An iqama is a residence permit in Saudi Arabia that foreign workers must get to remain and work in the country lawfully. The Saudi Ministry of Interior grants the iqama and is valid for a set time, usually one year.
Foreign workers must have an iqama to open bank accounts, obtain a driver’s license, rent a property, and engage in other basic activities in Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, the iqama acts as an identification document, and workers must always keep it with them.
Iqama vs visa
The names “iqama” and “visa” are connected to immigration and residency in a foreign country, yet they serve different purposes.
An iqama, also known as a residence permit, is a document that enables someone to live and work in Saudi Arabia for a set length of time. It is provided to expats with a legitimate employment contract with a Saudi company or invited by the Saudi government to work in the kingdom. An Iqama entitles the possessor to enter and exit the country as often as they choose, as long as they have the proper travel documentation.
A visa, on the other hand, is a temporary authorization provided by a country that allows an individual to enter and stay in the country for a set amount of time. Visas can be awarded for various reasons, including tourism, study, job, or family visits. A visa is usually provided for a set period, after which the holder must leave the country or seek for an extension.
Benefits of having an iqama
Having an Iqama in Saudi Arabia comes with several benefits for expats. The most significant advantage of an Iqama is that it allows an individual to reside legally and work in the country. Without an Iqama, it is illegal for expats to live or work in Saudi Arabia. This means having an Iqama protects expats from being deported or facing legal consequences for violating immigration laws.
Another benefit of having an Iqama is that it provides access to healthcare services in Saudi Arabia. Expats with Iqamas are entitled to the same medical services as Saudi citizens, including emergency care and specialized treatments. This is particularly important for those requiring medical attention in Saudi Arabia.
Moreover, an Iqama allows expats to open bank accounts and obtain credit cards, which is often difficult without proper documentation. This makes managing finances and conducting transactions in Saudi Arabia easier for expats.
An Iqama also enables expats to sponsor family members for residency in Saudi Arabia. This means that an expat with an Iqama can bring their spouse and children to live with them in the country. This especially benefits families with children requiring schooling or healthcare services.
Finally, an Iqama allows expats to travel within the country and abroad without any restrictions. Iqama holders can enter and exit Saudi Arabia as often as they wish during the validity period of their Iqama. They can also travel within the country for work or leisure without any additional permits or permissions. This makes it easier for expats to explore and experience Saudi Arabia during their stay.
Who is required to apply for iqama
Expatriates who wish to reside and work in Saudi Arabia must apply for an Iqama. Any foreign national who wants to stay in the country for an extended period, whether for employment or other purposes, must obtain an Iqama.
Generally, obtaining an Iqama starts after a foreign national has secured employment in Saudi Arabia. In this case, the employer sponsors the employee and submits an application for an Iqama on their behalf. The application process requires the expatriate to undergo a medical examination to ensure they are free from contagious diseases, among other requirements.
In some cases, foreign nationals may be invited to work in Saudi Arabia by the government or its agencies, such as for consultancy or research work. In such cases, the government agency acts as the sponsor and submits the Iqama application on behalf of the expatriate.
It’s essential to note that an Iqama is mandatory for all expatriates working or residing in Saudi Arabia, regardless of nationality, gender, or profession. Without an Iqama, it is illegal for expats to live or work in the country, and they may face legal consequences if caught.
Rights and responsibilities of iqama holders
As an Iqama holder in Saudi Arabia, there are specific rights and responsibilities that expats are expected to uphold. Here are some of the basic rights and responsibilities.
The Iqama provides expats with the right to reside in Saudi Arabia for a specific period as the authorities approve.
With an Iqama, expats have the right to work in Saudi Arabia as approved by the authorities and per the terms and conditions of their Iqama.
Access to basic services
Iqama holders have the right to access basic services such as healthcare, education, and other public services the government provides.
Freedom of movement
Iqama holders have the right to move freely within the country as per the terms and conditions of their Iqama.
Compliance with the law
Iqama holders must comply with all the laws and regulations of Saudi Arabia, including traffic and labor laws.
Respect for local customs and traditions
Expats must respect local customs and traditions, including dress codes and religious practices.
Payment of fees and taxes
Iqama holders must pay all fees and taxes per the Saudi government’s regulations.
Renewal of Iqama
Expats are responsible for renewing their Iqama before its expiration date and complying with all the regulations related to Iqama renewal.
Respect for employers
Iqama holders are expected to respect their employers and comply with the terms and conditions of their employment contracts.
Expats must understand their rights and responsibilities as Iqama holders in Saudi Arabia. Failure to comply with the regulations can result in fines, deportation, and even a ban on entering the country.
How to obtain an iqama
Obtaining an Iqama in Saudi Arabia requires a specific process that expats must follow.
1. Secure a job offer
The first step in obtaining an Iqama is to secure a job offer in Saudi Arabia. The job offer will serve as the basis for the sponsor to initiate the Iqama application process on behalf of the expat.
