Patience is a virtue, and more so from the time you land at Jeddah till your departure from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Government harbours no ill feelings towards the Hujjaajj. On the contrary, it is continuously upgrading facilities and services for the pilgrims’ ease and comfort. You will encounter odd delays, which can be quite frustrating, leading to fraying of tempers. Please, exercise extreme patience!
The Hajj Terminal, the one used by pilgrims, is estimated to be at least five million square feet (465,000 m²), the world's second largest air terminal, after Hong Kong International Airport's terminal. It sits over 100 acres (405,000 m²) of ground area, and it is known for its tent-shaped roof. The terminal’s roof is not actually a tent, but a white coloured fibreglass.
This terminal has a mosque, and it can accommodate 80,000 travellers at the same time.
Under each set of a tent-like structure, facilities are located for the pilgrim to rest, sleep and acquire either prepared foods or food which the pilgrim himself may prepare. In addition, many washing and toilet facilities have been provided in each set, as well as offices providing banking, postal, airline, bus and taxi, and general information support services.
It is estimated that the terminal complex accommodates 50,000 pilgrims at one time for periods up to 18 hours during arrival and 80,000 pilgrims for periods up to 36 hours during departure.
Terminal is a hive of activity, but well organised. Many arrival halls set in a row, each hall being set aside for handling of a particular incoming flight’s passengers in batch mode and is colour-coded.
Custom and immigration hall air-conditioned with lots of facilities for Wudhu, drinking water, toilets, Salaat, but NO eating facility.
Can have a long wait here both for arrival and departure, as processing of passports and checking of luggage is time consuming.
In the immigration hall, immigration personnel will separate all of you into two groups according to your gender, as the counters are different for the different genders. Ensure that your spouse has her passport, a spare set of keys for the luggage and relevant drafts with her beforehand. This section is where random health checks maybe made and vaccinations given, either tablets, drops or injectables.
Next, a personal and physical check of yourself and your hand luggage takes place. The customs officials are very suspicious of your money, especially 100 and 500 Riyal notes and US $100 dollar notes. It is sometimes better to have US$ travellers’ cheques but occasionally these become cumbersome to cash in the absence of a passport, the rate of exchange is slightly lower than cash and queues are quite long in the banks.
Physical Check of Baggage
Next is a physical check of your baggage; by this time your womenfolk will be with you. As of 2002 a scanning system for luggage has been in place. You could your luggage for scanning and once the official is happy, a sticker will be affixed on the bag. Alternatively, one could go to the counter and the officials there will do a random spot check and on satisfaction will put a sticker on your bags. Ensure that every bag, (no matter how small), has the sticker to prove that it has passed customs check point.
Any Islamic Kitaabs, (or literature in general), the customs officer does not understand will usually be confiscated and THROWN into a large plastic bag. Do not even attempt to argue with, or stop him; he is only doing his duty.
“Fresh looking” foodstuff also tends to be confiscated e.g. “poorees”, (which feel “soft”), rather than the hard variety, (e.g. chevda, sakapara, mamra, gathia), which appear to be exempt. However, we have had polony brought into Saudi by a Hajji from Zambia!!
Once you are out of the air-conditioned customs and immigration hall, you will be under a huge tent structure which is not air conditioned, but air-cooled, and is a mini city on its own.
You will first be halted at the United Agents’ desk whilst your luggage is being hauled onto large trolleys manned by their personnel. It is here that each batch of arriving passengers is subdivided into groups according to the nationality indicated on the passport and subsequently assigned to the respective Muassassas office. (This is for their statistical analysis and for their convenience to provide you with a better and efficient service. Basically, they want “birds of the same feather to flock together!”). This may create a problem as you and your spouse, (and other family members), maybe of different nationalities and hence maybe allocated camps in Mina/Arafat/Muzdalifah at opposite ends, (depending on which Muassassas office you have been assigned to!). [However, this is in direct contravention of rules and regulations published by the Ministry of Hajj which emphasises the need of keeping a family together under one umbrella. This is also emphasised for ladies accompanied by their Mahram. In addition, a similar emphasis is placed when transporting pilgrims on buses to the various holy sites].
