27 April 2016

Settling In To Expat Life In Saudi - Things Are Different, Very Different!

This week we will have been in KSA for 4 whole weeks.  The time has flown and while we are still in the inevitable ‘honeymoon’ period we are all enjoying our new life.  Inspired by posts I have seen other newly posted expats write,  I thought I would write a post on the things that surprised me about life here.  This is probably best done while we still retain that early posting amazement (‘oh my goodness we are in SAUDI!’) and before the whole experience becomes humdrum (‘oh yeah Saudi, home, ho hum’).

Firstly I will say that life here is really not what we expected.  I am not sure what I thought it would be like but not being allowed out of the house and being swathed head to toe in black were a big part of it together with a lack of leisure activities leading to a lifestyle devoid of entertainment.  

Here in Jeddah I can’t drive but I can leave the compound.  When I am out and about I can get more in the shop, both grocery and clothing here with greater variety than our last posting and with greater ease than I would be able to in the UK as it does not involve a trip to the capital but I have to plan around the availability of transport.  Nevertheless life in a new country is full of surprises and here are just some of the things that surprised me in the last few weeks.  N.B. I understand that Jeddah is far more cosmopolitan than other parts of the country (that we have not yet visited) so what I mention here might not apply elsewhere. 

Segregated Life

Saudi law requires that there is strict segregation of the sexes outside of the family home.  While the rules are observed it is not as strict as I thought it would be.  Every café and restaurant has a separate section for bachelors and for families.  Women must eat in the family section and men are only allowed in there if they are with their wives or children.  Some shops are also restricted to women and families only, no single men allowed. 

Before the children and I arrived in Jeddah Mr EE was confined to the bachelor sections when he went out.  He found them quite dull and felt that he was being kept away from ordinary life.  I must admit that I have never felt this when I have been out and about on my own as the family sections are very welcoming.  The male sections do look rather lonely.  Of course there are some places that will only serve men and I am unable to visit them, we were turned away from a juice bar a few weeks ago as only the men’s section was open, the family section was upstairs but closed and I would be lying if I did not admit to being frustrated and annoyed at the time and it is an experience that would get old and tired very quickly.  We are still trying to work out where Mr EE should go when he is on his own with the children.  We have seen some men with daughters in prams in the bachelor section.  Local friends have said that the restaurants will probably advise on a case by case basis depending on which children he has with him.  

This families only sign made me laugh
Public Displays Of Affection

We were initially worried that I would not be able to hold Master EE’s hand and that Mr EE would not be able to hold Miss EE’s.  A quick glance at any local family shows that we did not have to be worried about this in the slightest.  By the time that it would start to become questionable the children will probably have grown out of it in any event.

One of the things I do find difficult, however, is not being able to hold Mr EEs hand or give him a kiss when we go our different ways to run errands in separate shops.  We do see the odd Saudi couple holding hands but it is not common by any means and a kiss is completely beyond the pale.  In 19 years together we have never left each other even for a moment without a kiss and an ‘I love you’ (I am talking only about a kiss on the cheek by the way, no inappropriate PDAs).  As a result we find that we have to make a concerted effort not to do this when we part and it still feels very, very weird!

Opening Times And Prayers

Shops are open in the morning and then close for midday prayers.  While some of the malls open in the early afternoon many shops stay closed until about 4 or 5 and then open again until late (very late).  I understand that during Ramadan the hours shift to much later in the evening and night.  At all times of the year everything closes down for prayers.

There are five prayer times during the day but the ones with the biggest impact on our day to day life are Dhuhr, ‘Aser, Magrhib and Isha  which take place at mid-day, mid-afternoon, sunset and night.  During these times the shops shut for about half an hour to enable people to complete their devotions.  Public places such as malls, hospitals and airports etc will have separate prayer rooms available for men and women.  While some people pray during these times many more do not. 

Some of the larger shops such as supermarkets allow those inside during prayers to continue to browse and fill their carts and people who have been served food, either in a restaurant or fast food outlet in a food court are permitted to continue to eat.   The malls remain open for people to walk around even though the shops themselves are closed.  We try to time our trips to the supermarket to coincide with prayer time as much as possible, by getting in just before we can shop in relative calm and then check out when the shop is open again.  We try and do the same if we want a coffee or a snack, timing it for just before prayers means we have something to do in the half hour when we would otherwise be waiting aimlessly. 

