picked up at the airport in Saudi Arabia by a male business colleague. Women applying for a business visa must have a pre-approved invitation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That invitation number will begin with 7005. No exceptions are allowed.
Need Help Applying for a Visa to Visit Saudi Arabia on a Business Trip? Contact The Quincy Group
The Saudi Arabian visa process can be confusing and frustrating if you’ve never had to apply for a visa to the Kingdom before. When you need to travel to Saudi Arabia for business, The Quincy Group can advise you on how to expedite the Saudi Arabian visa process and ensure you have all the required travel documents before your trip. Quincy can help make your business trip as smooth as possible.
Quincy offers numerous services to help businesses integrate or expand their projects in Saudi Arabia. As the only advisory firm with a permanent office in Riyadh, we have a long history in this region, and we have developed important relationships with key stakeholders and decision-makers. We know how to connect our clients with the right people to help them find success in the market. We are uniquely positioned to help senior corporate leaders navigate the often-fluctuating and complex interface between government policy and business in Saudi Arabia.
We have a dedicated team to support our clients and provide guidance when conducting business in Saudi Arabia. If you would like assistance with establishing or expanding your project in Saudi Arabia, call us at 202.461.2245 or contact us online to tell us more about your interest in doing business in Saudi Arabia.