This is the time and place to alert the officials that you are all travelling as a group from one country where you are residents, despite the different nationalities. Show them the visa in all the relevant passports as it will indicate that it was issued by their embassy from the same country. This will usually be enough to convince them to assign you to the same Muassassas offices. (In your case it is called the “The Tuwafa Establishment for Africa-Non-Arab Speaking Countries”). The address of this establishment is as follows;
Makkah Al Mukarramah, Al Sitteen Street, Badr Khalaf Layout, Al Hijaz Market, near the Social Insurance Office. Tel: 5435527 Fax: 5445245
Documentation Issued to you
The United Agents’Officer will remove the stapled draft and return your passport to you. Your passport will now have a little booklet which has coupon stickers out of which four are bus coupon stickers.
The booklet of coupons is actually a receipt of the “transport service draft”, (which you had obtained from your home town), and if the various sector leaflets in this booklet are not used by you, (i.e. you do not use transport provided by United Agents), then you can claim a refund on your departure at the Hajj Terminal after Hajj. This refund will be in Riyals and the exact amount is printed on each leaflet.
The first coupon is your bus trip from the Hajj Terminal to Madinah. The second is for your road journey from Madinah to Makkah. The third is for the return trip either from Makkah or Aziziya and the fourth is for the internal transportation during the 5 days of Hajj.
These drafts, bought in your home country, meet the cost of the campsites, internal road transportation, human resources, airport terminal support, payment to Muassassas and water supply.
The coupons contain bar-coded stickers which are taken off by the officials as your journey through the kingdom progresses, starting with the United Agents at the Hajj Terminal or Madinah Airport. However, if you fly between Jeddah and Madinah, the coupon peculiar to this sector is not detached, unless by mistake. Each sticker has a face value reflecting the type of use it is designed for. On your return journey, you must approach the Ministry of Hajj officials at the Hajj Terminal and ask for the Naqaba desk where you produce your passport, fill out a form and sign it in exchange for a voucher reflecting the total value of all the unused travel coupons. This voucher will then be cashed for Riyals in a bank located within the Hajj Terminal. Should a coupon sticker be missing by mistake, there is nothing you can do about it but complain bitterly!!
Your baggage, loaded onto large trolleys by United Agents’ personnel, will be allocated an area under this “tent city”. By this time you should have decided whether you want to go to Makkah or Madinah first, and if the latter, whether you want to go by road or by air. This is so in order for the United Agents’ office to allocate you the prescribed area. Do not tip the porters as this has already been included in your drafts.
Internal Travel Restrictions
Those Hujjaajj entering Saudi Arabia at the last minute, i.e. towards the end of Zil - Qadh, may not be able to proceed to Madinah first due to certain limitations imposed by the Saudi authorities. In this case, you will have to go to Makkah first, and to do so you will have to be in Ihraam. The dilemma which is faced by most Hujjaajj is where to don the Ihraam, (i.e. before landing at Jeddah or at Jeddah airport). Many learned Ulemaa have given the permission of doing so at Jeddah airport, yet others have given a different ruling. It is best to take advice from your local Ulemaa before embarking on your journey.
If you had planned to fly to Madinah from Jeddah, (and had paid for this internal flight back home), then your tickets will have already been purchased for you and handed to you in your home town by your travel agent. If you had not paid for the internal flight back home, you will have to purchase one at the Hajj Terminal provided that the Saudia Airlines offices are operational at this terminal. The queue here can be quite long and may take an hour or two to complete the formalities. In addition, you may not get a booking of your convenience as the flights are quite heavily booked.
In the recent past it has also happened that despite having confirmed tickets for onward travel to Madinah from Jeddah airport, the authorities have denied this facility and instead the Hujjaajj had to go by road. This was in a case where the Hujjaajj had entered just two weeks before Hajj. It is for this reason that you should purchase your Madinah tickets separately and make it part of an excursion fare on the main ticket as refunds are easier when tickets are purchased separately.
