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Monday, 11 January 2010

The One With All The Advice!

As I discovered the other from a friend that my blog actually came up on a google search I thought I would post for anyone, like I did, who uses google to find advice on moving to Saudi - so to cover all the words in case I don't get them in, I will include bits about visa application for Saudi, Khamis Mushayt, what to expect, what to pack, Saudi Airlines, moving to Saudi. OK that should just about cover what people may search!

When I was searching information on the net I came across very little for a family moving all together to Saudi, it IS possible to do this, we did it! (without me having a work visa!)

So hello or rather Salaam, if you are looking at my blog and you don't know me, I hope to give you some good advice and info about coming here!

Firstly let me warn you things work slowly around here, although there are ways around it! More so if you are from the UK.

OK, so you have your job secured, most likely you are a guy and you want to take your family. Now you may have been told or looked at information that you will have to be here for three months, or until your get your Iqama, before you family can come. This isn't strictly true. If , like us, you are determined to take you wife and children at the same time then there are ways around this!

It is very much down to your sponsor. Now my husband is on a single contract, but they have accommodated us. You may have been offered a family contract, which would most likely include your flights etc. Negotiation is key. Your sponsor can allow your wife and children to apply for a residence visa, they just have to give that authority as they apply for the visa in the first instance (more about that later!). They may be reluctant to do this as you will be on probation until you have your Iqama. You may be able to negotiate with them in some way:

1) Offer to pay for your families flights yourself, that way they aren't at any loss financially
2) If you are very sought after, then this is great, you will have a little more persuasion your side - but don't be too pushy, especially if you are dealing with Saudi people, remember this is their country and they don't want to employ arrogant people!

If your sponsor agrees then fantastic! If not remember three months doesn't have to be a long time, this could be a decision that changes your life forever!

So congratulations on the first hurdle, no my dear you need to get that all important visa, you cannot get on the plane without one, now this is the bit where you will be bombarded with far too much information, people will try and get more money out of you, and you will quite likely tear your hair out! Although, hopefully I can help prevent these things from happening and tell you how we got ours!


1 - Your sponsor needs to apply to the Saudi Embassy in Riyadh for your visa authorisation, for this they will need from you - a copy of all your passports, copy of your education certificates, a photo of yourself, a letter from current employer stating length of employment etc, a reference from current employer, a signed offer letter. You may or may not be asked for a copy of your medical at this time too. But I advise you get started on this for you AND your wife.

2 - After approx a week maybe less your sponsor will send you a copy of your visa authorisation, this is when you will find anyone you ask for advice wanting money! You will find a lot of visa information stating that you need to go through a visa agency - THIS IS NOT THE CASE! They charge a fortune for a job that tbh anyone half intelligent enough can do themselves! If you don't mind about the money then by all means go through a visa agency you will find information about ones approved by the Saudi embassy on their website (I will list useful websites at the end for you!) If not here's what you do!

3 - Print off your visa application form from the website - a work one for you and residence/family ones for your wife and children - one for every passport. It may seem daunting at first but trust me it's easy! Complete the forms.

4 - register your application online, this will cost you about 6 pound - a massive reduction in what visa agencies will tell you it is! You pay that money online, remember to note down the number it will give you before you leave the page as there is no way of getting this afterwards!

5 - Hopefully now you will have you completed medicals. You need to get some of your documents attested at the Foreign Commonwealth office in Milton Keynes. Medicals and education certificates - nothing more! This also costs, about 30 pound a document.

6 - So now you are almost there - now you can either post ot go in person to the Saudi Embassy in London - we went to them, they were extremely helpful and the guy checked our forms over before he took them in, posting them could delay things. You need to take with you the following - Visa authorisation, Visa applications and the reference numbers, 2 photos each (check this it can change), all the passports, letter of offer, medicals, marriage certificate, birth certificates, education certificates. These can change so always double check with the embassy website, but this was the case for us. It then costs 10 pound per passport, again a lot less than the visa agencies can charge! We handed in the documents - BEFORE 11.30 and we were able to collect our visas three days later after 3.30 pm.

