The Ultimate Umrah Guide for 2019

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Section 1: The Ultimate Umrah Guide for 2019

The “Umrah” is an Islamic pilgrimage to Masjid-al-Haram (Grand Mosque), situated in the holy city of Mecca, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is also known as the lesser pilgrimage or the minor pilgrimage, with the Hajj being the major pilgrimage. The word “umrah” means “to visit an important place” in Arabic. The pilgrimage can be taken at any time of the year, in comparison to Hajj, which can be undertaken on specific dates, according to the Islamic lunar calendar. UK nationals require an Umrah visa for this pilgrimage.

On performing the Umrah, all wrongdoings are expiated, and the pilgrim becomes the guest of Allah. Imam Baqir RA said, “One prayer in the Masjid-al-Haram is 100,000 times more valuable than one prayer in any other mosque.”

According to Sharia, Umrah means to undertake Tawaf around the Ka’bah (sacred building situated in the Grand Mosque) and Sa’i between Safa and Marwah (two small hills located inside the Grand Mosque). Both these rituals can be performed only after assuming Ihram. Ihram is a state which a Muslim must enter before performing the Hajj or Umrah.

A pilgrim must enter the state of Ihram before crossing the Miqat (pilgrimage boundary) by undergoing cleansing rituals and wearing the prescribed clothes, as per the ritual. For Muslim women entering Ihram, the niqaab and gloves are prohibited.

Qarnu’l-Manāzil, Zu’l-Hulafa, Zāt-i-‘Irq, Juhfa, Yalamlam, Ibrahīm Mursīa, or a place in al-Hill are the major Miqat. Pilgrims arriving via a flight have to ensure that they are in the state of Ihram when flying above or near any of the Miqat. Due to this, you will find dedicated Ihram rooms at airports.

Rituals for Umrah

The pilgrim needs to perform a number of rituals that represent the lives of Ibrahim (Abraham), who is a prophet and messenger in Islam, and his second wife, Hajar, while espousing harmony with Muslims around the world. Pilgrims enter the holy city of Mecca in a state of Ihram and carry out:

Tawaf
  • Tawaf: This includes moving around the Ka’bah seven times in an anticlockwise direction. Men are required to perform it three times quickly, followed by four times at a relaxed pace and closer to the Ka’bah.
  • Sa’i: This represents Hajar's distressed search for water. It includes speedily walking seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah, located inside the Grand Mosque.
  • Taqsir or Halq: This is the last ritual carried out in Umrah. For Taqsir, women partially shorten their hair by one inch or more. For Halq, men shave their heads completely. It signifies submission of the will to God over physical appearance.

All these rituals complete the Umrah and pilgrims are free to emerge out of the state of Ihram. Most pilgrims drink water from the Well of Zamzam to conclude Umrah. Stories tell us that the Well of Zamzam was formed after baby Ishmael cried and hit the ground with his foot. Different sects of Islam have different rituals that they perform after Umrah.

Some of the rituals are common between Hajj and Umrah, but you don’t need to visit Arafat, Mina or Muzdalifah for the latter. Furthermore, you don't need to practice Qurbani or animal sacrifice. Umrah is not required but highly recommended in Islam. The peak season for Umrah is usually the days before, during and after the Hajj and the last ten days of the holy month of Ramadan

Section 2: General Queries About Umrah

1. How to Get a Cheap Umrah Deal from the UK?

Umrah Deal from the UK

You will find a number of cheap Umrah deals from the UK. You can book Umrah packages online in the UK too. These agencies offer a variety of flights for Umrah on various airlines, along with hotel reservations and various other accommodations needed in Saudi Arabia. You can get packages customised as per your requirements as well. Make sure to check for any discounts and incentives when you book for Umrah online from the UK.

Holy month of Ramadan and Moharram (the first month of the Islamic calendar) is the peak time for performing Umrah, which means that both demand and ticket prices almost double at this time. October is considered to be the perfect month for Umrah, due to the availability of cheap deals, since the peak season is over by then. If you are planning on taking the Umrah, it is best book you flights and accommodation well in advance to get the best prices.

