The Prophet (peace be upon him) advised the youth to marry, if they are able. There is no doubt that his is the best and most complete of advice.
Having said that, living as a married student in Madinah can be very difficult. If you are considering whether to get married before you apply or not, I strongly advise to apply first – if you get accepted, then go and see for yourself before you decide whether to get married before or after study.
If you are already married, then you have to make a decision about whether to apply or not. I don’t want to put anyone off applying. I applied when I was married, and brought my wife here successfully al-hamdulillah – but I have seen many students that it didn’t work out for. Living apart for 9 months out of the year can put strain on any marriage! Eventually, if your efforts to bring your wife don’t work out, you have to be prepared to live apart for the best part of six years.
One thing that I want to encourage with this site, is for dedicated students to apply, who are going to inshaa Allah last the whole six years, and maybe even go on to masters and doctorate. The last thing that any of us want is for people to get accepted, take the place of others, and then quit after a year or two. So the message is clear: if you are really dedicated to your study, and you are prepared to endure the hardships which are involved, and you understand the risk of not being able to bring your wife, and are still committed to your study, as well as placing your trust in Allah – then there is no reason why you shouldn’t apply as a married student. If you don’t fit that description, look at other avenues, such as Umm-ul-Quraa in Makkah, who accept married students.
The first thing you need to know about being a married student in Madinah, is that the university will not generally provide any support. Everything you do is on your own – so be prepared for some hard work.
The most important thing is to get a residency permit. This allows your wife to live legally in Saudi Arabia for the duration of your study. Students used to bring their wives illegally, by bringing them on an ‘Umrah visa and then not going back, but this has become more and more dangerous. The police and other authorities are much less likely to let you off than they were before, and your life becomes extremely restricted, in terms of not being able to travel, either within the country or abroad, and being restricted as to which services (health care, education, etc) you can use. In the last few weeks, the university has been offering residency permits to married students from countries in which Muslims are a minority, on the condition that they agree to take full responsibility, and that they will not seek any help from the university. It is not clear whether any students have been successful, nor is it clear whether this is a temporary situation or not.
Getting a residency permit is not easy – and that’s an understatement – except for those whom Allah has mercy upon. Outside of the university procedure (see the note above), there are only two other ways that I know of to get a permit. The first, is to get permission from the Saudi Interior Ministry. This involves several trips to Riyaadh/Jeddah and trying to get a minute to see one of the princes, who can sign your request. I know brothers who have been doing this for years without success, and some who got their papers signed the first time they tried. Even once the papers are signed, it can be many months before all of the documentation is in place, and the visa is sent to the Saudi embassy in your home country.
The second method is to buy a residency permit. This basically means that you pay a legitimate employer to process your wife’s application as an employee. It normally doesn’t work if your wife is from the west, because they don’t accept western women as maids or child minders, and it is very hard to find an educational provider who sells permits, and they usually require the woman to have at least a master’s degree. Brothers who have wives who live in the Indian subcontinent are more likely to be able to take this route, but it is extremely dangerous, because you are entirely at the mercy of the person you buy the visa from. They take your wife’s passport and can basically do whatever they want, since Saudi isn’t exactly known for worker’s rights (another major understatement!). However, some brothers have been able to do it successfully, by finding a practising Saudi employer who is willing to help them out.
In general residency permits can only be granted to people who entered the country on a visit visa, not people who have ‘Umrah or Hajj visas. Therefore, those people who brought their wives illegally, then got a visa, usually need to send their wives back to their home country before they can bring them legally.
Most residency permits carry an initial charge of 2000 riyals (around £370, $530).
It is possible to get visit visas issued, which allow her to stay for 3 months (and can be converted to a residency permit if you get permission), however, these are also very hard to come by, since they need permission from the university (and they don’t normally give permission), or from the Interior Ministry (see above). Still, some brothers manage to get visit visas from time to time.
