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The End of the End

Having left KSA in early March, there was unfinished business in the Kingdom to attend to. I explained in the previous blog that I had not left on “Final Exit” conditions. Eventually my outstanding money was paid into my Saudi bank account, and I waited until the holy month of Ramadan and the following Eid were well and truly over before going back – no point going there to sort anything out when the population are not ready to do business.

So, in the first week of May I returned to KSA, and as I was paying for my own flights and accommodation, without time being pressing, I went out via Tirana (Albania) and back via Zurich. I also hotel-hopped around Riyadh for my 4 nights there, taking advantage of accumulated hotel points and offers.


Sight at Tirana airport

My to-do list in KSA was simple: take out my money from my bank account and close it, hand over my phone account to the new curling secretary, deal with the unexpected and when all was settled go into my previous workplace and ask them to issue my Final Exit visa. And leave.

I realise as I write this, you might be wondering why I bothered going back to a country with the sole intent of leaving it again, when I was already home in the UK? As the Saudi and Gulf states have interlinked visa arrangements and if I didn’t close down my Residency properly, I would be barred from entering, or transiting through all of the Gulf countries (Saudi, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE and Oman) for 5 years. Not a restriction I wanted to encumber myself with.

As I would be relinquishing my Saudi driving licence (linked to my residency) I needed to obtain an International Driving Permit were I to hire a car during my stay. A car is a necessity in Riyadh as the metro system has still not opened and the new bus system is still sparse and doesn't serve the airport. So before travelling I ensured that I had one. The young lady who issued me it (no longer from Post Offices but from select local shops that are on the UK Government payment system) was quite unsure on the technicalities and had to be supervised by a colleague. Even so I think they might have made some mistakes in confirming what classes of vehicle I can drive, as they included driving a lorry hauling a trailer. So when I arrived in Riyadh airport and went to the car hire desk to collect the booked car, I showed my new IDP. No use, said the man, it has to be linked to your entry visa – where is it? As I had arrived as a Resident this was therefore my Iqama, and only my existing Saudi driving licence could be used. So, car obtained, off I went and booked into my first hotel.

First action was to go to the bank to withdraw my remaining SAR 5,000 money as cash. This was straightforward but the bank counselled me to keep my account open until I left the country (just in case) and I could close it remotely when I was airside at the airport. This would allow me to pay any unexpected bills such as traffic fines. So I did that, leaving SAR 500 in the account.  

Next was transferring my phone number to a Saudi curling friend, as it was inextricably linked to the curling social media accounts. It wasn’t easy, but 2 visits to the STC (Saudi Telecom Company) shop sorted it out, but I wasn’t able to transfer the credit balance on it or even claim that back. A tad unfair in my opinion. My friend said he would try and get it back through the customer service / complaints process but that could take a long time. Money lost there I suspect.

By chance I discovered I still had an active VirginKSA SIM card, and the way to close that was to visit one of their pop-up shops found in the larger shopping malls. It wasn’t easy and involved several calls from the pop-up agent to their customer service (that’s why I went there so I didn’t get the runaround) but after 45 minutes or so that was completed. One thing I had learned in my time was that things work well in KSA, but the starting / changing / closing processes are very difficult for non-citizens.

When all this was completed I went into my old employer to ask them to issue my Final Exit. This they tried, but the system said No – I had a vehicle registered in my name. This was the hire car which was linked to my Iqama, so I had to return to the airport and hand it back in 1 day early. The outstanding balance would be credited to my bank account within 14 days. So that’s lost then! Then a taxi back to the office and a second attempt to issue the visa which was successful.

So what did I do in the free time that I had in my 4 days there? (I had arranged an extra day just in case admin went awry). Well, I went to the Saudi Royal Air Force museum, which is somewhere I had tried in the past to get to, but it had always been closed due to various reasons, some more spurious than others – the most bizarre being that in 2022 when Saudi beat Argentina in the football World Cup and the King declared a public holiday – but guess what, it was yet again closed with no reason given. Gates locked, and guards saying “go away”. Perhaps linked to the current crisis around Palestine? – just a guess. So plan B – visit Riyadh Zoo, another attraction I had never managed to get to. 


Zoo entrance

Fortunately it was open and I had a pleasant couple of hours wandering about there. Back in 2016 it had a very poor reputation amongst the ex-pats, with stories of inadequate animal husbandry. However in 2024 it seemed to be up to a better standard, with the animals appearing to have appropriate enclosures. My main observation was that the information and interpretation about the animals could have been a lot better. There were lions, tigers, giraffes and elephants; several species of primates, birds, reptiles etc. Surprisingly they had a camel enclosure, but as well as the local Arabian Dromedary camels there were also the Asian Bactrian ones cheek by jowl. I did wonder if they can interbreed, but all the small camels were clearly Dromedaries.


Camels mixing

I also had the opportunity to catch up with our best friends in Riyadh and spent an enjoyable evening at their home.

And so, finally to the airport for the last time as a Resident. Once checked in, it was through passport control and that was that – mission completed. The flight out to Zurich was a daytime flight, a very rare experience for me as all the European carriers operate night-time flights out of Riyadh. Looking out of the window during the journey I saw 2 previous residences in Riyadh, the historic area of Al Ula, and a couple of hours later Cairo and the Pyramids of Giza.


Giza from 34,000 feet

So, the end of a chapter of our lives. And the end of this blog series too. Thanks to all those who have read it over the last 8 years, I have been amazed and humbled by some of the wide range of people who have contacted me with comments, questions and corrections.

As to the future? I have reactivated my consultancy and am available for specific tasks as required. But no more permanent assignments. Will any of these tasks see me return to KSA or the Gulf region? Never say never.


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