2. How to Get an Umrah Visa from the UK?

Umrah Visa from the UK

You can get an Umrah visa by applying for the visa through a Hajj & Umrah visa services provider, such as Rapid Visas, which has a long history of working with the Saudi Arabian embassy in London. The first step is to fill and submit the Umrah visa application form. To be eligible for the visa, the applicant needs to fulfil the certain criteria, such as:

  • A British passport that will remain valid for at least another 6 months.
  • Application must contain a meningitis immunisation certificate and pilgrims must have immunisation at least 10 days before departure for Umrah from the UK.
  • Children travelling on their parent’s passport must have their photographs affixed to the passport and application form and attested by the concerned authority.
  • All women under 45 years and children under 20 years should be accompanied by a Mahram (husband, father, adult son, uncle, brother or nephew). The Mahram must be at least 17 years old. Proof of relationship with the Maharam is also required.
  • If you have a non-Muslim name, you have to submit a certificate from a masjid or an Islamic centre that you are a Muslim.
  • If you don't hold a UK passport, you must be a permanent resident of the UK.

If you fulfil all the criteria, you can apply for the Umrah visa at the Saudi embassy in the UK. To shorten the Umrah visa processing time, it is best to use the services of an experienced visa agency like Rapid Visas.

3. What are the Rules Pertaining to Women and Children for an Umrah Visa?

Umrah Visa from the UK

Women under 45 years and children under 20 years of age should be accompanied by a Mahram (male relative, husband, father, adult son, uncle, brother or nephew) for getting the Umrah visa. A proof of relationship between the Mahram and the pilgrim is mandatory to obtain an Umrah visa to Saudi Arabia. The Mahram must fly in and out of Saudi Arabia on the same flight or mode of transportation with the female or child pilgrim. A Mahram must be at least 17 years old.

If you are a woman aged 45 years and older, you can travel alone, but you need a notarised NOC from the Mahram, indicating that he allows you to travel alone for Umrah. Women over 25 can visit Saudi Arabia on a tourist visa. It will be a single-entry visa, with validity of a maximum of 30 days. This visa will be only granted if the woman is part of a tourist group, approved by the concerned authority of the country to which the woman is a citizen of.

4. What are the Fees for an Umrah Visa UK?

The Saudi Arabian embassy in London issues Umrah visas free of cost. These visas are not eligible for work or residency in Saudi Arabia. First time visitors need to pay a general administrative fee for each person applying for the Umrah visa for the first time. This fee can range from £50 to £100, depending on your agent.

If you are visiting Saudi Arabia on consecutive years, you need to pay £415.50 or SAR 2,000 as fee per person. You will need a gap of a minimum two Hijri years between the last Umrah and the current one to avoid this extra fee. For example, if you performed the Umrah in 1438 Hijri year and you wish to perform it again in 1441 Hijri year, you don't need to pay the added fee to the Saudi consulate in London. If you have visited in 1439 or 1440 Hijri year, you will need to pay the Umrah visa fee to repeat the visit in 1441 Hijri year.

If you are confused about the fees or any other aspect of this visa, contact Rapid Visas for guidance.

5. Has Saudi Arabia Cancelled Fees for Hajj, Umrah Visas?

The Saudi embassy in the UK issues the Umrah visa, free of charge. First time visitors need to just pay the normal administration fee for the visa. If you are going for the Umrah for the second consecutive year, you will be charged an extra Umrah visa fee of £415.5 (SAR 2,000) per person. You will need to maintain a gap of a minimum two Hijri years between Umrahs to avoid the extra fee. The Saudi Arabian government will also provide 2 free visas for each registered company working in the field of Umrah. If you are confused about the fees or any other aspect of the visa process, contact Rapid Visas for guidance.

6. How Can I Save Money When Travelling to Saudi Arabia?

For many years, Saudi Arabia had complex visa restrictions, leading to heavy fees and complicated application process for the Umrah visa. However, the process has become much easier now. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has also started providing tourist visas. Make sure you check for discounts and schemes as money saving hacks if you are travelling to Saudi Arabia.

