Since many folks keep reaching out for steps to go for Umrah, I have tried to summarize my tips below. Please note that for actual advisories etc, things may change, so please always check official Saudi Sites.
Umrah, alhamdulilah has become very easy, that one does not need to go through any travel agents or groups. Of course, if someone wants to go through a group, they can. But in this guide, I have tried to put all the clarifications/steps, for someone who wants to do an Umrah by themselves. I personally have no experience of going with a group yet, so do not know of that.
Here are the details:
I have used this site for my visa booking in 2021 and 2022. They provide 1 year's tourist visia, which is acceptable for Umrah.
- I do not remember the exact cost, but it is somewhere around $150-200, for Multiple-Entry (90-days in one go), for a full-year of visa. So, you can use this same visa, throughout the year, once you have it.
- Also, the tourist visa is certainly available for folks from Canada/US (and other Western contries), but it is also applicable for folks who do not have a citizenship/residency, but only a visa for these countries, as long as the visa was used in the last year.
- Please note, Visa on Arrival/Visa on Transit is also an option, but I do not have details.
Flights from N. America:
- I have always booked my flights directly on Travelocity/Expedia only. No need for any agents.
- Please note that flights are available both into Jeddah and Madina. This is very important, as folks are sometimes not aware of flying into Madina.
- Of course, one can choose, whatever is the best option for them, but I have tried these 3 routes, Emirates (through Dubai), Qatar Airways (through Doha) and Turkish Air (through Istanbul).
- I think Saudia Airlines flies directly from NY/Washington DC as well.
- I generally fly into one city (Jeddah/Madina) and fly out of the other, so I do not have to go back.
Personally, (esp with families), etc. I would recommend that folks should first go to Madina.
- This is to ensure that they get over their jetlag and wearing the Ahram etc. is easier.
- However, due to various logistical issues, I have personally always first flown into Jeddah, so far.
- I am not aware of the scholarly opinion here, but since one is travelling with the intention of Umrah, my understanding is that, once one crosses the Miqat, they have to wear the Ahram.
- Flying into Jeddah, the Meeqat is literally 15-20 min before landing and the announcement is made on the plane.
- In this case, essentially, what it has meant for me is that I have to do my Umrah as soon as possible, otherwise, I would be in the obligations of Ahram for much longer.
- This is why, if folks are coming in for the first time, or have kids etc, or not stopping over in Dubai or some place first, my recommendation is that, they should fly into Madina first and then wear their Ahram from Madina->into Makkah.
The Umrah itself, compared to Hajj, is extremely simple. It mainly consists of 2 main parts:
- Tawaf - Cirumabulation of The Kaaba
- Saee - The Run/Walk b/w Safa and Marwa
In addition, one needs to know the conditions of Ahram.
In terms of which prayers to recite, it is also important to note that for the most part in Tawaf and Saee, one can read any duas or parts of the Quran.
- I have searched online a few times before boarding for Umrah, and use a guide like the following, to follow specific Duas for a few specific points (eg. Entry to Makkah. Entry to Masjid-Al-Haram, Start of Tawaf, End of Tawaf, Maqam Ibrahim, Drinking Zamzam, and start/end of Saee). You can use this guide or get something similar or download videos of your favorite scholar.
- But again, please note, the Umrah is really really easy. Once you will follow a guide like above and do it, you will not need any tour-guide.
- For cutting your hair (esp women) after Umrah, just ask anyone at the Mt. Marwah to cut your hair from a few different places.
You can read about the ahram for men and in general the conditions.
For women, the Ahram is really no different than any proper set of clothes covering from head->toe. I generally wear an Abaya and a scarf to keep it simple.
Please note that in order to keep the conditions/obligations of Ahram to its minimum, the best thing is to perform Umrah right after wearing the Ahram. This means that within max of 2-3 hours of wearing Ahram, one can do the Umrah (i.e. in terms of reaching Makkah, settling in hotel etc.).
This is very different than Hajj, as one has to be in the obligation of Ahram for many days.
Given the 2-3 hour lag, and entry/settling in Makkah, the only thing I find important to remember is to carry a 'unperfumed soap' wtih me, as the hotels do not provide one by default.
Meeqat is the point where one makes the actual intention of doing Umrah and prays 2 nafl. After this point, one is in the obligation of Ahram.
I have come across 3 points of Meeqat:
- Flying from Outside into Jeddah:
- Travelling from Madina to Makkah
- Doing a 2nd/3rd Umrah within Makkah itself.
Here are the details:
> From Jeddah:
As mentioned above, the announcement on the plane is made for meeqat. This place is generally during landing and both a 30-min reminder and an actual point of reminder is made.
- As a woman, I board the plane in my ahram (i.e. regular clothes + abaya)
- For man, I have seen man either wear ahram before boarding, or on-board
- As a woman, again, I only have to make the intention and do the nafl. Some planes have space for actual sajda, (like Saudi air), and otherwise, you can pray on your seat.
- Wadu can be done in restrooms but try to also do wadu before boarding your flight from the last airport.
> Madina -> Makkah:
- If you are driving/taking a taxi, you will have to stop at the Meeqat Masjid in the exterior or Madina. This is simpler, as you can easily do your nafl/intention etc.
- If you are taking a train from Madina to Makkah, please note that Meeqat announcement is made on the train, approximately 10-15 min after boarding.
Getting ready here is similar to the plane guide above.
> Within Makkah:
// I am not a scholar, but from what I understand that one should enter Makkah with Ahram, when coming from outside. And the Ahram from within Makkah is only to be done when someone is actually living in Makkah or is doing multiple Umrahs (after the first one).
