Saturday, December 29, 2007

Medical insurance in Saudi Arabia

A very important aspect which an expatriate has to take care in his contract before arriving in the Kingdom is regarding health care.
In big cities, there are good hospitals, but the same cannot be said of smaller towns #-o It is rather difficult to generalize, and probably the only way to find out whether your doctor is good or not, is only by word of mouth from other expatriates. There are hospitals which do not have the best of facilities but excellent doctors. There are also hospitals which have top of the range facilities in terms of patient care, but unfortunately not so good doctors >:P You have to make a judicious decision.
Whatever be your hospital or dispensary, health care in Saudi Arabia is an expensive affair and I would advise you to immediately take an insurance card, otherwise it would cost you a fortune X( In most of the cases, atleast with good sponsors, the company takes care of your medical AND dental requirements. Please ensure that this is clearly mentioned in your contract. Note that "Medical" does NOT cover "Dental", that's why I have mentioned the two separately.
Another important aspect is the type of insurance which your sponsor has taken. Not all insurance companies give 100% coverage, in the true sense. For example, your contract may actually mention that you are covered 100%, but you may actually end up paying a nominal amount (usually SR20) for every visit to your neighbourhood doctor, even though you have an insurance card with you :-B
Theoretically, for a family of four, if you visit the doctor or dentist once every month, this itself amounts to 960 riyals a year - not a small sum indeed! This downpayment of SR20 (or sometimes SR30) may be quite baffling, because you may think you are covered 100% and do not need to pay anything, but that's how the system is. However, for bigger insurance companies where the premium is more, the company takes care of this initial payment also, so you have to put it in black and white in your contract, whether you are REALLY covered 100% or not.
Usually, for dental coverage, insurance companies pay only for extraction / filling or surgery. Cosmetic surgeries and the like (including artificial teeth / bridges) are NOT covered :-w Also, it is normal practice that reading and power glasses are not covered by insurance, i.e., the doctor's consultation would be covered, but not your frame / lens. The only exception would be safety glasses provided by your company, if you are working in a factory.
Hence, if possible please go to a good eye doctor and buy your frame / lens in your home country. After all, there is no place as good as home B-)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Moving & Relocating to Saudi Arabia

Before you move into Saudi Arabia, I would advise you to first do some research on the type of housing. Typically, western expatriates stay in housing compounds. The rents are quite high, but in almost all cases, the employer takes care of it. Inside these compounds, life is quite free in the sense that there are no dress restrictions, particularly for women. Usually these compounds have luxurious villas and are quite secure. Do read my earlier post on this topic for western expatriates.
Non-western expatriates, on the other hand, are usually paid a House Rent Allowance instead of accommodation. Again, this depends on your job title. For junior and lower level positions, you would be provided shared company accommodation, but this again depends on your sponsor.
Big companies usually provide good accommodation, but if your sponsor is one of those small contracting companies and you are single, then rest assured that your accommodation is going to be quite uncomfortable and will probably be a shack where you have to share with 10 other people in the same room. This is why you must specifically find out about your housing from your sponsor and do quite a bit of research on his credentials before signing a contract and entering the kingdom.
If you are a non-western expatriate and are entitled for family status, the general standard is to provide 25% of your basic salary as monthly housing allowance. Remember, house rents have shot up exponentially in the kingdom in the past 6 months, so you must bargain well before entering into a contract with your sponsor.
Also, remember that house rents are paid in 2 instalments of 6-months each or in one annual lumpsome amount to the house owner, not monthly. House owners usually enter into a written contract with the tenants and collect the rent in advance.
If you are a non-western expatriate and are planning to stay with your family, please do some research on your locality. Some areas are quite notorious, so you must do some talking with people of your own nationality or colleagues before booking a flat. If you are not given a company-paid accommodation, I would advise you not to bring your family for atleast 3 months after you first arrive in the kingdom, because typically this is the time you would need to settle down and also to save some money.
Beware, that if you plan to move to another house within the 1-year period, you will have to pay the remaining rent for the whole year, otherwise you may be thrown into jail if you don't pay up. But if the house owner wants you to vacate, he may ask you to do so within the 1-year period. The contract with your house owner is supposed to be mutually binding, but in practice it is one-sided and a rather meaningless piece of paper, as most of the time you are left with no option but to comply with your house owner's demands.
Do not bring with you any electronic or house hold goods. You get almost everything here, probably at a price which is even cheaper than your home country. Certain ethnic food-stuffs from your home country may not be available, so try to do some research / ask friends. Also remember that certain items like khas-khas which are quite commonly used as an ingredient for sweets in Asian countries, is strictly banned here. Of course, it goes without saying that you should also not bring with you pictures of non-Muslim Gods, crucifixes and the like. Most of them are anyway available in the internet, so you can always download those pictures for your personal use at home (don't take them out of your house!). Avoid bringing video CDs - they may be harmless but again, it depends on the mood of the guy at the customs who may simply allow you to pass or may ransack your entire luggage looking for something suspicious, so why take the hassle?
Finally, try to avoid mixing with strangers and keep a low profile. Do not carry much cash with you and avoid walking alone in deserted places.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Family visit visa