Avoid travelling during the holy month of Ramadan and Moharram (the first month of the Islamic calendar), which is the peak time for performing Umrah. This leads to higher demand and therefore higher prices of tickets and accommodation.

7. What is the Eligibility for an Umrah Visa?

To be eligible for the Umrah visa in the UK, you need to fulfill certain criteria, such as:

  • A British passport that is valid for at least another 6 months.
  • A meningitis immunisation certificate attached to the visa application. Pilgrims need to get the immunisation at least 10 days before the date of departure for Umrah.
  • Children travelling on their parent’s passport must have their photographs affixed to the passport and application form and attested by the concerned authority.
  • All women under 45 years and children under 20 years should be accompanied by a Mahram (husband, father, adult son, uncle, brother or nephew). The Mahram must be at least 17 years old. Proof of relationship with the Maharam is also required.
  • Women aged 45 years and above can travel alone, although they need a notarised NOC from the Mahram indicating that he allows the person to travel alone for Umrah.
  • If you are a Muslim convert or have a non-Muslim name, you need to submit a certificate from a masjid or an Islamic centre certifying that you are a Muslim.
  • If you don’t hold UK passport, you must be a permanent resident of the UK.

8. What Documents are Needed for an Umrah Visa from UK?

Documents that need to be submitted for the processing of the Umrah visa application include:

  • Umrah visa application form filled by you in block letters, using black ink and carefully read and signed.
  • If you have a Non-Muslim name or are a convert, you need to submit a certificate from a religious centre or mosque, along with your application, certifying that you are a Muslim.
  • If you don’t hold a British passport, you need to submit valid permanent residency proof.
  • Two passport size photographs of yourself against a white background. These pictures should not be from any angle or side, such pictures would be unacceptable and your application for the Umrah visa can be rejected.
  • A British passport with validity of at least 6 months from the date of submission of the Umrah visa application.
  • Confirmed airline ticket (both ways) and receipts or vouchers of accommodation.
  • Vaccination certificate for meningitis (ACWY) that should have been issued not more than 3 years or less than 10 days prior to entering Saudi Arabia.
  • If you are a woman and are being accompanied by a Mahram, a certificate of your relationship with the Mahram is required. Women aged 45 years and above travelling alone need to submit an NOC from their Mahram.

9. What Documents are Needed for a Mahram for Applying for an Umrah Visa?

A male relative aged 17 years and above can be a Mahram. If the Mahram is the husband of the woman, he needs to submit a copy of the marriage certificate or the nikah-naama. If the Mahram is a sibling, he needs to submit both his own and his sister’s birth certificate. If you have become a Mahram for an adopted sister, you need to bring the official documents of adoption on your trip for Umrah to prove that the woman is your legally adopted sister.

Consistency in the language of these documents should be kept in mind. If some of your documents are in English and others are in another language, you should get those documents translated into English before submission. If your documents have not been notarised properly, your application for being a Mahram will be rejected. The easiest course of action is to get help from an experienced visa services, such as Rapid Visas, which can guide you through the entire process.

10. What Services Should a Travel Agent Provide After Booking Tickets for Saudi Arabia?

A reliable and trusted agency will offer a comprehensive range of services, such as:

  • A full itinerary of your trip package, including flights, types of accommodation, duration of your stay in each location, distance between accommodation and the holy sites, types of catering, transportation and dates of arrival and exit from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
  • An experienced and knowledgeable guide or Islamic scholar, who acts as a point of contact and guides you throughout your Umrah journey. This guide proves to be very important in situations where immediate answers are required.
  • Female guide for female Umrah pilgrims.
  • Briefing about the rules and regulations that need to be followed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
  • Information regarding potential health hazards and safety procedures to be followed by Umrah pilgrims.

