Umrah season has already begun in UK and Europe and as we write these lines, approximately 211,000 visas have already been issued by Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for worldwide pilgrims according to unofficial figures. Twelve thousand of these pilgrims have already arrived in Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah. In the United Kingdom specifically, sine the Umrah season opening was very close to the December holidays, there has been lots of rush for people who wanted to book for the period. The Saudi embassy in London will close effectively on 20th December 2013 and will not open until 6th of January effectively for visa processing. Visa hopes of pilgrims who had not planned yet for end of December or early January are ditched. The earliest that anyone should plan now is the after 10th of January. To be on the safe side best after the 17th of January 2014.
There have been cases of visa rejections due to overstay in previous years as well and Iranian pilgrims are facing difficulty acquiring a visa as well. This year, the Ministry of Hajj Saudi Arabia has reduced the number of days allowed for Umrah to 14 season wide to avoid congestion in peak and off peak seasons. Whereas, this is seen as a good step towards improving conditions in Saudi Arabia, pilgrims who were hoping that they would be allowed to stay longer in 2014 have been disappointed.
Umrah plus visa has also yet not been fully implemented and details are not available to general public yet to apply for such visas. By introducing Umrah plus visa, the Saudi government is hoping to facilitate pilgrims who would like to see other cities in Saudi Arabia and see relatives. This will be limited to 65 countries though, but good news is that United Kingdom is one of them. The more you plan in advance the better.
Flights fares as low as £399 per person have been available with Turkish airlines till 15th December 2013. Now the cheapest fares are from £460 with Saudi Airlines and BA for select dates. Fares are on the rise, so if you are planning to go in 2014, at least secure your flights now.
Ministry of Hajj will also send alerts to the passengers when they arrive in KSA to perform Umrah containing important information. Transfers buses have also been advised to be kept clean and air conditioned by companies managing them. Saudi Umrah firm representatives have also been bound to visit the accommodation of pilgrims 6 hours before their check in to ensure everything has been arranged. A bracelet and a booklet containing important Umrah information will also be provided by MoH officials upon arrival. Zamzam water has only been restricted to Government run facility only for carrying back home. Other brands of water will not be allowed to take back home on flights.