2. Medical examination
Once the sponsor has initiated the Iqama application process, the expat must undergo a medical examination. The examination aims to check the expat’s health and determine if they are free from infectious diseases.
3. Submit the application
After the medical examination, the sponsor will submit the Iqama application on behalf of the expat. The application will include the expat’s personal information, job details, and medical examination results.
The expat will then need to undergo fingerprinting to create a biometric record. This record will be used for identity verification purposes.
5. Wait for approval
After applying, the expat will need to wait for approval from the Saudi authorities. The approval process can take several weeks, and the expat must remain patient.
6. Collect iqama
Once the Iqama is approved, the expat must collect it from the relevant authorities. The Iqama will contain the expat’s personal information, job details, and validity period.
The expat will need to renew the Iqama before its expiration date. Failure to renew the Iqama on time can result in fines or even deportation.
Renewing and maintaining an iqama
Renewing and maintaining an Iqama is essential for expats who wish to stay and work in Saudi Arabia. Here are some important things to know about renewing and maintaining an Iqama.
Renewal of iqama
- The validity period of an Iqama can be one year or two years, depending on the terms and conditions of the Iqama.
- To avoid delays, Iqama holders should start the renewal process at least three months before the expiration date.
- To renew an Iqama, the expat must submit a valid passport, a medical report, and other relevant documents requested by the authorities.
- The expat or their sponsor must pay the Iqama renewal fees before the expiration date to avoid any penalties.
Maintaining an iqama
- Iqama holders must always carry their Iqama with them and present it when the authorities request.
- Expats must notify the authorities of any changes to their personal information, including their job and address.
- Iqama holders are only allowed to work for their sponsor as per the terms and conditions of their Iqama.
- Expats must comply with all the laws and regulations of Saudi Arabia, including traffic and labor laws.
Expats need to renew and maintain their Iqama to avoid any legal consequences, including fines, deportation, and a ban on entering the country. Expats should ensure they comply with all the regulations related to Iqama renewal and maintenance to have a smooth and successful stay in Saudi Arabia.
Common violations and penalties
There are many consequences for breaking Iqama rules and regulations in Saudi Arabia. Depending on the seriousness of the offense, these punishments might range from fines to deportation.
Failure to renew the Iqama before its expiration date is a typical offense. Expats must renew their iqamas once or twice a year, depending on the validity duration of their Iqama. If the breach is repeated or the foreigner continues to work without a valid Iqama, the expat may face a fine or deportation.
Working for an employer who is not their sponsor is another infraction. Expats in Saudi Arabia are required by law to work solely for the employer who sponsored their Iqama. Working for another employer without legal documentation can lead to fines, deportation, and possibly a prohibition from reentering the country.
Additional Iqama infractions include changing professions without sufficient documentation, exceeding the Iqama’s validity period, and engaging in criminal activities such as drug trafficking. Fines, jail, and deportation may be imposed for these offenses.
Expats in Saudi Arabia must follow Iqama norms and regulations to avoid legal ramifications. Expats should renew their Iqamas on time, work only for their sponsor, and avoid any acts that may infringe on local regulations.
Frequently asked questions
How to check how many SIM cards are registered on my Iqama?
- Open the Absher app or visit the Ministry of Interior website (https://www.moi.gov.sa/).
- Log in to your account with your Iqama number and password.
- Select “E-Services” from the menu options and then click on “Public Query Available Funds”.
- From the drop-down menu, select “Iqama Funds”.
- You will see a screen showing your Iqama number, your name, and the number of SIM cards registered on your Iqama.
- If multiple numbers are registered, you can click on “Details” to see the details of each registered SIM card.
How to check Iqama expiration date?
To check the expiry date of your Iqama in Saudi Arabia, you can use the following methods:
- Through the Absher App: The Absher app is an official government application in Saudi Arabia that allows users to access various services, including checking the expiry date of their Iqama. To use this method, download the Absher app on your smartphone, log in to your account, and select the “My Services” tab. From there, you can select the “Query Iqama Expiry Service,” and the app will display the expiry date of your Iqama.
- Through the Ministry of Interior Website: You can also check the expiry date of your Iqama by visiting the Ministry of Interior website (https://www.moi.gov.sa/). You need to click on “E-Services,” then “Passports,” and then “Query Iqama Expiry Service.” After entering your Iqama number and date of birth, the website will display the expiry date of your Iqama.
How to check Iqama status?
To check the status of your Iqama in Saudi Arabia, you can use the following methods:
- Through the Absher App: To use this method, download the Absher app on your smartphone, log in to your account, and select the “My Services” tab. From there, you can select the “Query Iqama Expiry Service,” and the app will display the status of your Iqama.
- Through the Ministry of Interior Website: You can also check the status of your Iqama by visiting the Ministry of Interior website (https://www.moi.gov.sa/). You need to click on “E-Services,” then “Passports,” and then “Query Iqama Expiry Service.” After entering your Iqama number and date of birth, the website will display the status of your Iqama.