11. What Should I Wear for Umrah?

Saudi Arabia has a very hot climate and considering the physical exertion involved in Umrah, loose fitting, cotton clothes are recommended. Once men enter Ihram and before undertaking the sacred rituals, they are not allowed to wear sewn clothes. After cleansing or bathing (ghusl), men need to wear a special white dress that consists of two toweling fabrics or seamless sheets. The larger sheet is wrapped around the waist and a belt or a strip of fabric is used to cinch it. The second sheet goes over both or one shoulder. Men are not allowed to wear socks and underwear, and their heads should remain uncovered during Umrah. Slippers and sandals are the footwear usually used during Umrah.

There is no prescribed clothing for women. They can wear any color, as long as the entire body is covered, except for the hands and face. Women prefer wearing white or black abayas and hijabs for Ihram.

12 What is the Weather Like in Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia experiences high temperatures that can do as high as 122°F. Rainfall does not usually occur in summer. This makes for the default climate of the kingdom between May and September the hottest months. A number of people move to the mountain city of Taif or leave the kingdom for relief from the scorching heat. Coastal cities like Jeddah and Mecca have comparatively lower temperature, revolving around 100°F, but are more humid than the inland desert.

Winter in Saudi Arabia is much less hot than the summer. The average temperature in December is around 70°F and could even fall below freezing point at night. Saudi Arabia receives most of its rainfall in winter and even snowfall on some mountains. The southern parts of the kingdom receive most rainfall during May to October due to the influence of the Indian Ocean monsoon season. The months of April and May can also experience high rainfall. So, plan your trip for Umrah accordingly.

13. Does Saudi Arabia Issue a Tourist Visa?

Yes, Saudi Arabia issues a tourist visa. Saudi Arabia’s new tourist visa programme allows foreign tourists to visit tourist and historical sites in the kingdom. You can apply for a tourist visa under the extended Umrah tourism programme and stay in Saudi Arabia for up to 30 days. Citizens of 65 countries are eligible for the new tourist visa programme. Earlier, only citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, such as Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the UAE, were allowed visa-free entry to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia holds a special place for Islam because it is home to two of the holiest mosques, Masjid al-Haram in Mecca and Al-Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina, home of the Prophet Muhammad’s tomb. Around 3 million people undertake the Hajj every year and over 500,000 people apply for an Umrah visa. Contact Rapid Visas with all your queries related to tourist and Umrah visas to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from the UK.

14. What are Some of the Worrying Events in Saudi Arabia?

In recent years, unfortunately, more and more people have been conned by fraud related to the Umrah visa. People spent significant amounts of money in advance for travel and accommodation but later found it to be a scam by the agents or operators, who disappeared with the money. These fraudsters target licensed travel companies to advertise fraud deals for Umrah to Saudi Arabia in their name and promise deals at up to 50% less than the normal price. In other cases, victims of these frauds have somehow reached Saudi Arabia and found that the accommodation promised to them doesn’t exists. A number of people have gone through significant financial losses due to this. To avoid falling prey to such scams, the Saudi government urges Umrah pilgrims to get their umrah visa and other accommodation via a registered travel agency. The Saudi government has shortlisted such travel agents all over the world to facilitate Umrah.

More FAQs

The Umrah visa is issued after the Saudi government completes the Hajj operations and post-Hajj cleaning. Generally, Umrah visas are issued in the beginning of Muharram and the last day for accepting the visa application is the 15th of the holy month of Ramadan. The Saudi Embassy in the UK takes 7-10 working days to complete the processing of the Umrah visa application. The processing time for the Umrah visa in the UK can depend on how busy the Saudi embassy in the UK is at that time. You can save a lot of time by completing all documents necessary and getting them reviewed by the experts at Rapid Visa.

The Umrah visa is valid for 30 days, if you apply under extended Umrah visa programme. Once you have been issued the visa, you will have 30 days to enter Saudi Arabia and stay there. The validity is reduced to 15 days by the Saudi Hajj Ministry in the months of Ramadan and Shaban, due to a rapid increase in the number of pilgrims during these months. The Umrah visa in the month of Ramadan cannot exceed beyond the last day of Ramadan. You need to leave Saudi Arabia by the end of Ramadan and not celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr there. Consult Rapid Visas if you are planning to travel for Umrah in the months of Shaban and Ramadan.

