The Hajj is the annual pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca), Saudi Arabia, and the largest mass gathering in the world.
***MERS Corona Virus Advisory***
The U.S. Department of State wishes to inform any U.S. citizens who may be considering travel to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj (approximately October 13-18) and ongoing Umrah, of Saudi government health recommendations concerning the ongoing outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus (MERS CoV) in the country. The Saudi government recommends that pilgrims who have “chronic diseases such as heart, kidney, and respiratory diseases, not to forget diabetes, as well as patients with congenital and acquired immune deficiency, in addition to patients suffering from tumors, and pregnant women and children” postpone plans to participate in the pilgrimage this year. These recommendations were made by the Saudi government “to maintain the public health and ensure a safe and healthy atmosphere.” The full text of the statement may be found on the Saudi Ministry of Health website. Interested parties should review the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for additional information about the MERS CoV outbreak.
If you are a U.S. citizen planning a trip to the Hajj, there are a number of ways you can prepare to have a safe trip.
All Hajj (and Umrah) travel plans must be made only through a Saudi government-approved travel agent in order to obtain entry, accommodation, and transportation in Saudi Arabia during the Hajj season.
In 2013, the Saudi government announced stricter penalties for pilgrims without a permit. You must ensure that you have been issued a permit and that you are using an approved travel agent. According to the campaign, non-Saudis who perform Hajj without a permit face immediate deportation and a 10 year ban on returning to Saudi Arabia.
See the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia web site and the Saudi Hajj Ministry web site for further information, including a list of approved travel agencies. Travel only with an approved travel agent and ensure that you are guaranteed accommodation and transportation, in addition to an entry visa. Pilgrims who arrive in Saudi Arabia with no accommodation or transportation arrangements may face difficulties with Saudi immigration. The U.S. Embassy and our Consulates General in Jeddah and Dhahran are unable to assist in these situations.
Foreign Muslim residents of Saudi Arabia may perform the Hajj once every five years. Advance approval must be obtained from an immigration office with the approval of the Saudi sponsor. U.S. citizen residents of Saudi Arabia must travel with Saudi-government-approved sponsor groups to perform Hajj.
Before you travel, make two copies of your travel documents (such as U.S. passports and green cards), including the pages stamped with Saudi visas, and keep one at home and another in a secure location during the trip. Always keep with you updated contact information for your U.S. travel agent, their Saudi representatives, your travel group, hotel, and other emergency contacts.
Hajj and Umrah visas are valid for travel only in the vicinities of Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah, and for travel between these cities. Pilgrims engaging in unapproved travel outside of these areas may have problems with Saudi authorities. Hajj and Umrah (pilgrimage) visas are not valid for work or residency.
Non-Muslims are forbidden to travel to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah. All pilgrims must leave Saudi Arabia after Hajj no later than the 10th of Muharram of each year (approximately November 13 or 14 this year). The rules and regulations of Saudi Arabia forbid any pilgrims from staying in the country after the completion of the Hajj. Umrah visas are valid for 15 days and Umrah pilgrims must also comply with length of stay regulations. You may be given additional information by the travel agent should the Saudi government revise their requirements (such as requiring pilgrims to depart earlier than the 10th of Muharram). Travelers must comply with Saudi government travel regulations.
The Saudi Government requires that women below the age of 45 be accompanied by a “mahram” (a close adult, male relative such as a husband, son, father or brother) for Hajj. Women over age 45 may travel without a mahram in an organized group, provided they submit a notarized letter of no objection from the husband, son or brother, authorizing travel for Hajj with the named group. Travelers found violating this Saudi Government rule may face deportation by local immigration authorities.
The U.S. Embassy and Consulates General in Jeddah and Dhahran cannot assist in arranging travel permissions within Saudi Arabia or resolving immigration violations. Visitors who overstay their Hajj or Umrah visas are subject to a fine of 10,000 Saudi Riyals (or $2,667) and incarceration pending deportation proceedings. All visitors should obtain clarification upon arrival as to the permitted areas of travel and length of stay.
It is mandatory for Hajj visitors to relinquish all passports to "United Agents Office" representatives to enable the latter to complete all travel formalities to Makkah and Madinah. Pilgrims are issued an identification card and wristband that must be carried at all times.
If pilgrims lose their passports, they should immediately report the loss to their travel agent and obtain a report from the appropriate United Agents Office and local police. Upon completion of Hajj, the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah can assist in issuing emergency replacement passports to U.S. citizens and “boarding foils” to U.S. legal permanent residents who lose their green cards.
Routine immunizations for all pilgrims should be up-to-date. Hepatitis A and B and typhoid vaccines are also recommended. Although a requirement for polio vaccine does not include pilgrims from the U.S., it is best to ensure full vaccination against polio before travel. Current vaccination requirements are available from the website of the Saudi Ministry of Health. Hand sanitizers, cold, diarrhea, and skin irritation medication are advisable.
Travelers must carry vaccination certificates with them for inspection by Saudi authorities at the port of entry.
Heat-related illnesses are some of the most common health issues faced by pilgrims, as temperatures in Mecca may exceed 100° F during the summer and early fall. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are serious conditions, and travelers are advised to stay hydrated, rest, and protect themselves from the sun. Travelers experiencing symptoms of heat-related illness, including profuse sweating, chills, headache, dizziness, and nausea, should move to a cool area and seek medical attention.
