Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Rigmarole: a Tale of Two Visas

These two help me keep my sanity.

Noun:   1. A lengthy and complicated procedure.

2. A long, rambling story or statement.

Today’s adventure:  going to the immigration office to get our visas extended. Deb’s is already 15 days expired and mine expires in two days. Both Dana and Mark were under the impression that we had 60 day tourist visas, but no, according to the stamps on our passports they’re only good for 30 days. Which Deb and I thought we knew, but sometimes it’s hard to convince significant others … What’s the penalty for an expired visa? It’s $100 AED or $27.22 USD per day, which can add up quickly.

The rigmarole really began when we learned that we need to have our marriage documents certificated in order to obtain our resident visas under our husbands’ work sponsorship. This process involves stamped and signed official letters from the county and state where the marriage took place, then the U.S. Department of State, and then the country in which you are applying for the visa. It’s all clearly spelled out online, uh-huh. Once you get your local and state documentation, you send it to the U.S. Dept of State and they will send it on to the embassy, in our case the UAE Embassy, in Washington D.C.

Or is it the U.S. Embassy in the UAE?

Just to be sure, I called the UAE Embassy in D.C. Yes, they need to certify it. So I’ll have the State Department send it directly to them, as instructed on the website  

“No, no, no. I am telling you. Do not have the U.S. State Department send the document. You need to send it here.”

“So I need to mail it to Washington, then have them mail back to me, then I mail it to you. Then you mail it back to me. Or … it will be lost?”

“Yes. I am telling you. I have people calling, crying, every day.”

“Can I take it to the UAE with me and have it certified there?”

“No, no, no. You must send it here.”  

But when I explained this to Mark he said no, no, no. The company is taking care of everything. All I need is the State Department letter. Which I was glad of because I wasn’t going to have time to send the document back to the UAE Embassy before leaving on October 24th. In fact I had to have the document sent from the U.S. State Dept. to my daughter Nicole, who would then send it to us in Abu Dhabi.

You following?

Meanwhile, Mark’s and Dana’s resident visas came through. Hooray! Next, they needed their UAE driver’s licenses. I had heard through my AWN grapevine that you are not allowed to drive without a UAE driver’s license once you have your resident visa, and you also need a UAE identification card as well. I told Mark that he wasn’t supposed to drive once he had his visa, and he knew nothing about that. But suddenly the next day, the company PRO was taking him and Dana to get their driver’s licenses.

So when Mark came home with the driver’s license I said, “What about the ID card?” He didn’t know anything about that.

“I am telling you . . .” I said.

Meanwhile, my documents had arrived at Nicole’s, and we went to the UPS office in Abu Dhabi to see about sending them. Here in the UAE people don’t have addresses where things can be easily delivered. Here, they are still transitioning from using landmarks to street names – or numbers. The streets here have numbers, but each one also has several names. So the best thing was to have it held at the UPS office for pickup.

We gave Nicole instructions, and she went to her local UPS office. No, they said, we can’t send it there because it’s a P.O. Box, and UPS doesn’t deliver to P.O. Boxes. What? UPS won’t deliver to their own location? We looked online and sure enough, it was true, the address listed was a P.O. Box. We finally convinced Nicole to go to the main UPS office in Concord and tell them to send it to UPS, Airport Road, Abu Dhabi, UEA. Hold for pickup. That’s it, that’s all. Several hours later she emailed a tracking number and three words: “It wasn’t easy.” Three days later, it arrived.

Mark and Dana took our marriage documents and passports to work yesterday so they could be processed for our resident visas. When he arrived home that afternoon Mark said “You and Debbie have to go to the U.S. Embassy tomorrow and get your marriage certificates stamped.” What? “We spent all day trying to get our ID cards, and your visas. The PRO (the company’s ‘public relations officer’) drove us to the embassy and they said they only do the document certification between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m.”

Meanwhile, as I am writing this, I get a harried phone call from Mark. Are you on the internet? He and Dana are driving, trying to find Kahlifa Hospital. You’re going to a hospital? Yes, that’s where we have to go to get our fingerprints for the ID cards. After a comedy of errors, because everything has three names, or no name, or the same three names as something else, I finally confirmed where they were, and where the hospital was. It still took them awhile to find their way through that maze to the correct place for fingerprinting, which of course had just been moved, and nobody who works there knew where it was.

