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Red Tape and Red Carpets

Back in Riyadh, it was time to play the next instalment of the never-ending game “Get Your Wife an Iqama”. It took me six months of document gathering and applications to get myself an Iqama (Residence Permit) and this was achieved in September last year – see blogs passim. What I needed to secure one for Elaine was a lot simpler. All my company had to do, was amass the following:

  • Application form in Arabic (company to complete) and attested by the Ministry of Interior and a Saudi Chamber of Commerce
  • Salary Certificate in Arabic (company to complete) and attested by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a Saudi Chamber of Commerce
  • Copy of my attested degree certificate (with the original)
  • Copy of my iqama (with the original)
  • Copy of my passport (with the original)
  • Copy of our attested marriage certificate (with the original)
  • Copy of Elaine’s passport

Simples, really. Over the last eight months there has been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing through the autumn and winter, and Elaine managed to get our marriage certificate copied and attested by the FCO in the UK. Amongst other things to happen in KSA were transference of a document from our country support office (Jeddah) to Khobar (Registered Office) for some stamping, and then to me in Riyadh. The last pieces of the jigsaw fell into place when I was away in Canada, and when I returned I went on-line to the MoI’s website for ex-pats “Absher” to book an appointment at the Istiqdam Office in Riyadh. I tried for a week, but it kept telling me that there were no appointments available for iqamas. In desperation, I booked a slot for a different service, on the basis that this would at least get me into the building and when I was there I could either join the wrong queue, or at worst find the person who could make a proper appointment for me. My company’s Government Affairs Officer (based in Jeddah) promised to be available on the phone whilst I was there so that he could intervene and speak Arabic to any officials encountered who did not speak English or appeared to be obstructive.

So I made my way last week to the Istiqdam Office and managed to get in by showing the appointment card. Next was the reception (Window 1), and I had my colleague ready on the phone as I queued for that. He explained the “wrong appointment” situation, and I was advised to speak the Manager (Window 5) for a decision on the matter. Window 5 also spoke to my colleague, and I was permitted to go to Window 3, who took my paperwork and I sat down to wait. After an interval I was called to Window 4 and given my paperwork plus a “post-it” note and told to back go to Window 5. When I again reached the front of that queue I handed my papers over and after short scrutiny I was advised that my application had been rejected. I asked him to speak to my colleague and after a short conversation I was handed my phone and waved away. My colleague was nearly as annoyed as I was, the application had been rejected because one of the company forms had been stamped by the Chamber of Commerce in Jeddah, and not Riyadh. Apparently one refused to acknowledge the other.

So, my company reissued the necessary letter and couriered it to me. I took it to the Riyadh CoC and after the simplest of waits and requests was issued their stamp. This seemed almost too good to be true, and so I booked another “wrong” appointment at the Istiqdam. So, a week later and back to Window 5. Now I was told that I would have to go to the Istiqdam office in Dammam, as it was the regional one for our company’s registered office in Khobar. My phone-a-friend colleague protested on my behalf, and adjucation was deferred to the General Manager. Fortunately the GM said that this office could accept the application, so I was sent back to Window 3. I produced all of the above documents, and after a little scrutiny I was given them back plus a yellow sticky and sent to Window 5. This time the problem was that apparently I didn’t have a copy of the copies of my marriage certificate or my degree – for them to keep. Now, if I had been asked to bring these I would have complied, so after yet another conversation with Jeddah the Istiqdam office agreed to photocopy these for no additional charge. So back to Window 3 where after a bit more face-pulling and harrumphing I was issued with a yellow form. This was success! Fortunately I had the good sense to read what I could in English and spotted that Elaine’s name was wrongly spelled. So back to Windows 5 then 3 and it was reissued, correctly spelled. Job done!!! As I made my way out of the office and across the staff car park, the Istiqdam office security man came running after me and gestured for me to return inside. What on earth now? Window 3 man was waving forms at me and it turned out that I hadn’t signed the application form. This is the sort of detail that could have caught me or Elaine out in the future so I was glad this had been spotted before I got away. As the application form was in Arabic only I had no idea that signatures were needed, as there were company signatures, stamps and affixatives already on it.    

Needless to say that is not the end of the process. I will have to scan the yellow form and email that to Elaine in the UK, who will then have to go through the process of applying through the Saudi Embassy in London for an Iqama visa to get into the country. This will entail production of goodness knows how many new or same forms and a medical. Once that is achieved she will be allowed into KSA and will have to do some more things before her Iqama card is issued. Will this beat the one year mark? Let’s hope so.

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On my way back to my office I realised that I was well past my lunchtime, so I decided to do a rare thing for me and indulge in a MacDonalds’ “meal”. The Saudis seem to be a relatively sedentary race and the queue at the drive-through was significant. However I have (some) standards when it comes to junk food and went into the air-conditioned restaurant and sat down as I made my contribution to the USA economy.

Meanwhile, across the city, King Salman was making another contribution to the USA economy, of approximately 110 billion US dollars. This was not for 22 billion quick meals, but for some serious “defence” hardware. Having seen the BBC World News, this shopping list seems to be more of an “attack” hardware nature, but who am I to split hairs?

President (at the time of writing) Trump is visiting Riyadh. You will have seen on the news that this is his first visit to a foreign country and the Saudis have rolled out the red carpet for him, big style. At least with a bit of foreign diplomacy he is being able escape his mounting woes at home for a wee while. Alongside the PoTUS there are a further 55 Heads of State or senior ministers in Riyadh, and more security personnel than you could shake a Birnam Wood of sticks at. There are flags everywhere alongside the main roads and main buildings. I felt a twinge of envy for the VIPs and international press corps, as it would seem they did not have to visit the Istiqdam office to get in. I drove past the airport during Mr Trump’s stay and there parked on the tarmac were not one, but two “Air Force One”s. Now that’s travelling in style. But not as classy as the Rocky Mountaineer, thank you.



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* Call Alastair Fyfe directly on 07785 370074 (UK) or +966 503095212