Once you have settled in your area, it is advisable to TEAR out those leaflets from your “travel draft coupon” which you may not be utilising throughout your stay. This is very important, especially for those intending to perform “pedal” (walking) Hajj, (and those booked with private tour operators, e.g. Khogeer, Bahauddin, Avoca, etc., where transport for the five days of Hajj will be provided by the operator). These leaflets will then be kept securely by you and exchanged for cash on your departure from the kingdom.
These coupons are valid for a one-way journey only i.e. Jeddah to Makkah, (or vice versa), Makkah to Madinah, (or vice versa), except for the 5 days of Hajj, when they are valid for the return trip as well i.e. Makkah - Mina - Arafat - Muzdalifah - Mina - Makkah.
Those Hujjaajj intending to use Muassassas transport for their entire stay in Saudi Arabia, should not remove these coupons; however if these Hujjaajj do decide to perform “pedal” Hajj later, then these coupons will no longer be with them as the coupons have been attached to their passports which will already have been in safe custody at the Muassassas office. As a consequence, their coupons will be torn off by the Muassassas officials, who will later claim the specified amount from the relevant authorities for providing these unsuspecting Hujjaajj with transport stipulated on the coupons, and yet these same Hujjaajj may have walked all or part of the 5 days of Hajj, without having used the coupons!!
Therefore, our advice to you is to remove all the coupons yourself for safekeeping and bear whatever consequences which may follow, later!!
However, of late, the system has improved and most Hujjajj are getting their coupons, (and refunds), in full without any hassle.
Upto your departure either from Makkah or Madinah, you will be in the hands of officials from the Ministry of Hajj since your contact persons in Saudi Arabia or any travel agent's representative cannot enter the Hajj Terminal even to assist.
Hajj & Umrah Literature
At this terminal try and obtain literature, in English, pertaining to Hajj and Umrah and which is distributed free of charge by the United Agents.
Foreign Exchange Transaction
During your “settling-in” period at this terminal, convert your T/C’s/cash at the banks, (since you still have your passports in hand), and then purchase a one-way air travel ticket to Madinah on the earliest available flight, (all 747 Jumbos and fare approximately 210 Riyals for adults and 105 Riyals for children under 12).
Encash about US$500.00 per person as this amount will see you through till you reach either Madinah or Makkah.
Those travelling to Makkah first will board one of the Muassassas buses in exchange for one of the travel coupons. These buses will only depart once they have a minimum of 45 passengers; on the same bus you may have people of different cultures and nationalitis. This is a good time as any to make strangers one of your own. However, in hindsight, it is better that if you are in a group with similar passports, especially passports of the Southern African region, request for a bus all to yourselves as this will assist in making life easier when reaching either Makkah or Madinah.
The transfer from Hajj terminal to either Makkah or Madinah by coach will take a long time. You will not be allowed to board until your passport matters are sorted first.
Further, you will need to take your seats first before your luggage is loaded and only then will another round of passport check begin. After the logging of passport is complete the driver will be issued a clearance certificate allowing the bus to leave. Bus/taxi terminal is located at the opposite end of the arrivals’ hall.
SAPTCO Jeddah airport offices, (which are not open 24 hours), provide an hourly shuttle to Makkah and Madinah; in the case of the latter, the transport is to Madinah airport and not to the city.
At the exit doors of the Saudia Terminal building, (not Hajj Terminal), turn right. The second last office on your right is the SAPTCO office.
At the North Terminal, (Foreign Airlines Terminal), SAPTCO offices are right in front of the arrival area at the last section to your left of the car hire and hotel reservation desk.
The “yellow cabs” have Saudi Arabian drivers who do not speak anything but Arabic. Their cabs are slightly cheaper than the white limousines and may not be air-conditioned or as new as the limousines. Fares are usually negotiable except for those departing from the airports.
Those Hujjajj arriving into Saudi Arabia before the second week of Zil Hajj are processed through the International Terminal (North Terminal-Foreign Airlines). In this case, those Hujjaajj proceeding to Madinah by air will have their transport arrangements to Saudia Terminal made by the relevant authorities.
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copyright February 2006 (Muharram 1427)
(updated December 2013 - Safar 1435)