The Ministry of Pilgrimage today issued new regulations covering the services of the specialized companies that organize pilgrimages from overseas, specifically on umrah (the lesser pilgrimage to Makkah) and ziarah (pilgrimage to the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah). Any company wishing to offer such services, must present an unconditional bank guarantee of SR 200,000 [U.S. $ 53,333], must be fully equipped with computer systems, and have offices in Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah in addition to their headquarters. Women may own such service agencies, provided that all top personnel are Saudi nationals of good conduct. The renewable five-year license is not transferable. The agency is required to receive the pilgrims at their point of entry into the Kingdom, provide accommodation for them, and care for their comfort during their stay according to the arrangements agreed upon. The Ministry of Pilgrimage has prepared model contracts for use by these agencies.
Anyone wishing to apply for an umrah or ziarah visa should provide the relevant Saudi diplomatic mission with the required health certificates, a round-trip air ticket with confirmed reservations, and either an individual or a group financial guarantee.
Exemptions from all or part of the above may apply to some individuals, such as prominent Muslim personalities, guests of the government, and those already granted visitors' visas, who may choose not to join a pilgrimage group.
Pilgrims holding umrah or ziarah visas may visit other parts of the Kingdom, but may travel only aboard Saudi Airlines, SAPTCO buses, licensed taxis, and vehicles belonging either to pilgrim transportation companies, or to the company whose guests they are.