Dealing with Lebanese ministries and officials about your papers and legal status can be both extremely frustrating and super easy at the same time. At first glance, it might seem to be a lot of different rules and regulations, which change depending on who you are talking to and if he had his coffee that morning or not. From time to time there will also be the "political problem" of a non-existing or non functioning government to deal with, since without a government no decisions can be made.
On the bright side of all this, you have the fact that in Lebanon impossible things can become possible. The way to fix matters are often depending more on your personal contacts and way of dealing with things than actual money bribes.
Types of visas
Except for a residency visa, there are different types of visas in Lebanon:
- Tourism, Transit, Courtesy visa (VIP and diplomats)
- Collective (for group travels)
Most European and American (both North and South) citizens (see list below) will be granted a one month tourist visa upon their arrival at the border of Lebanon. This visa is renewable for another two months (maximum total stay not exceeding three months). In order to obtain your extra two months you have to apply at the General Security in Lebanon, which requires a copy of your passport and two recent passport photos. The two month extension is free of charge. After your three months is up you have to leave Lebanon before being able to get another three months.
Countries eligible for 1 month Tourist visa:
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Holland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Great Britain, Switzerland, Norway, United States of America, Canada, Australia, Andorra, Japan, South Korea, Cyprus, Malaysia, Monaco, New Zealand, Malta, Iceland, Chile, Brazil, Argentine, Venezuela, Mexico, China, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, Singapore, Liechtenstein.
Citizens of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Countries), as well as their families, servants and drivers are given a three month renewable visa.
If you are not a citizen of the above countries you should contact the Lebanese embassy in your country to apply for a visa before your depart.
A holder of an Israeli passport or passport containing an Israeli visa will be denied entry.
Please note that if you overstay your three months you will be denied exit at the borders unless you have applied and obtained an exit visa at the General Security before trying to leave at the border.
If you are staying in Lebanon on a tourist visa you cannot work. If the authorities find out that you are working illegally - you will be deported.
If you are traveling in a group consisting of a minimum of eight people you are eligible to apply for a collective/group tourist visa. The application has to be made by the travel agency organizing your trip.
If you are either a student, married to a Lebanese citizen (for more than a year), have a work permit or a lot of money in the bank you are eligible to apply for a temporary (one year) or permanent (three years) residency.
To obtain a work permit your employer need to present your application to the General Security. Before doing so he or she needs to get a pre-approval from the Labor Ministry.
The rules for obtaining a work permit differ a bit depending on the type of work you intend to do. The official rule is just like in many other countries - that the employer has to prove that the work cannot be done by a Lebanese person. In reality this rule is bypassed very often and if you have your papers in order and pay the fee you will probably get the permit.
Once a foreign individual has a work permit, he/she may apply for residency. More documents are required for the application and it takes about 10 working days to complete this phase. Like the work permit, residency is granted on an annual basis.
If you obtain a work permit, you can apply for a temporary residency at the General Security within three months of your arrival to Lebanon. A person eligible for residency may also apply for the same type of residency for their spouse, children and "servants and drivers" (as stated in the General Security's official documents.) Your spouse does not have the right to work in Lebanon on your work permit.
If you are a student at a university in Lebanon you might apply for a one year student residency permit, given that you did not enter with a working visa. A registration statement issued by your university is needed to obtain the visa. Your university will help you with this procedure.
If you plan to attend a learning facility other than a university, such as an artistic, religious or language school, you have to present your case individually at the General Security. They make the decision if you are eligible or not based on the specifics of your case.
In order to "buy" your way to a visa you need to prove that you have a monthly salary that is not less than three million Lebanese pounds ($2,000). This must be verified by a bank statement issued by a bank active in Lebanon.
A balance of at least a hundred million Lebanese pounds ($66,666) will be frozen for more than three months.
Once you have arrived in Lebanon, your visa issues should be addressed at the office of General Security.
In Beirut, it is located in Ashrafie, close to the French Embassy and the National Museum (Mathaf).
Their opening hours are Monday to Friday 8 AM to 2 PM, Saturdays from 8AM to 12 Noon. Closed on Sundays and public holidays.
Website: www.general-security.gov.lb , or dial 1717 for more information.
If you are residing outside Beirut, you should instead visit the General Security in your area. Call 1717 or check out their website to find out the exact location of the your General Security office.
By Helena Forsell, a 30 something who left her native Sweden for Lebanon 6 years ago. Now she is reinventing life in Beirut.