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Before You Go

Pilgrimage Travelers (Hajj and Umrah)

Hajj is an annual religious pilgrimage to Mecca undertaken each year by 2-3 million people. This year Hajj occurs from approximately 20 August 2018 to 23 August 2018. Umrah is a pilgrimage that can be completed at any time of the year.

MERS Coronavirus Advisory

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus (MERS CoV) continues to pose risks in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government recommends that the following travelers postpone undertaking pilgrimages:

  • Pregnant women
  • Children
  • Those with chronic health issues, such as heart, kidney, diabetes, cancer or respiratory diseases
  • Those with congenital or acquired immunodeficiency disorders

See the Saudi Ministry of Health website and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for additional information on MERS CoV.

 

Planning ahead for Hajj and Umrah is essential. Please review the following information and links for more details concerning:

  • Pilgrimage Travel Requirements
  • Hiring Reputable Tour Operators
  • Visa Information
  • Female Pilgrims
  • Travelers with Disabilities
  • Health
  • Transportation at the Airport and Between Ritual Sites
  • Photographs
  • Transport of Agricultural Items and Zamzam Water
  • Safety and Emergency Information
  • Contact Information for Hajj and Umrah Authorities
  • Emergency Contact Information for U.S. Citizens
  • Consular Services for U.S. Citizens

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Pilgrimage Travel Requirements

Please see our traveler’s checklist for additional information. Prospective pilgrims from any country can find information about the rituals and requirements of Hajj here.

For pilgrimage, you must have:

  • A vaccination certificate prepared for inspection by Saudi authorities at the port of entry. Current vaccination requirements are available from the website of the Saudi Ministry of Health.
  • The Saudi identification card and wristband issued by your Hajj travel agent. Keep them with you at all times.
  • Valid permit to perform Hajj. The Saudi government enforces strict penalties (fines, detention, and travel bans) on people who perform Hajj without this permit.
  • Hajj and Umrah travel plans must be made through a Saudi government-approved travel agent. This is how you obtain entry, accommodation, and transportation in Saudi Arabia. For a list of approved travel agencies, see the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia website and the Saudi Hajj Ministry website.

Please select a reputable, approved travel agent and ensure that you are guaranteed accommodations and transportation, in addition to an entry visa.

Failure to obtain a permit or use an approved travel agent can result in:

  • Immediate deportation
  • Detention
  • Large fines
  • Ban on future travel to Saudi Arabia

Do not travel to Saudi Arabia without lodging or transportation arrangements made in advance. You may face difficulties with Saudi immigration and have trouble finding available services once you have arrived.

The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh and Consulates General in Jeddah and Dhahran cannot assist in arranging travel permissions within Saudi Arabia or resolving immigration violations.

U.S. citizens resident in Saudi Arabia must travel with Saudi-government-approved sponsor groups to perform Hajj. Foreign Muslim residents of Saudi Arabia may perform the Hajj once every five years. Advance approval must be obtained from an immigration office and with the approval of their Saudi sponsor.

Keep travel documents (your U.S. passport or U.S. “green card” residency permit) secure during your trip. Make two copies of your passport—including pages stamped with Saudi visas—with one set at home and the other in a safe place while you travel.

Always carry contact information for:

  • U.S. Embassy Riyadh and Consulate General Jeddah
  • U.S. travel agent and its Saudi representatives
  • Your hotel
  • Your travel group
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Hiring Reputable Tour Operators

Hajj and Umrah are attractive targets for defrauding unsuspecting travelers. Be aware of unscrupulous tour operators who abandon pilgrims, leaving them with unpaid bills, and hoteliers who demand the payment of exorbitant “hidden charges” for the return of passports. Only deal with licensed and established tour operators.

For a list of approved travel agencies, see the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia website and the Saudi Hajj Ministry website.

Pick-pocketing and other forms of theft are prevalent in Mecca, particularly in the region of the Grand Mosque, and in Medina. Stay with your travel agency group at all times, and do not leave passports or valuables unattended.

Lost U.S. passports or residency permits (“green cards”):

  • Report the loss immediately to your travel agent.
  • Obtain a report from the local police.
  • Contact the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah for assistance issuing replacement passports to U.S. citizens, and “boarding foils” to U.S. legal permanent residents who lose their residency permits.
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Visa Information

The Hijri calendar is used in Saudi Arabia for all official functions. Please review the dates on your visa carefully, and make sure you know when it expires.