There are a lot of expatriates in the kingdom who are currently without their families, but would like to bring them on a visit visa. This post is meant to guide those.
The most important factor which decides whether you can bring your family or not, is the profession mentioned in your iqama or residence permit. Note that this may not be your actual job title. For example, it is quite common for an engineer to be hired on a labor visa.This has already been covered here earlier. But for all government transactions, it is the profession mentioned in your iqama which matters, not your job title!
Unfortunately, you are eligible to bring your family only for certain types of visas (like engineer, doctor, technician, etc). If your have arrived on a labor visa, you have absolutely no chance of bringing your family, and it is better to get the profession changed to some other category - this is not an easy task though.
Coming back to the visit visa procedure for bringing your family into the kingdom, I would like to clarify at the outset that the procedure itself is quite simple. The only difficult part is the profession mentioned in your iqama, as already mentioned above.

Before you proceed to fill in the online form, you must have with you the following documents ready.
  1. Your original iqama (keep a copy with yourself for records)
  2. Your passport photocopy
  3. Introduction letter in Arabic from your employer giving details about your salary
  4. Passport copy of the visiting member (parents / children / in-laws) (Note that a separate application has to be made for each individual family member whom you are going to sponsor)
For sponsoring your in-laws, the following additional documents are required:
  • Certificate from a hospital in case your wife needs support for any reason, eg., pregnancy
  • Wife's passport copy - this is to prove the relationship between your wife and her father / mother
  • Copy of your Marriage Certificate, translated in Arabic and attested by the Saudi consulate / embassy in your home country

