For most expatriates the start of the posting is a stressful time and one of the largest contributory factors to that is the hassle of sorting out a visa. From submitting information to an employer or finding a visa agent and traipsing up and down to the embassy the process can take time and energy that you wish you could devote to other things.
|Expats end up drowning in documents and tangled in red tape|
Saudi visas are probably the most complex I have ever had to apply for. Mr EE signed his contract in early December but it was almost the end of January before he was able to fly to take up the new post. As the process was taking so long he flew out on a business visa while his working visa was organised. It took us a further few months to get the dependant visas for the rest of the family.
We were slightly delayed at the start of the application process because Mr EE, despite having paid for an extra large passport, had only one page left (UK large passports are only 48 pages compared with my 66 from Ireland) so we had to wait until we arrived in the UK and make an appointment for a 4 hour renewal (the UK provides excellent renewal services which can be done in person instead of by post, perfect for expats).
New passport in hand and police check from Malaysia sent ahead he passed the supporting documents on to the Visa Agent. These documents included:
- letters of authorisation to permit the agents to deal with his visa on his behalf,
- a form authorising the use of his biometric information and agreement to abide by all Saudi laws,
- his signed and attested contract and his letter of invitation from his employer including his visa number as authorised by the Saudi Foreign Ministry.
- Copies of all degree certificates
- Birth Certificate
- Medical Reports
We provided all the information to the agents in December but it was not until January that the embassy notified us that some documents had been uploaded in the wrong format and would have to be redone. It was at this time that Mr EE’s employers pushed for a Business Visa so that he could work while the documentation issues were resolved.
When we were told everything had been accepted he returned to the UK only to be told that he had to provide an up to date British police check in addition to the Malaysian one. Luckily this can be requested online and is processed very rapidly. It was a great relief when his visa finally came through.
When Mr EE returned to Saudi on his working visa he was able to start the application process for his Iqama or residence permit. This required another set of medical reports to be generated in Saudi itself (the ones used to get the visa cannot be transferred). Once the reports were through he was able to apply for his Iqama, the whole process, from test to issue took less than a week. With the Iqama he was able to apply for dependant passes for the rest of the family.
Dependant Pass Application
I had already provided our ID certificates (Birth Certs for the Children and Marriage Cert for me) to the Visa Agents in advance so that they could be attested as genuine and ready to go when the passes were granted. I was relieved that we did this ahead of time as it turned out the documents can only be attested in the country of origin and Mini EEs Birth Cert and Certified Translation had to be couriered to a friend in Malaysia for certification there. Once the attestation was complete I simply had to fill in an application form for each person (I signed for the children), a medical report for me (children do not need one) and the authorisation. I was told that that was all that was necessary but at the last minute I also had to provide a British Police Certificate in my own name and sign an agreement to abide by all laws of the Kingdom. The agents had not expected this to be necessary as other spouses at Mr EEs employer have not had to do that but apparently the rules have changed in recent months.
As soon as the dependant pass numbers were issued on Mr EEs Iqama the visa agent was able to take the documents to the embassy for issue. Normal visa processing time in London is about 2 working days although other Embassies might take a little longer. After waiting for months for the documents they were issued in less than 24 hours and we found ourselves on a flight out just 12 hours after that.
Now that we are in country I have started the process of applying for my own Iqama and one for each of the children. The visas themselves have only a 90 day validity and a single entry so it is vital that we get them as soon as possible (Miss EE and I have to go to the UK for a wedding in a few weeks time). Once we have the Iqamas I am advised that the visa falls into abeyance and that we simply apply for an exit/re-entry visa whenever we want to leave. As with Mr EE, I had to go to the government clinic for more medical tests. They are not onerous (TB screening, blood, urine and stool samples) and the children are exempt from this requirement. Once I have an Iqama Mr EE and I can attend the court to request pet import certificates, once that is done the whole family will be together again.
Tourist Visas are not issued to KSA so we had assumed that our friends and family would not be able to visit us. We were told, however, that visitor visas for family members are available so hopefully we can get some people out here soon.
Things To Be Aware Of
I found the whole process to be depressing and frustrating. It would probably not be so bad if you are applying in good time but because Mr EE was needed as soon as possible we had to terminate his employment in Malaysia which left the children and me without a visa or home there. We could have stayed on tourist visas but the children would not have been able to go to school so we decided to return to visit family in the UK. I would give the following advice to anyone going through the process.
- Apply in your home country if possible (documents such as certificates have to be attested in country).
- Apply in plenty of time. The whole process from signing the contract to getting our dependant passes took 4 months. Mr EE was out in 1 ½ but only because he flew out on a short term business visa as an interim measure. That meant he could not open a bank account or buy a car when he arrived, he had to wait for the Iqama to do so.
- Get a good visa agent. Ours was useless, they kept on changing the goalposts on us, requesting new documents at the last minute, required us to do things they should have sorted out such as couriering documents to Malaysia and finding an agent there. We got an overall impression that they did not know what they were doing. I know that Mr EEs employers have now changed agent.
- Get extra copies of everything. To be honest I tend to order new copies of birth and marriage certificates every year as they come in so handy, that way if an embassy or institution retains one on file I have others to fall back on. The only exception to this is my birth certificate (I have only one and need to get around to going to the Hague to apply for extra copies) and Mini EE’s birth certificate (we were given one and one only and I do not know how to get extra copies in Malaysia). I guard these two documents with an almost fanatical intensity and try to use colour photocopies or scans whenever possible.
- Agree with employers as to who will shoulder the cost of delay if it results in a hiatus in employment.
- Be flexible, you might need to produce extra supporting documents at short notice.
- Be aware that your visa will have only a 90 day validity so you should start your Iqama application as soon as possible.
- Medical reports for the Iqama require both urine and stool samples to be provided on the spot. Do what you need to do to make sure that you can produce on demand.
- Try not to stress.
For more posts on life in Saudi Arabia please click on the picture
For more posts on life in Saudi Arabia please click on the picture