How I got my Saudi Arabia Visa
Saudi Arabia is perhaps the most difficult country in the world for a (non-Muslim) person to enter. Sure, Yemen was my trickiest country to actually get to, but that’s due to the current political climate, historically Yemen has been easy enough to get a visa and just go. A Saudi Arabia Visa though, that’s a whole different story.
I tried for over 9 whole months to get a Saudi Arabia visa, spent over $1k, but it was like banging my head against a brick wall. Everywhere I turned it was failure and bureaucracy. Finally, through sheer strength of will, and a lot of good friends, I made it – here’s how I got my Saudi Arabia Visa:
SAUDI ARABIA TOURIST VISA – NOPE
Firstly, Saudi Arabia is perhaps the only country in the world that doesn’t have such a thing as a tourist visa. It simply doesn’t exist. I went to Embassies in Thailand, UK, South Africa, and Nigeria and got turned away time and time again. They do however have religious visas for Muslims making pilgrimages, but as a non-religious person, that was of very little help to me.
SAUDI ARABIA TRANSIT VISA – NOPE
A business visa is a bit of a nightmare to organize if you’re not actually going there for business, as I wasn’t. So according to all the forums, I spent months researching, a transit visa would be my best bet. Saudi Arabia allows 48-hour transit visas in special cases when your flight legitimately transits in a Saudi airport for that length of time.
The transit visa is still a huge mission to apply for but it was my main hope. I used a Saudi Arabia visa agent in London to try to work this out for me, and although they were really helpful (more on that later), things were looking promising! They were confident this could work. Sitting on 194/197 countries, this was exciting, I had to take my chance!
So I flew to London and I visited the Saudi Arabian embassy (again!) to explain what I was doing and she told me a transit visa was out of the question. She was actually downright rude, and certainly not helpful in any way.
I asked the Saudi Arabia Visa visa-lady in the embassy what routes would make it possible for a transit visa. “Please help me, I’ll book any flight from anywhere to anywhere, IF it allows me a transit visa” I was pleading with her. She told me blankly, “This is Europe, there is always another open to get from A to B, you don’t need a transit visa, and I won’t be issuing you one, book a different flight’. Great. Thanks for your help. Back to the drawing board.
HONESTY IS NOT THE BEST POLICY
After the frosty reply from the lady in London, I was feeling a little dejected and unsure of how next to proceed to get this elusive Saudi Arabia Visa. I went back the next day armed with the truth. I trekked into central London once more, queued up, saw the same lady. I was expecting a smile but it was quite the opposite. A dirty look staring straight back at me. Anyway, I came clean. “Thanks for your help yesterday, I thought I would come back and explain everything. I’m from Ireland, I’m on 194/197 countries, and I’m trying to visit every country in the world, I’m really, really struggling to finish, so please tell me how I can get any Saudi Arabia Visa, ANY visa – transit, business, religious, even if it’s just for a couple of days?”
Angry, bemused expression. Minor delay. “We don’t need tourists like you in our country. Goodbye.”
End of conversation. Head down. She carried on with paperwork to fully confirm it was over. “Sorry but…“. I tried to re-engage. Nothing. That was literally it. I turned away and left dejected and upset. No idea where to turn.
SAUDI ARABIA BUSINESS VISA – MY LAST CHANCE, & SPONSORS AREN’T ALWAYS ENOUGH
After more and more (and more) research it turned out that a Saudi Arabia Visa of the business variety was my only way. My last chance. Fine.
I had heard of a few other hardcore travelers that I could get a local company in Saudi Arabia to sponsor me, send me an official letter of invitation, ratified by their home office in Saudi, and then bring that to London and get my visa.
So I did just that. Twice!.Once a famous 5* hotel brand invited me to come ‘and appraise their hotel’ therefore I’d need a business visa.Nope. Next was a kind tour company in Saudi Arabia who wanted me to give ‘social media lessons’ to their staff, therefore I needed a business visa. Nope again.
