In a move widely welcomed by the Muslim world, the Saudi Arabian government has scrapped repeat umrah visa fees. The scrapping has also been coupled with the introduction of a new online umrah booking system that makes it possible to book and plan your Umrah with increased independence. However, those wishing to go on umrah will still have several fees to pay that are associated with obtaining their visas and travelling to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
If you want to go on umrah in a group and you are utilising the services of operators, you will not have to pay a repeat visa fee anymore but you will have to pay a Saudi tax of 300 Saudi Riyals, a meet and greet 93 Saudi Riyal fee, a 105 Saudi Riyal fee to a Saudi operator, an additional admin fee to pay a South African tour operator and then an admin fee to a Saudi tour operator.
If you utilise the new online system and bypass the operators, you will no longer have to pay the 105 Saudi Riyal fee but it has been mentioned that other fees would be incurred – likely leading to the bypassing of the operators becoming a more costly option. You will still pay the 300 Riyal Saudi tax, the meet and greet fee of 93 Riyal and a 7.5% fee that is incorporated into your booking fee.
Furthermore, in order to use the new online system introduced by Saudi, users will need to register with the site online and have sufficient financial resources on their credit cards for online payment.
“The 2000 Riyal has been scrapped with immediate effect and the global community will be very happy about that. The whole umrah system has also been revised,” said the president of the South African Travel and Hajj Operators Association, Sedick Steenkamp.
Saudi authorities have rolled out two systems: the Business to Consumer system and the Business to Business system. This is in response to numerous concerns raised by consumers about the need to book with an umrah operator, which many people believe is costly.
With the BTC system, travellers can go online, book hotels, book transfers and have visas issued within the BTC system. The other system is the same system [as what people are used to] where the traveller would go through an Umrah operator.”
Therefore, the BTC system applies to individuals or small groups and the BTB system applies to big groups going on umrah or those who simply wish to follow the old route.
Both systems will have different cost structures and both have been implemented from 1 Muharram 1441.
With all the above considered, however, it is essential to reiterate that all those going on Umrah will have to pay a Saudi tax of 300 Saudi Riyals. Additional costs incurred when utilising the BTC system will vary.
Furthermore, while the new umrah online system has been introduced, it is not yet glitch-free and accessible in South Africa. South Africans can, however, expect the BTC system for umrah to be active and working in the country within the next few weeks.
“If you want to go on umrah you have to make arrangements early, make sure you pay timeously, make sure you have the money in the right bank account there and ensure that everything works so that the visa can be issued on time,” said Steenkamp.
The biometrics process – which forms part of the visa application process – must also be done six months prior to departure, according to the spokesperson for the South African Muslim Travel Association, Ismail Ola.