Brother Adam got accepted for October 2008. He has kindly documented the process that he went through to get his visa and ticket. Some other brothers have some updates to this, so I need to update it in the next few days, in shaa Allah.
So you got accepted?
If Allah favours you with being accepted by the university then you are at the beginning of a long and pleasant journey in dealing with the Saudi consular services. In fact, in my experience the process is not as bad as the notorious reputation led me to believe, but nevertheless you need a lot of patience and du’a when going through with this process.
My experience was in the UK, but I imagine the process is basically the same for every country. Always check the embassy websites thoroughly to be sure about the requirements, and if in doubt, do something extra rather than presuming you will be ok.
I encountered an unusual problem, which was that I never received the official acceptance letter from the university, which I only discovered from contacts in the university after the term began. Everything I did was therefore last minute, which made it easier in a way as the diplomatic offices were quieter after Ramadhan and before Hajj. If you apply, keep phoning the university and preferably get some contacts in Madinah so people can help you keep up to date – most major universities will have some Saudi students with some contacts in the city.
Make sure you have a valid passport. Get a load of passport photos – e.g. 18, and take them with you – you never know when you might need them. Keep ALL of your papers (including acceptance letter) together in a safe place, and try to file them in some sort of order.
Note you will be applying using the application form for a residency visa.
One thing you need to start preparing for well in advance is the letter from your MP stating that he or she has no objection to you studying in Medinah. Politicians can be very reluctant to do this these days, so it is a good idea to build up a relationship with your MP – I had previously emailed him about Islamic issues including British foreign policy in the Middle East using the ‘They Work For You’ website. By doing this they will have a vague recollection of who you are. I wrote to him using the same website reminding him about myself, and telling him about the schools and university I went to, and explaining to him the red tape nature of the requirement, and that it is part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to fight terrorism and extremism, and he was happy enough to write the letter. Another approach I considered was to get some official and respectable Islamic organisations to write a letter of introduction to the MP explaining the situation. It is a good idea to ask the MP to send a few copies of the letter, and explain that it should be on official stationary with a stamp.
The medical report can be a bit of a pain, as you will already know from applying. The doctors don’t understand the concept of red tape in the Arab world; mine wanted to give me a full medical. After a laborious exchange with the admin staff at the surgery lasting for several days they eventually understood that I just wanted the doctor to write ‘no known history’ and vaccination details from my medical history. They charged me about £30+, the fee was for the doctor looking through the notes. Make sure they understand the situation EXACTLY when you hand the form in or you will have to phone and argue with them for days.
You need to get a FULL birth certificate (an A4 paper from the registry office), which cost about £8 for me, and a university transcript OR your last educational documents used in the application.
Get the medical report and educational documents confirmed by a solicitor. This is not the expensive £70-plus affair advertised by notaries public etc., it is a simple and commonplace oath which cost me less than £10. The solicitor just looks at it, stamps it, and signs it saying ‘I, …, confirm that this appears to be an original …’ It is also probably a good idea to get some photocopies and get them stamped while you are there – any solicitor can do this, if you go to a smaller place they will probably be more friendly and less likely to rob you.
You will need a character reference and two letters of introduction from two organisations well known to the Saudi Cultural Office. In my case I used Ahl ul-Hadith. Make sure everything has a stamp. In addition it is a good idea to get all of these things translated – I think any friend who speaks Arabic will be happy to do this, but it MUST be stamped by the mosque or an official organisation so that they know it is official.
The medical report and the university transcript MUST be legalised by the Foreign Office (AFTER BEING CONFIRMED BY THE SOLICITOR), and it is recommended that the birth certificate should be (the visa agent told me it was unnecessary, but they could always turn around and ask for it so it’s better to do it), costing about £27 per document (by postal order available from the post office) plus postage. Make sure you do this as soon as possible as it can take up to fifteen days.
Next you need to go to the Saudi Embassy offices in London. Plan your day in advance, if you book early you will get a cheaper train, in my case I got the bus, which can be a bit gruelling if you don’t live in the South. Coaches go to Victoria, which is very near the main destination of the Cultural Office, and Saudi Airlines. If you go by train you will have to get to Victoria Underground. Go to Google maps and plot your journey (walking), print off the map and take it with you. The addresses you need are:Saudi Arabian Cultural Office
29 Belgrave Square
London SW1X 8QB
Tel: +44 (0)20 7245 9944<
Fax: +44 (0)20 7245 9895 Saudi Arabian Consular Office
30-32 Charles Street, W1J 5DZ
Tel: +44 (0)20 7917 3000
Fax: +44 (0)20 7917 3255 Saudi Arabian Airlines
173 Victoria Street LONDON SW1E 5NH
Reservation Tel 0044 207 798 9898
Reservation Fax 0044 207 798 9899 Able Can (Visa Agent)
London W1J 7NW
0207 568 6812
The first place you need to go is the Cultural Office, where you sign in and go to the third floor. There, a man will look through all of your papers and initial some and tell you to go downstairs to get them stamped by … – it is a good idea to write down the names otherwise you just wader around aimlessly. Do not expect people to come offering help – they are very busy and the office culture is totally different from the British system. If you have any problems, just ask some of the younger staff, especially if they are in a room by themselves, and they will usually be happy to help you. It is usual for one person to say one thing, then the next person says the opposite, but as long as you go where they tell you and get something stamped you will be ok inshaa Allah.
The next step officially should be the Consular Office, but in my experience the visa section just tell you to sit down and wait for the visa agent. You might be fortunate and they take your papers, but I would advise you just to go directly to the visa agent. They will charge you about £100, including the embassy charges, and they will handle everything and post the passport and documents to you. Both of these offices (Consular and visa agent) are on the other side of Wellington Arch roundabout, near Hyde Park Corner, and within easy walking distance of the Cultural Office and Victoria. The visa agent is on the main street next to the Piccadily Arcade.
I got all of this finished in one day then went home, but I have heard of brothers who had to go for a few days. As long as you have all of the documents it should be easy and you should be able to finish it in one day. If you prefer, you can call the Muntada Institute in advance and book a room for £20 per night or £70 per week – if you have the time and money this will make your life a bit easier if you don’t want to go backwards and forwards, but I feel that if you have everything it is easier to go on two separate days without staying in London and wasting money. I’ve lost their phone number, but you can email them to enquire at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is close by tube.
The student visa/residency permit should take about 3 days, so you can tell the visa agent to keep the visa (they will collect it for you and offer to post it) if you are in a rush, then collect it from them in London. If you have time it will save you a walk if you get it posted. If you have it at home, photocopy it, unless you are a dab hand at photocopying things in the Cultural Office.
When you have the visa you need to go to the Cultural Office again and show them the visa. They will ask you to photocopy it. They will write a ticket for Saudi Airlines – they will presume you are flying from London, so if you want to fly from Manchester tell them before they start writing.
Next you just go to Saudi Arabian airlines, which is down the road from Victoria Tube Station, and get the ticket. Check the times before you go so you know what plane will be suitable for you. Then you need to call the university so someone can meet you at the airport, and you are ready to start packing!
Additional Travel Notes:
I got everything finished very early on both days – I find it is quicker first thing in the morning. It is a good idea to have flexible travel tickets – often train tickets can be used any time on the day they are issued anyway now, and bus tickets for National Express can be amended, but the queues are usually long so allow plenty of time for that.
Make sure you have some coins for the toilets – Victoria Underground’s are quite clean.
Remember the salah – I arrived very early in the morning, so I took a bin liner and prayed in St James’ Park, about 15 minutes walk from Victoria. There is a mosque in the Cultural Office where you can pray Dhuhr and Asr.