The only other legal alternative is to bring your wife on a ‘Umrah visa, which is valid for up to one month. Most travel agents can arrange visas without needing to go with a group, so you have a month in which she can stay. However, she has to go back within a month, so it is expensive, not to mention the problem of finding a mahram to take her back. Really, the only practical way is to bring her with another mahram (such as her brother, father etc), and have them both stay for a month, then go back.
Once you have a residency permit, you can go to the university and apply for university accommodation. The waiting list is around 2 years at the moment (even though there has been a recent development which looks to speed this up), during which time you have to pay for your own accommodation, since you can’t even apply until your wife is living in Saudi. The current university policy is that they no longer provide any form of accommodation for students, even if they have legal residency permits from the university. The exception to this is for students enrolled on the master’s programme, although this may also change, and there is a feeling that the eventual policy will be that accommodation is only provided for students at doctorate level. Some brothers don’t bother with the university accommodation, because of some of the pitfalls, such as the size of the flat, or trouble from the accommodation staff – it really depends upon someones financial situation.
There are some charity organisations which offer free accommodation for married students with legal residency permits. However, places are very competitive, and the relative size of the buildings, in comparison to the number of students who wish to apply, is very small.
As for living in Madinah, there are a number of aspects to consider:
- Modest rented accommodation (for those who don’t have the free university accommodation), such as a two bedroom flat in a decent area, will cost you from 11000-15000 riyals a year (between £2000 and £2750 per year, $3000-$4000).
- Household bills excluding food, are around 200 riyals (around £35, $50).
- A (very old) second hand car, will cost somewhere in the region of 10000 riyals (around £1850, $2650). Maintaining it is usually also very costly, and can be as much as 200 riyals (£35, $50) a month. Petrol is extremely cheap though, at just over half a riyal per litre (about 9p, 13c).
- Food depends on your lifestyle, but an estimate of 600-800 riyals (£110-£145, $160-$210) a month for a married couple with two children is probably reasonable, but those who have a simpler lifestyle can probably half that, whereas those who like their western brands & comforts would pay more.
- Travelling back with family to your home country. As previously mentioned the university gives one free ticket for the student per year. This doesn’t include family, even if your family are living legally and registered with the university. A entry-exit visa costs 200 riyals (£35, $50) per person (children with their own passport also need one). An adult ticket to the UK depends on the length of stay. The cheapest tickets are for 1 month only, followed by 1-3 months, the most expensive are 3+ months. As a rough estimate to the UK: 2500 riyals (approx £450) for 1 month adult return, 4000 riyals (approx £750) for 1-3 months return, and 5500 riyals (around £1000) for 3+ months return. These prices change every year depending on fuel costs etc. Children under 2 years pay 10% of the adult price. Children over 2 years pay 75% of the adult price – which can be very expensive if you have a lot of older children! Also worth noting is that tickets in the winter break are very cheap, they are currently around 1800 riyals (£330) for a single adult return to London. For more information check out the Saudi Airlines website.
As for women’s education, I mentioned a few things on the sisters’ page.
In terms of children, this can be a problem for some students. There is very little provision in terms of child care and education. Firstly, many schools are for Saudi nationals only. The schools which aren’t are usually very poor quality. There are no nursery/parent & toddler type facilities like you would find in the UK. As far as I understand from my Saudi neighbours, it is very rare for a child younger than 5 to go to any kind of school, unless they are exceptionally gifted. Even when they do go to school, there is rarely any kind of education like you would expect from a western school. They mostly just seem to play.
There are sometime creche type facilities, for example in the Arabic language courses which are offered to student’s wives (see the sisters’ page) – but to be honest, I’ve never heard anyone have a good word to say about them, and most complain of diseases and unexplained injuries – so personally I’d give it a miss. They are mostly staffed by unqualified maids, who get paid so little and treat so badly, they don’t really have any incentive to look after the kids at all.
On the other hand, I have heard rumours of one or two good schools – maybe some brothers can comment if they can recommend any.