I had heard from some expats that prayer time was a massive inconvenience but we find that with a little planning it can be fine.  It is, however, frustrating if you are caught out and we try to keep a track of closures by using a ‘phone app that tells us what times prayers are every day so that we can plan around them. 


I did not expect to be plagued by mosquitos in Saudi Arabia.  These little pests are something that I associate with marshy, swampy or tropical areas.  About 10 years ago or so Mr EE and I were diving in Marsa Alam in Egypt which is just the other side of the Red Sea from here and there were no mosquitos there.  Jeddah, however, is full of the little blighters and we have sacrificed an inordinate number of our plug sockets to anti mosquito plug ins that seem to have very little impact.  Luckily the area is not malarial and dengue is not an issue here but I had hoped to get a break from bites on this posting at least. 

Even children wear expensive clothing....

Conspicuous Consumption

To be honest I was not sure what to think about this before arriving in Jeddah.  The Middle East, Dubai in particular, is well known for its very conspicuous consumption and people flashing the cash.  Saudis abroad also have this reputation (the press reports of the person bringing gold cars to London earlier this year is a case in point) but one wonders how much of that is a show.  Turns out not much really; conspicuous consumption is a normal and accepted way of life here.  From gold cars (yes we have seen a few) to designer clothing (to be worn at home and female only gatherings), expensive handbags and designer shoes not to mention home décor that can be a little ‘bling’ for our tastes (gold effect wardrobes anyone?) flashing the cash is socially acceptable here.  One need not worry about inadvertently embarrassing someone by giving a gift that is too expensive. 

Given the economy is in a down turn, suffering from the effects of the low oil prices I can only imagine what life is like here when things are going well!  Not everyone is wealthy though and  this is even more true when looking at the income ranges of expatriates.  While we are able to lead a very comfortable life many expatriates here to work as drivers and maids exist on a pittance and some are treated very badly.  It must be very difficult on a number of levels to see this world from the inside and yet not be a part of it.  

This mall has high end high street alongside designers such as Missoni,
Alberta Feretti, D&G and many more


While men can wear whatever they want from traditional thobes to t.shirts (shorts are not acceptable outside the compound) women who venture out of the home must wear an abaya.  This does not have to be black and many women sport highly decorated and embroidered examples.  Most Saudi women wear a head covering of some sort, ranging from a simple scarf to a full niqab.  The head covering is not, however, compulsory, and very few expat women cover although all carry a scarf in case they are asked to. 

Children, including pre-teen girls, can wear what they like.

For more posts on life in Saudi click on the picture below

Ersatz Expat

21 April 2016

The Ersatz Guide To Saudi Customs Rules!

There are a lot of misconceptions about life in KSA.  Everyone knows that things like Alcohol and Christmas trees are banned but what else can’t you bring?

Lets face it most countries have a list of things that you are not allowed to import.  When moving to the UK, for example, you are not allowed to bring weapons.  I remember a long discussion with a Venezuelan friend of the family who was looking to study in Southampton.  He was very upset at not being allowed to bring his pistol and knives as he was concerned about how he would defend himself in case of attack.  Given that he was not the type to consort with criminal gangs or go to nightclubs looking for fights we assured him that the police would have him covered (and would take a dim view of him carrying weapons on the streets).  He ended up studying in the US instead as he could just not cope with the idea of being undefended. 

Importing Dogs and Christmas Trees?
The important one is allowed!
Anyway, I digress.  As mentioned most countries will have a restricted list and you would do well to study this carefully before an international move if you do not want your goods held up in customs.  Your beautiful ivory wares (what on earth are you doing with that in this day and age!!!) will be unwelcome in most places and weapons, animals, certain electrical goods etc are often subject to restrictions.  Nevertheless the restricted list for KSA is somewhat longer than most other countries. 
We received guidance from our moving company and I have summarised it below.

Banned from shipment:
  • Religious items that are contrary to Muslim beliefs and morality codes such as: religious decorations, Christmas trees, ornaments, statues, figurines, wood carvings  etc;
  • any sculptures or metal works  depicting human or animal forms;
  • any games of chance;
  • real or ornamental weapons or firearms and/or antique handguns; military uniforms or equipment;
  • any alcoholic beverages or any foodstuffs containing alcohol and any literature pertaining to preparation of alcoholic beverages;
  • all pork products;
  • narcotic drugs or medicines without prescription;
  • radio transmitters or communication equipment;
  • any pornographic and/or lewd pictures, videos  or materials.   

