Pages of the Oasis

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

About the Work Visa Options for Working in Saudi Arabia

After you have a signed contract offer, you can - well, you must - apply for a work Visa. 

You can’t enter the country without one.  Spontaneous tourism isn`t allowed in Saudi Arabia.

There are 2 work visa options:
  • Temporary Work Visit Visa ( has to be renewed every few months)
  • Iqaama - ongoing (2 year) work Visa

The Iqaama ( pronounced ‘’ee kam  ma’’) is a 2 year commitment to work.  It is the proper Visa for long term work. 

The temporary work Visa is another legal way to work in Saudi Arabia, although it is intended as a temporary solution, just as the name says, which means 6 months or less in reality. The idea is that after a short period of time you will apply for an Iqaama to continue working in Saudi for a year or more.

I read a lot online about the Visa situation and discovered a a lot of misinformation out there. Yes, indeed, the temporary work visit Visa is indeed a  legal way to work in Saudi Arabia.Some online forums said it was an illegal way to gain entry, but it`s not, as I heard confirmed from the Saudi embassy personally (both the embassy in Canada and in Riyadh).

The temporary work visit visa offers the benefit of allowing the worker to quit if they don’t like the work or work situation with no loss of face, and the worker never needs to surrender their passport to their employer, which is what happens with the Iqaama Visa. 

Giving your passport to your employer is standard procedure in Gulf countries apparently. Personally the idea made me feel very nervous so I wanted to be sure I wanted to stay before applying for an Iqaama. Also it takes much longer to process, more expensive and more involved to apply for, and receive an Iqaama.

Another benefit of  the temporary work visit Visa is that it allows the employer to terminate a work situation without a lot of hassle too. 

So, really, it is a win / win situation, really, a way to test the waters for both parties. I feel this is perfectly reasonable. 

The trouble with going on a temporary work visit Visa is that you have to renew it periodically. And it may not automatically be renewed ( especially for Canadians, I soon discovered from hearing other teacher’s stories). Sometimes you can submit your visa for renewal to the company and they do it for you. 

On a regular basis, you need to leave the country and re-enter to renew your temporary Visa, . Sometimes it is not renewed (I didn´t know that when I decided to go for a temporary work visit visa and before I arrived in the country.)

I decided to get a temporary work visit Visa since I balked at the idea of being tied to a place I might not like enough to want to stay for 2 years, and because I didn`t want to give up my passport to the safekeeping of my employer before I knew them, and decided if I could trust them.

Although time consuming, it was actually a fairly straightforward process. There are agencies in your country you can go through to get this done, for a fee. In fact, I don’t know how you would do it otherwise, unless you were perfectly fluent in Arabic.

There is a list of things you need to get ready to send off with your application form, like photos, a medical certificate of good health, money orders and copies of your contract. But it’s fairly standard stuff and not hard to get together.

The hard part is the wait to have things processed, especially if you are a Canadian.It took 6 weeks to get my passport back with the appropriate Visa inside. Some other teachers said it took less than 24 hours in their respective countries, like the USA or England.

Temporary Work Visit Visa renewals were less straightforward.

While I was working there, I knew some some people got their passports back with a ‘final exit’ date rather than a renewal date stamped on their passport. This was how they found out their services were being cancelled, it is a risk if working under a temporary work visit Visa, not the Iqaama. 

Others found themselves spending months in a foreign country like Jordan waiting for the Visa to be renewed, rather than spending a weekend, or week, doing this. So, for that reason, hoping to work for a year with a temporary work visit Visa has more risks than you might suspect.

Another aspect to consider: if you decide you want to stay longer term, for at least a 2 year term ,switching from a temporary work Visa to an Iqaama, it’s not instant or easy to do from abroad.

First you need a contract offer for that length of time (2 years at least). Then you have to apply for the Iqaama from your home country, and wait there while it is being reviewed and processed. 

This means that it’s not easy to do if you are already in Saudi Arabia, working for a set number of days / hours / months on an existing contract, and a serious expense to plan for.

This process took months for some Canadians I know. On the Embassy website, they caution you about this,( and so it’s a good idea to keep working where you, as in, in a different country, are until the details are finalized).

I don`t regret starting off with a temporary work visit visa but hadn`t anticipated how long it would take to secure in the first place, and that it wouldn`t neccesarily be sufficient to last the duration of my contract. As a result I had months of waiting in Canada, where I would up taking a temporary job while I waited, and faced mounting stress about not being able to renew my visa for the entire year I had planned on staying in Saudi Arabia, and  not having sufficient fund to see me through until I found another job in the event that my temporary Visa wasn`t renewed as I had expected. Still, I would have been less happy applying for an Iqaama before having set foot in the country and knowing I would like it enough to stay for 2 years or more ( which I didn`t decide to do in the end).

In any event, I would suggest going there with your eyes open, and a lot of money held in reserve in case things don`t work out as you anticiapted, and you wind up waiting for a Visa or leaving Saudi for Visa reasons (or other reasons) you didn`t anticipate at the outset. 

While it`s true that you can make a lot of money there, especially if you stay long term, it is a big, life-changing move to make and not something to be taken lightly!

I hope this helps you decide which Visa you want to apply for and gives you useful information so you can make plans (and alternative plans) that help you have a successful experience that is as low stress as is possible. 

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