Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Now take a copy of your latest iqama. Attach all of these with your original license, two passport-size photographs and go to the traffic police station (Muroor) in your city. I would advise you to use the services of your Government Relations Officer for this. A form for transferring the license details is available in the police station. This has to be filled in (Arabic, of course) and submitted to the police along with all the documents mentioned here. After verification, the police will give a date and time when you can collect the new driving license. The details would have now got transferred in the system. You are now free to drive the vehicle until the expiry of the license.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Friday, January 16, 2009
There are many exchanges and banks from where you can send your hard-earned money home. There are no restrictions on remittances from Saudi Arabia in the sense that 100% of your earnings can be repatriated back home.
However, not all the banks are popular. The exchange rates, particularly in some of the banks, are extremely unfavorable. To top it all, there is no such thing called a customer service or an ombudsman in these banks. Some of the staff in such banks have nothing but utter contempt for the expatriates, as though they are here as bonded slaves, going by the way they treat them. Naturally, these banks are the ones having the least expat crowd. An absolute textbook case of how not to run a business!
On the contrary, some of the exchange houses work 12 hours a day, Saturday through Friday, except for prayer times and on Friday mornings. There are several counters and the staff are manned by expatriates too, who are courteous and understand the problems of fellow-expats. The exchange houses have, what is known as 'Correspondent Bank' arrangement. What it means is that when you send money through these exchanges and you have a bank account back home in one of these correspondent banks, money transfer is immediate.
Usually there are two ways of sending money home. The first one is the traditional Demand Draft whereby you pay the money plus the commission of the exchange house and get a Draft. Make sure that the draft is signed by atleast two authorized officers of the bank for amounts greater than SR10000 (this is usually the norm unless confirmed by the bank that it is not required). I have personally seen people walking off with drafts, without having even one signature. People simply assume that they are signed when they are issued, so do make sure to double check before you leave the counter, because without a signature these drafts will not be honored back home.
The other method, and more convenient one, is money transfer direct into your account. The commission for MT is a bit higher, but is very safe and almost instantaneous. My personal favorite is the MT.
A word of caution is not out of place. Some of the expats have a habit of accumulating their savings over a couple of months or more and send them as a lumpsum amount. When the amount becomes big (typically amounts above SR20000), questions are raised. You will have to take the printout of your bank statement with the rubber stamp of the bank and also the mini statement from the ATM machine of your bank. As per the new rules of Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), these will be verified by all banks and exchanges as a measure of safety against money laundering, so it is better to go prepared with these documents to save your time. Also, SAMA has now made it mandatory for all banks and exchanges to have the iqamas and the passport copies verified for everyone, particularly when any of these documents are renewed.
The exchange houses are not complaint-free, though. The most common problem with these exchanges happens in case of Demand Drafts. As long as things go smooth, there is no problem. The moment a Draft is struck up somewhere, then there is a long-drawn process before you can get your money back. This is why it is so important to keep the counterfoil of the form which you have filled in, till you are sure that the money has indeed reached your account back home.
You must take care to fill in all the details correctly in the form. Afterall, it is your own money and you do not want to throw it away. You must know the email address / phone number of your bank back home. This is to ensure that in case of a delay or non-delivery of your money, you can immediately mail them and sort things out.
Finally, as most expats do, it is advisable to keep multiple accounts in the various exchanges. All it needs is a photocopy of your iqama and that of your passport with your company's stamp to open an account. This is just to ensure that you get the best exchange rate available. Remember, the exchange rate you see in the newspapers is not what is offered by the banks / exchange houses.
You will find different rates in different exchange houses, all in the same road, so you have to be alert, keep your eyes and ears open and strike the best bargain. After all, the happiest day in the life of an expatriate is the day his hard-earned money goes into his bank account :)
Thursday, January 8, 2009
The first thing an expatriate working in Saudi Arabia needs to remember, if caught in an accident, is not to move your vehicle till the police arrives. Do not be bothered about the traffic behind you. Typically, your iqama would be taken away by the police when they arrive. You have to go to the traffice police station, where everything would be in Arabic.
I would advise all expatriates to never ever drive your vehicle without a license and an insurance. You must always carry these along with you, including your istemara (car registration card). Make sure that you have a photocopy of your iqama always in the car, because you will have to attach this with other documents in the police station. Preferably, go in for a comprehensive insurance, rather than a third party insurance which is mandatory.
Never ever sign any document in the police station unless you are sure of what is written above. Call your Government Relations Officer or your sponsor to the police station. If you are caught in a situation where you are forced to sign somewhere, do so but with the sentence above saying "I do not understand what is mentioned above". Believe me, this would save you from a lot of trouble.
Once, a Saudi driving a GMC hit my car from the rear while I was waiting at the traffic signal for the lights to turn green. The boot of my car was badly damaged. Anywhere in the world, if someone hits your car from behind, he is at 100% fault. When I reached the police station, I could not understand a word of what was being spoken. The GMC man and the cop had a very long conversation. I was finally asked to sign a form (all of which was in Arabic). In good faith, I trusted the cop and signed it, thinking it was some kind of a First Information Report.
When I visited the police station the next day with another Saudi friend to assist me with the translation, I was shocked to know that I had actually signed a document in which it was mentioned that everything was 100% my own fault and that I am absolving the other party of any liability! I protested saying that I signed under duress, without knowing what was written above and under instruction from the cop, but it was of no use.
Thankfully, my car had a comprehensive insurance. The insurance company initially refused to pay, saying that whenever someone hits your car from the rear it was 100% the fault of the other party, but I stood my ground and said that it was a comprehensive insurance which meant that the company had to pay, irrespective of whose fault it was. Finally, a compromise was reached in the office of the Captain, the highest officer in the police station, where the insurance company, the other party and I had to share the cost of repair. It left me with an experience I would never forget and without a car for over 20 days! It sometimes made me wonder whether I was better off without a car.
I have always wondered about the psyche of these people. How many every times have we seen cars while waiting at the traffic lights, to slowly inch ahead and almost stand bang in the middle of the cross section of the road obstructing the way of other cars! All this, just to ensure that they are the first ones to zip ahead of other cars when the lights turn green, as though following any other car is below their dignity!
One of the important things which expatriate drivers in Saudi Arabia need to keep in mind is to control one's road rage. There are a lot of idiots on the road and if someone wants the first right of way, give him the same rather than trying to compete with him. And finally, do wear your seat belts, keeping in mind that you have a family back home waiting for you. Wishing you a safe driving in the year ahead!