We were also advised that 110 volt equipment was banned from import which surprised us on arrival as our home as both 220 and 110v sockets and the light rings are on 110v.  If you are coming from the Americas I would advise that you check this with your shipping agent.

What does this mean in practice?

Most of the list is fairly standard but we did have a few things that might have caused problems so we sent a small portion, about 1 cubic meter in total, of our personal effects back to the UK.  This included all our religious books (although a single copy ie a family bible is permitted for personal use), figurines we had collected on our travels such as decorative scales weights from Cambodia depicting Ganesha, Buddha, Garuda etc, framed shadow puppets of Apsara dancers and Garuda, an antique parang we had bought in Borneo, our Christmas Tree, Nativity Crib etc.  Colleagues advised us that the pictures and figurines might or might not be ok so on balance we decided not to bring them as we would be upset to lose them as all had been gifts, had they not had any emotional significance we might well have packed them.  We also sent some books and films we were not sure would pass the censorship test.  In case you think the worst of us this comprised videos and books with a religious aspect.  Funnily enough we saw many of these same books on sale in the English language book store in the Jeddah Red Sea Mall so we were possibly a little over cautious. 

These did not make the import cut...
If you are on prescription medication you should carry a copy of the prescription with you to prove that it is for your personal use.  Again KSA is not unique in restricting import of medicines I know several people who have had codeine headache tablets removed in the UAE and my Father told me he was once told off for bringing strepsils (lightly medicated throat sweets) into Norway in the 1980s.

Pork and Alcohol

Many Muslim countries allow the sale of (or personal import of) pork and alcohol products for non-Muslims.  KSA is not one of these countries.  All such products are banned and their use or possession carries a heavy penalty.  Now personally I love pork but can do without it for a while, I will just enjoy many sausage and bacon based meals when we are out of the country.  Mr EE and I are not teetotal but we are not huge drinkers either often preferring a soft drink so the alcohol restrictions do not really bother us or have any real impact on our personal habits.  

Other people who enjoy a more regular drink may feel the impact of being in a ‘dry’ country.  Many such expats brew their own in the privacy of their own homes and even transport it between compounds.  As the news reports of the punishment of an elderly expat caught with alcohol in his possession out of the compound show, you do this at your own risk. 

With regard to importing alcohol be aware that it is relatively easy to do this inadvertently.  Check boxes of chocolates to ensure that none are liqueur based, ensure that your mouthwash is alcohol free and keen bakers should leave the vanilla extract at home. 

Surprising Things To Be Careful Of

Chess is, somewhat strangely, deemed a game of chance and is theoretically banned.  Nevertheless it is a popular game and there are chess clubs around the country.   I would caution against bringing any valuable or antique sets with you.  If you are a keen player consider using an app or packing a cheap set in your bags so that you do not delay clearance of your main shipment. 

The biggest wrench for us was to not be allowed to bring our Christmas tree.  Christmas is an important celebration for us as a family and we have a beautiful small tree that we cart around the world with some really special decorations including ones that the children have chosen each year, ones they have made and decorations we have collected on holidays.  We also have a beautiful olive wood nativity scene, an advent calendar etc.  Putting out the decorations is as much part of the build-up as enjoying seasonal food.  At the end of the day, however, what is more important is that we are together, a tree is nothing more than a symbol and something we can come back to in the future.  I understand that some trees are available for sale here at certain times of the year so if the children ask we might get something small.  We are likely to be abroad on holiday over the latter weeks of December in any event so while it is a shame it is not really important. 

Things You Can Bring

Contrary to many rumours that fly around the internet you can bring in children’s cuddly toys and you can bring your dogs.

For more posts on expat life in Saudi click on the picture below

Ersatz Expat

19 April 2016

Compound Cats

Now that we are in KSA I am able to start the process of getting my papers in order so Mr EE and I can get import permits for our three girls marooned with the vet in Malaysia.  We have never been away from our pets for this long before and hope never to be again.