Yes, you can apply for the Umrah visa from the UK. For this, you need to submit a copy of your United Kingdom residence card to prove that you are a permanent resident of the nation. Apart from this, you need to fulfil all the other eligibility criteria for the visa, just like other UK nationals. Consider applying for the visa through a registered visa services provider to ease the process.
The Umrah visa is issued after the Saudi government completes the Hajj operations and post-Hajj cleaning. Generally they are provided in the beginning of Muharram and the last day for accepting the umrah visa application is the 15th of the holy month of Ramadan. The Saudi Embassy in the UK takes 7-10 working days to complete the processing of the umrah visa application. The processing time of the umrah visa in the UK can depend on how busy the Saudi embassy in the UK is. You can save a lot of time by using the help of a reliable visa service like Rapid Visas, which has a track record of success with visa applications.
If you are a converted Muslim or you have a non-Muslim name or both, you need to provide a certificate issued by your nearest Islamic centre or certified mosque proving that you are a Muslim. Apart from this, you need to fulfil all the other eligibility criteria. Apply for the Umrah visa through a registered visa service agent, such as Rapid Visas, for a smooth and hassle-free experience.

Yes, the Umrah visa is very popular. Umrah is the lesser pilgrimage for Muslims and can be undertaken at any time of the year. It holds special significance in Islam, although it isn’t mandatory like the Hajj. According to the Saudi Hajj and Umrah Ministry, over 500,000 Umrah visas were issued in 2018.

On an average 25,000 Muslims from the UK travel for Umrah each year. The largest number of Umrah pilgrims in 2018 arrived from Pakistan (119,776), followed by India (72,442), Indonesia (31,729), Yemen (7,337) and Jordan (6,447). The Saudi government targets to attract 30 million Umrah pilgrims by 2030.

Yes, citizens of Palestine are restricted from travelling to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah. This prevents over one and a half million Palestinian citizens from travelling to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah on temporary passports provided by Jordan. This rule also prevents the issue of Umrah visas to Palestinian citizens residing in Lebanon, East Jerusalem and Israel, holding temporary passports provided by Jordan or Lebanon. This rule prevents around 3 million Palestinians residing in these countries from performing the Hajj and Umrah.

Here’s a list of things that you should know before travelling for Umrah:

  • Smuggling or carrying narcotics and illegal drugs is punishable by the death penalty.
  • Consuming, importing, brewing and selling of alcohol is completely banned in Saudi Arabia.
  • No food products are allowed to be carried into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
  • Umrah pilgrims are highly advised to leave the kingdom before the validity of their visa expires.
  • Umrah pilgrims should declare all the currencies they possess and exchange them into SAR through certified currency exchange centres.
  • Umrah pilgrims can visit any city besides the holy sites, if they have the permission from the authorised Saudi passport offices and have arranged transportation for it.
  • You need to carry your vaccination and other documents for inspection at the airport by the Saudi authorities.

No, Pakistani citizens are not required to pay Umrah tax. The additional 2,000 riyal tax levied on Pakistani citizens was abolished by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In 2018, the largest number of Umrah pilgrims were from Pakistan (119,776). If you are a Pakistani citizen residing in the UK on a work visa, you need to submit a copy of your United Kingdom residence card to prove that you are a permanent resident of the UK. Apart from this, you need to fulfil all the other requirements, just like any other UK citizen for the Umrah visa. You need to apply for the Umrah visa through a registered visa service agents.