They both, humbly and kindly, went through all the rigmarole on the ground in Saudi Arabia, drafting the letter to their government, explaining why I would come (as a ‘social media consultant’), running to offices in Saudi to get official stamps on my invite, it was a lot of work, and twice I had done by these 2 legends.
REJECTED. AGAIN. TWICE MORE.
From there, I used the same friendly Saudi Arabia Visa agent in London. Both these times I should be good to go. Rejected. Again. Twice. When applying for a business visa in the UK, on a British passport (thankfully, I have both British and Irish passports), a sponsor and an invitation isn’t sufficient. The horrific staff in the London embassy asked me where my employment was, this time thankfully it was via email and phone calls. I didn’t fly back this time.
As a blogger that would be tricky to say who my employer was, and Saudi government officials aren’t keen on bloggers (here’s the ridiculously outdated powers-that-be publically whipping a blogger). Thankfully though, due to all property investments, and start-up attempts I am both an employee of a company in Hong Kong, and a director of a company in Hong Kong, so I thought I had this base covered. Finally a solution! Nope.
Wrong again. The Saudi Arabia embassy in London would only grant me my business visa if I was employed by a UK company, which as a traveler, semi-based in Bangkok, Thailand was literally impossible. Insanity. Back to the drawing board.
SAUDI ARABIA BUSINESS VISA – SUCCESS?!
Last roll of the dice. This sh*t is getting serious. One of my closest friends in the UK has a family business, he ‘employed’ me generously. From there, one of my previous sponsors of my invitation letter essentially ‘hired’ my friend’s company, and I would be the employee getting sent to Saudi Arabia. I had a 4 way email thread going on between my buddy, the Saudi company (both the CEO and his staff), my Saudi Arabia Visa agent in London, and me. It was hectic. So many moving parts, and I wasn’t confident.
We needed official letters, employment etc on both sides of the equation, both parties very kindly did this for me, and for that I’ll always be hugely grateful (thank you buddy!). I don’t live in London, so once that part was complete, my visa agent had to get all these documents verified, ratified and stamped by the London Chamber of Commerce. That took over a month of running around, paper work piling up. Paying the London Chamber of Commerce to ratify our business agreement between my new company, my new employer and the company hiring me, via my friend’s company, to go to Saudi. Finally, the Chamber of Commerce stamped our form.
That run-around only allowed us to apply for a visa, no visa yet! After that was confirmed, the agent who I hired could finally apply for my visa, and now it was a waiting game. He compiled ALL the paperwork once more, went down to my favourite embassy in London and filed my papers.
Actually, in the end, after submission of all the documents, the visa process itself it only took about a week, maybe even less, but that was a nerve-wracking wait. If this didn’t work, I had no other plays. This was it. Either I was in now, or I would have to postpone my 197/197 10 year trip indefinitely.
Anyway, it was GRANTED! Saudi Arabia Visa in the bag! The total cost? With FedEx fees, Chamber of Commerce fees, visa fees and my agent’s fee it totaled over $700. Ridiculous, but a price I was delighted to pay. Seriously.
And so I got my visa. If you want to do something similar I would follow my path exactly, and definitely use an agent, it’s almost impossible with out (I used Murphy from GAN visa in the London, really helpful guy). Finally, a massive, massive thanks to my mate, Murphy, and B______ from the Saudi company who helped (don’t wanna get anyone in trouble!). Good luck, it’s a difficult and expensive process! Oh and if anyone knows the overweight visa lady from the London Embassy, send this to her please, and tell her I had a great time in her country!
SAUDI PEOPLE ARE SUPER NICE!
I’ll blog about my time in Saudi in another post, but for the record, my time in Saudi was amazing, even though the Visa was a nightmare (although to get Saudi Arabia Business Visas are a little easier I heard). And the people there were so open, and friendly, and kind, and generous and humble and… fun! The country was much freer than I thought, and the people know exactly where they stand. So yes, Saudi Arabia? Beautiful country, with amazing people, delicious food, world class sights and a horrible, backward Government.