Let me in....... please........
In the meantime as new people in the compound the resident cats are doing their best to ingratiate themselves with us.  Cats are everywhere in Jeddah and our compound is no exception.  The majority of the cats have been adopted by residents (and have collars to prove it so they are not taken away) but live a sort of communal, outdoors life.  They are not ferral but they are not truly house pets either.  I think a lot of them are related as they look suspiciously similar and I hope the 'owners' have done the responsible thing and had them sterilised as I am not sure I can resist a kitten (because my resolve worked so well the last time).  There are dozens of cats on the compound but there are about 4 or 5 that are making a concerted effort to ingratiate themselves with me.

You can't resist our feline powers of persuasion...
That said they are desperate to make friends and seem to want nothing more than to sneak into our house.  A few of them stare plaintively through our windows, sometimes miaowing fit to break a heart all in an attempt to convince us that they are abandoned kitties that need a loving home.  Others stalk me as I come back home from the shop, running around my feet trying to sneak past me.  If I did not see the collars and know that there are several feeding stations set up by residents around the compound I might be taken in.

I lost a leg, you have to let me in....
While a part of me would love to let them in and act as an extra feeding station cum petting room I don't think our girls in Malaysia would forgive us.  Bessie, the oldest dog is still not to happy at the idea of having one kitty sister so I doubt she would ever speak to me again if she got to her new home to find it overrun with felines.  I am not sure what Kismet will make of them, she is a lot smaller that the bruisers that live on the compound and they have tails (Kismet like most Malaysian cats has a club tail).  She has been an indoor cat to date and I want to protect her from fights in the future but at the same time I don't want her to get depressed at seeing all these other cats out of the window.  We will have to work it all out when she is here.

If you are not going to let me in I will just sleep
in the middle of the road....
Some of the cats are real characters.  The swimming pool posse are particularly engaging.  One likes to dangle his paws in the pool but looks terribly offended if you swim in 'his' water, another likes to walk up and down the side while I swim lengths.

Playing the long game.  This Kismet look alike
sleeps outside our windows.
I am holding firm and refusing to feed them, I do succumb to the odd request for a scratch on the head though, as long as the request is made some distance from my front door.

It is hot and you are making me stay here...
I could be in your lovely cool kitchen.

For more posts on life in KSA click on the picture below

Ersatz Expat

Posted as part of the weekly Animal Tales Link up


14 April 2016

Expat Friendships For Children

It is often said that expat friendships are fast and furious, they are intense in post but once one or other of you moves away the friendship starts to wane.  I keep in contact with some friends over Facebook and comment on their photos but we both know that we are only in touch because it is convenient these days.  We won’t go out of our way to meet up again  (though we would happily share a coffee if we ran into each other).  The bond we have was limited to a certain place and time. Other expat friends have become real friends – I write to a number of people quite regularly, long emails about life, the universe and everything and we go out of our way to meet up.  Just before Christmas I took a 200 mile diversion on my drive from my parents’ house to my in laws to stay a night with a couple we knew in Astana.  It was wonderful to catch up.  Similarly a few years ago Mr EE and I found ourselves in Hong Kong at rather short notice and a friend dropped all her plans to meet us for lunch.  That same year we organised our summer holiday to Turkey instead of Slovenia to fit in with the wedding of a friend of mine from my days in Turkey. 

The differences in these relationships are obvious to me now but it took me some time to realise that not all friendships are created equal.  Further the expat experience can be very isolating for children.  When I was a child I was at boarding school so I only saw my ‘friends’ in posting for a few months a year.  Moving schedules meant that someone you were close to one holiday might not be there the next but their parents might not have known about the move in the previous holiday so we would not have been able to say goodbye and in the absence of Facebook we lost touch.  It was this experience which taught me to evaluate the people I should become close to (and get their school address for letters) and which ones to be friendly with but not reliant on.  In some postings I was the only person of my own age which was lonely but had the positive effect that I become incredibly close to my younger sister and our parents.  That said I made sure that I had human contact beyond my family, as I grew older I would go into my father’s office for work experience with his legal team.  This allowed me to meet a whole range of people, either young colleagues on a first post out of university or the children of older local colleagues.  I am still in touch with my mentor from Turkey and the daughter of another colleague. 