Do not overstay your Hajj or Umrah visa. Penalties for overstays may include fines amounting to thousands of dollars, detention pending deportation proceedings, and bans on returning to Saudi Arabia in the future.

Umrah visas are typically valid for about two weeks. You must depart before the visa expires.

Ask travel agents for updates should the Saudi government revise its requirements. During Hajj, the government may set new departure requirements that limit when you can depart. Local regulations include provisions that may keep you from leaving early. Travelers must comply with all Saudi government travel regulations.

Permitted areas of travel and duration of stay: If you are unsure, be sure to ask for clarification upon arrival.

  • Hajj and Umrah (pilgrimage) visas are valid for travel only in the vicinities of Jeddah, Mecca, and Medina, and for travel between these cities. These visas are not valid for work or residency. Unapproved travel outside these areas may result in immigration violations and penalties.
  • Non-Muslims are forbidden to travel to the holy city of Mecca, and the portions of Medina which are considered sacred. All pilgrims must leave Saudi Arabia after Hajj no later than the 10th of Muharram of each year (this year approximately September 20, 2018).
  • Pilgrims are forbidden to stay in Saudi Arabia after the completion of Hajj.
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Female Pilgrims

Saudi visa rules require that women below the age of 45 must be accompanied by a “mahram” (e.g. a male member of their immediate family) for Hajj or Umrah. Women must travel with their mahram, or be met by them upon arrival; otherwise, they may experience significant delays and/or be denied entry.

Women over 45 may travel within a tour group and without a mahram provided they submit a notarized letter of no objection from someone who could be considered their mahram, authorizing travel for Hajj or Umrah with the named group.

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Travelers with Disabilities

Be prepared for standards of accessibility and accommodation below the minimum of what is required in the United States. While most of the Holy Sites, such as the Grand Mosque in Mecca, are handicap-accessible, most hotels and transportation options are not. Check with your tour group provider to ensure your needs are well known and can be accommodated.

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Health

Make sure your routine immunizations are up to date, and ask your tour operator about the vaccinations required for your visa. Hepatitis A and B and polio vaccinations are also recommended. Make sure to check language on medical needs (get your prescriptions, get your flu shot; meningitis and other vaccinations may be recommended by your doctor).

Carry hand sanitizer, as well as treatments for colds, diarrhea, and anything else you might need.

Heat-related illnesses: Move to a cool area and seek medical attention if you experience profuse sweating, chills, headache, dizziness, and nausea. Temperatures at pilgrimage sites consistently exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer. Stay hydrated, rest, and use protection from the sun.

There are facilities providing water, public accommodations, and other amenities. Due to large crowds, however, travelers should expect long wait times for basic amenities, especially in Mina, Muzdalifa, and Arafat.

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Transportation

At the Airport: Expect Crowded Airport Terminals

  • Due to the incredible numbers of people being simultaneously processed at the King Abdul-Aziz International Airport in Jeddah, disembarking, immigration and customs processes may take quite a few hours.

 

  • Expect a lengthy wait in hot and humid conditions before leaving the airport. Travelers with only carry-on bags will find their airport experience to be much easier than those with checked baggage.
  • Some Hajj pilgrims now fly directly to Medina and proceed to Mecca by road. There is no option to fly to Mecca.
  • The Saudi authorities will only permit travelers to leave the dedicated Hajj terminal with their tour groups. Please contact your tour operator directly if they do not meet you at the airport.

Between Ritual Sites

  • The Saudi government provides strict timetables to Hajj groups for all travel (bus, light rail, and foot) between the ritual sites. All routes and modes of transport will be extremely congested, and travelers should prepare for long delays.
  • Light rail trains are typically overwhelmed, with pilgrims waiting several hours at the train stations at Arafat and Muzdalifah on crowded platforms before being able to board a train. Train cars will also be very crowded. Timetables and light rail movements are outside the control of travel agencies.
  • Use maps and smartphone applications to navigate the Hajj ritual sites that stretch from the Grand Mosque (Al Masjid al Haram) to Arafat.
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Photographs

Saudi authorities forbid the taking of photographs (still or video, including those taken with your phone) at the Holy Mosque at Mecca or at the Prophet's Mosque at Medina. Any violation of official instructions is likely to lead to the confiscation of your device. Please exercise good judgment and respect the rules of each site.

