Money – a Condition of Hajj
One of the conditions that needs to be met in order to perform Hajj is that you must be able to afford it. You must have sufficient financial means to cover travelling, accommodation and all other requirements during the course of your Hajj.
You must also have sufficient expenses to support your dependents during your absence. If you don’t have sufficient funds to cover the needs of your family, Hajj isn’t obligatory for you.
It is acceptable to accept a free trip to Hajj as a gift or Sadaqah, provided your dependents are sufficiently provided for.
The expenses of Hajj must also be funded by money that has been obtained through Halal (lawful) means. Money obtained from Haram (unlawful) means such as theft, fraud, bribery, interest etc. or other doubtful means are unacceptable.
The Currency in Saudi Arabia
The currency used in Saudi Arabia is the Saudi Riyal (SR). It is subdivided into 100 Halalahs. Denominations of the currency are as follows:
- Notes: 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 Riyals.
- Coins: 5, 10, 25, 50, and 100 Halalahs.
It is a good idea to get some money exchanged in your home country before embarking on your journey. A minimum of about 450 Riyals (£100, $120) is recommended and will help you with your immediate expenses upon arrival in Saudi Arabia until you become familiar with getting your money exchanged locally. This will also save you the time and aggravation of having to go to the bank, which tend to get very busy during Hajj season.
In Saudi Arabia
The rate of exchange in Saudi Arabia varies depending on where you have your money exchanged (bank or money exchanger).
There are a number of banks and money exchangers (Sarraf) in Makkah and Madinah, all offering roughly the same rate of exchange. Banks only deal with the more popular currencies such as the US Dollar, the British Pound, the Euro etc. If you’re from a country which uses a less common currency, you’ll need to go to a money exchanger.
It is recommended to have your money exchanged at the money exchanger rather than at the bank as they tend to be less busy and the queues are normally shorter.
You can also change money at the airport when you arrive.
How Much Money to Take
It is difficult to recommend a specific figure since spending habits vary from person to person. However, you may want to take into account the following when drawing up your budget prior to departure:
- Shopping – Set aside money for shopping that you will do for yourself, your family and your friends. Make a list of all the people you want to spend money on and budget a certain amount for each person.
- Excess baggage or cargo charges if you plan to do a lot of shopping.
- Animal sacrifice – If the obligatory animal sacrifice (Hady) isn’t included as part of your Hajj package, budget about 300 to 600 Riyals for the sacrifice. Also, bear in mind that you may need to make additional sacrifices as a result of violating the rules of Ihram or missing any obligatory (Wajib) actions.
- Voluntary charity (Sadaqah).
- Food and drink.
Make sure you take enough money so you don’t have to resort to borrowing from others. If you do run out of money, you should be able to withdraw some more money using your credit / debit card although transaction charges may be levied on cash withdrawals depending on your card issuer and its policy on overseas transactions.
Saudi Arabia has an excellent ATM network called the Saudi Payments Network (SPAN) which is the one and only major payment system in Saudi Arabia. There are over 15,000 ATMs in the kingdom, with many available in Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah, which accept major international debit and credit cards such as Visa, American Express and MasterCard.
Depending on your card issuer, there may be a percentage transaction fee on international withdrawals so you may want to check this with your bank before departing if you’re going to be withdrawing money via ATM.
The daily cash withdrawal limit from ATMs is 5,000 Riyals or its equivalent in foreign currency (about £1085, $1330). The minimum withdrawal amount is fixed at 50 Riyals (about £10.85; $13.30). Please bear in mind that the exchange rate at an ATM will not be as good as the exchange rate at a money exchanger.
An alternative to carrying cash is to carry traveller’s cheques. Traveller’s cheques are preprinted, fixed-amount cheques that can be used as a means of currency. They are safe to carry and can be refunded in the case of theft or loss.
Although declining in use due to more popular alternatives, they are still available today and can be purchased at most local banks and post offices.
In order to exchange traveller’s cheques, banks in Saudi Arabia normally require a lot of proof including your passport and proof of purchase displaying the serial numbers. Since your passport will have been taken from you by the authorities upon arrival, you will need to show your ID card instead. Queues in the bank can also be very long, particularly during Hajj season, so please keep that in mind.
It’s perhaps advisable to avoid using traveller’s cheques during Hajj or Umrah as there are now more readily available and easier alternatives. Carrying sufficient amounts of money and having it exchanged at the money exchanger (Sarraf) is the best option.
Be on the lookout for pickpockets and thieves; even the sacred lands of Makkah and Madinah aren’t free of them. Thieves often find it easy to target pilgrims during Hajj and Umrah due to the lack of precaution they sometimes take with their money and belongings. To minimise the risk of your money being stolen, buy a good waist pouch or neck pouch in which you can carry your money and other valuables.
Also, ensure you don’t carry all of your money with you all the time; you should only carry enough money that you need for that particular day. Leave the rest of your money and other valuables locked in the safe in your hotel room or at the reception desk for safekeeping. Make sure you’re present when your room is being cleaned by a hotel staff member to keep an eye on your belongings and lock your hotel room whenever you leave.
Wear your pouch at all times and ensure you don’t leave your accommodation without it. Be vigilant of pickpockets and thieves, particularly in crowded areas. There have been reports of pouches being stolen even during Tawaf. Holding on to your pouch in crowded areas is a good way of ensuring it doesn’t get stolen.