Expat Children Can Be More Reliant On Family
For Friendship Than Other Children
My experiences made me worry for our own children.  They go to school in posting as opposed to going to boarding school so they do have contact with people their own age every day.  Nevertheless I worried about how we would explain the potentially transient nature of expat friendships to the children so that they would not be too hurt.  It is not helped by the fact that teachers often push everyone to be ‘friends’.  There seems to be no distinction made between friendly acquaintances and lifelong friendships (or BFFs as I am told they are called these days). 

But A Social Life Is Still Important
The people they were close to in Kazakhstan are now scattered to the four corners of the globe, to the US, Ghana, UK, Russia and of course many of them are still in Kazakhstan.  They see their photos on my Facebook and comment on them occasionally and they hope to meet up again in the future but they are beginning to realise that they have grown apart. They were far more wary about making friends in Malaysia as a result.  Our fast turnover of our time there meant 2 schools in 18 months making it very difficult for them to settle down as their classmates knew they would be moving on in short order and were also reluctant to get close.  This made the children very nervous in the run up to the move to Jeddah.  They were concerned that they would not have anyone to play with and it was a real relief for them when some of the neighbouring children knocked on the door the day after we arrived and invited them to the playground.  The children in their classes have been very open and welcoming and they have had arrangements for playdates off compound already.  As Master and Miss EE grow older they are starting to understand the difference between an acquaintance or short term friend and a lifelong one but are also seasoned enough to understand that sometimes a ‘now’ friend can be just the ticket. 

It Is Good For Them To Learn How To Make Friends And
How To Move On From Those Friendships At The End Of A Posting
We hope that our example, making a real effort with the people who matter most, helps them to realise that some friendships are nothing more than acquaintances, some are short and sweet and of the moment, to be enjoyed but not savoured while others will be for life and that all of these have their place.  Of course there is no telling at the start which friendships will be for life so we will facilitate them in maintaining contact with anyone they want to.  

Have your children had to learn to deal with intense but transient friendships in your postings?  How have you helped them adjust?

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Ersatz Expat

For more posts on Expat Education click below

The Ersatz Guide To Expat Education

Posted as part of Seychelles' Mama's Monthly Blog Link

Seychelles Mama

Linked to the Practical Mondays Link Up on the Practical Mom blog

13 April 2016

Book Review - The Expat Partner's Survival Guide

I have been following Clara Wiggin’s excellent blog for about a year now.  It is often funny, sometimes thought provoking and always interesting.  Although she is more rooted to her native culture than I am (not hard considering I have none), she is, like me, a perpetual expat.  We have shared a few postings although I don’t think we ever overlapped. 

Given how much I enjoyed her blog I thought I would get a copy of her book and see if it stood comparison.  We started a (horrendously lengthy but surprisingly last minute) international relocation from Malaysia to Saudi and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to dip in and out of the book as we went through the process and see how good the advice was. 

Firstly I will say that I have not read any other relocation/survival guides, probably because this life is not unusual for me it is something I have grown up with.  Because of that I don’t really have anything to compare it to other than my own experience.

Clara breaks the expat experience into logical segments, from preparing to relocate to managing the early days in your new home, culture shock and supporting children through the process and many many more ending with advice on repatriation.  I found her advice on each section to be absolutely spot on.  The early chapters in particular are filled with practical hints and tips (including a natty to do list which I would love to see developed as an expat relocation to do list tracking app).  Clara’s calm experience shines through and I must admit to being rather in awe at how organised she is in her moves.  The chapters giving advice on how to settle in to a new home are also filled with tips which I think would be extremely helpful to those embarking on a first or early posting.  The anecdotes Clara has gathered from expats around the world also add depth to the narrative.

For me personally I found the most useful chapters to be the ones that dealt with culture shock and depression.  Culture shock is something I have come to expect and know how to handle.  A few years ago, however, when we moved to Malaysia I went from having a job I loved and a wonderful friendship group in Kazakhstan to being alone at home.  Throw in a new baby 10 weeks after relocation, looking after visitors, and a sudden in country relocation just a few months later and I found myself, rather unexpectedly feeling all at sea.  With an 8 hour time difference in calls isolating me from easy contact with my sister and good friends it was the first time I had personally experienced how easy it could be for an expat spouse to feel completely stranded.  I was very lucky not to end up with depression but it could easily have happened and I think the links Clara put in her book and her advice on the (truly excellent) follow up section on her website are a must read for any expat.  It is this section, I think, more than the advice on the practicalities brilliant as they are, that provides the real value in the book.

