Why would you need to leave Saudi Arabia Illegally?
There are many people working in Saudi Arabia who find themselves for one reason or another living there illegally and then wish to know how to escape from Saudi Arabia. It has happened to myself as a westerner once and I know many others who have had problems.
If you overstay your visa, or fail to renew your Iqama (Saudi residency permit) then you become an illegal and as such you could be imprisoned and fined if you try to leave the country. The fine is actually the responsibility of your sponsor but there could be problems if the sponsor claims that you are a runaway or some other problem that forced them to be unable to renew your visa or Iqama and you could be imprisoned whilst the argument is resolved.
Overstayed your Saudi Visa?
Should you find yourself illegal then you have few options, you cannot renew the visa once it is expired, nor the Iqama – unless you have a friend that works in the right department in the government and the bribe to go with it. I have heard of a few people who have managed to do this but not many.
You have to leave, if you are a westerner and your company is supporting you then you may be lucky and avoid any delays by your sponsor and yourself throwing yourselves to the mercy of the staff at the airport, on a good day with the payment of fines you could leave; on a bad day you could find yourself in jail for a day or three whilst the problem is investigated.
If your sponsor is not supporting you and offering to pay fines then you may have more severe problems and your jail time could be much longer whilst the problems are sorted out.
If you are not from the west, a runaway or on bad terms with your sponsor then your problems may be more severe. There are camps of people wanting to return home under a bridge in Jeddah, these people rely on handouts of food to survive or work illegally whilst they wait for someone to decide who will pay for them to be returned home. In addition to this camp there are often makeshift camps outside places such as the Philippines Embassy, Indonesian Embassies etc.
The people on these camps are generally ignored by the police as no one will agree as to whose responsibility it is to send these many illegals back to their countries; therefore many people remain at these camps for extended periods until either the Saudi government finds funds or the various embassies find the money to return a planeload back home.
How to Escape Saudi Arabia
Should you however want to leave the country without risking several weeks in a Saudi jail then there are ways to leave, however they do cost money!
My wife was an illegal when we met, she had gone to Saudi years before and her sponsor had decided to move to Riyadh from Jeddah; my wife had family in Jeddah and did not want to move so her sponsor agreed that she could remain in Jeddah to find work under the “supervision” of the licensing officer who was looking after her passport and her Iqama. However she ended up working for a hospital which did not want to get an iqama for her and her iqama eventually expired. The licensing officer gave her a letter to say that her iqama was under processing in case she was stopped but she was now officially an illegal worker in KSA.
After we married I wanted to get her onto my visa as my dependent but she had to go home first, her licensing officer said that he could get her home as he had a small group waiting to return home but it would cost 10,000SAR. We agreed and handed over the money and waited for the call as we were informed we would have just 48hours notice of the flight. However after 2 months of waiting we decided to ask around and find another route.
We were introduced to a Saudi who said that he could take my wife home without problem for 8,000 SAR, payable on the day if we did not trust him which sounded good! We had the other money returned after a few angry calls and went with the new guy.
We met him at the airport where he was waiting with another woman who was also returning home with him, he explained that he normally flew every month and took 2 to 4 people with him each time which funded his stay and flight each time. He had brothers that worked in the airport and it was they who would “check” paperwork before leaving the country and boarding the flight – he just had to ensure that he organized flights to correspond with his brothers duties. My wife and the other woman were nervous but everything went fine, they walked through the emigration checks without problem and boarded no problem at all.
Escape from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain
The second story relates to myself and the family (wife and three young children) of a friend. The company we worked for managed to balls up my visa and I became illegal and I was told that I would have to try to leave from Dammam airport as they are not as good at checking, but if I were caught I would probably go to jail for a few days and have to pay a fine of 10,000SAR (I know now that the fine is the responsibility of your sponsor not you, but my employer tried to persuade me that it was my problem!)
My friend’s family joined him on a dependent visa, however the HR department got it all wrong and they were on a vacation visa which they had overstayed unknowingly (The visas are in Arabic so they did not know.) My friend discovered when he found a couple of sheets of Arabic in a pile of papers for him to sign, when he asked what the papers were he was told they were just routine papers and safe for him to sign. Smelling a rat he found someone to read them for him and discovered that the letters were from him to the ministry taking responsibility for his family overstaying their visa as he had mistakenly applied for the wrong visa and could not understand Arabic so was not aware of the mistake until too late! So not only had the HR department made the mistake they then tried their best to frame him for their problem!
As you can imagine my friend was not very happy about this situation as he was advised the same as I was and his wife was even less than happy about risking being taken to a Saudi jail! With us both having similar problems we made inquiries through some of the contacts we had made in the kingdom and were put in touch with a shady character who said he could get us out of the country without problem over the bridge to Bahrain.
So we made the arrangements and agreed to meet this guy in the services as you drive onto the causeway on a Wednesday night when it was very busy. We waited there for over an hour as the guy was late, he answered no phone calls while we waited and we began to think we had made the journey there in vain.
Eventually he did turn up and said for us to follow him onto the bridge and stay directly behind him all the way through the first checkpoint. When you drive over the bridge from Saudi to Bahrain there are several checkpoints each one checking different things.
The first checkpoint is to ensure that the driver of the car is the owner (or has hired) of the car in question, once we had passed this checkpoint the guy got out of his car and swapped places with our driver. I should add at this point that our “fixer” spoke no English and we no Arabic so things were a little tense as we had no idea what he was going to do. My friend’s wife was very close to tears and so were the three young girls in the car who had picked up on their mothers nervousness.
Wednesday night is about the busiest night to get across the bridge as many Saudis and expats want to cross to go to Bahrain for drinking and the many girls who “work” there. The queue therefore is huge and very slow moving, which made things even worse. After a few more yards our driver took a left between a set of buildings in the center of the causeway all the way through to the opposite side of the bridge and began to drive against the flow of traffic coming from Bahrain.
He stopped alongside another set of buildings about 50 yards from the last checkpoint coming from Bahrain. A security guard from the checkpoint walked down to our car and had a conversation with our driver. A box was handed over and then all of our passports which were then taken by this uniformed officer back to the checkpoint.
The passports were then returned after a tense wait of about 15 minutes and our driver took another small alleyway between the buildings to return to the other side of the bridge and back into the normal flow of traffic towards Bahrain. We then had to stop for my friend to fill out the forms to allow his wife and children to travel at the office just before the checkpoint where the passports and visas are checked. Women and children cannot travel without the permission of their husbands or fathers.
We then nervously approached the checkpoint and the passports were taken, briefly inspected and returned to us without problem and we continued into Bahrain without any problems looking forward to a very cold beer.
The passports had all been stamped to show that we had recently entered the kingdom and that we were within the time allowed for our visas, so unless someone really checked all of the dates and stamped in detail they would not notice any problem. Thus we were able to pass through and leave the kingdom, stressfuly but safely.
Saudi Arabia can be a difficult country in which to deal with problems however it is also a very corrupt country, with the right inquiries and enough cash you can always find someone that can solve your problems for you somehow such as finding a way how to escape Saudi Arabia.