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A Complete Guide to Iqama in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Setup Practical Guides

14 Jun 2024

Dunya Hassanein

Saudi Arabia is a prime destination for business expansion, offering a better quality of life for residents. Obtaining an Iqama, or residence permit, is key for businesses and individuals to integrate into the country's economic and social fabric. This guide covers various Iqama types, including the prestigious Saudi Premium Residency Program, and details the process and benefits of securing an Iqama, making Saudi Arabia an attractive haven for global talent and enterprises.

With its investment-friendly landscape and strategic position, Saudi Arabia continues to stand out as a desirable destination for expansion, one that caters to the needs of businesses incorporated in the country and provides a better quality of life for residents.

For businesses looking to set roots in the country, a residence permit (Iqama) is a gateway to live and seamlessly integrate with the economic and social fabric of the country, offering a blend of business opportunities and high-quality living.

Types of Iqama in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia offers diverse types of iqama according to the needs of applicants and the purpose of their stay.

These include:

  • Dependents: for family members of expatriates
  • Government Employees: for foreign government employees
  • Special Privileged: Premium Residency
  • Business: for individuals intending to do business in Saudi Arabia
  • Domestic Worker: for household helpers
  • Labor Class: for manual workers in areas like construction and maintenance
  • Professional Class: for individuals holding university degrees

Navigating the Iqama Process for Employees

Typically, foreign workers with a job contract can file for temporary residency along with their work visa. The procedures are mostly carried out by the hiring company or the sponsoring employer, who is required to first apply for and receive a Block Visa issued by the Ministry of Labor and Social Development.

Upon the issuance of the residency permit, the stay can be extended up to two years only if the contract covers it.

Employees will have 90 days after arriving in Saudi Arabia to apply for a work permit and iqama at the said ministry. If they need to leave the country temporarily during the duration of their iqama, they'll need an additional exit and re-entry permit from the Ministry.

To obtain a final exit visa, the residence permit is submitted to the passport authority along with a request form. In cases of lost or damaged residence permits, they can be replaced with new ones stamped "Replacement," which will be valid for the same remaining time as the original permit.

Changing jobs in the Kingdom may require an iqama transfer, depending on the company's rules and the employer’s consent.

A Look at The Saudi Premium Residency Program

The Saudi premium residency program, also commonly referred to as the "Saudi Green Card," grants foreign nationals the right to live, work, own property, and start a business without the help of a local sponsor. It aligns with the country's vision to attract top-tier talent, entrepreneurs and investors that contribute to the nation’s success and global competitiveness.

Benefits of Securing a Residence Include:

  • The ability to live and work in Saudi Arabia
  • The ability to travel in and out of the country without visa restrictions
  • Eligibility for various education and health services
  • Eligibility to obtain Saudi Arabian citizenship in the future
  • Eligibility to apply for visitor visas, iqamas for family members
  • The right to conduct transactions without incurring additional fees
  • The right to own real estate and businesses

Earlier this year, the program broadened its products to cater to the needs of professionals and businesses seeking to be part of the nation’s future; this move is part of the government's transformative initiatives aimed at turning the Kingdom into a beacon of economic growth and innovation and an attractive haven for world’s most innovative companies and visionaries.

Depending on the needs of the applicant, the program offers both a Limited Duration Premium Residency with the option for renewal and an annual fee of SAR 100,000 and a Permanent Premium Residency offered at SAR 800,000. The applicant must provide proof of financial well-being.

Overview of the Premium Residency Schemes

  • Special Talent

Professionals in specific fields (medicine, science) with salaries as high as SAR 35,000 or at least SAR 14,000 monthly are encouraged to apply for special talent permits; they must have an employment contract and a bachelor's degree. Moreover, executives applying for this status have to hold an executive-level job contract, earning upwards of SAR 80,000 monthly.

  • Gifted

Eligible candidates must have been nominated for or own experiential awards or meet the criteria set by the ministries of sports and culture. This 5-year residency visa targets global talents in sports and culture, supporting the country's goal of becoming a global entertainment hub.

  • Investor

This type of residency is aimed at those looking to benefit from the Kingdom’s business landscape. It pertains to investors who invest SAR 7 million and create at least 10 jobs within two years of application.

  • Entrepreneur

This is geared towards world-class innovators seeking to launch or grow their entrepreneurial ventures in the Kingdom. It is divided into two categories.

  • Applicants who secured a minimum investment of SAR 400,000 and 20% ownership in a startup will be granted a five-year residency.
  • Applicants who obtained at least a SAR 15 million investment and 10% ownership in the start-up can be provided permanent residency on the condition that the holder creates a minimum of 10 jobs in the first year and at least 10 more in the second year.

  • Real Estate Owner

Real estate residency is tied to property ownership; it requires ownership of real estate assets worth at least SAR 4 million, free from current and future debts.

Securing iqama plays an indispensable role in the process of establishing a business in Saudi Arabia and is a mandatory requirement for individuals intending to register a foreign entity in the country. Moreover, it allows individuals to perform a myriad of activities, such as opening a bank account and applying for a driver's license and acquiring a mobile SIM card, among others.

As a business setup partner for more than 650 companies that recently expanded to Saudi, AstroLabs offers extensive services to help foreign businesses expand their presence in the Kingdom covering aspects of the expansion process including registration, licensing, hiring local talents, securing offices, and more.

Our adaptive business solutions enable companies to fast-track the process of establishing a local business and workforce for foreign firms. Our newly launched offices in Riyadh, along with the co-working spaces, function as the building blocks for global innovators collectively working towards the crystallization of Vision 2030.

Understanding the nuances of the Saudi Arabian residence landscape is crucial for choosing the best option relevant to the business situation, enabling global companies to become well-positioned to benefit from the Kingdom’s march toward economic growth and capitalize on its position as one of the most thriving economies worldwide.

For more information, and to learn about setting up your business in Saudi Arabia, book a call with a setup consultant here.

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