If you are planning on moving to Saudi Arabia to work, this guide covers everything you need to know about getting a work permit.
Once, expat workers flocked to Saudi Arabia in droves, with the oil-rich country boasting more than 10 million foreign workers. However, now that figure is dropping at an alarming rate. In fact, 1.1 million expats left between 2017 and the third quarter of 2019, according to statistics.
Working in Saudi Arabia
The expat exodus previously mentioned comes amid the Saudi government’s attempts to diversify the country’s economy beyond oil and increase employment opportunities for Saudi nationals.
As part of this drive, the government has increased the cost of living for foreign workers by introducing an annual fee for their dependents. It has also set restrictions on the professions expats can work in.
Work permits in Saudi Arabia
To work in Saudi Arabia, you will ultimately need a residence permit (Iqama), which allows you to work for a specific amount of time (up to two years).
Anyone moving to Saudi Arabia for work needs to have a Saudi employer who can act as their sponsor. Furthermore, the company must have visa approval from the Saudi Ministry of Labor to employ foreign nationals.
The first step of getting an Iqama is to obtain a work visa. Your employer must apply for this visa on your behalf; after approval, you can enter the country and start working.
Within 90 days of your arrival, your employer must apply for a residence permit, which also includes a work permit. The residence permit acts as the standard form of identification in Saudi Arabia, so you won’t be able to undertake tasks such as opening a bank account without one.
You should carry your Iqama with you at all times. If you fail to present your card when requested, you could be fined. The Iqama is limited to a duration of one or two years (depending on the length of your work contract), after which it will need to be renewed by your employer.
What does a work permit in Saudi Arabia look like?
Your Iqama card will include the following details:
- date of birth
- employer and job title
- unique Iqama number
- issue and expiry date
Other types of work permit in Saudi Arabia
If you are moving to Saudi Arabia to work for the medium or long term, you will need to get an Iqama. For short-term visitors, there are some other options, as follows.
Business visit visa
This visa allows you to conduct business transactions with a Saudi company. This is useful for people offering short-term services and limits the type of work you can conduct things such as holding meetings.
To get a business visit visa you will first need a letter of invitation from a Saudi sponsor. The cost is $54 (for a single entry) or $134 (for multiple entry) for US citizens or £49/£106 for UK citizens. Processing time is up to seven working days.
Work visit visa
This visa theoretically allows employees from foreign businesses to work temporarily in Saudi Arabia, for a period of 30 to 90 days.
In October 2019, the Saudi government suspended work visit visas. It is anticipated that the government will introduce a new temporary work visa in the coming months (December 2019).
In the meantime, expats looking to conduct full business activities (beyond those permitted by a business visa) need to obtain a residence permit.
Coming for business? Learn more about the local business culture in Saudi Arabia
It is possible to register family members on your Iqama, however, rules introduced by the government in 2017 have made this considerably more expensive.
Foreign workers with dependent family members now need to pay a monthly levy for each family member. As of July 2019, the current levy is SAR 300 per dependent, although this will rise to SAR 400 per dependent in 2020.
Family members must obtain permission from the authorities before working in Saudi Arabia.
Premium residency Iqama
The premium residency Iqama, also known as the Saudi Arabia green card, offers expats permanent residency in the state without the need for a sponsor.
The program offers permanent residency at a cost of SAR 800,000 or an annual renewable residency for SAR 100,000.
The premium system launched in June 2019, and Saudi media agencies claim that expats of 27 different nationalities applied by mid-October.
Applying for a work permit in Saudi Arabia
Your employer should deal with the Iqama application process on your behalf. However, you will need to supply a range of documents, including the following:
- your passport
- two passport-sized photographs of yourself
- two passport-sized photographs of your employer
- a letter from your employer/visa sponsor, which has been certified by the Chamber of Commerce as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- a signed employment contract
- certificates of academic and professional qualifications
- an up-to-date police report detailing any convictions
- a medical report from a licensed physician
Before you can be issued a permit you will need to have your fingerprints taken and undergo a medical examination. This is required to ensure you don’t have any contagious illnesses such as HIV.
Costs of work permits in Saudi Arabia
Your employer should cover the cost of your residence permit. The total fee depends on the percentage of Saudi nationals that your company employs, however.
If more than 50% of employees are Saudi nationals, the overall fee will be SAR 7,200. This is made up of SAR 750 for the Iqama, SAR 6,000 for the work permit, and SAR 450 for insurance.
If the company has more than 50% expatriate workers, the fee rises to SAR 8,400, with the work permit fee increasing to SAR 7,200. The government generally reviews these fees on a regular basis.
Changing or renewing work permits in Saudi Arabia
The responsibility for renewing your Iqama falls on your employer. It is best for the company to start this process ahead of time, as fines will be levied if you fail to renew it before your current permit expires.
The majority of the renewal process can be undertaken by your company online, although you will need to sit the medical examination again before your permit is issued.
Importantly, your Iqama is locked to the company which acts as your sponsor. Therefore, if you want to transfer between two Saudi employers, you will need to obtain a no-objection certificate from the employer you are planning to leave.
Working without a visa in Saudi Arabia
The penalties for working illegally in Saudi Arabia can be severe. Individuals without a work visa may have to pay a fine up to SAR 10,000 and are also likely to face arrest and deportation.
If your employer fails to apply for a work visa, they can face a fine up to SAR 100,000 and also have their trade license revoked.
In order to find out your spouse employment eligibility status in Saudi Arabia, you will need to contact the nearest Saudi Embassy. The embassy will be able to guide you on the steps that you should take to obtain the best possible outcome for your case. If your spouse is not a Saudi National, they will need to apply for a work visa before even making the trip to Saudi Arabia. Once again, consult with the Saudi Embassy of your country for more detailed instructions on how to complete the process of obtaining a work permit.