Sunday, February 22, 2009

Driving in Saudi Arabia

My earlier post on transferring the details of your license evoked a lot of interest that I decided to do a follow-up post on the same.

Expatriates driving in Saudi Arabia require special skills. Even if you are an experienced driver having an international driving license, you need to be street-alert while driving in the kingdom. If you are new to the kingdom, the first lesson is to unlearn whatever you have learnt elsewhere! For instance, theory states that whoever reaches a roundabout first has the first priority. In practice, the priority increases proportional to the size of your vehicle - i.e., Might is Right! Looks like the authorities are also fighting a losing battle, which is why you can find traffic lights even in roundabouts, particularly in places like Dammam. Amazing, isn't it?

Now for some practical tips on driving in Saudi Arabia :) Theory says that you don't move your car until the traffic lights turn green. In practice, you slowly inch towards the middle of the intersection even if the lights are red, virtually blocking half the traffic, and zip across as soon as the lights turn yellow for the traffic coming on some other road! Don't bother about the traffic behind you, what matters is that you have to be the first and ahead of all other cars! God help you, if you are racing ahead and the traffic lights suddenly turn yellow! Theory says that you overtake someone always from the left. In practice, you drive at 160 km/hour in the emergency lane, then race to the extreme left and again zigzag to the extreme right without any indication to the guy behind you. Who cares about road safety, you have a GMC and hence are the king of the road!

Jokes apart, Saudi Arabia has the dubious distinction of the maximum number of road fatalities in the world. Please be extra cautious and always adopt defensive driving while on the road.

By the way, did you know that you are forbidden from driving your friend's car without permission? One of the readers had specifically asked for this information in my earlier post (click here to read it). Let's say that your friend is on vacation and you want to use his car during his absence. The procedure requires both of you to go to the police station personally and sign a declaration form in Arabic. The car owner has to attach copies of his iqama, ownership and istemara cards and the person planning to drive the car must also attach his iqama copy and the copy of his driving license.The declaration letter must clearly state the starting and ending days, i.e., the duration for which you would use your friend's car. The police would then give an authorization letter to you and it is only after this that you can drive your friend's car. Without this letter, never ever drive any one else's vehicle. If the car meets with an accident, you would straightaway be imprisoned, so take care. Personally, I would suggest you do not even try driving any one else's car.

Here's wishing you a safe ride!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Passport and Iqama renewal

Expatriates working in Saudi Arabia need to keep a close tab on the expiry dates of their passports and iqamas. In fact, I would advise everyone to keep a personal diary of expiry dates, from istemara to driving license, from passport to iqama, from car insurance to company ID to ATM card. In fact, the wallet of an expat working in Saudi contains more paper than notes! Remember, when dealing with government agencies, all the dates pertain to Hijri calendar, not Gregorian calendar. I had mentioned in my earlier post (click here to read it) about the importance of Hijri dates and the tool to convert from one to the other (click here).

One of my colleagues recently landed up into quite a mess, which prompted me to write this post. Most embassies allow renewal of their citizens' passports upto one year before the expiry date. I would strongly urge all expats in Saudi Arabia to renew their passports much before the deadline, to avoid unnecessary trouble. Read on, to know why. There are also cases where there are less than 4 pages available in the passport. In either case, renewal of your passport on time is extremely important.

Some embassies such as the Indian Embassy in Riyadh offer the so-called "Jumbo" passports as an option. This costs slightly more, as it has more number of pages. If you are one among those frequently going on weekend trips or business trips outside the kingdom, then this is the one to go for. Some countries do not stamp their visas if your passport contains less than 2 "clean" pages, i.e., without any stamp whatsoever. For example, the Malaysian Embassy in Riyadh wants atleast 2 "consecutive" clean pages, on the left and the right, (not back to back) without any stamp, if you need their visa. I still do not understand the logic behind this, but when dealing with government agencies, you don't talk logic, you just follow their rules!