The visa application can seem like allot but really if you take it step by step it's not too difficult, if a visa agency is going to do ALL of the above for you, it can take a lot longer, due to posting things back and forth for signing etc and with some can cost in excess of 200 quid per person! The total cost of doing ours was - 24 online, 40 at the embassy and 90 at the FC office - bearing in mind these charges will still be applied on top of the agency fee anyway! It took us less than a week to get ours from applying online!

Congratulations you now have your visas! Book your flights, Saudi Airlines are great when they are good! We have had the odd problem with them, but this was on one journey, they have good food, great leg room, they are good with kids and if you register yourself as an Alfursan member you get an extra 10 kg of luggage too! As far as airlines go nowadays I would say these are one of the better ones! (also the cheapest!)

So what do you pack?! This obviously depends on where you are going! We are in the mountains so the climate is a lot more temperate that places like Jeddah. We packed mostly summer clothes and just a few warm things to keep us going in the beginning. Clothes are amazingly cheap here, so you can always pick up a few things once you are here.

Remember NO alcohol, pork or porn!!! They won't just take it you will spend the night in jail and be sent back home! LOL!

Useful things we have bought back with us that we wished we had bought before - gravy granules, Hp sauce and oxo cubes - stock cubes here are quite salty - stuffing, some home comforts, pictures and things, remember you wife is probably going to be at home with the kids all day and won't know anyone at first - she WILL nest! Those nesting instincts that kick in at the end of pregnancy well expect the same sort of behaviour! She needs to feel at home, make her mark on your new home in whatever way possible. Bring some DVD's, for the kids especially, and a few for yourselves. Remember it will take you a week or so to settle in and get your bearings, finding out where to get the good food, the nice decorations for the house and the cheap DVD copies!

Once you land you will go through immigration - if you land during Salah it could take a little bit longer. You will need to fill out a white immigration card you get these from the desk as you enter. Don't be intimidated, people here are really nice, especially when you have children with you ask them where they want you to queue. At immigration they will just check your visas, and take a picture of the adults and finger prints. Once at the desk it takes about 10 mins. Make sure any female of about 13 or over wears an Abaya, for you wife she may feel more comfortable wearing a head scarf, I had one just loosely covering my head, I still have no idea how to wear it properly! In the UK I would suggest EBay for getting an Abaya, they really do have some nice ones, make sure it is black, but it is OK to have some detail on it, I have ones with beading and sequins etc, makes you feel a little more feminine! Also when you collect your luggage you may have a guy come to you with a trolley - the general rule seems to be about 10 - 20 SAR per trolley if they are taking it for you, but don;'t feel obliged if you don;t want them to then don't but 10 SAR is less than 2quid and you may be tired by this point!

Then that's it guys you are in Saudi Arabia - Welcome!

Presumably you will have arranged with your new employer to be collected from the airport etc. You will get to your compound. Now remember EVERYONE who is there has once been in exactly the same position as you! When we first arrived we were so bloody tired and were in temporary accommodation we could have cried, after a good sleep and a grocery shop things were much better!

Ask someone to help you to get to a grocery store, people here were amazing, they told us to call them when we were ready and they would take us. Maybe it's a mum thing but if i have a fridge and cupboard full I feel much happier and secure! This is a huge change for you guys, it's great but there will always be a period of adjustment. Ask about the compound, get information about where things are, what you can use and when, all compounds are different. We are on a Western compound, small but charming, with very few westerners! But western rules apply! Eg. dress etc.

Give yourself time to settle once you arrive. Trust me we did things in such a huge rush we barley caught our breath, but when we got here we settled in quite quickly, but there will always be the odd culture shock! All the shops close for Salah, it is possible to get daytime shopping in one you have settled and got used to it. And one culture shock for the ladies, they don't sell Tampax here! Well no where in our area anyway! Maybe they will in Jeddah etc but down here in the south in the mountains, no where! If it bothers you stock up before you go!