Once you are ready with all of the above, proceed to the next step as below. Have a person who can read Arabic next to you. Then click on this link The name of your family member AND the name of the sponsor (i.e., YOU) should be filled ONLY in English. All the remaining data are to be filled in Arabic. Remember, YOU are the sponsor for your family, and NOT your employer. In case more than one family member is visiting you and are coming by the same flight, enter their names in the same form, otherwise use separate forms.
In the column asking for the number of days of visa required, type "90". If you are lucky, you will get a 3-month visit visa, otherwise it will be only a 1-month visa. There is no hard and fast rule. Everything depends on the mood of the officer who decides the visa validity. However, you can always renew the visit visa twice, and each extension is for one month only. In the column asking for the purpose of the visit, type as "famly visit" in Arabic.
Once you fill in this form and submit, you will get an acknowledgement number on the screen. Print two copies of this. Keep one copy with yourself as a reference. You will be needing this soon. Take a printout of your filled-in application form, sign it in the place mentioned in the bottom along with the date. Don't forget to take the signature and stamp of your company sponsor. Once this is done, attach this along with the remaining documents mentioned above and submit it to your nearest Ministry of Foreign Affairs office (not to be confused with the passport office (Jawasat, as it is known locally). Renewal can be done in the Jawasat, but for the first time, you must submit it in the MOFA office.
Most important point: You must submit the above documents within 3 working days of filling in the on-line form, or else all your effort is a waste. Remember, Thursdays and Fridays are weekly offs for Government departments in the kingdom, so keep this in mind before filling in the form.
Wait for about a week and the visit the above mentioned link once again. Type in your iqama number and the acknowledgement number which is mentioned in the printout you took earlier. If you get the same page after hitting the 'Enter' button on your keyboard, it means that your visa is still under processing. Otherwise, you should get a so-called 'Yellow slip'. Take two 'COLOR' printouts of this, and keep one for your reference, and note down the URL address.
You have now crossed half the journey. The next step is to send the following documents to your home country.
  1. The 'Yellow slip' color printout mentioned above
  2. Copy of your Iqama
  3. Copy of your passport (remember, you are the sponsor)
  4. Copy of your marriage certificate (required only when you plan to bring your in-laws to prove the relationship between your wife and her parent(s) - this is to ensure that the visitor is really your in-law
  5. Printout of your last 3 months' bank statement
  6. A letter in English addressed to the Saudi Embassy / Consulate of your home country stating that you will be present to receive your guest
  7. Introduction letter in Arabic from your employer giving details about your salary
Send all of the above by courier to your home country. Along with the above documents, the following should be attached by your family member and submitted to the Saudi Embassy / Consulate in your home country:
  1. Original passport of each family member who plans to visit
  2. Passport copy of your wife (incase your in-laws are visiting - this is to prove that the visitor is indeed your in-law)
Good luck with your efforts to bring your family to the kingdom. If this post was useful, do send in your comments. Your appreciation is my motivation to write more.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Vehicle ownership by expats in Saudi

Public transport is almost negligible in Saudi Arabia. As an expatriate, it is really convenient if you have a car of your own.
For those of you with your families, it is almost impossible to survive without a vehicle. The reason is not too far to seek. Women aren't allowed to drive and hence are dependent on their husbands to take them out for shopping, because it is rather not advisable for them to go alone for shopping. This could sometimes be quite a pain, because if your kid is sick or something urgent is required at home, you have to take time off from your work to attend your family. Having a vehicle would come in handy for that rainy day.
If you already have an international driving license before coming to Saudi Arabia, you can skip the first level of driving test. But in any case, it is advisable to go through a driving school in the kingdom before the test rather than giving the test directly, because the chances of your failure are quite high if you give the test without undergoing the driving school lessons. Not that you do not know driving, but that's how the system works here.
Once you have obtained your driving license, the next step is to get a document called 'Istemara', which literally means vehicle registration. You will be given two cards - one which proves that you have registered your vehicle and the other to prove that you are the owner of the vehicle. You must always carry these two cards in your wallet, along with your iqama (residence permit) , vehicle insurance (called 'Ruksa') and driving license. You may be quite surprised that your wallet contains more paper than money!
Never ever, ever drive your car without a vehicle insurance. Usually, if you take your vehicle insurance from a reputed company, you would be given a letter in Arabic which is addressed to the police. The letter simply states that your vehicle is insured and if you show this to the police, you would not be jailed. Hence, you must atleast carry a photocopy of this letter in your vehicle all the time along with a copy of your iqama.
You must keep renewing your istemara once every thre years. However, a pre-requisite for istemara renewal is that you must get your vehicle certified by what is commonly called as 'Computer test' or MVPI (Acronym for Motor Vehicle Periodic Inspection). Your vehicle would be subjected to a series of tests. In 9 out of 10 cases, it would fail the first attempt, so you would have to go back, get the 'fault' corrected and give a re-test. Of course, you have to pay every time you give the test!
By the way, expatriates are not allowed to own pickup vehicles. I would also strongly advice you not to offer lift to unknown people. Also, if you ever travel with your friend's wife, even if it is for dropping the lady nearby, make sure that your friend is also in that car. Despite all your good intentions, it is a crime to do this here. It's no joke, you may be in serious trouble if you do that, because according to the law, it is an offense for an unrelated man and woman to be talking or travelling together.