// Some people, esp. with children have asked, if it is ok to arrive into Makkah from Madina first, sleep overnight and then wear Ahram inside of Makkah only. I do not know the ruling here, so please ask or check with a scholar.
- If you are already in Makkah, i.e. have performed 1 Umrah and now want to do more, then you will have to go to Meeqat to intend for your Ahram.
- Meeqat closest to Makkah is 'Masjid Aisha', it is a mosque, outside the boundaries of the Haram. Please note that Haram Boundaries extend way farther than the actual physical mosque boundaries.
- You can take any taxi to Masjid Aisha and do your nafl/intention there, then come to Masjid-ul-Haram and start your Umrah.
As much as most of us, do not like the idea of the clock-tower, shadowing over the Haram Sharif, the closest hotels unfortunately are all inside of the Clock Tower or 'Makkah Tower'. Please note that even hotels like Hilton etc, may apear closer, but at times the actual roads are blocked in a way, that getting to the Kaaba can become a good 30 min walk.
So, if you are doing Umrah for the first time and are not familiar with the area, the best thing is to get a hotel in the Clock-Tower only.
I have stayed in these hotels and more or less they are the same. I would rate them all at around 3.5X. Personally, I really do not like to pay attention to the luxury being offered in these hotels, as it defeats the purpose of the journey, but overall the hotels are pretty ok.
- Swiss Maqam Makkah (has a separeate entrance on the side of Makkah Towers)
- Swiss'Otel (has an exit on the side of Saee/Safa Towers)
- PullMan Zamzam.
You can book these hotels from Travelocity/Expedia. Till 2022, the low-season rate was 150$ per night, and now it is around $200/night. The rates are sky-high in Ramadan, Hajj and December times.
Both taxis and trains are extremely safe.
The Harmain train tickets can be purcahsed up until the hour before. The lines inside the stantions can be long, so best to purchase online, but if you cannot, just buy from kiosk.
Jeddah -> Makkah trains are about 50 SR = ~ $18USD (45 min to 1 hour)
Makkah-> Madina train is about 250 SR = ~ $70 USD (2.5 hours)
- I would suggest not to buy your train ticket ahead of time, as your flight may get delayed.
- The train station in Jeddah is directly inside the airport terminal.
- There is a complimentary bus from Makkah stn to main city, but you have to walk a good 15 min to go to the clock tower, so if you have a lot of luggage, consider taking a taxi from the train station.
- You can also take a taxi from Jeddah airport, directly to your hotel. This is probably cheaper and easier, if there are a few folks, or you have heavy luggage. I do not remember the cost here but it is around SR 150, I believe.
- Important Tip: If you are taking a taxi into Makkah, please note that the entrance for all Clock Tower hotels is inside of the tunnel. Some taxi drivers do not know the exact location, so check with them about your exact hotel entrance before you start your journey from the airport.
> Makkah -> Madina/Madina->Makkah:
The train on this journey is certainly shorter, but it can be expensive if there are multiple people riding. Please note you will also have to pay for going to the train station from your hotel, at both places, if you have bags etc.
Taxis are an option, but try to talk to someone a day or 2 before or your hotel conceirge about setting up a taxi. Please note that hotel conceirge's generally charge more, than taxis on the road.
Also, always bargain with all taxi drivers.
Cost of Taxi b/w Madina Station -> Haram Hotel is ~ 50 SR
Cost of Taxi b/w Madina Hotel -> Madina Airport is ~50 SR (after bargaining).
Use of App to Enter into Makkah-Haram:
As a woman, I never have to use an app (since 2021), to enter into the main Kaabah area, for any time.
For men, please check this with an official site. But from what I have seen and heard: If they are in Ahram, they can enter the Kaaba side. But in plain clothes, I am not sure if it is by app or only allowed at certain times.
Entry into Rawdah App:
You will have to install the app: 'Nusuk' and book a Rawdah time.
Please note that times are generally available for 2-weeks later. So once you know your travel dates, please book this time asap on the app.
If your return flight is soon and you cannot get the booked time, please carry a picture of your return flight to show that you cannot come later.
The Rawdah times for women are generally after Isha (and possibly after Fajr, except that I have only seen it after Isha on app).
Expect big lines and waits and arrive near the Rawdah right after Isha to make it. Please note this process can be really hard, as the management can sometimes be really difficult to deal with.
There are 2 sides of hotels in Madina, one is near the Rawdah, but includes a longer walk for women's prayer area). The other is closer to general prayer area for men/women but a bit of walk for Rawdah.
Personally, I would recommend, 'Dalla Taiba' as my hotel of chocie, whenever you can get it at an affordable rate. Average rate in low-season is around $200/$180.
I have stayed at the following hotels too:
- Hilton - is good and similar to Dallah Taiba
- Movenpick - I found it much further away from women's praying area
- PullMan Zamzam - Is on Rawdah side and I prefer closer to women's area.
// In Makkah, all restaurants are either in Clock Tower or 3rd floor Safaa tower.
// If you have the ability to walk, you can walk behind the 'Makkah Tower' area, to find some local Pakistani restaurants. The best part is that they have 'hot tandoori roti.' I prefer those restaurants just from my old-time sake's memories.
// In Madina, there are Shawarama places etc all around, but you can cross the pass over behind a few hotels to find local Pakistani food.
Opportunities to Serve:
- Food for Sabeel is always available at many restaurants.
- Always carry some change, at least 5/10 SR notes, to give to workers/cleaners etc.
Any local taxi can take you for Ziarat in both Makkah and Madina.
In Makkah, they will take you to all the Haj Spots and Gar-e-Hira.
In Madina, they will cover all the mosques (Quba/Qiblatain, 7-masjids etc), as well as the Uhud area.
// I do not remember how much it costed, but always try to bargain a bit.
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