In summary this is a must read that belongs in every expat’s kindle.  I also think it is required reading for the non expat families of expats to help them understand the complexities of the peripatetic lifestyle we live.  

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Ersatz Expat

11 April 2016

How to make a Saudi Visa Application

For most expatriates the start of the posting is a stressful time and one of the largest contributory factors to that is the hassle of sorting out a visa.  From submitting information to an employer or finding a visa agent and traipsing up and down to the embassy the process can take time and energy that you wish you could devote to other things.

Expats end up drowning in documents and tangled in red tape
Saudi visas are probably the most complex I have ever had to apply for.  Mr EE signed his contract in early December but it was almost the end of January before he was able to fly to take up the new post.  As the process was taking so long he flew out on a business visa while his working visa was organised.  It took us a further few months to get the dependant visas for the rest of the family. 

Working Visa

We were slightly delayed at the start of the application process because Mr EE, despite having paid for an extra large passport, had only one page left (UK large passports are only 48 pages compared with my 66 from Ireland) so we had to wait until we arrived in the UK and make an appointment for a 4 hour renewal (the UK provides excellent renewal services which can be done in person instead of by post, perfect for expats).

New passport in hand and police check from Malaysia sent ahead he passed the supporting documents on to the Visa Agent.  These documents included:
  • photographs,
  • letters of authorisation to permit the agents to deal with his visa on his behalf,
  • a form authorising the use of his biometric information and agreement to abide by all Saudi laws,
  • his signed and attested contract and his letter of invitation from his employer including his visa number as authorised by the Saudi Foreign Ministry. 
  • Copies of all degree certificates
  • Birth Certificate
  • Medical Reports

We provided all the information to the agents in December but it was not until January that the embassy notified us that some documents had been uploaded in the wrong format and would have to be redone.  It was at this time that Mr EE’s employers pushed for a Business Visa so that he could work while the documentation issues were resolved. 

When we were told everything had been accepted he returned to the UK only to be told that he had to provide an up to date British police check in addition to the Malaysian one.  Luckily this can be requested online and is processed very rapidly.  It was a great relief when his visa finally came through.


When Mr EE returned to Saudi on his working visa he was able to start the application process for his Iqama or residence permit.  This required another set of medical reports to be generated in Saudi itself (the ones used to get the visa cannot be transferred).  Once the reports were through he was able to apply for his Iqama, the whole process, from test to issue took less than a week.  With the Iqama he was able to apply for dependant passes for the rest of the family. 

Dependant Pass Application

I had already provided our ID certificates (Birth Certs for the Children and Marriage Cert for me) to the Visa Agents in advance so that they could be attested as genuine and ready to go when the passes were granted.  I was relieved that we did this ahead of time as it turned out the documents can only be attested in the country of origin and Mini EEs Birth Cert and Certified Translation had to be couriered to a friend in Malaysia for certification there. Once the attestation was complete I simply had to fill in an application form for each person (I signed for the children), a medical report for me (children do not need one) and the authorisation.  I was told that that was all that was necessary but at the last minute I also had to provide a British Police Certificate in my own name and sign an agreement to abide by all laws of the Kingdom.  The agents had not expected this to be necessary as other spouses at Mr EEs employer have not had to do that but apparently the rules have changed in recent months.

As soon as the dependant pass numbers were issued on Mr EEs Iqama the visa agent was able to take the documents to the embassy for issue.  Normal visa processing time in London is about 2 working days although other Embassies might take a little longer.  After waiting for months for the documents they were issued in less than 24 hours and we found ourselves on a flight out just 12 hours after that. 

Dependant Iqamas

Now that we are in country I have started the process of applying for my own Iqama and one for each of the children.  The visas themselves have only a 90 day validity and a single entry so it is vital that we get them as soon as possible (Miss EE and I have to go to the UK for a wedding in a few weeks time).  Once we have the Iqamas I am advised that the visa falls into abeyance and that we simply apply for an exit/re-entry visa whenever we want to leave.  As with Mr EE, I had to go to the government clinic for more medical tests.  They are not onerous (TB screening, blood, urine and stool samples) and the children are exempt from this requirement.  Once I have an Iqama Mr EE and I can attend the court to request pet import certificates, once that is done the whole family will be together again.