Please visit the Centers for Disease Control website for further health-related information on the Hajj and information on the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) (formerly called “novel coronavirus”) in Saudi Arabia.
King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah is large and modern, with special terminal facilities to accommodate hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. However, due to the extremely large number of people arriving during the Hajj, wait times at the airport upon arrival may be as twelve hours or longer.
Pilgrims should plan on a lengthy wait in hot and humid conditions before leaving the airport for Makkah or Madinah. Travelers with only carry-on bags will find baggage transfer at the airport much easier than will those with checked baggage. Some Hajj pilgrims now fly directly to Madinah and proceed to Makkah by road. There is no airport in Makkah.
The Saudi authorities may only permit travelers to leave the Hajj terminal with their Hajj travel groups. The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh and Consulates General in Jeddah and Dhahran are unable to assist with this issue.
Travelers should expect crowded conditions during the Hajj. Historically, temperatures in Makkah have ranged between 64 and 108 degrees Fahrenheit. There are facilities providing water, public accommodations, and other amenities. However, due to the large crowds, travelers should expect long wait times for basic amenities, especially in Mina, Muzdalifa and Arafat.
While in Saudi Arabia, individuals with disabilities should be prepared to find accessibility and accommodation very different from what is generally found in the U.S.
The Hajj has been an attractive target for defrauding unsuspecting tourists. Travelers should be aware and vigilant of unscrupulous tour operators who abandon tourists, leaving them with unpaid bills, and hoteliers who demand the payment of exorbitant “hidden charges” for the return of passports. Pilgrims are urged to deal only with licensed and established tour operators. In addition, the Saudi Arabian government has been helpful, and experienced personnel are available from the government's Ministry of Hajj in the Holy Cities area during the Hajj season. Communications facilities to contact family in the United States are available in all parts of Saudi Arabia. Internet cafés are available in all major cities. Before arriving in Saudi Arabia for Hajj or Umrah, establish a communication routine for family and friends with whom you wish to keep in contact.
There has been an increase in the number of reported cases of pick-pocketing and other forms of theft in Makkah, particularly in the region of the Grand Mosque, and in Madinah. Pilgrims should take additional care with valuables while visiting these two areas and may consider using a money belt or under-garment pouch as a means to carry valuables.
To avoid being lost or violating Saudi government travel requirements, and to mitigate health and safety risks, pilgrims are strongly advised to stay with their travel agency group throughout Hajj.
The Saudi government provides strict timetables to Hajj groups for movements by bus, light rail, and foot between the ritual sites. Bus, light rail, and pedestrian routes are extremely congested and travelers should expect long delays. In 2012, the light rails were overwhelmed and pilgrims waited for several hours at the train station in Arafat and Muzdalifah. Timetables and light rail movements are outside the control of travel agencies.
Pilgrims may also find online maps helpful to have an understanding of the Hajj ritual sites that stretch from the Grand Mosque (Al Masjid al Haram) to Arafat.
Photography (still or video, including mobile telephone photographs) at the Holy Mosque at Makkah or at the Prophet's Mosque at Madinah is strictly forbidden by Saudi authorities. This restriction also includes the courtyards surrounding these two holy sites. Any violation of these instructions is likely to lead to the confiscation of either film and/or camera. Pilgrims’ bags are regularly checked upon entering the Prophet’s Mosque and the Holy Mosque in Makkah. Pilgrims could be denied entry if found to be carrying cameras or cell phones with cameras.
Transport of Agriculture Items and Zamzam
Guidance for travelers who may be bringing religious articles back to the United States is available from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Zamzam water – drawn from the sacred Zamzam well inside the Grand Mosque -- is permissible provided that it is packaged correctly. Most airlines limit one jerry can containing up to 10 liters (2.64 gallons) of Zamzam water as checked baggage per traveler. Please check with your travel agent and the airline for additional guidance.
Before You Go
U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs website, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and Country Specific Information can be found. The U.S. Embassy also encourages U.S. citizens to review "A Safe Trip Abroad,"which includes valuable security information for those both living and traveling abroad. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well. You can also download our free Smart Traveler App, available through iTunes and the Google Play,to have travel information at your fingertips.
In addition to information on the Internet, travelers may obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada, or outside the United States and Canada on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
U.S. citizens are encouraged to sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in order to obtain updated information on local travel and security and keep information up-to-date. Enrollment is important; it allows the State Department to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency.
In the Event of an Emergency
In the event of emergency Hajj pilgrims should first contact the following offices:
You may also contact the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah by phone at 012-667-0080 or the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh at 011-488-3800. The U.S. Consulate General and U.S. Embassy will be closed Sunday, October 13 through Sunday, October 20 due to Columbus Day, the local holiday for Eid-al-Adha/Hajj, and the normal weekend (Friday and Saturday).
Duty Officers will be available for emergency assistance on those dates and after business hours on any other date. During regular business hours at any other time, callers should ask for the American Citizens Services Unit.
Note: When dialing the Jeddah area (includes Makkah and Taif) from the U.S., use country code 966 and city code 12, (966-12-542-7003) for The National Experimental Establishment for Pilgrims. When dialing the Riyadh area, use city code 11, (966-11-488-3800) for the U.S. Embassy.
Help and Assistance
We hope that you will have a trouble-free Hajj like thousands of other pilgrims from the United States. However, if something does go wrong, the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah can provide you appropriate consular services:
We cannot, however, provide the following services:
Please visit Travel.State.Gov for other general guidance on international travel.