Sunday, October 13, 2013

How it Works in Saudi

It's the Golden Ticket!
This little gem is my iqama and getting it is a BIG deal.  Your iqama is your ticket to being a human entity in Saudi.  It can take a month to get one, so getting mine in a week has made life much more enjoyable.  Without your iqama you can't get a phone, internet, cable, a bank account or a visa to leave the country.

Saudi's bureaucracy may be bigger than either China or Tanzania.  As in any country, some companies have pull (wasta) that makes things happen more quickly.   Here's how it goes...

First, you have to apply for an entry visa.  The paperwork is astounding and mystifying.  It has to pass through a visa agency (whom you've paid to "manage" your application), then the Cultural Mission, and finally the Embassy.  One of the things we had to do was provide official transcripts and copies of our college degrees and diplomas.  Then, we had to go online to a company and pay to have them certify that we did in fact attend those schools.  THEN, we had to have each college write a letter saying that we did in fact attend the school and did not receive an online degree.  And that was one small piece!

When you finally get your visa, you're off to the Kingdom!  Within a couple of days of landing, you have to repeat the entire medical checkup that you just completed and submitted for the visa application in order to get your iqama.  Our school provided us a short-term internet connection and our TV had 3-4 channels.  They also took us to a bank to get our first check cashed and provided us with start-up funds.  Because you can't get a SIM card, I was hesitant to go out on my own with a taxi or driver.

After a week, I had my iqama--very quickly!  I ran out and got my phone, my internet, and my cable, so life is now more comfortable.  Still no bank account, as I'm waiting for some mysterious letter that I need to bring with me to the bank.  Now it's time for the next round of paper, because you need the iqama to process your entry/exit visa.  As of right now, I can't leave the country because I don't have my passport or a visa.  That process takes about 3 weeks, so by the first week in November, I'll be able to leave the country.  Since Bahrain is only an hour away by car--and filled with choice goodies such as bacon, booze, and movies, I'm kind of looking forward to being able to go over!

Also now that i have my iqama, I can start to process the application for Cameron's visitor visa.  THAT requires a whole new set of documents and can take 2 months at least.  It's very doubtful that he'll have his visa in time to be here at Christmas.  It also means that by the time Mark and the kids arrive, they will not have all of their documents processed in time to leave Saudi for Christmas, so it seems that we won't be spending Christmas as a family this year--a year that we desperately need to be together!  Mark and the kids can't leave, Cameron can't come, and I'm the only one who can travel.  SIGH.

By the way, you have to renew your iqama every year, and while it's being renewed, you can't leave the country and they freeze your bank account.  You get to renew your visa twice a year, meaning for those couple months, you also can't leave the country.

They make it very hard to get in--and very hard to get out!