Saudi Marriage Restrictions To Foreigners

By American Bedu

When it comes to a Saudi marrying a foreigner government permission is required and the marriage must be approved, recognized and registered with the government in order for the couple to have full rights and benefits. If the Saudi wishes for his wife or her husband to live or travel to the Kingdom it is essential to have a sanctioned approved marriage. Otherwise, among other things, the husband would not be viewed as a legal mahrem (guardian) and therefore prohibited from being publicly together. Even if a couple marries outside the Kingdom they should still want the marriage registered with the Saudi courts for inheritance reasons as well as other rights. Saudis who wish to marry a foreign spouse are supposed to obtain government approval PRIOR to the marriage. In numerous cases it does not work out that way. Many couples face difficulties and rather than be apart or “live in sin” they will marry either in an Islamic, civil or other type of marriage ceremony without waiting for the official government approval. However, until government approval is obtained and the spouse has an iqama which identifies the Saudi spouse as the sponsor, forget about coming to the Kingdom.

There are many Saudis with a foreign spouse who are not living together in the Kingdom. The Saudi spouse may be in the Kingdom and make frequent (or infrequent) visits to whatever country the wife (or in rare cases, the foreign husband) is living. In many cases the spouse will reside in neighboring Bahrain while waiting for the approval so that the Saudi husband can see his wife and children more often. He can also bring his parents and other family members to Bahrain to meet his wife and children as he cannot bring her into the Kingdom. In other cases the Saudi spouse will choose to live outside of the Kingdom if his or her circumstances permit until approval has been obtained rather than live away from his wife or her husband.

Naturally there are exceptions to this rule. A number of foreign spouses will search for a Saudi sponsor who will employ them which will allow them to legally enter and live in the Kingdom. However this venue has its own pitfalls. This may bring a spouse legally into the Kingdom but the issue that the marriage between the foreign spouse and Saudi national is still not resolved. Because of this while they may be both in the Kingdom they may not be able to live together as husband and wife. If they are out and about together they take the risk of being stopped by the police or muttawa and without the official documentation recognizing them as husband and wife in the eyes of the Saudi government, the foreign spouse could be deported and the Saudi national imprisoned.

In order for a marriage to be approved, the Saudi national must submit information on his/her intended spouse and seek approval. Approvals for marriage to a foreigner are from the Ministry of Interior. On receipt of the request a file number will be generated. It is essential to know and retain the file number as that is how ones application would be identified throughout the process. Depending on the employer of the Saudi national, additional approvals may be necessary besides that of the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Interior will evaluate and investigate the request. If approval is granted then the next step would be notification from the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a visa to be issued to the spouse.

I am simplifying this process but also bear in mind that throughout the process and with each Ministry a lot of documentation is required such as the marriage certificates. If the marriage certificate is not in Arabic, then it must be translated to Arabic. The marriage certificate must also be attested and notarized from the country in which the marriage took place, from the Saudi government and if in the event the visa is being issued from a third country (such as if a spouse has been living in Bahrain) then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from the third country must attest the document as well. Besides the marriage certificate other important documents include birth certificates, passports, shot records and recent medical examinations.

Once the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has received the request to issue a visa, the spouse can go to the designated Saudi embassy present your file number and passport for issuance of a residency visa. This may not happen in one day. Usually a passport would be dropped off the morning of one day and then received sometimes later on the same day or one or two days later. The residency visa will be valid for 60 days during which time the Saudi spouse must take the passport to the passport office (Jawazat) in order to generate and receive an Iqama (which will also be the official identification card). The iqama is similar in size and appearance to a drivers license and will identify the foreigner as the spouse of a Saudi and resident of the Kingdom. The iqama is valid for two years.

Throughout this entire period one must have LOTS and LOTS of patience. And be prepared as each step of the process will have fees which need to be paid for processing, registering and issuance of documents.


Published by

Tara Umm Omar

American married to a Saudi.

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