HalalBooking’s guide to DIY Umrah
In September 2019, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia opened its borders to the world, as part of its far-reaching and ambitious Vision 2030, not only to welcome tourists but to make it easier for pilgrims to visit for Hajj and Umrah. This meant that for the first time, Umrah could be arranged as a DIY package, booking flights and accommodation independently and applying directly for a visa online (if required), instead of relying - as had traditionally been the case - on a specialist travel agency or tour operator to arrange group travel. As part of your DIY Umrah, HalalBooking offers a wide choice of accommodation in Mecca (Makkah) and Medina (Madinah), which can be booked online, together with transfers to your chosen accommodation.
Your choice of Umrah accommodation will be made easier by using the halal-friendliness and special Umrah filters on HalalBooking.com to find the hotel which best suits your Umrah needs. You can see which rooms have views of the Haram and even the Kaaba and find other useful details.
Can I go to Umrah without a package/group?
Due to recent technological changes implemented by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, including the accessibility of eVisas online and the availability of an app to book your Umrah appointment, it is no longer necessary to do Umrah through a travel agency or as part of a pre-booked package tour. It is now possible, and in fact very easy, to book and arrange all of the elements of your Umrah independently. This has removed the need to rely on a travel agency or tour operator specialising in Umrah. This change in the process for booking Umrah has been welcomed by many pilgrims, who in the past, had found agencies to be pricey and restrictive.
Online booking platforms such as HalalBooking.com are an important part of this process, offering a wide choice of accommodation at competitive prices, which is perfect for those who want to book Umrah and are used to the quick and easy process of booking online.
HalalBooking makes it very easy for you to plan a DIY Umrah itinerary. All you need is a little research and understanding of the religious and travel guidelines and you will find it easy and stress-free to plan and book this trip of a lifetime independently.
Does the Saudi government facilitate DIY Umrahs?
The Saudi Arabian government's Vision 2030 programme is a national transformation project that aims to harness Saudi Arabia’s economic and social benefits for a brighter future.
As part of this wide-ranging and forward-thinking programme, which includes a drive to ‘strengthen Islamic values and national identity’, its Doyof Al Rahman Program aims to ‘serve more Umrah visitors better’. Having conducted its research on the concerns and experiences of thousands of pilgrims, it used this as the basis of a cohesive plan to improve every stage of the Umrah and Hajj journey and experience. The Saudi government’s plan includes technological advances and infrastructure improvements with the goal of enabling up to 30 million pilgrims to do Hajj and Umrah annually by 2030.
What are the pros and cons of a DIY Umrah?
Advantages of a DIY Umrah
- It can save you a lot of money by arranging everything independently - if you are travelling in a large family group, you may well find that the bigger the group, the bigger the savings.
- You are in control and can work around your personal dates and timings.
- You can organise your itineraries and include other places of interest to create a religious Ziyarah.
- By understanding Umrah and its procedures, you may feel that you strengthen your bond with Islam and God, as well as increasing your travel confidence and independence.
Disadvantages of a DIY Umrah
- You will not have a physical tour guide to walk you through every step.
- You will need to spend some time to prepare and inform yourself.
What are the essentials of a DIY Umrah?
- A visa (easy to apply online or on arrival depending on your nationality)
- A valid passport (valid for at least 6 months unless you have a US passport)
- Return flights
- Accommodation in all cities you will visit - draw up a wish list of the features you value to help you choose where to stay by using the filters on HalalBooking
- Airport transfers - which can be booked through HalalBooking
- Transportation between cities if required - easy to arrange independently with the high-speed train service between Mecca and Medina
- A budget (knowing how much you are willing or able to spend helps prioritise your needs)
What types of visas are there?
It is now much easier for visitors from across the world to visit Saudi Arabia for Umrah or Ziyarah as the Kingdom has opened its doors to the world through its new tourist and e-Visas.
Depending on your nationality, for your Umrah you may be eligible for:
- Tourist Visa on arrival
- e-Visa Waiver
- Umrah Visa
Holders of UK or US passports or US, UK or Schengen business or tourist visas can apply for their visa on arrival in Saudi Arabia at any of its international airports. International visitors from 57 eligible countries can apply for an e-Visa through the fast and easy-to-use online portal, which can be accessed from Nusuk or from the Visit Saudi website. Simply enter your nationality and it will show you which type of visas are available to you for your trip.
The e-Visa or visa on arrival is a one-year, multiple entry visa, allowing tourists to spend up to 90 days in Saudi Arabia. The tourist visa allows you to take part in tourism-related activities such as events, family & relatives visits and leisure trips, as well as allowing Muslim tourists to do Umrah. Alternatively you can apply for an eVisa or visa specifically for Umrah, but this is more expensive and has more limitations.