Yes, you can visit any city beside the holy sites on your 30-day Umrah visa, 15 days of which you need to spend visiting the two holy mosques. You need to have permission from the authorised Saudi passport offices for this visit. Your travel agent should also be informed, since they will arrange transportation and accommodation for your visit to other cities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Yes, you have to undertake the biometric process, even if you have travelled to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia before. You need to provide biometric readings every time you apply for a new visa to the kingdom. For this, you are required to provide fingerprint scan and face scan. You are exempted from undertaking biometric process again if you are applying under the Diplomatic visa category, if the Saudi embassy in the UK has requested the visa service to avoid this procedure prior to the appointment date at the Saudi embassy in London and you are unable to undergo the process due to medical reasons.

No, you don’t need an Umrah visa if you are a citizen of the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries. You can perform Umrah like any other resident and citizen of Saudi Arabia. But you have to book transportation and accommodation with a registered Umrah agency and pay for the services provided by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the pilgrims. The citizens of GCC countries can enter the kingdom via road, but as a group travelling through a registered Umrah agency.

No, Saudi Arabia has not blocked visas for West African countries. A ban was imposed on three West African countries, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, after these countries suffered massive Ebola virus outbreaks. This stopped nearly 14 million citizens from these countries from undertaking Hajj and Umrah. This step was taken to ensure the safety of other pilgrims and residents of Saudi Arabia against the virus. If you are a citizen of a West African country residing in the UK, you can apply for the Umrah visa by providing proof via your permanent residence card at the Saudi Arabian embassy in London and fulfilling the other requirements necessary to obtain the Umrah visa.

You can get a Hajj Safety Guide from various online sources and the travel agent arranging your stay in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Arabian government has made it compulsory for all countries and travel agents to inform pilgrims about potential health hazards and safety procedures before they land for the pilgrimage. The Saudi government also undertakes initiatives to provide pilgrims basic services, such as hygiene, food provision and help desk. There are shelter centres for providing first aid and refuge centres for the underprivileged and lost. The government also plans to transfer, evacuate and provide shelter to up to 10,000 pilgrims in case of any emergency, such as an accident or natural disaster in the holy sites.

Quick FAQs

Yes, you can travel alone or in a group of people for Umrah. You just need to get your accommodation and Umrah visa arranged via a registered Umrah agent. If you are a woman under the age of 45, you need to be accompanied by a Mahram (male relative), with certificates proving kinship.

Yes, you can plan your visit to Saudi Arabia with a stopover in another country. There are a number of airlines, such as Etihad, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Gulf Air, Royal Jordanian, Turkish Airlines and Egypt Air, which provide stopovers and trips to places in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and further East. But you have to enter Saudi Arabia within one month of the issue date on your Umrah visa.

You are required to make all the bookings prior to applying for the Umrah visa. Refunds are not available for accommodation provided on the ground. Refunds on the tickets depends on the type of ticket you have bought and the airline’s rules on refund. Non-refundable tickets are given priority for Umrah visa by the Saudi Arabian embassy in London.
As per the new rules, there are no restrictions on the number of times you can apply for an Umrah visa. You just need to fulfil all the requirements. Subsequent visits will add an extra 2,000 SAR to your Umrah visa cost, as per the new rules.
While there are no such rules for performing Umrah, although there are rules after you have completed the pilgrimage. Man are required to either shave off their head (Halq) or trim down their hair evenly (Qasr). Women have to trim their hair (Taqsir). As per Sunan Tirmidhi, the Book of Hajj, Hadith #837, the Prophet prays for both who shave their head and those who trim their hair, so both are allowed.

Yes, you can be a Mahram for your adopted sister, if she has been legally adopted as per the due process. You should carry official documents of adoption on your trip to prove that she is your legally adopted sister to avoid any problem during your travels.

Yes, your step brother can be your Mahram. If your parents are legally married, then the step children will be considered kin. This means they will be considered as siblings as per Sharia. So, a step brother or step-son can be classified as a Mahram.

Since Qatar is part of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the citizens of Qatar don’t need an Umrah visa to undertake a pilgrimage and they can enter the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia via road as well. A blockade was imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia due to political reasons, which led to the Saudi embassy being closed down in Qatar. Due to this, there citizens of Qatar were unable to visit Saudi Arabia for Umrah.