Well guys, I hope tis has been of some help if you are planning on moving here! There is a lot to take in, but once here it is worth it! The way of life is so different. We are loving EVERY minute so far. If you have any questions or your wife wants to talk to another wife over here god I wish I had been able to!) then you can email through fb, and between me and my hubby we will answer anything we can! I will list some websites below! Travel safe and Enjoy, working and living abroad can be the most amazing thing you will ever do in your life, just relax and take it step by step!

Sunday, 10 January 2010

The One With The White Christmas!

Well, as you will all know by now alot of effort went into getting home for Christmas, the question is was it worth it?

Answer, most definitely!

Our Christmas celebrations began in Saudi, this is far easier said than done! Luckily for us they had just celebrated Eid so there was plenty of tinsel and colourful decorations around. After spending very little we got to work on making the house as Christmassy as one can when the sun is blazing outside. Jason 'obtained' some Christmas music from the Internet, we managed to find all of the ingredients for mulled wine, bar the alcohol and we were set!

A few hours later and a lot of nauseating Christmas wailing to Band Aid and suchlike we had our own version of a little grotto!!! If you thought the travelling was a mission then you havent tried to get into the Christmas spirit respectfully in a Muslim country!

We were however still minus a tree. Now that is one thing you are certainly not going to find around here! Not unless you have a rather fantastic South African friend who has a little secret in her closet! A Christmas tree!!! And so graciously lent this to us for the forseable season!

So now we are set with our Christmassy house, we have somehow managed to do the present shopping with the kids, without them actually realising what we were up too, obviously the lack of red suit and sack put them off the scent. But what to do now eh? Normally we would go our for Christmas drinks, maybe the odd meal or party. Mmmmmm, not so much of that going on here, so we created our own.

Yes we had a little Christmas party, complete with mince pies, completely made from scratch, sausage rolls made with beef sausages, which are surprising the same in taste as pork!? We had plenty of mulled wine, non alcoholic of course, a chocolate log, Christmas music and most importantly guests!

It was fabulous! Arranging such a thing in the afternoon in the UK would probably nor be received with as much 'get up and go' as we had here. Maybe it's because we do have to make our own entertainment and are grateful for it and make the very most of it! I was overwhelmed with how it was accepted! We even had pressies, and that is ALWAYS a good thing! People had a nice red glow in their cheeks from the cinnamon and nutmeg and full tummies from the food, aside from falling out the door into a taxi and waking with a hangover it was just like a Christmas do in the UK, only this was better. We were from England, Wales, South Africa and Pakistan, and it was such a wonderful mix, and everyone seemed so relaxed, and as a hostess I was overjoyed!

Once we arrived in England, and more to the point to my Dad's house we had only 2 days to get anything else we wanted for Christmas and with the snow looking like it was going to cripple us any minute we had to go the day that we arrived! Oh yes a busy town centre after arriving at 4 am! I am sure the kids will be angels! LOL! Well all things considered they weren't too bad. First stop get the kids some coats! It was so bloody cold I thought I was going to be reported to social services taking the kids out dressed as they were poor little things! We went through the trauma of choosing a coat, which trust me didn't end at the checkout with Grace, we went back and forth with 3 different coats for her to go back to the first choice! I then continued to go off with the kids and Jason alone to pick up a few things for each other. This was relatively painless. But OMG we were tired! The rest of that day is a blur of exhaustion and wine!

As for the rest of the kid's pressies, well Lego decided to ahve an international shortage, and as our five year old had asked only for the whole Lego city we ahd to at least attempt to get something from his list! Thank God for E-bay and also the speed of the post, bearing in mind I am sure that will be the only time I ever say that! LOL!

Just Tesco's to face now! We wrote a list and did that child free, I was sure it would be traumatic enough going to a big supermarket 2 days before Christmas! At the checkout I nearly fainted at the price of things, I have acclimatised too much to Saudi prices to cope with the UK now I'm sure! but at least we were all done! Oh, that is apart from wrapping ALL the presents! Now you must understand I am a bit of a Monica when it comes to being organised! So for me to wrap this late on was a little traumatic! That's OK, a bottle of wine, or two (I can't remember, suggesting it may have been the two!) an aunt, a niece and a husband, job done!