Tourist visas are valid for 360 days from the date of issue and can be used for visits of up to 90 days.
In August 2023, the Saudi government launched the e-Visa Waiver (EVW) for citizens of the UK and Ireland. It is a single entry visa to Saudi Arabia for a visit of up to six months and is cheaper than a tourist visa. You can apply for an EVW through the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ visas portal. You must have a confirmed flight booking and apply for your EVW from 90 days to 48 hours prior to your trip. Tourist visas are valid for 360 days from the date of issue and can be used for visits of up to 90 days. It is expected that the Saudi government will roll the EVW out to other nationalities in the future.
Although the Umrah visa does still exist, for those who are eligible for other visa types, it appears to have little to recommend it, since it is more expensive and has more restrictions than the other, newer types of tourist visa which are now available. Check which visa types you are eligible for by entering your nationality and you will be given full details of the available options and any fees and restrictions.
How can I apply for an Umrah visa? What are the requirements?
Check online on the Nusuk platform or the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ visa portal (accessible through the Visit Saudi website) to see which visas you are eligible for, according to your nationality.
If you are the holder of a UK or US passport or US, UK or Schengen business or tourist visa, you can apply for your visa on arrival in Saudi Arabia at any of its international airports. International visitors from 57 eligible countries can apply for an e-Visa online. UK and Irish passport-holders can also apply for e-Visa Waiver.
- Passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the date of entry to Saudi Arabia (except for US citizens who can enter regardless of remaining validity)
- Return flight tickets
- Payment of required fee
- If you are a Muslim convert, especially if you don’t have a Muslim name, it is recommended to carry signed proof that you are Muslim and have converted to Islam. This could, for example, be a Shahada certificate or similar issued by your local mosque
Who can go to Umrah? Can I go to Umrah on my own (without mahram)?
All Muslims are encouraged to perform Umrah if they are financially and physically able to do so.
In 2021, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah announced that it would allow women to attend and perform Hajj without a mahram, or male guardian. This was confirmed in 2022, when Tawfiq Al Rabiah, Saudi Arabia's Minister of Hajj and Umrah, said: "A woman can come to the kingdom to perform Umrah without a mahram."
There are different opinions on this issue amongst Islamic scholars, some of whom hold the opinion that women travelling alone to make the pilgrimage is not permissible, whilst others believe that it is permissible for a woman to travel without a mahram, as long as she is accompanied by trustworthy women or other trustworthy companions.
When is the best time to perform Umrah?
Unlike Hajj, which always takes place during the first thirteen days of the month of Dhul Hijjah (the twelfth and last month of the Hijri calendar), Umrah can be undertaken at any time during the year. It is not possible to undertake Umrah during the Hajj season and usually there is a period of a couple of weeks either side of this when Mecca is not open for Umrah. You can check social media announcements by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah to find these exclusion dates.
Other than this, you can choose the best time for you to perform Umrah depending on your priorities. Many find it beneficial to choose quieter times so that they can avoid the crowds and pray with ease. Whenever you decide to travel, you need to download the Nusuk app and use it to book your appointment for Umrah.
When you are planning you may wish to take the following considerations into account:
There is a special significance to performing Umrah during the holy month of Ramadan, as the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said: “Performance of Umrah in Ramadan is equivalent to Hajj” or he said: “Equal to performance of Hajj with me”.
For those who would prefer to avoid the heat, the winter months of December, January and February are the coolest in Saudi Arabia with an average high temperature of 13°C.
Muslims who want to complete Umrah as a family should consider travelling during school holidays, although you should bear in mind that flight prices tend to be higher on those dates.
The cheapest flight tickets can usually be found in January and February if you plan ahead.
Can I book a hotel for Umrah in Mecca and Medina with HalalBooking?
HalalBooking offers a choice of hundreds of hotels in the holy cities of Mecca (Makkah) and Medina (Madinah) with prices to suit every budget.
Booking your Umrah hotel on HalalBooking.com is quick and easy - use the Umrah features and halal-friendliness filters to search for, find and book a hotel which fulfils your Umrah requirements.
HalalBooking’s unique Umrah filters allow all potential pilgrims to make their Umrah more comfortable - select a hotel with a view of Masjid al-Haram in Mecca or facing Masjid an Nabawi in Medina.
‘Price Match’ is HalalBooking’s promise that they will honour that price if you find accommodation for the same nights at a lower price elsewhere.
