What is Iqama in Saudi Arabia? A Comprehensive Guide

By Mohammed Ameen

Updated on:

What is Iqama in Saudi Arabia

For many, the word “Iqama” may sound unfamiliar, but for those living or intending to work in Saudi Arabia, it is an important piece of identification. This comprehensive guide will explain what is iqama, its importance, and its role in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

1. Understanding the Basics of Iqama

What is an Iqama?

An Iqama, often referred to as a “residence permit“, is a legal document that provides expatriates the right to live and work in Saudi Arabia. It is a small laminated card, similar in size to a credit card, containing personal details, profession, and other pertinent information.

Related article: How to check Iqama validity online

Iqama vs. Visa

While both the Iqama and visa are integral for expatriates in Saudi Arabia, they serve different purposes. A visa allows an individual to enter the country, either for a visit or work. On the other hand, the Iqama is evidence that the individual is a registered resident with permission to work.

2. Why is Iqama Important for Expatriates?

Holding a valid Iqama is not just a formality but a necessity for several reasons:

  • Legal Work Status: To legally work in Saudi Arabia, expatriates must possess an Iqama. Employers often demand it before formalizing employment.
  • Identification: It serves as an official ID card, required for daily activities such as banking, medical services, and more.
  • Travel Inside GCC Countries: Iqama holders can travel some of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries without requiring a visa.

Also read: Qatar on arrival visa for Saudi Iqama holders

3. Applying for an Iqama: The Process

Once an individual enters Saudi Arabia with a work visa, the process to obtain an Iqama begins:

  1. Medical Examination: Newcomers must undergo a medical examination in Saudi Arabia.
  2. Medical Insurance: Before the issuance of an Iqama, it’s mandatory for expatriates to have medical insurance. The type of insurance and its coverage may vary, but it’s an essential criterion. Employers provide medical insurance for their foreign employees.
  3. Document Submission: Employers submit necessary documents including the medical report, passport copy, and work visa to the Ministry of Interior.
  4. Payment of Fee: A fee is to be paid for the Iqama issuance. This is usually borne by the employer.
  5. Iqama Issuance: Upon successful verification, the Iqama is issued, typically valid for 1 to 2 years.

Related article: How to obtain Iqama for a newborn child in Saudi Arabia

4. Validity and Renewal

Most Iqamas have a validity of 1 to 2 years. It’s crucial to renew the Iqama before its expiration. Employers usually handle the renewal process, which includes a renewal fee.

5. Rights and Responsibilities of Iqama Holders

  • Rights: Iqama holders have the right to work, access public services, and enjoy protections under Saudi labor laws.
  • Responsibilities: They must always carry their Iqama, notify authorities of lost Iqama, and avoid working in professions other than what’s mentioned on the card.


The Iqama is a cornerstone for expatriates living and working in Saudi Arabia. It’s not just a piece of identification but a testament to one’s legal status in the Kingdom. By understanding its importance and ensuring its timely renewal, expatriates can ensure a smooth and hassle-free stay in Saudi Arabia.

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