Expats will be allowed to travel through the Salmi border using land transport so that they can perform Umrah. The Ministry of Awqaf will be responsible for planning the necessary measures with other state authorities in order to ensure that land transport and visas will be available by then. Officials have decided to authorize the use of land transport despite the presence of a new COVID-19 variant so that pilgrims can have less difficulty performing Umrah.
The Council of Ministers has decided to permit residents to use land transport as long as it is arranged by authorized institutions. The vehicles to be used will be limited to 50% of their capacity, and there should be adequate social distancing measures within the vehicle. Seats should also be cleaned prior to allowing passengers to ride in the vehicle. A mask must be worn at all times by everyone. Those with COVID-19 symptoms will not be allowed to board.
Only those who have been vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus will be allowed to travel to perform Umrah. Interested individuals should obtain a vaccine certificate in their country of residence and include this in their application. Individuals who have also been infected with and recovered from the COVID-19 virus can also present related documents in lieu of their vaccination certificate.
With the increase in the number of cases due to the Omicron COVID-19 variant, only 1 permit for Umrah 2022 will be given every 10 days. With this regulation, pilgrims will only be able to perform 1 Umrah instead of the usual consecutive performance of such. However, flights from the following countries are still unavailable due to their respective local COVID-19 situations: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia, Madagascar, Angola, Seychelles, Mauritius, Union of Comoros, and the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
What Visa do I Need for Umrah?
Pilgrims can apply for an Umrah visa or an Umrah e-visa. To apply for an Umrah visa, pilgrims should prepare the following documents: Umrah visa application form, passport-size photo, passport valid for at least 6 months, an airline ticket that is confirmed and cannot be refunded, applicable residency permit, and vaccination records against Meningococcal Meningitis. Those interested in applying for an Umrah e-visa only need an Umrah visa application form, a valid passport, a passport photo, an email address, and a debit or credit card. Only citizens and residents of specific countries can apply for an Umrah e-visa. Individuals coming from countries not specified in the list should apply for an Umrah visa. Both visas are only valid for 2 weeks.
Individuals who plan to travel to Saudi Arabia must register on the muqeem portal. This should be done at least 72 hours prior to their travel to the country. Their vaccination certificates need to be uploaded and certified as true by their local health officials. Pilgrims must also bring with them the original copy of the vaccination certificate.
Upon Arrival at Saudi Arabia
Six hours before performing Umrah, pilgrims should go to a care center in Makkah so that their vaccination status can be verified. Once certified to be vaccinated with the allowed vaccinations, pilgrims will receive a bracelet that they should wear at all times. Then, they will be brought to the Al-Shubaikha gathering center for further verification of the permits and forms they submitted. Pilgrims will only be allowed to perform Umrah on their designated schedule.
Are there Any Quarantine Regulations?
Expats do not need to undergo quarantine as long as they are fully vaccinated with recognized vaccines by Saudi Arabia. These include Pfizer, Astrazeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Sinopharm, and Sinovac. Those vaccinated with Sinopharm or Sinovac need to have received their booster dose of Pfizer, Astrazeneca, Johnson & Johnson or Moderna. Pilgrims coming from other countries will also be allowed to stay in Saudi Arabia for up to 30 days from their arrival. Individuals vaccinated with Sinovac, Sinopharm, Covaxin, or Sputnik V but who have not received their booster dose can only be granted a visa for short visits. As such, they can still enter to perform Umrah but not stay long enough in the country for other purposes.
Background on Umrah
Umrah is a voluntary pilgrimage to Mecca that can be done at any given time within the year. This pilgrimage can be done in around 2 hours, which is a shorter duration than the Hajj pilgrimage. Umrah can be performed as many times in their lifetime as pilgrims choose. It is a time where believers can strengthen their faith, ask for forgiveness, and pray for their personal intentions.
It is believed that performing the Umrah cleanses the pilgrims of their sins. Although a believer is not limited to asking for forgiveness only during their pilgrimage, performing the Umrah gives believers more rewards. This is because they need to travel away from their homes and separate themselves from what they’re used to every day. This encourages pilgrims to focus all of their time and energy on worshiping Allah.
Any Muslim, regardless of age, can perform Umrah. However, women who are younger than 45 years old should be with a mahram to perform the Umrah. Women older than 45 years old are not required to travel with a mahram and can decide to go with tour groups instead.
When performing Umrah, pilgrims have to be in a state of Ihram. They are not permitted to fight, curse, use offensive language, or harm any animal. There are also other practices that cannot be done during this time, such as cutting, shaving, plucking, applying make-up, and wearing perfume. Then, pilgrims have to say their intentions out loud as they arrive at the Meeqat. To perform the Umrah, pilgrims should recite their intentions, do the tawaf, and pray. Men also perform taqsir.
As the pilgrim approaches the Kaaba, they should recite the Talbiya. This was done by Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, to announce his arrival and becoming one with God. Pilgrims then enter the Masjid al-Haraam using their right foot first. They should ask for mercy and forgiveness from God upon doing so.
Then, the pilgrims have to move around the Kaaba seven times while in deep prayer. Pilgrims should follow an anti-clockwise movement. This is done to show one’s devotion and unity with the other pilgrims.
After this, verses from the Quran should be prayed and recited at the Maqam Ibrahim. When done, pilgrims should drink zamzam at a water-point. The pilgrims walk to and from Mount Safa and Mount Marwa seven times. They should recite prayers while doing so. The total distance between the two points for each pilgrim to finish their seven trips is two miles. This is done to honor Haajar. She is the wife of Prophet Ibrahim who wandered between the two mountains to look for water for Ismail, their son. Pilgrims then drink from the Hajjar and say a final prayer.
Taqsir is done by male pilgrims. Men shave their heads in any of the nearby barber shops to symbolize rebirth and signal the end of their pilgrimage. For women, they only cut a fingertip’s length of hair for the same purpose. Cutting one’s hair signifies the end of the Umrah. As such, pilgrims do not need to be in a state of Ihram anymore.
Performing the Umrah allows believers to practice their faith. The government created the necessary regulations to ensure that transmission of the COVID-19 virus is not propagated as pilgrims go on their journey. At the same time, the authorization of the use of land transport provides convenient access for expats. It is hoped that the implementation of such measures can create a conducive environment for pilgrims so that they can have the opportunity to remove all the impurities that they have and become closer to God.