For peace of mind when planning, HalalBooking also offers ‘free cancellation’ options which you may find useful whilst finalising your plans.
If you want to combine your Umrah with visits to other holy sites in Saudi Arabia, HalalBooking features accommodation throughout Saudi Arabia, so you can easily plan and book your own Umrah Plus trip.
Which is the best airport to arrive for Umrah?
Most pilgrims arriving in Saudi Arabia for Umrah will fly into Jeddah King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED) which is the closest airport to Mecca. However, many of those planning a DIY Umrah choose to visit Medina as well, in which case it often makes sense to fly into Prince Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Airport, Medina (MED). It is then quick and easy to take the new Al Haramain express train from Medina to Mecca. Alternatively, you can do Umrah first and then travel to Medina afterwards to visit Masjid an Nabawi and the tomb of the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him).
Can I book a transfer to Mecca/Medina with HalalBooking?
Yes, you can book an airport transfer on HalalBooking.com to transfer you from Jeddah King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED) to hotels in Mecca or from Jeddah King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED) or Prince Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Airport, Medina (MED) to hotels in Medina.
Can I visit other places in Saudi Arabia when I travel for Umrah?
Yes, many pilgrims choose to visit both Mecca and Medina and to include some other holy sites in their Ziyarah. With the new Al Haramain express train it is very quick and easy to travel between the two holy cities. In addition to the Masjid an Nabawi and the tomb of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), there are many other holy places to visit in Medina such as the Quba Mosque, Mount Uhud, the Al Baqi Cemetery, the Archers’ Mountain and the Martyrs’ Cemetery. If you are travelling on a tourist visa you can visit not only the holy cities of Mecca and Medina but also other places of interest in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, by planning your trip as an Umrah Plus. These might include places such as Alula, Taif, Jeddah and Yanbu, where you can explore places of religious and historic significance as well as the beautiful coastal and mountain landscapes of Saudi Arabia.
What are the Umrah rituals?
Umrah consists of 4 main rituals:
1. Ihram is the sacramental state, the holistic state of purity that includes mind, heart and body.
The pilgrim performs the spiritual ablution (Ghusl) before putting on the Ihram clothing. For men, this consists of two plain, unsewn pieces of white cloth. The face and head must not be covered. For women, any loose-fitting headscarf (Khimar) and full hijab (hand and face must be shown) is permissible as long as it is loose and covers everything without hindering movement and is free of adornments. Pilgrims must prepare for Ihram before entering the Miqat, which is the official boundary.
The pilgrim then enters Ihram by stating an intention to perform Umrah, saying ‘Labbayka ‘Umratan’. He or she must then recite the Talbiyah, a dua invoked to submit to the service of God and to humble the ego.
لَبَّيْكَ ٱللَّٰهُمَّ لَبَّيْكَ، لَبَّيْكَ لَا شَرِيكَ لَكَ لَبَّيْكَ، إِنَّ ٱلْحَمْدَ وَٱلنِّعْمَةَ لَكَ وَٱلْمُلْكَ لَا شَرِيكَ لَكَ
Meaning: “Here I am [at your service] O Allah , here I am. Here I am [at your service]. You have no partners (other gods). To You alone is due all praise and all excellence, and to You is due all sovereignty. There is no partner to You.”
2. Tawaf meaning to circumambulate the Kaaba, is an act that reflects the small and large movements of life; from the orbit of the sun and moon to the orbit around the nucleus of an atom.
The next step in Umrah is to enter the Masjid al-Haram, the Sacred Mosque and to circulate the Kaaba seven times in an anti-clockwise direction, with the Kaaba on the left.
Begin and end your tawaf at the Black stone (Hajat al-Aswad). Finish at the Maqam al-Ibrahim (the Station of Abraham) with two rakah of prayer, followed by drinking one’s fill of water from the well of Zamzam.
It is recommended that men should jog slowly for the first three tawafs and women should walk normally the whole time.
3. Sa’i is the next ritual of Umrah, meaning "to walk, to strive" and is focused on the walk between the two hills of Mount Safa and Mount Marwah.
The pilgrim heads to Safa where he or she starts Sa’i towards Marwa. On reaching Marwa, you have completed one round. Returning to Safa completes the second round and so on, until the seventh round ends at Marwa.
Men must run part of the way, which is clearly demarcated in green.
4. Taqsir is the ending of Ihram, a very simple action that breaks the state of purity.
Men are required to cut or shave their hair and change from Ihram clothing to normal clothing.
Women are required to cut a lock of hair the size of a fingertip.