Travel Alert – Saudi Arabia

hajj pilgrims

 

Travel Alert

United States Department of State

Bureau of Consular Affairs

Washington, DC  20520

SAUDI ARABIA

November 05, 2009

The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the latest information on the 2009-H1N1 influenza (also referred to as novel H1N1 or swine flu) pandemic and preparations for the Hajj.  Although most people who have become ill with 2009-H1N1 influenza have recovered without requiring medical treatment, young children and people with certain predisposing conditions such as pregnancy or asthma are at increased risk of severe morbidity and mortality.  The Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has issued guidelines for potential travelers for the upcoming Hajj, which begins in late November 2009.  This Travel Alert expires on December 15.

The recent worldwide H1N1 pandemic, combined with the Southern Hemisphere’s regular influenza season, may impact this year’s annual Hajj pilgrimage (which is to begin in late November 2009), when approximately three million Muslim pilgrims from all over the world will gather in Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued recommendations for travelers on the Hajj.  For influenza, these recommendations include:

routine vaccination against the seasonal influenza at least 2 weeks before traveling;

– vaccination against influenza A (H1N1) 2009 (when available and traveler is at high risk for flu complications) ;

– vaccination for meningococcal disease (quadrivalent) .

The CDC recommends the following vaccinations as well:

· Routine vaccinations (such as MMR, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis)

· Polio

· Hepatitis A

· Hepatitis B

· Typhoid

For more information on general health issues when traveling to Saudi Arabia during the Hajj and Umrah, please see the CDC’s website.

The Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is actively preparing to meet this public health challenge by implementing a number of measures, including increased health screening at ports of entry and increased capacity of temporary quarantine facilities.

U.S. travelers also should be aware of these additional guidelines from the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia:

– Pilgrims who decide to travel to Saudi Arabia are advised to receive seasonal influenza vaccine at least two weeks before they travel to Mecca and Medina.

To limit the spread of 2009 H1N1 flu and to reduce the risk of flu exposure for people at increased risk of flu complications, pilgrims should be at least 12 years old and not over 65 years of age.

– Pilgrims should refrain from performing Umrah or the Hajj if they have chronic diseases such as heart, liver, or kidney diseases, complications of diabetes, obesity, or any other diseases or conditions that affect a person’s overall health and immunity.

–Pilgrims should be vaccinated against the 2009 influenza A (H1N1) vaccine when it becomes available.

For more information on how to prepare for a severe pandemic, please see the State Department’s “Pandemic Influenza Fact Sheet” and “Options During a Pandemic” flyer located on www.travel.state. gov.  Detailed information about 2009-H1N1 influenza can be found on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, the U.S. Government influenza website, and the World Health Organization website.

U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the Department of State’s travel registration website.  By registering, American citizens can receive the Embassy’s most recent security and safety updates during their trips. Registration also ensures that U.S. citizens can be reached should an emergency arise either abroad or at home.  While consular officers will do their utmost to assist Americans in a crisis, travelers always should be aware that local authorities bear primary responsibility for the welfare of people living or traveling in their jurisdictions.

The Department of State shares credible threat information through its Consular Information Program documents, available on the Internet at http://travel. state.gov. 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, for callers outside the United States and Canada, 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).

Saudi Arabia: Abnormal is Normal

marriage

Engaging in a dialogue recently with other foreign wives who are married to Saudis made me realize something that over time I and others have come to accept about marriage to a Saudi and that is abnormal is normal.  What one would take for granted and find to be very straightforward in other places of the world is not always the case in Saudi Arabia and particularly when it comes to marrying a Saudi and living in Saudi Arabia.  For those who may marry a Saudi and live outside the Kingdom their life will likely be more typical.  But if the plan is to live in Saudi Arabia as a married couple then the whole marriage approval process comes in to play.  Now I can understand why individuals in certain positions may be subject to restrictions prohibiting marriage to a foreigner regardless of nationality but is there any other country in the world where one requires governmental permission to marry and live with the spouse of their choice?

I’ve written many many posts previously on this subject of marriage and the approval process.  This is the first time though that I am addressing some of the peculiarities where what one may view as abnormal is the norm for Saudi Arabia.  It is normal to take several years for most marriage approvals to be obtained.  Those foreigners whose marriage has been approved in mere months fall into the abnormal category.  It is normal for most foreigners who marry a Saudi to have to undergo several marriage ceremonies at the request of the government to get the marriage approved.  For example if the marriage took place in a third country where neither the bride nor groom held nationality, another marriage must take place in the home country of one of them.

It is normal that there will always be exceptions to the marriage process in spite of clear cut guidelines.  It is also normal that multiple Ministries review the marriage approval request and have the ability to approve or disapprove.  In one case I am aware of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs waived its approval of a couples marriage request saying it would abide by the decision of the Ministry of Interior.  The Ministry of Interior approved the marriage request.  Upon learning of the approval from the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs then decided that the King himself must approve the marriage request due to the background and positions of the couple involved.

In yet another marriage approval, one American-Saudi couple married in the United States.  They had a child while in the States.  Eventually they decided to relocate to Saudi Arabia.  The husband had no difficulties obtaining approval and he and his wife went to Saudi Arabia together.  After more than 20 years of marriage and more children they received notification that they were cohabitating and not legally married.  Naturally they went to authorities with all pertinent documents.  Realizing that there was a dilemma on their hands, the authorities decided to have the couple marry again.

For those who are planning to marry a Saudi, have patience and a sense of humor.  For those who have already married a Saudi I invite you to share your own experience on how long the approval took and what the process was for you.

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