Tourist Visas are not issued to KSA so we had assumed that our friends and family would not be able to visit us.  We were told, however, that visitor visas for family members are available so hopefully we can get some people out here soon.

Things To Be Aware Of

I found the whole process to be depressing and frustrating.  It would probably not be so bad if you are applying in good time but because Mr EE was needed as soon as possible we had to terminate his employment in Malaysia which left the children and me without a visa or home there.  We could have stayed on tourist visas but the children would not have been able to go to school so we decided to return to visit family in the UK.  I would give the following advice to anyone going through the process.

  • Apply in your home country if possible (documents such as certificates have to be attested in country).
  • Apply in plenty of time.  The whole process from signing the contract to getting our dependant passes took 4 months.  Mr EE was out in 1 ½ but only because he flew out on a short term business visa as an interim measure.  That meant he could not open a bank account or buy a car when he arrived, he had to wait for the Iqama to do so.
  • Get a good visa agent.  Ours was useless, they kept on changing the goalposts on us, requesting new documents at the last minute, required us to do things they should have sorted out such as couriering documents to Malaysia and finding an agent there.  We got an overall impression that they did not know what they were doing.  I know that Mr EEs employers have now changed agent. 
  • Get extra copies of everything.  To be honest I tend to order new copies of birth and marriage certificates every year as they come in so handy, that way if an embassy or institution retains one on file I have others to fall back on.  The only exception to this is my birth certificate (I have only one and need to get around to going to the Hague to apply for extra copies) and Mini EE’s birth certificate (we were given one and one only and I do not know how to get extra copies in Malaysia).  I guard these two documents with an almost fanatical intensity and try to use colour photocopies or scans whenever possible.
  • Agree with employers as to who will shoulder the cost of delay if it results in a hiatus in employment.
  • Be flexible, you might need to produce extra supporting documents at short notice.
  • Be aware that your visa will have only a 90 day validity so you should start your Iqama application as soon as possible.
  • Medical reports for the Iqama require both urine and stool samples to be provided on the spot.  Do what you need to do to make sure that you can produce on demand.
  • Try not to stress. 

Good Luck

For more posts on life in Saudi Arabia please click on the picture

Ersatz Expat

6 April 2016

Travel At Home 6

Welcome to Travel At Home.  Wherever you are in the world there are probably so many wonderful and fascinating things to see.  If you are anything like my family it becomes all too easy to ignore the sites close to home, falling prey to the belief that they will 'always be there'.  Familiarity breeds contempt and we hanker after the exotic.  But the truth is home for one person is exotic to many others.  As an expat family we get to be at home in a wide range of different places and we try to make sure that we make the most of any place we are living right now, getting out and exploring as much as possible.  

The posts on other blogs that I enjoy reading most of all talk about places.  It could be the blogger's home country; it could be their host city.  It does not really matter, reading about locations is a wonderful way to visit and see through another person’s eyes, even if just for a few minutes.  I wanted to see if it was possible to draw them all together into one place and that is where the idea of this link up was born.

Last month we travelled to Denmark, The Netherlands, France, the UK, China and South Africa.  My favorite post was Mint Mocha Musings' write up of her weekend in Guilin, China, a place I long to visit and have not yet managed.

Travel at Home is the linky for people who want to write about their home (or host) location and all the places that don't make it into a guide book (but really should).  You don't have to be an expat to participate, just someone with a passion for their local area.  The link will be open for a week so there is plenty of time to add your post (or posts).  If you notice that something does not work as it should or you think I could improve something please do let me know.

There are just a few rules:
  • Share your post - it can be a new post or an old one you want to share with a new audience.
  • You can write about anywhere you have a strong connection, home country, current host or former host.
  • Add the link up button and code to your post so that people can navigate back easily
  • Comment on some of the other posts on the link up (the more the merrier)
  • Tweet/share your link.  If you include me (@ErsatzExpat) in your tweet I will retweet.
  • Add your post to the Travel At Home Pinterest Board contact me via Pinterest and I will add you to the board.
  • Spread the word - the more the merrier and everyone is welcome.
Monthly link ups will go in the main feed but will then be linked under the Travel At Home page for reference.  Thank you in advance for linking up and participating in this new venture.  I look forward to enjoying some vicarious visits in the next few days.   