Christmas Eve the kids were wildly excited we went to visit some very close friends, allowed the kids to trash their house in the midst their excitement and politely left! Exhausted and tired we bathed them, got them into their Christmas Eve pj's (which is always good as they look great for the Christmas photos!) and put them to bed!

So a nice relaxing Christmas Eve with my Aunt and my Dad, the two father Christmas' we had in the house dealt with the drink and mince pies left fro them, lol, and off to bed.

Now it must be a female thing because me and my Aunt were up at 6.30, staring rather impatiently at the presents. We continued to do this for an hour and half!!! The kids finally graced us with their presence at 8 am!!!! Surely this isn't right, I am sure I was tugging at my parent's quilt from 4am at a very early age!

The first thing they looked at was of course the pile of presents - which rather worryingly we were going to have to pack to fly home! Then they noticed the mince pies and beer, it is so magical to see a child's face when they realise that their fantasy of Santa Claus is true!

Paper everywhere, 2 very happy children, a happy grandad and aunty Val with their slippers, daddy with his school stationary and slippers of course and me, well loving watching my family and feeling the warmth of that bottle of sherry that is going down rather nicely at this point!

No cooking today either, that's Granddad's job! Wonderful!

I even got a 2 hour sleep in the afternoon! It must be Christmas!

The day was lush!

After Christmas, we visited more friends, going back to Wales was strange but nice, and also visited Nan and Grandad which I was very happy about, relationships are important for children and with our families especially where we have lost important people it is vital that the children get to build these relationships with all of their family!

Christmas for us this year was important, for us to have been so far away from our families and living in a new country we needed to feel the warmth of Christmas spirit.

Even though it was epxensive, it didn't matter, even though the journeys were somewhat traumatic and long, it didn't matter, it was a different kind of Christmas that we had but it didn't matter. What mattered to us most was to be with people we love and we were happy and healthy!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

The One With All the Travelling!

So we want to go home for Christmas, that should be nice! In fact it was absolutely lovely, will talk about that later.

Firstly we need to pack; bearing in mind Father Christmas had done all his Christmas chores here in Saudi. Simple enough one would think just pack all the pressies, all unwrapped of course in case customs want to look, and that should be it, shouldn't it? No of course it wouldn't be that simple! Father Christmas over estimated the size of mommy and daddy's luggage! So we unpack the toys from the packaging, after taking photos of course so we can put it all back together in England, we fold down all the packaging and squish all the plastic down to fit in a case, lets just hope customs don't want to have a look, it will be like a jack in the box! OMG!

All 3 cases packed, hand luggage sorted, tickets, exit visas, all done - and early night and off we shall leave the compound at 5.30 am, or shall we?..............................................erm no! As transport didn't collect us until 6am and then had to collect a load more people oh of course visit hi wife before we left????? Seriously? Is this to be the beginning of a terrible journey of 2 flights and another car journey to get to my dads? Well the flights were great, couldn't have complained at all, hardly a delay, really comfy, kids were angels! Fabulous! Now this kind of traveling I can do!

Landing in Heathrow, the pilot says 'Welcome to Heathrow where the local time is 5pm and the temperature outside is...................' well I can't really remember but it was something stupidly cold! Leaving the plane greeted by some very friendly Londoners, who gently explain that there is no way we are getting home this evening! HUH? ??Oh but we are!!!!! Let’s just get our cases and get outside for a cigarette, I'm sure we will be fine!

Well how I didn’t freeze having that fag is beyond me! The kids and my dad were all overwhelmed with excitement to see each other, so were me and Jason, we decided we would display our excitement once we had replenished our nicotine supplies!

All in the car, heater on full, everyone happy, let’s go!!!!! Only a few miles up the motorway though! Was the nice Londoner right? Would we not get home this evening?!

We came off the motorway as it just wasn't moving , the radio was telling us to get off the roads, don't travel, omg we anted to get home we had been awake 24 hours by now!

After being told we couldn't get back onto a motorway, being redirected onto a housing estate at midnight at the mercy of the local residents who did a superb job of getting everyone out, we realized that nice Londoner was in fact right we wouldn’t get home that evening! But my dad has is a very determined man! And after another four hours of snow, ice, exhaustion and all the rest of us asleep he did get us home - after 10 very long hours we arrived to warmth and BEER!!!!!!