There is a saying here: “Insha’ Alla” which means “God willing.” Muslims are instructed in the Qu’ran to never say that they will do a particular thing without adding “insha’Allah” to the statement, because it will only happen if it is God’s will. It reminds me of the Spanish imperfect tense, which is really saying “I may be doing this in the future,” because you never really know it will happen until it’s done, and reserving the perfect tense for “I am doing it now.” At least that’s how I remember learning it. I mention this because it may explain the mindset of the Emiratis just as it explains “man͂ana time” in Mexico. I am not equating the two, but rather trying to illustrate that not everyone has the expectation of results in a certain time frame that we Americans do.

So yesterday Deb and I spent about half an hour driving in circles trying to find our way into the Embassy Area. Finally we spotted the American flag, which made us cheer and practically break out into a patriotic song. All of the entrances were blocked, which is normal here. A security guy – they are ubiquitous, and I guess I should be calling them “parking attendants,” pointed to a lot across the street. As we were pulling away he said, “Do you have an appointment?”


We don’t need one, I began to explain, we are just getting a stamp on – never mind, yes, we do have an appointment. He smiled knowingly.

When we got to the door, we found out about the appointment thing. The security guard pointed to a sign that read “AS OF AUGUST 1, AN APPOINTMENT IS REQUIRED.” He gave me a card with a website address and said to make an appointment online. Thanks a lot! Why didn’t the guys and their PRO know about this?

Deb phoned Dana to see if they could make a same day appointment online. HAH! The first available appointment was Sunday, and it was only Monday. At that point we uncovered the fact that Deb’s visa was already expired, and mine was on the brink. Next thing we knew we had a date with the PRO.

So today Deb and I were picked up by the PRO, Mubaruk, a little after 1:00 p.m. We decided to dress conservatively, which meant that I needed to lend clothing to Deb. Have I mentioned that she is a bartender? We were mentally preparing for Deb to get kicked out of the country because of her expired visa. Here are the Tourist Visa rules, per the official website:


This visa is issued through tourist companies and it is valid for 30 days. You cannot renew it or extend it. If the Visa holder (tourist) stays more than the 30 days, then that person has to pay a fine per day plus some charges for an out pass.

As we left Deb’s apartment I said, “Here’s the rules: stay together. If you have to leave, I’m going with you.” Secretly, we were both thinking: “Vacation in Oman! Five star hotel! The company pays!” This was all supposed to be handled by the company, insha’Allah.

Mubaruk was very helpful, and he obviously has “wasta.” Wasta is influence, connections, “clout.” I don’t know how we would have navigated that immigration office scene without him, starting with just the physical site which, believe it or not, is under construction. All we really did was follow him around, sit where he told us to sit, and give him money when he told us to. We each signed one piece of paper and talked to one bureaucrat. We came out with visa extensions, and medical insurance for the next 30 days. Deb’s visa is only good till December 5th, but they forgave 10 days of penalty at $1000AED. My visa is good till 23 December. As we left the immigration offices Mubaruk said, “Tomorrow we will start on your resident visas.”

But, I said, we haven’t gotten our marriage documents stamped here. Oh no, then we have to wait till Monday. This is cutting it close for Deb, so we called our friend Major James Collins, who works at the embassy, to see I f he could pull strings. He couldn’t help because we aren’t military. So we have to wait, and hope that everything works out, insha’Allah.

On the way home, Mubaruk mentioned that he learned to speak English in San Jose, California. That’s where Mark and Dana worked when they met! And Mubaruk has also been to Concord, California. That’s where my kids and my sister live! We have so much in common. Mubarak also told us that there are unmarked police cars on the road that take photos of you breaking the traffic laws, and they automatically give you a ticket. Just as he finished saying that, one pulled up next to us. He also told us that the fines for speaking on your cell phone without a hands-free device, and not wearing a seat belt, are $400AED. Good to know.

When we got home, Deb and I attacked the jug of Cosmopolitans she had that we had been talking about all day as we waited. Mark and Dana were amazed that we got the medical insurance. And they told us that the day we described was exactly like four or five days that they have already lived through.

If  you have read this all the way to here, there will be another exciting post about the end of the story, insha’Allah.

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