Ersatz Expat

Al Balad

The original settlement of Al Balad was the very first place I wanted to see in Jeddah.  This historic centre, more than 2,000 years old, is now a UNESCO world heritage site.  Balad (meaning the ‘town’) was an old fishing village located around a small natural harbour and was where, traditionally, pilgrims bound for Mecca made landfall in KSA.  Of course the small harbour has become the largest port in the country and one of the busiest in the world and many Jeddawis have moved north to the new residential centre leaving the original settlement to crumble.  While we knew the evening would be the most vibrant time to visit we decided to go in the daytime to get our bearings during the quiet hours and will return later on to view the hustle and bustle and ambience of the souk at night. 

Al Balad Jeddah
Al Balad is the oldest part of Jeddah
Al Balad Jeddah
Pedestrian lanes and covered souks combine to give the area a special ambiance
Our driver dropped us off at the edge of the district near the modern commercial centres.  We found ourselves rather disappointed as we had hoped for some old world charm.  We were not to be disappointed.  A few short steps inland and we noticed that the modern buildings started to give way to some much older structures.

Al Balad Jeddah
Newer buildings give way to the more atmospheric UNESCO site
One of the main features of the Al Balad area is the souk.  Although it looks small at first glance it is extensive and contains many side streets.  We got the impression that we could purchase just about anything we wanted here from abbayas, thobes and sandals to incense, toys and gold.  As with any market anywhere in the world the friendly stall holders were just waiting to strike up a conversation and show off their wears.   The market places are punctuated with beautifully carved entrance ways to small mosques hidden behind and above the shops and there are plenty of places to rest and enjoy a typically Arabian treat of coffee with cardamom or a refreshing fruit juice.  If you are looking for the smooth tourist experience of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul the souk here will disappoint, it is all together earthier, used by locals and much more dilapidated thus, as a result, has a great deal of charm.

Al Balad Jeddah
Friendly shop keepers invite you in
Al Balad Jeddah
Whilst mysterious doors appear seemingly out of nowhere
Coming out of the covered souk we joined what was signposted as the ‘historic hajj route’ which took pilgrims from the port to the Mecca gate.  The route is lined with still more shops.  A short way along the route the feel of the area changes significantly.  There are no more modern buildings to be seen.  Instead we found ourselves in a maze of lanes dominated by Balad’s famous coral houses.

Beautiful balconies adorn many of the houses
Al Balad Jeddah
In Balad even the street lights are beautiful
Al Balad Jeddah
Trees give much needed shade
More mundane (but delicious) wares are also for sale
Al Balad Jeddah
The streets become quiet at prayer time
Many of these houses have beautiful wooden balconies complete with lattice screens designed to let the cool air circulate in the houses and for women to look out without being observed.  A lot of the houses are falling into disrepair and some have collapsed in their entirety.  From the rubble it is possible to see the coral which was used as a unique building material for these houses.  Some of the houses are undergoing extensive renovation works.  The Nasif House has been completed and is open for viewing, a place we will certainly return to explore in more detail. 

Al Balad Jeddah
Many of the houses are crumbling into nothing
The Nasif House has been fully restored. 
Al Balad Jeddah
Others are undergoing extensive renovations
Al Balad Jeddah
As are some of the more accessible features
We took some time wandering in and out of the side streets, looking at the beautiful signs, carvings and doorways that can be found all over the area and, of course, looking skywards to view the distinctive and beautiful balconies. Every now and then a shaded courtyard with a tree offered some relief.  In KSA everything stops and all shops shut for half an hour during prayers.  As non-Muslims, prayers do not apply to us, so just before closing time we bought some fruit and enjoyed a break in the shade of a large tree in a quiet corner.

Al Balad Jeddah
Beautiful ceramics are commonplace
Al Balad Jeddah
Cats are everywhere
Al Balad Jeddah
Even something as functional as a door has been decorated
Al Balad Jeddah
The coral that has been used is clear in some of the buldings
Al Balad Jeddah
It almost beggars belief that cars, carts and pedestrians can
make their way through this maze of streets
Posted as part of the TravelAtHome linky the place for inspiration for places to visit that you might not otherwise hear about.

Ersatz Expat

For more posts on Saudi Arabia please click the picture below

Ersatz Expat