After a wonderful Christmas (a whole other post on its way later!) we then need to do this journey again, only in reverse! Now bearing in mind the UK hardly ever has proper snow does it? But we had it upon arrival, a little during our visit and then it is forecast with a vengeance for our departure! Was I stressed? Maybe a little! The thing is this wasn't the only thing to be stressed about! Joey's passport is soon to run out, our luggage was a little in the excess category, ok so it was VERY overweight! All this and we had to actually get to the airport in the first place!

So I pack the luggage, a total of 5 times. I get it to 5 cases and weighing in at a total of about 135kg - we are only allowed 120kg!!! Eek! This, by the way doesn't even include our hand luggage which is massively overweight oh and far too many pieces! We argued about it, threw things our, left some bits and pieces but in the end decided to risk it!

I called the UK passport office and foreign commonwealth to check about Joey's passport, it should be ok, mmmmmm should is not a great comforter when you could get left at the airport!! But in the end we decided to risk it!

We kept an eye on the weather, it was snowy and icy and bloody cold, but in the end decided to risk it and leave at 4am!

The morning arrived, after 3 hours sleep, with the car packed and half asleep children we braved the temperature of minus 9 and started on our way to Heathrow!

The journey went well, kids weren't too bad, they fell asleep, as did we, thank goodness my dad didn't! We arrived at Heathrow in plenty of time, dad waited while we checked in, the weight of the luggage seem to go un noticed as did Joey’s passport, our luck was on the up! Yeah right! We plan to give our coats to my dad as we don’t really need them anymore, and that’s when it all went wrong! Grace had that most elaborate tantrum known to man; my poor dad didn't even get kisses and left, probably running!

After dragging children through the airport, we had breakfast, things were calmer, we boarded the plane with no problems and up into the air we went! After a short sleep we noticed that the TV screens were not working - well some were, but of course ours weren't! So we asked about this, they re booted the system, nothing, rebooted again, nothing. Could be trade seats, not at this point as people were sleeping across all the empty ones - where the TV screens WERE working! And btw they knew about this problem before we took off! And we had all been on board an hour before we were air bound!

Obviously, a long flight, I am a little bored, the kids are VERY bored. We speak to the cabin crew, the supervisor, we kept being palmed off. Well 2 things can happen if you confine me in a small space, with no nicotine, no fresh air, being tired, with 2 wound up kids! I WILL explode, whether it be with tears or anger I can never be sure, but I will definitely pop!

At the point where I was told that I wasn't even allowed to be standing up in a plane was the moment the metaphorical explosion happened, it all ended in tears! So imagine this, I am sat on the row at the back of the plane, sobbing every possible tear my soul can find, holding Joey on my lap whilst he promptly bursts into tears, Jason is at the back of the plane making a coffee to try and calm down and Grace is causing even more mayhem in between everyone’s legs! I may have raised a smile at this picture if only I could have seen it through the waterfall of tears!

Now the man responsible for causing this delightful scene had seen me crying, and being a sensitive man, felt bad, so bad in fact he marched Joey down to the pilot, and the rest of us to first class! Profusely apologized, gave us ice cream and drinks and all the goodies that come with first class whilst our son, I hope, was merely watching the pilot and not actually flying the plane! With a tear stained face I try to be as gracious as possible, explaining I am a woman and am emotional at the best of times, Jason apologizes for his highly strung whilst and jests all his needs now is a cigarette, lol. Lets just say what can be done will be done! And finally calm and tranquility descended on the ranks! Oh and by the way, first class is very nice!

All we had to dread now was immigration and customs and we would be safely in Saudi. Well that was a breeze. Our lay over was to be over 12 hours, the airline is supposed to sort out your accommodation, yeah right, to no avail so we booked into the airport hotel, discounted because of Jason's job, always a bonus! Then we go for some dinner, works our hellishly expensive when it’s for four people but while we were there we were finally reunited with some friendly faces. A drink, some nicotine and a good chat later, we ate and went to sleep.

