Saturday, April 25, 2009

How to know your traffic fines

It's a 'fine' day - literally! No, I did not mean the weather, this is about the fine you have to pay when caught for some traffic offence.

Most expatriates working in Saudi Arabia would have at some point of time faced a peculiar situation - getting a traffic violation ticket without even knowing what it is all about. Expatriate car drivers / owners dread the so-called yellow ticket. Everything would be in Arabic, so you will have to make a guess or take the help of a person who can read Arabic. Well, you will have to get used to it, and the sooner the better. The worst part is when you come to know about a pending fine just when you are about to leave on vacation. Imagine going to the airport and being refused by the immigration officer, just because there is a fine pending against your name.

Thankfully, those days are now gone. You can get to know the fine pending against your name sitting in the comfort of your home. If you are having a SAWA mobile phone (as most expats do), just type your iqama number and sms it to 88993. It would cost you SR1.5 and you will get a reply back in your mobile about the pending fine. If you are a Mobily subscriber, just type your iqama number and send an sms to 625555. You can also call 01-2928888 through your landline to know the status of your fine. Just follow the instructions after dialling this number.

Once you know the fine amount, you have to go to either Al Rajhi Bank or Riyad Bank and pay the same. You can also do it online if you have an account in either of these two banks.

Talking about fines, I always used to wonder how some people just get away with all that rash driving? I never realized it until I saw it myself. Believe it or not, with the right 'wasta', you CAN get your fine amount reduced! I have never seen such a thing anywhere else in the world! In the earlier days, people even used to get their tickets cancelled before it was entered in the system, but now it has become a bit difficult.

Rather than undergo all of this, the best way would be to just drive safely and reach home in one piece! Hope this information was useful.

Monday, April 6, 2009

New multiple exit reentry visas stopped?

These are indeed tough times. The myriad procedures and complex policies, half of which are not officially announced, are already keeping expats on their toes. To add to the misery, here's the latest rumour - I call it a rumour because it is still not yet official - new multiple exit / reentry visa for eastern expats, particularly those in the eastern province, has been "temporarily" suspended.

Expatriates working in Saudi Arabia over the years develop a 'skill' not normally present elsewhere. That is, if they hear a rumour, they believe that in all probability it must be true! Much as I try not to encourage such talk, particularly in this blog which has such a high credibility rating, it is just impossible to skip this particular one because it affects all of us.

One of my friends in Jubail recently had applied for a multiple exit/reentry visa. He followed the usual procedure - paid up SR500 through the bank and gave his application with all the required papers. His application was simply rejected without a reason. And then followed another and one more and yet another one - all of them rejected for no reason. No one would give a reason and there is no one whom you could go and approach. "Khalas" and "Yalla" are the standard replies.

It seemed very strange. So I contacted my friends in other companies and surprisingly, they too had the same story. In fact, the information I obtained was that there is an unofficial ban on issue of multiple exit / reentry visas but this is only in the eastern province. There is a small consolation though. Expats with iqama professions such as doctor, engineer, etc., as also western expatriates are exempt. I tried to read a pattern among all the friends whose cases where rejected, and this story seems to be credible.

My sources tell me that work on expansion of the Saudi-Bahrain causeway has already begun and this measure is just to avoid over-crowding the causeway! I believe that in the past 2 months, the causeway had not less than 5 major chock-o-block traffic jams, something typically seen during vacation time when people use Bahrain as a transit point to go home.

Now don't ask me for proof of this information. I can't provide you a hyperlink, certainly not for a 'rumour'. So you've got to either take it or leave it. What this shows is so typical of the drastic steps officials taken when faced with such problems. It appears to be a case of burning a house for killing a fly inside. Let me reiterate once more, that I write this particular post with abundant caution. There is no official announcement, no official press release or nothing which gives you detailed information on this. It is only through experience of fellow-expats that we really realize that something has changed suddenly.

Aren't there better ways to control the crowd in the causeway rather than creating a blanket ban on multiple visas? For example, why not provide a couple of separate counters for those having multiple visas? Why not create a rule that those having multiple visas need not undergo the process of stamping in the causeway and that they could just pass through after passing their passports under a scanner. In fact, why not have the stamping done before the bridge itself for multiple visa holders and business / frequent travellers? And finally, isn't it just plain and simple stupid to link the iqama profession with a multiple visa, given the fact that 90% of the expats don't have iqama professions matching with the actual work they are doing! Ideally, the system of exit/reentry visa itself (either single or multiple) should be done away with, but I don't see this coming so soon.

Just thought of keeping you informed. No one really knows how long this unofficial ban would last. Let's just hope that thngs return to normal soon. What do you think?