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Transport of Agricultural Items and Zamzam Water

See U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for guidance on bringing religious articles back to the United States.

We recommend that travelers returning to the U.S. not bring any food items, including dates, that are not commercially processed and in their sealed, original container. U.S. CBP officers at the port of entry to the U.S. are responsible for deciding which items to allow.

Zamzam water (drawn from the sacred Zamzam well inside the Grand Mosque): Please check with your travel agent and airline for guidance. Most airlines limit each traveler to one container of up to 10 liters (2.64 gallons) of Zamzam water as checked baggage.

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Safety and Emergency Information

 

In the event of an emergency, please use your social media and other accounts to let family and friends know that you are OK. Doing so reassures your loved ones and allows our Embassy and Consulate staff to focus their efforts on helping other people in need of emergency assistance. 

Emergency Contact Information for Hajj Authorities

  • The National Tawafa Establishment for Pilgrims of Turkey and Muslims of Europe, Americas, and Australia
    Telephone: +966-920-012-013, Mobile: +966-505-608-150
    Fax:  966-920-006-620
    Website: http://www.teaa.com.sa/
    Street Address: Mecca Al Mukarramah, Al Nuzha Road, near Alnuzha Bridge
  • Health Affairs
    012-530-8812
  • Lost Pilgrims
    012-530-8813
  • Emergency Services
    Ambulance 997
    Police 999
    Traffic Accidents 993

Note: When dialing the Jeddah area (includes Mecca and Taif) from the U.S., use country code 966 and city code 12. For example, dial 011-966-012-667-0080 to reach us at U.S. Consulate General Jeddah. When dialing the Riyadh area, use city code 11, e.g. 011-966-11-488-3800 for the U.S. Embassy. Cell phone numbers do not use the city code.

Emergency Contact Information for U.S. Citizens

  • U.S. Embassy Riyadh:                      (966) (11) 488-3800
  • U.S. Consulate General Jeddah:        (966) (12) 667-0080
  • U.S. Consulate General Dhahran:      (966) (13) 330-3200

Hours of operation are from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 pm local time in Saudi Arabia, Sunday through Thursday for routine inquiries. During regular business hours, please ask for the American Citizens Services Unit.

In 2018, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates General will be closed for routine services from August 20-23 for Eid-al-Adha, and September 23 for Saudi National Day.

For emergency cases outside of regular business hours or during holidays, use the same numbers listed above to reach a duty officer for assistance.

In addition, you can call the Department of State from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays):

            From the U.S. & Canada:    1-888-407-4747
            From Overseas:               +1-202-501-4444

What We Can and Cannot Do

We hope that you will have a trouble-free Hajj or Umrah, as thousands of other pilgrims from the United States do each year. If something does go wrong, however, the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah can provide you appropriate consular services, such as:

  • Arrange for emergency U.S. passports and “boarding foils” for lost I-551 (“green cards”) for U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents. After Hajj, please bring a report from the police station regarding the theft or loss, and a copy of your U.S. passport or green card if possible.
  • Seek to contact you within 24 hours of being told that you have been arrested.
  • Make special arrangements in case of civil disturbances or disasters.
  • Provide contact information for local lawyers and hospitals.
  • Arrange for a spouse or next of kin to be informed if you are involved in an accident, arrested, or die, and advise them on the appropriate procedures.

We cannot, however:

  • Arrange for travel outside of the designated areas in Mecca and Medina.
  • Resolve immigration violations.
  • Become involved in any disagreements, e.g. pilgrim and travel agency disputes or lost baggage.
  • Rearrange airline, hotel, or other travel bookings.
  • Pay for hotel, legal, medical, travel, or other bills.
  • Obtain someone’s release from prison.
  • Provide legal advice or intervene in court cases or criminal investigations
Last Updated: July 11, 2018
Hajj 2018 Brochure

Downloadable Hajj 2018 Brochure to take with you.