Up very early for our connecting flight, paid 180 SAR for our breakfast - almost as much as the bloody room! We get to checking in plenty of time for our flight to Abha. Plenty of time that is if you are not going to be messed around! Oh yes, took them over half and hour to check us in because of an error on their system, so we get checked in to try and go through security to be told we can't, to then be escorted back being told we can, to get to the gate and be told they won't let us on the flight! WHAT!!!!!!! We HAVE to get on that flight, we have transport collecting us and the next one isn't for four hours! Nope after an argument we go back to check in, another argument and still nope - although surprisingly they seem to have enough time to get our luggage back off the plane but not us on it? hmmmmmm?!

Needless to say we were not amused. So which metaphorical explosion was on its way this time I wonder? Well my dear friends, you will be pleased to know it was anger!!! Oh yes, this mommy was PISSED! I made a scene, I shouted, I told them exactly what I thought of all the errors of their airline up until now, and then I got a phone call whilst waiting for the supervisor, then I'm afraid I let the side down, my rage once again turned to tears! Oh dear! My poor friend, I'm sure, could barely understand a word I was saying, I'm not sure anyone would have by this point! I was tired, in need of some proper food, a damn good bath and my children home!!!

After much persuasion, we were given food vouchers for the kids, not however put on the next flight, but the one after that, which was then delayed! This time we made sure we were at that gate 2 hours before take off - no one was stopping us getting on this flight, even if I flew the plane myself! The only problem with being at the gate that earl is that you cannot go outside for a cigarette, in these stressful situations I am sure even the non smokers out there would have lit up! So kitted out in my abaya I figure what the hell, I go into the smoking room which, mmmm, un surprisingly was filled with men, during which time I heard a rather musical chorus of tut tut's but what the hell, I am sure these men did not wish to be on the receiving end of my emotional time bomb!

On the plane, OMG, a very tired and trying daughter of mine decided she wanted to let the entire plane and its crew very aware that she also was not happy, I should have stayed in that business class seat I had all to myself!! (although marital guilt just wouldn't allow me to!)

Finally landed in Abha, nearly home, hooray!!!!!!

Our baggage, first off, bloody marvelous!

Outside fresh air, where's the transport to collect us?

Ermm, well all our phone calls have completely drained our phones, I have barely enough to call a friend, and get her number off the phone. Wonderfully her husband calls transport to tell them. to our horror we discover they left the airport only fifteen minutes ago!!! OMG - could this man not read didn’t he not see our flight had been delayed? How exactly did he think we were going to get home? Walk???? Not with our overloaded cases! Which also, may I add, prevented us from being able to get into a taxi even if we were allowed to get one? So a very cross mommy again! I have the driver's number I will bloody speak to him, and that I did! After asking some rather pleasant rent a car men if I could borrow their phone! I did pre warn them that I wasn't particularly lady like when I was angry and they were about to witness and very cross English women in full swing, they seemed Ok with that, so I let rip! And persuasively informed the driver he had better be there in 30 minutes!

it took him 35! Do you think he was mocking me?

Finally we arrived home after 2 days of hard traveling, rather battered and tired.

A wonderful angel had prepared food, with dessert and drinks for us to return to. Although our poor children were so exhausted they didn't even flinch at the mention of food!

Children in bed, half in their clothes, me asleep after 10 minutes of a film, and poor Jason so stressed he won't wake up for work in the morning he can barely sleep!

So what did we learn from this experience?

Well, snow is lovely, when you want to build a snowman, not, however when you want to travel!

Airports are useful, if you want to catch a plane, not so good for a day out!

Make sure you have plenty of charge in your phone!

Bur among the negative, we did meet some very nice people. People who were prepared to help and sympathize with people in need, like lending a phone, one member of staff even gave me his mobile at one point!

But nothing is better than meeting a familiar, friendly face! So a huge thank you to those of you we met for hugs and drinks at the hotel and those of you who made sure we got home ok and kept in contact (or at least kept ringing even though our phone was off, sorry Narien and Phil!!!) and for the delicious food!