What expats in Saudi Arabia need to know about the work and residency permit called an Iqama
10 July 2019| Last updated on 17 July 2019
Everything you need to know about Iqama..
Out of the near 14 million people who live and work in Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom is home to over 75% foreign employees while only around 3 million are nationals.
Before a non-Saudi can come to work in the country, they require the residence and work permit known as Iqama.
What is Iqama?
Iqama is a residence permit proving an expat's legal status to work and live while in Saudi Arabia. Every expat is required to have a valid Iqama while in the kingdom. It's all foreign workers' valid form of identification and it is necessary for everyday purposes.
It's used for practically everything. An expat cannot open or access bank accounts in KSA, operate ATMs, travel outside the kingdom, get a new SIM card, etc. without it.
The physical Iqama card acts as an I.D, and KSA expats are advised to carry it with them at all times. If you're caught without your Iqama, you can be fined up to SAR 3,000 for repeat offenses.
Details on the card will include:
- Full name
- Date of birth
- Job title
- Iqama number
- Validity date
- Issue and expiry date
Documents needed for Iqama
- Your passport (your original and copies)
- 2 passport-sized pictures
- 2 passport-sized pictures of your employer
- Completed iqama application form
- Health exam report
- Health insurance
How to get an Iqama
Your employer is responsible for handling the procedure in obtaining the permit, and they're the only ones who can get it issued for you.
Iqama permit procedure
Before you apply for your Iqama, you must get obtain a few other mandatory documentation first:
- Once the employment contract in the KSA is signed, your sponsor (employing or host company) needs to apply for a Block Visa approval from the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Labour and Social Development (MLSD). Block Visas are what permits businesses to sponsor (employ) expats, and the visa is given based on the foreign national's nationality, birthplace, job title, and academic background.
- Once the Block Visa is approved, your employer must get a Visa Authorisation number plus Power of Attorney via Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MLSD)
- Then, apply for a work visa in the current country of residence of the expat employee, at the Saudi Arabia embassy of that country.
- A health examination followed by a medical certificate must be issued by a medical center.
- When the work visa is approved, you can now enter the country and work.
- It's important to note that within 90 days of arriving in the kingdom, the foreign employee must apply for a work permit and Iqama which is submitted to MLSD.
- In order to complete your Iqama application, the company will ask for your passport and 2 passport-sized photos, typically handled by the HR department.
- While you may have already completed a health exam to obtain your medical certificate, another health exam is mandatory when applying for your work permit. The new health examination results from a local KSA health center must be submitted with your Iqama application.
Your Iqama or work permit should typically arrive in two weeks time.
If you want to travel out of Saudi Arabia and re-enter while your Iqama is still valid, you'll need to obtain an exit and re-entry permit from the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Interior.
Iqamas for dependents
When you receive your Iqama, only then can you apply for your dependents. However, the Iqamas your spouse and/or children receive will not be linked to your employing company. Theirs will be tied to you as you will legally become the sponsor for them. Your spouse and children's Iqamas will also have all the essential details such as their full names, nationalities, etc., but they will be listed as your dependents.
How much does an Iqama cost?
As per Saudi Arabia's labour law, the employer is responsible for all fees related to a foreign worker's iqama and work permit. The employer is also responsible for the employee's airline tickets if the staff decides to end their employment at the company.
However, you are responsible for paying your dependents' Iqamas.
Price of Iqama for dependents
Cost of Iqama for 2019: SAR 300 per month, for each dependent
Cost of Iqama for 2020: SAR 400 per month, for each dependent
Price of Iqama for companies
For companies that are employing more expats than Saudi nationals, expat levy for the year 2020 is SAR 800 per expat worker.
For companies that are employing fewer expats than Saudi nationals, expat levy for the year 2020 is SAR 700 per expat worker.
How to check the status of your Iqama
You can do so online through the Ministry of Interior's website. You can find out when your Iqama and work permits will expire.
- Go to the Ministry of Interior's official site.
- You can change the language based on your preference.
- Click “eServices” from the homepage, then select “passports”.
- Choose “Query Iqama Expiry Service” from list.
- Login with your details. If you don't have one, you'll need to create an account.
- You can now check your Iqama status such as the Iqama expiry date.
Things to remember...
- If your Iqama card is lost or stolen, you must report it within 24 hours to avoid facing a penalty
- Expat dependents - your spouse or children - who work without a permit will receive SAR 1,000 on the first violation, and SAR 2,000 and SAR 3,000 for the second to the third time.
- If you overstay your work permit or visit visa in Saudi Arabia, you will be fined, jailed, then deported.
- You need to renew your Iqama every year. All your bank accounts will be frozen and you won't be able to pay for utilities until you present proof of renewal.
- If one of your dependents is male and above the age of 18, he will not be issued an Iqama.
- It is within your employer's right to cancel your Iqama any time. Automatically, this will cancel your dependent's Iqama, too.
What is the Premium Residency Iqama?
The Premium Residency special Iqama system, also informally known as the Saudi Arabia green card, was introduced as a new permanent residency visa wherein expats can work, live, own businesses and land in KSA without the support of a sponsor.
The privilege for a Premium Residency costs US $213,000.
The new, one-year renewable residency visa is available for much less at US $26,660.