In Saudi-Arabia marriages to foreigners are regulated by the government. All Saudis must apply for permission to marry a foreigner or if he/she has already done so abroad the marriage must be first approved by the Ministry of Interior (MOI) to be valid under Saudi laws. Now this might sound simple, but it's everything but!
The MOI people have a reputation of being corrupt and slower than snails in terms of progress of the application. Permissions are given out for those with wasta, money to bribe employees or what it seems just randomly. They have a website with the list of terms that need to be met in order for the permission to be approved, but even meeting all the conditions will not guarantee approval if someone just happens to have a bad day at the ministry, you're out of luck!
A fellow blogger Tara Umm Omar has created a site that deals exclusively with issues around the Saudi marriage approval process: Future Husbands and Wives of Saudis.
I know people have been rejected for no apparent reasons, made to wait for years, applications have been "lost", couples with existing children have been rejected permission although citizenship was granted for children, among other irrational things. In short the MOI job seems to be to PREVENT Saudis form marrying non-Saudis by every kind of discouragement imaginable.
Despite the odds we managed to get our application approved without bribery or wasta, so I guess we fall into the random lucky ones! In the end the actual time of processing our papers could be described as quick in Saudi terms. It took only a few months!
Although our situation does differ from most western-saudi couples applying since I'm a resident of KSA due to my work and we were not applying as a couple that had previously gotten married abroad like most mixed couples do. We decided not to inform them we had already married in Finland. It seemed that telling them would make the process more lengthy and difficult.
We had to get some paperwork from Finland sent over and since my father is not muslim he appointed someone to act in his behalf here. We had some difficulties in aqcuiring the medical reports but luckily we were able to have it all done for free at the hospital I work in. Because of my pregnancy I got false results for the blood screening (positive for Saudis hereditary diseases!) but we managed to work around it with the help of a physician I worked with. He also wrote a chest x-ray report for me although I could not have it done because of the preganancy. The process would have stopped there without his help, so I guess this was the part where we used "wasta".
At one point I had to go to a government office females section (read more about that here) and managed to hide my then 7 months pregnant belly from the employees in my overthehead abaya. When our papers finally reached the MOI my husband started calling them and eventually just went there himself everyday to follow up on the progress. We were running out of time because my iqama was to expire in the beginning of March and the hospital sponsorship had to be transfered to his name before that, or I would have to leave the country and we would have had to start the whole process over again.
Initially some of the employees at MOI had said our papers look ok to go, "mafi mushkila". My husband was hopeful but I was very sceptical having read and heard so many unsuccesful stories. Attached with our papers we submitted a history of my husbands medical condition, hoping it would make things easier. As horrible as it sounds, the Saudi man having some sort of "defect" would be seen as not good enough for a Saudi woman and thus more acceptable for him to marry from abroad. But we decided to make use of this disgusting "rule".
Then one day as my husband went to the MOI he was told the application has been rejected. No grounds were given other than "you should have an existing non-productive Saudi wife". We were devasted. It meant I had to leave the country, give birth in Finland and stay for an unknown period of time away from my husband since I could not enter the country again with the baby. We started processing my exit papers from the hospital and bought my tickets to Finland, everything was set for me to leave. But then, a miracle happened!
My husband had wanted to know what was the real reason for them turning us down and had someone he knew ask about our papers. After a few days we were informed we had in fact obtained the permission and were good to go in front of the judge to get married! I didn't believe it at first, I thought it was just a misunderstanding! But it was true and now we had to cancel all the paperwork from the hospital. For once they had actually been efficient and had already cancelled my iqama and issued an exit only visa.
After we had those reversed we were ready to face the judge at the courthouse. But we had a huge problem, literally! My enormous nine month pregnancy bump! But I managed to hide it underneath layers of clothing, a bellycorset topped by the abaya. Not very comfortable for five hours! We had problems with the judges refusing to accept the additional conditions in the marriage contract. They tried to convince me over and over again to remove them which I promptly refused.
That in itself is a long story and I will post about it later!
But in the end the judge did not notice I was pregnant (he was too busy fussing with my "unheard of conditions") and agreed to marry us and we are now happily married by Saudi law, alhamdulillah!
We were the first Saudi-Finnish couple!