What Red and Green Iqamas Mean in KSA: Cracking the Color Code

The Iqama is the official residence permit for expatriates and foreigners living and working in Saudi Arabia. Issued by the General Directorate of Passports, all foreign nationals in the Kingdom must obtain an iqama to reside there legally.

The Iqama contains the critical information needed to maintain valid residency status – the holder’s photo, nationality, profession, sponsor name, and validity period. But the most distinguishing feature of the Saudi Iqama is its color – it comes in just two hues, red or green. This color coding is not random but has an important underlying symbolism deeply rooted in Saudi history and culture.


  • Iqama color status is a system used in Saudi Arabia to categorize expatriate workers based on their employer’s compliance with Saudi labor laws.
  • Understanding Iqama’s Color Status is crucial for expatriate workers in Saudi Arabia.
  • The color status of an expatriate’s Iqama can significantly affect their employment and residency status in the country.

What is Iqama in Saudi Arabia?

An Iqama is an official residency permit required for all expatriates living and working in Saudi Arabia. Foreign citizens cannot legally reside or be employed in the Kingdom without securing an Iqama first.

The Iqama contains key details about the holder, such as their photo, nationality, profession, sponsor name, and validity period. It serves as the primary form of identification for expats in Saudi Arabia and must be carried out at all times. Iqamas are issued by the General Directorate of Passports division of the Ministry of Interior. They are essential for expats to legally work, conduct business activities, use government services, and avoid penalties. The Iqama must be continually renewed, with annual or 5-year validity periods. Having a valid Iqama is fundamental to maintaining residency status for any expatriate in Saudi Arabia. It is the basic requirement for foreigners to live and operate in the Kingdom.

Iqama Status Colors

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia issues colored Iqama residence permits to expatriates living within its borders. The Iqama comes in two colors – red or green – which categorize foreigners based on their profession and status.

Red Iqama:

  • Issued to lower-skilled foreign workers and laborers
  • Requires an annual renewal
  • Tied to an employment contract with a Saudi sponsor
  • More restrictions on rights and mobility

Green Iqama:

  • Issued to professional ex-pats, investors, business owners
  • Valid for five years before renewal is needed
  • Ability to conduct business and own property
  • Greater freedoms and privileges

The differentiated classes of Iqamas, identified by color, create a clear social stratification among foreign residents in Saudi Arabia. The colors tie back to the meaning of the bands shown on the Saudi flag, with red symbolizing sacrifice and green representing Islam. The Iqama system ingrains these cultural identifiers into the psyche of both citizens and expats.

Additional Symbolic Meaning

Beyond the link to the national flag, the red and green iqama colors seem to carry additional layers of significance:

– Red is associated with restrictions and conditions. A red iqama comes with many more constraints on where one can live, work, travel, access healthcare, or exercise legal rights.

– Green represents freedom and financial privilege. A green iqama grants foreign residents more rights, mobility, and security.

– Red symbolizes the temporary. These foreign workers will eventually return home after several years. Green indicates permanency, the ability to live in the Kingdom continuously.

– Red is lower class, and green is upper class regarding wealth and status. An interesting social caste system is created.

These parallels between the colors and what they mean for foreigners in Saudi Arabia go beyond the surface. The Saudis want to ingrain these color categories into the psyches of both citizens and ex-pats.

Expert Opinions on the Iqama Colors

Scholars and commentators seem to agree on the Leflic depths of symbolism embodied in the red and green iqama system. Here are some notable explanations:

Professor Akram Fouad Khater, North Carolina State University:

“The Iqama Mimics the colors of the Saudi flag and draws on a national mythology of a land unified through blood sacrifice. The red Iqama marks the foreign worker as having given less, sacrificing little to the nation. The green Iqama bears closer ties to perceived permanence and belonging.”

Blogger Susie of Saudi:

“You are first judged in Saudi Arabia by the color of your Iqama, before anything else. It clearly defines your place and status. Society is stratified based on who has red and who has green.”

Journalist Ibrahim Alawi:

“The Islamic green Iqama establishes the holder as respectable and learned. The red Iqama means the person is there to serve – recalled when their work period ends. An intentional sense of transience is imposed on the red iqama labor class.”

The codified message contained in the color-coded iqama system is clear. It reflects a willful segmentation of foreign residents in Saudi Arabia based on deeply rooted cultural identifiers.

How to Check Iqama Status?

Here are some details on how to check the status of your Iqama in Saudi Arabia:

  • Absher Portal

The main way to check your Iqama status is through the Absher portal. Absher is the Saudi government’s online portal for resident services.

Log into Absher using your Iqama number and verified account credentials. Under the “Residency Services” tab, you can view your Iqama details, including expiration date, validity status, profession, and sponsor information.

  • M.O.I. Iqama Status App

The Ministry of Interior (M.O.I.) also has a mobile app for checking Iqama status. Download the “Iqama Status” app from Google Play or Apple App Store. Enter your Iqama number, and the app will display your residency details.

  • Passport Control Points

When entering or exiting Saudi Arabia through an airport, seaport, or land border, your Iqama will be scanned at passport control. This automatically pulls up your residency details for the officials to verify your valid status.

  • Check Fines

You can also check for traffic violations or fines associated with your Iqama through the Absher portal or M.O.I. app. Paying due fines is necessary to renew an expired Iqama.

  • Renewal Notices

Those on a red Iqama will receive renewal notices by text three months before expiration. Following procedures to renew on time is critical to maintaining valid status.

  • Sponsor Notification

Your Saudi sponsor will also receive alerts when your Iqama nears expiration. Check with them as well.

Monitoring your Iqama status online or through the mobile app is advisable. Don’t let your residency accidentally lapse.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common questions about the red and green Iqama in Saudi Arabia:

What are the detailed requirements to obtain each type of Iqama?

The main difference lies in having an employment contract versus verifiable investment funds. Red iqamas require sponsorship and work for a Saudi employer. Green iqamas are for those establishing businesses, making financial investments, or joining family already residents.

Can an expat change their Iqama from red to green?

Yes, it is possible if their situation changes, such as starting a business or securing a highly skilled job. The iqama color is tied to the individual’s profession and economic status.

How long is each Iqama valid for?

A red iqama must be renewed yearly, along with a temporary work permit. A green iqama is issued for 5 years before renewal is required.

Where does one get an iqama?

Iqamas are issued by the General Directorate of Passports division of the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Interior. Foreigners apply through their Saudi sponsors or directly as investors.

What are the benefits of a green iqama over red?

Green iqamas allow holders much flexibility to conduct business, own property, drive, access healthcare, travel, and sponsor dependents to live in Saudi Arabia.


The red and green iqama system in Saudi Arabia carries deep social and cultural meaning beyond simply issuing foreign residency permits. The colors intentionally signal the status and position of ex-pats within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as either temporary migrant workers or privileged residents. This practice draws on concepts of nationalism, belonging, sacrifice, and social stratification ingrained in what it means to be Saudi. The next time you see a red or green Saudi iqama, you will recognize its more profound significance.

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