It is not adequate if you just renew your passport or simply take an additional booklet. In both these cases, the change has to be entered in your iqama. This is the most important part of the whole process, because failure to do so would land yourself in trouble when you go on vacation. What I mean is, you may be having a passport which is up to date and renewed, but if the details are not entered in the system, believe me you are really in for some shock, like my colleague.

Once you renew your passport or take an additional booklet, you MUST submit both the old and the new passports along with your iqama to the Saudi Passport Office (Jawasat). Usually, the information gets transferred in 2 weeks time (excluding Ramadan and Hajj season). The trouble is when your iqama is also about to expire during that period. Remember, the moment you give your iqama for renewal, all exit/reentry visas, including multiple visas stamped on your passport get automatically cancelled. The renewal of the iqama should normally be over in 2 weeks time, but why take the risk by procrastinating? This is why I would advise you not to wait until the last moment to renew your passport.

Always make it a habit to return to the kingdom always a couple of days prior to the expiry of your re-entry visa. If you don't, your visa gets cancelled and it is quite a long process to revive it (click here for the same). Why even ask for trouble when you can really avoid it? Afterall, all of us are here for money, so make your stay here comfortable by renewing your papers on time.

Oh, by the way, if you have submitted your papers for transfer of information to your Government Relations Officer (Mandub), how do you find out whether the transfer has really happened or not? Remember, there is no link or website nor is there any information till you reach the airport. Well, I just discovered this indirect way and want to share it with you. If you or any of your friend has an account with Al Rajhi bank, just login to the bank's website, enter your iqama number and apply for an exit/re-entry visa. If the data has already been transferred, it will ask you to confirm. Don't confirm, just log out. If the data has not been transferred, it will give out a vague message such as "the person is not present in the kingdom". If you get such a message, make sure that your passport details are updated in the system. Hope this post was helpful.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Import of vehicles into Saudi Arabia

Periodically, I have been getting requests from potential expatriates planning to work in Saudi Arabia, on the procedures for importing their personal vehicles into the kingdom. This was a natural corollary to my earlier article on the procedure of taking a Saudi driving license (click here to read it). Afterall, who would like to leave behind their good old vehicle back home, if there is a way to bring it here? Well, read on for what's in store for you.

First, a few precautions. The car must not have met with an accident, nor should it have been used as a taxi or as a police vehicle. It should be a left-hand drive vehicle. In short, what this means is that vehicles which are used in commonwealth countries, (where they drive on the left hand side of the road) cannot be imported. There must also be no visible signs of damage to the vehicle.

The procedure for importing cars is different, depending on the country from where you are bringing the vehicle. If you are going to import from any of the GCC countries, then the following documents have to be submitted:

1. A valid vehicle ownership document issued by the traffic police of the country from where the car is being imported

2. Customs declaration from the exporting country's Customs department

In case you are importing the car from anywhere else in the world (note: cars from Israel are not allowed), the following would apply:

1. A legal document proving the ownership of the vehicle, translated in Arabic and attested by the Saudi Embassy in the country from where you are going to export the car from.

2. Export declaration from the Customs of the exporting country.

3. Invoice and certificate of origin to be attached to the above export declaration.

4. A declaration from the police in the exporting country saying that the vehicle is not in the wanted list for criminal offences

The calculation of customs duty varies on case to case basis, but as a general guideline, you can follow what is given here. The latest price list of all major cars are available and this would be taken as the reference. Depending on the model and the age of the car, depreciation is calculated. Insurance and freight are added to this base value.

In case you are bringing in a vehicle which is less than the first six months of the model year, it is treated as a brand new vehicle. If you bring in a new vehicle in the second six months of its model year, the deduction is 2% per month or part of it. From the 2nd to the 5th of its model year, the deduction is 1% per month or part of it. For cars over 5 years, the maximum deduction is 60% of the original price from the beginning of the model year. The customs duty for cars is 5%.

If the above procedure is mind-boggling, then follow my simple advice. Forget about importing your car into the kingdom. You are better off buying a new car here, which you can sell it while going back. Why would you like to spend your time, money and energy going through all of this, when you don't even know for sure how long you would be here? Afterall, the only thing certain in Saudi Arabia is uncertainty!